Parliament resumed this week after recess week in Birmingham, so it was back down to Westminster on Monday.
Recently, I’ve been working with some brilliant community groups and councillors on the cladding scandal. The ongoing issues around cladding have left many people living in high-rise residential buildings terrified after the awful events of Grenfell, but also suffering from stress and financial pressures as they struggle to pay for remedial work themselves and struggle with the astronomical payments demanded from insurance companies. The Government will only pay for the removal of ACM cladding (the type found on Grenfell), but not for any of the other cladding that has been found to be unsafe. I joined campaigners a cladding rally in Westminster at the start of the week, with residents of the Islington Gates development, Jen, Brian, and Katie who belong to the Birmingham Leaseholders Action Group. I also spoke to Free Radio West Midlands about this scandal. Leaseholders of Islington Gates are facing bills in the region of £50,000 to make their building compliant with regulations on fire safety, not only by removing the unsafe cladding, but also by improving elements of internal fire precautions. The Government must step in and provide support for groups like this who are facing severe financial hardship through no fault of their own while the failures of regulation, the failures of the building industry, and the failures of Government are let slide.
For many months I have been investigating “IPP” prison sentences, with many serving these sentences languishing in prison with no idea of when they could be released. Imprisonment for Public Protection sentences require the prisoner to demonstrate their reformed behaviour through the successful completion of courses in prison before they are considered for release. I am concerned that there seems to be limited availability of courses for these prisoners, as either there are too few spaces or others with specific release dates are prioritised for the courses. I am also concerned that there may be a disparity on racial grounds. We know this bias already exists in the justice system, and I am concerned that based on my constituency cases it may be prevalent in IPP sentences. There seems to be very little being done to work with these prisoners, to get them the mental health care that they require, and to ensure that they have access to courses that will give them some hope of release. I’ll continue to monitor this issue and will be taking steps to challenge the government to provide some transparency on IPP sentences.
Back here in Brum today, I met with the Senior Leadership Team at West Midlands Police to discuss the work that they are doing in Birmingham city. We conducted a tour of Soho Road, meeting with the Soho BID, and then travelled to the city centre to conduct a further tour with local officers. From reading the responses to my Summer Survey, I am aware that many of my constituents are concerned particularly about anti-social behaviour and also drug-related incidents. It was good to talk about this with the team at West Midlands Police and about the Government plans to increase police numbers. West Midlands are set to receive funding for 366 additional police officers by 2021 and then 1,220 over three years, but this will not replace the 2,131 officers lost since 2010 thanks to Tory austerity, and considering how Birmingham has grown and that it is the UK’s second city, the Government really needs to consider whether they are doing enough to put right the damage inflicted over the last decade.
I was also pleased to give a briefing to Birmingham Councillors on my report into Bereavement Services in Birmingham. The report, “Raising standards, delivering dignity – A new model for Coroner and Bereavement Services in Birmingham”, was a great opportunity to conduct a full review of the service, make recommendations aimed at upholding service standards in Birmingham and Solihull, and think about how we can ensure the service is fit for the future. The briefing that took place today was a chance to discuss the report with Councillors and talk about how to implement its recommendations going forward. I have recently written to the Senior Coroner and Cabinet Member whose brief covers Bereavement Services, outlining the positive and deliverable way forward mapped out in my report if we work together. I look forward to reflecting on this report with colleagues at Birmingham City Council over the next few months to ensure progress is made on my recommendations.
If you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch using the contact details here.
I hope you all have a lovely weekend!