Cosham high street what’s going on?

Have you noticed how more of our local shops are closing? Our once thriving high streets are having the life drained out of them. As business rates rise, local traders suffer. When well known shops close, shoppers leave and money goes out of the city. We are seeing this happening all across Portsmouth, from its heart in Commercial Road – as major high street brands leave – to here in Cosham.

Many people in the area rely on their local shops, particularly for all those essential everyday items. If you don’t have your own transport a trip to one of the large, out of city stores takes time, costs money and trains and buses aren’t always easily accessible for parents with pushchairs, wheelchair users or those not close to regular routes.

Local shops are a lifeline for so many of us and often provide the chance to chat and catch up with friends too. With the loss of them, some people will find themselves more isolated, without a friendly face in their day, particularly those who may be elderly or more vulnerable.

As a once familiar area starts to change with shop closures and facilities are lost, it becomes rundown. Jobs are lost too and empty buildings begin to encourage vandalism. I don’t want this for Cosham, I want it to feel safe, friendly and welcoming as the place I’ve always known it to be. I want to support our local shops and businesses so they can thrive, it’s what local government

should do. We want a vibrant high street, not a failing one.

That’s why I’ll be pledging to work with local business, the council and local groups to see what we can do to bring back business to Cosham.

Graham Heaney

Cosham Candidate

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City MP calls for economic common sense on government defence contracts

Stephen Morgan asks Gavin Williamson why the Defence Refresh did not include vital changes to how Ministry of Defence (MoD) calculates value for money.

MP for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, today used Defence Questions in the House of Commons to ask the Secretary of State, Rt Hon Gavin Williamson MP, why the latest Defence Policy Refresh failed to alter the definition of value for money to include employment and economic impacts.

There have been calls from both industry and Parliament for such changes to be implemented and the Portsmouth South MP once again urged Government to consider local jobs and economies when choosing where to award defence contracts.

Stephen Morgan MP, said:

The defence industry supports thousands of jobs in Portsmouth and is of huge benefit to our local and national economy. It is astonishing that the Government still refuses to include such employment and economic impacts in its definition of value for money.

 

It’s just economic common-sense that when deciding where to build and maintain our Royal Navy’s ships, the impact on local jobs and industries is factored in.

 

Otherwise, the MoD risks engaging in a false economy that erroneously puts highly-skilled jobs in cities like Portsmouth at risk for the sake of superficially cheaper contracts abroad”.

 

The Single Source Resource Office (SSRO) is tasked with ensuring the MoD achieves value for money in its expenditure. There is concern that the SSRO, which currently has just 33 members of staff, is under resourced and has been hit by multiple senior-level resignations.

The National Audit Office has highlighted the issues with the SSRO and called for it to be strengthened, stating:

‘The Department must increase its ability to negotiate contracts and scrutinise costs to secure better value for money’.

WE NEED A BETTER DEAL FOR OUR RAIL

The new year marks the biggest increase in rail fares in five years, whilst current trains are the oldest since records began.

Fares will rise by an average of 3.4% this month with season tickets going up by 3.6% – increases that outstrip average pay rises last year by 50%, unions have said.

Commuters on average earnings would spend between 10% and 20% of their take-home pay on train travel, the RMT has found.

Further, fares have increased by 24.5% since the public sector pay freeze started in 2011, a period in which the pay of 5 million workers including NHS staff and teachers has gone up by just over 5%.

At the same time, figures from the Office of Rail and Road show that Britain’s current trains are the oldest since records began, according to Press Association analysis, with passengers typically travelling in carriages built in the mid-1990s.

The Campaign for Better Transport said it showed “just how far the railways have to go to modernise”. Trains in London and south-east England are typically 18 years old, while those on regional services are 24 years old.

Stephen Morgan, Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, joined campaigners across the city’s train stations this morning to listen to commuter concerns over the hike in rail fares and reliability of local services. Stephen said:

“This year’s fare rise is the highest for five years. At a time when wages aren’t increasing, and there’s real frustration from Portsmouth commuters about this.

In the past 8 years we’ve seen the cost of a season ticket from Portsmouth to Southampton has gone up £504.00, that’s a staggering 28%.

Our nation’s rail system is too fragmented and complex and run for the profit of private enterprises, not in the public’s interest.

That’s why we need a better deal for our rail. I’m actively campaigning on this important issue for so many local families and nationally pushing the Government to finally act”.

NEW CHARITY TO TACKLE ISOLATION BACKED BY STEPHEN MORGAN MP

The Good Company – Portsmouth, a newly registered charity which aims to tackle the growing issue of loneliness and isolation, is being backed by city MP, Stephen Morgan, a long-term advocate for more action to tackle this social problem.

The Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South has been invited, and accepted, to be the new charity’s honorary ‘patron’ it was announced today by the charity.

Good Company-Portsmouth, whose coffee shop ‘Home Coffee’ is based on Albert Road, reaches out to and provides support for members of the community who might be suffering from loneliness.

Last year, Good Company opened the doors to its coffee shops in Southsea and Cosham to offer free coffee and companionship to those who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day. They will be doing the same this year, keeping tills closed and encouraging anyone feeling lonely over the festive period to come pop in.

Through its coffee shop, dedicated staff, and community network, the charity seeks to tackle a growing crisis in our city and across the country – that of loneliness and isolation.

A study by The Co-op and the British Red Cross reveals over 9 million people in the UK across all adult ages – more than the population of London – are either always or often lonely. Across Portsmouth and our nation a number of groups and charities are doing their bit to tackle the issue.

Stephen Morgan MP, said:

“I was really honoured to be approached by the team at Good Company to become patron of this brilliant new charity. As my colleague Rachel Reeves MP said just yesterday, loneliness truly is one of the great evils of our society today.

I’ve seen first-hand the power of what Good Company is doing in connecting and supporting socially and economically isolated people in our great city. Seeing how they are harnessing the talents and generosity of our community gives me great hope for the wider challenges we face in tackling loneliness.

I look forward supporting the team and this important cause as they go from strength to strength. Good Company is exactly the kind of project that makes me so proud to represent Portsmouth”.

A spokesperson for the Good Company – Portsmouth, added:

“We can’t thank Stephen enough for this honour and all his support. This will truly help us reach more people this Christmas and throughout the year”.

A patron is someone who agrees to lend their name to an organisation as a way of supporting its cause. To find out more about the Good Company – Portsmouth, and to get involved, visit: www.facebook.com/goodcompanyportsmouth

It’s time the Tory council stands up to Government to protect our services

Portsmouth’s Labour Group used their speech at Full Council today to challenge the Conservative administration running the city to stand up to the Government to protect the public services we all rely on.

The Tories voted through £4,000,000 of cuts and savings to the council’s budget today despite calls from opposition parties for a rethink.

Cllr Stephen Morgan MP, used his Group Leader’s speech to challenge the Council Leader and her group to ‘put ambition at the heart of the council’ and put a stop to proposed cuts to vital public services.

Under the Conservative Government, local council funding – including here in Portsmouth – has been cut by over 40%. Across the UK direct funding for local government will see a cut of £5.8 billion between 2010 and 2018.

Cllr Stephen Morgan MP, told the meeting:

“Yet again we meet in this Chamber to agree a budget overshadowed by disproportionate cuts to local government, a deeply unfair distribution mechanism which sees our city further disadvantaged, and find ourselves responding to a Government budget – only a month ago – which failed to recognise the importance of investing in local, frontline services…We cannot stand by and let this happen.

So we urge the Administration to do all it can to support social care in our city, to end the Government’s disregard for the elderly and vulnerable; and make it clear to our city that Portsmouth cares for those in need.”

The speech called for greater action to safeguard and create jobs, support our city’s schools, tackle the housing and homelessness crisis and ensure care is available for our loved ones.

Cllr Morgan also raised the challenges faced by small businesses across the city. He said:

“Under the Tories botched business rate revaluation almost 800 areas in England and Wales will see higher tax bills. Rates are rising by up to 500% for half a million businesses.

 

The average small shop will see an increase of £3,663. Small business is the bedrock of our local economy, but business owners are being let down”.

During the speech, the Labour Group also called for further action on children’s services (which faces a £2 billion funding gap nationally by 2020), and falling real-terms public sector pay.

Addressing Full Council, Cllr Morgan said:

 

“Portsmouth just be at the frontier of what local government is doing, and can achieve, in the most difficult of circumstance. Now people are looking for change, a city which is leading the way in unchartered territory, reinventing the ways things are done and protecting vital services. That is what the people of Portsmouth expect”.

Portsmouth Labour will continue to listen to local views and ideas in the coming months and developing its plan for the city in advance of February’s Council meeting which will agree council tax levels and other budget matters for the next financial year.

Portsmouth teachers forced to fund pupils’ supplies, City MP tells Minister

Stephen Morgan MP has raised concerns in the House of Commons today over the adequacy of funding for school buildings and worrying research suggesting that 94% of teachers are paying for essential classroom supplies, according to a National Education Union/TES report.

Member of Parliament, Stephen Morgan, used Education Questions to highlight recent research which found that 94% of teachers are being forced to purchase basic school supplies for their pupils, including in his constituency of Portsmouth South.

Mr Morgan told the Secretary of State for Education, Justine Greening, and her minister, the Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, that ‘hard-working staff at schools in Portsmouth are buying glue sticks’ for children in the city and asked whether the Minister ‘still maintains that Portsmouth schools have enough money and resources?’

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Government education cuts will mean a 4.6 per cent cuts for schools between 2015 and 2018. The severity of cuts means there are over half a million primary-age children now in large classes over 30, with around 40,000 pupils being taught in classes of 36 or more.

Stephen Morgan MPsaid:

“Local schools in Portsmouth are raising numerous issues with me ranging from lack of funding for essential school building works, to a lack of funding for vital equipment.

We are seeing budgets cuts for our schools for the first time in twenty years and this is having a devastating impact in our city. I remain committed to giving our schools a strong voice in Westminster. 

It is absolutely disgraceful that children are having to rely on the generosity of staff in order to receive basic supplies such as pencils and glue-sticks. What is particularly outrageous is that the Tories are passing the buck to overstretched teachers whose pay they continue to cap below inflation. 

The response I received from the Government today was typically disappointing. Instead of answering my question, the Minister simply talked about parents paying for school trips and changes to the curriculum.  Children and teachers in Portsmouth are facing a real crisis and deserve far better”.

Council fund to help those affected by benefit cuts under-spent by over £475k

Research by Portsmouth Labour has revealed the city council is consistently under-spending a fund set up to support people effected by government cuts to their income.

The fund, called Discretionary Housing Payments, was introduced in an attempt to offset the worst effects of cuts to welfare spending such as the Bedroom Tax and the benefits cap.

The funding is provided by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to local authorities who are then expected to allocate money to households in financial difficulty.

However, research by Portsmouth Labour’s housing team has revealed Portsmouth City Council has under-spent the budget in every year since it was first introduced. Any under-spend is then returned to the DWP, not retained by the council.

In total £476,858 has been under-spent by Portsmouth City Council and returned to the DWP. These findings have led to concerns that the council is not doing all it can to help low income households.

Maddie Wallace is a local resident whose family has been affected by the benefit cap. Commenting on the news that Portsmouth City Council has been consistently under-spending its Discretionary Housing Payments budget she said:

“I got a letter the day before New Year’s Eve 2016 telling me that the latest benefit cap had come into effect for me on Boxing Day. Aside from being a horrible thing to do to people at Christmas, it meant I lost over £70 a week from my benefits. That is the equivalent of all my family’s weekly food.

I was never told I could apply for Discretionary Housing Payments and I had to get by borrowing money from friends and family. I’ve just started work and the council have suspended my claim while they work it all out, so I won’t be able to pay my rent in April.

“The stress this has caused me has been immeasurable. I owe money left, right and centre, and while I was really lucky to find a job so quickly I’m no better off because I have lost council tax benefit and have to pay so much towards child care costs.”

Cal Corkery is leading a Portsmouth Labour review into local housing policy. He said:

“Local people will be shocked by revelations that the council has sent back to central government over £475k which can and should have been used to help our city’s poorest households.

The Tories claim to be doing all they can to help the most vulnerable but this research shows that simply isn’t the case. It’s all well and good having various funds and grants in place but unless people are made aware of what is available and supported to access them they are effectively useless.

“Going forward the council must do more to ensure Portsmouth’s lowest income households maximise their income and receive all the support available to them.”

Charles Dickens ward campaigner, Claire Udy, has been speaking to residents on the doorstep:

“Many of the people we talk to who are struggling to get by on low incomes, didn’t even know that the Discretionary Housing Payments existed at all.

“All those on benefits should know about this scheme, and it shoudn’t be coming just from myself and others on the doorstep; it should be common knowledge.

“I have written to the council requesting they review how awareness can be raised of Discretionary Housing Payments among local residents and that they ensure all frontline staff actively encourage any eligible households to apply.”

For more information about Discretionary Housing Payments including how to apply click here.