June 2014 Report

Parliamentary Business

Queen’s Speech

I spoke in the Queen’s Speech debate about the need for affordable housing and quality childcare.

Other members of the House of Commons were visibly shocked when I laid out the cost of housing to buy and rent privately in Hackney. The reality is that anyone on a low or moderate income just cannot afford to live in Hackney unless they live in social housing.

Hackney has always had a high population turnover but the high and increasing rents in the private rented sector mean that renters have little option but to keep moving. This has an effect on the wider community.

We also have a growing crisis of single men who do not qualify for council housing but cannot afford to live locally. With housing benefit now restricted to the single room rate for anyone under 35 years there are increasing numbers of fathers who live in accommodation which does not allow their children to visit.

I have also subsequently raised these points with the housing minister. While Hackney is one of the top two councils in the UK for building new council housing, the private sector will be part of the housing solution for some time to come.

We need a regime which encourages private landlords to provide much longer tenancies – particularly for families.

I support three year tenancies which include rent guarantees but would like to see serious discussion about how professional landlords could be encouraged to provide longer tenancies.

I also raised the issue of VAT on exercise classes and gym membership. It is not helpful to the Olympic legacy and does not encourage exercise if, as is often the case, there is a 20 per cent tax on such classes.

GP practices in Hackney

I have I sought assurances from the health minister and NHS England about the impact on Hackney residents from the phasing out of the minimum income guarantee for GP practices.

I also met with Anne Rainsberry, Director of NHS England in London, who assured me that NHS England will set up a programme that will work with practices in Hackney that are facing difficulties.

I will continue to monitor this issue so that Hackney residents have access to GPs.

Human rights in Nigeria

Human rights violations in Nigeria remain a concern. This month I met with the Metropolitan Police Nigerian police forum.

With nearly 900 officers of Nigerian descent in the Met police, the forum has suggested that their expertise could be used in Nigeria to help with police training and tackle human rights violations.

I asked the Prime Minister to consider using this as part of the UK’s efforts to promote human rights policing in Nigeria. I have also raised the issue in the House of Commons.

With more abductions by Boko Haram we must make sure that the challenges of terrorism and human rights remain on the international agenda.

Passport waiting times

Serious problems at HM Passport Office have come to light in recent weeks as a result of poor planning on the part of the Government. I have received complaints from people who may need to cancel travel plans or long planned holidays.

I spoke in the emergency House of Commons debate on this issue and quizzed Home Secretary Theresa May.

I was the last serving passport minister before the current one. Before 2010 there were clear predictions that there would be an increase in demand in future as people belatedly renewed passports that had expired during the economic downturn.

With regular and live time monitoring of applications and turnaround this was a predictable surge in demand. The government was asleep on the job.

The solutions the government devised will cause problems in a year’s time. I have also set out my concerns in more detail in an article for The Guardian’s Comment section which you can read here

Careers guidance

In 2012 I met with a careers advisor who was keen to work with young people in Hackney.

A year later she launched a new charity, My Big Career and Hackney’s Cardinal Pole school provided support with office space in its new building. The charity offers face to face careers advice to a number of Hackney schools through a network of advisors and recruitment professionals who offer their time for free.

In June the Minister for Skills and Enterprise, visited Hackney Community College.

He met three pupils from Cardinal Pole school and also discussed FE funding and apprenticeships with the community college principal Ian Ashman.

Hackney schools have improved enormously in recent years. I work with 6th formers and professionals locally to promote greater understanding of career opportunities locally and we need to ensure that the independent careers advice is of the best possible quality.

Smart meters

I pressed the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change on the best ways to offer people information about their energy consumption. Alongside the introduction of smart meters home display units will be installed in every home at the cost of £15 per customer, although consumers will not paying the costs upfront.

A recent survey by Scottish and Southern Electric (SSE) showed that six out of 10 customers said they would prefer to receive information on tablets, personal computers or smartphones. Despite this, the minister was convinced that home information displays were value for money.

While I am in favour of smart meters as a way of reducing use and therefore cost of energy in the home, I remain sceptical about these home display units.

Broadband

At Prime Minister’s question time in June, I raised the problems experienced by one third of businesses in the Shoreditch area that can’t get superfast broadband.

The Corporation of London also has concerns about connectivity in the City.

I am planning a round table to discuss how those businesses and organisations concerned can work to get a better solution.

In response to my question, the Prime Minister promised that action would be taken by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. He in turn has advised that work is being done but there is no detail.

I will continue to monitor this situation and ensure that the Government acts on this promise. All businesses in Shoreditch need superfast broadband which is affordable to install. Residents also need better services.

Read more on my website here

And see here for a wry look at how Whitehall deals with policy initiatives from No10 Downing Street.

Africa

Along with other MPs of all parties I made a joint bid for a debate on the floor of the House of Commons chamber on Africa.

I spoke in particular about Nigeria and the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group which I chair. The issue of human trafficking is obviously a huge concern.

During my recent visits to Nigeria, I have seen the battle in tackling human trafficking. An international effort must be made to tackle this terrible crime.

I stressed how vital it is that trade links are improved between the UK and Africa. With two thirds of Nigeria’s population under the age of 25, there is huge potential for Nigerian businesses to grow in the UK.

Other matters

Stop and Search

Since February 2012 the number of stop and searches in London has dropped by 44 per cent.

From February 2012 to April 2014 the annualised figures went down from 518,510 to 268,329. The latter figure is the number of people stopped between April 2013 and March 2014. Of those stopped 94 per cent were men, 46 per cent were white, 29 per cent were black and 14 per cent were Asian.

Hackney has a local monitoring group which scrutinises the practice of stop and search and the breakdown of those who are stopped.

Since the Metropolitan police changed its approach complaints have dropped by nearly half across London.

Nationwide the voluntary take up of the new approach announced by the Home Secretary has been disappointing with only one force (the Metropolitan Police) so far confirming it will take part.

Victims’ Law

Labour hopes to increase the support provided to victims of crime and families with proposals for a new victim’s law.
A major consultation was launched earlier this year by Labour’s victims’ taskforce, led by Keir Starmer (former Director of Public Prosecutions) and whose members include Baroness (Doreen) Lawrence (the mother of Stephen Lawrence). Interim proposals will be published at the end of July.

Keir Starmer wrote an excellent piece on Labour’s intentions and it can be found here

D-Day 70th commemorations

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings, the Big Lottery Fund is helping veterans and their loved ones return to the beaches of Normandy.

Veterans from the UK, Channel Islands and Republic of Ireland can get grants from between £165 to £8,140 towards travel and accommodation. So far the fund has paid over £28 million to around 57,000 veterans.

To find out more visit

Ofcom nuisance calls consumer guides

Ofcom is offering advice and guidance about how to deal with nuisance calls. Its research shows that in general nuisance calls are becoming less frequent, but offer its first free guide here

Child poverty

This month, Child Action Poverty Group launched ‘Families on the Brink’, which is research on the impact of welfare reform on families in London. They describe situations which families frequently raise with me at surgeries. Visit

London Cycling design standards

Last published in 2005, the London Cycling Design Standards sets out the approach needed in London to deliver high quality infrastructure for cycling in our capital.

It’s important that we make sure that London’s transport planners consider cycling and pedestrian needs at the top of their agenda.

Transport for London is inviting comments on by Friday 25 July 2014. Please visit

Migration and jobs

Local tech website Tech City News hosted an evening of awards to foreign investors and migrants working in technology recently.

I have repeatedly raised concerns about many aspects of the Government’s immigration policy including the complexities and barriers to immigration for specialist roles.

Further information can be found here

Hackney Issues

New Era Estate

Two years ago the private owner of the company which owned this estate in Hoxton tried to sell it.

The estate was built by LBS Holdings in the 1930s. Over the decades since there was no major maintenance or upgrades to the estate.

It was residents themselves who raised money from Government grants to install central heating installed (but some flats still have no central heating).

Rents are considerably lower than market private rents locally at nearly £800 a month for a two bedroom flat.

LBS Holdings wanted to sell the company rather than the property which meant that local housing associations I approached were unable to purchase the flats.

In the last couple of months the estate was sold to a consortium of investors with the local Benyon estate as a 9 per cent stakeholder and estate manager.

Rents have increased by 10 per cent and it is likely that they will continue to rise in order to meet local market rates. The good news is that negotiations are likely to lead to a fixed rent for up to two years while I work with residents and the council to try and secure long term solutions for a number of tenants. The council and the Benyon Estate are also discussing the provision of social housing on the estate.

Whilst rents are still below the housing benefit cap (which is the upper limit locally for what rent levels housing benefit will cover), residents are very worried about their future. Some have lived on the estate for over 20 years but on assured shorthold tenancies which offer no real security of tenure.

While I never comment on individual cases there is a wider need for security of tenure and rent particularly for families. As I have raised in Parliament the need for long term rented properties.

Save Haggerston pool

There has been a long running campaign to save the swimming pool in Haggerston. I support the campaign, but recognise that this will cost millions of pounds.

So far an online petition has over 1,600 signatures, so do add your name and the campaign has launched a new website at

Route N26 bus service improvement

I have been critical of the Mayor of London’s stealth cuts to buses by reducing the frequency of many routes and terminating more journeys part way through the route.

I am pleased that this one route is increasing in frequency. Increasing passenger numbers on N26 have led Transport for London to increase frequency on Friday night/ Saturday morning and Saturday night/ Sunday morning.

The N26 will now run every 12 minutes