Below is a summary of my work in Parliament and in Southampton for the month of November 2007. Click here to read previous reports.
If you'd like to know more about any of the work I've been doing, or if you think there is another issue you think I should be acting on, you can always contact my office.
The Government’s legislative agenda for the next year has now been published. It had a definite ‘green’ feel, with Bills on transport, energy, marine management and climate change all included. As each of these Bills reflects areas I have been working on in Parliament for years, I expect to be very busy in the coming session scrutinising them and making sure they are as effective as they can be. However the overall feeling is that there is a lot of very good and very important content in the Government’s agenda, that many people seem to have failed to cotton on to yet but that will become more and more apparent when the Bills come before the House. I spoke in the Queens speech Debate on the Climate Change bill and proposals to enable ‘Local authorities to reward people who recycle their waste stream.
On the day of the nationwide Pensioner’s Forum lobby of Parliament, I met with a Forum delegation from Southampton. We discussed a number of issues, including what can now be done to challenge NICE’s decision not to approve certain Alzheimer’s drugs for prescription on the NHS.
Following on from the High Court’s decision that people suffering from pleural plaques would not be entitled to compensation from their employers, I met with trades union representatives to discuss possible ways to ensure asbestos victims still get the compensation they deserve. We agreed that a change in the law was necessary at this stage, and I suggested this would be a good subject for MPs balloted for Private Members Bills to bring forward.
Speaking at the South East England Development Agency ‘Waste Summit’ I argued that we need to do much more to manage our waste in a sustainable way, stating:
“…waste is in reality a resource in the wrong place - and that the last thing you should do with a resource in the wrong place is to put it in an even worse place - namely in a hole in the ground.”
Britain puts more waste into landfill than almost any other country in Europe, and although the total amount has come down in recent years, it is still far too high to be sustainable in the long term. One possible solution would be to follow Germany’s lead and ban outright putting wood into landfill, meaning woodchip waste would instead have to be used in biomass or co-firing power stations. There is no good reason for this not to be done at the moment, other than it is simply easier and more convenient for the construction industry to dump its woodchip waste rather than re-use it.
I have made two submissions to the Post Office Network regarding their Local Area Plan for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight. The first refers specifically to the status of the Aldermoor branch; the second relates more generally to the way ‘access’ to alternative branches is assessed in urban settings.
Last weekend I was on the south-east section of the Politics Show discussing possible ways to make Council Tax fairer. I argued that councils should be given a broader menu of revenue-raising taxes (like, for example, directly collecting stamp duty revenue) rather than the blunt sledgehammer of council tax or nothing. I also pointed out that the Liberal Democrat proposal for a local income tax would result in about 6 million more people paying (because it would be levied on an individual basis like the poll tax, rather than by household) and that it would probably add about 6p to the average tax-payer’s bill.
A deputation of residents from Portswood contacted me regarding their concerns over rogue landlords flouting Council planning and licensing regulations. There are two broad categories of concern: one relating to landlords not being properly licensed as HMO landlords, and the other relating to landlords building extensions to their properties and then applying for planning permission retrospectively. The common thread with both of these problems is, I believe, a lack of will by the Council to enforce existing housing regulations. I understand that the Council’s enforcement office is badly under-funded (and that the recent Conservative budget proposals do nothing to remedy this fact) and so many violations are simply not being acted on. I have already raised this issue in meetings with Council officers and am currently conducting research on where the biggest hotspots of licensing violations occur.
Following on from my work in Parliament on extortionate levels of interest charged by doorstep lenders, this month I gladly attended the launch of the Solent Credit Union (formed by the merger of Southampton Co-operators Credit Union and Sanctuary Credit Union). The Union offers access to relatively cheap credit for people on low incomes. I am also pleased to note that the City Council has responded to my work on this subject by calling in a specialist debt advice team to support Southampton residents who have been targeted by doorstep lenders.
Launching the Solent Credit Union with Dave Carr, Former President of Southampton Co-operators Credit Union and David Wagstaff, President of Solent Credit Union
The government has announced it will fund a massive expansion of the railways and tunnels travelling to and from the docks. This is a fantastic result. It will take thousands of lorries of our roads, reducing congestion and carbon emissions, and provides a massive boost for the docks as a trade hub. I have now discussed how the improvement programme will work in practice with EWS representatives.
This month I also attended a meeting of Registered Social Landlords in the South East; spoke at the ‘Go Green Fair’ organised by Friends of the Earth; and ran Red Rose surgeries in Coxford and Shirley.