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Thank you to everyone who voted for me.

It is an absolute privilege to be elected to serve as the Member of Parliament for the City of Durham constituency once again. 

The office will resume normal service on Tuesday 13th June.

Thank you

Thank you to everyone who voted for me. It is an absolute privilege to be elected to serve as the Member of Parliament for the City of Durham constituency once...

A number of you have been asking me about my stance on the Teaching Assistant issue in Durham.  I hope you find the following response helpful.

 

I know how important the work of Teaching Assistants is in County Durham.  I have met with many Teaching Assistants over the past year and seen how they make a big difference, especially to SEN children.  I also saw how they frequently work beyond the hours they are paid for because of their dedication to what they do.

 

Teaching Assistants do a complex and skilled job and should be recognised for the educational professionals that they are.  They so some of the most challenging work in schools, often with children with complex behavioural and educational needs, as well as helping gifted and talented children make the most of their talent. They are often the first to hear about children’s problems, or to deal with conflict.  They sometimes take responsibility for entire classes.  Like teachers, they work many more hours than they are contracted for – but are still some of the lowest paid public sector workers. 

 

Durham Constituency Labour Party voted unanimously to support Teaching Assistants. So concerned was I about the lack of progress with the Teaching Assistant issue by the Council that I invited Teaching Assistant representatives to the November 2016 meeting of the Durham Constituency Labour Party to talk to us about what we could do to support their campaign further.  The CLP voted unanimously to support the Teaching Assistants.  I have continued to work with Unison and the Council since then to try and get a resolution to the dispute.  I had a further meeting with Unison this morning.

 

The dispute between the teaching assistants and Durham County Council has been going on far too long.  It is over 20 months since they first objected to the changes in their contracts.  I have been pressing Durham County Council to sort this out for over a year.  Fortunately some progress has been made recently and a new grading structure is being developed.  Given this, it is essential that Durham County Council now withdraws the dismissal notices which are still outstanding.

 

There is however a bigger threat on the horizon.  The Tories in charge in London have already cut Durham County Council’s funding in half and taken £180 million from local services.  It shouldn’t be teaching assistants who pay the price for these cuts, but if the Tories hadn’t cut the Council’s funding, we would not be in this situation.  Moreover, if the Tories get back into power they will press ahead with a new funding formula which will see cuts of over £400 per pupil across County Durham, and teachers and teaching assistants will lose their jobs.  We must resist this at all costs.  The result of the election on 8th June will have a decisive impact on our schools, our NHS and our other public services.  We need to unite and fight the Tories.

 

Under the last Labour government, we didn’t cut the money spent on schools; in fact spending per pupil doubled.  Labour’s policy is to end the public sector pay cap and to ensure that no school is left worse off from changes to funding. The choice in the Durham City constituency is between me and the Tories.  If I am re-elected, I will continue to argue for a fairer deal for teaching assistants and stand up for young people.

Update on the Teaching Assistant Issue

A number of you have been asking me about my stance on the Teaching Assistant issue in Durham.  I hope you find the following response helpful.   I know how...

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On Sunday, Roberta appeared on Sunday Politics North East and Cumbria, in which she discussed the economic effects of Brexit on the region and the problems Universal Credit is causing for local families.

According to DEMOS the North East is one of the most vulnerable regions in England specifically relating to economic risks post Brexit in reference to the manufacturing sector.

Roberta was very clear in highlighting that the Government must take action to ensure that businesses continue to invest in the UK, providing the North East with the jobs and industry that is needed.  

Roberta also stressed the importance of some of the biggest manufacturing firms, such as the companies Nissan and Hitachi, and the critical need for tariff free access markets if they are going to not only to compete but to continue to exist. 40% of North East exports are associated with the car factory Nissan and this must continue to be the case if we want to ensure families in the region feel secure in their jobs.

Roberta also spoke about all types of manufacturing in the region, with emphasis on smaller local firms. Roberta is committed to lobbying that these smaller manufacturing companies in Durham have tariff free access to the European markets. 

Roberta speaks up for the North East on Sunday Politics

On Sunday, Roberta appeared on Sunday Politics North East and Cumbria, in which she discussed the economic effects of Brexit on the region and the problems Universal Credit is causing... Read more

I met with senior representatives from North Durham CCG in late August of last year, and discussed a number of issues with them. 

Update on Clinical Commissioning Groups

I met with senior representatives from North Durham CCG in late August of last year, and discussed a number of issues with them.  Read more

This week, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 without seeking Parliamentary approval.

I am pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the judgement of the High Court as I believe that it is necessary for Parliamentarians to scrutinise the Government’s actions and have their say on one of the most significant political changes in recent times. The Supreme Court has upheld the principle of Parliamentary sovereignty, and confirmed that the views of our Parliamentarians, who are in turn representing the views of their constituents, cannot be ignored during this period of uncertainty and change.

For months, I have received many emails from constituents asking what I would do if Parliament were to vote on Article 50. I have also received many more from constituents pleading for me to vote in a particular way. Now that we can be certain that Parliament will vote on this issue, and because it is an issue of national importance, I think it is vital that I clarify my current position to my constituents.

This will not be an easy decision for me to make as the vote has been so divisive that however I choose to vote on Article 50 will be disappointing for some of my constituents.

I want to make it clear that I respect the result of the referendum in which more than 17 million people nationwide voted to leave the European Union and the Labour Party have agreed that we will not frustrate the process, therefore I will not vote against triggering Article 50.

However, as I have said before on this blog, I believe that leaving the EU will be damaging to our country in a variety of ways, unless certain conditions are met. If I were to vote in favour of triggering Article 50, I would need to know that it would be in the best interests of my constituents and the North East. Therefore, I cannot actively vote to trigger it unless the Government prove that they are committed to protecting and prioritising jobs, workers’ rights and the economy and that they can ensure that we will continue to have a strong, amicable relationship with the EU in the future.

Furthermore, although County Durham voted to leave the EU, my experience at the count, as well as discussions and correspondence that I have had with my constituents since June, have all indicated that the City of Durham constituency voted strongly to remain a member of the EU.

Therefore, I have not yet decided how I will vote but it is likely that I will abstain from voting to trigger Article 50. Do be aware that my stance on this may change, depending on the Bill itself, the debate that takes place and any amendments that are made to the Bill by Labour, or another other Party, during the Parliamentary process. I am planning to hold some constituency meetings to take soundings from my constituents on their concerns surrounding Brexit and will inform you when these have been arranged.

Following the Supreme Court ruling, I hope that there will be more transparency and accountability of the Government’s actions regarding Brexit. We need greater clarity from the Government on what their plans are for the future of our country and for the new relationship with the EU, and we need reassurances that Parliament will be consulted and able to scrutinise the Government’s actions during the period of negotiations.  

However, for now, there continues to be ambiguity surrounding the whole exit process. The Government still seem to be attempting to avoid full Parliamentary scrutiny by refusing calls to publish a White Paper ahead of the Bill. We will have to wait and see if the forthcoming Bill on Article 50 sheds any more light on the Government’s plans for Brexit, and if the Labour Party is able to make amendments to the Bill to ensure that we get the best outcome for the UK.

Throughout the whole exit process, I can assure you that I will do what is best for my constituents in the City of Durham, the North East and the UK as a whole, but please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any further comments or questions regarding this issue.

 

Triggering Article 50

This week, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Government cannot trigger Article 50 without seeking Parliamentary approval. I am pleased that the Supreme Court upheld the judgement of the...

The Government's Housing team and the Labour Housing team pictured together to show their joint backing of the Bill. 

Supporting the Homelessness Reduction Bill

The Government's Housing team and the Labour Housing team pictured together to show their joint backing of the Bill.  Read more

During the final week of September, I attended the Labour Party’s Annual Conference 2016 in Liverpool. It was an enjoyable and busy few days and I was very grateful to be given the opportunity to speak at a range of events over the conference. As co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary University Group, a member of the Science and Technology Committee and the Shadow Minister for Local Government and Housing, many of the events I spoke at during the Conference were focused on these policy areas. Below you will find a sample of some of the events I spoke at during Labour Annual Conference 2016.

Sunday

Live Interview on BBC Sunday Politics

On my way from Durham to Liverpool, I made a detour via Newcastle to speak with Richard Moss and Phillip Broughton on Sunday Politics North East and Cumbria. We discussed a range of topics, including the result of the recent Labour leadership election and the need for party unity.

The Built Environment Reception

I was honoured to be invited to be the guest speaker at this event, which was hosted by The Chartered Institute of Building, The Royal Institute of British Architects, and The Royal Institution of Charted Surveyors. Speaking on the key housing and planning challenges facing the UK, I told attendees that I believe that the main challenge we face in this policy area is that we’re simply not building enough housing, of all types and tenures. The Government could, and should, be doing more to boost housebuilding and support SME housebuilders. In order to do this, they must provide local authorities with the responsibility and means to build the type of houses they need in their local areas, in the locations that they need them. 

Crest Nicholson Event

One of the best events of the Conference was hosted by Crest Nicholson. They had invited a range of MPs, councillors and policy makers who are interested in housing and planning policies to the event, including: members of the Town and Country Planning Association, Clive Betts MP, who is the chair of the Communities and Local Government Committee, Tom Copley, Labour’s housing spokesperson within the London Assembly, James Murray, the Deputy Mayor of London for Housing and Residential Development, Councillor Sharon Taylor, Leader of Stevenage Borough Council, and Nicky Gavron, Deputy Chair of the London Assembly’s Planning Committee and a member of the London Assembly’s Housing Committee. This event was useful as it gave us all the chance to discuss new ideas and solutions to upcoming challenges within these important policy areas.

Monday

“Supporting the UK Housing Market”

During a panel discussion and Q&A event hosted by Aldermore, which focused on SME housebuilders and homeowners and what we can do to support them, I explained to the audience how it would be in the Government’s interest to provide greater support to SMEs. As key players in the housing market, the Government would be able to use the skills and local knowledge of SMEs to their advantage to increase the number of homes being built across the country and deal with the current housing crisis.

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Demos Round Table Event

This round table discussion focused on the introduction of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) within Higher Education, the impact this will have on the existing Research Excellence Framework (REF) and whether the introduction of the TEF will cause teaching and research to become adversaries. I am concerned that because two bodies will regulate research and teaching separately, using these two different frameworks, it is possible that research and teaching will be driven further apart. As a member of the Public Bill Committee for the bill which will establish the TEF, the Higher Education and Research Bill, I will continue to do what I can to best benefit students, academics and institutions regarding the relationship between research and teaching.

“Creating a prosperous, fairer future- planning’s role”

The Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) invited me to speak and take part in a Q&A session on the question; “how can planning deliver well-planned places with homes, jobs, infrastructure and services for all?” I think planners will be able to create these well-planned places only if the Government provides them with the support, resources and powers they need in order to deliver these results. Instead of blaming the planning system for the lack of housebuilding, the Government should be using the Neighbourhood Planning Bill to improve the planning system to enable planners to create the high quality developments that our country needs. However, to do this, I believe that we need to do more to strengthen the relationship between planning and infrastructure.

The impact of Brexit on Higher Education

LabourList, MillionPlus and the National Union of Students (NUS) hosted an event on the repercussions of Brexit on students, university institutions and higher education and invited me to explain my views on this issue. Although we are still unclear on exactly what Brexit will mean for the UK, I explained that many EU students are in a worse position as they are unsure how Brexit will affect their university education and fees. In addition, staff from EU member states will also be affected by the Brexit negotiations as will elements of funding within the higher education sector. Before we can assess the full impact of Brexit on higher education, we need the Government to clarify the status of EU nationals. However, in the meantime we should be reaching out to Higher Education professionals and institutions to see how we can alleviate their concerns.

“British investment for British jobs: What role for pension funds?” 

The Smith Institute invited me to speak at their event on how British pension funds can be a vital resource to fund new infrastructure developments. I discussed with the attendees how investing in infrastructure would not only create more jobs and growth but also could be beneficial in the long term. Using an example from the North East, the Dogger Bank offshore wind site could be a valuable source of renewable energy for the region in the future. Therefore I think it is important that we continue to encourage British pension funds to invest in both new and existing infrastructure projects. Also we should be looking to the example of Canadian pension funds as they have been successful in investing in infrastructure both domestically and internationally. 

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Housing Discussions

An event hosted by a partnership of some of the UK’s leading housing organisations - L&Q, Metropolitan, Midland Heart, Moat, One Housing, the National Housing Federation and 24 Housing – provided me with the opportunity to meet more people with an interest in the housing sector. Here I was able to discuss the current issues with professionals and policy makers, including how we can work together to meet the ever growing demand for new affordable houses, and what Labour can do to face these challenges.

Tuesday

Round table discussion on Life Sciences after Brexit

“How we can guarantee the UK remains a world leader in life sciences after Brexit?” was the topic of discussion at the event hosted by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, the BioIndustry Association, the British In Vitro Diagnostics Association and the Association of Medical Research Charities. In my answer to this question, I explained how Britain’s role as a leader in life sciences would not have been possible without both the staff and funding which we receive from the EU. This is exemplified by the International Centre for Life. Based in the North East, it hires almost 600 people from 35 different countries so it is clear that Brexit will have a major impact on this centre. The discussion resulted in some interesting solutions to the question however, we will have to keep an eye on the Government’s Brexit agenda to see how this will impact on our role within life sciences in the future.

Meetings and Stalls

During the days I was at the Party Conference, I also had the chance to meet with prominent people from a range of organisations to discuss the recent policy developments in my areas of interest. The Vice Chancellor of the Open University and I met to discuss the issues surrounding Higher Education and how we can work together in the best interests of universities and students to resolve these issues. I met with the Chief Executive of Riverside to discuss the developments in housing and planning and discuss how we can meet the demand for affordable housing in the North East. This was followed by a meeting with the Chief Executive of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to discuss neighbourhood planning and the role of local planning authorities. Further meetings with people from the Federation of Master Builders and Shelter gave me an insight into the actions that these organisations are taking to deal with the current issues within the housing sector and both highlighted to me that the lack of affordable housing means that there is still a need to increase housebuilding.

In addition to these meetings, the Conference provided me with a valuable opportunity to look around the stands of organisations, charities and companies and speak to their representatives. This gave me a greater understanding into some of these organisations, their current priorities and a chance to discuss with them how I can support their organisation and their cause through my work in the City of Durham and in Parliament.

Roberta Blackman– Woods at Labour Annual Conference 2016

During the final week of September, I attended the Labour Party’s Annual Conference 2016 in Liverpool. It was an enjoyable and busy few days and I was very grateful to...

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As you may be aware, I, along with Labour colleagues, have been campaigning to prevent the Government’s ill –thought out plan to privatise the land registry and so I really welcome the news that they have decided not to press ahead with it.

This plan would have had negative impacts on the vital service that the registry provides and led to potential job losses across the UK, including in Durham. This was a short sighted move by the Government to sell off a public asset to the highest bidder, instead of taking real measures to engage with the country’s housing crisis through a serious national building project.

Together with PCS union, we delivered a petition against this privatisation signed by over 250,000 people to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and I’m pleased that we were able to help make those voices heard.

This is the third time I have campaigned against Tory plans to privatise of the Land Registry, and I will continue to oppose any attempt at the privatisation of this service that the Government may bring forward in the future.

Government shelves Land Registry plans after pressure from Labour

  As you may be aware, I, along with Labour colleagues, have been campaigning to prevent the Government’s ill –thought out plan to privatise the land registry and so I...

I’m sure you all have heard that BHS went into administration on the 25th April after having been sold by Sir Philip Green in March 2015 for £1. Most stores have already closed, marking the end of its tenure as a well-known fixture of British high streets, including Durham. The jobs of the 11,000 employees of BHS have been lost and 20,000 current and future pensioners have been facing substantial cuts to their entitlements. Meanwhile, Sir Philip Green and many others involved in the decisions that, in my opinion, led to the failure of BHS seem to have been able to walk away freely.

 

I think that the failure of BHS can in part be attributed to bad business decisions and personal greed and those involved should face serious action for what they have done.

 

Over the years of Sir Philip’s ownership, it seems as though significantly more money left the company than was invested in it. Despite the pension deficit of £571m, Philip Green and his family reportedly collected £586m in dividends, rental payments and interest on loans during their 15 year ownership. As the pension deficit grew, there seems to have been limited efforts to resolve it. Personally, I think that the failure to make the contributions necessary to maintain the pension scheme means that Sir Philip and his directors now have the responsibility to fill the current pension gap.

 

BHS was sold to Dominic Chappell in March 2015. It appears that his team could offer no equity and had no means of raising funds on a long term basis. In my opinion, it seems obvious that he was a wholly unsuitable purchaser and that his shortcomings were overlooked during the sale. For this, I feel they should also be held accountable.

 

Sir Philip keeps insisting that other people are to blame and does not seem to be accepting responsibility for his actions. The tragedy of the whole situation is that it is the ordinary employees who are losing out. 

 

I want you all to know that I will be speaking out against the actions of the current and former owners of BHS and will be calling for further action to be taken against them. I also fully support my colleague Frank Field in his work as chair of the Department of Work & Pensions Committee.

 

If you have been affected by the situation, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me with your opinions and concerns.

 

 

 

My thoughts on BHS

I’m sure you all have heard that BHS went into administration on the 25th April after having been sold by Sir Philip Green in March 2015 for £1. Most stores...

The foreword to the Government’s White Paper on Educational Excellence Everywhere says that “Access to a great education is not a luxury but a right for everyone”, so it’s surprising that many of the proposals in the White Paper could be very detrimental to the quality of education that students receive.

My concerns about changes to teacher training

The foreword to the Government’s White Paper on Educational Excellence Everywhere says that “Access to a great education is not a luxury but a right for everyone”, so it’s surprising... Read more

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