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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.