Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

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I gave a speech today at the LGA conference in Harrogate outlining the challenges faced by local authorities, including housing, devolution, diversity, as well as highlighting the important work done by councillors across the country. The full text from the speech is below:

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Harriet Harman MP, Acting Leader of the Labour Party, in a speech at the LGA Annual Conference in Harrogate, said:

Thank you for inviting me here to speak today.

I would first like to pay tribute to Councillor David Sparks who has led Dudley Council with distinction for so many years, and who served as your Chair - all be it for too brief a time.

And can I congratulate his successor, Councillor Gary Porter - you take on the role of leading the LGA at a critical time for local government. And though we are not in the same party, I want to say clearly to you Gary, that we will work to back you up in your role of championing the cause of local government – and I hope you will see us as strong allies, standing up for local government in Westminster.

And I’m delighted that this session is being chaired by a great councillor and a good friend - Jim McMahon.

I’m here with Emma Reynolds, who having led for us on Housing is now Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

And Steve Reed, our Shadow Minister for Local Government – who will be known to many of you as the former leader of Lambeth Council, and who is in the tradition of some of the best council leaders who then bring that experience to Parliament.

This is an important conference.

And it’s great meeting here in the historic and beautiful spa town of Harrogate.

Some people come to Harrogate to relax, unwind, have a bit of pampering and feel good about themselves.

Others come to LGA Conference.

It won’t be restful, but it will be invigorating because we care about local government.

So I’m delighted to be here today. Though sorry I’m speaking to you today as the Opposition, rather than a Minister - but that’s democracy for you.

We wanted to be in government but that’s not the job we got. The job we did get is, nonetheless, very important, which is to be the Opposition, to scrutinise the government plans and to hold them to account.

And we will need to, as we embark on the next five years of opposition take a serious look within our own party at our own relationship between our party in parliament and in local government.

We can’t be behind where the people are. And while people want a coherent centre doing what it needs to do, they have no time for things being done centrally which should be done locally and for a top-down approach.

I think, in our party, we all feel that we can do it better both in terms of the devolution agenda, the financial framework for local government and the political partnership between the central and the local. And that means change in the policies but also in the processes and the politics.

Your role as local politicians is important

We meet here at a turbulent time for democratic politics

For too many people politics is a dirty word and politician is a term of abuse.  

And we all, in our different ways, have to work to re-build and sustain confidence in our democratic politics.

And you – elected councillors and council leaders - are a crucial part of that.

At a time when people feel that politicians live on a different planet, you are local – you live in the Authority you represent.

You are out and about in your communities.

You are the politician that people are not only most likely to see, but also to know.

When you take up a problem on someone’s behalf, it can make a real difference to their lives.

As people see you responding to their individual concerns and complaints and involving yourself in improving your area and local services, you are building and sustaining trust in politics.  

And whether it’s caring for the elderly, caring for the disabled, protecting vulnerable children and looking after children in care.

Or whether it’s schools, libraries, leisure centres, parks and children’s centres.

The work that Councils do is of huge importance and is greatly valued.

A challenging time to be a local councillor

In this difficult time for local government, by far the most pressing issue is the challenge of Council finances.

Undoubtedly this is a time of a general fall in public spending when tough choices need to be made. But the Government’s choices are having a disproportionate impact on local government.

You have already undergone many years of falling funding, cut by 40 per cent over the period of the last Parliament, disproportionately hitting more deprived areas.

On top of this, even without any further reductions in next week’s Budget or the Autumn Statement, you’re set to face further cuts of £3.3 billion in 2016/17.

The report you published last week shows this will leave councils facing a funding gap of £9.5 billion by the end of the decade.

I know it’s a great deal easier to say than to do – but it’s to your credit, on behalf of people in your areas, that you’ve risen to the challenge so far by looking afresh at what you do and how you do it.

Whether by pooling staff and sharing services as Bolsover and North East Derbyshire councils have done.

Or Blackburn and Darwen council saving £2.2 million in just one year by using pioneering TeleCare technology

Or in Lewisham, Lambeth and Southwark where they developed community budgets that work across borough boundaries to support people into work and improve local skills with less.

Or Wigan council changing its entire approach to prevention of ill health to reduce costs in the health budget

These examples are Labour councils but I know you have been doing this across the board.

But local government financing is at a tipping point.

And these further cuts come at a time when there is a need for you to be doing more.

Whether it’s safeguarding children at risk from neglect, violence or sexual abuse.

Whether it’s looking after children in your care.

Whether it’s supporting disabled people.

Or whether it’s caring for the elderly.

On elderly care, three things are together creating a perfect storm.

Our population is aging.

There is growing concern about quality of care.

And there is less money for it.

Council services are vital for helping keep older people healthy in their own homes and out of hospital – whether it’s a grab rail at home, some home cooked meals or a day centre.

And we’ve seen Councils pioneering work on this agenda from Councils from Derbyshire to Torbay.

This is not only important for the people who get the care - without these services there would be even greater pressure on the already over-stretched NHS.

And there are big issues at the other end of the life cycle as well.

Not only with public concern about safeguarding the most vulnerable children, but public demand for childcare provision.

Last week’s report by the Family and Childcare Trust, showed that in one quarter of Local Authorities there is a shortage of places for three and four year olds.

In one third of Local Authorities a shortage of places for two year olds.

And in a third of Local Authorities there is a shortage of after school care and holiday play schemes.

Early Years provision is so important for children to get a good start in life and for parents to be able to work.

And there is a demand for more, but central government cut backs have already constrained the vital work of Children’s Centres.

When there’s less money, the growing demand for statutory services puts even greater pressure on the other important things that Councils do, and that people want you to do.

Like supporting arts and culture, parks, libraries, leisure centres.

This work shapes communities and gives a sense of neighbourhood identity – that people really value.  

There’s no chance of the Big Society if locally, services that build communities are undermined.  

All of this is having the greatest impact on the communities you serve that have the greatest needs.

There just is a sense of unfairness that over the last five years, the ten most deprived areas had their spending power cut by twelve times the amount of the ten least deprived areas.

And the workforce delivering services have already faced a squeeze – both in numbers and in their pay.  

Many of them low paid and relying on tax credits – which are set to be cut.

We all know that the public finances need to be brought back into balance.

But this shouldn’t be done in such a way that compromises the basic viability of vital council services.

You cannot empower local government if you choose to impoverish it.

But empowering local government is exactly what needs to be done.

Devolution

This must be the devolution era.

We know that devolution is key to driving economic growth throughout the country, raising productivity and crucially in re-balancing our economy.

Devolving will help us reform our public services and ensure they better meet local needs by giving places the freedom to innovate and tailor services to meet the specific needs of the communities they serve

It’s good for our politics - re-engaging people at the local level.

o The devolution to Scotland, Wales and London – which we initiated - has energised the whole devolution agenda more widely – and rightly so.

o Against a background of mistrust in politics, people want decisions taken closer to them, by people who they think know what’s going on.

o And against a backdrop of the financial squeeze, working together across services, within and across local areas, is not just a luxury, but an imperative.

You’ve shown what can be done when local government gets more freedom to innovate and redesign services to meet the needs of their communities.

When it comes to devolution, it’s not enough to talk about it. It’s got to be done and it’s got to be done everywhere.

It’s got to be in our County Regions, our towns and suburbs, as well as our great cities.

o It’s got to be coherent, not piecemeal. No area must be left behind.

o And Government must walk the walk on devolution, actually handing power over. Not just saying they are.

And not dictating how it should be done.

It’s a contradiction in terms to do devolution from the top down.

I think it’s wrong for central government to say you can have devolution, but only if you accept the Mayoral structure which we’re dictating.

The Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill is going through Parliament.

We want greater devolution in housing, adult skills, transport, back to work schemes and business support. Money as well as powers.

And I pledge that we will work with you to ensure that your perspective is reflected in that legislation.

Housing

There is widespread agreement that the country is facing the biggest housing crisis in a generation.

We are building fewer than half the number of homes we need.

People want to be able to own their own home.

But the percentage of people who own their own homes is going down.

And the age at which people get to buy their own homes has gone up to 33.

Which means more and more people continuing to live at home with their parents.

The Government are not doing enough to get new homes built.

We want people to be able to buy their own homes.

We want to see as many people as possible fulfilling that aspiration.

But the Government’s proposals on extending the Right to Buy to Housing Associations, risk making the housing crisis worse.

They plan to force Housing Associations, which are independent organisations, to sell homes to their tenants with a discount, to be paid for by Councils selling off their most valuable council homes.

Their promise that every home sold would be replaced is not worth the paper it’s written on bearing in mind that though they made that promise for council house sales, for every ten sold only one was built.

And forcing Councils to sell their high value properties would strip you of the ability to manage your own housing stock and lead to some quite bizarre outcomes like Councils being forced to sell off new properties before even the first tenant has gone in.

So far the Government have been wholly unconvincing in whether this scheme can be made to work at all.

We’ll see what the government brings forward but any housing policy must ease rather than deepen the housing crisis.

EU referendum

And when it comes to legislation, we are determined to ensure that the EU referendum doesn’t happen on the same day as any of the elections for local government.

Either in 2016, or 2017.

Electoral registration

As well as being elected yourselves, you are the gatekeepers of our democracy.

The framework is set in Westminster. But you appoint the people responsible for running the electoral registration system.

Over the years, the system has developed a number of major flaws and the latest changes that the Government has introduced is set to make the problem worse.

The Electoral Commission estimate that already up to 7.5 million people are not on the electoral register.

But the people who are not registered are not evenly spread throughout the population.

If you are over 60, white, own your own home and live in a non-metropolitan area, you will be on the electoral register.

But if you are young, black and live in an inner city you are very likely not to be on the register.

This is discriminatory in the people who don’t get a right to vote.

It’s supposed to be that everyone has an equal right to vote.

But they don’t if there isn’t equality in the electoral register.

And it also undermines our democracy because it’s on the basis of the electoral registers as they will be at the end of this year, that the new parliamentary constituency boundaries will be based.

So I hope you will, in amongst all the other pressing demands on you, address this fundamental problem by continuing crucial work to ensure that everyone who should be, is on the register.

Diversity

We all know that part of the work of building trust in politics is making sure that people can see in politics a representative cross-section of society.  

That means women as well as men, people from our diverse ethnic communities, people from all walks of life and all ages.

It’s great that at this conference there are councillors here in their 20s right up to councillors in their 70s.

This is not just about people seeing politicians who understand their lives.

It’s also about better decision making - bringing in vital first-hand understanding of the diversity of people’s different lives.

It avoids narrow group think – a balanced and diverse, genuinely representative team, makes better decisions.

Conclusion

Can I conclude by reaffirming that you can count on us to hold the Government to account and be a challenging Opposition.

But there has got to be some challenge from within the Government too.

I’m sure you will all be glad you have a new Secretary of State.

You will all have seen his work on the City Deals and you will be hearing from him later today.  

He has a very important job in the Cabinet.

Unless he makes the case for, and stands up for Local Government, then Local Government will struggle and will not be able to achieve its future potential.

For all that means for the economy, as well as local communities.

And the people you represent will suffer.

Speaking as someone who has done 30 years of political service in Westminster, some of the politicians I most admire from around the country are people who have done decades of political service in local government.

Thank you for what you do.  

Harriet Harman Speech: LGA Conference 2015

I gave a speech today at the LGA conference in Harrogate outlining the challenges faced by local authorities, including housing, devolution, diversity, as well as highlighting the important work done...

HH_PMQs2.jpg

Today at Prime Minister’s Questions, I raised Britain’s response to the recent terrorist attack in Tunisia. I also challenged David Cameron on the proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport. Cameron gives the impression that there is going to be a proper process, but something very is different coming out of No. 10, because it is briefing that it is not going to happen.

 

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I join the Prime Minister in his congratulations to England’s women’s football team. With only a fraction of the resources that the men get, they are showing the men how it is done.

Sadly, we now know that 22 British citizens have been confirmed dead in the Tunisia attack. Our thoughts are with the bereaved and injured, and the help they and their families will need. The bereaved and those who have experienced life-changing injuries and trauma will need long-term practical and emotional support. The experience after 7/7 was that to really help those affected families, there needs to be co-ordination across Departments and agencies, so will the Prime Minister establish a dedicated taskforce reporting to a Minister to support those who have suffered in that terrible attack?

The Prime Minister: Yes, I can give the right hon. and learned Lady that assurance. Let me update the House, because I am sad to say that the confirmed number of British citizens killed in this appalling attack is now 27 and, as we have said, we expect it to rise still further. Today we are repatriating eight bodies from Tunisia on an RAF C-17 plane. The plane is now in the air and will land at RAF Brize Norton this afternoon. Every family of a victim now has a dedicated Foreign Office liaison officer, but—I can confirm what she asked—I have asked the Cabinet Secretary for advice on creating a ministerial committee to ensure that work is properly co-ordinated right across Government to provide all the support that the victims of this appalling attack deserve and to ensure that, as a nation, we mark and commemorate this event appropriately.

1 July 2015 : Column 1472

Ms Harman: That is a really important step that the Prime Minister has taken. We fully support it and thank those who will be working in that respect. Reports over the past few days have suggested that it was not just a lone gunman who perpetrated the attack, but an organised cell. Following the Home Secretary’s visit to Tunisia and the deployment of 50 police officers, will he update the House on the progress being made to help identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice?

The Prime Minister: On that specific issue, there is still a lot of work to be done to identify all the circumstances of this appalling attack and the support that the gunman received. As we get that information and confirm it, I will ensure that the House is regularly updated. I can confirm that the discussions between my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and the Tunisians went ahead and were successful. As I have said previously, that is looking at everything, from the protective security in hotels and resorts to intelligence co-operation at the highest levels between Britain and Tunisia, so that we can help with its capacity to combat such appalling events. It will need a lot of long-term work between our two countries, but the French, the Germans and the Americans are also willing to help, and we need to co-ordinate between ourselves how best to support that country on its road to democracy.

Ms Harman: The Prime Minister has rightly said that this was an attack on our values and everything we stand for, and there is radicalisation in this country, too. Last November the Intelligence and Security Committee said that the Prevent programme had not been given sufficient priority and that counter-radicalisation programmes are not working. Today a new statutory duty to challenge radicalisation comes into effect. Will there be sufficient training and support for those covered by the duty, and will he look again at the concern that the Prevent programme has not focused sufficiently on engaging with the communities?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. and learned Lady raises very important issues. Let me answer them as directly as I can. First, we have now put more money and resources into the Prevent programme. Secondly, on her point about the statutory duty on public sector bodies, I think that is very important, because we are saying to schools, universities, local authorities and others that they have a duty to deal with radicalisation and to confront extremism, because this effort is not just for the police and security services, or indeed just for the Government, it is an effort for us all. On her specific question, which goes back to whether it was right to split the Prevent work into work that is done to deal with extremism under the aegis of the Home Office and the programmes to encourage integration, which should be done by the Department for Communities and Local Government, I maintain that that was the right decision. It followed a review in 2011 by Alex Carlile, who found that

“there have been cases where groups whom we would now consider to support an extremist ideology have received funding.”

As we discussing in the House on Monday, it is very important that that does not happen. Yes we should work with community groups, but not those that encourage an extremist narrative.

1 July 2015 : Column 1473

Ms Harman: It is important that the Prime Minister does not just defend the decisions he has made, but continues to reflect on this and really tries to make absolutely sure that he gets it right. If he does that and gets the right outcomes, we will strongly support him on that.

Let me turn to another issue. With all-party support, the Prime Minister commissioned the Davies report to look at the question of airport capacity. Now that the commission has recommended a third runway at Heathrow, does he agree with us that, subject to key environmental tests being met, there should be no further delay and that it should go ahead? Will he now take that forward?

The Prime Minister: First, let us all thank Howard Davies and the team for the very thorough piece of work they have done. I think that there is a lot of common ground across almost all parts of the House that there is the need for additional airport capacity in the south-east of England, not least to maintain this country’s competitiveness, but it is important that we now study this very detailed report. I am very clear about the legal position; if we say anything now before studying the report, we could actually endanger whatever decision is made. The guarantee that I can give the right hon. and learned Lady is that a decision will be made by the end of the year.

Ms Harman: The Prime Minister says there is common ground, and there is common ground across the House; the worry is the lack of common ground on his side of the House. He gives the impression that there is going to be a proper process, but something very is different coming out of No. 10, because it is briefing that it is not going to happen. It looks like the Prime Minister has been overruled by the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson); he should tell him that he is not the leader of the Tory party yet. Will the Prime Minister stand up for Britain’s interests or will he just be bullied by Boris?

The Prime Minister: I would have thought that with all her years of experience, the right hon. and learned Lady would know not to believe everything that she reads in her morning newspapers. It would probably be good for her blood pressure, as well as for mine, if she did not. Let me give the mildest warnings about jumping to a conclusion before seeing the results, because we had a classic example of that last week when the shadow Health Secretary warned the Government that the poverty figures would make us all hang our heads in shame. That was of course before the poverty figures were published, showing that relative poverty was at its lowest level since the 1980s.

Ms Harman: The Prime Minister seems to be keen to get off the issue of airports. It seems like he is in a holding pattern above Heathrow and Boris will not let him land. Our economic infrastructure is essential for future jobs, for growth, and for our productivity, but this week the Government have pulled the plug on electrification of the railways and seriously undermined the renewable energy sector, and now they are backing off over airports and risking losing the opportunity for Britain to be at the heart of the global economy. If the Prime Minister makes a swift decision on the Davies 

1 July 2015 : Column 1474

report, we will support him and there will be a majority in the House, so will he put Britain’s national interest first?

The Prime Minister: It is an interesting day when the leader of the Conservative party wants to talk about child poverty and the Leader of the Opposition wants to talk about an airport report that none of us has yet had time to read. I seem to remember that the last leader of the Labour party—although we have been churning through a few recently—had a totally different position on airports to the one that the right hon. and learned Lady is now putting forward. What I can say to her is that we will all read this report and a decision will be made by the end of the year.

Challenging David Cameron at Prime Minister's Questions

Today at Prime Minister’s Questions, I raised Britain’s response to the recent terrorist attack in Tunisia. I also challenged David Cameron on the proposed third runway at Heathrow Airport. Cameron...

Today following events in Tunisia, where 18 innocent Briton have been murdered and many more seriously injured in the biggest terrorist attack on our citizens since 7/7, I responded to the Prime Minister’s Statement in the House of Commons on this and recent European Council meetings. Below is my response:

 

Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement.

The House meets today in dark times. At least 18 innocent Britons have been murdered and many more have been seriously injured in the biggest terrorist attack on our citizens since the horror of 7/7. Every one of us in this House extends our heartfelt sympathies to the families and friends of those killed and injured. Our thoughts are with them at this terrible time. We cannot begin to understand what they must have been going through as they saw on the news pictures from the beach where their families were on holiday showing sun loungers being used as stretchers and bloodstained beach towels turned into makeshift shrouds.

 

The families of those killed now face the painful process of helping in the identification of their loved ones and bringing them home. The relatives of the injured will be worried sick and desperate to bring them home as soon as possible. Others are still searching for any information about what has happened to their relatives.

 

The Prime Minister was right to convene Cobra immediately, and I thank him for updating the House on all the work being co-ordinated through the daily Cobra meetings. I add our thanks to Foreign and Commonwealth Office staff, the British police teams, the Red Cross experts and other British officials who are working on this, as well as to all those—from hotel staff and local officials to the travel reps and other holidaymakers—who are supporting those who have been caught up in this.

 

As we know from 7/7, support will be needed for the bereaved and injured—not just in the immediate aftermath, but for months and years to come. Can I therefore ask the Prime Minister to establish a dedicated taskforce that reports to a Minister with responsibility for co-ordinating across Departments and agencies to provide that support? It is right that the Home Secretary and the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the hon. Member for Bournemouth East (Mr Ellwood), the Foreign Office Minister with responsibility for the middle east, have travelled to Tunisia today. I make particular mention of the Minister, who has stepped into this immensely difficult situation highly effectively, clearly drawing on the experience of his own family loss and demonstrating great personal empathy with those who are suffering. We thank him for his work.

There are close ties, going back decades, between Tunisia and the UK. The Prime Minister will have our full support in helping Tunisia tackle the scale of the terrorist problem that now confronts it. We welcome the fact that the Prime Minister, the French President, the German Chancellor and the Belgian Prime Minister have agreed to work together to help Tunisia strengthen its security. Can the Prime Minister say more about what actions are being considered by our Government and internationally to help the Tunisians respond to the economic problems that this terrorist atrocity will inevitably cause, given the country’s reliance on tourism?

 

While we make preparations for commemorating the 10th anniversary of 7/7, the death toll in Syria and Iraq continues relentlessly to rise. This week alone, there have been deadly terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait, Syria and France, as the Prime Minister said. People are 

 

29 Jun 2015 : Column 1178

concerned about how difficult it is to combat this widespread threat. Can he tell us more about the international efforts to tackle the spread of terrorism? The issue is about sharing intelligence, the use of the internet and social media, cutting off finance, control of borders and co-ordinated military support to those fighting ISIL on the ground. Given the contribution that Britain’s armed forces are making in helping the efforts to fight ISIL in Iraq, has the international community been asked to provide further assistance?

The Prime Minister has rightly recognised that the violence stems from an extremist ideology, which hijacks the religion of Islam. He is right that we must be resolute in standing up for the values of peace, democracy, freedom of speech and equality for women, rejecting and confronting those who go along with these extremist narratives. Is he satisfied that the Government are doing everything they can to back up and empower those at the forefront of the challenge within their communities—particularly families, teachers, religious leaders and community groups?

 

The Prime Minister said that, in addition to the new statutory duty on public bodies to identify and tackle radicalism, he intends to go further in the weeks ahead. Will he outline what actions are under consideration and whether he is working with the Muslim communities on that?

Turning to last week’s European Council, obviously the biggest issue is Greece. It is in everyone’s interest that an agreement is reached. This matter is of huge importance to us even though we are not in the eurozone, because, whatever the cause, if Europe’s economy is hit, Britain will be hit too. Obviously, the Chancellor will say more about that shortly.

 

On migration, instability in north Africa and the middle east is a growing factor that is driving desperate migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe. I ask the Prime Minister to confirm that the capacity and mandate of our action in the Mediterranean will not be diminished with the replacement of HMS Bulwark by HMS Enterprise.

 

We back the action against people trafficking to which the Prime Minister referred. Does he agree that EU action is needed to help southern European countries cope with those who are arriving, including support for a swift and robust asylum assessment, and help from other countries for those who are certified as refugees? Does he agree that Britain ought to offer to help some of those who are certified as refugees, just as we have done for vulnerable refugees from Syria, and just as we have done over the decades and, indeed, centuries, when we have provided sanctuary to refugees who have fled persecution and allowed them to make their future here with us?

 

On Britain’s negotiations with Europe, will the Prime Minister confirm that there is no prospect of any treaty changes being ratified before people vote in our referendum? Of course the negotiations are sensitive, but it is evident that even the people he is negotiating with are not entirely clear what he is negotiating for, and nor are the British people he is negotiating on behalf of. He referred to the announcement at the summit that there will be technical negotiations until December. What steps will he take to keep Parliament and the British people informed? There is an expectation in this country of high levels of transparency. It is not feasible for the British people to feel that they are in the dark.

29 Jun 2015 : Column 1179

Finally, we are an island, but whether it is the terrorism in Tunisia, Syria, Kuwait or France, whether it is the refugees in the Mediterranean, whether it is the economy in Greece, or whether it is the radicalisation of young people here at home, this week’s terrible events remind us emphatically once again that we are all interconnected.

Responding to the Tunisia & European Council Statement

Today following events in Tunisia, where 18 innocent Briton have been murdered and many more seriously injured in the biggest terrorist attack on our citizens since 7/7, I responded to...


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