12th Sept 2019

Introduction

My annual community consultation, the Big Conversation, helps me set my priorities each year. My work is also shaped by issues raised throughout the year, but this report only covers those brought up in the Big Conversation. It doesn’t attempt to summarise all my work, on which I provide monthly updates (subscribe here if you don’t already receive them).

Alongside the main themes, I try to follow up on every issue raised in meetings, conversations and survey responses. This report summarises some of the action I’ve taken on these issues since the 2018 Big Conversation, which you can read about here. It starts with the themes which were raised most:

  • Crime and Policing;
  • Health and Social Care;
  • Brexit;
  • Transport;
  • Social Security;
  • Homelessness and rough sleeping;
  • Schools and Education.

Brexit has inevitably taken up a lot of my time, given my role as a Shadow Brexit Minister and the way that the issue has dominated our politics, but the Big Conversation has guided much of my other work in Parliament. Shortly after the Big Conversation, I took what I heard from constituents to Parliament in my speech in the budget debate, saying:

This year’s Budget, like last year’s, comes after my annual community consultation, where I use the three weeks of the conference recess to talk to people across the constituency. Last year, the view I shared with the House was (that) like towns and cities across the country, Sheffield is at a tipping point. It was at a tipping point because of the collapse in the social fabric and in the ability of services to deal with the problems people were facing. So where are we 12 months on? In more than 60 hours of discussion at more than 40 events in this year’s consultation, all I found was greater concern and the feeling that we are closer to that tipping point.”

It wasn’t possible to include everything in this report, but you can check out my website for more detail on particular issues. As always, if you would like further information or want to raise an issue, just drop me an email: paul.blomfield.mp@parliament.uk.

Crime and Policing

I pressed the concerns around violent crime, antisocial behaviour, the collapse in the social fabric and the ability of public services to deal with the problems that we are facing in my budget speech:

We have some really impressive and committed police officers leading the fight against knife crime in Sheffield, supported by some great community groups, but We need to recognise the perfect storm that has been created by a combination of Government policies. Eight years of deep cuts to local services have decimated youth provision, led to rising school exclusions and seen falling police numbers—we have lost about a third of our police staff across South Yorkshire.

From the National Audit Office to the Police Federation, and to the Home Secretary himself, everyone agrees that police forces are underfunded. … [but in the budget] there was not a penny more for core police funding, nor were there any funds to rebuild youth services.”

I have continued to meet regularly with South Yorkshire Police and our Police and Crime Commissioner, Dr Alan Billings, who joined me at the meeting in Upperthorpe. I shared with him the specific issues that were raised in the Big Conversation, and have worked with operational police on many of them, such as illegal off-road motorbikes and quad bikes, people feeling unsafe due to anti-social behaviour, and the increased use in drugs, particularly spice. I followed up with the police on a concern raised about interactions officers have with people experiencing a mental health issue, and taking forward points about violence against women, questioned the Government on their considerations of treating misogyny as a hate crime and backed a campaign to stop sexual harassment. I have also engaged with the South Yorkshire Police review and the role played by Police Community Support Officers.

Brexit

Brexit was the second biggest issue that people prioritised in the survey and was the subject for one of the meetings, as well as being raised at lots of others. The issues raised at the Brexit event and general events included: the state of negotiations and calls for a further referendum, the rights of British Citizens in the EU and EU Citizens in the UK, Labour’s policy on Brexit and immigration. As Shadow Brexit Minister, I have been in a particularly good position to press these issues and have published regular updates on my work on Brexit here.

Labour’s 2018 Conference endorsed a further referendum to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit harming jobs and people’s livelihoods, and Labour has whipped MPs to vote in favour of it twice. I closed the first day of the debate opened by the Prime Minister in December, setting out why Labour would vote against it. Labour is Since the election of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister, by Conservative Party members, our focus has been on preventing his reckless drive towards leaving without a deal and we secured a law to prevent it, on which I led for Labour at Committee Stage. We have also opposed his shutdown of Parliament to prevent scrutiny and accountability at this crucial time for our country.

I have continued to work closely with the ‘3 Million’, an EU Citizens Rights campaign group, particularly on the operation of the EU Settlement Scheme, which I challenged the Government on the shortcomings of (also here). One concern was the £65 fee, which the Government eventually backed down on after pressure from Labour, trade unions and EU citizens. I am also: seeking to amend the Immigration and Social Security Coordination (EU Exit) Bill to enshrine EU nationals’ rights in primary legislation; have challenged Ministers on the safeguards in place in the event of no deal; and called on the Home Office to make the application available on non-Android phones. I’m also in regular contact with the British in Europe group, representing British citizens living in the EU27. I challenged the Government on the fact that not one of the three Brexit Secretaries have bothered to meet with the group, until the current Secretary of State finally acquiesced to do so. I am continuing to press him on my concerns for citizens in the event of a no deal Brexit.

Constituents also expressed frustration with the way that immigration was used by some leave campaigners in the referendum, and the lack of an honest and rational public debate about the issue. I have argued that the Government must be honest that immigration levels will not change much as a result of Brexit, but the country will be poorer. I set out my thoughts in an article in the New Statesman.

I have kept my Brexit blog regularly updated to outline my work on the issue and my views on the developing situation.

Health and Social Care

Health and Social Care was the top issue raised by respondents to the Big Conversation Survey, and at meetings many people shared concerns about mental health services and carers. Many of the concerns related to the services of the Health and Social Care Trust, which I’ve followed up with them. Some of the points raised were about the service provided by the Council, which taken up with them. I’ve been in contact with the police over the training in dealing with people with mental health challenges.

In Parliament, I called on the Government to support and fund local authorities in identifying ‘invisible’ carers who are in need of support, as well as pressing for the necessary funding for adult social care. I led a debate on Young Carers and hosted a meeting of young carers groups from around the country, and continue to press the Government on taking action to ensure that young carers are better supported. On mental health services, I challenged the Government on the difficulties that students face in accessing support, which is linked to the schools funding crisis. I spoke in Parliament to argue for mental health inpatients deprived of their liberty to be entitled to an advocate, and asked the Health Minister about mental health support for patients with a chronic condition.

I’ve continued to meet regularly with the Sheffield NHS Clinical Commissioning Group, including discussing the new dementia strategy. I have written to the Health Minister on NHS waiting times, highlighted issues with nursing shortages and the lack of funding in Parliament, challenged the Government on increasing Carer’s Allowance to match comparable benefits, followed up on the ‘continuing healthcare’ assessment not being fit for purpose, and met with the NHS Confederation and National Care Association to discuss post-Brexit immigration rules on the NHS and social care workforce.

Transport

I’ve followed up on concerns raised about bus services, the inadequacy of train services, air quality, and taxis.

I’ve met with First Group and Stagecoach to discuss the concerns raised around bus services, including fare prices, service frequency, and payment methods. I’ve also discussed these with colleagues, and welcome Mayor Dan Jarvis’ review of bus services to be led by my colleague Clive Betts, and challenged the Government on their policies of cutting funding for buses, which have led to higher fares and fewer services.

I’ve called for proper investment in inter-city trains in the north, including supporting the Northern Powerhouse Rail proposal, and challenged the previous Transport Minister on the shortage of peak-time Sheffield to London services. Taking up concerns raised by many about air quality in the city, I pushed the Government to make sure there is adequate funding for the Council’s air quality work. I’ve also pushed the Government on making taxis and private hire cars safer, and written to the Transport Minister about the lack of funding for cycling and walking.

Social Security

Significant concerns raised were related to the Universal Credit rollout and with many other issues too.

I’ve stayed in close contact with Citizens Advice Sheffield about their experience of the Universal Credit rollout. I questioned the Government on many aspects of the impact of Universal Credit, including on a specific point raised about loan sharks; pushed for training software to also be available for welfare advice centre staff; asking the Government about use of the EnAble fund; and, after questioning the Government on the lack of non-digital application routes and support for applicants with learning disabilities, took Citizens Advice to meet with the DWP which secured a change in policy. I’ve also raised concerns over concerns on the arrangements for advisers to seek explicit consent in representing claimants.

Other issues I have raised include: pressing the Government to ensure that people recovering from mental health problems are properly supported moving into work; arguing that benefits assessment interviews should be recorded to assist claimants in appeals, calling for legal aid to be available for welfare claimants to challenge appeals, and I continue to support the WASPI campaign.

Homelessness and Rough Sleeping

At many meetings, people raised concerns about growing homelessness, as well as the numbers sleeping rough. I challenged the Government on this, highlighting the failure of their new strategy to address the underlying issue of local government cuts which are holding back the voluntary and statutory sector in their ability to help people.

I took the heads of two leading Sheffield homelessness charities, Roundabout and the Cathedral Archer Project, to meet with the Cabinet Office Minister where we pressed for a cross-government long-term approach on everything from supporting families to providing secure housing, which you can read more about here. I’ll continue to press on these issues.

Schools and Education

I’ve taken up lots of issues which were raised relating to schools and education. Most significantly, I hosted a visit to Westminster of 14 headteachers from across the city to raise the funding crisis with the Schools Minister. We also met with the Sheffield MPs and handed in a letter to Downing Street, highlighting how the schools funding crisis is affecting their ability to provide the education which our children deserve. I followed it up directly with the Prime Minister in the Commons.

Taking up a point raised by young people, I challenged the Government on the lack of mental health support for school students. School students raised sex and relationships education and I supported the Government’s changes to the curriculum which make it more inclusive. Concerns were also raised about the way that pupils have been excluded from schools, and I have pressed the Government about looking at socio-economic and ethnic trends in this.

The point was made that university fees were too high, and I have called for the Government to comprehensively review the fee system, as well as hosted a meeting with the NUS and student representatives to discuss the recent Post-18 Education Funding Review with the report’s chair, Philip Augar. The post-study work visa for international students was also raised, which is something I’ve long been campaigning on and I’m pleased that the Government accepted an amendment to the Immigration Bill which I tabled.

Concern was raised in the Big Conversation on offering young people a full range of educational opportunities, and I have backed the ‘Love Our Colleges’ campaign, pressing Ministers on the underfunding of Further Education, and meeting regularly with Sheffield College leaders.

Other Issues

I have also taken forward other issues which were raised, for example:

  • Concerns were raised about the climate crisis, particularly in the meeting I organised on the issue. I’ve taken these on by: signing a motion declaring a climate emergency; pressing the Government to be ambitious internationally on carbon reduction targets; and working with Sheffield Climate Alliance.
  • Points were also made more specifically about green energy infrastructure, and I have pressed Ministers about solar panels; asked questions about hydrogen storage; and challenged the Prime Minister directly on fracking and onshore wind.
  • Points were made about jobs, the economy and poverty. I’ve called for a real living wage, action on zero-hours contracts and tougher labour market regulation, and repeatedly made the case that South Yorkshire should receive regional development funding which we would be receiving were we not leaving the EU.
  • On flammable cladding, I spoke in a debate on fire safety and sprinkler systems and called on the Government to take action to resolve issues with cladding. I have worked closely with the UK Cladding Action Group, which includes Sheffield residents.
  • Issues around migration, such as concerns with the hostile environment and supporting refugees, were raised in meetings. I served on the recent Immigration Bill Committee (more here) and pushed the Home Secretary to improve how we welcome refugees. I also raised over £1000 for Ashiana and Women for Refugee Women in my International Women’s Day fundraiser.
  • In response to concerns which were raised about anti-semitism in the Labour Party, I have made clear my view that Labour should robustly oppose anti-semitism, and have supported pressure to address complaints more robustly and more quickly.
  • I have followed up on a concern about the cost of car insurance for young people with the Treasury.

I hope that this report provides a useful update on what I have done to take up the issues raised during last year’s Big Conversation. You can find this year’s programme here and I do hope you’ll come along and discuss any concerns that you have on any issues directly with me at one of the events. It would also be really helpful if you could complete my short survey of constituents’ views here. It will only take a couple of minutes.

I also keep constituents in touch with my work through a monthly e-newsletter, which you can sign up to on my website. You can read my data privacy policy here.

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