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December 2015



Happy Christmas and New Year!


Welcome to my Christmas eNews. I hope you have a very happy Christmas and New Year.


On the last day of Parliament, the Government announced the Local Government Finance Settlement. I asked the Secretary of State about the cuts in Walsall, but he did not reassure me that our vital services are safe. The New Art Gallery is again threatened with closure on Sundays, the day of the week when it is easiest for families to visit and at a time when there is enormous development and regeneration happening in the immediate vicinity of the Gallery.


Our libraries, including Pleck Library are also once again threatened with closure. I will be outside Pleck Library on Darlaston Road at 11am on Saturday 9 January 2016. I am inviting everyone who agrees that our libraries should not be closed to join me with a book, a sign, a poster or a placard so that we can show the strength of feeling there is for our libraries locally. I would also urge you to write to Walsall MBC with you views to: Library Consultation, Walsall MBC, Darwall Street, Walsall, WS1 1TP.



Campaign for 20mph Speed Limits Outside Schools


Valerie Vaz MPEarlier this month, I launched a campaign with Bentley West Primary School on Monmouth Road for 20mph speed limits to be introduced outside all schools in Walsall South. Last year 29 child pedestrians were killed on British Roads. This is unacceptable and there is compelling evidence that lower speed limits prevent serious injuries and deaths on our roads. There have been near misses outside Joseph Leckie Academy on Walstead Road West and outside Bentley West Primary School on Monmouth Road. 30mph speed limits outside schools are unsafe and so I am calling for 20mph speed limits to be introduced outside all schools.


I consulted all Head Teachers in Walsall South to ask whether they would support the implementation of 20mph speed limits outside their schools. 30 Head Teachers out 38 responded and every response was in favour of implementing 20mph speed limits outside all schools.


The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSpa) has published statistics showing that pedestrians hit by a car travelling at 20mph have a 1.5% fatality risk compared to an 8% fatality risk for those hit by a car travelling at 30mph. 20mph speed limits reduce speeds and increase safety even without the use of traffic calming. They are a cost effective way to drastically improve safety for our children. All the Council now needs to do is to carry out a 21 day consultation and make a Traffic Regulation Order.





International Human Rights Day


Valerie Vaz MPAt the Backbench Business Debate to mark International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2015 I said in my speech: “Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield sent down images of Earth from space and showed us the beauty of where we live. He showed us Earth as one world, where we live together and the only boundaries are those of land and sea. Injustice and discrimination know no boundaries, which is why international human rights are necessary. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights set out articles and protocols. They are the guide, the code, and the commandments of how we should live together in a common humanity.”


“The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was drafted after the ending of the Second World War, as a response to the oppression and tyranny that came out of the two world wars. Every one of the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights had been systematically violated which is why we incorporated it into the European Convention on Human Rights and subsequently into the Human Rights Act 1998.”


“Human Rights are the David to the Goliath of the powerful. They provide help to the helpless and a voice to the voiceless, which is why we must protect them and celebrate them today.”





Revitalising Walsall’s Canals


Valerie Vaz MPWalsall’s canals are underused and in need of revitalisation. I met with representatives of the Canals and Rivers Trust which runs Britain’s canal network, the Inland Waterways Association which campaigns to increase the use of canals and rivers, the Birmingham Navigation Society which campaigns to promote the canal network in the West Midlands and Walsall MBC to discuss what we can do to promote Walsall’s waterways.


We discussed lots of ideas such as ways to encourage the community to take ownership of our canals, the possibility of holding events on the canal, the importance of ensuring new developments face the canals so they are not neglected, the possibility of linking with Public Health to promote walking and the need for more facilities for boaters. I suggested an event could be held to celebrate the links with Walsall of Jerome K Jerome, the author of Three Men in a Boat. Walsall MBC and the Canal and Rivers Trust agreed to look at the possibility of installing water and waste facilities at the Town Canal Basin to encourage more boaters to moor there, representatives from the Inland Waterways Association will hold events on the canal that will bring more people to the water’s edge and the Canal and Rivers Trust will add mooring points will also bring people to the waters’ edge.





Visit to Walsall Adult and Community College


Valerie Vaz MPI visited Walsall Adult and Community College’s (WACC) Whitehall Centre on 4 December 2015 to discuss the withdrawal of English Language Tuition for jobseekers whose first language is not English.


The Skills Funding Agency announced in July that funding for English Language for jobseekers whose first language is not English had been withdrawn with immediate effect. WACC will lose £380,000 from its budget as a result of the decision. I wrote to the Skills Funding Agency on 30 July 2015 asking for this short-sighted decision to be reviewed. I also raised the matter in a question to the Leader of the House on 17 September 2015 and wrote to the Skills Minister on 23 November 2015.


ESOL is delivered by WACC at Whitehall Junior School and WACC’s Centre at Weston Street. Students and Staff told me how they had been affected by the cuts. A staff member told me that a former student had gone on to become a driving instructor and is now teaching people whose first language is not English how to drive. It is right to expect people to try to integrate into society, to find work and to learn English, but we must also ensure people have the support they need to do so. The manner in which this funding has been withdrawn has been a shambles.




Science & Technology Committee


S&T PANEL2December has been a busy month on the S & T Committee. The Committee has evaluated the opportunities and risks of ‘big data’, explored the Open Data Institute (ODI) and asked questions to the Information Commissioner Christopher Graham. Mr Graham outlined the work “to clear up the mess after care data” and suggested that to rebuild confidence after the care data fiasco, denunciation should be placed on the individual who “decided to do something bad” rather than “because the data controller got something wrong”. The Information Commissioner will end his term in June, with a successor still to be named, but he wanted us to be reassured that the information rights of citizens and consumers will be upheld and that the digital economy works for all parties.


In our big data session, the Minster Ed Vaizey MP alarmingly noted that “every developed country is facing a skill shortage. The US is facing one, even though we laud their leadership in technology”. The Committee also met with Sir Paul Nurse who compiled a Review on the funding Research Councils. There has been no comment from the Government on the Review.




Re-opening of Junction 9 of the M6


Valerie Vaz MPAt last and after numerous representations, I am pleased that Junction 9 of the M6 has re-opened. The management of the closure by Highways England has been appalling and all of us who live in Walsall South have suffered disruption and inconvenience throughout 2015. The slip-road was to be reopened in May, then August, then November and finally Christmas. Even now it will be closed for a week from 4 January 2015 in the late evening.


It is surprising that the date for the completion of the works has been delayed on at least three occasions and by a total of six months. This is more than twice the amount of time the works were initially scheduled to last. I put an alternative suggestion to Highways England that Junction 9 did not need to be closed, as queueing on the motorway could be avoided by diverting traffic entering the M5 around Junction 7 to enter from the opposite carriageway.  This came from people who know about highways. Unfortunately, Highways England was not willing to engage with alternative suggestions and my constituents have paid the price.




Great Barr Park and Hall – Green Belt Under Threat


The Grade II* listing of the Hall is still being exploited by developers who want to use the status of the Hall to justify a 57 home luxury gated development on the adjacent Green Belt Land at Great Barr Park. Without the listed Hall this application would not be allowed as no case could be made for an Enabling Development.  I wrote to Historic England to say that the Hall is now severely dilapidated and the features that were present when the Hall was last inspected for listing in 2007 are no longer there. I am pleased that Historic England has now listened to my representations and agreed to reassess the listed status of the Hall. I hope that this will put an end to the prospect of development on our Green Belt. Given Walsall MBC has been asking for additional information since November 2013 I am surprised the Application has been allowed to remain open.




News in Brief


Questions and interventions:


·         To the Secretary of State for Justice, I asked: if he would tell the House the full costs of policy changes on the Criminal Courts Charge, Court Fine Enforcement and the Saudi Prisons Contract.

·         To the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, I asked: “In Walsall South, libraries are closing, there is a disproportionate cut to the public health budget, and it is difficult to recruit and retain social workers. Will the Secretary of State confirm that under the settlement that he has just announced, all those services will be protected and there will be no need for further cuts in those areas?”

·         I intervened in a Westminster Hall Debate in support of a proposal to include the names of mothers on Marriage Certificates.


Westminster Hall Chairing:


·         7 December 2015 on the use of Neonicotinoid Fertilisers on crops.


This year I have:


·         Had contact with 4,530 constituents which includes policy and casework.

·         Spoken in the Chamber on 60 occasions.

·         Tabled 12 Early Day Motions.

·         Signed 126 Early Day Motions.

·         Chaired 5 Debates in Westminster Hall.

·         Tabled 36 Written Parliamentary Questions.

·         Held 23 constituency surgeries.