Scriven is not standing up for Sheffield

Clive Betts MP accused Sheffield Council Leader Paul Scriven of failing to stand up for Sheffield in the national debate about the extent of the cuts being imposed on local councils.

He said: “I cannot remember any previous leader of Sheffield City Council – Labour, Liberal Democrat or Conservative – being afraid of speaking up for Sheffield, even when this might be an embarrassment for their own political party nationally.
It is now clear that Councillor Scriven has just become an apologist for the Conservative-led coalition.
Further evidence came today when Councillor Scriven’s name was notably absent from the signatories of a letter in The Times by Liberal Democrat council leaders. I know he was approached to sign, but refused.
Whilst the Liberal Democrat council leaders of Newcastle, Hull, Warrington and many others had the guts to tell it like it is and stand up for their communities, Councillor Scriven simply demonstrates his lack of commitment to our city.. I know that a number of Liberal Democrat councillors in Sheffield will be dismayed by his failure to stand up for Sheffield people.”
In the House of Commons debate on the Local Government Finance settlement yesterday (9 February 2010), Clive Betts also accused Councillor Scriven and Nick Clegg MP of simply misleading people about the extent of the impact on jobs and services of the cuts to Sheffield City Council and getting Tory Ministers to support them.
Clive Betts said: “The figures (on job and service losses) on Sheffield are misleading. The figures that have been quoted are for those redundancies that have been announced so far.
Many vacancies in Sheffield are being held unfilled, and they are going to affect services. We know of several hundred posts that will not be filled by one means or other, and we also suspect that the Lib-Dem administration there is trying to delay and avoid decisions, waiting to pass them on to the new Labour administration that will take office in May.
The budget has not yet been finalised, however, so no one can quote a figure of 250. Several hundred jobs are likely to be lost as a result of the budget-many times the figure given today.”
Clive Betts added today: “We are now watching the outcome of an unholy deal where Councillor Scriven doesn’t criticise the Secretary of State for his unfair treatment of the city and the Secretary of State praises a Liberal Democrat Council on the basis of a false analysis.”

Can’t see the wood for the trees

The single biggest recreation activity in the UK is walking. It’s something we enjoy with family and friends. We like being in the countryside. As well as exercise, we can see and smell the changing seasons.

The mass trespasses of Kinder Scout, seventy-five years ago, by walkers from Sheffield, Manchester and other northern towns and cities, highlighted how access to our countryside was being denied. They had a far-reaching impact, some of which is still playing out today. This culminated in the Labour Government’s Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, which provided rights to walk on mapped access land – the so-called right to roam.

In addition, huge steps were made in opening up access to our trees and forests. For many communities, it is the woods – publicly-owned by the Forestry Commission – that provide the local opportunities for excellent walks. The Forestry Commission doesn’t just own big forests, like those in Northumberland; it also owns and provides access to woods in just about every part of our local area.

And, of course, it isn’t just walkers who enjoy the woods. So do mountain-bikers and runners, bird-spotters and

But now, the Government has announced plans to sell off the Public Forestry Estate in England threatening the future of over 1,400 woods in the country. Their supposed consultation was only published after they announced the sell-off: it does not contain an option to keep land in public hands or provide details on how environmental stewardship or public access will be funded in future.

Our forests and woodlands are an important part of England’s national heritage. Already, some woods that have been sold have had all public access denied. Gates have been locked shut and paths closed. It’s often only after we lose something that we realise how much we valued it.

The sale of our woods has nothing to do reducing the deficit. After all, they only cost each of us 30p a year to maintain. It’s actually just a total of £15 million a year now and, as the value of timber continues to rise, the cost is likely to reduce to nothing in the near future. It’s all to do with ideology.

If the government can’t see the wood for the trees, let’s hope the people cam open their eyes.

Animal Defenders International steps up UK campaign to ban wild animals in circuses with support of Clive Betts MP for Sheffield South East

Animal Defenders International (ADI), the leading animal protection organisation that works globally for the protection of animals has stepped up its campaign to ban the use of wild animals in circuses – and Clive Betts MP for Sheffield South East, has pledged his support.

In a show of unity, Mr Betts, ADI representatives and over 20 MP’s from all political persuasions gathered on Wednesday 2nd February at Parliament, to pledge their commitment to securing a ban on the use of wild animals in UK circuses, and calling on the Minister responsible Lord Henley to finally action what the UK is calling out for.
Mr Betts is one of 162 politicians who have now signed a parliamentary Early Day Motion (EDM) 403 calling for the wild animal ban to be implemented. He said,

“I feel very strongly in support of a total ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. Circuses are not a place to see animals in their natural environment.”

Jan Creamer, Chief Executive of Animal Defenders International said: “We applaud Clive Betts MP for helping strike a blow for wild animals currently languishing in UK circuses.

“We have been encouraged by the results of our recent political opinion poll and by the results of government’s own public consultation last year that found nearly 100 per cent of the public were behind a total ban.

“It is now abundantly clear to us that public and political support for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses has never been stronger. This process has been trundling along for over five years, and it is now time that government listened to the will of the UK people and enacted a ban.”

A recent parliamentary poll conducted by ADI found that 63% of MPs would like to see a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses and only 14% disagreed. Government’s own public consultation in March 2010 also found that 94.5% of respondents backed a ban on wild animal acts.

162 politicians have now signed Early Day Motion (EDM) 403 ‘Wild Animals In Circuses’, tabled by former Defra Minister Jim Fitzpatrick MP, which states there is no obstacle to a ban on wild animals in circuses and a ban should be implemented. This shows strong cross-party support for a ban on animals in circuses in the UK Parliament, and demonstrates the depth of feeling as this is one of the top number of signatories to an animal welfare EDM.

All present on Wednesday agreed that the draconian use and abuse of animals in circuses is no longer acceptable, and that self regulation of the industry, which is being considered as a viable route by the Minister, is totally flawed, as effectively the abusers themselves are being asked to self regulate.
ADI has already provided government with a wealth of overwhelming evidence from undercover investigations that graphically shows that random violence and abuse is an unfortunate part of everyday life for animals currently languishing in circuses. Both evidence and opinion is now overwhelming, and government needs to act decisively and enact a total ban.

ADI’s investigation into the Great British Circus (GBC) in 2009 showed that violence against animals in circuses is far from an exceptional occurrence and at the very least circuses cannot provide an environment in which the welfare needs of wild animals can effectively be met.
Their exposé of the horrific abuse of elephants put wild animals in circuses back on the political agenda and the damning evidence from this investigation was presented to Government, which helped prompt a three month public consultation of animal circuses, the results of which were condemning for UK circuses.

And the GBC was not an isolated case. Previously ADI exposed systematic and random cruelty of animals at the Chipperfields circus a decade before as part of an undercover investigation. When this material was released as the ‘Ugliest Show on Earth’, it was credited with bringing the UK’s animal circus industry to its knees.
The spread of years shows that these abusive practices have been common for a long time and are considered as acceptable within the industry. Video collected by ADI from other overseas countries also confirms these practices are endemic – and no other animal industry has been so repeatedly caught on film abusing animals.
ADI has put together a video which depicts the random abuse of wild animals in several UK circuses over the last fifteen years which can be viewed at: http://www.ad-international.org/adi_uk, under the heading ‘Self Regulation, Are They Serious?’ and are urging the Minister to watch the video as part of his deliberations.

Clive Betts MP helps HEART UK to tackle the next challenge for heart disease services

Clive Betts MP, for Sheffield South East is calling for coordinated action to improve post-event care for people who have heart attacks.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the UK’s biggest killer – around one in five men and one in seven women die from the disease. CHD causes around 94,000 deaths in the UK each yeari – this is around 140 deaths in every parliamentary constituencyii.

Encouragingly, in the last 10 years there has been a 50% reduction in mortality from CHDiii. This is largely due to prompt care for patients when they’ve had a heart attack, with many more specialist centres and wider use of clot busting drugsiv. Secondary prevention has also improved with a greater emphasis on prescribing drugs which lower cholesterol among those at riskv.

However, fewer than 50% of patients receive cardiac rehabilitationvi despite the fact that NICE guidelines recommend this is offered to all patientsvii. Clive Betts MP met representatives from HEART UK to find out more about heart disease services in Sheffield South East and the importance of improving post-event care for patients.

By getting the treatment and support given to patients after an event right, the NHS will not only improve the experience and outcomes for patients but also save money which could contribute to the £20 billion efficiency savings that the NHS must deliver between 2011 and 2014.

Clive Betts MP said “I want to thank HEART UK for raising these important issues with me and showing me a picture of heart disease services in Sheffield South East. I am committed to working with the local NHS and in parliament to ensure that heart disease services are coordinated and delivering for the local population”.

Jules Payne, Chief Executive of HEART UK said, “I would like to thank Clive Betts for supporting the work of HEART UK in improving outcomes for people with heart disease. Coordination across the NHS, Public Health England and social care services is vital at both a national and local level to continue to deliver improved outcomes for heart disease and tackle the post-event care challenge.”

Clive Betts MP warns of deadly carbon monoxide risk

Clive Betts MP has urged Sheffield households to protect themselves against the deadly threat of Carbon Monoxide poisoning.

New research from the Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! campaign shows that 69% of households in Yorkshire and the Humber could be at risk of poisoning by not having an audible Carbon Monoxide alarm.

Carbon Monoxide – known as the silent killer – is a highly poisonous gas that has no colour, taste or smell, making it impossible to detect without an alarm. It is produced when fuel-burning appliances, such as gas boilers, cookers or fires, are incorrectly fitted, badly repaired or poorly maintained, or if flues, chimneys or vents are blocked.

Clive Betts is supporting the Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! campaign which encourages people to ensure they have an audible Carbon Monoxide alarm and that they have all fuel-burning appliances serviced annually by a registered and qualified engineer.

Clive Betts said:
“Carbon Monoxide is a deadly gas that you can’t see, smell or taste. Too many people are dying or suffering severely from Carbon Monoxide poisoning, and we need to take action. I urge every Sheffield household to make sure that they have an audible alarm and that they have their fuel-burning appliances serviced each year by a professional.

I would like to see requirements for all new homes to be automatically fitted with an alarm and for landlords to fit alarms in their properties. Having been reminded of the dangers, I’ve bought one for my own home.”

Oliver Wright, Carbon Monoxide – Be Alarmed! campaign manager, said:
“Our campaign aims to raise awareness and to dispel the myths around Carbon Monoxide alarms. They are available at DIY stores, supermarkets, high street shops or directly from energy suppliers. They cost around £20, but many retailers are offering special discounts in support of our campaign throughout January. Importantly, they save lives.”

It isn’t fair and it will be painful

In advance of discussion on the Conservative-led government’s Localism Bill, I initiated a parliamentary debate about the government’s local government finance strategy.
I noted that local government services are some of the most immediate and important to people locally. They include education for our children and grand-children, social services providing residential and home care and aids and adaptations for elderly parents and grand-parents. There are services which about the quality of life of local families and communities: things such as parks, libraries and sports centres. Some services are essential to support our daily lives – refuse collection, street cleaning, highway maintenance, street lights. Some are essential when things go wrong – police and fire services.
There is a separate debate to be had about the scale, nature and timing of any required reduction in public spending. But the three questions I wanted answers to in this debate were
Why is the government forcing
  • bigger cuts in local government spending than it is making in the rest of government expenditure?
  • front-loaded cuts for local government – 28% in the next two years?
  • cuts that are four times as big in the most deprived communities as in the least deprived communities?
Let me be clear. There is nothing socialist about being inefficient, ineffective and unresponsive. In every area of life – public and private – we should be continually looking at ways of getting better value. Incidentally, the independent auditors have been clear that local government has consistently delivered the highest year-on-year efficiency savings over the last decade.
But, government ministers keep stating that local councils do not need to make any cuts in frontline services as a result of the cuts in government expenditure. No-one believes this.
On the day after the Secretary of State asserted that no council needed to or should cut services to support elderly or disabled people, one of his favourite councils – Westminster – which is getting lower grant cuts than most, announced it would be cutting its budget for those services by £1m. Councils across the country have already proposed the closure of more than 400 libraries – and there will be many more to come.
Do government ministers believe that every council – of every political persuasion and none (there are some independent-controlled councils) – will be making cuts in frontline services simply out of malicious perversity?
Over the next few weeks, the scale of the cuts in local services throughout the country will become clear. They will shock and they will be painful.

Safer Medicines Campaign

Patient safety group Safer Medicines Campaign today thanked Sheffield South East MP Clive Betts for signing Early Day Motion 475 “Safety of Medicines” to improve the safety testing of new drugs.
Although many medicines are essential and save many lives, their side effects hospitalise a million Britons and kill more than 10,000 every year, making them one of our leading causes of death.
 
Better methods to test the safety of new drugs could have a major impact. Current methods rely on animal tests, which often create a false sense of security, as with Avandia and Vioxx, which both caused many thousands of heart attacks, killing thousands, despite animal tests which indicated that they would protect the heart.
 
New safety tests, using state of the art techniques on human tissues and in ultra low dose studies in volunteers, promise to give results more predictive for humans. But these tests are not yet required by law.
 
Dr. Margaret Clotworthy, Science Director of Safer Medicines Campaign, said:
“It is time to compare these new tests with the animal tests currently required by the Government. Technologies to predict safety in humans have leapt ahead in the past ten years but our regulations are stuck in the past. These new technologies must be embraced to reduce the tragic toll of adverse drug reactions. We must congratulate Mr. Betts for taking a lead in modernising our outdated regulatory system.”
 
Clive Betts said:
“We have made enormous progress in pharmaceutical testing and development, but we can do even better. If superior tests are available, the law should require them. I’m pleased to support the campaign to hasten the comparison called for in the Safety of Medicines Bill. This is a real opportunity to move safety testing into the twenty-first century.”

BETTS CONGRATULATES CHILDREN AND CASTIGATES GOVE

Clive Betts MP [Sheffield South East] today congratulated the secondary schools and colleges in his constituency on their GCSE and A level performance in 2010.

Clive Betts said:
“I am delighted to see the continuing improvement in the achievements of local schools. Children, parents and schools should be proud of their results, which have been achieved through all the hard work they have put in.”

Clive Betts then went on to castigate Michael Gove, the Conservative Secretary of State for Education for his proposals to introduce the English Baccalaureate as the key measure of secondary performance.

Clive Betts said:
“The results are the best ever and reflect the determination of the last Labour government to tackle the appalling education legacy of the last Conservative government.

Everyone needs to understand that the most important reason why Michael Gove announced new education targets yesterday was to divert attention from the massive improvement that has taken place in education achievement over the last decade.

Under the last Conservative government, more than 1300 secondary schools in England failed to achieve the 5 A-C GCSE target. In 2010, it was just 82.

I am fully supportive of setting even more ambitious targets, because I believe the potential is there. With the right attitude, commitment and determination of children, parents and teachers and the continued investment in teaching resources and buildings, we can maintain the momentum of continuous improvement.

All Michael Gove’s bluster will not disguise the fact he is cutting the budgets of the majority of schools next year and the year after and the year after that.”

Clive Betts continued:
“Michael Gove’s proposal to introduce the English Baccalaureate as the key measure of secondary performance is simply ridiculous.

It’s a return to a narrow, elitest model of education, simply designed to boost the perception of private, selective, independent schools at the expense of the majority.

It is simply out-of-touch with the economic, social and environmental challenges of the 21st century.

How ludicrous can you get to propose that a GCSE ‘C’ grade in Latin is to be exalted and defined as education excellence, whereas a GCSE ‘A*’ in IT is written off as an irrelevance and a sign of failure?”

It’s a question of balance

One of my colleagues has always said that the most difficult decision any councillor will face is where to site a bus-stop. Everyone wants one in their street, but no-one wants it outside their home.
Lots of decisions that both local and national politicians have to take are about balancing the interests and rights of different citizens. This is most obvious in planning. One person’s right to build an extension on their home has to be balanced against the neighbour’s entitlement to light and a view. The national economic interest and the north’s expectation of a high-speed rail service has to be balanced against the interests of the residents of the Chilterns, who will get no direct benefit from the rail service but will experience some detriment to their local environment.
What everyone does know is that, whatever decision is reached, you’re bound to get attacked by those who feel their interests have lost out.
Governments often have to legislate to set out clearly the issues that must be taken into account when balancing interests in particular issues. Before I was elected as a member of parliament, I had experience of two particular issues where I believed new legislation was required in order for action to be taken to protect the interests of local people and where the balancing interests had to be defined.
The first was about trees, specifically leylandii. Some people decided to plant leylandii trees on the boundaries of their gardens. This wasn’t a problem until the trees became 30 foot tall and completely blocked out the light to neighbouring homes. Those who planted them said “It’s my property and I can plant what I like and you can’t stop me.” And no-one could, until we introduced new legislation in the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act to provide for action to be taken, where necessary, to balance the interests.
The second concerned empty homes. Sometimes – and, thankfully quite rarely – an owner would effectively abandon a house, but refuse to maintain it or sell the property so that someone else could do so. The result was a house where windows became boarded up, tiles and guttering fell off leading to water ingress to neighbouring properties, and rubbish would pile up in the garden. Neighbours became absolutely despairing and infuriated about councils’ inabilities to act. Sometimes they couldn’t even sell their own property because no-one wanted to buy with a tip next door and no prospect of resolution. This could go on for years.
Therefore, I was a big supporter of new legal powers – called the Enforced Sale Procedure – which enabled councils to act in situations like this. Obviously, it is in everyone’s interest to get the owner to act but, failing that, neighbours should be able to petition the local council to act. Then, the council – after taking all appropriate steps to get the owner to act – could apply for an Enforced Sale.
Last week, some of my constituents went public with their anger about the council’s failure to enforce the sale of a property in Waterthorpe which has now been empty for several years. I supported them. The property is overgrown, boarded up, rubbish is tipped and it’s become the focus for anti-social behaviour.
 
Then, this week, Eric Pickles – the Conservative Secretary of State – has announced that he is going to remove some of the powers and insist on a delay of two years before a council can even consider acting to deal with the problem. He says he’s doing this to protect the interests of property owners.
I think he’s simply failing to have a proper balance between the rights of property owners and the rights of all the neighbours who have to live with the consequences every day for years on end.

No Allowance

In 1999, my good friend David Blunkett then Secretary of State for Education -launched a scheme in some areas of the country to see if providing a weekly allowance to some 16-18 year olds would increase the number of children who stayed on in full-time education. From an initial fifteen, the scheme was expanded to another forty-one areas in 2000.

Parents, young people and teachers in the pilot areas were all really positive about these new Education Maintenance Allowances (EMAs). Not only did more young people stay on in education, but the research showed strong evidence that the ‘something for something’ approach was having a positive effect in encouraging extra effort by students. This was because the allowance was only paid weekly and it depended on good attendance and hard work.

As a result of this success, EMAs were introduced nationally. This year, EMAs are paid at the rate of £30 per week if the household income is less than £20, 817 per annum (£20 if less than £25,521 and £10 if less than £30,810). More than 5800 young people in Sheffield currently receive EMA.

The impact has been significant. Not only have we seen more young people staying on in education, but we’ve also seen significant improvements in academic success. It has meant that children from households with below average incomes have been more ambitious about realising their educational potential.

It has also contributed to the significant increase in the number of young people, from households with no experience of post-16 education, going on to further education. In my constituency, there has been a near 60% increase in young people going on to university in the last 10 years. In David Blunkett’s constituency, the increase has been a massive 160% increase.

When the coalition government education secretary, Michael Gove, was interviewed before the general election, he flatly denied that the EMA was for the chop, saying: “Ed Balls keeps saying that we are committed to scrapping the EMA. I have never said this. We won’t.”

But, on January 1st, he announced that the scheme had closed to new applicants. Those young people who currently receive an EMA will continue to receive it until the end of the academic year. But then it stops… dead. Those in the first year of their A levels will not get it in the second year.

It gives me no joy to point out that, like student tuition fees, this is just another broken promise. The real losers are ordinary young people and ordinary households throughout our area. In the long-term, our economy will also be damaged.

For those with the biggest challenges in life, EMA has been proven to boost attainment and help them succeed. The loss of EMA coupled with £9000 a year tuition fees means that students from ordinary families will be left thinking that post-16 education isn’t for them, and that thousands of our young people may fail to reach their full potential.

Isn’t there something quite daft about a policy which discourages young people from staying on in education and gaining more skills at the same time as unemployment is set to rise?