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Leyton & Wanstead CLP

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Leyton & Wanstead CLP ...

    Leyton & Wanstead CLP

    HARRY COHEN MP

    Report to Members

    February 2007 Roundup

    for Walthamstow has told me that he will be stepping down at the next election. He is a great

    colleague, community campaigner and effective Parliamentarian. His expertise on issues like HIV/AIDS, refugees

    and housing is outstanding. He has also been fantastic in our current campaign for Whipps Cross hospital. Like

    myself, he is a rare breed in Parliament, outspoken, well known for being nobody‟s crony and not intimidated by the

    Whips. He is of course more than seven years older than me, and would be into his seventies at the end of the next

    Parliament. I won‟t have reached retirement age by then. I‟m still eager to carry on, deliver real achievements, represent Labour and speak up for Socialism. But with fewer MPs like Neil, I suppose I should be thought of as a

    protected species!

    I have arranged for a copy of the local Guardian newspaper‟s Petition, which I gave my full backing to, and covering letter making the strong case for Whipps Cross hospital to be a deposited paper in the House of Commons Library.

    My recent debate in Parliament, in which all the local MPs spoke, has led to the Fit for the Future process, which

    started out with a real threat to Whipps being delayed.

    The Government have told me they‟ve increased the allocation for local NHS equipment and buildings. In

    Redbridge the Operational Capital for the Primary Care Trust has increased from ?493,000 to ?612,000 from

    2006-7 to 2007-8, and in Waltham Forest the Operational Capital is up from ?288,000 to ?358,000. There is a

    huge 18% increase in PCT Strategic Capital to the London Strategic Health Authority taking the amount to

    ?27,819,000 for the year from April. Also, capital for enhancing dentistry premises and equipment has risen to

    ?8,975,000. I‟ve welcomed this and written to all the relevant Health authorities asking how they are going to

    spend this locally.

    I was delighted to attend the birth of the new Lilac Centre at Whipps Cross. It

    was opened by London‟s Chief Nurse, Trish Morris-Thompson, who actually

    trained and met her husband at Whipps. It is part of the implementation of the

    plan she drew up to improve maternity services locally. The centre offers a

    relaxing setting for mothers-in-action, and is run by qualified midwives who are

    allowed to treat patients without the help of doctors, although medical help is

    just minutes away if needed. There will also be water births at the centre.

    I have publicised, and encouraged young people in Leyton and Wanstead to apply for a Save the Children „Here to

    HELP‟ award, funded by British Gas. These awards were created to get young people involved in dynamic and

    lasting community projects. Save the Children recognise that the health, education and the protection of children

    and young people are vital in today's society. The charity is looking to award ?1,000 for projects that help address

    one or more of these issues. For the ?3,000 awards, the charity is specifically looking for project ideas with a clear

    aim of benefiting the most disadvantaged or marginalised in society.

This is a great opportunity for young people with ideas to improve the local area. If you are a young person, or

    aware of one, who knows of a real need in the community and has a great idea to address it, then an application

    for an award should be made. For more information or to submit a proposal, visit the website

    www.helpyourselves.org.uk

I congratulated Waltham Forest leader Clyde Loakes and the Labour group on Waltham Forest Council for achieving

    a much improved rating, from 1 Star to 3 Stars, for the services the Council provides

I addressed a city-wide meeting organised by the Stop The War movement. I shared the platform with elderly

    campaigner Walter Wolfgang who after being manhandled at the Labour Party Conference was elected to the

    Party‟s National Executive. I said that the Iraq war and occupation was a disgusting, catastrophic act. 655,000 people have been killed in Iraq as a consequence of the war and occupation unleashed by the US. Tony Blair

    should not have tied our country‟s national interest to such a reckless and damaging policy. These leaders are still

    bellicose and belligerent toward Iran and seem ready to risk another war. It would be illegal again, and have

    appalling consequences for Iranian civilians, British soldiers in Iraq, and Britons in the UK as the war comes home.

The announcement in Parliament by the Prime Minister that the number of British soldiers in Iraq will be reduced

    from 7,100 to 5,500 most of them going off to Afghanistan instead - is not good enough. ALL British troops

    should be withdrawn from Iraq without further undue delay.

I met Education Minister Bill Rammell to discuss English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision. The

    Government are right to want individuals from BME communities to speak English, so I was alarmed at proposed

    restrictions on eligibility for free courses. I told the Minister that the eligibility must extend, not just to all those on

    benefits, but to spouses where their husbands hold the purse strings and may not pay for the courses. I also

    objected to excluding asylum seekers, about a quarter of which are eventually granted permission to stay despite

    an initial refusal. Learning English is crucial for community cohesion, breaking-down ghetto-isation and isolation,

    and facilitating involvement in the wider community. It is also a basic skill necessary for taking-up job opportunities.

    Following my pressure, the Minister has agreed to make concessions extending eligibility. These include for anyone

    in receipt of free prescriptions, and for asylum seekers those under 19 will be able to register for a course and then

    will continue to be eligible for the free learning after that age. Also, someone not officially recognised as a refugee,

    but in reality not going to be returned to a country in turmoil, will be eligible for free ESOL.

I met Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, Chairman of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) and

    questioned him on NICE‟s decisions about drugs, for use, or not, by the NHS, to tackle, for example, ovarian cancer

    and Alzheimer‟s disease. He said that drugs have been approved in relation to the cancer, but they work at an advanced stage of the illness, thereby granting two, three or four months of extra life for the sufferer. The drugs for

    Alzheimer‟s were not deemed value for their high cost, comprising “only three points on the seventy point scale” he

    said. I expressed disappointment at this.

I also asked what NICE considered the best treatment for heart attacks bearing in mind that the best life- saving

    treatment occurs in the first hour after the attack. Should such angioplasty treatment be available locally? Or as

    the Secretary of State is now saying, in specialist centres covering a large area? I think the former. Professor

    Rawlins said that NICE will be starting a review of what is the best, whilst also being resource effective, treatment. I

    also made clear my view about the „rip-off‟ practices of pharmaceutical companies taking excess profits from the

    NHS.

The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, John Hutton, sent me a letter which showed figures for lone parents

    on Income Support in Leyton and Wanstead as the sixty-eighthhighest on the benefit in Britain. However,

    considerable progress has been made in reducing unemployment since 1997. The claimant count locally has gone

    down by 2,078 from 4,436 to 2,358. But we still have much further to go if we are to tackle the remaining pockets

    of entrenched poverty and economic inactivity, including amongst lone parents. I have already had discussions with

    both John Hutton, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and Jim Murphy, Minister for Employment and Welfare,

    and will be having more. I make the case that affordable childcare provision and other back-up, like pre and after

    school care, still needs improvement, especially in London. Also, the tax credits, which supplement income for

    working, are not as effective in the capital as elsewhere. My Select Committee (Work and Pension) has published a

    report this month, which covers Lone Parents Employment issues.

    The Work & Pensions Committee, of which I am a member, produced a substantial report calling for a further boost to employment. It recommended reform to the current welfare to work provision to allow all benefit claimants to receive a programme of support which suits them, instead of a one-size-fits-all package.

    It pressed the Government to make the investment needed to tackle the low skills which can prevent people finding work. The Committee favoured a Cities Strategy which helps people from the UK‟s poorest urban areas find

    jobs. We argued that such a strategy would only live up to its full potential if real control over budgets and programmes is devolved to local level. We want local organisations involved at all stages to help jobless people who face a range of difficulties getting into employment overcome them. We want more affordable childcare and favourably flexible working arrangements. We said that increased compulsion to make lone parents prepare for work may not be the best approach. Instead, the Government should look at making a wider range of support available. The Committee noted that lone parents in London face particular problems in finding and keeping work, and asked the Government to tackle these.

    The Committee said that it was important to maintain focus on providing effective support for people from ethnic minorities to get work. At present, some of these groups have very low employment rates. The Government should use its procurement programme to get more local jobs, for example in areas where there are large BME populations. This would apply to the Olympics.

    Employment programmes should be kept under review to make sure older people are benefiting from them. As the Committee completed its report, the Government referred to its commissioned review of welfare to work policy. The Committee stressed that if this is taken forward there must be transparency and all interested parties have the chance to contribute.

    In his statement on our report, our Select Committee chairman, Terry Rooney MP, said, “A reform of the

    Government‟s New Deal provision for jobless people is overdue. This should be combined with improvements to the skills system to make it easier for people to gain skills to get into employment, and progress within their jobs. Personal advisers should be trusted to recommend the support which is right for individuals.” He added, “Cities Strategies may be a good way of raising employment rates in UK cities, but they are unlikely to work unless the Government lets local leaders have a real say in how money is spent.”

    I think this is a good report and I played my part in improving its recommendations.

    I expressed my full support for the Government‟s proposed tough new measure to tackle guns held by young

    people. The recent murder of teenagers in south London almost certainly by other youngsters, is appalling. The response needs to be strong and effective policing, new law and further efforts to combat the culture of gun carrying. The proposed new law will extend the five year prison sentence for gun possession, currently applicable to over- 21s, to over -17s. I have written to the chief executives of both Redbridge and Waltham Forest councils to urge them to make new efforts to contribute to diverting young people away from gun and knife culture.

    I sat on a Delegated Legislation Committee steering new powers through Parliament which enable arms length housing authorities and other social landlords, managing what was previously Council housing, to apply directly for anti social behaviour orders (ASBOs) on those causing a serious nuisance on their estates.

    Currently only local authorities can apply for such an ASBO to go ahead. Although, quite properly, the new housing management authority will still have to report to the Council, subsequently, for the ASBOs it has sought, it can push ahead promptly with obtaining the measure to better manage the estates for which it has responsibility. This is a good law change which enables the housing managers to get to grips with those individuals on their estates who cause serious trouble to others.

    I met Steve Sinnott, General Secretary of the NUT, and discussed current issues with him. I was disappointed to be told of the poor, current relationship between Ministers and the Union on education matters. I offered my services to try to improve working relations with Ministers.

I attended a „drop in information fair‟ in Parliament for “Making Planning Better.” The event was co-sponsored by

    the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Civic Trust, Friends of the Earth, RSPB, The Ramblers, Transport 2000-

    The National Environmental Transport Campaign, The Wildlife Trust and the Woodland Trust. The representatives of

    these leading environmental and social organisations told me that the planning process must not be changed to

    reduce its democratic, accountable and public interest components. The process must deliver sustainable

    development, homes, jobs and better opportunities for all, but it must also be for the environment and the people.

    It must have the trust of the people.

I was told of two points of contact of use to constituents who need, or wish, to engage in the planning process. The

    Campaign to Protect Rural England have a website- www.cpre.org.uk/planninghelp which helps individuals understand the process and make effective representations.

Friends of the Earth can be contacted via their main switchboard line 0207 490 1555, and they have a specific

    advice line on planning issues between 6pm-8pm on Wednesday evenings on 0808 801 0405.

    I expressed my support for, and helped publicise, Fairtrade Fortnight (26 February 11 March), the annual promotional campaign of the Fairtrade Foundation which encourages people to buy products carrying the

    FAIRTRADE mark.The campaign, as well as urging positive change on unfair terms of trade, seeks to help hundreds

    of thousands of producers in developing countries to build a better future and compete in cut-throat global markets.

    I urge my constituents to buy Fairtrade products all year round. I find they are high quality and good value and

    helping these producers in this way helps their families and whole communities and as such make a contribution to

    the struggle against poverty and unfair trade

    I joined the British Lung Foundation and other campaigners at the House of Commons to

    welcome a new Department of Health initiative aimed at improving services for people with

    the asbestos-related cancer, Mesothelioma. The new initiative comes a year after the

    launch of the British Lung Foundation‟s Mesothelioma Charter, which calls for

    Mesothelioma to be made a national priority by the Government‟s Cancer Tsar. I signed an

    Early Day Motion at the event welcoming the Department of Health‟s Mesothelioma

    Framework and calling for increased awareness of the disease.

    Anyone who wants more information about the British Lung Foundation, or Action

    Mesothelioma should visit www.lunguk.org or call the BLF Helpline on 08458 50 50 20

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has signed an agreement with the Venezuelan oil company Petróleos de

    Venezuela Europa for a 20 per cent reduction in the price of fuel for London's bus fleet.

    This benefit will be targeted on Londoners receiving income support who will be able to receive a 50 per cent

    discount on bus and tram travel up to 250,000 Londoners will be eligible. London will provide specialist technical

    assistance to Venezuelan cities on matters such transport, protection of the environment, development of tourism,

    and town planning. I congratulated Ken.

    For more info on these, or any other matters, please do not hesitate to contact me:

    ? Write to me at : Harry Cohen MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA

    ??E-mail me at cohenh@parliament.uk

    ??To book an advice surgery appointment phone 020 7219 6376

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