Tuesday marked four years since the tragic deaths of five men at the Shredmet recycling facility. I have been raising serious concerns about this case with both the Health and Safety Executive and the Government since it occurred and still there are delays, missed deadlines, and a worrying lack of transparency. Families and friends came together this week to commemorate the lives of their lost loved ones and we must redouble our efforts to get some form of closure for those who have waited far too long. These families need answers. They deserve far better than the way HSE and the Government have treated them to date.
The big news from Parliament this week was the Chancellor’s financial statement, which failed to face up to the scale of the challenge that our country faces. We needed a New Deal, a deal that would promote job retention and job creation and instead we face the prospect of billions wasted on giving money to businesses who bring back employees where they had already planned to do so. We also had the Government’s ‘Meal Deal’ – a 50% discount in participating restaurants – but without an efficient test and trace system to give people the confidence to return, this will be meaningless. It will also remain out of reach for the 7 million adults who have had to reduce or miss meals to cut costs during lockdown. Throughout this crisis the Government has been slow to act – slow to deliver PPE, slow to introduce testing and tracing, slow to lockdown – and has introduced policies seemingly off the cuff which aim to fix one problem while ignoring several others. We need a cohesive, joined-up approach to the recovery, not a mix of random policies which help only a few.
There was however, some good news for the arts and culture sector this week. After weeks of calls to the Government for specific sectoral support to our arts venues, which are unlikely to open soon due to social distancing measures, the Culture Secretary finally announced a £1.57 billion package of support. Our arts venues contribute to our country in so many ways, many of which are impossible to quantify as they support community engagement, education, and mental health, but they are also a significant contributor to the UK and local economy. The Government must ensure that venues such as our own Birmingham Hippodrome are supported through this difficult time and that when it is safe to do so, these venues will still be there to reopen and welcome visitors.
This week I joined a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee and tackled the Government on their slow response to the national cladding scandal. I was shocked at the apparent lack of engagement from the Government on the core issues of the scandal and their complete ignorance of the realities of life for the many people struggling financially as a result of dangerous cladding. The Government do not collect any data on the costs of fire safety measures that have been taken up such as waking watches, despite the rather obvious consequence of having less money to pay towards remedying or removing of cladding. The Government also has a responsibility to ensure that costs are not only transparent but are also affordable, particularly considering that those having to pay are entirely blameless in this entire mess.
The Government also appear to be entirely ignorant of the financial plight of leaseholders whose premiums have grown exponentially to an unaffordable level, let alone the number of buildings and leaseholders in this unenviable situation. Despite promises of engagement with the insurance industry, this Government appears to be doing little to mitigate the effects of soaring premiums, although I have suggested on numerous occasions the creation of a scheme similar to the Flood Re insurance scheme which supported homeowners in areas at risk of flooding secure affordable insurance. The lack of urgency on this issue is incredibly frustrating, but I will continue writing to Ministers and calling for better support in the House of Commons and on committees.
I’ve spoken out recently about the lack of local community engagement from the National College for Advanced Transport and Infrastructure in Ladywood and this week the story appeared in Birmingham Live. The college was set up to teach engineering for the HS2 rail line but has failed miserably in recruiting local students from the community. We have some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country and HS2 was a fantastic opportunity to offer some training and employment to young people desperate for a chance to improve their prospects. But only 3 out of the 187 students at the college are from the constituency – despite its 600 student capacity. This needs to change and the Department for Education must work more effectively with the college to ensure that local students are given the opportunity to gain key skills for employment. You can read the full article in Birmingham Live here.
There has been some terrible news this week as John Lewis announced that they are closing their Birmingham store in the Grand Central shopping centre. They have made it clear to me that a package of support is in place for employees and the wider community, but if you are a constituent and need assistance after the announcement, please get in touch. The Birmingham store is one of 8 branches across the UK that will not reopen after the Covid-19 pandemic, with a loss of around 1,300 jobs. The news is causing concern across the city, especially following the news that Debenhams is also set to close in the Bullring shopping centre.
As ever, if you have any issues or concerns to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 0121 661 9440. My team and I are of course subject to many of the same challenges and restrictions as other families in Birmingham Ladywood at the minute, but we will do everything we can to help constituents in these difficult times.