RICOH ARENA FUTURE

There is a lot of speculation circulating on the internet concerning the future of the Ricoh Arena.

Any proposition must and can ensure that the recent deal that brought the Sky Blues back to the Ricoh Arena is honoured, and that includes primacy for the football club’s fixtures.

Speculation that this is in jeopardy is unfounded.

Coventry City Council have a responsibility to the citizens of Coventry to develop and maximise the economic potential of the Ricoh Arena. If that can be achieved, and at the same time Coventry’s sporting reputation enhanced, the opportunity should be seized. I would like to see Coventry propelled up the ranks of sporting cities and local people given the opportunity to watch top class sport without having to travel.

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Russian Aggression the Most Serious Threat

As President Obama steels himself to do what he has tried to avoid, namely increase US military involvement in the Middle East, we should try to keep in perspective that he and the rest of us face a more significant threat. The extremists of the Islamic State are an affront to our sense of humanity but they are non-state actors who could be dealt with if the politics and governance of the states effected can be improved.

However, the situation in the Ukraine is of a different magnitude. President Putin, having previously dismembered Georgia, is now involved in the same activity in Ukraine. Crimea has already been annexed to Russia and now the full ambitions of the Russian puppets in eastern Ukraine are becoming clear. They plan the creation of “New Russia” a state that would take in the eastern and the whole of the southern part of the country all the way to the Romanian border.

No leader of a major power has behaved as overtly aggressive since Stalin in the post war period, and sadly Putin would be very pleased with the comparison. He has said the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest tragedy of the 20th century and he claims the right to act on behalf of Russian minorities in other states. As there are Russian minorities throughout the old Soviet Union and far wider he is in principle claiming the right to interfere in the affairs of all of the independent sovereign states of Eastern Europe.

Stalin’s policies pushed the world into the Cold War, Putin’s have the potential to be equally as dangerous.

No sensible person wants, in the face of the many other challenges, to be forced to find money for increased spending on arms. No one wants the economic consequences that extensive sanctions against Russia will have on our own economies, but Putin will not be deterred by resolutions passed at NATO or EU summits. So unless we want to gamble that this systematic aggression will fizzle out in the face of inactivity, and history tells us that doesn’t happen, we must find effective ways to deter him.

Both NATO and the EU have made a start but the small and reluctant steps taken so far sadly are not likely to be nearly enough.

All NATO countries should commit to reverse the recent decline in defence spending.

At the European level there is an urgent need to develop a strategy to decrease our heavy dependence on Russian energy.

And here in Britain there are steps that should be taken. The Prime Minister told the House of Commons recently “there is no need to look at the Strategic Defence Review of 2010″ despite the fact that large scale cuts are still being imposed on our Armed Forces and we have an Army stuffed full of the kind of vehicles best suited to fight a counter insurgency in Afghanistan, not those best suited to offer reassurance to our European neighbours facing a Russia that is re-equipping its own forces.

These capabilities cannot be altered simply or quickly. All party agreement should be sought for a new review now, this side of the election to look at what can be afforded and the kind of training and equipment needed in the face of the new scenario.

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Coventry’s average ESA appeal waiting times remain above the national average

Recent figures released by the Ministry of Justice show that the average length of time for the Tribunals Service to administer an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeal in Coventry was 29 weeks between April 2013 and March 2014 (the latest period for which figures are available). This is well above the national average in England for the same period, which stood at 23 weeks, and above the West Midlands regional average of 27 weeks.

The Tory-led Government had previously provided assurances that they would implement a number of measures to ensure that the average appeal waiting time in Coventry reached parity with the national average. However, in spite of the actions taken by the Government to reduce waiting times, it continues to takes an additional 6 weeks on average for the disposal of a Coventry appeal when compared with the national average in England.

The average ESA appeal waiting times in Coventry have now been persistently higher than the regional and national averages for the duration of this Government’s time in office.

The Ministry of Justice statistics also revealed that the proportion of ESA appeals decided in favour of the appellant in Coventry in 2013/14 (the latest period for which figures are available) stood at 48%. These figures clearly show that had the original decision to disallow a claimant’s ESA been made correctly in the first place, the number of appeals would have been reduced by half over the period. This would have freed up significant capacity in the courts and ensured that the remaining appeals were heard in a timelier manner.

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Bob holds the Home Secretary to account over passport delays

In the House of Commons yesterday, the Home Secretary responded to an Urgent Question on the processing delays at HM Passport Office. Bob questioned the Home Secretary’s response in dealing with the delays experienced by thousands of people who are waiting for their new passports. This is the Home Secretary’s response:

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Home Secretary is now announcing a series of measures; the problem has been ongoing and apparent not for a couple of weeks, but for months. Members of Parliament—myself and everyone else—have been inundated by constituents in panic and distress. Why has it taken so long for this problem to be recognised and for measures to be taken to address this issue?

Mrs May: The increase in demand was recognised earlier this year. HM Passport Office put steps in place to deal with that increased demand. The increased demand continued and, as a result, further steps were put in place. Those steps included increasing the number of staff available to deal with the applications, increasing the number of staff on the telephone helpline, extending the hours of operation of HM Passport Office and working with couriers to ensure that printed passports were delivered within a very short space of time once they were issued. Over time, as the demand has increased, steps have been taken. It is clear that further steps need to be taken, and they are being taken. (Hansard, 12 June 2014)

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Bob questions the Foreign Secretary on Ukraine

In the House of Commons yesterday, the Foreign Secretary made a statement on the current situation in Ukraine.  During the statement, Bob asked him about the “calibrated but determined approach” towards Russian actions:

Mr Bob Ainsworth (Coventry North East) (Lab): The Foreign Secretary will continue to receive widespread support in all parts of the House if he maintains the calibrated but determined approach that he has laid out in his statement. The trick is to make certain that the Russians realise the level of determination to resist their incursions into Ukraine, balanced by allowing them the time to think through the consequences of their actions—I am not at all sure that they have done so. Does he agree?

Mr Hague: Yes, I absolutely agree. Thinking through the long-term consequences has not necessarily happened, as I said to the right hon. Member for Neath (Mr Hain). Part of our approach in what we are trying to do is to take certain measures that have an impact while making it clear that there are further and more serious measures that we are prepared to take. We are giving the time for that to sink in and for negotiations to take place such as those in Geneva 11 days ago. I hope and believe that we have the calibration right, and I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s support for it. (Hansard, 28 April 2014)

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Number of under-employed in Coventry increases

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the number of under-employed people in Coventry has increased year-on-year since the Tory-led Government came to office.

Workers are defined as under-employed if they are willing to work more hours, either by working in an additional job, working more hours in their current job, or switching to a replacement job. They must also be available to start working longer hours within two weeks, and their current weekly hours must be below 40 hours if they are aged between 16 and 18 and below 48 hours if they are aged over 18.

In a letter to Bob, Peter Fullerton – Director General of the ONS – confirmed that, according to Annual Population Survey datasets, the estimated number of under-employed people in Coventry increased from 13,100 in 2010 to 13,400 in 2011 and 13,600 in 2012 (the latest period for which figures are available).

The under-employment problem in Coventry highlights just how out of touch this Government is with the cost of living crisis facing the city’s hard working families, who are worried about whether they will be able to make ends meet and put food on the table for their children.  As wages are now down £1600 a year after inflation under David Cameron and tax and benefit changes since 2010 have left families worse off by an average of £891 this year.

Bob said:

“The Government’s cost of living crisis affecting people in Coventry is being perpetuated by an increase in under-employment.

“It is clear that under-employment is a growing problem for thousands of families in Coventry who are already feeling the squeeze from rising prices and falling wages. An estimated one in ten of those in work in Coventry are now unable to work the hours they would like.

“These figures show that this out of touch Government really needs to wake up from its complacency on living standards now.” 

 

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Coventry’s average ESA appeal waiting times above the national average

In 2012, the Tory-led Government committed to implement a number of measures to bring down the average waiting time for an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) appeal hearing in Coventry – which had increased significantly during their time in office from 14.3 weeks in 2009-10 to 55 weeks in 2012-13.

Whilst the average ESA appeal waiting time in Coventry appears to have decreased since 2012 – according to figures released by the Ministry of Justice – it is still well above the national and regional averages.

In response to a Parliamentary Questions asked by Bob, the Ministry of Justice revealed that the average length of time for the Tribunals Service to administer an ESA appeal in Coventry was as high as 30.8 weeks during the period January to September 2013 (the latest period for which figures are available).  This is well above the national average in England and Wales which stood as low as 18.8 weeks during the same period and 24.8 weeks in the West Midlands.

These figures reveal that those whose appeals were heard in Coventry were likely to wait as long as an extra 12 weeks for the disposal of their appeal when compared with the national average in England and Wales.

It was further revealed that average waiting times in Coventry have been persistently higher than the regional and national averages over the same period.

Moreover, the Ministry of Justice has issued statistics which show that the percentage of ESA appeals decided in favour of the appellant in the first three quarters of 2013 in Coventry stood at 45% (January to March), 48% (April to June) and 40% (July to September).  These figures clearly show that had the original decision to disallow a claimant’s ESA been made correctly in the first place, there would have been nearly half as many appeals in Coventry over the period.  This would have freed up capacity in the courts and ensured that appeals were heard in a timelier manner.

Bob said:

“These figures clearly demonstrate that appellants in Coventry are consistently waiting longer on average for their appeals to be heard than those in other areas of the country.  This undoubtedly disadvantages those in Coventry, many of whom are already in a vulnerable position, and adds additional stress and anxiety to what is already a difficult process.

“It is clear that the Government must take further steps to increase capacity across the Tribunals Service, as well as take action to increase the accuracy of initial decision making.  It is only by taking this affirmative action that waiting times in Coventry will start to fall further and faster and at the very least reach parity with the national average.”

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