The Government’s new planning guidelines have now been published following much lobbying by myself and outside bodies such as the National Trust, and Friends of the Earth. The new guidelines are an improvement on the original proposals but it is now crucial that Stoke-on-Trent City Council works with local residents in devising a robust local plan for the city. I encourage all those who take an interest in planning decisions to engage with the Council on this.
This week saw the Legal Aid Bill come back to parliament. The Bill seeks to dramatically reduce access to legal aid for some of the most vulnerable people. Labour oppose these changes and supported amendments to preserve legal aid for victims of domestic violence, industrial accidents and clinical negligence.
The review of parliamentary boundaries has published draft proposals which will do nothing for democracy. The Government intends to reduce the number of MPs by 50, and to accommodate this the proposal is to abolish Stoke-on-Trent North constituency in favour of a new Kidsgrove and Tunstall constituency which pays no heed to local identities and which would split Burslem between 2 separate constituencies. This will marginalise the wards in Stoke on Trent. I have made my views known to the consultation, and the final recommendations will be subject to approval from parliament.
There is no excuse for there being no disabled access to 3 out of the 4 platforms at Kidsgrove Rail station and so I organised a round table meeting with Staffs County Council, Newcastle Borough and Kidsgrove Town Councils, East Midlands Trains and other campaigners to agree a plan of action. We desperately need to secure investment to allow elderly and disabled people to access all platforms and we have now submitted a joint bid to the Access for All funding stream. This would allow easy access across Stoke on Trent and to places further afield.
Working Tax Credit
The Government’s new rules for working tax credit have now come into effect. This means that many people will have to increase the amount of hours they work or lose their credit. All the evidence shows that employers will not agree to workers increasing their hours and so many people, especially women, may be forced to give up work simply because work does not pay. This government policy is one more example of many budget changes where local people are worse off.
A combination of pay freezes, benefit cuts and tax changes, rising unemployment and cuts to public sector jobs are making it more difficult for people to pay their way, and this in turn is leading to a greater reliance on credit. Locally there has been a rapid growth in take up of credit from pay day loan companies at very high rates of interest. I shall be advising the Office of Fair trading how much of a problem this issue is for us, and welcome any feedback.
Now that the Government changes to the way the NHS is to be run have been voted through parliament despite widespread opposition, there is great concern about the effect this will have on local services, waiting times etc . Please let me know if you notice any deterioration in services.
I will be opening the new Foodbank in Birches Head on 3rd May and will be encouraging food producers and retailers to donate any surplus food rather than through it into landfill.
I welcome the relaunch of the community sport facilities and hope that good use will be made of them.