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John Hemming's new year message

Its that time of year again. Normally I don't comment much about local issues on my weblog as we issue leaflets to residents in Yardley. However, I will do this on this occasion (as I did last year).

Casework and the office
The last case reference of 2008 was 9836 the last of 2007 was 7763 (and 2006) 5597. This continues to run at about 2,000 cases. Casework is very important as not only can we resolve issues for people, but also I learn what is going wrong in the real world - as opposed to the Westminster bubble.

What I have noticed is a number of strange decisions in DWP. For example the man who was only given temporary financial support for the loss of a leg. Someone on DWP was under pressure to hit a particular target and therefore made the absurd decision that his leg would grow back. This sort of case gets sorted, but I do worry about those people who don't get any support in dealing with such issues.

I have also noticed that the "advice desert" issue seems to be stronger. BIA seems even slower in decisionmaking.

Sadly Vicky and Neil moved on. However, they were replaced by Annabel and Stephen and the team seems to be working well with Emily now managing the office. Neil continues to help with running Appg OPO, however. With Neil moving on, however, our plan to produce a report about global conflict has had to go on the back burner.

Having been wrapped up for months Bakeman House has now been revealed to the world. Hopefully now the rest of the Swan redevelopment will proceed although I am worried about the impact of the Credit Crunch.

We will also be seeing work on Wheeldon House. New plans are being produced for the Meadway blocks and Kents Moat and will be going out to consultation.

It is nice to see the derelict properties on the Coventry Road island being redeveloped. It is sad to lose the Wagon and Horses, but with the usual arson attacks on the old building and the land being bought by Aldi it did not allow many options. At least this building is better than the original proposal.

Graffiti remains an issue and I am continuing to work on this with the public authorities and the graffiti task force. We also hope to win the campaign in respect of the local fire service this year. It is odd, but the Audit Commission appear to want to reduce the fire service nationally. This does not sound a sensible idea.

Obviously the key issue at the moment is ensuring that JLR gets the appropriate support. The wider economic factors are not issues that Birmingham can avoid.

Working Neighbourhoods Fund is not doing that good a job of replacing NRF. Whether it will achieve its objective of minimising unemployment will be difficult to determine in the economic storm that we face.

I think the MPs in the city are working reasonably well together when necessary. We have now managed to get the goahead on New Street Station. There also are the issues about the Childrens Hospital where I feel that the staff were unfairly treated by a report with no real status from another hospital. There are some issues that need resolving, but it was unfair to say that the hospital provides a 3rd world service (as some reports did).

West Midlands
The regional select committees are now to be created in the new year. It will be interesting to see what happens here. I think the government are making a mistake in imposing their majority on all of the select committees. There is quite a demand time wise. In the absence of this structure it is difficult to have a proper regional agenda and debate although I remain Shadow Minister for the West Midlands.

I am now on Procedure, Modernisation and Regulatory Reform select committees. I also sat on the Employment Bill Committee - which looks at changes to Employment Tribunals amongst other things. I still don't think the government have got the balance right here, but that is life. I continue chairing the New Media and Peak Oil Appgs and being a vice chair of Carers and Performers Alliance. I signed 807 EDMs in 2007-8 and tabled 39 EDMs or amendments.

Campaign Issues
Justice for Families
Longstanding readers of this weblog will know that I raised concerns about Baby P's death in 2007. My argument has been that the system makes wrongful decisions. During the year I have met up with Social Workers and we have produced a detailed critique of why the system gets it wrong so often. It is also becoming clearer statistically that the UK's record is quite bad.

During 2008 Adoption Targets were scrapped (hooray) and the government have indicated that they will introduce more transparency into the family courts (hooray, but I wait to see the detailed proposals). It might be that the government will allow second opinions in the family division. The judges won't like this, but it is the absence of this that creates much of the corrupt processes.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission are showing some interest in supporting my thesis on mental capacity. In a sense 2008 has been quite helpful as we now have two state bodies (Ofsted and EHRC), both raising some criticisms of the system. Previously all the arms of the state tried to say we had a perfect system and nothing was really wrong. I don't think the full recognition of the mess has occurred as yet, that may take quite a few years as the children become adults and find their voices.

Peak Oil
The Peak oil Website has details of this. As expected demand has dropped (slightly) and the price crashed. This is one of the two factors driving the economic problems. The government have not woken up to the realities, but there are some companies (eg Virgin, Scottish and Southern Energy and Stagecoach) who have. The Industry Task Force on Peak Oil and Energy Security will be presenting at APPGOPO in February.

The campaign against the dual taxation of Bingo will continue. As is often the case a judicial process shows a greater sign of change than trying to get the government to engage in rational debate. In the mean time (according to the Bingo Association) 61 clubs have closed.

Government Accountability
I am making some gradual progress in getting proposals together though the Procedure Select Committee to get the government to answer factual questions. It has been recognised that this is a problems for lots of MPs not just me. The odd arrest of Damian Green for finding out the truth about some embarrassing government problems will continue to reverberate.

Other Issues
Progress has been made on other issues such as Post Offices - where POCA has been retained. This big problem is the economy. It is clear that the UK's historic strategy was not as good as that generally in Europe although much the same as the USA (but not Canada). Hence the government should not try to avoid all responsibility for the mess. I have been working with local firms to try to assist them where necessary to maintain employment in Yardley. The details of this, however, need to remain confidential for the moment.

The situation in Gaza seems to be linked to the electoral cycle in Israel and the USA. I attended a protest about this on Monday and was part of a joint statement on Tuesday. I am also attending other meetings about this issue.


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