Author Archives: Richard Graham

Rail and Regeneration

Gloucester Train Station

It’s now over ten years since I moved to the city centre, and as a huge fan of travel by rail and a weekly commuter to London I’ve worked on trains, the station and the land around it throughout the last decade.

So I thought it was time to give a quick summary of what’s happened and is happening or about to happen: and the current developments that are work in progress – which will determine what the experience of rail travel is like for the decade ahead.

Railway Triangle & a University Technical College
The story of change had to start here. The Railway Triangle, as it was, highlighted all that was negative about our city. It competed for the most depressing entrance to any cathedral city in the country. A stream of well intentioned initiatives by the former Gloucester Heritage Urban Regeneration Company (GHURC) had led nowhere. We were left with almost two miles of wasteland, collapsed buildings and brambles visible to all passengers as trains slowed down to come into the station, and to bus and car passengers from Metz Way. What a symbol of decay and despair on arrival.

So my first ever YouTube video in 2009 was filmed there to say this was a 20 year disgrace and that I would sort it if elected. Most people said I was mad.

But in the autumn of 2010 a developer came up with a regeneration plan that would create a mini industrial park with over 500 jobs and not a penny of taxpayer money to do this, including decontaminating the land and building the road access. I supported the lxb plan, the city council approved it, the site was sorted by local companies and, after a Jobs Fair I organised in Barton, Morrisons hired 59 long term unemployed to work at their new store on the site.

Today the RT is thriving, and the next stage is building more homes – including social housing – on Network Rail land on the Kingsholm side of the RT, and I hope too a new Gloucestershire Health and Care University Technical College (UTC) close to the station. This is strongly backed by all the NHS Trusts and the University of Gloucestershire and will provide both GCSEs and A levels like a secondary school, but also BTECs in Health or Care, and guaranteed work experience with the NHS and private sector. So the UTC will provide great pathways into Health and Care, our biggest employers in the county. Our UTC, if we get the go ahead to apply early in the New Year, as we hope, would only be the second health UTC in the country. The first (in West Bromwich) is thriving.

We already have light industry (Rygor/Mercedes Benz) and retail jobs in the RT: soon we should have homes and I hope a unique educational establishment – all created from brown field wasteland.

So although contaminated or damaged brown field sites aren’t easy, my experience of the last ten years is that they can be regenerated, and we’ve shown how. We’re also doing that on the old Contract Chemicals site on the Bristol Road, and on the ex Norvilles site in Tredworth.

Gloucester Station itself
Moving now from Network Rail land around the station to the station itself, the real contrast at our station is between the warmth of the station (GWR) staff, with years of customer focused service, and the unloveliness of the buildings and infrastructure.

So the first thing I did was to try to involve the community through my 2010 Station Art Exhibition. Glos Col co-ordinated and PJ Crook advised eight primary schools to create a series of panels showing rail transport through the ages. They’re still there, towards St Peters church on platform 4 (the longest or second longest platform in Britain): and I hope all involved will always remember as I do the happy day the paintings went up, bringing children and their ideas into the station and making it permanently more human.

Next were the Waiting Rooms & the Station Bridge from Platform 2 to 4. During the negotiations for a new GWR franchise in 2012 GWR agreed to build two waiting rooms and proper bike stands as well as lifts by the new bridge to improve disabled access. But the bridge didn’t have (had never had) a canopy and I badgered GWR for so long that they kindly agreed to add that soon after – and passengers can now use the bridge without getting wet.

But my big ambition is the £4.2 million bid I worked on with the City Council to our Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). The LEP is funded by government to deliver growth and our bid is all about improvements to the Railway Station – and the benefits to travellers and their productivity from this. This will involve a revamp of the underpass to Great Western Road and the GRH, which will be welcomed by all who walk that route (like our nurses and other NHS staff). The bid also includes a new entry and exit off Metz Way, to speed up traffic getting out of the station. Lastly the bid would transform the main entrance, appearance of and areas outside the station, and (half hidden) pedestrian and cycle path. We will hear about the outcome in the New Year – and anyone who loves Gloucester, rail transport, regeneration and not waiting in a queue of cars to get out of the station – then please let me know.

Meanwhile we’ve moving ahead on a new (additional) station car park and the first ever access to the station from Great Western Road. I could never understand the logic of an empty unused car park there. It was once intended for new courts, an idea of (and then abandoned by) the last Labour government. So it’s remained unused for a long time, and for those travelling from e.g. Hucclecote, Barnwood, Elmbridge, Longlevens and Tewkesbury or the Forest the new car park will offer real alternatives to current parking arrangements.

Transferring an obscure Ministry of Justice real estate asset is an admin nightmare, but with the help of Ministers, our city council and GWR eventually everyone agreed and the asset is now with GWR.

Action since then has been disappointingly slower than I was led to expect, but after the New Year things will happen and I hope the 220 space car park will open at Easter.

Train Services – Cross Country & GWR
Demand for rail travel from Gloucester has grown sharply (up 50% since 2006/7, well above the national average). The main causes are more commuting (especially to Bristol, not least as public services regionalise their offices), more visitors and Gloucester being the seventh fastest growing city in the country. That will continue as e.g. the University of Gloucestershire is in the process of delivering 500 new student rooms in Blackfriars for their new Business School in Oxstalls. So getting the trains right is critical.

We’re well served in some ways (e.g. the Welsh line) but only 2 Cross Country InterCity trains a day running between Birmingham and Bristol currently stop at Gloucester. That was a result of  a bad re-negotiation of the franchise in 2006, but when it came up for renewal in 2016 I persuaded the DfT to increase the Cross Country Interservice stops at Gloucester by at least 2 more a day, or 728 extra trains a year, once the track work at Filton Bank (outside Bristol) is complete (expected end 2018). I’ll be pushing ahead to make sure the extra services are timetabled in advance.

Meanwhile, by the end of 2018 we’ll also see a new direct hourly GWR train service to London. This follows the re-dualling of the Swindon-Kemble line that our government did in the last parliament. Brand new faster Made in Britain Hitachi trains coming into service will cut journey time to London by around 15 minutes. At the same time we’ll also benefit from a new half hourly service to Swindon.

Lastly and most importantly I’m working on a much better regular (including commuter) service to Bristol. As electrification work is completed in different parts of the country, particularly in the Thames Valley, turbo trains should be available for routes in the South West and many will be based in Bristol, allowing more and better services, with increased capacity, to and from the city.

So I am making the case to GWR, the Department for Transport and the West of England Partnership for a half hourly service to Bristol by 2019 as part of the first phase of the MetroWest project (to improve services to and from Bristol). A new half hourly service (instead of the current hourly offering) on bigger and better trains would make a huge difference. This is a very important campaign, and if you agree do support this by replying to The Department for Transport consultation on the GWR network via: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/great-western-rail-franchise

In short: homes and a University Technical College on parts of the Network Rail land not included in the Railway Triangle mini business park: more InterCity trains, double the number of London services, and the possibility of a new Bristol service; together with the potential of transforming the look of the station and the land around it, with a definite extra car park and new entrance – we have lots to work on over the next year.

At the end of all this we should have the services we deserve, and a train station to be as proud of as our new bus station – which will open in the summer of 2018.

Let me know what you think of our plans on richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk

Gloucester overtakes 100 constituencies: our remarkable jobs story

The latest employment figures show 325,000 more people now in work than a year ago.

Businesses have created more than 3 million net new jobs nationally since 2010 or 1,000 jobs every day since the Conservatives were elected.

During this time Gloucester has created the second highest number of private sector jobs of any city in the UK and now has the third highest employment rate (ie % of population working) in the country (source: Centre for Cities and House of Commons Library).

The chart above shows on the left hand scale that our actual figure for unemployment (number of claimants) has come steadily down from 2,470 to 1,195 over the last three years, or 1.9% against 2.5% nationally.

The blue line (using the right hand scale) shows the impact on our relative unemployment – with Gloucester improving from ranking 262nd out of 650 (where 1 is worst) to 383rd ie moving us from the bottom of the third quartile to above average in the second quartile (or over half way to the table).

It’s not quite as dramatic as Gloucester Rugby’s rise from 9th to 2nd in the Premier League table, but there’s a bit more competition…

What we don’t show on this chart is the most spectacular bit of all – the drop in youth unemployment from 990 in 2012 to 250 today, a drop of 75%. This in turn mirrors the rise in our apprenticeships. I’ll show those charts another day.

These stats won’t always continue to go on getting better, but show where we have come.

Our key strength is a variety of employers big and small, combined with a strong entrepreneurial appetite. We benefit from growth in cyber, health and care, nuclear energy, retail and f&b (Gloucester Quays) and all manufacturers, solid insurance and banking giants, growth in regeneration, construction and fitting out, and a huge number of start-ups. Diversity and exporting are key to our success. If Gloucester can continue on this track – and 2018 is our Year of Infrastructure – then we can carry on, like Gloucester Rugby, surprising on the upside…

All this success is down to creative Glosterpreneurs (supported by sensible government policies) and I am grateful to you all. What recent growth success story in business, public sector, charity or social enterprise in Gloucester would you like to highlight?

Do let me know what you think about this at richard.graham.mp@parliament.uk.

Best regards

Richard with Poeton apprentices

PRESS RELEASE: Gloucester MP welcomes government draft Bill on animal sentience

Richard Graham MP has welcomed a government drafted Bill on animal sentience published this week. The Bill follows government commitments to enshrine animal sentience in law and to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty from six months to five years. The draft bill sets out that the government “must have regard to the welfare needs of animals as sentient beings in formulating and implementing government policy”.

 Richard said, “This Bill continues the government’s positive record in committing to ban microbeads, ivory and bee-killing pesticides, which I entirely support. It should also bring to an end a disgraceful campaign of fake news on animal sentience against Conservative MPs, for which two national newspapers have now apologised. It was particularly unpleasant for those of us who have been long term dog and cat owners, and I’m sorry some constituents joined in: but everyone will now be better informed.”

 RSPCA Head of Public Affairs David Bowles said:  “This is potentially great news for animals post-Brexit. To include the recognition of animal sentience as well as increasing animal cruelty sentencing to 5 years into the new 2018 Animal Welfare Bill is a very bold and welcome move by the Government. Even better, the legislation explicitly rejects the kind of exemptions for activities that the European Union deemed acceptable – such as bull-fighting and producing foie gras – which will offer even stronger protection than Article 13 of the EU Treaty could ever do. We warmly welcome measures to evaluate government policy against animal sentience and we await further detail.”

 Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “As we leave the EU we will deliver a Green Brexit, not only maintaining but enhancing animal welfare standards. Animals are sentient beings who feel pain and suffering, so we are writing that principle into law and ensuring that we protect their welfare. Our plans will also increase sentences for those who commit the most heinous acts of animal cruelty to five years in jail. We are a nation of animal lovers so we will make Brexit work not just for citizens but for the animals we love and cherish too.”

 The Bill is currently open to consultation, the public can contribute via the gov.uk website: https://consult.defra.gov.uk/animal-health-and-welfare/consultation-on-the-animal-welfare-bill/

 END

 

PRESS RELEASE: Gloucester MP urges residents: have your say on the boundary review now!

Gloucester MP Richard Graham has urged residents to have their say on the latest Boundary Commission proposal before the consultation closes on 11 December. The latest proposal is to move Elmbridge ward to the Tewkesbury Constituency.

 Richard said, “the Boundaries Commission is trying to bring down the cost of politics by reducing the numbers of MPs and equalising the size of each constituency. Some are much smaller than others. The trouble with our constituency in this exercise is that Gloucester has grown quickly, and under this plan would have to lose voters.

 Their first suggestion was to propose Westgate residents vote in the Forest of Dean. We saw that one off. Then they proposed Quedgeley residents vote in Stroud: and their latest proposal is for Elmbridge residents to vote in Tewkesbury. I don’t want any of this to happen: in fact I would rather Longlevens also voted in my constituency rather than Tewkesbury. But the maths means something has to give – if any changes at all go through Parliament.

 My constituents have the greatest sway in explaining to the Commission in which constituency your links are strongest and why. Where you live travel, shop, go to school, work and have a job are all relevant. I’ve delivered leaflets in Elmbridge to encourage residents to reply to the Commission’s consultation via https://www.bce2018.org.uk/ and hope lots of you do get involved now!”

 The Commission will submit the last proposal to the Secretary of State in September 2018 when it will be put before Parliament.

 END

 

PRESS RELEASE: Register NOW for 30 hours free childcare! says Gloucester MP

MP Richard Graham is encouraging parents eligible for 30 hours free childcare to apply by 30 November to make sure their application is completed in good time for next term.

 In January the scheme will start to cover children who have turned 3 years old by the end of December.

 The Government met its commitment to launch 30 hours free childcare earlier this year. In order to get the care, parents have to confirm their eligibility with a HMRC code. And some may need to submit further information about their employment – “’which is why”, said Richard, “I’m encouraging eligible constituents to register early.”

 The City MP noted that the government will invest £6 billion per year in childcare by 2020 and over 200,000 30 hours eligibility codes have been issued so far. “This will help families save up to £5,000 per child”, Richard said, “but some parents had difficulties accessing the registration service by the deadline last time. I don’t want anyone to miss out, so please register soon. If you already have a child on a 30 hours place you still need to confirm your details are up to date every three months. You should be notified of this so please check your emails regularly.”

 Parents can register on the government website (https://childcare-support.tax.service.gov.uk/) and can also check what help with childcare costs they are entitled to (https://www.gov.uk/childcare-calculator).

END

 

My Budget Wishlist

Today I anticipate we will hear that the UK has done a lot better economically than many expected in the 18 months after the EU Referendum, but that there are still huge challenges ahead.

What would make a difference to our city of Gloucester?

I hope that the Chancellor will:

 
  • Continue to reduce our budget deficit but using some of our growth to invest in infrastructure
  • Announce lifting the salaries of certain front line public servants, and judiciously giving more investment in some public sector organisations
  • Pay those on Universal Credit slightly faster when they first come in
  • Do much more to build more homes that can be both bought and rented
  • Invest more in education and particularly skills in technology
  • Go further on new innovative industrial strategies, giving capital allowances for businesses
  • Help the young on transport and education
  • And help our environment by penalising unnecessary packaging and reducing plastics that damage the world
 
If we get most of this, and perhaps more, then I’ll be delighted.
 
Let’s see…

PRESS RELEASE: City MP to highlight local successes and issues to new Safeguarding and Vulnerabilities Minister in Gloucester

New Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability Victoria Atkins MP is making her first ministerial visit to Gloucester tomorrow at MP Richard Graham’s invitation. The Minister will meet with charities and statutory bodies to look at how Gloucester supports vulnerable residents as well as the Police to hear what is being done to deal with domestic abuse and reduce serious knife crime.

Richard said, “I plan for the Minister to see some of the good work being done to support vulnerable women and homeless people, both by individual groups and increasingly in wider partnerships. But I would also like her to hear from the county council how it intends to turn around the Ofsted report’s criticism of its safeguarding responsibilities, and how the police are tackling domestic abuse and serious knife crime. These are all issues important to our city being seen as a safe and compassionate city.”

NOTE TO EDITORS

Victoria Atkins was appointed Minister on the 9 November, having previously been a Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Leader of the House of Lords. She was elected as MP for Louth and Horncastle in May 2015. Before becoming an MP Victoria Atkins was a barrister and lived for some time in Gloucestershire.

Her ministerial responsibilities include: victims of terrorism, the Disclosure and Barring Service, drugs, alcohol, countering extremism, crime prevention, anti-social behaviour, gangs, youth crime and youth violence, knife crime, wildlife crime, child sexual exploitation and abuse (including Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse), online child sexual exploitation, mental health, modern slavery, honour-based violence (including forced marriage and honour killings), female genital mutilation (FGM), violence against women and girls, missing people and children, sexual violence, prostitution and lap dancing, domestic violence, WEProtect and internet safety.

END

PRESS RELEASE: New government supported housing proposals follow Gloucester MP’s report recommendations

 The government’s latest proposals on Supported Housing broadly adopt the recommendations in a joint select committee report co-chaired by Gloucester’s MP Richard Graham in May this year.

 Local Government Minister Marcus Jones announced new measures to provide ring fenced funding certainty for this important sector housing over 700,000 people nationwide, dropping earlier proposals to use the Local Housing Allowance as the starting basis.

 Richard said, “supported housing covers many people’s needs: including the elderly and frail, and those with severe learning difficulties or mental health issues. But there were both cost and quality issues with the old system and these changes address both.

 The government announcement extends the current funding structure until 2020 and then guarantees local authorities the same amount to be re-distributed through county councils – and the details of how to deal with increased demand and inflation will be sorted after this consultation. At the same time a new body will make sure that the supported service does live up to its name and the support is there.

 I worked with Labour MP Helen Hayes on this cross party committee report to outline recommendations for this complicated sector and am pleased the government has listened. There are still issues to be discussed, like how ‘short term housing’ will be structured in ways that protect Women’s Refuges, and I’m interested to listen to charities on this. But I welcome this week’s announcement and the support this will offer my older and more vulnerable constituents.”

 Boris Worrall, Chief Executive of Rooftop Housing Group said, “We’re pleased that the government has listened to the concerns about the proposed cap on the Local Housing Allowance by ring fencing funding for supported housing. This provides us with greater security so that we can continue to build more homes for vulnerable and older people in Gloucester and across the country.”

 Local Government Minister Marcus Jones said: “This government is committed to boosting the supply of new homes, and helping people to live independently and with dignity for as long as possible. This is why we are giving the supported housing sector the certainty of funding they need to get building new homes. These reforms will deliver quality and value for money, funding certainty for the sector and give local areas a greater role in commissioning services.”

 NOTE TO EDITORS

 The announcement includes a ring-fenced grant to local authority by April 2020 which will give local areas a bigger role in providing short term and emergency housing and a National Statement of Expectation setting out how local authorities should plan effectively for provisions in their area.

 A consultation on the detailed implementation of the flexible model for supported housing will run until the end of January 2018. Last week (25 October 2017) the government also announced that the Local Housing Allowance rate will not be applied to the social rented sector.

 The supported housing sector support provides homes from older renters. It also provides a home for other vulnerable groups such as people with learning disabilities, mental ill health, homeless people and victims of domestic abuse.

 END

PRESS RELEASE: City MP:  “a giant step forward” to clamping down on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals  

 

Richard with Minister Tracey Crouch

Gloucester’s MP Richard Graham said today’s announcement on a consultation on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals, including an option to cut the maximum stake from £100 to £2, is “a giant step forward to reducing the risks to gamblers and their families, and a success for those of us who campaigned on the issue”.

The Sports Minister has launched a 12 week consultation on options to reduce the maximum stake from £100 to between £50 and £2. A package of measures will also be introduced to strengthen protections around online gambling and gambling advertising to minimise the risk to vulnerable people and children.

Richard Graham said, “I was influenced by the experience of my constituent Hussain Vorajee who became a gambling addict on FOBTs. It almost destroyed his life, and while of course everyone must take personal responsibility the government can help by reducing the maximum stake and protecting the vulnerable.

There are others who will have lost a lot of money and damaged the stability of their family lives who haven’t come forward – and I encourage all my constituents to help them too by supporting the £2 option in the consultation (as I will be doing). The more of us who support this the more likely it is that we’ll get the right result. So please click on https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/consultation-on-proposals-for-changes-to-gaming-machines-and-social-responsibility-measures.”

Gambling Minister Tracey Crouch said: “It is vital that we strike the right balance between socially responsible growth and protecting the most vulnerable, including children, from gambling-related harm. Given the strong evidence and public concerns about the risks of high stakes gaming machines on the high street, we are convinced of the need for action. That is why today we have set out a package of proposals to ensure all consumers and wider communities are protected.”

NOTE TO EDITORS

The package of measures taking effect include:

  • The Gambling Commission will consult on changes to the Licence Conditions and Codes of Practice next year to raise standards of player protection for online gambling.
  • Gambling industry groups will draw up a major two year responsible gambling campaign. The campaign will have a budget of £5 to £7 million per year funded by gambling operators, with airspace and digital media provided by broadcasters.
  • New advertising guidelines will be drawn up by the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) to ensure that the content of gambling adverts does not encourage impulsive or socially irresponsible gambling.
  • The Industry Group for Responsible Gambling (IGRG) are strengthening the code on responsible gambling advertising to require operators to ensure gambling content and channels cannot be accessed by under-18s via social media
  • Gambling operators should step up on funding for research, education and treatment. If not, government will consider other options, including introducing a mandatory levy on gambling operators.

END

Universal Credit: The Six Week Wait

The new Work & Pensions Select Committee report on Universal Credit (UC), which I attach to this, highlights both a potential improvement to UC and why such reports are more important in a hung Parliament.

First the report itself. Since UC attempts to mirror the world of work, payments are not fortnightly (as some legacy benefits have been), but monthly. But in practice, not least the application processing time, the agreed DWP first payment is after six weeks – so a longer wait than monthly payments.

The Select Committee recommends that payments be made monthly, and so is different from those sometimes made by critics of UC – make payments fortnightly, to mirror some of the benefits system – and more logical.

The government’s view is that it will continue to make changes where and when they’re needed, but has been quiet so far on this.

As I’ve written before the real issues for those in low paid employment are debt, resilience and cash flow. If someone comes onto the UC system with masses of debt and rent arrears then there is going to be trouble ahead.

So speeding up the first payment, on top of the now better advertised ‘advance’ system could make a real difference to some.

The DWP has promised to continue to monitor carefully the underlying problems of the hardest pressed UC claimants, and look at making changes in response to evidence. That is the benefit of a slow roll out that takes the number of claimants (of the assumed future total) from 8% to 10% by the end of January 2018.

This proposal might make a significant difference and I hope DWP will study its potential impact on vulnerable claimants over the next few weeks and months: and implement the recommendation if it would enhance UC’s success.

When a Parliament is effectively hung, party political impasse is common. The mathematics of a vote inevitably means not all Opposition Votes are voted on. The process of Parliament gets shoutier.

So one way through this is through the work of Select Committees – whose reports are the result of cross party work and at their best road tested in advance.

This was true of the report I co-chaired in the summer on Supported Housing, on which a government announcement will be made next week and where I hope most of our recommendations will be adopted: and it might also be true of this report on UC. This is a trend which will grow in this Parliament.

Click to open

Report Summary

In an urgent, unanimous report published on 26 October 2017, the Commons Work and Pensions Committee says Government should aim to cut the baked-in six week wait for the first payment of Universal Credit to a month, as this is a major obstacle blocking the potential success of the policy:

  • In areas where the full service has rolled out, evidence compellingly links it to an increase in acute financial difficulty, with widespread reports of overwhelmed food banks, problem debt and steeply rising rent arrears and homelessness.
  • Most low-income families simply do not have the savings to see them through this extended period without resorting to desperate measures

Advance Payment loans

While increased availability of Advance Payment (AP) loans of up to half the estimated monthly award are welcome, the Committee says they are no solution to a fundamental flaw in the current design:

  • Universal Credit seeks to mirror the world of work, but no one in work waits six weeks for a paycheque.
  • The Committee calls on Government to reduce the standard waiting time for a first Universal Credit payment to one month. This would be entirely consistent with the monthly in arrears philosophy of Universal Credit.

Reduce wait to one month

The arguments for a reduction are compelling:

  • More than half of low and middle income families have no savings, and two thirds have less than a month’s worth
  • Half of people earning £10,000 or less per year are not paid monthly.  Many households simply do not have the resources to get by for six weeks, or in a minority of cases far longer, without resorting to desperate measures
  • The 7 waiting days at the very beginning are purely a money-saving measure. They do not mirror the world of work – as the Centre for Social Justice has pointed out, no one works the first week of a job for free – and unlike the previous, standard benefit waiting days, they also leave claimants without housing costs or child benefit for the period
    Minimising the processing period
  • The Advance Payments put forward by Government to mitigate some of the unwelcome consequences of the current design of Universal Credit, but do nothing to address their underlying foundations
  • Advance Payments are loans, repayable in addition to other deductions such as rent arrears which can be up to 40% of the standard Universal Credit allowance. This will be difficult or impossible for some claimants to afford
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