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In effect, what has happened is the destruction of a specialised service for seriously ill young people in the Southampton area. At the time when the service was set up, it was said that it was intended for severely ill people. It has been transferred out of existence by being merged with a service that is not for severely mentally ill people, with the result that four of the five therapists have been made redundant. The effect of that is disastrous. Those who self-harm, those who are suicidal, and those who suffer from enduring mental health problems will not get a service. It has been closure by the back door;
nobody has noticed it or understood it because it has been a process of institutional manoeuvring and covert destruction.
I am sorry to have brought up such a grim subject at what should be a happy time of the year, but I hope that by my doing so the media in the Southampton area will take an interest and young lives will be saved that would otherwise be lost.
Mr. Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): It is, as ever, a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis). This is an opportunity for me to raise two important issues, one substantive and one slightly less so.
I begin with my grave misgivings about the proposals by the Ministry of Justice and the chief executive of the Land Registry, the chief land registrar, to close five Land Registry offices in the so-called greater south-east. Bizarrely, that includes the loss by compulsory redundancy of 302 jobs in Peterborough by September 2011-a timetable that may preclude my constituents, if they are made compulsorily redundant, from receiving as advantageous severance payments as people doing equal jobs in three other Land Registry offices.
Last month, I had the opportunity to speak to the chief land registrar, Peter Collis. I also had a round-table meeting with a couple of dozen members of staff in the Peterborough office, at Touthill close in the city centre, on 25 November. There is significant concern about the evidential basis that is being used by the Land Registry in putting forward the business case that was published by Ministers on 22 October 2009. The former chief land registrar, John Manthorpe, has prepared a detailed document called the accelerated transformation programme, which I commend to the House. That document puts a very different slant on the information provided by the Land Registry. Mr. Manthorpe-who is, incidentally, a gentleman who served with distinction in his position from 1985 to 1996-has described the plans for closures as
"quite disproportionate and unnecessarily expensive",
based as they are on the historically low level of property and mortgage market activity. I will focus my remarks on the implications for the Land Registry office in Peterborough; no doubt other hon. Members will argue the case for their own Land Registry offices in Stevenage, Portsmouth, Croydon and Tunbridge Wells. Mr. Manthorpe has provided those Members with his detailed rebuttal document.
The current proposals pay no heed to the long-term experience of the staff at the Peterborough Land Registry office who are to be forced to accept compulsory redundancy, at considerable cost to the public purse. Under Mr. Manthorpe's alternative plan, all 19 current offices would remain open, with a continuation of the natural wastage programme through retirements, resignations and transfers to other Government offices and departments such as Jobcentre Plus and English Nature in the city, plus the continuance of the highly successful voluntary severance scheme, and the sale and lease of surplus office capacity across the entire Land Registry estate nationally.
At present, the Land Registry business case bizarrely advocates the recruitment of 594 new, inexperienced staff across the 12 retained offices post-2011, but the removal of 1,500 experienced, dedicated and skilled staff by compulsory redundancy at a cost to the Exchequer of £186 million. Those plans do not stand up to scrutiny and are wrong-headed, short-sighted and flawed, as I will demonstrate with particular reference to premises, staffing, the implications of the Lyons review and the economic impact on the city of Peterborough.
We all accept that the building occupied by the Peterborough Land Registry office is too big and expensive for the staff complement currently occupying it, and the Government must of course address issues of cost and surplus estate. However, there is capacity to let the excess space to other Departments such as the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. The lease expires in 2013 and will need to be paid whether or not the building is occupied after 2011. Early surrender of the lease would be at a premium.
Valuation Office Agency data show that in rental terms, Peterborough is significantly less expensive than many other localities. Headline rental values are £125 per square metre in the city, compared with £145 in Leicester, £150 in Nottingham, £240 in Croydon and more than £1,000 in central London. There is no reason why the Peterborough office would not be able to move to alternative, smaller rental premises in the city on the expiry of the lease in 2013.
Peterborough city council and the East of England regional assembly published a study in August 2004 that maintained that it was an ideal location for civil servants locating out of London and the south-east under the auspices of the 2004 Lyons review. The case for maintaining an office in Peterborough is that it would be considerably cheaper than maintaining one in London, and the office in Peterborough already has the necessary IT, telephone and furniture requirements for such a relocation. In the view of the property consultancy King Sturge, in its report for Sir Michael Lyons, and according to the Lyons review and the Office of Government Commerce guidance, it makes sense for the head office functions to be located in the existing Peterborough office. That would reduce the Land Registry's underlying cost base. The Peterborough building is leased and there is no capital asset value to be unlocked, and it would otherwise be a continuing drain on resources through redundancy payments. We are talking about people's jobs, including older workers who have shown dedication and loyalty over the years to this important work. It is about human capital and human resources, and especially lawyer resources. Lawyers are extremely expensive for the Land Registry to recruit and train.
In short, the Lyons review has been interpreted wrongly in the Land Registry's business case. It can be argued that in order to comply with the review, it is not necessary to close the Peterborough office. It is wrong to allocate a so-called red marking to the office to suggest that it is non-compliant with the Lyons agenda. By that I mean that Peterborough has been allocated a position as part of the greater south-east, but it is not Oxford, Milton Keynes, Hampshire or Kent. It is on the border with the east midlands, in the eastern region. It is not in the greater south-east, and there was a misapprehension about that in the decision taken and the case made for closure. I am glad that the hon. Member for Leicester,
South (Sir Peter Soulsby) is no longer in his place, because if the criteria had been correctly applied, both the Nottingham and Leicester offices would have been deemed more suitable for closure than Peterborough. The case for closing Peterborough in preference to other offices has not been correctly made.
The closure of the Peterborough Land Registry office will have a significant impact. I will be presumptuous enough to speak for my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Cambridgeshire (Mr. Vara), who is my neighbour. Many of his constituents will be affected, and no doubt he will add his own words in his closing remarks. Of all the proposed office closures, the Peterborough one will cause the greatest pain to staff, due to the limited employment prospects in comparable work in the city, with no capital gain to the organisation.
It is understood that advice was sought by the accelerated transformation programme team on the basis of socio-economic profiling of the areas that currently have a Land Registry presence and with reference to the Government's regeneration framework, to which all Departments are signed up and which OGC is keen to see applied in decisions on the location of Government agencies. Although it is apparent from DCLG advice that the level of deprivation in Peterborough is not the same as that in Hull or Birkenhead, the local economy and job market should be carefully considered. Peterborough is a city with significant areas of deprivation. One area, Dogsthorpe ward, is among the most deprived in England, some other parts of the city are within the 3 per cent. most deprived and a further seven are deemed to have high levels of deprivation.
The east of England region may be seen on some indexes as comparatively affluent, but it is important properly to assess the characteristics of specific locations. Currently, the male unemployment rate in the city of Peterborough is 10.1 per cent. We have seen significant job losses over the past two years, involving companies such as Pearl Assurance, Peterborough city council, Freemans, the catalogues company, Perkins Engines, Norwich and Peterborough building society and Ideal Shopping Direct, the home shopping channel. Others will empathise with the fact that Woolworths and other retail outlets have closed. In short, the social dynamic, and the economic impact and ramifications, have not been taken fully into account when Peterborough has been compared with other parts of the country. A blunt instrument has been used. That is a dismal picture to paint for the dedicated and hard-working Land Registry staff.
I hope that the Minister answers my questions in her winding-up speech, and that she discusses the matter seriously with her colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, because the proposals do not stand up to scrutiny. They are ill conceived and short-termist, and Ministers should reject them. The people of Peterborough who have given their dedicated service to the Land Registry over the years should be allowed to make their case-it is coherent and cost-neutral to the Exchequer-and to continue their good work.
In the time left to me, I shall raise an important matter that affects only a relatively small number of people, but which is vital to them, their lives and their future prospects. On Saturday, a lady whom I shall call
Mrs. W came to my surgery. She is a trained nursery nurse. About three years ago, she worked in a care home. One day in 2006, a lady who worked with her, who was off duty, came into the care home and accused Mrs. W of roughly handling a patient. Mrs. W was immediately reported to the manager and suspended on full pay. She denied roughly handling the elderly patient, but was quite rightly subjected to a proper disciplinary process and took her Unison representative along. Due process was observed and Mrs. W was completely exonerated from the charge of inappropriate and unprofessional behaviour and of roughly handling the lady concerned.
However, the story does not have a happy ending, because a misinterpretation of section 113 of the Police Act 1997 means that the statement made by the then manager of the Bupa facility-I will not name it or say what area of the city it is in-remains in Mrs. W's Criminal Records Bureau records. She subsequently left the facility later in 2006 and trained to be a nursery nurse. However, even though she really wants to do that job, she has been unable to secure employment because no one will take a chance after they have seen the statement in the CRB record.
It is in the gift of the chief constable of Cambridgeshire to change that statement or remove it completely. Until something is done, that woman cannot secure employment, and it cannot be right that people can be accused of something, completely exonerated and return to work, but when they want to change jobs a sword of Damocles-in the form of a tangential reference-is held over their heads for years to come, blighting their lives. I have another constituent, a schoolmaster, who is in exactly the same position. Rightly, he is very angry and bitter about the aspersions that have been cast on him. In his case, it was disciplining a teenage girl pupil that got him into difficulty. I hope that the Minister will address that issue.
Finally, I wish everyone well, especially my constituents, John and Rosie Sandall, who are travelling to Ukraine for the 26th time in 20 years to take money and presents to needy children whose families suffered in the terrible Chernobyl tragedy in 1986. I also look forward to helping to serve the Christmas dinner, with turkey and all the trimmings, with the Salvation Army at Bourges boulevard in Peterborough on Christmas day to help the needy and elderly of the New England and Millfield areas. I wish you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and all officers and Members of the House a happy Christmas.
Paul Holmes (Chesterfield) (LD): Like other hon. Members, I wish to raise local issues, but first I want to talk about an international issue. In 2003, this Parliament voted to invade Iraq. That was an illegal invasion and a disastrous decision. In 2003, I was one of the MPs-as were all of my colleagues-who voted against that invasion. I also came down to London one Sunday shortly before the vote, with my then nine-year-old daughter and 1 million other people, to march outside this building to protest against what was clearly about to happen.
Hans Blix and his team of UN weapons inspectors had spent some months going to more than half-some 60 per cent.-of the sites that the British and US intelligence services had identified as possible sites for
WMD, and they had found nothing. Hans Blix reported that openly and publicly, and he said that if he had another three months, they could finish going to all the sites, but that they expected to find nothing. Instead, of course, we took a different course of action.
Already we are seeing, in the early days of the Chilcot inquiry, evidence confirming the view that many of us had back in 2003 that the flimsy evidence of an Iraqi taxi driver and an online student dissertation was sexed up to make a false case for war. We now have the vision of the Prime Minister at the time, Tony Blair, appearing on television and admitting openly that he would have taken this country to war anyway, regardless of what case could or could not be made on WMD. But only days before the vote that took us into Iraq, he stood at the Dispatch Box and told this House that if Saddam Hussein and his sons were willing to give up their weapons of mass destruction, they could stay in power. Tony Blair categorically stated that it was not about regime change, but about WMD. How can someone give up WMD that they do not possess because they do not exist?
The Iraq war-a wrong and illegal war-went ahead. It alienated the Muslim world which, only 18 months earlier, had largely rallied around the US after the disgraceful 9/11 attacks. It led to 500,000 to 600,000 people in Iraq dying by UN estimates and up to 1 million dying by other estimates. Bombings continue to wreak havoc in Baghdad and across Iraq, as we saw tragically only a few days ago. Iraq became a recruiting sergeant for international terrorism.
On the other hand, the Afghan war in 2001 was different. The Afghanistan invasion was justified and legal, and as a newly elected MP at the time I argued that case against the Stop the War coalition at a public meeting in Chesterfield. Eighteen months later, I argued at a similar public meeting that the Iraq war was wrong.
Afghanistan was justified because 9/11 had been planned and executed from safe bases there, and of course there had been attacks around the world before 9/11, most notably on the US embassy in Kenya where the American targets were missed and 60 Africans, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, were cold-bloodedly slaughtered. The great majority of the Muslim world rallied around and supported the USA after the disgraceful 9/11 attack, and supported the invasion of Afghanistan.
In general, the coalition troops who went into Afghanistan were welcomed in much of the country as liberators, not just by the Kurds and the Northern Alliance, but in many other parts of the country. But then all attention was taken away from that country and disastrously diverted to the illegal invasion of Iraq-the eye was taken off the ball. Eight years later-almost as long as world war one and world war two put together-the Government say that they will provide enough helicopters and armoured patrol vehicles by next year and train up the Afghan forces to take over from western troops some time in the future.
What on earth have the Government been doing for the past eight years? Why did they not provide enough helicopters at some point over the past eight years? Why did they not provide suitable armoured patrol vehicles over the past eight years? Why did they not embark on a serious, large-scale programme of training up Afghan security forces so that they could do the jobs currently done by western troops over the past eight years? Why
have they waited until now to say, "We'll do it for next year"? It is too late. It is eight years too late. If we send our servicemen and women out to risk their lives, they should be properly equipped from the start, not eight or nine years in.
Chesterfield has been relatively lucky so far in that, as far as I know, we have only had one death in the armed forces in Afghanistan. However, others have been injured, some of them disabled for life. The young man who died, Ben Ford, was 19. I was about to call him a young boy because he was exactly the same age as my son. They were in the same year group at the same school, and when my son was 19, I still thought of him-wrongly, I suppose-as a boy. Ben Ford died because his Snatch Land Rover was blown up by an improvised explosive device. Had it been a properly armoured patrol vehicle, he might have survived. Neither did the vehicle have any electronic warfare counter measures-the sort of measures that can intercept the radio signals that set off IEDs from a distance via remote control. Had it been properly equipped, he might have survived.
Military personnel know, when they join the armed forces, that they risk their lives-that is part of the job-but they should be entitled to know that they are being sent with the best equipment possible and for a clearly defined and legal purpose and objective, and that the politicians in charge are fully focused on the endgame that will end the conflict, not that after eight years the Government will suddenly wake up to the drift that has characterised this country's presence in Afghanistan since 2001. It is a drift that has led to unnecessary deaths.
On more local issues, last Wednesday, I and other Derbyshire MPs met a wide-ranging delegation that included the police and fire authorities, and various councils, including Chesterfield borough council and North East Derbyshire, Bolsover and South Derbyshire district councils. They came to lobby us on various issues. Also, this morning, I met the Minister of State, Department for Transport, the right hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Khan) to discuss the chronic underfunding of Chesterfield borough council as a result of the Government's bus fare scheme.
What was the common thread between those two meetings, two weeks apart and covering a range of councils, police and fire authorities, and bus fares? It was that none of that lobbying involved any special pleading. Nobody was asking for something extra or for what other people did not have. Nobody was saying, "Give us something new. Give us more on top." Each lobbying group-whether a council, fire brigade, police authority, Chesterfield borough council or with an interest in bus fares-was saying, "Give us the money that you as a Government say that we should have but will not give to us."
I will provide an explanation, although hon. Members will be familiar with the details. Derbyshire police are underfunded by £5 million a year. It is not the police saying that; it is the Government. However, the Government will not give the police that £5 million a year. The fire service in Derbyshire is less badly affected than the police are, but it is also underfunded. All the councils in Derbyshire, from the district and borough councils up to the county council, are also underfunded, according to the Government's own figures.
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