Karen Buck

Working tirelessly for Westminster North

December 2017 E-Newsletter

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 December 2017 E-Newsletter


No help for policing in the Autumn Budget

Hard choices are being forced on the Met Police after no relief came in the budget to ease the budget squeeze. Since 2010, the Met’s budget has been reduced by £600 million. A further £400 million of savings have to be found by 2021, and unless the Government’s funding cuts stop now, officer numbers could fall below 27,500 by 2021 – a 19-year low.

I’ve been arguing for more support for London’s Police - but with shrinking budgets it is essential that everything possible is done to protect front-line services. Boris Johnson undertook a huge programme of station closures as Mayor - we lost Harrow Road, Marylebone and St John’s Wood stations under him. Now the choice continues to be - keep as many police officers as possible (though numbers are still set to fall further) with savings having to come from property disposal and considerable pressure to create larger command structures. As it is, we have fought to ensure that Westminster maintains a daytime facility in the north of the borough (in Church Street) as well as the single "24/7" station all boroughs will retain.

This week, I raised the issue in Prime Minister’s Questions. You can watch it here.          

You can sign the petition again the Police budget cuts here.


The EU Withdrawal Bill continues …

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News of the deal paving the way to EU trade talks has come through too late to add into this newsletter. The chaos of recent weeks obviously could not go on, so it is good that negotiations can move to the next phase. However, we’ve already had over a year of damaging uncertainty, not least for the millions of British citizens abroad and EU nationals in the UK, and so much remains to be resolved.

Hundreds of constituents have also been in touch with me in the last week regarding amendments to the EU Withdrawal Bill, which is now passing through Parliament. This is an exceptionally complex process, due to the sheer number of amendments, some of which are withdrawn or not pressed to a vote, and how the timing of key votes pans out. Inevitably, the process will be somewhat fluid and it may not, therefore, be possible to keep everyone updated on the details of votes over the next month or so, but please be assured that I will continue to vote as I have done previously, against a damaging ‘hard Brexit, against attempts by the Government to gather ever more executive powers to itself, without proper Parliamentary accountability, for a meaningful ‘final vote’ and against an ‘arbitrary ‘exit date’ on the face of the EU.

Keir Starmer: Tories must put national interest first and rewrite the Brexit bill

24TH NOVEMBER, 2017 8:30 AM

Over the past few weeks, MPs have finally had the opportunity to debate and scrutinise the government’s EU withdrawal bill line by line.

Labour has been clear from the outset that, while we accept legislation is needed to transfer EU law into British law before March 2019, the government’s bill is fundamentally flawed.

It would turn MPs into mere spectators, while handing huge and unaccountable power into the hands of ministers. It would put environmental protections and workers’ rights at risk, by removing their enhanced protection. It would weaken the devolution settlement, by hoarding powers in Westminster rather than devolving them to Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast. And it would increase the risk of Britain crashing out of Europe without an agreement.

That is why last month I set out Labour’s six reasonable demands for where the bill needs to change.

These were not just Labour’s demands. They were also the demands shared by many businesses, trade unions, campaigners and indeed some in Theresa May’s own party.

But instead of listening and seeking to improve the bill, all the government has done is to table deeply political and deeply flawed amendments of its own, such as fixing “exit date” on the face of the bill, which would not only tie the prime minister’s hands in any negotiations but also prevent Britain from agreeing appropriate transitional arrangements.

And in the first three days of debate Conservative MPs voted down Labour’s amendments to protect workers’ rights, safeguard environmental and animal welfare standards, legislate for strong transitional arrangements to prevent a cliff-edge for our economy, and to bring the Charter of Fundamental Rights into British law.

Time and time again the Tories have put party interest above the national interest. Ideological red lines above jobs and the economy. Politics above prosperity.

A Labour government would bring a different approach – one that puts jobs and the economy first and is based on our values of co-operation and internationalism.

An approach that protects rights and seeks to retain the benefits of the single market and the customs union.

That’s why over the summer I set out Labour’s clear and agreed position to negotiate an early agreement for strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms as we currently have – by which we mean a time-limited period where Britain would remain within the single market and a customs union with the EU, accepting the common rules of both and retaining the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

I also set out that for the long term, unlike Theresa May who has ruled out any future relationship with the single market and the customs union, Labour would not sweep options off the table. On the contrary, subject of course to negotiations, remaining in a customs union with the EU is a viable long-term option for Labour.

Equally, we are flexible as to whether the benefits of the single market are best retained in the long term by negotiating a new single market relationship or by working up from a bespoke trade deal.

Crucially, Labour has made it clear that we have no interest in deregulating our economy, lowering standards or stepping of the level playing field.

A pragmatic approach in the national interest.

The government now has a week before the withdrawal bill returns to parliament for a further five days of debate, and just over two weeks until the crucial December EU Council meeting.

If ministers had the national interest at heart they would rewrite this bill and put an end to the ideological red-lines that are holding back talks with the European Union.

A new advice line has been set up for EU nationals concerned about their status – supported by Westminster Council, working with Westminster Citizen’s Advice and the Migrants Resources Centre, this service will operate on Tuesdays and Thursdays from  11am to 2pm

The helpline telephone number is 020 7706 6019.


Should Oxford Street be traffic-free? Have your say on the plans

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Plans to remove traffic from part of Oxford Street to create a new landmark public space and world-class shopping destination in London have been unveiled for consultation.

The proposals would see the western section of the famous retail street transformed into a space for people, not traffic, by December 2018, to coincide with the launch of the Elizabeth line.

Under the plans, all east-west traffic would be restricted from entering Oxford Street between Orchard Street and Oxford Circus, with five north-south crossing routes maintained. Details include the creation of new public spaces, cycle routes in the surrounding area, wider pavements and expanded taxi ranks. An 800-metre-long work of public art as a centrepiece for the street is also being considered.

“This is a hugely exciting moment for the capital,” Mayor Sadiq Khan said. “In just over a year the iconic part of the street west of Oxford Circus could be transformed into a traffic-free pedestrian boulevard. Whether you’re a local resident, a business, or shop in some of the area’s famous stores, our plans will make the area substantially cleaner and safer for everyone, creating one of the finest public spaces in the world,” he said.

An initial consultation found 62 per cent of respondents in an online survey supported the principles behind the transformation of Oxford Street - although some raised access and congestion concerns. Westminster City Council and Transport for London staff have so far attended more than 50 meetings with residents, businesses and groups supporting cyclists and bus users, to address concerns as they develop the designs.

“We listened to what people said as part of the first consultation and we now want to hear from as many people as possible about what they think about the detailed plans before we take any final decisions,” said Councillor Robert Davis MBE DL, Deputy Leader of Westminster City Council.

“Protecting and improving the quality of life for residents in the surrounding area will be a key consideration. It’s crucial that everyone knows that we are listening and that they can help shape our plans,” he said.

Since summer 2016, Transport for London has cut the number of buses running along Oxford Street by 40 per cent, with even fewer buses to operate after the opening of the Elizabeth line. Oxford Street lies within both the new T-Charge zone, the world’s toughest emission charge for older, more polluting vehicles introduced in London to help tackle toxic air pollution, and the forthcoming Ultra Low Emission Zone, which will come into force in April 2019.

The public consultation closes on 17 December 2017.  

SEE THE DESIGNS AND HAVE YOUR SAY

london.gov.uk/city-hall-blog/plans-traffic-free-oxford-street-unveiled


Visiting Ethiopia in the November recess

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During the short parliamentary recess, I travelled to Ethiopia with an All-Party delegation, looking specifically at issues surrounding women’s health in a country where despite some considerable progress in recent years 13,000 pregnant women and 200,000 children die each year.

In Addis Ababa, we visited an over-flowing, but clearly much valued, facility for victims of sexual violence, and the only hospital in the country treating women with fistula- the injury that can be done to a women where obstructed labour goes untreated, and which can leave the women doubly incontinent, rejected by her husband and abandoned to a life of pain and indignity. In the UK, obstructed labour is dealt with by caesarian section, avoiding injury to the mother or the baby.  But where labour is obstructed in countries with no availability of C-section the woman- in many cases, given the reduced but still significant prevalence of child marriage, a very young girl- suffers days of terrible pain, still birth and life changing injuries. The charitable hospital we visited is transforming lives at the rate of over 3500 fistula repairs a year, but there is still a backlog of 39,000 women needing the surgery, with some women having lived with the condition for decades.

We also travelled to the North of the country to visit refugee camps. There are already 800,000 refugees in Ethiopia and rising, fleeing conflict in South Sudan, Eritrea and in the east of the country Somalia.  The refugee camp in Shire, Tigray that we visited is near the Ethiopian border with Eritrea and houses 13,000 Eritrean refuges of which 1,500 are unaccompanied children. At present, a substantial proportion of the number of refugees travelling through North Africa and attempting to make the sea crossing to Europe are Eritreans, so it is in all our interests to support the work being undertaken by Dfid in helping not just the refugees but the surrounding Ethiopian host communities with developing infrastructure and potentially creating work too.

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Ethiopia is a country of 100 million people - four out of five of whom live in rural areas - and whilst developing-it remains very poor. Yet, great strides have been made in improving health, through a network of 48,000 Health Extension-Workers who are out in communities advising on, amongst other things, contraception and abortion and referring women with complications up to the 3,500 local health centres, 30 general hospitals and 11 specialist hospitals. Though resources are often very basic indeed, with many shortages, the birth rate is falling, the number of unsafe abortions has halved in a decade. Contraceptive use has more than doubled and under five mortality has fallen by two thirds since the 60s, the fastest in sub-saharan Africa.

Sadly, one of President Donald Trump’s first acts was to bar US federal funds from supporting any organisation that provides or advises on, abortion, which has hit Marie Stopes International and others very hard as they do this work in partnership with the Ethiopian government and Dfid. The cuts in funding that flow from this decision are estimated to mean 88,467 unintended pregnancies, 27,425 abortions of unintended pregnancies, 15,822 unsafe abortions. MSI is set to lose £30m, representing 17% of their total income as a result of the Trump policy. MSI are working to make up the gap with additional funds (including from the UK and the Netherlands.)


Access to justice and the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act

As the Chair of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid, I am deeply aware of the importance of access to justice.

These figures show what has happened to legal aid work in Westminster since the LASPO Act came into force in 2013:

Type of case

2012-13

2016-17

% change

Family Mediation

227

26

-89

Family Legal Help

667

49

-93

Family Certificated

800

414

-48

Immigration

356

242

-32

Housing Legal Help

427

315

-26

Housing Certificated

301

148

-51

Welfare Benefits

190

0

-100

Community care

60

1

-98

Debt

91

1

-99

Mental Health

290

162

-44

Employment

54

0

-100

Education

8

0

-100

Providers

2012-13

2016-17

% change

Solicitor firms

38

23

-40

Not-for-profits

5

6

+20

Total

43

29

-32

Source: Legal aid statistics England and Wales provider and area data 2016 to 2017 (www.gov.uk/government/statistics/legal-aid-statistics-january-to-march-2017)

Last week we had a debate on legal aid in parliament as Ministers begin a review of the impact of LASPO, and you can read what was said here.


Westminster Council cuts another £30 million from the budget - Labour would make different choices

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Westminster Council has seen the level of government support cut by over half in recent years - one of the biggest cuts of any local authority in the county. As a result, the Council has cut £130 million in spending since 2014 alone. At the recent council meeting a further net figure of £30.8m in cuts and required new revenue streams was put forward, this included some money already identified. 

We are already seeing the impact of these cuts on the youth and children’s services, but the pressure is also on social care for older and disabled people, and on the enforcement needed to maintain a decent quality of life for all residents.

I support my councillor colleagues on Westminster, who, even in tough times, want to make some different choices. They are calling for funding to reinstate council support to Westminster’s Youth Clubs, though ongoing support to fund staff members and a one-off grant to the Young Westminster Foundation, more support for our Children’s Centres, for children’s stay and play sessions and for targeted outreach to vulnerable families. They also is want:

  • The council to invest more in adaptive technology to support the elderly and vulnerable to live independent lives, a move that also saves the council money.
  • Alternative ways to protect vital support to Westminster’s Rough Sleepers reducing cuts to outreach services and developing a new social impact bond to address the most important challenges facing people on our streets.
  • A cost effective way to support small businesses to comply with the London Living Wage by offering 500 independent firms a year who employ up to 30 people between a £250 and £500 business rate discount when they become accredited with the Living Wage Foundation.
  • Ensure the council continues to inform residents about planning and licensing applications by continuing to send written notices.
  • An emissions based resident parking charge scheme to help tackle the vital issue of air pollution in Westminster. 

Some of the savings suggested to pay for extra investment in children, young people and homelessness include £39,000 from providing private health care; £758,000 by reducing reliance on Temporary and Agency staff; £51,000 off Members’ allowances, to delete payments to Deputy Cabinet Members and £100,000 less money for the Lord Mayor’s budget.


The new draft ‘London Plan’ will help shape the city for the better

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I greatly welcome Mayor Khan’s commitment to help London pubs. We all know about the illegal demolition of the Carlton pub in Maida Vale, but many other pubs have closed or are threatened (most recently the Salt House in St John’s Wood)

standard.co.uk/goingout/bars/sadiq-khan-announces-plan-to-protect-londons-pubs-a3702481.html

Of course, not all pubs can or should be saved - our habits change and the city changes with them-but when property values and the potential gains from residential conversion dictate everything, we risk losing the services and amenities that keep our neighbourhoods alive.

The draft plan contains other ideas as well, including a crackdown on fast food shops near schools:

standard.co.uk/news/london/total-ban-on-fastfood-outlets-within-400m-of-london-schools

You can have your say on these ideas and many others- including how to boost the number of affordable homes here.


Preparing for Universal Credit

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As Universal Credit gradually extends to more working and out-of-work households across the country, concerns have grown about the hardship it is causing. Particular problems include: the length of time claimants have to wait for payments, rent arrears and the risks of increased evictions, and access to free school meals.

Some improvements were made in the November budget but there is still huge anxiety about it. I brought together the local advice organisations to discuss how we can prepare for the local roll-out next spring.

It is essential that anyone in difficulty seeks help as early as possible.

Thankfully, after a lot of pressure, the government’s Universal Credit helplines are now free:

Live service: 0800 3289344

Full Service: 0800 328 9344

Other ways to get help and advice:

Westminster Citizens Advice:

www.westminstercab.org.uk

0300 330 1191

Advice Local

advicelocal.uk

Advicelocal is a new postcode tool that can help with questions relating to seven areas of law - welfare benefits and tax credits; council tax; debt and money advice; housing and homelessness; employment and work issues; disability and social care; and asylum and immigration.

Advicelocal is easy to use. You just need to enter a postcode and choose an advice topic to find tailored information for your area, including key local authority resources and details of local independent advice organisations. 

You can also find them on Twitter @advicelocal and on Facebook @advicelocaluk


Around the constituency

St John’s Wood Adventure Playground

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St John’s Adventure Playground is London’s oldest, and It was a pleasure to join them for their 6oth birthday celebrations. Although there have been concerns raised about the possible redevelopment of the area, it is absolutely essential that we keep this playground! 

London Tigers

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The annual London Tigers sports and volunteering awards are always amazing! This year, the event was on home turf at Porchester Hall- for although the Tigers don’t have their own pitches in the area, they grew out of the Lisson Green estate and still provide local opportunities for young people. They have grown to be one of London’s most important community based sports providers, and the awards ceremony drew supporters from all over the capital and beyond.

www.londontigers.org

SEBRA

South East Bayswater Residents’ Association is one of the most active and effective amenity societies in London. As usual, the AGM was very well attended, with a lively debate covering planning issues, the Whiteleys re-development, the lack of affordable housing, policing and traffic issues.

Separately, I am also taking up the issue of cycling off the designated paths in the Royal Parks, which has been raised with me by residents.

Westminster Citizens Advice

Westminster Citizen’s Advice AGM took place in the swanky Exchange House building on the edge of Broadgate, but that couldn’t disguise a message of real hardship and growing demand for help. I was delighted to be able to go along and add my thanks to the amazing staff and volunteers who provide assistance to thousands of anxious and often desperate people facing debt, poverty, homelessness and other problems.

A new threat to All Stars Boxing club

The All Stars club has been training boxers for many years in this iconic, though sadly neglected, building in the Harrow Road. Now they are (again) fighting for their survival:

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*Stop press* News has just come in that All Stars have secured an injunction preventing the landlord from selling the freehold of the building...so discussions about the repairs can go on. A battle won, but support still needed.


The Salt House, Abbey Rd!

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Property values are such that there is increasing pressure on lots of non-residential amenities - pubs being a very good example. Of course not all pubs can or should be saved - habits change and the world changes with them - but neither do we want to live in an area stripped of all but luxury housing. With the support of the St John’s Wood Society, the Salt House in St John’s Wood is campaigning to safeguard its future. 

you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/save-the-salt-house-abbey-rd?bucket=&source=twitter-share-button

Please don't allow change of use of The Salt House, a beautiful local pub on the famous Abbey Rd.

Why is this important?

The Salt House has been a public house since 1872 and has now been sold to property developers who wish to turn it into luxury flats and offices.This is such a sadly familiar story in London. We have to stop developers tearing apart what gives London it's pulse and character.

The Salt House is one of the few remaining local pubs in the area and has many long term regulars who love it dearly. It is also home for the key staff members and their family who live above it and a secure job for many more. It would be a travesty if this beautiful Victorian pub was granted change of use and disappeared after over a century and a half.


Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.

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Karen Buck MP

Website: www.karenbuck.org.uk
Twitter: KarenPBuckMP
Facebook: KarenBuck4WN

Promoted by Robert Atkinson on behalf of Karen Buck MP at 4G Shirland Mews, Maida Hill, London, W9 3DY. The information used to supply this email is for the use of Karen Buck and will not be passed on to any third party organisation.

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