September 2016 newsletter

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09 September 2016
Introduction

Parliament has returned this week following summer recess. In this edition of my e-newsletter I would like to update you on what I have been doing over the last two months, with most of this work being centred on organisations and campaigns in east Bristol.

Housing and homelessness

In the last few weeks I have taken part in a couple of visits to gain a better understanding of, and draw attention to, the growing problem of housing and homelessness in Bristol. The number of known rough sleepers in our city has increased from 8 in 2010 to around 100 in 2015, with Bristol now having the second highest number of rough sleepers of any local authority in the country.

On 3rd August, I met with representatives of St Mungo’s, a charity which provides a range of support and accommodation for homeless people.

It was fantastic to see the work St Mungo's is involved in to try to tackle homelessness in our city. During my visit I went with staff on a walkabout around east Bristol to see the main rough sleeping hotspots in my constituency. I also spoke with homeless people about how they think government and council systems can be improved, based on their personal experiences.

The week before this I visited the Junction Project on Speedwell Road, which provides housing and individual support for people whose lives have been affected by alcohol or drug abuse. I spoke to service users at different stages of recovery from alcohol and substance addiction about their experiences and met with staff to gain a better understanding of how the organisation works.

It is so important that there is proper funding for the Junction Project and similar organisations, which I know are under constant pressure due to a limited number of available accommodation places. Many people who are supported by such services also frequently have difficultly moving on to permanent accommodation, due to a lack of affordable housing and high rent prices.

I will continue to support the work of St Mungo’s and the Junction Project, and similar groups, in the future. Despite the fantastic work of these organisations, it is clear that action is needed at both a national and local level to properly address issues around homelessness and housing.

In July, just before summer recess began, I asked the Homelessness Minister about introducing legislation to extend local authorities’ duty of care in homelessness cases, while emphasising the need for additional funding to make this possible (see here). Now Parliament has returned, I will continue to work with colleagues to put pressure on the Government to recognise the scale of the housing and homelessness crises in this country, and take robust measures to address both issues.

St George in Bloom

I was delighted to be at the RHS National Finalists judging day for St George in Bloom on 5th August, which showcased the achievements of volunteers in St George in revitalising green spaces and improving the area for residents. On the Thursday, I attended a flag-raising ceremony in St George Park, and on the Friday I accompanied the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) judges on their tour around the area to see the great work that is being done.

St George in Bloom is a community group which brings together volunteers to clean up neglected green spaces and make St George an even better place to live and work. The group runs in the annual RHS Britain in Bloom competition, in which it won the Gold Pennant last year.

This year, the group has been particularly active and it was wonderful to see what volunteers in St George have been able to achieve through their ongoing commitment to the transformation of unused spaces. One such space is the disused billboard site on Church Road, which has been landscaped and planted with a range of flowers to encourage bees and other pollinating insects into the area.

I will continue to support the efforts of community groups to revitalise green spaces in east Bristol and wish the very best of luck to St George in the competition, the results of which will be announced in October.

Hungerford Road traffic problems

On 25th August, I attended a meeting organised by Cllr Harriet Bradley about traffic problems on Hungerford Road, at which Mayor Marvin Rees was also present. There is a long-standing problem with cars using the road, and others streets nearby like West Town Lane, as a rat run to avoid congestion. I thought the meeting was very constructive, and highlighted a number of other issues which are of concern to local people, including anti-social behaviour and pavement parking.

A group of local residents has now started to work on some concrete proposals to tackle the local traffic problems ahead of the Greater Brislington Neighbourhood Forum meeting on 17th October. It is likely that there is no solution which will address the dual problems of speeding and congestion in a way that satisfies everybody, but what is important is that the people affected by the problem are central to coming up with a solution.

Once a proposal is agreed upon, the community will work with Council officers to develop this idea, and then seek funding for the scheme from the Neighbourhood Partnership. I will continue to support the work of Cllr Harriet Bradley and the local community on this issue.

Supporting local businesses

Over the summer recess, I was delighted to show my support for local businesses in a number of ways. Last month, I visited a DS Smith packaging plant in St Anne’s, and presented an award to the workers there for having avoided any serious accidents happening at the site for ten years.

I also met with the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to discuss issues affecting businesses in the Bristol area, including Brexit and devolution. I was interested to learn more about the LEP’s submission for a further £81m in central government funding to assist job creation in our region, and I have now written to the Government to support this bid.

On 26th July, I had the pleasure to meet with representatives from the curry restaurant business community in Bristol to talk through some of the problems they are experiencing. The most pressing issue at the moment is the shortage of staff which many restaurants face. I have therefore written to the Chair of the APPG on Curry Restaurants, Paul Scully MP, to discuss what action we could take together on this.

Illegal caravan sites


I know that a number of constituents were concerned about the establishment of a travellers’ site on Craydon Road Open Space in Stockwood last month. Not only did this camp prevent local residents from using the area, but also resulted in litter being left at the site and damage to the green space.

Following complaints from local residents and my office, the Council took the matter to court and obtained a possession order to allow the travellers to be evicted. A smaller encampment on Bath Road near the Paintworks development was removed around the same time by an eviction notice from the land owner.

Health


Many of you will have no doubt seen recent news about the serious financial pressures which NHS services in Bristol are under, with North Bristol NHS Trust having now been put into special measures. Last month, I met with the head of the Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group, Jill Shepherd, to discuss strains on local resources and other subjects, like the work of the charity Together for Short Lives in addressing child palliative care needs in Bristol.

It is clear that the Government needs to take immediate action to tackle the funding crisis in our health service, with NHS trusts collectively finishing the last financial year with a deficit of around £2.5 billion. I know that many of you will also be troubled by the announcement of further industrial action by junior doctors, as a result of the Government failing to listen to the concerns of NHS staff about the new medical contract which this dispute is centred around. I hope that the Health Secretary will halt the imposition of the new contract, which is all he needs to do to prevent the further planned strikes from going ahead.

Police and Crime Commissioner

At the start of August, I met with PCC Sue Mountstevens to discuss a range of issues, and her priorities following her re-election in May. It is clear that the financial pressures which Avon and Somerset Constabulary is currently under will only increase over the next few years. Given this, Sue was keen to stress the importance of prioritising frontline work, and targeting certain crimes like child sexual exploitation and abuse.

A public consultation on policing priorities finished on 30th August, and the final Police and Crime Plan 2016 is due to be released fairly soon. This will set out the strategy of Avon and Somerset Constabulary in the coming years, including how to manage the difficult financial situation which the force is under. I will look at the content of this document carefully when it is published.

In response to concerns from a number of constituents, I also raised with Sue Mountstevens the increases in xenophobic and racist incidents since the referendum, with Avon and Somerset Constabulary recording a tripling in such hate crimes. Sue assured me that her force is taking a firm stance on this issue, and will not hesitate to prosecute where there is sufficient evidence. I am pleased that officers are taking this problem seriously, and hope it sends out a strong signal that such behaviour is unacceptable and will be acted upon.

University of Bristol and UWE

It was a pleasure to speak recently with representatives of the student unions of the University of Bristol and UWE about the impact of the Higher Education and Research Bill on students.

During our meeting we discussed how so-called ‘teaching excellence’ is to be judged and linked to fees, so that universities that score highly for this measure will be able to raise their fees. Sadly, this measure doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole student experience, nor does it take into account national student survey satisfaction ratings. We agreed that consideration of the raising of fees should be broader than teaching excellence alone, although of course we also shared frustration at the proposal to raise fees further in the first place.

More broadly we also discussed the prospective Government Office for Students, which at present is not due to have any student reps as part of its structure. I agreed that once the HE Bill has progressed I will lobby on this issue. Finally, we talked about the academisation of universities and marketisation of the sector more generally, which I strongly oppose. I will, of course, continue to hold the Government to account over this and will follow the HE Bill closely in coming months.

In July, I also met with Professor Judith Squires, the Pro Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bristol, to discuss its new Strategic Plan, along with initiatives to raise educational aspirations across the city, better the engagement between the city and the university, and increase the diversity of UoB’s student body. I look forward to working with the university to achieve these positive aims in the future.

Child care services in Bristol

I was pleased to bring one of my constituents, Kiki Douglas to meet with Mayor Marvin Rees and members of his team last week, to discuss issues facing young people in care in Bristol and across the UK.

Kiki, who is 15, was herself brought up in care, and is now an advocate and campaigner working to improve the experiences of children and young people entering the care system. Earlier this year, she visited Geneva as part of a steering group of 22 children in England who influenced the UN’s recommendations to the Government on the rights of the child as part of the Children’s Rights Alliance England’s See it, Say it, Change it campaign.

During our meeting, we agreed that while there are lots of groups working to represent young people in care in Bristol, more work needs to be done to join up these voices with the city’s political leadership. With this in mind, Marvin extended an invitation to members of these groups to meet with him separately and learn more about the Council’s work.

Equally, Kiki raised issues to do with communication when a child is taken into care. She stressed the importance of explaining thoroughly to a child, in appropriate terms, why they’ve been taken into care and how this will impact on their lives. We received reassurances that these issues are being addressed and that the Council is currently developing a new programme to communicate better with children who are taken into care.

Finally, she also noted that it can be difficult to integrate socially when the pupil premium can only be used for academic costs – she had wanted to take part in a national netball tournament, but missed the opportunity as she couldn’t get together the funds. We all agreed that awareness needs to be raised about pots of money available to children and young people in care, as well as introducing new ones which schools could promote too.

Hen Harrier Day

I joined conservationists and bird lovers at RSPB's beautiful nature reserve at Rainham in August to support Hen Harrier Day. It is illegal to kill hen harriers but it still happens, and there are now only three known breeding pairs left in England, where there should be three hundred. Last month was the start of grouse shooting season, which has in recent years led to the rapid decline of the hen harrier.

Those who run grouse moors object to hen harriers picking off red grouse, which raises the question: why is it more important to protect grouse just so they can be shot in massive numbers for sport, rather than protect our rare birds of prey? Chris Packham, from BBC's Springwatch, and Mark Avery, author of Inglorious, both spoke at the rally and urged those present to sign this petition.

This petition has now reached over 100,000 signatures, which means it will be considered for a debate in Parliament. I will be sure to attend this debate if it is granted and this week asked the Leader of the House if the debate could be held in the main Commons chamber, rather than in the smaller Westminster Hall, given the level of interest. I also attended a debate on the badger cull in Parliament's first week back, and have received many emails from people who are, quite rightly, opposed to the resumption of culling.

MetroBus


On 27th July, I took part in a site visit to the MetroBus construction works in Stapleton. During this visit, I was shown around the ongoing works happening in Stoke Park, and raised concerns with Council officers about destruction of local wildlife. I also again reiterated the disruption which the one-way closure of Stoke Lane has been causing to local residents, and asked for an update on drainage works located at Stapleton Allotments.

I received assurances that the Council is following its sustainability and wildlife plans closely, and there were representatives from the Avon Wildlife Trust who were present at the visit as independent observers to assess this.

I share the deep concerns of many people about media reports which reveal difficulties that the West of England Partnership is having in finding a private contractor for the MetroBus project once it is completed. I will continue to follow this matter closely in the coming months, and will be asking for regular updates about the issue from Bristol City Council.

Ticket touting


Last month, I visited Wembley Stadium for a fact-finding mission into secondary ticketing as part as my work in the APPG on Ticket Abuse. It was troubling to hear more about the links between touting and organised crime, and see first-hand some of the underhand practices common among ticket touts. For example, there was one teenage fan who paid £170 for a ticket to the Liverpool v Barcelona match after being told that the original value of the ticket was £100, while the real price was in fact just £26.

I have long campaigned for extra measures to tackle ticket touting, and will continue to put pressure on the Government for further action. In particular, I would like the Culture Secretary to begin to implement the recommendations of the Waterson Review which was published earlier this year. Among other things, this report called for measures to clamp down on ticket bots, and for authorities to properly enforce existing legal requirements on providing correct information about the original face value of resold tickets and its exact seating location.


Now summer recess is over, I will be back in the Commons on sitting days to scrutinise the Government and call for action on the issues that matter to you, but the rest of the time I will still be available to meet with local organisations in Bristol and to try to help people about their problems. Please let me know if you need help with anything by emailing kerry.mccarthy.mp@parliament.uk, or phoning 0117 939 9901.


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