Constituents' Report for July 2011
I spoke in the debate on the government’s plans for a new floor price for carbon. For the uninitiated, a carbon floor price is a regulatory / taxation policy that states polluters must pay a minimum amount of money for the right to pollute. The idea of a ‘floor price’ is to make that price much more predictable, which will make low-pollution energy alternatives more viable for investors. That’s the theory. The problem, however, is that the way the government currently plans on introducing this floor price means that the lion’s share of the benefit will go not to renewable energy, and not even to new nuclear. Instead it is currently predicted that 70% of the financial benefit from the government’s plans will go to existing nuclear power stations, all of which after 2012 will be owned by one company (EDF Energy).
I am still not entirely sure to what extent the government understands the consequences of its own policy in this area, so I remain hopeful amendments will be made to direct support where it is truly needed. I’ll continue to lobby the government on this.
This month Labour tabled an important amendment to the government’s Finance Bill. The amendment called on the government to repeat the levy on bankers introduced by the last Labour government. This year, the levy would have raised an additional £2 billion, which we are advocating be invested into creating 100,000 more jobs for young people; building more affordable homes; and increasing support for small businesses.
This is a particularly important campaign to fight for in Southampton, as both sides of the city have seen dramatic rises in youth unemployment over the last year. Southampton Test has seen a rise of 5.3% and Itchen a rise of 9%. That’s over 1400 unemployed young people across the city. Nationally, youth unemployment now stands at 1 million- meaning that 1 in 5 young people can’t find work. On top of that, Hampshire lost over 1000 jobs for young people last year when the Government abolished the Future Jobs Fund.
Although the Tories and Lib Dems voted the amendment down, this remains a key challenge for Southampton and something which I will continue to press the governing parties on.
The government has partially relented on its plans to close down local coastguard stations across the UK. On the face of it this looks like good news. However there is a danger that the government may end up with the worst of all possible worlds, as it still plans to centralise many marine operations at a new centre near Southampton, but to effectively double that centre’s workload from what was originally planned. I pressed the Minister about this and will continue to monitor how the plans change.
Council issues- strikes, funding and business rates
I have been looking closely at the government’s plans to let local authorities keep the revenues from business rates, which interestingly have not been factored in to Southampton City Council’s current financial models. I pressed Eric Pickles in Parliament this month on how the government would manage the proposed changes. Southampton would benefit by, I believe, around £8 million from the proposed changes, but other, wealthier Councils like Westminster would benefit far more, and it is not clear if the government has any plan for ameliorating the biggest wins and losses from their proposals.
On my website you can now find a new piece on the Council strike, setting out the approach I have taken to the dispute over the last month.
Meals on Wheels
The Council has u-turned and abandoned its plans to hike Meals on Wheels charges by 38%, or nearly £500, for 600 of the city’s poorest pensioners. This came about due to research by my office that uncovered the proposed hike, and the following campaign from both the Labour Group and the Daily Echo to oppose it. The Tory Council was quite honest when explaining why they chose to drop the plans- it was because ‘public opinion was against it.’ I welcomed the u-turn but will continue to scrutinise the Council's financial decisions in this area.
Children’s Cardiac Unit
The consultation on the future of children’s heart units in England has now closed. I have responded to the review by:
- Completing the formal consultation document, advocating the configuration of heart units outlined in Option B.
- Spoken in Parliament about flaws in the review.
- Along with local parents, children and other MPs from the south-east, handed in a 225,000 strong petition to Downing Street supporting the future of the Southampton unit.
- Met with patients, staff and executives about both the importance of the Southampton unit and the flaws in the consultation process.
- Written a separate letter outlining the limitations and inaccuracies in the current consultation process, including the failure to take into account the Isle of Wight when drawing up travel time analysis; dramatically under-counting the number of operations done at the Southampton Centre; and the failure to include follow-up care as one of the criteria being measured. You can read the full letter on my website.
Other Parliamentary work
This month I spoke and raised questions on:
- Whether the government has abandoned its plans to repeal the Hunting Act (the government’s official answer was no, but it’s looking unlikely they will devote Parliamentary time to it)
- Electricity market reform, and the worrying absence of policy on capacity mechanisms as part of the current review.
- National planning Policy statements- particularly with regard to the fact that more gas-fired power stations are under way than the government’s own figures say is acceptable.
- Increasing energy generation from wood rather than letting it go to landfill, which could help us generate about 20% of our renewable energy target by 2020.
Other constituency work
And in Southampton I also...
- Ran Red Rose surgeries in Coxford Ward.
- Supported the launch of Unionlearn at Southampton City College (Unionlearn is a new programme by the TUC to support lifelong learning in the workplace).
- Spoke with students at Upper Shirley High their Question Time event
- Spoke with Citizens Advice Bureau Staff about how they are coping with the cuts to their service
- Met residents at the Mela Festival.
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