Below is a summary of my work in Parliament and in Southampton for the month of July 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.
In the recent Westminster Hall debate on the private rented sector, I raised the issue of how bringing housing and planning regulations into line would be a very important tool in controlling the spread of Houses in Multiple Occupancy. Prior to that I met with Ian Wright , the DCLG minister on HMO’s and possible future legislation on use classes orders.
I voted to support measures on stem cell research and to keep the abortion limits as they are during the debate on the Human Tissue and embryology Bill, which will also complete its commons passage this autumn.
I have otherwise been heavily involved in the Committee Stages of the Energy Bill and the climate Change Bill. Both have now completed their committee stage, and in the case of the energy bill has now gone to the House of Lords. The climate Change Bill will complete its commons stages in the autumn. I have moved a number of amendments to both Bills in committee – to give preference for renewables in grid connections; to introduce ‘smart metering’ for households; and to give local authorities a central role in developing home energy efficiency measures.
I have also been a member of the joint house of Commons/House of Lords committee looking at the Draft Marine bill. Our report is now complete and should inform the bill due to come to the House in November of this year.
In last week’s House Business Questions, I called for a debate on securing the future of commercial vehicle production in the UK, with specific regard to the recent rumours surrounding the future of the Ford plant. I have also discussed the issues the Plant currently faces with its managers, and will continue to work to support the plant and its workforce.
Over the last month I have been running meetings with Ministers and representatives from local industry who are trying to transport more of their goods coming into and out of Southampton via rail and water, rather than via road. The government does currently provide grants to encourage transporting freight by these methods, as it is both more carbon efficient than transporting goods via lorries, and it reduces congestion. However there have been problems raised with how well the grant system currently operates.
I am pleased to say that the government has announced that based on my representations it has agreed to streamline the grant application process, which should produce a better takeup rate and further reduce congestion in our city. This is on top of the recent announcement that Southampton’s port rail link will be expanded, which in itself will take up to 1 million lorry journeys a year off of Southampton’s roads.
The issue of MPs pay and allowances was also debated in the house following the production of an independent report (the ‘Baker’ report) on MPs pay and allowances. Yet again, MPs had to vote on their own pay, albeit in the context that finally, they will not, and will be subject to independent review in future, based on comparability with a basket of civil Service pay scales. I voted to keep this years pay increased to 2.4% , but to have regard to the recommendations of the Baker Review in future pay reviews. This was misreported by the Echo as voting for a 7% pay rise, but was corrected in a subsequent piece. I was not present for the vote on allowances, but would have supported the move to restrict allowances to the basic cost of living away from home (ie rent or mortgage interest plus repairs). This was, however, defeated.
In addition to my standing commitments, I also met with the Schools Minister Andrew Adonis regarding the future provision of sixth forms in Southampton, specifically how we can best ensure that there is proper strategic overview of how 6th forms develop.
This month I have asked questions on Combined Heat and Power, Windfarms and the Ministry of Defence, and on HIV in prisons.
On Friday I was at Southampton Central Train Station with members of the Transport and Salaried Staff Association to campaign against South West Trains’ proposals to cut opening hours for a number of ticket offices in the south. Under the current proposals, Swaythling, St Deny’s and Woolston stations would all be closed at the weekends, and with reduced opening hours during the week. I have also authored an Early Day Motion in Parliament drawing attention to these proposals, which you can read here
My argument against the proposed closures is that they are fundamentally a false economy. Unstaffed ticket offices often make commuters feel less secure, which in turn discourages them from using those stations, which could in future be used to justify closing the stations entirely. There has not been a time in the last decade where there has been a greater need for affordable, integrated public transport both as insurance against rising fuel prices and to cut congestion in our city. Add to this that SWT has been the beneficiary of a 27% increase in passenger numbers and very considerable government subsidy, and I believe the medium and long-term case for these closures becomes very weak.
The consultation over these closures runs throughout August. I would encourage you to respond by going to the SWT website. I will also hopefully be setting up a petition on my website over the next week opposing the closures.
Last week I also visited Southampton’s CCTV Control Centre to meet with local staff and see just how important a role CCTV plays in cutting crime. Statistics from Southampton’s Community Safety Team show that last year over 1000 arrests were made due to CCTV evidence. The introduction of CCTV in the city centres multi-storey car parks has also reportedly reduced crime there to virtually nil.
Considering David Davis’s recent criticism of CCTV, I believe it is very important for us to defend CCTV and the vital role it can play in cutting crime in a community.
Earlier this month the government confirmed that Southampton is being fast-tracked on to the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. BSF is a national funding programme that will eventually result in every secondary school in Britain being either rebuilt or (if it is a more modern building) refurbished and having new facilities added. It will be the largest single capital investment in Southampton schools in 50 years.
Southampton was originally not due to receive funding until 2011-12 as part of ‘Wave 7’ of BSF funding (which, interestingly enough, was also one of the waves that the Conservatives have pledged to cut and spend on other things if they got into government). However, due to the very significant changes going on in Southampton’s schools at the moment, both I and John Denham were able to put a strong case to the government that Southampton should receive it’s funding now to make sure the new schools and campuses are properly funded and of high quality. It is also worth noting that Southampton’s successful bid to the government for BSF funding was produced entirely by the Labour-Liberal administration during their short time in power earlier this year.
Readers of my report from last month may remember that I highlighted one of the main obstacles to securing the future of the Civil Service Sports Ground in Freemantle as Southampton’s securing BSF funding. The City Council has now confirmed that a combined Regents Park-St Marks campus would be one of the sites to receive priority BSF funding, which is excellent news. I will continue to work to ensure the Council does buy the sports field as part of a combined campus.
There are two broader questions that are raised by this funding. In order for Southampton to win this funding, the local authority had to put forward a case for how this new funding would be a real help in raising standards in our schools. Our school results overall have improved significantly since 1997- for example now over ¾ children leave primary school able to read, write and do maths, compared with only half of all children in 1997. And our GCSE pass rate has gone up by about 10% in the last decade. However the rate of improvement in Southampton has been slower than most other comparable authorities. A big challenge for local politics over the next decade will be how we get similar rates of improvement to other local authorities, while still ensuring that the good work our schools are currently doing is fostered and protected.
The other issue is that this funding, and the new campuses, buildings and community facilities that will be the end result, will significantly change the face of our city. I have already contacted the Council with some early questions on what the overall ‘vision’ for Southampton is that ties together many of these developments and have been discussing with local residents what they want to see happen.
This month I also attended the formal opening of the Royal South Hants hospital’s new Combined Heat and Power boiler, which will now feed heat in to Southampton’s district heating scheme which we (Southampton’s Labour administration) set up in the 1980s.
Southampton’s Heat Distribution Network allows geothermal heat from under the city to be combined with the excess heat generated by other local Combined Heat and Power plants, like the one to be unveiled at the RSH. The heat is then distributed to several sites across the city, including:
The RSH already receives heat from the Southampton District Energy Scheme, and has done since 1996. However this is the first time that the RSH will both be generating power locally, and doing so via a Combined Heat and Power plant that can recycle heat produced during the electricity generation process back into the city’s heat distribution network.