Thursday, 2 May 2013

An accident waiting to happen

The latest national, regional and local statistics for NHS Accident and Emergency (A&E) services should give is all cause for concern. They figures show just how much A&E units are struggling in a way not seen since the bad old days of the 1990s. Simply because of the big investment in the NHS under Tony Blair’s government, which produced such dramatic improvements, we often forget just how bad our NHS had become twenty years ago.

Almost 4,500 nursing jobs have been lost since David Cameron entered Downing Street in May 2010 and those losses are now putting patients’ lives at risk. Nationally, more than half a million patients have waited more than 4 hours to be seen in A&E in the last 6 months.

Recently released figures show that major A&E units across Yorkshire and Humberside and the East Midlands are now seriously struggling and that they have consistently missed their waiting times targets. Wherever you turn, more people are waiting longer in A&E in Sheffield, Chesterfield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster, Nottingham and Derby.

I was proud of Labour’s NHS record in government. By 2010, patient satisfaction was at an all time high, waiting times were at a record low and we had increased the number of nurses by over 80,000. Earlier in this Parliament, I called on this government to abandon its massively expensive, top-down re-organisation of the NHS and instead use some of the money to save 6,000 nursing jobs.

Nurses are the backbone of our NHS but the Government has failed to grasp the seriousness of its cuts to nursing numbers and the impact that is having on A&E units. The Government must devise an urgent plan to bring all A&Es up to the required standard and ensure there are enough staff on duty to provide the safe care we all need.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013


Like many people in Sheffield, I would like an IKEA to be built here. It would clearly be much better to shop locally rather than drive to Nottingham or Leeds.

However, like any other potential development, an application from IKEA has to be judged against the planning policy of the Government and the Local Plan adopted by the Council after lengthy consultation. The Council can’t  simply say ‘yes’ because of a vocal lobby of those who like IKEA as a place to shop.

There are two particular planning issues which IKEA has to address with regard to its current proposal. Firstly, both the Government and the Council have a policy of town and district centre first. In order to keep such centres vibrant and viable, any retail development should preferably be located there. This means that those without cars can access shops and others with their own car may choose to use public transport with the obvious environmental benefits. By locating shops together, shoppers can walk to a choice of shops. Town and district centres also offer public space, theatres, galleries and other facilities.

Only if no suitable sites exist in those centres should out-of-town sites be considered. If this process is not gone through, any new retail schemes would just try to locate where it’s cheapest to build and the city centre would simply die.

The second issue is a challenge facing all development near junction 34 on the M1. The government’s national Highways Agency assesses the junction as being at capacity. IKEA will have to convince the Agency that traffic from its scheme will not cause gridlock. It will also have to show that other development sites in the area which already have permission for office, manufacturing and other uses will not be sterilized, and their jobs lost, because junction 34 is too full to allow all to be built. It is not just a case of jobs at IKEA, but that other potential jobs should not be jeopardised.

We must also be cautious however about the forecast extra jobs from an IKEA store. If the forecast new jobs from every new store and supermarket in recent years had materialized, there would be no unemployment today. Ultimately, shoppers have only so much to spend and, if a new store opens, much of its trade simply transfers from existing shops. Over the years small shops have closed as more large ones have opened. I accept however if IKEA are going to build a new store we should work with them to ensure the jobs are created in Sheffield.

IKEA could also help their cause by encouraging people to travel by public transport. The site is next to a tram stop. Free home delivery within a prescribed distance of the store would do that and also help those without cars who would like to shop at IKEA.

I hope IKEA can work with the Council to address these important issues. I look forward to Sheffielders being able to shop in their own IKEA in the near future.

Monday, 29 April 2013

Being and Feeling Safe

A major report published last week confirmed that rates of violent crime in Britain have tumbled faster than anywhere else in Western Europe over the past decade. The rate of homicide has fallen by half since 2003, while every region of the UK has become more peaceful despite the country's economic turmoil. Sheffield was confirmed to be one of the most peaceful urban areas in the UK.

Yet people tend to perceive that Britain is much more violent than it is in reality. 17 per cent of people think they will fall victim to violent crime at some point, whereas only four per cent will actually do so.

Now, the statistics on murder and violent crime are fairly reliable indicators of reality. However, as the severity of the crime lessens, there is increasing disparity between the actual incidence of crimes and the reporting and recording of those crimes. To take the most obvious example, consider the actual number of instances of exceeding the speed limit and the number of those which are reported and recorded.

That is why in looking at crime patterns, you need to look at both the Reported Crime statistics and the British Crime Survey – the latter being an annual detailed survey into the actual crime experiences of about 40,000 citizens over the previous 12 months.

So what are we to make of the latest statistics on reported cases of anti-social behaviour, which suggest that South Yorkshire has the second highest rate of any police force after Greater Manchester?

Actually, there is plenty of both research and anecdotal evidence to confirm that reporting anti-social behaviour increases when people have confidence that it will be addressed. So, an increase in recorded ASB might simply be a reflection of increased confidence rather than an increase in the incidence.of the crime itself.

I know that people are far more confident than a decade ago about reporting anti-social behaviour and expecting that something will be done about it. But, I also know that anti-social behaviour happens too frequently.

That’s why I’m very concerned that the Government is turning the clock back with their plans to scrap the ASBO and replace it with a weaker power which carries no criminal sanction for a breach.  Similarly, the proposed community trigger, which demands a response if a person has complained three times just isn’t good enough.

People have the right to expect action right away and help to tackle an issue which is a huge worry.