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Wythenshawe MP calls for “root and branch reform” of schools watchdog after damning report

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Mike Kane MP

Wythenshawe’s Mike Kane has called for an overhaul of the schools watchdog, Ofsted, following a damning report by MPs.

The report, following an inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee, said there were “clear shortcomings” in the performance of Ofsted, which inspects schools and children’s services.

Among criticisms highlighted in the report are that it has completed fewer inspections than planned, it has failed to meet its targets for how often schools should be inspected, and schools are being left for longer between inspections.

And Ofsted had incorrectly reported to parliament that it had met the statutory target for reinspecting schools every five years. Read More…

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TUC in Manchester: delegates back calls for “people’s vote” on Brexit

Trades unionists meeting in Manchester this week have backed a “people’s vote” on Brexit if the Government fails to negotiate a good deal.

Some trade union leaders oppose a second referendum on whether to leave the European Union.

But the TUC’s Europe spokesman, Steve Turner, called on delegates at the annual congress to “rise like lions” if the deal is bad for British workers.

He told the conference: “This is not a call for a second referendum, a place some outside our movement want to push, but a vote on the terms of our departure if parliament fails us.”

Mr Turner, Unite’s Assistant General Secretary described the attempts by the government to negotiate a Brexit deal as shambolic.

But he warned that the Labour and trade movement must work to heal divisions left by Brexit to avoid the rise of the far right in communities that feel abandoned by the political elite.

He said: “A betrayal of the Brexit vote without answers will only add to a crisis of belonging and identity that could find its way onto our streets with a rapid and dangerous rise of the far right.

“It demands we rise like lions to the challenges for our class, to the threat of a hard-right Tory attack on working people as well as the threats from bosses who think they can use Brexit to shed jobs, relocate and off-shore our work or put a match to hard won terms and conditions, rights and protections.

“It demands MPs reject a disastrous no deal and send a defeated, broken government back to the country in a general election. It demands we extend Article 50 to give an incoming Labour government time and opportunity to negotiate a deal for the many, not the few. And if the politicians can’t do that, then we demand we go back to the people so they can vote on the deal on offer.

“It’s our deal, our future, not theirs.

Congress we need a better, fairer Britain. We need to heal the wounds. Only our movement is capable of doing that.“

Read Steve Turner’s speech in full, here

So, if Dominic Raab returns from Brussels with no deal, or with a deal that’

Councillor welcomes fine for rogue airport parking firm

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Cllr Rabnawaz Akbar

A Wythenshawe-based “cowboy” airport parking firm has been told to pay more than £3,500 following a trading standards sting.

Mr Nabeel Khoury, age 45, of Greenwood Road, Manchester was personally fined £425 as sole director of PPS Manchester Limited and was ordered to pay £1,000 court costs and a victim of crime surcharge of £42 following a hearing at Manchester Magistrates Court.

The PPS Manchester Limited company was also fined £1,000 after being found guilty of engaging in a misleading action, and ordered to pay court costs of £1,000 along with a victims of crime surcharge of £100.

Mr Khoury and PPS Manchester claimed that car would be parked securely when in fact they were being parked on residential streets in Woodhouse Park, Wythenshawe – nearby to Manchester Airport – which is an offence under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations.

In 2016, Manchester City Council’s Trading Standards team fitted a tracking device to a vehicle and booked a three day airport parking service through the PPS Manchester website. The tracker showed the car had been parked on Greenwood Road in Woodhouse Park and clearly not in a secure car park as advertised.

The company’s website claimed that cars are kept on a concrete surface surrounded by fencing, patrolled 24 hours a day by security guards and under the watch of CCTV.

Returning the following day, trading standards officers found the car in the same position before picking up the vehicle from a PPS Manchester driver the next day.

Under interview, Mr Khoury claimed the cars were safe and secure as it was parked outside of his home address, and claimed the promise on the website referred to a period of time when the business was based at another location close to the airport.

He also claimed that if the booking had been for longer, the vehicle would have been moved to one of three secure car parks that he had exclusive use of.

The investigation is part of a multi-agency operation tasked with dealing with meet and greet parking operators in the Woodhouse Park area that sometime leave holiday maker’s vehicles residential streets for up to two weeks.

A dedicated enforcement team has now been set up to tackle the problem of cars being parked obstructively by rogue ‘meet-and-greet’ companies in residential areas during the school summer holidays.

Since the end of July, the enforcement team have received 42 calls from residents that have led 29 penalty charge notices being handed out, and nine vehicles removed from the streets of Wythenshawe.

Councillor Rabnawaz Akbar, Manchester City Council’s Executive Member for Neighbourhoods, said: “Cowboy meet and greet firms are making life a misery for residents in Wythenshawe and I’m pleased that the Courts have found it appropriate to impose a significant fine on this so-called company.

“I hope this sends a clear message to other illegal operators that deceiving customers will not be tolerated. We are doing everything we can to find you, investigate you and where possible, we will prosecute.

“Many residents are tricked into handing over their car keys to criminals for what seems like a good deal so we strongly advise anybody thinking of using an airport meet-and-greet scheme to research your chosen company carefully and look out for the certified “Buy with Confidence” mark.”

 

Residents are asked to call the Council on 0161 234 4199 if a vehicle is parked on double yellow lines, if a road crossing is blocked where there is a dropped kerb, if their driveway is completely blocked (where a dropped kerb has been provided by the Council or Wythenshawe Community Housing Group), or if a bus stop is blocked.

Where there is a confirmed case, the Council has powers to take enforcement action, which could include towing the vehicle away.

If a parked vehicle blocks a path or grass verge and makes it hard for pedestrians to pass, residents should contact Greater Manchester Police on 101.

A year after Grenfell – Wythenshawe tower block residents still waiting for sprinklers

DSC_0131A year after the Grenfell fire, resulting in the deaths of 72 people, sprinkler systems have still not been fitted to Wythenshawe’s high rise tower blocks.

Wythenshawe Community Housing Group, which runs the town’s 10 high rises said in December it would be installing sprinklers in the tallest block early this year.

The fitting of the sprinklers was approved by the Group’s board, but in a statement made this week it said sprinklers won’t be fitted before they have finished installing fire alarms, due to be completed in the autumn this year.

The WCHG statement in full:

Wythenshawe Community Housing Group remain committed to ensuring safety in high rise buildings and continue to work closely with GMFRS, MCC and other Registered Providers to ensure a consistent robust approach to fire safety in tower blocks.  The Group owns and manages 10 high rise buildings in Wythenshawe and none contain ACM panels.  Village 135 did have feature ACM detail to the projecting balconies, these panels were removed immediately and replaced with compliant solid metal cladding.  We have worked closely with our residents in all of our high rise buildings which have had annual Fire Risk Assessments completed by an accredited consultant.

Since June 2017, we have repeated and reviewed in detail our approach to fire safety with our Fire Safety consultants to identify any further improvements that can be made to each block.  Based on these findings further enhancements have been approved by the Group Board for the installation of sprinklers and full fire alarm systems to the traditional high rise buildings. We have prioritised fire alarm installations to meet  FRA recommendations and a number of them have already being installed,  with the remainder being completed by Autumn 2018. The fitting of sprinkler systems will follow the installation of the fire alarms.

Today marks the first anniversary of the fire in Grenfell Tower in North Kensington in which 72 people lost their lives. The inquiry into the disaster has heard how combustible material in external cladding fitted to the building was the primary cause of the fire’s spread.

And a report published by the London Assembly, taking evidence from fire safety experts recommended that all residential buildings should be fitted with sprinklers to save lives.

The report said sprinklers should be required by law in new care homes, sheltered housing and blocks of flats higher than six storeys, and the measures should be the first steps on a “road map” towards making sprinklers mandatory in all homes in England.

Solidarity events are taking place across the country this week to remember the victims of the Grenfell tragedy, including a candle-lit vigil in Salford at 6.30pm tonight, organised by the local Trades Union Council.

Wythenshawe MP backs Manchester lawyer calling for end to legal aid cuts after being paid £255 for seven months work

2233509492_a51cb4937e_zA Manchester solicitor is calling on the government to reverse cuts to legal aid after it was revealed by Wythenshawe MP Mike Kane this week that she was paid just £255 for seven months work.

Catriona McLauglin, a solicitor advocate, based in Manchester says criminal lawyers are leaving the profession because of the cuts, denying access to justice to some of the most vulnerable people accused of crimes.

And the independent body which represents solicitors, the Law Society, who are mounting a legal challenge to the latest government cuts, say criminal defence lawyers could become extinct unless action is taken.

Catriona’s case, raised by Mike Kane in parliament, involved seven months of work representing a man in his sixties who had suffered a serious stroke. He was charged with handling stolen goods and possession of a bladed article.

He had been remanded in custody and the case involved numerous prison visits. Because of the stroke the defendant couldn’t speak, so all communication had to be written down, making the visits longer than they would have been otherwise. Catriona also spent a lot of time with the man’s family who were distraught when it was suspected he had suffered a further stroke in prison.

The defendant was represented in Manchester Magistrates Court and was due to be tried in the Crown Court, but thanks to the Catriona’s work, the man pleaded, avoiding the need for a trial and saving the state thousands of pounds. But under the legal aid system revamped by the government four years ago, the law firm was paid £255 for the work.

“This was a very complex and difficult case to deal with and at the end of it we got £255 for it,” said Catriona. And she told the Reporter the case is not unusual because of the way legal aid now works in which a fixed fee is set depending on the category of the offence and whether it goes to trial, regardless of the amount of hours put in by lawyers.

“It’s just been progressively getting worse and worse until now we are in the position where that is the fee we are being paid. It has just been cut after cut,” said Catriona.

“It’s difficult to justify putting in the hours for cases like this when you know you’re making a big loss every time. We are torn because of course we have duty to these people  who are very vulnerable.

“Lots of firms have left the profession. Very few are left in predominantly criminal legal aid work, so you are ending up with a kind of legal advice desert. They are leaving the profession because it can’t work because the fees are so low.”wp-1478947269179.jpeg

Mike Kane, challenged justice minister Lucy Frazer this week in parliament. He said: “My constituent Caitriona McLaughlin, who is a solicitor, was recently paid £255 for seven months’ work on a criminal legal aid case. Does the Minister think that this was enough?”

The minister replied: “It is obviously very difficult to comment on a particular rate in a particular case for a particular individual, but I am very happy to talk to the hon. Gentleman about it. It is very important that criminal legal aid barristers and solicitors are paid appropriately for the amazing work that they do every day, up and down this country, in protecting the most vulnerable.”

Mr Kane said the government needs to take immediate action.

 

And the minister’s comments did not reassure Catriona McLauglin. She told the Reporter: “We have seen our fees slashed year after year. They are empty words not backed up with action.”

Catriona says the Law Society’s judicial review due to be heard next month would halt the most recent cuts to legal aid but more work would need to be done. She said most of the damage to the justice system was done by the the current under-fire transport boss  Chris Grayling when he was justice secretary.

Grayling pressed ahead with “far reaching” reforms aimed at slashing £350 million off the legal aid budget despite warnings in 2013 that the plans could be “catastrophic”.

The Law Society says there is a recruitment crisis for criminal defence lawyers which is becoming an increasingly ageing profession. Data published by the Society shows that in some areas of the country, nearly 70 per cent of criminal lawyers are over 50. In Greater Manchester it is 41 per cent with just eight per cent under the age of 35.

Law Society president, Joe Egan, said: “The justice system is facing a cliff edge scenario; criminal duty solicitors are part of an increasingly ageing profession, and government cuts mean there are not enough young lawyers entering the field of criminal defence work.

“If this trend continues, in five to ten years’ time there could be insufficient criminal defence solicitors in many regions, leaving people in need of legal advice unable to access their rights.”

A person who is arrested on suspicion of wrongdoing has the right to ask for the local ‘duty solicitor’, who can provide legal advice free of charge. Duty solicitors are available twenty four hours a day and are independent of the police.

The police station advice scheme was set up in the wake of a series of scandals in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when a significant number of convictions were overturned due to police misconduct against suspects. These solicitors protect suspects against inappropriate treatment, and protect the police against false allegations of mistreatment.

“Criminal justice is at the heart of a democratic society and duty solicitors ensure a fundamental part of the justice system is upheld,” Joe Egan said.

“Twenty years without any increases in fees, and a series of drastic cuts have pushed the criminal justice system to the point where lawyers can no longer see a viable career doing this work.”

Wythenshawe Reporter joins forces with regional press to demand action on rail misery

TODAY we issue a rallying cry to the north: join us to demand what government promised us.

As part of our day of action, news titles across the region are starting a petition calling on ministers to come good on their northern powerhouse pledges – by ending the chaos on our rail services, signing off the upgrades they promised us and redressing decades of underfunding to the region.
Four years ago this month, then-Chancellor George Osborne promised – when unveiling his vision for a northern powerhouse – to ‘join our northern cities together’ with faster, modern transport connections.

Directly addressing the franchise eventually won by Northern Rail a year later, he said: “We’ll want to see not just better services, and more seats at peak times, but also better journeys.”

We agree.

So now that’s what we want.

Instead of launching a lengthy inquiry that will not report back – with information the government should already know – until the end of the year, transport secretary Chris Grayling needs to end the chaos on our rail network NOW.

We need a fair, fit-for-purpose compensation scheme put in place within days.

And we need the rest of the northern powerhouse that government promised us too: the major transport projects – such as extra platforms at Manchester Piccadilly and Oxford Road – we were pledged, but which are now languishing on Mr Grayling’s desk.

Finally, we want fair funding – not more second-class services, while London eyes up its SECOND high-speed CrossRail link.

With one voice, we say to the Prime Minister: You promised us a northern powerhouse.

It’s time you delivered it.

Sign our petition here: https://www.change.org/p/prime-minister-end-the-northern-rail-nightmare-give-us-the-powerhouse-you-promised

By Jennifer Williams

Labour’s John McDonnell launches May Day celebrations and declares: “We are going into government”

Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell launched Manchester’s May Day celebrations declaring Labour is ready for government.

Mr McDonnell spoke at the beginning of a week of events aimed at marking the 150th anniversary of the Trades Union Congress which began in Manchester.

He said he didn’t know when it would come, believing the government will attempt to cling on to power for as long as possible, but is confident Labour will win the general election whenever it happens.

The left-winger promised Labour would bring in a fair taxation system, a crackdown on tax evasion, the introduction of a “real living wage of £10 an hour” and the repeal of anti-trade union union laws.

 

Sunday’s May Day events also included talks on The Original Gig Economy – A Musician’s Perspective on the Challenges of Freelancing hosted by the Musicians Union, and the forthcoming McStrike when workers at McDonalds on Oxford Road will join with stores across the country in a strike against low pay.

On Saturday 5th May at the Mechanics Institute there’s also a performance of  We Are the Lions, Mr Manager, a play about the the 1976 Grunwick  strike (click here for tickets and further details).

On Monday 7th May Manchester TUC will be joining with Salford Trades Council for a May Day march.

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