Opposing cuts to policing
Tackling rising crime and anti-social behaviour is one of my top priorities and I have been lobbying the government for more resources to put officers back on our streets. The Tories have slashed £40 million from Cleveland Police which has led to 500 fewer officers keeping our streets safe. In Parliament I tackled the Prime Minister directly on this issue and asked her to restore neighbourhood policing. I’ve also been working with the Police Commissioner Barry Coppinger to make sure resources are reaching the places they are most needed.
More, better paid jobs
Too many people in our area cannot find decent, well paid jobs. Many have to travel away from home away from family. I came into politics so I could change things like this. You know I will always fight tooth and nail to bring more opportunities. When the Tories closed our steelworks in 2015, thousands of good jobs were lost. The money we secured for retraining and business grants went some way to cushion the blow, and 1800 new jobs have been created through the SSI Taskforce. But many are still finding it tough, struggling with mortgages and debt, or working away. Teesside deserves better than the low pay many have to accept. Since we lost our steel, average weekly wages in our area have dropped from being some of the best in the region to some of the worst. One third of men and half of women in our area are paid less than the living wage. We have so much potential on Teesside and our people deserve better.
Opposition to unsustainable housing developments
There have been several big housing developments which threaten to change the character of our communities, overwhelm traffic, and damage important green space. I have worked with residents to campaign against both the proposed 800 houses on the edge of Marske and the 400 houses on Eston Hills, right on top of the country park at Flatts Lane. Sadly the private developer won on appeal, overturning local democracy. I continue to push in Parliament for a change to planning laws to stop developers riding roughshod over local communities.
Schools and colleges
There are few things more important than our children’s futures, which is why I have made education one of my top priorities. I want our children to learn in the best schools and colleges so there is no ceiling to their ambition and will fight for the investment needed to deliver that. Sadly, the Conservative government do not share that view and are inflicting millions of pounds of spending cuts on our schools. 53 out of 54 schools in Redcar & Cleveland will see their income drop by 2020, losing a combined £4.3 million. That is £226 per child. It is not acceptable and I continue to press upon ministers to invest in the future of our children.
Mental Health Services
Around one in ten children and young people in our borough have a mental health disorder. Higher than the rest of England and the North East. Local mental health services, like Redcar Link and the Junction Foundation, are being overwhelmed by rising demand for their services and funding cuts. Some children are waiting almost three months to get support. It isn’t good enough. I have called on the government to protect and invest in mental health, and have met with both the council and the local NHS to make sure funding is getting through to the people who need it.
Family carers are the backbone of our care system. They take in relatives, keeping them from being separated from their family and being put into care. However, too often they don’t receive enough financial or practical support. I am working with the Family Rights Group to set up a Taskforce in Parliament to look into what could be done to improve support.
Town Centre Improvements
In 2016 I launched a campaign with local councillors to revitalise Redcar High Street. Like many High Streets, Redcar has suffered over recent years with more empty shops and declining footfall. Everyone we speak to, from business owners to residents, have strong views about what is good and bad, and, crucially, loads of ideas about what they want to see. We called a public meeting and the council held some consultation events to start the conversation about what improvements local people want to see. We have secured £5 million from the government through the SSI Taskforce to invest in Redcar town centre, and the council have committed resources to invest in the regeneration of both Redcar and our other town centres across the borough. This includes £1 million for Eston Square.
I have been working with community campaigners and heritage organisations to launch a bid to save Red Barns from disrepair and to bring the building back to life as a community resource. The Grade II* listed building at the heart of Redcar is the former home of Gertrude Bell, the renowned twentieth century explorer, mountaineer, archaeologist and diplomat. It was also designed by acclaimed 19th century architect Philip Webb, also has architectural significance as it is one of the most important remaining examples of Arts and Crafts architecture in North East England. Red Barns has huge significance to the local area and it is tragic that such a beautiful building with so much history has deteriorated into such a poor state. Our proposal to save it and turn it into a museum and learning resource would allow a permanent display of the Gertrude Bell archives and help drive the growth of local culture and tourism. We are in talks with the private owners and the campaign continues.
South Gare nature reserve
The South Gare is a beautiful natural asset enjoyed by hundreds of people every week, but ownership issues have left the area neglected and undervalued. With some care and attention this could be an important nature reserve and major visitor destination, attracting thousands of visitors. I have been working with environmental charities, the council, and the local community to devise a regeneration proposal for the coastal strip of land. I have called on the South Tees Development Corporation to hand the land over to the community so we can progress this project.
Tougher sentences for animal cruelty – Baby’s Law
All abuse of animals is completely unacceptable. There have been a number of high profile cases of particularly abhorrent and cruel attacks on animals where the offenders have escaped prison. In Redcar, the Frankish Brothers kicked, stamped on, and threw their pet bulldog, Baby, down the stairs. In another incident, Scamp the terrier was buried alive in Kirkleatham woods with a nail through its head. Currently the maximum sentence for people who commit crimes of animal cruelty is a six month custodial sentence – a maximum that has not changed since the 1911 Protection of Animals Act. Clearly the current sentence is no deterrent to horrendous acts of animal cruelty and is not working. The Frankish brothers even escaped prison despite the severity of their crimes. Lenient sentencing may persuade other animal abusers that the law is on their side. I brought forward a Private Members Bill to increase the maximum to five years. Sadly it fell with a lack of time to debate but the Government have indicated they will bring forward their own law to do the same.
Our health service is under extreme pressure from rising demand and Tory spending cuts. The North East Ambulance Service raised its status to ‘severe pressure’ and the 4 hour A&E treatment time target of 95% has not been met since July 2015. South Tees NHS has to make £30.2 million of cuts in 2017/2018, on top of the £87.9million already cut from services in the South Tees area since 2014. Our area has also lost 1 in seven GPs. I have campaigned against the closure of it desperately needs more investment.
After a Redcar father of two was left paralysed in a road crash, I raised his case in Parliament to ask for a sentencing review for dangerous driving. The government consulted on changes to the law and have now introduced a new offence for those causing serious injury by careless driving, closing a gap in the law which was letting down crash victims like Alex.
The Eston Hills Action Group I brought together in 2017 continues to work to protect our hills from vandalism and arson. All of the organisations involved, including the police, fire service, the council, and community groups the Friends of Eston Hills and the Ice and Fire archaeology project, have worked together to make some good progress over the past year. There are still some issues to be tackled but the hills are now a safer place for residents and visitors to enjoy.
I secured a Westminster Hall debate on energy drinks and their sale to under 16s. Energy drinks are cheap, often sold for as little as 30p, highly sweetened and very highly caffeinated. They can contain as much as 12 spoons of sugar and the equivalent of five shots of espresso. This is not healthy for our children yet they are still available to buy in many smaller shops and convenience stores. The minister promised he would look into the issue.
Legal Aid for Victims of Domestic Violence
I raised the shocking case in Parliament of a victim of domestic violence, including financial control, who was left with massive debts by her former partner. The fact she works means she doesn’t qualify for legal aid, even though debt repayments are taken straight from her salary leaving her no money for legal costs. Breaking free of a coercive, abusive relationship takes a tremendous amount of bravery and emotional strength for the women involved. The experience is distressing enough without the added pressure of not being able to take the perpetrator to court. After speaking with local charity Eva Women’s Aid, I was alarmed to learn this is happening to lots of women. I will continue to campaign in Parliament for a change to legal aid so women can get the support they need.