For those of you who were disturbed by the explosion overnight or have read about it since, please see the below update from the North East Counter Terrorism Unit. These arrests were part of a pre-planned operation and the police are encouraging the local community to stay vigilant but be assured that they are well protected by our police. One arrest has been made on Shirebrook Road. There will be additional patrols in the area for reassurance today and if anyone has any concerns or intelligence they should contact the counter terrorism hotline on 0800 789 321.
When I recently wrote to households in Greenhill about the planned 20mph zone there, I had a number of responses bringing up traffic safety more broadly. I've been informed the Council will over the next year be installing a new toucan crossing on Greenhill Main Road, which should make the roads safer for pedestrians and cyclists. The council will be re-consulting during May if you have further thoughts on the plans.
New OfCom proposals, which I supported in the Digital Economy Bill will give broadband customers the right to automatic compensation if they don’t get a certain level of service. Customers who suffer slow repairs, missed appointments or delays for new services from their providers would be entitled to either a cash payment or credit on a bill.
Having to deal with problems getting functional broadband and phone services is frustrating enough, and can cause serious problems for those reliant on their connections such as those who work from home. These proposals would at least provide some compensation for poor service, and encourage companies to improve to avoid having to pay.
Customers are sometimes compensated at present, but these instances total just 1.1m of over 7.2m delays and missed appointments each year. OfCom estimates their new automatic compensation would make up to 2.6m additional customers eligible.
The compensation for each case would follow the guidelines set out below.
OfCom are consulting on the plans until June 5th, and you can find more details, as well as contact information for the consultation, on their website.
I paid a visit to Meersbrook Hall this week, to speak with the Friends of Meersbrook Hall, and Andy Jackson from the Heeley Development Trust about their work to secure the future of the hall.
Used by the council from 1953 for the Parks and Countryside Department, Meersbrook Hall is now the home of Heeley Development Trust and currently used for classes including language, arts, local history, social media, IT and CV advice. The work they’re doing aims to tackle social isolation and low level mental health issues, and the group hopes to fully reopen the building to the public, rooting it in the community and utilising the asset for the sustainability of the local area.
Meersbrook Hall once housed the Ruskin Museum, is now working with the Guild of St. George, set up by John Ruskin in the 1870s, and would eventually like to display at least copies of his collections.
Locality is now calling for a £1bn community asset fund to save community assets like Meersbrook Hall. This initiative, endorsed by the Shadow Chancellor and former Communities Secretary Hazel Blears, would be a great opportunity to save the nation’s public assets and empower communities.
Thanks to Stradbroke Primary School for having me in this Thursday to talk to an audience of Year 6 pupils. These assemblies are a great opportunity to talk to them about the importance of democracy, our British values and the role of elected representatives. I try and give the children an impression of what it’s like to be an MP, how and why I came to be involved in politics and my day-to-day role in Westminster.
We talked about the kind of changes politics can bring, from decisions as big as whether to go to war down to how often their bins are collected.
As well as a short talk about my job and the role of Parliament, I asked the pupils about what kind of laws they’d make or change if they had the chance, with some interesting responses as usual.
The children felt, as I do, that people working in the NHS deserve our support and a pay rise, because of all the good they do in our country. They said the same about teachers, because without them there wouldn't be people doing jobs we all rely on, like doctors and nurses.
I also really loved seeing the Easter displays the kids created, and you can see a few great examples above.
Thanks to Stephen Nash at Stradbroke for helping to organise the event, and I look forward to visiting again soon.
A new survey by the British Chambers of Commerce has revealed a troubling shortage of digital skills in UK business. Shortages of skills that are increasingly in demand, including basic computer skills, are causing firms higher operating costs, difficulties in meeting customer requirements, and an increased workload on existing staff.
The BCC found 84% of firms say digital skills are more important to their businesses now than two years ago, and it’s self-evident that our digital skills are going to be vital in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It’s imperative that the Government responds to the needs of businesses both now and in the future by stepping up digital skills education and training, and ensuring that businesses are equipped to provide the kind of training necessary to equip their workforce for the future.
I will continue to push the Government on the significant skills gap in their digital strategy, which cedes responsibility for this crucial sector of the economy.
After a recent successful visit, Abbey Lane School recently invited me to meet with their School Council, whose two representatives per class are there to help represent students, and to teach children about the value of democracy.
As usual we discussed some of the proposals children would like to see brought in as laws, with a good mix of suggestions.
One girl told me that travel prices should be brought down during school holidays. Clearly action needs to be taken against travel companies who shamefully exploit the school holidays to charge extortionate prices as parents are not able, understandably, to take their children out during term time.
Whenever I do Primary School visits, someone always brings up banning smoking in some form or another. At Abbey Lane one group wanted to see an expansion of the smoking ban to public places where children are likely to be, for example parks, and to remove cigarette lighters from cars in favour of more USB charging ports.
I’ll be writing to the School Council members to thank them for all their suggestions, and I’m really looking forward to being back at the school again before too long.
I took part in a Westminster Hall debate in March about the Government's plans for Jobcentres. In particular I've been concerned with plans to close Eastern Avenue Jobcentre, which would affect thousands of constituents. You can read the full debate in Hansard. My contribution is below.
Louise Haigh: When I first saw the announcement about the closure of the Eastern Avenue jobcentre in my constituency I was relatively agnostic about it. Given that there were to be no compulsory redundancies and it is a relatively short distance into town, I did not think it would be that much of a problem. If the Government could make a case that centres needed to be closed and services improved in certain areas, I was prepared to listen to it. However, having read the further announcement, followed the plan’s progress and, as the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) said, participated in several debates, I have been horrified that no justification has been given for the decisions at all. None of the work—the assessments or gathering and publication of evidence—that one would expect ahead of a decision of the kind has been done; no such work informed the pitiful consultation process that has taken place so far.
It is claimed on the Government website that the decisions are due to the claimant count reducing and the number of digital interactions increasing, and the fact that 20% of the DWP estate is underutilised. To take those one by one, it may be the case that the claimant count is falling, but I do not think that anyone could tell jobcentre staff anywhere in the UK that their workload has reduced in the past seven years and is likely to continue to reduce—not least because of the roll-out of universal credit, which is incredibly complex. As has been mentioned, universal credit will require more interactions than in the past, including face-to-face interactions. For the first time, working people will have to attend interviews at jobcentres; and from April lone parents will be obliged to see work coaches once their child reaches three years old, rather than five, which is the current threshold. It is highly unlikely that interactions and workload will fall in the coming years.
As to digital interactions, the ward in which Eastern Avenue jobcentre is to close is one of the most deprived in the country; 74% of people there are in the 10% most deprived in the country. Many of them do not use the internet at all, let alone have the capacity to apply online—there are very high levels of digital exclusion. Ironically, the council is currently doing some work on digital inclusion, commissioned by the DWP, around Eastern Avenue jobcentre; that work will have to be halted. Again, there does not seem to have been any recognition or cognisance of the impact that the cuts will have on that work.
Whether or not the estate is underutilised at Eastern Avenue—or indeed at Cavendish Court, where the Government are expecting claimants to move to—is open to question. I have been to both jobcentres and there certainly does not seem to be any underutilised space—Cavendish Court in particular is bursting at the seams—but we do not know, because the Government have not published any of the evidence and do not seem to have done any of the work behind it. I met the manager for my region, North, East Yorkshire and the Humber, after the Minister advised me that that was the best way to proceed. It was not her fault, but I am afraid the manager had absolutely nothing to add to what the Government had already published.
As other Members have said, there has clearly been no equality impact assessment. Nor has there been any assessment of how many employment and support allowance or income support claimants are currently using Eastern Avenue and will therefore now have to go to the city centre. The Government do not know how many claimants the closure is going to affect, which is basic information that we would expect to inform the consultation process. There was no information on how much the Government would save by closing Eastern Avenue. That is important, because the regional manager admitted that money would have to be spent on the city centre jobcentre to increase its capacity and accommodate all the extra claimants, so we do not know whether the closure will actually save the taxpayer a single penny.
No plans have been put in place and no work has been done on whether claimants who currently come under Woodhouse jobcentre, but are looked after by Eastern Avenue if they need group sessions or screened appointments, can be accommodated by Cavendish Court, or whether more money will have to spent to develop the space at Woodhouse to conduct those sessions. Eastern Avenue currently conducts 17 screened appointments a week. That is a considerable amount of time to dedicate to claimants, and we have absolutely no idea whether Cavendish Court can accommodate them.
There was a paltry four-week consultation, although we were lucky to get even that in Sheffield; as we have heard today, many jobcentres throughout the country did not. The Government have treated Parliament and, worse, the public with disdain by refusing to justify their decision and publish the evidential basis behind it. How can Ministers possibly ask us to support the decision if the information is not available? Now that the consultation has closed, before the Government publish their final decision I ask the Minister to publish the DWP’s people and estates programme and any of the other impact assessments that were presumably conducted internally. I really hope that the Government have not taken the approach, which they seem to have taken in the past, of just pointing to jobcentres on Google Maps and deciding, seemingly haphazardly and arbitrarily, which centres to close.
I particularly want to press the Minister on why the Government have rowed back on their original commitment not to close jobcentres in particularly deprived areas. Finally, I urge him not to rely solely on Google Maps for travel times, as he recently admitted to doing in answer to a written question from me. [Interruption.] He is looking confused, but he confirmed to me that his Department used Google Maps for travel times.
Damian Hinds: As one of the methods.
Louise Haigh: Yes. The Department’s introduction to the announcement confidently asserted that the travel time between Eastern Avenue and the city centre would be 24 minutes. That analysis was based on Google Maps. A claimant who currently goes to Eastern Avenue did a travel journal for me of his journeys from Eastern Avenue to Cavendish Court on eight separate occasions, and not one of them took 24 minutes. The average journey time between the two jobcentres is 44 minutes.
Chris Stephens: The hon. Lady is giving some fascinating facts. Does she know that the exercise with Google Maps in Glasgow used information based on bus services that are no longer operational?
Louise Haigh: That is another interesting point that shows the problems with using Google Maps without consulting the local authority or the local passenger transport executive, as any rational person would expect the Government to do. On average, the journey between Eastern Avenue and the city centre takes 44 minutes. The maximum time it took Antony was 63 minutes.
There is clear consensus today that the evidence base and the impact assessments need to be published before the final decision is made. I would really like the Minister to reflect today on the long-term impact of removing a respected community service from incredibly deprived areas—Arbourthorne and Manor Top are some of the most deprived in the country—that have relied on them for so long.
It was brilliant to have the chance this week to visit Maxon’s, the decades old confectioners based in Sheffield Heeley, just around the corner from my office. The fifth generation family business has been in Sheffield since 1927 and is famous for its Yorkshire Mixture, which they won the right to keep producing after a recent legal battle – in a piece of fantastic news for a great Sheffield brand.
I met with Richard Pitchfork, one of the joint Managing Directors along with his brother Chris, and we spoke about the company’s history, plans for the future and the kind of help local businesses need to build on their success.
Supporting our businesses is vital for making Sheffield a successful and exciting place to live, and that’s why I’m trying to find out how local businesses are doing. If you run a business in Sheffield or know someone who might be interested, you can fill out my quick Small Business Survey here.
Firstly can I start by welcoming this report, which is pertinent on this Brexit Boxing Day because of the exceptionalism of this sector and the particular challenges it faces from Brexit.
It’s a sector which accounts for a staggering 46% of total UK service exports;
A sector behind a phenomenal 11.5% of global cross-border data flows;
And a sector with just 3 million workers which nevertheless contributes £1 in every 6 to growth in the UK.
With that in mind, I have been making the case to Government since I took this job last September that this exceptional sector should be treated as such as we Brexit.
Because the challenges are utterly profound.
With an adequacy agreement uncertain; data flows unsecured; the rights of hugely productive EU citizens working in our digital sector far from guaranteed; and a post-Brexit migration settlement murky at best, it’s possible that Tech UK’s CEO was guilty of understatement when he said Brexit would only be a “monumental change”.Read more