Below is a summary of my work in Parliament and in Southampton for the month of February 2008. 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.
I voted for Andrew Miller’s Private Members Bill on Temporary and Agency Workers last Friday. This Bill is similar to the one introduced by Paul Farrelly in the last Parliamentary session which failed due to being talked out.
During Transport questions I raised with Ministers how we could better utilise Britain’s freight rail network. The government has already agreed to invest £43 million in improving the freight rail networks going in and out of Southampton.
I contributed to the debate on the Energy Bill, asking the government to fully recognise that it will not be possible, even under the best case scenario, for new nuclear power stations to be online before 2018 at the earliest, and the ‘energy gap’ that is forecasted in the intervening years will have to be filled by renewable energy and increased energy efficiency measures. I am on the Energy Bill committee and intend to move some amendments on microgeneration, the role of Ofgen and on a renewable gas obligation. I have also written a piece on nuclear power for the Socialist Environment and Resources Association that is now available on my website
The Government has announced a major review into the private rented housing sector. The review will look at:
This review has come about in part due to the work done by myself and other Labour MPs on how some of the changing aspects of the private rented sector are significantly affecting major British cities like Southampton. It is very clear the housing market today is in a very different position to even a few years ago- due to the increase in buy to lets, the increase in conversions of family homes to Houses in Multiple Occupancy, and with regards to changing migration patterns. We have already seen significant improvements with regards to regulation of the private sector, both with the 2004 Housing Act (which required large HMO landlords to be licensed) and the launch of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (which provides independent legal protection for any deposit you pay to a landlord). However these changes to the housing market means we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. I will be contributing to the review on the cumulative social and economic impact of the number of family homes converted into HMOs in Southampton. I will also be looking for the review to recognise how we can better ensure all landlords are properly aware of their responsibilities not just to their tenants, but also the community in which their property is situated.
In December and early January I asked head teachers on the western side of Southampton if they would be willing to distribute a survey to parents regarding the need for 20mph zones around schools. Most heads were very enthusiastic about distributing the letter, and to date I have had hundreds of positive responses from parents. In addition to being very clear that they believe legally enforceable 20mph zones around schools should be instituted as soon as possible, parents have also highlighted the related problem of parking congestion around some schools at the end of the school day, which I will also be raising with Council officers once the full results of the survey are tabulated.
A few Conservative Councillors have attempted to cast my letter (and a similar one sent out by John Denham) as somehow ‘exploiting children for political ends’- despite the fact that a) the letter was clearly addressed to parents, and b) MPs are expected to correspond with constituents about local political issues, as long as they do so in a non-partisan fashion. As the letter produced by my office was studiously non-political, I do not believe the complaints made by these councillors have any weight whatsoever. I have not received a single complaint from the parents who received the letter.
Southampton has for a decade now lagged behind other authorities in terms of the rate at which 20mph zones are established- today only 1 in 10 schools in Southampton have real, legally enforceable zones set up. The strong response to my survey shows this is an issue of real importance to families in our city and I will continue to reflect their views publicly.
If you visit www.portswood.info, you can listen to an mp3 of my speech while officially ‘opening’ the website. Portswood.Info looks to be an excellent potential community resource that is filling some of the gap left by traditional community newsletters. I was very impressed by the team who have put the website together and look forward to working with them on giving Portswood a stronger community voice.
Redbridge Community School has been awarded the prestigious status of ‘Investors in People Champions.’ I recently visited the school to discuss some of the ways in which they have achieved the significant success and turn-around in the last few years (70% of RCS students receive free school meals, and they are in the top 3 in terms of GCSE results in the city).
Cllr Denny Harryman recently took me on a tour of the nearly completed MP3 Project in Mansel Park. The Mansel Park Pavilion Project is a beautiful new building, which has been rebuilt around the base of the previous run-down boxing club and community centre. I met some of the young people using the rebuilt boxing club, as well as some of the pensioners using the new community room. I also viewed the heating system for the Project, which is fuelled by wood-chip pellets. The entire project is a testament to just what can be achieved when government, councillors and local community organisations work together. In the case of the MP3 Project, the government provided the money for the rebuild; the local boxing club provided a focus for the new building, and local councillors (particularly Denny) provided the leadership to make the project happen.
Sainsburys has submitted a revised application to build a store in Portswood on the site of the current bus depot. In a recent meeting with the Sainsburys team working on the application, I emphasised the importance of keeping the proposed Portswood health centre as part of the new application. The health centre was originally added to the Sainsburys application in place of proposed student housing on the site, in response to a campaign run by my office and local residents.