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Labour sweeps back to power in Derbyshire PDF Print E-mail

 

On a successful day for Labour across England, an end was brought to the Tory administration at Derbyshire County Council on 2 May. In North East Derbyshire Labour our candidates were victorious in six of the eight seats  based on new boundaries.

Congratulations to our winning candidates and new County Councillors. They are:

Clay Cross North: Brian Wright

Clay Cross South: Kevin Gillott,

Dronfield East: Janet Hill,

Eckington & Killamarsh: Brian Ridgeway and Diane Charles

Sutton: Julie Hill.

Added to gains made across the County, Labour now has 43 seats with the Tories down to 18 and, their coalition partners, the Lib Dems reduced to 3. UKIP failed to make a breakthrough anywhere in Derbyshire.

 

 
The Coops behind the high-street brands PDF Print E-mail

Co-ops are businesses owned and run by workers, consumers, the community or by other businesses. Everyone involved has a say in the way the business is run and how the profit is shared out.

 

We all know our local Co-op shop but did you know that behind some of the best known high-street brands are millions of farmers from around the world who have formed co-operatives to improve their bargaining power, sustain their businesses and make a better living as a result of working together?

In Britain half of all the 300,000 farmers are members of co-operatives, making up around 450 separate businesses in total. Along with produce from around the world, a typical supermarket is almost certain to include a number of items supplied by a co-op.

For instance:

· Lurpak, one of Europe's best known brands of butter, is produced and owned by 8,000 dairy farmers in Denmark, Sweden and Germany.

· Nearly all champagne, one of France's best known and high value products, is produced by cooperatives of small vineyards.

· 90% of parmesan cheese is made by a cooperative of small farmers and producers in northern Italy.

· Ocean Spray is a cooperative of over 600 family farms from across the USA and their cranberry products are on shelves throughout the world.

· McCoy's are using an increasing proportion of potatoes supplied by a cooperative of local farmers to manufacture their crisps.

· Colman's Mustard Seed Growers Co-operative is a co-operative and supplies the majority of the seeds used to make Colman's English Mustard.

· Most of the blackcurrants in Ribena are supplied by The Blackcurrant Growers' Association, a co-operative of farmers.

· The Green Pea Company is a co-operative of UK farmers providing peas for the Birds Eye company.

· Danish bacon, stocked in every UK supermarket and exported to over 100 countries, is entirely produced by co-operative farmers in Denmark.

· Fairtrade was started by cooperatives in Mexico and is now a global phenomenon.75% of all Fairtrade goods are produced by co-operatives.

Many people prefer to shop at their local Co-op but even if you do the weekly grocery run at one of the big name supermarkets, the chances are that you are also supporting a number of co-ops producing the goods on offer.


 

 
Joining the debate PDF Print E-mail

With the launch of http://www.yourbritain.org.uk/ it has never been easier to contribute to the policy debate in the Labour Party. To help you examine some of the current thinking on the left, and to make it easy for you to get involved in the debate, we have added a new set of websites to our links page. Your jumping off point is the Links panel in the menu on the left of this page. Happy socialist surfing!

 
Natascha Engel MP eBulletin PDF Print E-mail

 

Votes at 16

After the announcement on Wednesday 10 October that the Scottish Referendum would include young people aged 16 and 17, I was invited onto the Today Programme on Radio 4[1] (Thursday 11 October) with Lord Michael Forsyth, a former Tory Minister and opponent of Votes at 16. I have long supported and campaigned lowering the voting age but agree that this is a major constitutional change that needs to be widely consulted on, debated and voted on in Parliament.

This was followed by interviews on Radio Derby and LBC. There was also some coverage in The Independent on Thursday 11 October[2]

When David Mundell, the Scotland Minister, made a Statement to the House on Monday 15 October, I was able to ask him directly and was disappointed at his answer:

NATASCHA ENGEL: "As a supporter of votes at 16, I welcome the Scottish Parliament extending the franchise to 16-year-olds. Far from seeing that as a dangerous precedent, why will the Government not seize the opportunity to consult debate and vote on widening the franchise to 16-year-olds in all UK elections, including referendums and local and national elections?"

DAVID MUNDELL: "In simple terms, the Government will not do that because we do not support 16 and 17-year-olds voting in such elections."

You can access the transcripts of Home Office questions here, on Hansard.[3]

E-Petitions

Hundreds of thousands of people have signed e-petitions and once a petition reaches 100,000 signatures, it is referred to the Backbench Business Committee which I chair.

To find out more about the Backbench Business Committee, follow this link to the Parliament website.[4]

For background information on e-petitions and the Backbench Business Committee visit the website[5] or visit the government’s e-petition website.[6]

I have been an outspoken supporter of the principle of e-petitions but a critic of the way our system works. This week I have been meeting with House of Commons staff from the Outreach Team to discuss possible ways of bringing e-petitions in-House and using it as a way of educating and engaging better with people who sign e-petitions. E-petitions should be better used to teach people how Parliament works in order that they can better influence what we do.

The House Magazine (Parliament’s in-house magazine) published an article in which I spelled out the changes I would like to see.[7]

These proposals come after a seminar run by The Hansard Society and hosted by the Backbench Business Committee to hear from experts about how a successful petition system can work. They produced a booklet you can access here: www.hansardsociety.org.uk/files/folders/3367/download.aspx

Backbench Business Committee

16th October

Every Tuesday at 3pm the Backbench Business Committee opens its doors to take representation from backbenchers making bids for the time which Government allocates to us for debate. This time we were given Thursday 25 October all day in the Chamber.

This week was the first week back after the Conference Recess so it was a busy meeting, especially because the e-petition demanding a Stop to the Badger Cull[8] had reached 100,000 signatures.

With celebrities such as Brian May in the public gallery, we heard from a cross-party group of MPs why this debate was urgent and essential. The Committee decided to allocate the whole day to this debate after satisfying ourselves that it would not be too one-sided or partisan.

Also of local interest was another e-petition on Children’s Cardiac Services[9] in Leicestershire which was given time on Monday 22 October in Westminster Hall.

We also heard representations for a debate on reducing the voting age to 16, lowering the time limit for abortions and air passenger duty.

To view the formal minutes from the meeting click here.[10]

23rd October

This week we had the 1st and 8th to schedule time for in the chamber. We had a lot of really interesting applications for debates, including some that had improved their application. Reducing the voting age to 16 and air passenger duty came back.

One of the e-petitions that have been growing in support rapidly has been to the Stop the British Beer Escalator, which now has over 104,000 signatures. This tax rises year on year and effects small British breweries and pubs. As the treasury has never led a review before, there was urgent need to grant this debate before the treasury produces its autumn statement and so, the Committee granted a three hour debate on the 1st November. Also, on this day the committed decided a debate on a review of Air Passenger Duty will take place; this issue is particularly non partisan and affects hundreds of ordinary people.

The Committee also heard from applications for the Regulation of Insurance.

Local print media

As a former local newspaper journalist and organiser for the print union GPMU (now part of Unite)[11], I have always taken a keen interest on the role of local newspapers. A healthy and vibrant local and regional press is essential for a strong democracy if we are to be held properly to account.

For many decades now, local newspapers have diminished in power and quality. This has been in part due to advances in technology and new media, partly because people consume news in a different way. But in large part is due to a lack of local competition when regional news companies buy competing local papers and either shut them down or make them into free sheets. In Derbyshire, we have recently seen the closure of the Chesterfield Advertiser, for example.

I have therefore been closely involved with the National Union of Journalists’ (NUJ)[12] campaign to support local newspapers and attended their campaign meeting this week.  

Maximum Working Temperatures

As well as Gunstone’s in Dronfield, North East Derbyshire has many small local bakeries. Unlike minimum temperatures for which there is legislation in place to protect workers, no such protection exists for maximum temperatures. I have therefore been campaigning with the Bakers’ Union (BFAWU)[13] to ensure that this is recognised as an issue.

This week along with a number of other MPs, we met with the Bakers’ Union and Gavin Shuker, Labour’s environment spokesperson to ensure that this campaign is recognised and supported as widely as possible.

Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)

It is not often that you get called in Prime Minister’s Question Time and I had almost given up hope by 12.35 but was lucky enough to catch the Speaker’s eye.

After newspaper coverage this weekend about Michael Gove and an EU referendum, I wanted to know where the Prime Minister stood on this important issue.

NATASCHA ENGEL "The Secretary of State for Education said this weekend that if there were a referendum on Britain's continued membership of the EU, he would vote to leave. A third of the Cabinet agree with him. How would the Prime Minister vote?"

DAVID CAMERON: “As I said, I do not want an in/out referendum, because I am not happy with us leaving the European Union, but I am not happy with the status quo either. I think what the vast majority of this country wants is a new settlement with Europe and then that settlement being put to fresh consent. That is what will be going in our manifesto, and I think it will get a ringing endorsement from the British people."

I would like to know why in the week that Cameron agrees to an in/out referendum in Scotland, but the same is not good enough for the rest of the UK?

You can watch the exchange on YouTube, here.[14]

The remarks got some praise from John Rentoul on Twitter. [15]

You can read the transcript of Prime Ministers Questions here.[16]

My question to the Prime Minister was also picked up on by the Daily Express.[17] And the Independent[18] ran a piece with my comments included.


Park Homes

When I took over from Harry Barnes as MP in 2005, one of the ongoing campaigns with which I continued was to bring justice for people who live in Park Homes.

I have been a very active member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Park Homes and have lobbied every Local Government Minister since my election. Finally, we have gained government support for a Private Members Bill which got its second reading in Parliament on Friday 19 October.

Private Member’s Bill   Mobile Homes Bill (HC Bill 12)

2nd Reading of Mobile Homes Bill  House of Commons Hansard Debates for 19 Oct 2012 (pt 0001)

Derbyshire Times article on Park Homes  Park Homes | nataschaengelmp

Information on Residents Associations Qualifying Association

In North East Derbyshire there are eight Park Home sites with around 350 park homes and most of them have a rule that only those over 50 can live there.   People living on the sites own their home but rent the plot from the site owner and it is the way in which owners manage the sites that has created the problems for residents.  Years ago sites were owned by families who cared.   Today many of them are owned as a business interest with no room for compassion or understanding, only profit.   Local authorities are responsible for licensing the sites but are limited in what action they can take against unscrupulous site owners.  The reason for this is that the current law makes no provision for the protection of the home owner on park home sites in contrast with the protection that other home owners have.  Over the years I have heard many horror stories from people who live on park homes and I hope that this Bill will lead to a change in the law that will allow park home residents to enjoy the peace of mind that many of us take for granted.

Blue Badges

I voiced concern on behalf of Blue Badge holders when I asked the Transport Secretary, Norman Baker, whether he thought mobility could be assessed by a brief phone call.  The Minister’s reply was that this was a matter for the local authority and he would not be making any further enquiries.

I raised the question in Parliament after a number of my constituents found themselves on the receiving end of such a practice when first applying or trying to renew a blue badge.

From 1 April 2012, the way assessments are carried out changed.  For people who do not automatically qualify for a badge they may be subject to independent mobility assessments not involving their own GP.

Commenting Natascha Engel MP said:

“The Department for Transport are responsible for the legislation that sets out the framework for the blue badge scheme and yet the Minister dismissed the concerns of my constituents over the way in which assessments are carried out.  Even in the Government’s own guidelines to Local Authorities they acknowledge that desk-based assessments cannot be successfully used as the sole means of determining an applicant’s eligibility for a blue badge.  I would urge the Minister to look again at allowing this method of assessment.”

To see the transcript view the Hansard Link - Transport Questions,[19] Thursday 18 October 2012

Department of Transport Guidance to Local Authorities[20]

Business Questions

Every Thursday there is Business Questions in the House of Commons. This is an opportunity to scrutinise the subjects which the government put forward for debate and to question the Leader of the House on the timings of legislation.

It is also a chance to raise issues of concern on the Backbench Business Committee. These are normally to do with the government’s allocation of time to the Backbench Business Committee, but this week I asked Andrew Lansley, the Leader of the House, to consider allowing Parliament to deal with e-petitions.

He has agreed to work with me to look at doing this.

NATASCHA ENGEL: "Hundreds of thousands of people have signed e-petitions, which resulted from the system that the Government launched last year. Unfortunately, that number does not translate into people’s being satisfied with the system. To avoid further frustration and anger among those who use the system, will the new Leader of the House work with the Backbench Business Committee to see whether we can bring the system into Parliament, as suggested by the Procedure Committee in the last Parliament, to make the system the success that it ought to be?"

ANDREW LANSLEY: "I am grateful to the hon. Lady. It is indeed right that, under the coalition Government, not least through the e-petition system and the Backbench Business Committee reform, we are improving opportunities for public engagement. Those are being taken up and they are demonstrating their potential. In so far as there is confusion, we just have to work through it. I entirely understand the hon. Lady’s point. We will, of course, work together. I look forward to working with Opposition Front Benchers, the hon. Lady’s Committee and the Procedure Committee to ensure that public engagement, not least through the new e-petition system, is as good as we can make it."

To see the transcript view the Hansard link.[21]


Gorsey Brigg Primary School

21 Children and 4 teachers came to visit the Palace of Westminster, following a visit from me to Gorsey Brigg Primary School.* The children had a tour of both Houses of Parliament and an education session where they learnt about how MPs where selected and elected. Having a tour of the palace is the best way to learn about Parliament, as there is so much to look at, the children loved the throne in the House of Lords the most.  *The Chesterfield Post - Local MP's News

New Medical Centre in Clay Cross

I was so pleased to have been asked to open the new Clay Cross Medical Centre. The new Centre, built as part of the Clay Cross Regeneration Programme, will provide facilities that are able to respond to local needs for many years to come. The modern facilities will offer patients a more comfortable and relaxing atmosphere when visiting the Centre and staff will also have the benefits of working in a 21st century environment.  What was also wonderful was the stain glass window inside the Centre designed by pupils from Holmgate Primary School.


[10] http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-committees/backbench-business/BBBC%20Formal%20minutes%202012-13.pdf

[12] http://www.nuj.org.uk/

 
Planning and the provision of housing: the role of government and local councils PDF Print E-mail

In a recent Derbyshire Times column, Natascha Engel, MP for North East Derbyshire, wrote:

“Anyone who follows the news knows that there is a national housing shortage. In some places there is a housing crisis.

For those people who are stuck on a housing list, waiting and bidding for a council house, always just missing out, it can be a personal tragedy.

But building more houses, deciding what kind of houses and where they should be built, that is a matter for local and national government. It is an issue which needs urgently to be addressed.”

In an earlier piece, Natascha also called for changes to the planning regime to ensure that local people benefit directly from a development rather than having all the gain going to the investors; for instance, how about free energy for people living near a proposed wind-farm?

And on 27 July, around forty members of North East Derbyshire Labour Party came together along with Natascha and Chris Williamson, MP for Derby North, to develop some policy ideas to feed into the national debate.

This article brings all of this together and concludes with six specific policy proposals.

The story so far

Over the generations, since the end of the First World War, councils have had more or less responsibility for providing housing for rent. At first it was a matter of meeting increased demand for “homes for heroes” for those returning from the war.

The provision of decent housing has also been a public health issue. In the Victorian era urban corporations built sewers to improve living conditions and councils took that further with the great slum clearances in the 1930s and again after 1945.

The number of people living in council houses increased dramatically as more councils built more homes. Council housing provided low rents, secure tenure and decent homes for working class families. 

Then, in 1979, the then Conservative government introduced the Right to Buy. Between 1979 and 1987, just over 1 million council homes were sold. Today, council houses are often considered socially undesirable, accommodating those on benefits and who are socially immobile.   This perception has been created over many years of government policies spurred on in the 1980s with the shift towards privatisation and the expansion of housing associations.

The current government is speeding up the Right to Buy by giving greater incentives for tenants to buy their homes and making it even harder for councils to build.

In North East Derbyshire there are about 22 people bidding for any advertised council property. That is 21 disappointed people still looking for somewhere to live.

In addition, North East Derbyshire has an ageing population and many council houses have become under-occupied as a result of grown-up families moving out. As well meeting the needs of older people, there is a desperate need for smaller houses and flats for single people and couples without children.

Homelessness and rough sleeping is on the increase and will become more problematic as a result of Housing Benefit cuts. Overcrowding is also more likely to increase as families share homes to try to reduce the impact of less income. More and more people are finding it difficult to obtain a home of their own. Rents in the private sector are increasing and cuts in benefit levels makes this type of housing less affordable for low income families. There are already cases reported where landlords are pulling out of the rented market because letting to people in receipt of benefits will become increasingly risky due to welfare reform changes.

At the same time the economy remains in recession. The jobs that a house-building programme would bring are also desperately needed. A proper strategy will respond to local circumstances. What is needed in rural North East Derbyshire will be different to what is needed in inner city Sheffield. The situation in the South of England is very different from that in the North. Local councils are best-placed to know and respond to these differing needs.

An inadequate response from the Coalition

In an attempt to address the problem of housing the current government has introduced the New Homes Bonus Scheme.  This scheme is an incentive to local authorities to approve planning applications for housing development.  For every home that is built local authorities will receive the value of council tax per property for a six year period.  However, local authorities will receive smaller grants from central government which means that the scheme will not generate any new real additional resource.

Additionally, the Government has introduced the National Planning Policy Framework which relaxes planning rules, encourages development and comes with a presumption in favour of sustainable development including on green fields.  This legislation therefore could be seen as tilted in favour of developers. 

The introduction of the Localism Bill is intended to give communities greater responsibility. The Government has identified planning as a factor holding house-building back even though there is little evidence to support this position. There remains a need to take proper account of people’s concerns where planning is concerned. It is not right that the first a community hears about a proposed development is either rumour or after a planning application has been made.

Alongside all of this, the government is hitting those on low incomes with: 

  • Cuts in housing benefit – the introduction of a £500 benefit cap.
  • Under-Occupancy Rules (Bedroom Tax) – reduction of benefit where bedrooms are not occupied.
  • Direct Payments (four weekly and in arrears) – Tenants to receive housing benefit direct with concerns that this will lead to a further increase in rent arrears – resulting in eviction and more homelessness.
  • Rent Convergence –The Government believes that the gap between Council rents and Housing Association rents should be smaller resulting in increased rents for social housing tenants. 

An alternative approach and a six-point plan

Instead of taking housing away from local councils, government should be giving them more incentives to hold on to it, to keep housing stock in good condition and to build more homes.

More houses are needed and more jobs are needed. Local councils need a government that gives them the power to provide both; specifically:

  1. There needs to be more affordable/low-cost homes available.   
  2. There is a need for a good social mix in our communities; new housing developments should reflect this. 
  3. An expansion of Council Housing is a key component of the mix of accommodation required to meet the needs of working people.
  4.  Self-build schemes should be encouraged to train people for work as well as extending (shared) home ownership. 
  5. The planning regime should oblige developers to consult local people before an application is made and which requires community benefits to be at the centre of any proposal. 
  6. The Government should give local councils the power to force house building on derelict brownfield sites which developers already own before they build on greenfield or even start on the greenbelt land.
 
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