Saturday, 30 March 2013

Canvassing in Abbey & Bedroom Tax rally #2

It was good to be canvassing today with Vijay Singh Riyait, Labour's candidate for the upcoming Abbey ward by-election in Leicester.

Assistant Mayor Vi Dempster and councillors Sue Waddington and Sundip Meghani were also with us on the doorsteps. Good luck to Vijay, who will be an excellent councillor. I will be back in Abbey for some more campaigning soon.

Campaigning with Vijay Riyait in Abbey ward.

I also attended today's Bedroom Tax protest rally in the city centre. A number of Labour councillors attended the demonstration along with local trade union activists. This was the second rally in the city against this dreadful policy. I spoke at the first protest held a couple of weeks ago and told the rally:

'When it comes to the pace and scale of government cuts hitting the city council and the public sector, and these welfare changes like the awful bedroom tax, we have to be clear in saying to the government: enough is enough.'

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Leicester CAMRA Beer Festival: starts tomorrow

The CAMRA Leicester Beer Festival starts tomorrow.

I am a member of CAMRA and recently spoke about the importance of local pubs at the Leicester branch meeting.

The Leicester Beer Festival has become a very popular event and is well established on the city's calendar. It is always very well organised and attended by people from across the area and beyond.

I am looking forward to attending the Festival and would like to wish the CAMRA committee and festival organising team all the best for the Festival, I am sure it will be another excellent and very enjoyable event.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Rally against the Bedroom Tax

On Saturday I spoke at the protest against the Bedroom Tax in Leicester City Centre.

The rally was well attended and there is real anger and worry about the impact this dreadful policy will have.

I told the rally: 'When it comes to the pace and scale of government cuts hitting the city council and the public sector, and these welfare changes like the awful bedroom tax, we have to be clear in saying to the government: enough is enough.'

Speaking at Saturday's Bedroom Tax protest rally.
Photo: Chris Hanrahan 

Leicester Mental Health Summit

I was pleased to speak at the Mental Health summit on Friday organised by Jon Ashworth MP.

I have always felt very strongly about mental health and specifically the need for politicians, policy-makers and society in general to talk more about mental health and wellbeing.

I am determined that the new Health and Wellbeing Board in Leicester - which I chair - and the city council makes mental health a key priority. Mental health, wellbeing and emotional resilience will be one of the strategic priorities in the new Health Strategy for the city which will be published in the coming weeks.

In my speech I made clear the Health and Wellbeing Board's commitment to high quality provision for mental health and work to improve mental wellbeing across the city. I also called on all councillors to be champions for mental health.

At any one time around 30,000 people of working age in Leicester will have a mental illness. We have real expertise and innovation across the city's voluntary sector and the challenge is matching this provision with the statutory services to make sure we have broad, co-ordinated and high quality care pathways and provision meeting the needs and aspirations of service users and our communities.

Speaking at the Mental Health Summit

Friday's summit in Leicester, which included participants from the statutory and voluntary sectors, was an important opportunity to discuss mental health provision and what more can be done.

For more coverage of the summit see Jon Ashworth's website.

News article from a visit I made to Network for Change in Leicester when I was cabinet member at the city council for adult social care, with then MP Peter Soulsby.

National Apprenticeships Week

As part of National Apprenticeships Week I met with city council apprentices earlier this week.

Through our Leicester to Work programme we will be investing in more apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are an excellent way for young people to combine paid work, on-the-job learning and achieve accredited qualifications. As we tackle the youth jobs crisis we need more apprenticeships across the public and private sectors.

I also believe that we need to think now about the role of apprenticeships and the form they take in relation to future skills and education policy. Nick Pearce at ippr has blogged some thoughts on this.

Over the last few months I have been visiting apprenticeship providers and employers to hear about their programmes and what more can be done to develop better pathways for young people into training and work. I would be interested to visit more projects, so please let me know if you would like to suggest an employer or project I should visit.

All of the city council apprentices I met this week spoke positively and enthusiastically about their apprenticeship.

A few links on apprenticeships:

  • Leicester Mercury article on my meeting with city council apprentices as part of National Apprenticeship Week.
  • My call last October for public sector procurement to help drive apprenticeships, following Ed Miliband's Labour conference speech, covered in the Leicester Mercury.
  • New highways apprenticeship scheme at city council which I launched (from Leicester Mercury)
  • Blog by MEP Glenis Willmott on our visit to meet rail apprentices.
Meeting rail apprentices with MEP Glenis Willmott.

Monday, 4 March 2013

CAMRA meeting

Later this week I will be speaking at a meeting of Leicester CAMRA.

I am looking forward to discussing a range of issues with the CAMRA branch including the future of our local pubs, licensing policy and alcohol pricing. As a member of CAMRA I am also looking forward to this year's Leicester Beer Festival, which is always an excellent event.

I have written a column for the current issue of Leicester CAMRA's newsletter, which can be read online here.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Canvassing in Loughborough

It was good to be campaigning in Loughborough yesterday.

Loughborough is a crucial East Midlands marginal. Following a meeting of Labour's Regional Board we joined prospective parliamentary candidate Matthew O'Callaghan and county councillor Betty Newton for some canvassing ahead of May's Leicestershire County Council elections.

Campaigning in Loughborough with local activists and members of 
East Midlands Labour Regional Board.
In the last few weeks I have been out campaigning with local activists in Enderby, Shepshed and Bassetlaw.

Living Wage

From 1st April this year Leicester City Council will be paying the Living Wage.

I am really pleased that we have agreed to deliver this. I argued for a commitment to explore paying the Living Wage in Labour's manifesto for the 2011 city mayor and council elections.
Paying the Living Wage was also included in the recommendations of the Leicester Child Poverty Commission which I chair.

On Friday I signed the formal decision notice confirming that the council will be paying the Living Wage from 1st April this year.

Signing the formal decision notice confirming (see below)
that Leicester City Council will pay the Living Wage

Your Britain: have your say

As one of the National Policy Forum reps for the East Midlands I have been busy over the last few weeks attending Your Britain policy discussions across the region.

I have discussed education policy with members in North East Derbyshire and their MP Natascha Engel; I led a discussion on child poverty at Bassetlaw Labour Party and discussed health and social care policy with members in Erewash. Last week I was at Loughborough Labour Party with Shadow Minister Liz Kendall MP to discuss health and care policy. I also met with college students from Loughborough College to discuss young people and politics.

Discussing Your Britain and policy-making with members in
Loughborough and Shadow Minister Liz Kendall MP.

All of these discussions have been lively and it is good to see so many members getting involved in this important phase of policy discussion. These are the discussions that will begin to frame our policy platform and manifesto for the 2015 General Election.

Your Britain is Labour's online hub for policy discussion.
The deadline for submissions on the first set of policy challenge papers - short papers setting out the key issues and questions on priority policy areas - has been extended until Wednesday next week. So, there is still time to have your say on important issues including;

  • Vocational education, apprenticeships and the role of job guarantees in tackling youth unemployment
  • Protecting workers; including the role of agency workers, the Living Wage and the GLA
  • 21st Century NHS and social care; delivering integration
  • Tax avoidance; tax havens
  • The Housing Crisis; House building and a private rented sector that works for Britain's families
  • A British Investment Bank; making it a reality
  • Our Buses and Railways; giving communities more of a say
  • Childcare: what matters to parents and children?
  • Young People and Politics; making a fresh start
  • Britain's role in a post-2015 development vision

You can read and comment on the challenge papers via the Your Britain website.

These priority issues were determined by a ballot at last year's Labour Conference. The National Policy Forum Policy Commissions (essentially subcommittees of the National Policy Forum) are looking in detail at the all submissions and comments received before more detailed policy papers are issued for consultation later this year.

Your Britain policy discussion on health and social care

Without doubt one of the most important challenges for policy-makers today is social care.

Securing a financially sustainable model for providing care for the elderly is an urgent challenge. The ageing population is a challenge dominating the policy landscape and carries with it many complexities.  We will see dramatic increases in the numbers of people living with dementia. Expectations of care services will change overtime and people will expect care services to meet their individual needs and aspirations.

It was very interesting to discuss these issues and others with Labour Party members in Erewash recently. Local councillor Claire Neill organised a policy forum meeting to address a number of questions currently part of Labour's Policy Review.

Discussing the NHS and social care policy with
members of Erewash Labour Party.

Labour's Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has recently begun to talk about the concept of Whole Person Care. Having read Andy's speech to the King's Fund where he unveiled this approach, and having discussed it recently with Shadow Minister Liz Kendall, I am convinced there is real merit in taking this approach forward. It could define the next era of thinking around health and social care. 

Interestingly, the meeting of Labour members in Erewash, voted overwhelmingly in favour of full integration of health and care budgets.

From page to practice. The work of Labour councillors delivering fairness in tough times.

Labour councillors and activists know that it is an understatement to say local government has had a raw deal from the coalition. Councils have seen their budgets slashed, with poorer areas losing out disproportionately. There are new risks built into local authority revenues via business rates retention. Localised council tax discount schemes and housing and welfare benefit changes will hit low-income households hard. For those who care about reducing hardship and poverty and who want to create fairer communities the landscape could not be tougher.

Against this challenging and bleak backdrop Labour councillors are doing their utmost to protect communities and secure progressive change. The living wage movement has taken hold in Labour local government. Labour councils across the country are introducing the living wage and those early adopters should be applauded. More councils will do so in the coming months, 
including my own in Leicester.

Commissions which bring together those who share our broad commitment to fairness and social justice have been set up in a number of Labour-run areas. Islington set the ball rolling with their landmark Fairness Commission and others including Sheffield and York have followed. In Leicester I set up a commission to explore what more can be done to tackle high rates of child poverty, which are forecast to get worst because of welfare changes.

As a model of working, commissions are proving to be useful. They allow for the exchange of ideas and joined-up working towards local solutions which will help drive out inequalities and disadvantage. Crucially, commissions are able to actively demonstrate a shared commitment to a fairness agenda both in concept and delivery.

The coalitions which are brought together through commissions and similar partnerships are key in taking recommendations from page to practice. My experience in Leicester is that we will implement some of our 66 recommendations on child poverty quickly because we had people round the table framing those proposals who can now provide important tactical input in getting them delivered. This includes the voluntary sector and private sector, showing that through this model of working it is possible to develop important relationships across sectors around key priorities. This in itself provides a mandate which can generate momentum around particular priorities or recommendations.

One of the lessons from this experience is that some of the best of what happens in local government happens when we look outwards. Labour councils are determined not to retreat in these tough times. It is clear that when we engage our communities and partners and set out to work cooperatively to find solutions we can make important progress.

This is not the ‘big society’ and attempts to badge this approach as such would be wrong. This is the best of Labour in local government, working with our communities to tackle inequality and build fairness. Labour in local government is showing that whatever the coalition can throw at us we won’t turn our backs on those we represent. We will work with our communities in the best traditions of cooperative endeavour to champion fairness and social justice.

This article was first published to coincide with the Labour Local Government Conference and the publication of One Nation Localism by Jessica Studdert.