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Bridget_Philipson_MP_outside_sunderland_Magistrates_Court_web.jpgTwo Sunderland Labour MPs have condemned the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for reneging upon its commitment to have “a clear direction” on a new Sunderland court complex by the end of March 2017.

After years of campaigning for a new Sunderland Centre for Justice, Bridget Phillipson, Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South, and Julie Elliott, Member of Parliament for Sunderland Central, secured a pledge from Courts and Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald QC MP last November that his Department was “actively working on the issue” and would have a decision on the future of the complex by the end of last month.

However, on 31 March Ms Phillipson and Ms Elliott received a letter from Sir Oliver in which he confessed that “no decisions have been made” on how best to reform the court estate in Sunderland. [1] Instead, the MoJ has extended the Put Option on the land it owns at Farringdon Row for a further 12 months to March 2018, thereby delaying any decision for another year.

The minister also revealed that HM Courts & Tribunal Service is engaging in early discussion with Sunderland City Council and their partners Siglion Developments to explore the potential for a new Public Sector Hub at Keel Square.

It is another setback for the troubled courts rebuild project, which Ms Phillipson and Ms Elliott have been campaigning in favour of since the Houghton Magistrates Court was closed in 2011 on the understanding that a new modern courts complex was to be built in Sunderland.

To date £2million of taxpayer money has already been spent buying land and drawing up plans, with this latest delay likely to incur further costs to the public purse.

Constituents in Houghton and Sunderland South and Sunderland Central currently only have access to the crumbling Sunderland Magistrates Court, which is over 100 years old and no longer fit for purpose.

Speaking after receiving Sir Oliver’s letter, Bridget Phillipson MP said:

“I am deeply disappointed that the government has yet again delayed a decision on a new Sunderland Centre for Justice.

“When Julie Elliott MP and I met with the Courts Minister late last year, he gave us a firm commitment that his Department was actively working on this issue and would have a clear direction by the end of March 2017.

“Instead we were told at the last possible minute that the decision has been kicked into the long grass once more.

“This is disgraceful but not surprising. After all, ministers have been dodging and delaying this decision for the last six years.

“The government is clearly hoping that we will just go away and forget about this issue, which is why Julie and I will now be working harder than ever to make sure the city gets the new courts complex that we so desperately need.

“It’s simply not fair that crime victims and court staff in Sunderland are forced to use court facilities that are no longer fit for purpose. Unfortunately, the government has let them down again.”

Julie Elliott MP said:

“I know that many people in Sunderland will be really angry to hear about this latest delay to the construction of a modern courts facility in the city.

“It’s hardly a surprise that so many people are losing faith in politics when the government can’t even be trusted to keep a simple timetable commitment.

“Last November, Bridget and I were promised a decision on the rebuild by the end of March 2017.

“Yet after chasing the Courts Minister for an update over the last couple of weeks, we were told on deadline day that there would be another 12-month delay.

“This is simply not good enough. Our 109-year old magistrates’ court is no longer fit for purpose; we need a new Centre for Justice as soon as possible.

“In the coming weeks and months, Bridget and I will keep fighting for the government to make a decision as soon as possible.”

To read Sir Oliver Heald QC MP's letter to Bridget Phillipson MP and Julie Elliott MP, click here.

Sunderland let down again as government kicks court decision into long grass

Two Sunderland Labour MPs have condemned the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for reneging upon its commitment to have “a clear direction” on a new Sunderland court complex by the end...

Bridget_Phillipson_MP_PAC_Financial_Sustainability_of_Schools_23-01-2017.pngSchool standards in England are at risk as schools face the biggest reduction in spending power since the mid-1990s, Bridget Phillipson, Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South, has warned today.
A member of the cross-bench Public Accounts Committee (PAC), Bridget has endorsed a new report released by the Committee on the financial sustainability of schools.

The report finds that the Department for Education (DfE) “does not seem to understand the pressures that schools are already under” and is not well-placed to act swiftly if efficiency measures threaten the quality of education and its outcomes.
With funding per pupil falling in real terms, mainstream schools in England must find efficiency savings of £3 billion by 2019-20 if they are to manage with the funds available. The DfE believes schools can save £1.3 billion through better procurement and £1.7 billion by using staff more efficiently.
However, the PAC believes that the actions schools take are likely to increase teachers’ workload, with implications for recruitment and retention, and put at risk the quality of education.
The report also concludes that the DfE does not seem to have a plan to monitor in real-time how schools are making savings and their impact, but is instead relying on existing information such as Ofsted inspections and exam results.
Since these indicators are time lagged, their full impact on educational outcomes may not be known until 2021 when the new GCSE results come through. This will be too late for the children who are in school now.
The Committee warns that the Department does not seem to be learning from the experience of other sectors, “in particular from how over-ambitious efficiency targets in the NHS proved counter-productive”.
The Committee’s conclusions and recommendations are set out in detail below and in the attached Report.
Speaking after the publication of the PAC report, Bridget Phillipson MP said:
“During our inquiry into the financial sustainability of schools in January, I warned the government that its demands for schools in England to make £3billion of savings by 2020 risks plunging schools into an NHS-style funding crisis.
“Our report is clear that children’s futures are at risk if the government fails to act on that warning.
“There appears to be a collective delusion within Whitehall about the scope for further efficiency savings in public services.
“Unrealistic efficiency targets and weak leadership from the government have already caused long-term damage to the finances of the NHS, with trusts really struggling to meet increasing demand.
“We cannot allow this to happen in schools as well, but there are troubling similarities in the government’s approach to schools funding in England.
“As we heard during our inquiry, head teachers have already had to make potentially damaging cuts by making redundancies among staff and reducing the curriculum and pastoral services.
“Ministers must take urgent steps necessary to ensure the government can intervene quickly if there is evidence that its efficiency targets are damaging educational standards.
“That means properly monitoring in real-time performance as well as spending, making use of frontline indicators such as class sizes, the ratio of pupils to teachers and the breadth of the curriculum.
“Grand plans drawn up in Whitehall are dangerous if they are implemented without regard to real-world consequences and we will expect to see measures to address our concerns as a matter of urgency.”

The PAC Report into the financial sustainability of schools can also be accessed here

PAC Bulletin: Bridget Phillipson MP warns school standards at risk from funding crisis

School standards in England are at risk as schools face the biggest reduction in spending power since the mid-1990s, Bridget Phillipson, Labour Member of Parliament for Houghton and Sunderland South,...

Bridget_Phillipson_MP_Houghton_and_Sunderland_South.jpgThis week on the Public Accounts Committee we held an inquiry into NHS ambulance services in England. Given how many constituents have told me about their distressing experiences of waiting for an ambulance in recent times, I was keen to raise my concerns with NHS and government officials. 

Per head of population the North East receives the lowest income for urgent and emergency care in the whole of England. Unfortunately, the only explanation I received for this unfair spending discrepancy was unspecified ‘historical factors’ relating to the different way that ambulance services have been commissioned across the country. 

At a time when the North East Ambulance Service is clearly facing big challenges in responding to the most serious emergency calls in time, this is simply not good enough.

According to a recent report by the National Audit Office, in 2015-16 the Service responded to only 68% of the most urgent Red 1 calls within 8 minutes – far short of the NHS target of 75%. Although it performed well in recent Care Quality Commission inspections and is the most cost-effective in England, it has the highest staff sickness absence rate in the country.

Hard-pressed paramedics and call handlers are clearly doing their best to cope with an ever-increasing workload, while steps are being taken locally to improve response times and train more paramedics. But I’m concerned that wider delays across the NHS and the social care system are making the situation impossible and unsustainable. 

This is not just a problem for our region but for the country as a whole, with national figures showing that every ambulance trust in England is finding it hard to meet response time targets. 

If the government is to meet the growing demand for ambulance services nationwide, ministers need to address the issue of delayed discharges from hospitals, when elderly patients are unable to return home because there’s no social care in place. This is stopping ambulances from transferring new patients into hospital and causing dangerous backlogs in the system.

I’ve also been calling on the government to tackle the rising shortfall in the number of GPs in Sunderland. GPs play a critical role in keeping people out of hospital, but local people tell me that it can be almost impossible to get an appointment when they need one.

Cash-strapped ambulances services like the north east also need more money, while greater involvement of doctors and nurses in NHS 111 and proper funding for social care would help make a big difference. Any attempt to deliver new models of care are doomed without sufficient staff to implement them, so ambulance trusts need more help to retain and recruit paramedics as well.

Ambulance services can be a matter of life or death. It’s right that we fight to ensure everyone can access them in time.

This article was originally published by the Sunderland Echo on 23 March 2017. You can read the online version here.

Bridget Phillipson MP: Cash-strapped ambulance services under pressure

This week on the Public Accounts Committee we held an inquiry into NHS ambulance services in England. Given how many constituents have told me about their distressing experiences of waiting...

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