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Preston Constituency Newsletter - March 2017

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Mark Hendrick MP

Member of Parliament for Preston

Dear Friend

Losing the Copeland by-election and the recent loss of veteran MP and esteemed colleague Gerald Kaufman has been a blow to the Labour Party.  I would like to pay tribute to the 'Father of the House', who remained true to his Labour values and served his Gorton constituents loyally for 47 years. 

This last month, aside from the debate about  Britain leaving the EU there has been widespread opposition to a state visit by the new US President Donald Trump. In addition, local issues affecting the people of Preston and Lancashire have recently been debated in Parliament. These include the Police Grant Report which highlights the considerable reduction in funding for the Police as part of the funding formula review and funding cuts to Lancashire County Council which also has been the subject of a Westminster Hall debate.  These considerable financial constraints on budgets will result in a huge impact on the delivery of core services, particularly in Adult Social Care. You can read my speeches in full below.

My constituency mailbag this month has seen various issues raised by constituents including the debate on illegal Israeli Settlements that took place on 9th February and you can read my statement in the House on this subject later on in this newsletter.  Other policy issues of note include the privatisation of the Green Investment Bank, Brexit negotiations (speech below) and the animal fur trade in the UK. 

On a more positive note, in a latest poll for Channel 4 programme 'UK's Best Place to Live'; Preston ranked 12th place with neighbouring South Ribble topping the poll carried out by the University of Sheffield. The latest data from Cities Outlook 2017 also places Preston in sixth position for housing stock growth and at the bottom of the table of cities with the lowest rises in house prices (58th).   

Best wishes

'Make Care Fair'
Leonard Cheshire Disability

I am pleased to join disability charity Leonard Cheshire in calling for an end to undignified and unsafe 'flying' care visits which only last for fifteen minutes.

Police Funding

Below is my speech in Parliament during the Police Grant Report (Motion) in the House on 22nd February 2017. 

'Lancashire has been one of the top-performing police forces in the country for many years, and in some ways it has been a victim of its own success. Despite the improvements in its performance and efficiency, it has been on the receiving end of this Government’s cuts for a number of years. Given that success, however, I pay tribute to County Councillor Clive Grunshaw, our police and crime commissioner, and especially to Chief Constable Steve Finnigan, who is retiring this year after giving many years’ service to the people of Lancashire.

The police face financial and demand pressures as partner services are cut, and they also face the challenges posed by uncertainty about the future. The financial uncertainty caused by the return of the police funding formula review particularly affects forces such as Lancashire’s. Last time, mistakes were made in the process which suggested that Lancashire would lose about £25 million a year, on top of the £76 million-worth of savings that have been made since 2010. Even when the figures were revised, it was clear that more than £8 million a year would be taken out of its annual policing budget. That meant that it faced savings of more than £100 million a year by 2020, in comparison with 2010, which is the equivalent of more than a third of its budget.

Reform of the police funding formula is overdue, as has been pointed out by the Home Affairs Committee and by Members here today. It is vital for the new formula to represent accurately the demands on police forces. All forces need to be adequately resourced, but that must be done without disadvantaging other areas where tough choices are already being made so that necessary savings can be delivered. My constituents tell me repeatedly that they do not want resources to be taken out of policing, and have therefore supported increases in the policing precept. Further cuts will have an impact on officer numbers, as about 80% of the constabulary’s total budget consists of staffing and officer costs.

When the Chancellor announced in 2016 that police budgets would continue to be protected in cash terms, assuming that council tax was maximised, I, along with many others, welcomed that news. Last year’s cuts in grant funding were a uniform 0.6%, and this year’s provisional settlement outlined a further 1.3% cut in direct resource funding. While those cuts are considerably better than was originally expected in 2015, they still mean that Lancashire must absorb normal inflation and other Government-imposed cost pressures, such as the national insurance changes, the national living wage, and the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. As a result, it must still deliver £4 million of savings in 2017-18, with a further £14 million to be found by 2019-20.

I am also disappointed that there is to be a further reduction in police capital grant in 2017-18. Regular IT replacement cycles impose a significant cost on the force, but that investment is vital to ensure improved productivity and efficiency in future years. The reduction in grant means that the burden on scarce revenue resources is increased, as borrowing to meet those costs is an unattractive option in view of the relatively short life cycles of IT assets.

The Minister did not mention top-slicing in his opening speech. The value of top-slices will have increased significantly in 2017-18, by over £100 million. That increase is more than the assumed year-on-year increase in precept income from the 2016-17 level nationally. It could be argued that local taxpayers are, in effect, funding the growth in national programmes.

There is no information about the detailed plans for the £175 million transformation fund for 2017-18. Until that information is provided, the treasurer of my council will be unable to gauge how much of the funding might be returned to the service. In recent years, the Government have shifted towards creating funding pots for the police service to bid for, and that bidding process can be laborious and possibly fruitless at a time when resources are thinly stretched. We would also like an assurance that the proposed £525 million increase in the transformation fund in 2018-19—to provide a total fund of £700 million—will not be met by further top-slices in the grant that is distributed to police and crime commissioners. A further reduction of that magnitude in direct funding for policing would have a very detrimental effect on the ability of forces to deliver their services to the public.

The top-slice taken to fund the emergency services network programme has increased significantly, at a time when the implementation of the network is consistently being pushed further and further back. It concerns me that, according to the Public Accounts Committee’s report on the new programme, the December 2019 cut-off point may not be met. That may mean that the existing Airwave contract will be extended, at a potential cost of nearly £500 million. At a time when resources for policing are stretched to an unprecedented level, it does not seem prudent to remove funding from forces to pay for a programme that is not making progress. I would be grateful for any information or reassurances that the Minister and the Department can provide about the ability to meet the timescales in question, or about the protection of individual forces’ budgets from any overrun costs arising from the ESN or the extension of Airwave contracts.

I would also appreciate more certainty in general about the future level of top-slicing. It has increased each year, but at inconsistent levels, which makes the forecasting of future levels of resources and their allocation extremely difficult. The Government are making financial planning and the prudent management of public funding considerably more difficult than they need to be.

Mental health services have received a great deal of media attention recently. It is widely understood in the sector that mental health is a key driver of demand for policing. When I met my local chief constable a couple of weeks ago, I was told that 80% of incoming calls to the police were not even crime-related, and many involved mental health problems. While the police have received relative protection from this round of Government austerity, the same cannot be said of many of our blue light partners. Local government has been severely affected and, despite additional resources, the pressures on health are well documented and have been made clear by other Members. As a result, the service is facing increased pressure from cuts to other sectors’ funding. I therefore ask Ministers present today, the Home Office and other Departments to ensure that investment in other relevant sectors, such as the health service, the courts and the prisons, is maintained in order to generate benefits for the police service. Cutting these other services is having an indirect effect on the operation of the police service.

I ask the Minister to speak to the Chancellor and make representations on this year’s Budget. I hope that the Government, and the Chancellor in particular, will take account of the issues I have raised, in order to improve the police service to the people of Lancashire and elsewhere throughout the country.'

India Republic Day Celebrations 
at Gujarat Hindu Society

I was pleased to be invited along once again to the Gujarat Hindu Society's 'India Republic Day' Celebrations held on 28th January 2017 at their community centre on South Meadow Lane.

26th January 2017 marks the 67th Republic Day of India and the event was celebrated by Preston's Gujarat Hindu Society during an evening of cultural performances. Although India gained independence in August 1947, the Indian Constitution was signed into law, a few years later on 26th January 1950, creating the Republic.  Celebrations are traditionally held in New Delhi, across India and in various parts of the world where there is an Indian diaspora.

Pictured above is a traditional Indian dance performed by young members of the Gujarat Hindu Society.
 

Lancashire County Council

Below is my contribution during a Westminster Hall debate about government cuts to Lancashire County Council. You can view the video here (watch from 16:26 ).

'First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale (David Morris) on securing the debate. I will make a few brief points and then await the Minister’s response.

The hon. Gentleman rightly referred to the independent PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which made the point that Lancashire County Council is currently underfunded and has been for many years—we do not have the time to go into the figures. Lancashire County Council has the third lowest tax base of any of the shire authorities. The list of grants to which the hon. Gentleman referred showed the top-slicing of local government, which is such that prescriptive packets of funding are now given in addition to the rate support grant. He quoted the rate support grant as being only 14% of the total amount of money received. That is right, but only because the RSG has been reduced such that the Government can be more prescriptive about how other grants are spent.

The adult social care grant is obviously important. Despite the linkage between adult social care and the health service, we have seen a £4.6 billion hole in adult social care funding over the past five years, which needs to be filled. The Minister and myself were in the Chamber just now to hear the Communities and Local Government Committee Secretary talk of increases in adult social care funding. Those increases are welcome, but they will not get anywhere near the £4.6 billion required to fill the hole that has been generated over the past five years.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned that Lancashire, of which Preston is the centre, received the highest rate support grant of any shire authority. It has, because it is the second largest authority in the country after Birmingham City Council. It is a huge area that spends huge amounts of money, much of which has been taken away from it in recent years. Lancashire also has a much higher proportion of older people and people who cannot pay for their own care than any other shire authority. That ageing population puts particular pressures on social services.

Levying the 2% precept on council tax to pay for adult social care will raise just less than £8 million, but Lancashire County Council needs £14 million annually to keep up with the living wage and cost of living increases. However, levying the 2% precept in Surrey will raise £12 million. Is it not time that the hon. Member for Morecambe and Lunesdale does what those Conservative politicians in Surrey did and perhaps asks for a sweetheart deal with the Government that could make Lancashire better funded?

PricewaterhouseCoopers says that, even if Lancashire County Council is in the lowest quartile of spend on every service, it will still have a £94 million gap by 2021— even if the 2% precept is levied every year.

Given the brief word the hon. Gentleman and I had before this debate about it not being party political, I was surprised to hear him mention consistently points made by County Councillor Jennifer Mein, the leader of the council.

The hon. Gentleman talked about funding being Preston-centric. He has not accepted invitations to county hall or Westminster to talk about these issues with other MPs from Lancashire. If he looks at the reports from the LEP, he will see that many of those projects are spread throughout Lancashire and are not focused particularly on Preston.

 

RSVP: By Special Invitation Only

I was pleased to be asked to contribute a piece to a book for charity entitled 'RSVP: By Special Invitation Only' by Tony Slater. The book is a compilation of the food and drink local celebrities would serve to their choice of ten fantasy dinner guests picked from any point in history.  The book was published with 100% of the purchase price going to three local charities; Derian House, St Catherine’s Hospice and the Baby Beat Appeal.

RSVP: By Invitation Only is on sale for £12.99. To place an order, contact Tony on 01772 200181 or 07703475258. Copies are available at Derian House shops in Chorley, Leyland, Longton and Horwich and the Baby Beat Shop in the foyer of Sharoe Green Maternity Unit.

You can also order your copy by calling: Emma Jacovelli at St Catherine’s Hospice on 01772 629171; Karen Entwistle at Baby Beat on 01772 524414; John Rullo at Derian House on 01257 271271
 

 Foreign Affairs Committee
Delegation from Poland

Pictured with me above are members of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in discussion with delegates from the Polish Parliament.

Brexit Debate

Below is my spoken contribution during a debate on the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill.

'In my view, it is a tragedy that we have seen introduced into the House a Bill that will result in our withdrawal from the European Union at the same time as our Government are seeking to embrace an extreme right-wing United States President and Administration who seem hellbent on disrupting a long-standing progressive and multilateral world order based on trade, NATO and the European Union. The American President, whose slogan is “America first”, and who talks in protectionist terms and about a possible trade war with China, hardly seems likely to provide the UK with favourable trade terms, given that the UK has relinquished any leverage it might have had by unilaterally announcing that it is to leave the EU single market. What is on offer from the United States to replace the high-quality consumer standards that EU membership has given us? The answer is chlorinated chicken, beef injected with growth hormones and genetically modified products that do not comply with the EU’s strict precautionary principles.

We have to deal with the world as it is now—the US will not hold elections again until 2020, and the prospects of a second referendum are indeed remote—so I will reluctantly support the triggering of article 50, at least to show what I regard as a modicum of respect for the referendum result, in spite of the fact that the margin was a narrow 52% to 48% and that the debate was littered with untruths and misleading facts, while the largely EU-hostile media represented the interests of their owners.

Let me make this point very clear: the vote is not a blank cheque. If the deal that comes back is bad, I and I am sure many other people will vote against it. If there is no deal and we become dependent on deals struck with the US, Turkey and New Zealand, then God help this country. We risk being isolated in Europe. Why should we buy lamb or butter from New Zealand when we can buy them from France or produce them ourselves? How can we get Turkey to comply with EU consumer standards when they are nowhere near ready to enter the EU—if, indeed, they ever do so? I genuinely hope the Government can maximise their influence to get a good trade deal. The future of this country, and its jobs and prosperity, very much depend on it.

The Foreign Secretary yesterday accused Members of demonising Donald Trump as a Nazi, when a week ago he himself compared President Hollande with a Nazi guard giving punishment beatings. The incompetence and undiplomatic nature of the Foreign Secretary, and other members of the Government, lead me to believe that it is very unlikely we will get a good deal with our European partners. That is not just because of what has been said in recent weeks and months, but because of the history of Eurosceptic Conservative Back Benchers. The Government’s track record is poor. For the sake of this country, our young people and everyone else, let us hope their negotiating skills are far better.'

 Occupied Palestinian Territories

Below is my spoken contribution to the debate held in the Commons Chamber on 9th February 2017 about the Occupied Palestinian Territories: Israeli Settlements.

'As has become the fashion, I declare my visits to Palestine and Israel over the past 15 years financed by various organisations.

The focus of this debate—settlements—is narrow but nevertheless very important. Some hon. Members have sought to trivialise the issue of settlements, but while they might not be the most important issue, they are nevertheless very important. We need only look at UN resolutions 242 and 338, dated 1967 and 1973, in which the key phrase refers to the:

“Withdrawal of Israeli armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict”.

'It is clear that the Israeli armed forces will not be withdrawn as long as settlements exist in the west bank, so it goes without saying that settlements embody a crucial part of the problem. When I first visited Palestine, 14 or 15 years ago, there were about 50,000 settlers in the west bank. When I last visited, that number had increased to about 500,000, and I understand that the latest figure is about 600,000. The situation on the ground is changing extremely quickly, and the longer the conflict goes on, the further out of reach a two-state solution will drift. So much land will have been taken that there will be very little left for a contiguous state, as I hope the Government will recognise.

As we know, settlements were the main focus of resolution 2334 passed on 23 December. We also know that the policy of the US, the UN, the EU and the UK Government, as repeated endlessly by Ministers in the House, is that settlements are illegal under international law and an obstacle to peace. I do not know, therefore, how anyone can say that settlements are not part and parcel of the solution to the problem. It is said that there should be no preconditions before talks, but clearly the UN resolutions are not preconditions; they refer to international law, so the discussions and direct talks should take place on that basis. I urge the Government to recognise Palestine and apply pressure on the US and elsewhere to ensure that a two-state solution is still viable.'

Written Parliamentary Questions

I have asked questions to and received answers from ministers on a range of issues this month.  They include:

Electronic Tagging - Ministry of Justice
Credit Unions: Finance - Department for Work and Pensions
Ambulance Services - Department of Health
Redundancy Pay - HM Treasury
Accidents: Fees and Charges - Department of Health
Funerals - Ministry of Justice
UK Visas and Immigration: Judicial Review - Home Office
Bereavement Payment - Department for Work and Pensions
Carers: Welfare Tax Credits- HM Treasury




 
Copyright © 2017 Mark Hendrick MP, All rights reserved.


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