Well, I think we can safely say I’ve had a better week than the Chancellor. But away from yet another Tory psychodrama, it’s been an incredibly busy week in Westminster, making real progress on some of my key campaigns.
I started the week speaking in Home Office Questions on Monday. In the West Midlands, violent crime is up a staggering 27 per cent on last year, the murder rate is rising, and drug crime is at a 6-year high. I used this opportunity to put these shocking figures to the Home Secretary and take her to task following her admission last week that some communities had been “left behind and neglected”. Her response was far from satisfactory. Yet again we had more platitudes but no action. The truth is that the Conservatives’ election pledge to increase police numbers won’t even replace the numbers that they’ve cut over their decade in power. That’s before we even factor in the growing demands and pressures our hardworking police are under. We need some real investment in our police and crime prevention services so that we can finally start reversing some of the damage the Tories have inflicted on our streets.
The controversial and highly-contested government deportation flight to Jamaica took off on Tuesday morning, but without all the people on the board due to a last-minute legal challenge in The Court of Appeal. The Court ruled that 25 detainees could not deported from detention centres near Heathrow because of concerns that they had not had their legal right to access to lawyers. I spoke out about this issue this week and called on ministers to postpone the deportations until the independent Windrush Lessons Report had been published. Ministers know that the report will say that people in similar circumstances to the “Jamaica 50” shouldn’t be deported and they should have the courage to admit it. I was contacted by a constituent’s family, who was due to be on the flight, and spoke about his case on the Victoria Derbyshire programme this week. My constituent had served in the British Army, had been deployed on two tours of duty to Afghanistan after which he suffered from PTSD and was diagnosed as bipolar. He received no help and support for his failing mental health, and soon afterwards was convicted of committing GBH. We cannot simply wash our hands of people who have lived in this country for most of their lives, and who are to all intents and purposes British citizens, and certainly not those who have developed mental health illness after serving our country in the Armed Forces. It’s clear that the government has not learnt any lessons from the Windrush scandal, and should wait until the independent review is published before they even consider any more deportation flights such as this.
Ten years after the announcement of HS2, we’ve finally heard that the project has been given the go ahead by the government. The project isn’t perfect; no infrastructure project ever will be, but if the government is serious about investing in areas north of London and to address the threat the climate emergency poses, then HS2 is a key project that must be delivered. There will be challenges and we must ensure that towns and cities in the Midlands feel the benefit of this rail line, but I believe that this is a positive step towards boosting our regional economy.
On Wednesday, I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate around the issue of dangerous cladding and the financial hardship that has been imposed on many leaseholders in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. I talked about the experiences of leaseholders with properties at the Islington Gates development in our constituency, who are in the process of carrying out remedial works to the building, estimated at around £1.5 million – that’s around £5,000 per leaseholder. And that’s before you consider the removal of the cladding which could come in at between £5-6 million – £40-50,000 per leaseholder. Adding insult to injury, the insurance company did not want to renew the insurance and so a broker had to find a consortium of insurers prepared to take on the cost. From a price tag of £36,000 a year, the insurance has leapt fivefold to £190,000. The obscene costs are causing stress and anxiety that is affecting people’s everyday lives and it is high time that the government stepped in, showed some moral leadership, and supported these people.
As the summer launch date for Birmingham’s Clean Air Zone draws closer, the worsening problems with the online vehicle checker that will support it are hugely concerning. Teething problems and test glitches are one thing – but the system as it stands is not fit for purpose, and is incapable of delivering even the most basic level of reliability. The Council have worked extremely hard to get this right and have engaged with concerns throughout. But Birmingham cannot afford a botched launch, and neither can my constituents who risk financial penalty through no fault of their own. Unless the vehicle checker is fixed – and fixed quickly – it might be time to put CAZ plans on hold.