February 2015 Report

Parliamentary Business

Public Accounts Committee tax hearing

On 11 February HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) gave evidence to a Public Accounts Committee hearing on tax.

During this Parliament the committee has made tax a key area of focus by scrutinising whether HMRC has collected taxes fairly and pushed for transparency. We have called on HMRC to close loopholes that allow individuals and organisations to avoid paying their fair share of tax in the UK.

Following the HSBC scandal which uncovered that its Swiss private banks helped clients conceal undeclared accounts, the committee discussed the issue at the hearing. We will be reopening an investigation into the behaviour of HSBC with a hearing on Monday 9 March.

It is clear that tax avoidance must be dealt with internationally. We need action to be taken in every country. The UK must be a leader in tackling tax avoidance and evasion. We must all continue to raise our concerns so businesses are forced to consider reputational risk and customer attitudes as well as the letter of the law.

To read more about the work carried out by the committee, click here.

Broadband in Hackney

I took part in a Westminster Hall debate highlighting the issues many local residents and businesses have with getting access to reliable, affordable, superfast broadband.

One key problem is that advertised download speeds are an average, and do not take the speed of uploading into account. This is a major problem for Shoreditch companies. Even the former editor of Tech City News, based in Old Street, has to upload content at home because the connections in Shoreditch are too slow. It is clear that we need to change the way that speeds are advertised.

I also pointed out that there are alternative forms of technology that can help that would open up the market. They could make it more competitive and help drive down the price, but there are barriers to putting them into action.

I’d like to see companies forced to share their infrastructure. We should also change planning regulations so that landlords are required to consider connectivity in the same way they have to consider connection to water supplies.

I called on the Minister for the Digital Economy to look into changing planning law.

For information on the debate click here.

Electoral registration

February 5 marked National Voter Registration day. Events were held across the country to encourage online registration.

Hackney is one of the youngest areas in the country, with an increasing number of young private renters. There are more private renters than home owners and people who move frequently drop off the register.

I have been concerned about voter registration levels since the changes to the electoral system. Previously, one person in every household was responsible for registering everyone else living at that address. Under individual electoral registration, each person is now required to register to vote individually, rather than by family household.

On 4 February I raised this concern in the House of Commons. Hackney has put time and money into bringing the register up again but the cost of doing so is also a problem for local tax payers.

You must be on the electoral register system by 20 April in order to vote at the next election.

If you have not yet registered click here.

First time buyers and private renters

In a recent debate on help for first time buyers I stressed the urgent need to tackle high rents and insecurity in the private rented sector.

Increasingly, there are reports of people who are not couples being forced to share a bedroom because they cannot afford the high rents in London. It is time the Government acts on this and addresses the problems facing renters.

I am keen to gather evidence of local rent levels and living costs and have put together a questionnaire in consultation with local residents to collect this information.

Please take a couple of minutes to complete my survey, it will help me argue Hackney’s case and press for a fairer deal for tenants in London.

To complete the survey visit my website.

Human trafficking

I recently raised concerns about the low number of prosecutions of human traffickers with the Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling MP.

Although the issue of human trafficking is a matter for the Home Office, the issue of convictions lies firmly with the Secretary of State for Justice.

In Hackney, I often meet victims many years after the trafficking offences have been committed.

A key challenge to prosecutions is gathering evidence. The Ministry of Justice needs to improve the system to ensure evidence is there in court to secure convictions.

Diverse women in politics

On 3 February I launched the Forum for African, African Caribbean and Asian Women in Politics (FAWP).

The group is founded by former mayor of Enfield and Councillor Kate Anolue. It will offer advice, training and mentoring in an effort to boost representation of women from diverse backgrounds into political life.

It is vital that our Parliament reflects the communities of the UK.

We need to be active in encouraging women to run. Many have the skills and talents necessary and I pledge to work to make Parliament more representative.

For more information on FAWP’s upcoming events, visit: www.fawp.org

Other matters

Digital Democracy report launch

The Digital Democracy Commission released its report early this month entitled Open Up.

It is the culmination of a year’s work. The commission set up by the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow MP, explores how Parliament could make better use of digital technology.

I was delighted to be a commissioner and will continue to champion the opening up of Parliament.

As Parliament celebrates its 750th anniversary, it is vital that we look to the future and see how we can meet the changing needs of society. Some of the key recommendations are to cut out jargon, increase engagement and seriously consider online voting.

The report provides a roadmap of how we can break down barriers preventing public participation. You can read the report here.

Fuel poverty awareness

Fuel poverty awareness day on 27 February was formed by National Energy Action. It raised awareness of the many low-income households that face lack of heating and insulation.

It predicts that over the next 15 years the number of people likely to die because they cannot afford to heat their homes would fill Wembley Stadium. For more information visit.

V-Day

Saturday 14 February marked V-Day, a day for campaigners across the world to raise awareness of violence against women and girls and call for further action.

Ending violence against women is one of the main challenges of our time. I have raised the issue of domestic violence in Hackney in commons debates in the past and believe that it something that must be continuously challenged.

Globally one in three women experiences sexual abuse or beatings in her lifetime. Countless girls are at risk of female genital mutilation (FGM) or child, early and forced marriage.

To read the ministerial statement on violence against women and girls overseas click here.

Hackney Issues

Cyclist death on Homerton High Street

I was saddened to hear about the death of cyclist Akis Kollaros.

It is tragic that yet another cyclist has died on a stretch of road where residents and ward councillors have been campaigning for an improved junction with Brooksby’s Walk, Barnabas Road and Homerton High Street.

I have written to Transport for London, which is responsible for this road, to urge it to speed up its proposed study of the area and provide facilities which bring about a significant increase in safety for everyone, particularly pedestrians and cyclists.

I am a cyclist myself and campaign for safer facilities for cyclists across the constituency.

For too long this particular road has been allowed to be a danger for local people. I hope efforts will be made to improve this stretch of road.

City Academy rankings

City Academy has been ranked as the top mixed school in the UK for pupil progress. This is a great achievement and I congratulate them on the success.

This month I visited the school with Tristram Hunt MP, shadow secretary of state for education. He unveiled the Labour Party plans on new leadership partnerships between businesses and schools.

City Academy is partnered with KPMG, and we had the chance to speak with a number of students who have been involved with business initiatives. The students also spoke talk about their future career aspirations.

Get Hackney coding

Hackney Council have joined with Hackney Learning Trust and Samsung to raise awareness of coding in primary schools.

The collaboration will offer a series of free training sessions for 80 teachers to become experts in the new curriculum. Hackney Council dedicated February to raising awareness of coding using social media and
launched a competition at the beginning of the month.

To take part and share experiences of coding use the hashtag #GetHackneyCoding

Fire response times

I have raised concerns about response times and the threat to residents’ safety following the closure of Kingsland fire station.

Response times in De Beauvoir are now routinely over six minutes, increasing the chance of serious injury or even fatality.

When the station closed I was clear about my concerns and challenged the Fire Commissioner about the response time from Homerton. Local firefighters agreed. It gives me no pleasure to be proved right.

I now understand the station has been sold for a rumoured £28m. I am concerned that profit is being put before the safety of Hackney residents. Nothing is more important than the lives of local people.

I have written to the Commissioner to raise my concerns.

Homerton high street post office

Homerton high street post office will be changing to a new style branch.

It will adopt a modern open plan environment offering the same products and services but with longer opening hours and improved accessibility.

The new look is scheduled to open on Monday 23 March 2015 at 13:00 and will need to close for refurbishment on Thursday 5 March 2015 at 17:30.

Cycle superhighways

Following the feedback TfL received in consultation, changes to the Tower Hill Paddington section of the East-West cycle superhighway will progresses to construction.

The public consultation on Cycle Superhighway Route 1 (CS1), from Tottenham to the City of London, has opened and runs until Sunday 29 March.

To have your say visit here..

Centre for better health

The centre for better health has opened a social enterprise that functions as a bakery in Haggerston.

It provides trainee placements in bread making for people recovering from mental health issues. Clients make a selection of sourdough breads, pizzas, sandwiches and pastries that are available from their shop on 13 Stean Street.
RDOUGH base
For more information click here.

King’s Hall Leisure centre closure

King’s Hall leisure centre on Lower Clapton Road will be closed from Friday 3 April until Friday 17 April 2015.

The area is being shut to allow structural investigation works to take place to the base of the columns which are supporting the balcony and the roof trusses in these areas.

The works are needed to understand the level of corrosion, which will help inform the Council if further works need to be undertaken.

For more information about the changes click here.