The usual disclaimer applies regarding the possibility of everything changing between the time I write this and when you read it! This morning the discussions between the Labour and Conservative Party teams ended without a deal. However, we understand that the Government still intend to bring the Withdrawal Agreement back to Parliament for the 4thtime in the week after Whitsun. This is despite the fact that the deal has already been voted down three times, with massive opposition from within the Conservative Party as well as beyond it.
As I have made clear on many previous occasions, I will not vote for the Withdrawal Agreement now unless the public have the final say between it – as the only version of ‘leave’ the government is able to support – and remain, and neither will many of my colleagues. Whilst I would obviously campaign for remain in any such vote, on the basis that no deal is better than the deal we already have, if a public vote backed the deal this would at least give it a serious mandate which a deeply divided Parliament clearly now cannot.
In the meantime, we have the European elections next week. I am urging everyone to use their vote – both as an expression of progressive values during a tough time for politics, but also to help to stop Nigel Farage’s Brexit party from being able to claim that it has topped the poll. This isn’t only because of Brexit itself. Farage’s party will enjoy the enormous advantage of a simple and ostensibly cost free message which can’t be repeated after next Thursday (and I say ‘cost free’ because it will be the Government and Parliament which actually negotiates our future relationship with Europe, votes for or reject the Withdrawal Agreement or delivers a referendum). And there is no doubt that a strong showing by the Brexit Party will be prayed in aid of the case against a ‘final say’ referendum and for a costly, damaging ‘no deal’ Brexit. However, its worse than that. Just as UKIP topping the poll in the 2014 Euro elections undoubtedly shaped the political debate in the years thereafter, injecting an ugly, frequently xenophobic dimension into politics, the same could continue to be true of the Brexit Party. For a few days, Farage’s pitch can be boiled down just to the Brexit message, without much scrutiny of what else he and they stand for, but the wider politics of the Brexit Party represent the same hard-right populism as UKIPs and we should not be at all complacent about the damage it can do.
As a Labour MP – and as someone fully aware of concerns about Labour itself being divided by the competing tensions across the country – I urge supporters to vote Labour. The way the votes translate into seats in the European Parliament means that the battle now could very easily be between Labour and the Brexit Party and the vote share and number of seats won by the largest parties will be extremely important in shaping how the story that is told post-election – and as I have argued, that matters a very great deal.
There is a very helpful explanation of how the voting system works – and why it matters – which you can read here.
As I have said before, I would, however reluctantly, have accepted a ‘soft Brexit’ in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, in order to respect the democratic mandate. This was never on offer and is a key reason why we have ended up with a hugely damaging deadlock at the heart of government. The ‘red lines’ set by the Government ended up polarising Parliament and the Country, when we should have sought dialogue and compromise at the outset. But alongside this, I would also say that crucial political developments – from the existential threat of climate change and the loss of bio-diversity, to the latest developments in serious and organised crime and to the challenges posed by conflicts in so many parts of the world – have made the case for internationalism ever more pressing than it was. The EU is far from perfect but we cannot hope to solve these problems alone. And ironically, Brexit has also siphoned off so much of the time and attention that should be devoted to meeting the domestic challenges of recent years, including the chronic poverty, skills shortages and under-investment in too many of our towns and communities which fed the dissatisfaction which led to…Brexit. The sooner we can get back to dealing with these vital issues, and to concentrating on meeting the most pressing global challenges in constructive partnership with our allies, the better.
Why we (literally) need to shore up St Mary’s Hospital
I reported in last month’s newsletter how the strategic plan for health care in North West London – ‘Shaping a Healthier Future’- was abandoned by the Government, meaning a welcome reprieve for Charing Cross hospital, but leaving St Mary’s, with its huge backlog of required maintenance, with no clear path for the much needed redevelopment.
I spoke in the Parliamentary debate on health services in North West London, and you can read what I said here.
Top hospital is ‘literally’ falling down
MP warns any more structural problems will ‘put patients at risk’
26 April, 2019 — By Tom Foot
St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington
An urgent refurbishment of crumbling St Mary’s has hit the buffers after a controversial NHS shake-up was scrapped.
Westminster North MP Karen Buck demanded urgent action to rebuild the Paddington hospital that she said was “quite literally falling down”.
Two wards shut because of patient safety and maternity services have been relocated because of a faulty lift, while beds have been lost due to flooding.
Ms Buck said there was £1.3billion backlog of maintenance works at five north-west London hospitals, including St Mary’s – by far the highest figure in the country.
In a House of Commons debate she added: “The Grafton ward closed due to significant structural concerns, with the loss of 32 beds in May 2018 and no possible structural solution. A ceiling collapsed in the Thistlethwayte ward. The Paterson Centre was flooded and closed for two weeks, with the loss of activity and 20 surgical beds in 2017.
“Floods, electrical issues and drainage problems are commonplace across the buildings and services at St Mary’s. The hospital simply cannot wait, yet everything is now frozen. We urgently need advice from the minister on how we will proceed.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock announced last month that the government was abandoning its “Shaping a healthier future” scheme that would have bulldozed Charing Cross Hospital and Ealing hospitals. The programme would, however, have significantly updated building and facilities at St Mary’s.
In January 2018 Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, which manages St Mary’s, won planning permission from Westminster Council to begin developing a new eight-storey outpatient and ambulatory service building on the east side of the Paddington site – at the Salton House, the Dumbell, and Victoria and Albert buildings. Ophthalmology services were also due to be moved out of the Western Eye Hospital into a modern, flexible and welcoming facility.
The project, however, has not been approved financially by NHS Improvement – the body that monitors foundation trust hospitals – and with the collapse of the scheme there is no guarantee it will go ahead.
Ms Buck told the Commons: “It is now 14 years since the Paddington health campus proposal finally collapsed, which was the first vision of the redevelopment of St Mary’s Hospital. Here we are in 2019, with the collapse of ‘shaping a healthier future’, and we are still frozen in terms of a major redevelopment for St Mary’s.” She said “the failure to gain funding” was a “key risk” because conditions “have deteriorated so much”.
She added: “We urgently need advice from the minister on how we will proceed. Should there be a further structural problem of the kind that we have already seen, it would not only be an imminent risk to patients, but would take out chunks of capacity from an already highly-stretched hospital, which will have repercussions across the whole of north west London. We simply cannot go on like this.”
Ms Buck said the hospital was “very dear to my heart”, adding: “It saved my life once, and I gave birth there, and it is held in very high regard among my constituents. Quite rightly, it has a terrific reputation for clinical care; we should never miss an opportunity to record our admiration for the staff, who deliver health care so superbly to the public.”
Seema Kennedy, junior health and social care minister, responded: “The NHS in north-west London is now in agreement to move on from the ‘shaping a healthier future’ programme.
“In January the government announced that there will be an extra £20billion a year for the NHS by 2024. As part of that, every area in the country will need to develop its own local plan for the next five years for how to spend the extra money.
“The north-west London sustainability and transformation partnership, working with clinicians and the public, will develop a new long-term, five-year plan for how best to spend that money, working together as a single health system.”
Meanwhile, the reports for both the Imperial Hospital Trust and our Clinical Commissioning Group indicate just how severe is the continuing financial pressure. As of March, the CCG describes:
‘an adverse variance to control total of £26.5m’ (which is a somewhat bureaucratic way of saying they are short of money!)
‘There are significant risks to the delivery of the NWL CCGs control totals in 2019/20’
£10m of this is because of the costs of the ‘GP at hand’ service
deficit for NW London stands in excess of £60m.
Meanwhile at Imperial (including St Mary’s):
The latest board report shows that ‘the Trust was on plan with a £24.6m deficit… Year to date the Trust is over plan on NHS clinical income, especially on non-electives. The Trust has incurred additional costs to deliver this activity within the year and the over performance has put pressure on the Trust’s ability to achieve cost reduction savings. The final version of the 2019/20 business plan is due to be submitted to NHS Improvement on 4th April. The Trust’s control total for 2019/20 has been set by NHS Improvement as £16m deficit… At the time of writing there is a £23m planning gap to achieve the control total’.
So there is intense financial pressure on the service still, and whilst the people working in the NHS are doing their best, it is an uphill struggle for them.
Save the Squirrel
Over the last few years at least ten pubs have closed in the north of the borough. Of course not every closure can be avoided- people don’t drink in pubs in the way they once did and if the demand is not there, the businesses won’t survive. And we need homes, but at the same time, neighbourhoods need more than just places to sleep – they need services, facilities and places where people gather. Developers know that more money can be made out of converting buildings to (often luxury) flats than maintaining them as growing concerns and that adds the pressure. Local Councillors and I haven’t fought every closure or conversion but we are standing with the community campaigners to defend the ‘Squirrel’- long known by its previous name of ‘The Skiddaw’. ‘The Skiddaw’ has been around for over 100 years and was known for a while as the local enjoyed by former Clash frontman Joe Strummer (W9 was where the Clash started, when they were the 101’ers-named after 101 Walterton Road). Long before that, it was a favourite of the poet Francis Thompson (‘Look for me in the nurseries of heaven’).
The Ham and High covered the recent protest, which you can see here.
If you want to make your voice heard, you can see the plans and make comments here.
Westminster Labour story here.
Managing the ‘short let’ housing sector- I launch an All Party Parliamentary Group
With new information suggesting as many as 1 in 40 London homes are now listed on short-let sites like Airbnb, it is becoming ever more essential that we manage the sector effectively, balancing the advantages to homeowners and tourists with the need to protect the availability of homes and the well-being of neighbours and communities.
I launched a new All Party Parliamentary Group on the Short Let Sector at the end of April, bringing together councils, the GLA and the main businesses involved in short lets to shape the debate. On the day of the launch, the Mayor of London made his call for the introduction of a registration system so we can know who is letting, and make it possible to enforce the legal 90 day limit in London, which at present is all but impossible.
Youth detention: solitary confinement and restraint
My main Parliamentary Committee- the Joint Committee on Human Rights- has recently published a report on the use of restraint and detention of children, including children with autism, learning disabilities and poor mental health.
There is substantial medical evidence of the physical and psychological impacts of restraint, particularly when used upon children. This evidence was brought into stark relief by the evidence of young people who had experienced these impacts, and parents who relayed the impacts upon their children. While restraint might seem to solve an immediate problem in custody or hospital, it causes harm in the short term and in the longer term: it harms children, it harms staff, it undermines the objectives of detention, and contributes to a vicious cycle of problems that can continue into the future including inhibiting life chances into adulthood. The use of restraint upon children can amount to inhuman or degrading treatment which is a breach of children’s rights.
Many institutions that detain children are permitted to physically restrain children and to separate children from normal human contact. Restraint can include controversial methods and separation includes a range of practices including total isolation. The practices of restraint and separation engage the rights of children under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR): Article 2, the right to life; Article 3, the prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment; Article 5, the right to liberty and security; Article 8, respect for private and family life. These practices also engage further protections under international law, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. We undertook this inquiry to assess whether the practices of restraint and separation of children in detention in the UK are subject to appropriate limits and effective safeguards. This report seeks to answer three questions that were set out in the inquiry’s terms of reference:
- Does the use of restraint and segregation in youth detention lead to children’s rights being commonly breached?
- Is the guidance on restraint and segregation compliant with human rights standards?
- Is the Government doing enough to ensure rights compliant standards are applied across the estate, including in privately run institutions?
We considered several different types of institutions which detain around 2,500 children at any one time some for care, treatment or welfare reasons, and some because of criminal offences.
You can see the full report and our recommendations here.
Local round up
Queen’s Park Community Council
It was a real pleasure to speak at the Annual General Meeting of the Queen’s Park Community Council on May 8th. The first London ‘parish council’ is celebrating its 5thbirthday and has settled into doing great work around the local environment, supporting young people, organising various community festivals and more. But if you live in Queen’s Park, they need your input and support, so do find out about it and get involved!
You can find out more about them here.
Lisson Green Tenants and Residents Association
I joined the tenants and leaseholders living on the Lisson Green estate for their AGM at the end of April. Despite the best efforts of the (sadly much reduced) Safer Neighbourhood Police team, concerns about crime and anti-social behaviour are still very much on people’s minds, as are continuing problems with the Council’s repairs service and the impact of the ‘Masterplan’ for the wider Church Street area.
Fly-tipping and dumping still a big concern
Councils across England have reported a 40% rise in the illegal dumping of waste in the last six years (to a total of 997,553) – and Westminster is no exception to the trend. Whilst some former hotspots have been cleared with a degree of success, mattresses are still a common site in parts of the north of the borough, along with other items, including bags of ordinary household rubbish. The Local Government Association says that reductions in Council budgets and insufficiently tough sentences for those convicted are responsible for the worsening situation. We all like to live in a nice environment and there needs to be individual responsibility but we also need effective enforcement against people determined to dump their rubbish on the streets – including those who are obviously clearing out properties at the end of private tenancies.
Thank you for reading and your comments are always welcome.
Karen Buck MP