Monthly Archives: November 2013

Childcare crunch at the heart of Cameron’s cost of living crisis

David Cameron says the economy is healing but for many, things are getting worse not better, as prices continue to rise faster than wages and people struggle to make ends meet.

For working mums and dads, childcare is a major part of the problem, but concerns about rising costs – up 30% under Cameron, five times faster than wages – reduced support and fewer places are falling on deaf ears.

David Cameron is ignoring the plight of hard pressed families while he’s cutting taxes for millionaires and that sends a very strong signal about whose side he is on.

Childcare will be a key front in One Nation Labour’s battle to tackle the cost of living crisis. We know mums and dads, who are already struggling to cope with rising bills and stagnant wages, really need bold policies to make a difference to their lives.

Labour’s Primary Childcare Guarantee will give all parents of primary school children the guarantee of childcare availability through their school from 8am-6pm. By extending the free childcare offer from 15 to 25 hours, Labour will make working parents of three and four year olds over £1500 better off. And we won’t forget Sure Start centres, which David Cameron promised to back when he asked for people’s votes, before breaking his promise in Number 10. Under him there are 578 fewer Sure Start centres than there were in 2010.

Britain cannot ignore the childcare crisis parents face.

David Cameron says the economy is back on track – but for millions of people things are getting harder, not easier. A real recovery is one where everybody benefits, not just a privileged few at the top.

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David Cameron has left the NHS unprepared for this winter and hospitals across the country are struggling to cope. There are fewer nurses, fewer beds and a shortage of A&E doctors as NHS staff face a looming A&E crisis this winter. It just goes to show that you can’t trust David Cameron with the NHS.

This is an A&E crisis that started on this Government’s watch. Labour saved the NHS – when we left office A&E was doing well with 98% of patients seen within four hours. But David Cameron has made it harder to get a GP appointment, closed NHS Walk-in Centres and scrapped NHS Direct leaving people with no alternative but to go to A&E.

But there is a deeper cause of the A&E crisis. David Cameron’s cuts to social care budgets mean fewer older people are getting the help they need to stay healthy and independent in their own homes.

I’ve spoken to several older people in Coventry and they’ve told me how they want to stay in their homes for as long as possible. £1.8bn has been cut from adult social care budgets since 2009/10 and this means that elderly people are not getting the care they need at home or in the community, leading to increased demand for emergency care when problems occur.

We need to ensure that our NHS is protected but David Cameron is taking it backwards. It’s people in Coventry who are paying the price.

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Bob Ainsworth speech on New Clause 3 during debate on Defence Reform Bill

Mr Ainsworth: I offer profound congratulations to the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr Brazier), not just for the concession he has achieved today but for the formidable way he has pursued this issue over the years. He harassed me when I was in office—I perhaps remember that with a fondness I never felt at the time—and has continued to harass his own Government and the defence establishment on the issue of the Reserves and the role they can play in the country’s defence. No matter who wants to claim credit for some of the changes now being brought about, he can feel real satisfaction at something very few Back Benchers can say they have been able to do: profoundly to change a significant area of Government policy. He has most certainly done that through his work on the Reserves over the years.

I totally support the hon. Gentleman’s new clause 1 and am enormously pleased that the Secretary of State has accepted it. I also support new clause 3, and I have to say that I believe the Secretary of State is being a little heavy-handed in suggesting that to support it is somehow to sabotage the direction of the Army or to play politics with the defence of the realm. I say that as a former Secretary of State who had to put up with allegations by the then loyal Opposition that I had deliberately delayed life-saving vehicles getting to our troops in Afghanistan. It is enormously important—particularly in the field of defence, where there is such a degree of cross-party support—that the Government’s own defence of their policies is somewhat measured, but I am not at all sure it has been in this regard. We can all read: we can see what new clause 3 says and does not say. As I say, my respect for the hon. Member for Canterbury is about as high as an Opposition Member’s can be for a Government Member, and I have not heard from him, or from anybody else here today, anything to suggest that the new clause does all the terrible things it is said to bring about.

New clause 3 calls for a report within a particular time frame after the Bill has been enacted, and a pause if Parliament does not accept it. It does no more than that. The hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) may have an agenda that is not mine—I do not know—because I support the general direction of policy in this area wholeheartedly. This development could, potentially, bring about huge improvements in capability. I see nothing to justify the counter-argument that is being made.

Mr Brazier: I am most grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his generous treatment of me, as leader of the all-party group for the Reserve forces and cadets, which made the campaigning possible. The effect of this would be to send a message to those Regular officers, many of them serving, who have rubbished this proposal for the past year and a half to the press off the record—they are a minority within the Regular Army but a significant one, some of whom the right hon. Gentleman will know—that if this can be kept down for just a little bit longer, they may get some Regular manpower back instead.

Mr Ainsworth: The effect can and should be that this House is enormously interested in the development of the Reserves and wants to see their capability properly developed and scrutinised—and no more than that. That should be the message, and I do not think there is anybody in the House who is responsible for another message that I know of, other than the defence being offered by Government Front Benchers in the overreaction, as I see it, to new clause 3.

Martin Horwood: I am very grateful to the former Minister for giving way—[Hon. Members: “Secretary of State.”] Former Secretary of State; I beg the right hon. Gentleman’s pardon. He obviously has great knowledge of these issues, but on one he is quite wrong. He says that new clause 3 calls only for a report, but it does not. It is quite explicit: it calls for “Further implementation of the plans” to be “halted”. Why does the Labour party appear to be supporting the interruption of access to better pension provision and explicitly interrupting access to paid leave for training? Surely, that is not what he intends.

Mr Ainsworth: The new clause calls for a pause in certain circumstances, if the House has not been persuaded. To me, it gives time scales that are perfectly achievable, so I reject what the hon. Gentleman says.

Mrs Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): Let us be clear: we are not talking about any conflict or preference for Reserves or Regulars; we are talking about numbers, competency and capability for the defence of the realm. What we need to be assured of—but which this House, largely, is not confident we have—is that the Government’s plans will provide us with the necessary numbers, competency and capability. That is what the pause is about. It is not a throwing away of the plan: it is a pause.

Mr Ainsworth: The growth of the Reserve element in all the services has huge potential benefits, such as a connection with the population at large that the small Regular armed forces that we inevitably have today and will have tomorrow can never achieve on its own. Equally, as other Members have said, it brings skills into the armed forces that cannot be kept up to date within the Regulars themselves. So there are those potential improvements.

Government Members have talked about a potential gap of three years, but it is not just a question of that: I am worried about the potential ongoing downgrading of capability if we do not get this right. In order to get into the Reserves the calibre of people that will be absolutely necessary for the kind of operations we have unfortunately had to carry out in recent years, and will undoubtedly have to carry out in future, the skills required by every rank must not only remain at their current level, but must improve. That is for the obvious and simple reason, which everybody knows, that the huge reputational damage to such operations, to our armed forces and to our nation, of errors in such operations can be profound. We must therefore ensure, given the cut-backs that are inevitably taking place, that we maintain within the Regulars the quality of not only the original recruits but of the training given to them, in order to lift capability. We are blessed with armed forces with a capability level that, in some ways, is higher than that in any other nation on earth, in my opinion, but it will need to be higher still.

Mr Ellwood: I have a lot of respect for the right hon. Gentleman and the experience he gained as Secretary of State, but I genuinely worry that he is fighting the last war. The conduct of warfare has changed. I hope he would agree that we will not be doing “boots on the ground” in the manner in which we have done so badly in Afghanistan and Iraq. The size of armed forces concertinas—it has done so over the past 400 years. I hope he would agree that withdrawal from Afghanistan will have a huge impact on the size of the standing Army, both Regular and Territorial, and batting for the old numbers that we had five years ago is out of touch.

Mr Ainsworth: I totally accept that. I like to study history and I know that after conflicts, the services—generally the Army more than the other services, but those, too—have generally been decimated in times of peace, only to have to be regenerated in times of danger thereafter. So I am not trying to fight the last war. I am saying that as we struggle with these enormous economic challenges and the cuts that are almost inevitable, we have to do everything we can to maintain the quality of our personnel. That applies to the Regular forces as it applies to the Reserves. Even at a time of downsizing, we can surely do that—we have to try to do it because of the reputational damage that inevitably flows from our failure to do so. There is nothing “yesterday” or “last war” about that approach; this is about the kind of operations we could be involved in tomorrow, of whatever scale, and the need for quality personnel.

New clause 3 calls for a level of scrutiny that is wholly justified by the importance of the decisions, and the changes of direction and structure, that we are implementing and that the hon. Member for Canterbury has fought for so valiantly and successfully for so long. That is why I support it, even if he does not.

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Ricoh Land

There has been much talk of the football club’s desire to own the Ricoh and the “adjacent” development land. Some have tried to suggest this is” Brownfield” land and that it is therefore worth very little. Others have given the impression that it is all integral to the Ricoh and therefore rightly should belong to whoever owns the stadium.

Today I publish an aerial photograph of the land in order to increase peoples’ knowledge of what is involved.

The areas hatched red are owned in freehold by the council, but form part of the lease to ACL – the stadium operator – and indeed are integral to the Ricoh itself. However, this cannot be said to be “Brownfield” as it is part of the expensively provided and very well connected development; the entire road infrastructure is there connecting it to the motorway network and the rail network, should the new station be built.

Car park C is on the opposite side of the main A444. It was an old railway siding that was expensively developed and is equally well connected. While it serves as additional car parking for the Ricoh, it is owned by the council on behalf of the taxpayers of the city and would be of considerable value in its own right.

The development land talked about – which is designated for planning purposes as “Leisure” land – is on the opposite side of the railway line and only connected to the Ricoh via a pedestrian underpass. This 8 acre site – which is effectively part of the Tesco side of the development – is well served by the Tesco dual carriageway exit from the road network. Again this land is owned by the council on behalf of the taxpayers of Coventry. If designated for retail it would be worth many millions, however, the council felt that the retail park was big enough and wanted to develop hotels etc. It is still with its current designation worth a considerable sum in its own right. Again as the photograph shows this is not “Brownfield” but rather prepared, ready to use development land.

Arena Leisure land Car Park C Aerial IV 13-11-13 (2)

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Hard-working families in Coventry are struggling as they face the greatest cost of living crisis in a generation.

Wages have gone up slower than prices for 39 out of 40 of the months David Cameron has been Prime Minister and many hard-working families struggle to make ends meet. Average wages are over £1,500 lower than they were when the Tories came into power in 2010 and year after year people are working harder, for longer, for less.

Thousands of hard-working people in Coventry get up early to go to work, do the right thing and yet struggle to pay their bills. It can’t be right that we’ve now reached the point where more of the people bringing up families in poverty are in work than out of work.

We need to make sure work always pays which is why Ed Miliband has this week announced plans to introduce Make Work Pay contracts that will help businesses raise wages for millions of low-paid workers, and help the next Labour government cut social security bills for the taxpayer.

Firms that sign up to paying their employees the living wage, currently £8.80 in London and £7.65 elsewhere, in the first year of the next Parliament will be offered a 12 month tax rebate of up to £1,000 for each individual worker that receives a pay rise.

The money would be fully funded from increased income tax and National Insurance revenues. Additional savings in lower tax credits and benefit payments, as well as increased tax revenues in future years, will cut social security bills and help pay down the deficit.

Make Work Pay contracts will benefit employees, businesses and the British taxpayer. Low-paid workers will be paid more, firms will receive a tax rebate and will benefit from higher staff morale, increased productivity and lower turnover of staff, and the taxpayer will see a reduced social security bill from lower spending on tax credits and benefits for people in low paid work.

Thousands of families in Coventry are struggling to deal with the rising cost of living and encouraging more firms to pay their employees the living wage is a positive way of really helping people deal with the cost of living crisis.

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