Tuesday 20 February 2018
[Mr Adrian Bailey in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the future of basketball in the UK.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Bailey. I am delighted that the Backbench Business Committee has given us an opportunity to debate the future of basketball at such an important juncture for the sport. It is five years since this place last had a chance to discuss this hugely popular sport.
There are three main areas of the sport and different organisations leading and governing them, as befits a game played by so many in this country. To put it simply, we have the grassroots sport, which is overseen by Basketball England, Basketball Wales and Basketball Scotland, looking after all the amateur clubs, from juniors right up to the semi-professional national basketball league. We have the professional club game for adults, which is overseen by the British Basketball League and Women’s British Basketball League. In my constituency, we have Leeds Force, who are the newest team in the British Basketball League. I know that many other hon. Members are in attendance because they have WBBL or BBL teams locally; just like all sports fans, we are here to support our teams. Finally, we have the elite, international top of the sport, which is made up of the eight Great Britain teams, both male and female, playing in age groups and at adult level, and overseen by the British Basketball Federation. This is GB Basketball.
I pay particular tribute to the women’s team, who beat both Portugal and Israel last week on the road, to jointly top their EuroBasket qualifying group with Greece, one of the pre-eminent basketball nations, which finished fourth at the last EuroBasket event, in 2017. Some of those top players are here today, as I am sure people will not have failed to notice: Stef Collins, GB women’s captain, Eilidh Simpson and Bev Kettlety, the team manager. Those women’s futures are at stake, as are the futures of their male counterparts, of all the boys and girls playing in the national age groups, and of all the boys and girls in the clubs out there who dream of one day putting on a Team GB jersey—in other words, all those who think that they have a future in basketball and that our great country will sustain their dream of one day playing for their national team. The more immediate future concerns those women present here today and their dreams of finishing the qualifiers and competing at the 2019 EuroBasket championships, where they have a brilliant chance of taking GB to its highest ever placing in the competition.
Minister, let us not be remembered for throwing an air ball; let us do what is right for basketball and slam dunk the ball right into the hoop for our GB players. At the moment, the ball is in the hands of UK Sport, and I am concerned that it is double dribbling with its decision not to fund GB Basketball. I see an opportunity for the Minister to make an offensive turnover, and her assist could provide the opportunity for British basketball to score the winning three-pointer that sees those women through to EuroBasket in Serbia and Latvia in 2019 and all the other GB teams continuing to compete in their competitions, thereby maintaining the dreams of young people to play at the highest level.
I thank my hon. Friend for securing this hugely important debate. On the point about dreams, does he recognise the point made to me by Tyler Gayle, who wrote to me on behalf of Sheffield Hatters, our women’s basketball team, and said that the sport of basketball is one of the most effective at reaching out to deprived communities? Is that not a particularly important reason that it should continue to be supported?
My hon. Friend’s area has two great basketball teams: Sheffield Hatters and Sheffield Sharks. People in disadvantaged communities in Sheffield, Leeds, London and other urban centres, aspire to play for such teams and, one day, for our national team, so his point is spot on. My constituent Tricia McKinney, knowing that this debate was scheduled to take place, wrote to me on a similar point. Her son represented England and played for Sheffield Sharks, in my hon. Friend’s constituency, and her daughter and four grandchildren are involved with clubs in Leeds. She said:
“I see first hand the physical and social benefits ‘of being involved’. All the facts and figures show that basketball provides opportunities for adults and children from diverse ethnic backgrounds and both genders to participate in sport. It is a particularly important sport for those in deprived communities.”
That echoes my hon. Friend’s point.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this very important debate. Does he agree that local basketball involving colleges, schools and other organisations, such as John Leggott College and Leggott Academy, is so important and, indeed, key to helping to grow the grassroots of this very important game?
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely apt point, which leads me to my next point. My constituent Baile Beyai wrote to me:
“I’m currently studying Politics at Leeds University and Basketball was a big, big reason that I had the self-esteem to even attempt to study at university, especially growing up as a problem child”—
those are his words—
“in a ‘disadvantaged’ area of London. So thank you; it’s an inspiration that you’re commandeering these efforts as I doubt even you know how much impact it has on kids, especially ethnic minorities in low income families. We face a much…bigger dropout than other sports and more funding would definitely improve the chances of young children playing the sport. Growing up I was jumping trains to go to England Basketball trials and sessions by myself, and remember at age 16 I was forced to skip the regional competition because I just didn’t have the £120 to pay for hotels. I doubt such constraints are put on children who’ve been selected to a high level of competition in other sports.”
Minister, do we really want our inner-city kids driven to petty criminality in order to follow their dreams, or to abandon their dreams, as they cannot pay for hotels?
UK Sport recently announced £226 million for Olympic eligible sports until 2021. That includes £14.5 million for equestrian sports, £25.5 million for sailing and more than £6 million for modern pentathlon—a sport that requires a horse, a sword and a gun. None of those sports is within reach of the young people we see playing basketball. We are funding elite sports for elites.
Temi Fagbenle, who top scored for GB in last week’s win against Israel, started playing in Haringey. That ultimately led her to a scholarship at Harvard University and a contract in the Women’s National Basketball Association, where she plays for Minnesota.
Last week, Temi said:
“I feel…they are literally trying to rip the GB shirts off my and my team-mates’ backs. Just look at the athletes on the basketball teams—a lot of us are from ethnic minorities and/or grew up in working-class households. The youth from these groups, and young people in general, aren’t inspired by obscure sports that are completely alien to them, they are inspired by athletes they can relate with.”
This is the sad reality of where we are. The next game for Temi and the other women players will be in November, but will they be able to play that game and qualify for EuroBasket, as we have heard they are on course to do?
I think it is important, Mr Bailey, that you know the background to how we got here. In 2006, British Basketball was formed, as required by the International Basketball Federation—FIBA—in conjunction with the British Olympic Association, to guide our teams through to London 2012, where we qualified as hosts. Since then, basketball has continued to grow in popularity, with more and more players giving us our best ever base for the future, but funding has eroded and is almost entirely at risk, although our elite teams have continued to improve, especially the women, who finished a best ever ninth at the 2013 EuroBasket tournament. The two main funding bodies in this country are Sport England and UK Sport, but at present our GB teams do not receive funding from UK Sport because basketball does not meet the current performance policy. Sport England provides £4.7 million for the grassroots game in England and allocates £1.4 million for talent, with £150,000 of Sport England’s talent grant in 2018, plus a further indicative investment of up to £150,000 from that talent grant, to ensure that the men’s and women’s under-16, under-18 and under-20 age group teams can compete this summer, but there is nothing for the senior teams.
This temporary reallocation of funds is subject to final approval by Sport England, and I understand that it will be confirmed shortly. Grateful as I am to Sport England, that is not enough to sustain our GB teams, and if no more funding comes forward, we will have to withdraw all our teams. The sum of £1 million a year is enough to sustain all of elite basketball in the UK. The funding that basketball received was equivalent to just £10,000 per player, while so-called—but not guaranteed—podium team sports received £40,000 per player in the old funding regime.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s securing this debate, not least because I wake up every day to the NBA highlights on YouTube as my husband is such a fan. One reason for the great appeal of basketball is that it is a game of the street. That is particularly the case in London, where outdoor courts such as Clapham Common, Turnpike Lane and Bethnal Green can act as a social lubricant for people from all backgrounds. Does the hon. Gentleman therefore agree that we need not just to focus on funding costly leagues and indoor basketball courts, but to get local authorities to fund outdoor courts properly and get proper facilities for people?
Absolutely. I am very grateful for the hon. Lady’s point, because I am not going into great depth about facilities, but we absolutely do need facilities, and I will come to the outdoor game later in my speech.
I am sure that most hon. Members think of basketball as a five-player game indoors, but they will also remember the classic movie “White Men Can’t Jump”, starring Woody Harrelson and Wesley Snipes, in which Woody and Wesley play outdoors on a half-court, two on two. That will not quite become an Olympic sport, but if we add a player on each side, it will: 3 on 3 basketball will debut at the Tokyo 2020 games, in just two years’ time, as a full Olympic sport—an Olympic sport eligible for UK Sport funding. No one knows who the medal challengers will be or what our Olympic potential is.
The game 3 on 3 is played in every urban constituency, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) has pointed out. In fact, 3 on 3 basketball is the largest urban team sport in the world, according to a study commissioned by the International Olympic Committee. The Netherlands base their youth basketball development programme on the 3 on 3 style of play, and as a result the country is ranked second across all genders and ages. Ball Out 3x3 is pioneering 3 on 3 basketball in the UK and is endorsed by FIBA 3x3. It will deliver the nation’s biggest 3 on 3 tournament this summer. We will become one of the leaders of 3 on 3 if this continues.
In the United States, rapper Ice Cube has teamed up with former NBA stars to launch a 3 on 3 league. Cube said:
“It was to bring a style of basketball that I grew up playing, watching, and loving, which is 3-on-3 basketball.”
That is the same urban sport that our young people play outdoors. As this is the first debate I have led in Westminster Hall, I hope you will indulge me, Mr Bailey, and let me quote from the Ice Cube song, “It Was a Good Day”, which is about a day in south-central Los Angeles, a very urban and difficult area. It was a day without any gang violence, air pollution or police harassment. He raps:
“Which park, are y’all playin’ basketball?
Get me on the court and I’m trouble”.
The game 3 on 3 is global, urban and an Olympic sport. It has a bright future, but we are not even considering its potential for our own programme. UK Sport revealed in its annual review that athletes in para taekwondo, para badminton, sport climbing, karate and BMX freestyle will receive national lottery support, as they enter the Olympic and Paralympic programme for the first time, but not 3 on 3.
GB Basketball wrote to UK Sport in June last year seeking a meeting about a 3 on 3 programme, but a meeting did not take place until January this year. GB Basketball has asked for help, as it needs expertise to research the position of the 3 on 3 game and strategic support for 3 on 3. I am sure that UK Sport will say that GB Basketball did not apply, which is true, but it took six months for UK Sport to engage with GB Basketball, and support was not forthcoming to put in a comprehensive application for Olympic funding. GB Basketball is waiting for UK Sport to confirm that it will support it in the process. We are missing an opportunity with 3 on 3. However, if we do fund it, we still need to keep our elite basketball teams on the court.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. I wholeheartedly agree with many of his points. I have been contacted by many constituents representing Vale Vipers and Cardiff Met Archers, and by Sheridan Ward, whose son Jed has been selected to play for Wales. They are all passionate about this game. I know how much difference it made to kids in the vale when I was growing up. Some of them went off to play in the United States and at the top levels in the UK sport. Without this funding and support, kids will not have that chance in the future, so I wholeheartedly endorse what my hon. Friend is saying.
My hon. Friend hits the nail right on the head. I am grateful for his contribution. Basketball Wales provides valuable support to UK basketball.
On broadcasting, the British Basketball League is not currently able to secure domestic and international broadcast revenues, whereas other European leagues have monetised broadcasting both domestically and internationally. Attendance figures vary throughout Europe, but basketball is clearly a popular spectator sport. BBL’s average stadium capacity is only 2,362—Leeds Force have the smallest arena in the UK—compared with 4,424 in Germany and 6,447 in Spain. The value of France’s domestic broadcasting rights for basketball stands at £8.5 million. The domestic league in Spain is valued at £5.3 million and Germany’s at £0.9 million.
The Perform Media Group—one the world’s largest sports media companies, which holds the BBL media rights—estimates that the level of interest in basketball in the UK stands at 20% of the population. That is one in five people. Similarly, 22% of the population in Germany takes an interest in the game. The figures for France and Spain are 33% and 61% respectively. Much smaller nations, such as Israel, still manage to monetise their league rights to the tune of £1.8 million. The potential audience of 20% in the UK is sizeable. If we can grow the brand appeal of both the national team and the BBL, that will help create a sustainable commercial model for both.
The UK’s domestic fan base is young—we can see that from those present in the Public Gallery—which is extremely important to advertisers. The monetisation of German and Israeli basketball gives us a benchmark for where the UK could realistically be in the future with the right funding and investment. However, due to the rise of internet protocol television there is general commercial uncertainty over the future of TV licensing revenues. As a result, the right to broadcast tier 1 sports, such as the premier league, the National Football League and the champions league, attract an even larger share of broadcasting budgets. Tier 2 sports, such as ruby league, ruby sevens and hockey, are struggling to grow and maintain revenues from broadcasting rights. Currently, the only way to watch the BBL is online, apart from the finals games that are broadcast—but poorly promoted—on the BBC. However, 10 times as many people watch the BBL on the Unilad Facebook page than on the BBC. There are huge opportunities to grow the audience for basketball here, and get more young people playing through clubs and rising to the highest level. These audiences will also attract commercial opportunities, but this takes time—time that the game is currently not being given.
Our GB games are also not being broadcast, with limited live-streaming opportunities to watch GB games, so how can the British fan base watch our national team and how can our national team move on to monetise their potential? In the medium term, if we can get those broadcasting rights for those games, we can monetise it, but in the short term, that just is not possible.
I hope that the Minister will take on board three recommendations, with which she can score a triple double—a basketball term for scoring 10 or more in three different areas. First, I recommend that sports funds provide a short-term solution for the next three seasons so that GB players can stay on the court. Secondly, post-Tokyo, I recommend that the review of elite funding looks at a wider set of criteria than immediate podium potential and a wider range of socioeconomic factors, including the barriers to elite sport faced by our black, Asian and minority ethnic and disadvantaged communities, linking it to the sports they play. Finally, I would like the Minister to intervene and recommend that UK Sport undertakes an urgent review of the potential of 3 on 3 and that funding is made available for a development programme for a 3 on 3 squad for Tokyo.
I have something like eight Members down to speak. I intend to call the Front-Bench spokespersons at 10.30 am at the latest. That works out at approximately five minutes per speaker. I will not impose a time limit at this point, but I will start to get agitated and interrupt after five minutes. Back Benchers should bear that in mind.
It is a pleasure to take part in this debate, not least because the national cup champions, Hemel Storm, are in my constituency. I want to talk about two points. I agree completely, looking at aspiration, that there has to be an opportunity for our young boys and girls to start at school, come through the clubs and go on to play for England. If the funding is just about winning at the top all the time, there will never be that transition. While I absolutely agree with the policy of Sport England on elitism, money has to be put to one side to bring the different places through.
I slightly disagree with the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel): it is not all about young people. The average crowd at Hemel Storm—I see here some of the referees that have come to me—is 700. That club started seven years ago. We had a club many years ago; the franchise was bought out, and it went to Milton Keynes. When we restarted the club—I say “we”, because it is completely a community project—we made sure it was set up as a trust, so that it could never be sold off again.
From that moment on, the community came in. We have great-great-grandparents in the audience on a regular basis, and toddlers who cannot even walk. They are mostly not there because of the players. Of course, the families and loved ones of the players are there, but we could not get those sorts of numbers from only families and loved ones, in a town that has baseball, professional rugby league and three football clubs—I could go on. There is an elite gym where Max Whitlock and Jess Stretton, who won Olympic golds, came from. The crowd is there because it is a community thing. It is us coming together.
When we went to east London, to the Docklands, for the final against Manchester Magic, they never realised what happened to them, because we had 500-plus of our people in the crowd and I think Manchester Magic had about half a dozen, or perhaps fewer than that. I am not saying that that is why Manchester Magic lost; they lost because they were not as good as Hemel Storm—it is as simple as that.
The issues I have heard are not new to me. I have players playing for England at junior level. In the past, I have had families come to me and ask, “Can we help fundraise?”, to help these young players come through. Like many colleagues, I have had correspondence from young people with aspirations who want to get up there. They have been selected for the England junior team. Marina Christie and Jack Burnell are both coming through and should be playing for England soon. They have had problems, but the families are brilliant and support them. While I fully support saying that we need to get more help from central funding, if we are really honest with ourselves, basketball needs to come together better across the board, so that we have the structures we need, right from the bottom to the top.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with what the Leicester Riders said to me: basketball has a unique case for funding, because it is not just a sport, but a way to engage disengaged young people? He has been a Minister; he knows about young people who might fall the wrong way. Basketball can be a way to get them back on the right track, as sport generally is for young people.
I completely agree on the latter point: sport is aspirational. It is one of the great ways forward for people like me, born and bred in north London. I got into the armed forces because I could play rugby pretty well. It was pretty obvious that I would not have got in on my academic abilities, but I boxed and I played rugby pretty well. I did try to play basketball, but it was the wrong shaped ball for me, and they were all up here somewhere, even though I was in the Guards.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) has touched on a very important point. Look at the people in the crowd watching: they are young and old, and from across our community. I am not going to pick on any particular area; at the end of the day, we come together as a community. Interestingly, Hemel Storm have only one overseas player. That is quite remarkable given the progression that we have made, but we simply did not have the money at the time to bring in players from Spain and America; we have one American player now.
We looked at how this could be funded, and we need to look at that all the way through. Look at the sponsorship of Hemel Storm: Epson, an international company; Vanarama, one of the largest leasing companies in the country and sponsors of the Vanarama football league; McDonald’s, interestingly enough, which is genuinely trying to show what it does with its healthy food; and Arriva, which has donated us a bus completely plastered with “Hemel Storm”, which we use when we are away.
Interestingly and importantly, Mr Bailey, when I was at the cup final, I saw absolutely no advertising. There was no marketing and no sponsorship. To me, that is the missing link. We can ask the lottery and Sport England for more money, but we also have to come together in the basketball community to get the sponsorship that we need.
I am delighted to speak in this debate and very glad that the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) secured it. I should declare two interests: first, the Glasgow Rocks are based in my constituency and play at the Emirates arena, and secondly, one of my caseworkers, Alexander Belic, is a Rocks season ticket holder. The Rocks have gone through a wee bit of history in Scotland. They started as the Edinburgh Rocks in 1998, became the Scottish Rocks, and then in 2008—I was a councillor in Glasgow City Council at the time—we pinched them and lured them over from Renfrewshire to play in Glasgow.
There will be more on that later from my hon. Friend.
The Rocks have been a huge success story in the city and a great thing to celebrate. I thank the new owner, Duncan Smillie, for his time earlier this week, when he gave me a wee bit more information on them for this debate.
In my constituency, the Emirates arena is a key part of the Commonwealth games legacy in Glasgow. It is a huge arena with great benefits for many sports, particularly basketball. It is very impressive and has a big capacity, so it can put on a great show. Basketball has the benefit of being something that people can do in Scotland indoors during the winter. That is of huge benefit to many people, because it is freezing and raining most of the time, so there is a consistency in being able to play indoors.
We have been able to grow lots of our own talent in Scotland. My son’s favourite player, Jonny Bunyan, joined the 1,000-point club at the weekend, having scored 1,000 points in the British Basketball League championship. That is a good achievement from a Scottish-grown player.
In Scotland, we have also had a good degree of success in securing the grassroots elements of basketball, particularly through Scottish Government funding through the CashBack for Communities scheme. For people who do not know, CashBack for Communities puts money from the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 into grassroots sport. The scheme is in its fourth phase in Scotland. The basketball programme has received £2.1 million over the course of CashBack for Communities, and in this phase, basketball programmes got a significant £492,800, which will support 16 schools of basketball right across Scotland over the next three years.
The scheme has surpassed its targets: 95 new teams have been established across Scotland, 61% of Basketball Scotland’s membership are young people, and there are 155 registered members playing wheelchair basketball in Scotland. All the clubs that have youth sections in Scotland are also delivering women’s basketball, which is great. There is also an associated education programme, which sees qualifications achieved in partnership with Glasgow Kelvin College. That means the volunteer coaches who come through the programme get accreditation, which is really important, as they can take that on to other parts of their life.
Outreach work in schools, such as the Jump2it programme and Shell Twilight Basketball, run right across Scotland and are absolutely brilliant. At Glasgow Rocks games, the kids who are involved in those programmes come on at half time, which is absolutely great to see. They get to come in front of a huge crowd and have that experience, which is absolutely brilliant.
Shell Twilight Basketball runs in the highlands, Aberdeen, Fife, Dundee, Sterling, Glasgow, North Ayrshire and Stranraer, so it goes right across Scotland and is a really valued programme. It has the impact of youth diversionary activity, which the hon. Member for Leeds North West mentioned. It keeps the kids busy, occupied and healthy, and has that brilliant impact on those communities. It is very much done in partnership, working with local schools. Schools in my constituency see a huge benefit from it, because they have the team very close by. Credit goes to those Glasgow Rocks players who go into schools across the length and breadth of the country, are very accessible, and make promoting basketball to young people across the country part of their job.
The players’ other partnership work in Glasgow is with Active East, which is the Commonwealth games legacy programme. That has sustained funding, and I hope it will continue to be funded in the years ahead. It has had an impact on local schools. St Mungo’s Academy has a basketball team. At the school’s academic awards, the winner of the basketball MVP—most valuable player—award comes up with everybody else who has won an academic achievement, and is recognised by their peers. It is important that the partnerships between these organisations—Active East, Scottish Sports Futures, the colleges and Basketball Scotland—are in place.
The result of that success is that the Scottish team has qualified for the Commonwealth games for the very first time. That is brilliant, and we are really excited about it. Seven people on that 12-person team are Rocks players. That is an important aspect. The points that the hon. Member for Leeds North West made about losing out on places mean that we might not be able to put that team forward. That would be hugely disappointing, not only for the players, who are desperate to play and represent their country, but for Callan Low, who is only 17 and has been called up. I would be heartbroken if he was not able to take up that place. It is also important for the kids in my constituency to see the players that they have had in their schools, such as 6 foot 10 Kieron Achara, representing Scotland on the Commonwealth stage. I beg the Minister to do something to make sure that the sport is secured for the future.
In the words of the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), I am here to support the Ilkeston Outlaws and the Derby Wheelblazers.
The Ilkeston Outlaws were set up in 1966, so have just celebrated half a century. They have gone from strength to strength: they lost their first match against Bestwood A by 121 points to 14, but are now winning, which is really good news. They have eight teams, beginning with boys and girls aged 7 and stretching into senior men and women. That covers something like 120 to 130 people across the community, and it is an amazing way to get people active in sports. However, the club do not receive any funding from the sport’s governing body, Basketball England. The regional body, Derbyshire Basketball Association, does help with some small-scale funding to support them at county tournaments and with coaching and official courses, but in the main, the club is self-funded, and that is probably one of their problems. They have managed to get some sponsorship, like the team mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), from a bus company; but that is just for kit and equipment—they do not have a bus from the bus company.
We will try harder, definitely. Having good kit and being branded provides a sense of community for the players. The bus company sponsors the under-12s squad, and it gives them a sense of purpose and of belonging that is so important.
When it comes to funding for the future, there is a lot more that Ilkeston Outlaws want to do. At the moment, girls must leave after reaching age 12, because there is no pathway for them beyond that. The club could set up a pathway for girls over 12, but it would run at a loss, which the club, as a community group, cannot afford. The school where the under-12s practise has made a great push on “This Girl Can”, but sadly, any girl over 12 cannot. On the other hand, boys can continue. If one looks back at the reports, one can see that some of the people involved in the club in 1966 are still involved. It shows what longevity basketball has. If we get it right at the grassroots, not just for boys but for girls, it can go from strength to strength in future.
That is a good point; my hon. Friend is right that it sounds odd. It is down to numbers. More boys are attracted to basketball at that age, especially in my local community. It is a matter of having the numbers. Long-term, a team for girls over 12 would be self-funding, but there would be a period after set-up before it would become fully funded and viable. It is about getting over that gap.
To look at it from another angle, children who start the right way—by doing sports, getting out and being active, and developing a good body awareness and image —are less likely to eat the wrong things and become obese, unlike many of their peer group. We need to look at it not just from a sporting point of view but from a health point of view. If we set them on the right pathway, they will have the right habits for life.
Before I finish, it would be remiss of me not to show my support for Derbyshire wheelchair basketball and our team, Derby Wheelblazers. We have a hub in Erewash that meets at Friesland sport centre in Sandiacre. Wheelchair basketball can be played by anyone: amputees, paraplegics and people with no disabilities whatever all play together. It is good to have that rounded approach.
If we get it right at grassroots level and at a young age, habits will be formed for a lifetime. Who knows? Maybe even more stars will make our country proud.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) for securing this important debate, and for his excellent and entertaining speech; I do not think that we have heard rap quoted in here before. He recently took over from me as co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on basketball, and he is doing a sterling job; he has already done a lot more in that short time than I hoped to do to raise the profile of basketball in Parliament, and this debate is an excellent opportunity to do so.
I have always loved basketball. I know that I do not look like a basketball player—we have lots of them in the Public Gallery—but I played in high school, and I still love to watch the sport; I know that that is hard to believe. I always hoped that through the work of the all-party group, one day the sport would be as large as others, even football, and that it would be everywhere: on our TVs, on the news channels, in our local communities and in our international sports arenas. However, that cannot be achieved unless basketball receives fair and sustainable funding so the sport can grow from the grassroots up.
Basketball is the second most popular sport behind football for 11 to 15-year-olds. According to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, it is more popular than riding a bike, so why does the funding stay so low? All young people could benefit from basketball as a sport. It gets them active, but as shown in the results of the all-party group’s 2014 inquiry, which I chaired, it can also serve as a great tool for representation and aspiration, especially among children from deprived communities.
Basketball is perceived as very cool, and it is. It has street credibility globally, and due to its strong affinity with music and lifestyle, it is a sport that can resonate with young people. It can be played with very little space, equipment and money, making it truly representative. More than 300,000 young people aged 16 and over play basketball at least twice a week. It appeals to men, women, boys and girls—one in six participants are female—and is popular among players from less wealthy backgrounds. Somewhat uniquely, basketball is the only team sport in which more than half of registered members—58% of adult basketball participants—are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds. That is followed by cricket, which is still some way behind at about 30%.
We have all plugged our local teams. My local team, the Newcastle Eagles, are absolutely amazing. I do not wish to gloat or be biased, but allow me to remind Members that they are the top team in the British Basketball League, having won the BBL championship seven times and the BBL cup six times. I was there for some of those games, cheering them on. Not only are the Newcastle Eagles a fantastic team, they do so much work for the local community and hold partnerships with Northumbria University. Little Dribblers, Mini Eagles, Hoops 4 Health and the School of Excellence are just some examples of what the Eagles Community Foundation, launched in 2006, helps to do for the local community. The primary school programme Hoops 4 Health works with 7,000 young people every year, encouraging them to play and get healthy. It is a great way to introduce children to the sport. They can also play in the Eagles’ central venue league on weekends. The Eagles are a great example of what all BBL clubs do, week in and week out.
Despite all that great work, since 2009, basketball nationally has received just £102 in funding per adult participant. That is less than half as much as the next highest comparable sport, netball, which receives £205. Why is that? I know that netball has its own attributes; I used to play when I was younger, although I preferred and was better at basketball. It is cooler, as well. Why must funding be shared so unfairly? Sport England’s February 2017 funding round awarded £4.73 million to Basketball England, and just £1 million to British Basketball. Wheelchair basketball funding was not announced until October 2017, when it received £300,000.
Based on Sport England’s active lives survey, just under 1% of the population—0.7%, to be exact—participated in basketball at least twice during the 28 days prior to the survey. Although that might seem like a small percentage, basketball placed 10th out of the top 25 sports by participation— only 8% of participation was in team sports—placing it ahead of other sports such as netball, rugby and hockey. [Interruption.] I will wind up, but before I do, I will make one point about funding. Those sports receive far more funding than basketball. Hockey receives more than £9 million in funding although only 0.3% of the population participate, meaning that hockey receives 50% more funding from Sport England than Basketball England, British Basketball and wheelchair basketball.
I had more that I wanted to say, but others want to participate, and I am being told to wind up, so I will leave it to the Minister to do the sums. I hope that she will consider what is being said today and fix the unfair funding, so that basketball becomes a national sport in this country.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) on securing this debate. It seems that we share more than just a love of environmental and co-operative politics. I can be very proud as well, because Plymouth are two places above Leeds in the league table.
Basketball is a sport worthy of our support. It is growing, with more young people getting stuck in every day, and it has low barriers to entry, because all people need is a ball, a hoop and a flat surface. It can change lives.
As a supporter of the mighty Plymouth Raiders—as we know, the sporting hub of the country is Devon—who play at Plymouth Pavilions in my constituency, I know that basketball is fast-paced, family friendly and a great spectacle that grows every year. It has the opportunity to star as a sport that is embedded in the community by getting young people involved from day one, which is what Plymouth Raiders and Plymouth Storm, the wheelchair basketball side, do with their incredible community work.
Raiders are Plymouth’s only national top-flight sports club and we are very proud of them. They are firmly established in Plymouth’s big three alongside the in-form Plymouth Argyle, who are pushing for the playoffs in league one, and Plymouth Albion, who are fourth in rugby’s national league one.
Home games at the Pavilions are something special. For people who have not been to a basketball game, it is worth going along. It is not like a football game or a rugby game. I have seen Raiders play at the Copper Box at the Olympic park and I was brimming with pride at seeing them play on such a big stage, but there is no place like home. We have Foxy the mascot, the best basketball cheerleaders in the country, indoor fireworks, music, competitions on court and a chance to see hero players—going to a basketball game is fantastic. I last saw Raiders play on 11 February when our friends from Glasgow gave my boys a bit of a beating—the score was 63-86. Glasgow Rocks outplayed us, but it was a fantastic game. The drama and cheerleaders were electric.
Some hon. Members will know that as a massive gay, I am not really into the traditional cheerleader, but I am a big fan of equality, which Plymouth Raiders can boast about. In October 2015, Terrell Lawrence became the British Basketball League’s first male cheerleader and he remains centre-stage as the team’s choreographer and fitness coach. To be honest, I would love to be able to bust a move like he does when Raiders go on. It is on my bucket list, but sadly I fear my busting-a-move days are behind me.
The serious point of this debate is that despite basketball’s growing popularity, its funding is a real concern. As a country, we need to look at how we adopt our funding model. It is great that we put money behind going for gold, but we also need to put money behind sports that are growing in our communities, especially at the grassroots.
The lack of certainty about elite-level funding for basketball from UK Sport and Sport England has already been discussed. It needs to be pushed for. If we cannot compete at the highest level and allow our players to do what they do best—give it a go—we lose the role models our young people need to aspire to keep pushing themselves. We need better and more consistent elite and grassroots funding.
Basketball is a sport that centres on team spirit and attracts children and young people, particularly from working class and ethnic minority backgrounds. The lack of funding largely targets the underprivileged areas of the UK, including in Plymouth. The Minister will know that a lack of funding has consequences. She is a real sports fan and is passionate about participation, so she will take these concerns seriously. We need to compete at the world cup, EuroBasket, the Commonwealth games and the Olympics. We also need to be able to compete in new sports such as the 3 on 3, which my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West mentioned.
In a world where we are at risk of turning our back on the global stage, we need to put our best foot forward and compete at international competitions. Basketball teams, like other sports teams, are a source of huge local and regional pride. Sport has a unique power to bring people together. Although basketball was not an English sport originally, it is one that the British people have adopted and hold dear.
This is a debate about not just the sport itself, but what sport can do in our communities. Basketball is a superb example of how elite and grassroots sports teams across the country have a fantastic role to play. Plymouth Raiders have launched two new community clubs for under-16 girls and sessions for walking basketball, which has not been mentioned yet. Similar initiatives are happening across the country and we should give teams the platform to talk up that work. Across the country, whether it is playing, coaching, officiating or volunteering, basketball is a fast-growing sport worthy of support at the highest political level.
Given the time limit, I will cut to the chase. This debate comes at a tough and rough time for urban, inner-city communities in our country. Local authorities have had their money slashed by up to 40%. The idea that they could invest in courts and facilities is, I am afraid, pie in the sky. In a constituency such as mine, knife crime and gun crime are soaring. I thank God for groups such as the Haringey Hawks and the Haringey Angels. I thank God for the basketball facilities we have at Ducketts Common and Finsbury Park.
I ask the Minister very seriously why we are looking at the prospect of the decimation of elite basketball in this country. I remind her that this is absolutely an urban sport and a predominantly black, Asian and minority ethnic sport: almost 60% of adults in the sport are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. The figure for adult men is 75%. That is staggering. In reality, they are role models—role models I desperately need—but there cannot be role models if there is no prospect of making it to the elite.
When I look at the figures for this urban sport, which attracts black, Asian and minority ethnic communities in the numbers it does, I have to ask why hockey received £28.1 million and the rugby league received £51.6 million. Why is it that canoeing, equestrian, cycling and rowing all do so much better? Where is the equity in that formula? Can the Minister satisfy herself that there is no unintended or unconscious bias in the way that judgments are being made about that funding? Urban communities across the country require young people to have the prospect of reaching their hoop dreams.
This debate is important because this is a critical moment for basketball in this country. There are many people in the Public Gallery and across the country waiting to hear what the Minister will say. On the tube, people have tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Are you going to be in the debate? What can you do about it, Mr Lammy?”
When we look at the problems that urban communities have across the country, we cannot talk about dreams and cut them away in the same breath. We need proper grassroots basketball, of course, but we absolutely need the prospect of being successful in the elite game. Ultimately, this debate is about whether we are going to throw that away after all the effort that has been put in. I cannot wait to hear the Minister’s response.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) on bringing this debate to Westminster Hall for consideration. I am pleased to participate and to see whether we can persuade the Minister to do what everyone wants her to do: put more focus on basketball in this place and across the United Kingdom. In Northern Ireland, basketball is a small but passionate community, in which it is fair to say that love of the game has overtaken any issues of identity. With 22 teams in the Basketball Northern Ireland league, it is safe to say that we are happy to play—and hopefully beat—any and all teams.
My interest in basketball comes from my boys. We live on a farm and we had a basketball net out in the yard among the tractors and the cows. The boys played basketball when they could and it was a fun game for them. In America, where we sometimes go on holiday, the love of basketball is a phenomenon like our love of football or rugby. The players are superstars, the cheerleaders are as ferociously competitive as the players, and the sport has a buzz about it. Although we do not currently have that buzz in the UK, that is not to say that we cannot and will not. When I look back at Ulster Rugby in Northern Ireland 20 years ago, they did not have the passion and the buzz around them that they now have. I am astounded at how far they have come. It is not surprising to see young boys and girls walking down the street with their Ulster tops on, which gives an idea of what dedication and promotion can achieve among young people.
What brought about that change? It was the sport’s and promoters’ dedication to slogging away when we were not winning; it was going to schools and inspiring young people to take up the sport; and it was promoting the schools rugby cup with time, money, passion, drive and determination. All those things have brought about the change that was necessary.
The same can be said about the Northern Ireland football team, who are at a level that was unheard of years ago. We are no longer the joke act. The best teams understand that there is a good chance that they could fall under the weight of the green and white army; many of us have believed that for a long time, and the figures and statistics indicate it as well. For those who have kept paying for season tickets and hoping and believing, the ambition used to be for Northern Ireland to score one goal, but now it is for us to beat the best teams—and we can.
Hon. Members have mentioned cycling. Britain is now the greatest cycling nation in the world. Did that happen by chance, because hundreds more people just decided to take up the sport and were good at it? No, it came through a targeted offensive aimed at young people and showing what could be achieved. Why are we taking the focus off inspiring our young people to get off the sofa, get off their mobiles, interact in a team, build fitness and build relationships? We regularly read figures about childhood obesity. If those figures do not inspire us to act, I do not know what will.
Every year, Wimbledon lights a fire in a child to pick up a tennis racket. My parliamentary aide’s niece and nephew have done just that, and they now play for the Ulster team. We could achieve even more inspiration and attraction, but that takes funding.
For the sake of mental and physical health, combating social isolation, encouraging those who struggle academically and building self-esteem and confidence in children, I ask the Minister and her colleagues for action to help children who play basketball, as well as tennis and other sports. Perhaps we can win gold at the next Olympics—who knows? We can certainly get kids off the sofa and involved in sport if we fund it and make it attractive and accessible. That would be gold enough for me.
It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate, which was introduced with such energy, enthusiasm and expertise by my constituency neighbour and good friend, my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel). In the few minutes available, I would like to address the history of basketball, the implications for its future, and the issue of broadcasting.
As several hon. Members have said, the United States have always provided inspiration. My hon. Friend mentioned “White Men Can’t Jump”; I understand that the basketball film that everyone is looking out for this year is “Uncle Drew”. Basketball first came to the United Kingdom in the 1890s, when a gentleman called C. J. Proctor of the Birkenhead YMCA went to Canada, was inspired by the sport and brought it back to our country. The participation of American soldiers in the first world war reinforced that connection. The London YMCA—the greatest team in our country in the 1920s—went to the 1924 Paris Olympics, at which basketball was a demonstration sport, and did not lose a game.
We have that history with the United States, but even today people go on basketball scholarships there and in Europe, because the only way they can become really expert at the game is by going abroad. In my area, the Bradford Dragons have a number of players who have followed that pattern: Zion Tordoff, Eisley Swaine, Mate Okros and Tamas Okros have all played for England at age-group level and are now looking for opportunities elsewhere. At a lower level, the Keighley Wildcats aim
“to promote healthy living, social interaction and community togetherness through our mutual love of the game of basketball”,
which is all organised by a man who goes by the great name of Andy Romero-Birkbeck.
The link with the United States brings me on to broadcasting. Every year, National Basketball Association teams play a game at the O2 in London and not enough is made of it, whereas when American football is played at the O2 we get live free-to-air coverage. The NBA is the greatest basketball league in the world, and we need more support from it. Why not have a British final at the same venue on the same day as the NBA game? That would create an event that might be attractive to free-to-air TV.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West is right to say that some of the basketball figures on the BBC Sport website have been disappointing. More needs to be done to promote the sport, perhaps by showing it on a different night; Friday is a very crowded night for sports, so Thursday might be better. We must also make the most of the broadcasting opportunities from the Commonwealth games. These are only the second ever Commonwealth games—Melbourne was the first—to include a basketball tournament. Both England and Scotland will be represented, and it will all be broadcast live on free-to-air TV. I do not think that the sports for the Commonwealth games in Birmingham have been decided yet, so let us lobby to ensure that they are the first Commonwealth games in the United Kingdom to feature basketball. There is an awful lot more to do on broadcasting and general promotion of the game.
I end with an appeal to the Minister. We all have great confidence in her; we know that she loves sport, that she does not take no for an answer and that she knocks heads together. The rules are the rules, but sometimes they have to be interpreted creatively. We have to preserve our national teams, because they are the heroes and heroines who inspire people to take up the game. Whatever else the Minister does in her tenure, please will she save British basketball?
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) for securing this important debate. As so often happens, my right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) has said what I wanted to say better than I can, so I will be brief.
We have already heard how basketball reaches further into communities than many other sports in this country, how it reaches children from black, Asian and minority ethnic and deprived backgrounds, and what value it provides. The case for funding is clear, but we need to stress the value that basketball can bring to our local communities by tackling the problems that we struggle with in London and across the country, including serious youth violence, and young people getting involved in crime and needing to be helped out.
I will not go through all the statistics, but 2017 was one of the worst years for fatalities, knife crime and youth violence since the ’70s: 39 teenagers were stabbed to death. There have already been 13 fatalities in London this year, and we are only in February. We know that knife crime is a complex issue with many underlying causes that we could debate for hours, but among them are cuts to our youth services. Young people do not have the roots, activities, aspirations, hopes and role models that they once did. Basketball has a real role to play in addressing that.
Absolutely. I have met many young people who have come out of prison, who have carried knives or who have been involved in knife crime or selling drugs. Many of them have responded well to sports, including through organisations such as Gloves Not Gunz. There are many different sporting activities that we can encourage people to get involved with, but basketball is a key one.
After the Croydon riots in 2011, teachers and basketball players in Croydon set up the Croydon Cougars. The club does fantastic work with local people, and it also manages to fit in some extra homework time, so that children can play basketball for free and get tuition and help with homework afterwards—a good combination. Croydon Council and OnSide Youth Zones are funding a very big and impressive new, all-singing, all-dancing, youth centre in Croydon that will cost £6 million and will open next year. It should bring in thousands of young people and give them things to do, and basketball will be a key part of it.
I want young people in Croydon to be able to say, “If I put the effort in, show talent and become good at this, there is a pathway right to the very top,” but unless we fund the very top as well as the grassroots, that pathway will not be there for them. I echo other hon. Members in urging the Minister to consider basketball really carefully and see whether she can find some money for it.
Thank you for calling me to speak, Mr Bailey. It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair once again.
It is also a pleasure to take part in this debate, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), not only on securing it, but on getting on the parliamentary record what I think is the first reference to Ice Cube. He will be remembered for that, if for nothing else. I also echo the sentiments expressed so powerfully by the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy); I think he spoke for many of us.
Unfortunately, basketball is a slightly touchy subject in my constituency. As we heard, we hosted the Scottish Rocks at the Braehead arena for about six years. In 2008, however, they moved to Kelvin Hall in Glasgow, before moving to their current home at the Emirates arena. Their move to Glasgow coincided with a name change: the team is now called the Glasgow Rocks. We already have Glasgow airport in the Renfrewshire area, so I am sure we could live with the name change if the team chose to come back to Renfrewshire.
We shall see about that. The Rocks attract healthy crowds. Their popularity should not come as a surprise, given that they are second in the British Basketball League championship, sitting just behind what is apparently the best team in the league, the Newcastle Eagles, and given that basketball is so popular in local schools and communities. As we have heard, it is also popular in English schools, where over a million children between the ages of 11 and 15 play the sport.
A survey carried out by Sport England in 2012-13 identified basketball as the third most popular sport for once-a-week participation among over-16s, behind only football and rugby union. That level of engagement is mirrored in other age groups, because basketball was the fourth largest team sport in 2016, with over 160,000 people playing recreationally every single week.
I have witnessed the popularity of this sport in my constituency, through the excellent work of React Basketball. It exists to advance public participation in the sport, regardless of how good someone is at it. Essentially, its work is about keeping children active. The great thing about React is that its work is not limited to encouraging boys and girls to play the sport; it also works to instil a sense of social responsibility and pride in young people. It is firmly rooted in the community, and it extends its efforts to raising funds for other causes, such as cancer research. It is a fantastic example of a sporting charity that uses the power of sport not only to help those whom it engages with directly, but to help improve local communities and wider society.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the achievements of Basketball Paisley. It is considered to be one of Scotland’s biggest and most successful basketball clubs, and since its inception its various teams have managed to bring 95 trophies back to Paisley. In fact, only last Friday night, the senior men’s team were crowned Scottish league champions, 18 years after their last league title.
As with React, Basketball Paisley is successful on and off the court: it does community outreach work, and runs community clubs across Renfrewshire and East Renfrewshire for kids from primary school through to second year at secondary school. These clubs are open to everyone regardless of ability, and are always popular among schoolchildren.
Basketball also leads the way when it comes to disability sport: many disabled people play and become involved in it. The Great Britain wheelchair men’s basketball team won gold in the European championships for the third time in a row in 2015 and were fourth at the London Olympics, and the GB women’s team won their second bronze in a row at the European championships in 2015. Wheelchair basketball is an inclusive sport that allows many individuals who would not normally be able to access sporting opportunities to become involved in sport. According to the all-party group on basketball, wheelchair basketball is the largest disability sport in the world, and it has the world’s largest women’s league in disability sport.
British Basketball is working hard to grow basketball, and its “Transforming Basketball in Britain Together” strategy sets out its intentions to improve the sport in all parts of the UK, from grassroots through to elite level. However, as I will discuss a little later, basketball, like other sports, is held back by UK Sport’s fixation with funding only elite sports that have medal potential. The Scottish Government recognise the popularity of basketball and encourage people across Scotland to play it. The Shell Twilight Basketball project, supported by the Scottish Government’s CashBack for Communities fund, which we have already heard about, provides basketball sessions infused with education and life skills for all those aged between 11 and 21.
The Scottish Government are keen to get more women playing different sports, including basketball, and in 2017 they announced a fund to help that aim become a reality. One of the projects that benefited from that fund was the Scottish Women Warriors wheelchair basketball club. It is a fantastic club that is based on the philosophy that it is
“about what you can do—not about what you can’t do”.
It is a fantastic resource to get people fit and healthy, but perhaps even more importantly, the Scottish Women Warriors club serves as a vital support network for all the women involved. Projects such as this one have helped to grow the sport over the past four years, with research from the Scottish Parliament Information Centre revealing that 82% more women now play in basketball clubs. Groups such as the Scottish Women Warriors not only highlight the inclusivity of wheelchair basketball but help to capture the growth of the sport.
A few months ago, I met Kevin Pringle and David Watt from Basketball Scotland, and they spoke with great passion about the fantastic work that the sport does to encourage individuals from all backgrounds to start playing it. It is important that such work is recognised in the funding of groups.
As I have said, one of the stumbling blocks threatening the growth of basketball is the stringent funding criteria of UK Sport. This issue does not just affect basketball. I have written to UK Sport about the impact that its funding criteria have on other sports, such as badminton. Another stumbling block is the historically low level of direct funding for basketball in relative terms. As we heard from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), basketball receives only £102 per adult participant. She referred to netball, but hockey receives £259 a head in funding, and my sport of rugby union receives £276 a head. These are the figures for Sport England funding only; if we include elite funding from UK Sport, the discrepancies become far, far greater.
UK Sport’s funding criteria ignore the high participation rates for basketball, and the sport is also doing great work in recruiting individuals from diverse backgrounds. I agree with British Basketball when it says:
“We believe Basketball has a unique case for funding, as it is not just a sport, but also a way to engage disengaged young people, particularly from BAME communities, and offer wider life opportunities, and reduce the potential for involvement in anti-social and criminal activities”.
Unfortunately, despite the great work that basketball does in our communities by improving health outcomes, reducing antisocial behaviour and encouraging involvement from diverse groups, British Basketball warns that it is reaching a “crisis point in funding”, which puts its progress in real danger.
Winning a medal at the Olympics should not be the only way in which we judge success. UK Sport’s funding criteria should also judge participation rates, engagement from diverse backgrounds and social impact. Assessing sports by these factors would help sports such as basketball to grow and flourish.
Much more importantly, right across the four nations we need to become much fitter and healthier. The obesity and inactivity rates are desperately high, and they not only impact on individuals, particularly later in life, but are a great cost to society and the public purse. It is estimated that obesity and physical inactivity cost NHS services across the UK around £6 billion a year, and the cost to the wider economy would be much higher.
The future of basketball can be bright, but the sport needs to be supported to achieve its full potential. Experience shows that young people from all backgrounds are jumping—literally and figuratively—at the chance to play basketball. However, the success of the sport is under threat due to the funding criteria of UK Sport. We need to use this debate to call on UK Sport to recognise participation rates as much as it recognises medal success or medal potential. We all want to see our teams and athletes winning medals, but the best way to ensure that happens is by supporting grassroots sports and providing a pathway through to the elite level.
I will end by congratulating Scotland on qualifying for the Commonwealth games for the first time. I wish the team all the very best on the Gold Coast.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey.
First, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) for calling this debate. He is a champion of basketball, serving as the chair of the all-party group on basketball, and is also a fierce supporter of his local team, Leeds Force.
I also thank all Members from all parties for their contributions today. As has already been pointed out, basketball is a truly unique sport. I played on my university team for three years and enjoyed it, proving that mixed-race, Pakistani-Polish girls can jump. [Laughter.]
Basketball has an amazing grassroots following and reaches out to demographics that other sports simply cannot. It gathers popular support among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, and among those who come from traditionally poorer backgrounds.
In the UK, basketball is the second most popular sport played by 11 to 15-year-olds, and that cannot go unnoticed. One in four teenagers played it last month alone. The sport can play a major role in supporting communities and can help to address the issues they traditionally face. My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) made that point most eloquently. Those issues include everything from education and health to inclusion, aspiration and employment opportunities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) says, it can also do a great deal to deter people from engaging in criminal activities and help them to stay out of gangs. Yet it remains woefully underfunded, under-appreciated and under-acknowledged. Facilities are poor and many local clubs struggle financially. If basketball is to continue to support our communities, we must support basketball—it needs proper funding. We need to plan for the future. We need to create role models. We need to inspire.
Part of the attraction for young aspiring players is being able to see themselves and their values in the players they support, respect and look up to. Some of the most famous basketball players the world has seen started out in the sort of communities we need to inspire. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) spoke eloquently about the need for role models and about how we cannot ignore the communities that basketball speaks to. We have Luol Deng, originally from Sudan, who moved to Brixton, where he played basketball at his local club and went on to become a two-time NBA all-star. Do we have the next Luol Deng, the next LeBron James, the next Michael Jordan, in our ranks? We do not know. But one thing is certain: if we do not fund basketball, we will never know.
Sadly, no Government funding will be available for elite athletes from April. That risks preventing participation in the world cup, EuroBasket, the Commonwealth games and the Olympics. Although success at the Olympics brings wonderful plaudits for those sportsmen and women who work tirelessly for success, our funding formula cannot always be driven by Olympic medal potential. As my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (John Grogan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport (Luke Pollard) have said, it is right that as a country we support athletes who are at the top of their game—those who have the ability to achieve their dreams—but when large swathes of young people are galvanised by their love for a sport such as basketball and not by Olympic medal potential, we owe it to them to ensure adequate funding.
It is a terrible shame that our professional basketball teams have been pushed to the brink of financial collapse. A last-minute deal saved our national team from pulling out of the European championships this year. Without additional funding, we risk losing future stars and damaging the positive impact that basketball has on all our communities. The recent U-turn made by Sport England suggests that there is the capacity for bespoke partnerships. Badminton was originally one of five sports set to lose all its funding for the next Olympic and Paralympic games; however, it has now been placed on a medal support plan, following the team’s success at the 2017 world cup championships.
Basketball’s contribution to local communities deserves recognition. Look at who we have here in Westminster Hall, coming and fighting for their sport. Look at the cross-party agreement we have today about the necessity of adequate funding for basketball. Sometimes sports need to be judged more than on just their medal potential. The narrative must change. I hope that the Minister agrees that if we refuse to give basketball the funding it needs, we risk losing an exceptional sport and all the people it reaches out to.
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank the hon. Member for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel) for securing this debate. Given the number of contributions from colleagues across the House, I hope that the players who have travelled to watch the debate from the Gallery, and indeed those who are watching outside, recognise how much we value basketball in this place.
Colleagues have made some brilliant speeches, and at this point I particularly mention those of my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning), the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), the right hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr Lammy) and the hon. Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones). My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead—a genuine champion for sport in his constituency, and a fellow Tottenham fan—made a really important point about getting basketball working better together, and I would welcome his thoughts and comments after the debate on how we can make that happen. Likewise, the hon. Member for Keighley (John Grogan) made some really important points about broadcasting and displayed some creative thinking about how we can bring that together, so I would welcome his thoughts also on how we can promote the game.
I completely agree. I will refer to the BBC coverage in my speech. It is important to remember that people watch the BBC’s free-to-air broadcasting and that it brings value to sport in this country.
I pay tribute to the comments made by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West, who has been a true champion of basketball for all the time we have been in the House together. It was her passion that had me shooting some hoops in the shadow of Big Ben in the pouring rain—it was hard, however, for me to shake off my netball arm. She mentioned some comparative funding figures. I know she appreciates that funding is complex and is allocated for lots of different factors, and I hope she will not mind if I take her points away, consider them in more detail and get back to her if necessary.
In response to the points made by the right hon. Member for Tottenham and the hon. Member for Croydon Central, I could not agree more about the disruptive and the diversionary power of sport. I sit on all the relevant ministerial groups—something I am sure they appreciate—including that on gangs, in which I regularly try to promote sport and ensure that its power is recognised and funding made available, so that projects can go into communities to help the disruptive and the diversionary aspects that the Members are rightly concerned about in their London constituencies.
As a nation, we should be proud of the investments we make in support of sport, both at the grassroots and on the Olympic and Paralympic stage. After Rio in 2016, many international Sports Ministers came to me to see how they could get a better understanding of how we invest in sport, with our unique mix of Exchequer and lottery funding. We are very different from America, for example, where sport is solely privately funded, and from China, where it is completely state-funded. We have a true mix of funding streams. As colleagues know, Sport England invests lottery and Exchequer funds in its “Towards an Active Nation” strategy. Sport and physical activity have the power to transform people’s wellbeing and create a fitter, healthier and happier nation. UK Sport inspires the nation by investing in Olympic and Paralympic success. The two organisations have an agreed memorandum of understanding on talent, but are largely tasked to invest in sport and physical activity at different levels against criteria specific to their remits.
I am a fan of basketball. I never played, because my sister is about 6 inches taller than me and also three years younger. So I stuck to football and she stuck to basketball and my poor mum’s garden was obliterated as a consequence. However, I recognise the opportunities basketball provides across the country and internationally. At the grassroots, basketball can have great success in engaging young people from disadvantaged communities, which is reflected in Sport England’s investment in the sport at that level. The organisation’s Active Lives figures show that just over 300,000 people in England had played basketball at least twice in the previous 28 days, and between 2013 and 2021 it expects to invest just over £18 million in basketball’s grassroots. That investment runs much wider than in national governing bodies, and includes localised projects such as StreetGames doorstep clubs and providers such as Reach and Teach. Basketball England will receive £2.1 million of Sport England investment to deliver satellite clubs that create regular, informal opportunities for young people who have not made the commitment to regular club basketball or are completely new to the game, particularly young people from groups typically underrepresented in sport. Other organisations such as county sports partnerships also receive funding to invest in satellite club projects locally, including basketball provision. A total of 608 satellite clubs have been established between 2013 and 2018, attracting nearly 45,000 young people.
Basketball is a sport with professional opportunities for those with skill and commitment. The men’s and women’s British basketball leagues represent the top tier of domestic competition. They offer ambitious playing opportunities for some of the most talented individuals and a showcase of regular live games for their fans. As has been mentioned, not only can BBL fans follow the competition in person or streamed online, but they can now enjoy 32 games broadcast on the BBC via the red button, making the domestic league possibly more accessible than ever before. There is always more to be done, but rights are matters for national governing bodies. Earlier this year we welcomed an eighth regular season NBA game to London, and I am keen to encourage more NBA presence and investment in the UK as part of our wider ambitions to bring more US sports over here.
There is much to appreciate about basketball in the UK, but we find ourselves in a difficult financial situation. A great number of conversations have taken place in recent months with British Basketball, Sport England, UK Sport and the hon. Member for Leeds North West and the all-party group about the state of the finances in supporting a financially sustainable GB set-up. It is with great regret that none of that investigation has identified viable solutions. That has led to us discussing the matter here again today.
When I saw British Basketball last year, it was optimistic about a commercial sponsorship that would have helped enormously, but sadly that fell through. British Basketball approached my Department again in January to outline its immediate shortfall, and a great deal of effort on all parts sought a potential solution to support the age group GB teams through Sport England talent funding. As our English sports council, Sport England invests in participation and physical activity, but its priority must be to support its grassroots programmes, which include using sport to reach into communities that other initiatives do not.
The other sports body in which we invest Exchequer and lottery funds is UK Sport. UK Sport funds Olympic and Paralympic success. Its “No compromise” funding philosophy has taken the GB Olympic team from 36th in the medal table in Atlanta 1996 to third in London and now to second at Rio 2016 in both the Olympic and Paralympic Games. It has done that through investing strategically in the right sports, the right athletes and the right support programmes to meet its goals. UK Sport has made its complex funding decisions for this Olympic and Paralympic cycle, as in previous cycles, based on the likelihood of medal-winning performances in Tokyo in 2020. Against those fundamental criteria, basketball is sadly not yet in a position to receive funding.
However, the hon. Member for Leeds North West raised the issue of 3 on 3 funding, and I am happy to look further into that, particularly since the qualification process will not be confirmed until early next year. That will have a huge impact on the shape of the competition. Indeed, that issue was one of the key asks in his speech. I hope that I have reassured him that I will take that away.
We have established an expert body in UK Sport—it is envied around the world—to take on the funding mandate and make difficult decisions on how to deliver within that. I still believe that it is important that it is not a matter of direct ministerial intervention. These long-term investments are measured and monitored against clear criteria, not my personal interests or empathy.
On the point the Minister has just made—I am grateful she will look at 3 on 3—we could be in a situation after the next Olympics where elite and Olympic sport are further away from urban communities, but in other communities, where there is hockey, canoeing and rowing, it is all around.
I hear what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. That is why it is important that we continue to invest in the grassroots and community delivery. I completely empathise and sympathise with the points that he and others have made about the talent pathway. That is why we need to continue to have these conversations, particularly around 3 on 3 funding.
As other colleagues have mentioned, basketball is not the only Olympic sport that UK Sport does not fund. While I completely agree about the good opportunities it can deliver in communities—that is why we will continue to do much through grassroots development—many other sports could set out equally credible reasons to receive elite-level support on a variety of different funding criteria. Eleven governing bodies, including British Basketball, did just that most recently under the banner of “Every sport matters”. I have all 11 in mind as we consider the asks made today.
The Minister is passionate about sport and in particular about basketball, although I know she does not want to be drawn into her personal views and, as a former Minister, I fully understand that. The difference between basketball and the other sports on the list she just referred to—I have looked at it—is that basketball touches areas of the community that are not touched by those other sports. We are reaching out beyond communities such as Tottenham, where I grew up, into areas such as my constituency, where we did not traditionally have that reach. The participation across communities is not touched by those other sports. Every sport says that it is different, but basketball is clearly different.
I hope that so far in my speech I have assured colleagues that I absolutely recognise that point. It is why we look at different funding criteria for different sports across the whole activity perspective in the sports strategy. We also do that in the work we do in all Departments, whether that is to get people healthy or to get them engaged in their communities and so on. I hear what colleagues are saying, but at the same time funding criteria are set by UK Sport for the Olympics.
It is important to say that no funding criteria have been set beyond Tokyo 2020. UK Sport will begin its Paris 2024 funding cycle in due course. Criteria will be reviewed, offering the opportunity to reflect on the existing strategy of investment for the next cycle. UK Sport will then publish a clear set of investment principles against which future awards will be made. I hope that that reassures Members that this is not a closed book.
Sorry, but I cannot, otherwise I will not give the hon. Member for Leeds North West time to respond. For the current cycle, UK Sport has set a clear investment strategy, has made a long-term commitment to invest against that and is delivering against that.
I recognise that elite basketball and top-flight players can have an enormous impact on the grassroots across the country. Many colleagues have made that point. Clubs such as Brixton Topcats and those mentioned this morning can and do reach some of the most diverse young communities in the country and signpost opportunities for the most talented to follow in their footsteps. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead writes to me on how we can promote and expand basketball and what more can be done together, we will reflect on that.
I am committed to continuing to work with all the constituent bodies delivering basketball in this country and to support grassroots opportunities where they are needed. We will always consider providing elite team funding should the funding criteria be met, but this debate is not the final discussion. There is still time before the end of March. We all need to work together to ensure that we find a solution. In the meantime, we will continue to support governing bodies, clubs, satellite club providers and other bespoke local projects to support grassroots basketball across the country.
Because I have little time, I will concentrate on the Minister’s remarks. I thank her for taking on board two of my recommendations, but I want to refer to the conversations I had yesterday with UK Sport. It admitted that basketball had medal potential, but that it would take 12 years. UK Sport initially funded basketball in 2006, but that ceased in 2014. UK Sport did not see through those 12 years that it identified to me on the phone yesterday. As my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) said, funding is £102 per adult participant, which is the lowest of any team sport, even though it has the second highest participation rates. With those participation rates, it surely has Olympic potential, and UK Sport admitted as much.
A number of Members, including the hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Paisley and Renfrewshire North (Gavin Newlands) and my hon. Friends the Members for Keighley (John Grogan) and for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), mentioned the Commonwealth games. I want to highlight the letter that FIBA sent to the Minister yesterday. I received a copy. It said:
“I revert to the FIBA October letter, sent to British Basketball, that England and Scotland’s Commonwealth Games participation could still be under threat if Great Britain Basketball cannot fulfil its senior fixtures in the next windows.”
Yesterday, UK Sport said to me that GB Basketball should perhaps relook at its strategy and concentrate on the Commonwealth games. FIBA said that is not possible. I am concerned that UK Sport is luxuriating in complacency about UK basketball and does not understand the implications of its actions across the piece. An urgent discussion is needed among the Minister, possibly me, GB Basketball, Sport England, UK Sport and others, and I am glad that the Minister is committed to that. As a matter of urgency, we need to move things on so that we can save UK basketball, which is a unique sport in this country.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the future of basketball in the UK.
PACE Trial: People with ME
[Mr Philip Hollobone in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered the PACE trial and its effect on people with ME.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone.
“The doctor doesn’t see me crawl on the floor. The doctor doesn’t know I don’t shower every day or brush my teeth twice a day like everyone else. He isn’t aware of my frequent sore throats, my poor balance, my difficulties with reading, my muscle twitches, or my sound intolerance, and he certainly wasn’t here to nurse me when once I was too weak to eat.”
Those are the words of a junior doctor living with ME, who alongside nearly 1,000 others has contacted me prior to this debate.
Myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME, has been described in many ways, but labels such as chronic fatigue syndrome or post-viral fatigue syndrome simply do not come close to the living hell experienced by many ME sufferers—a hell that is made worse by the lack of understanding that is faced when seeking help.
ME is estimated to affect about 250,000 people in the UK and is classified by the World Health Organisation as a disease of the central nervous system. Symptoms can include debilitating muscle pain, severe headaches that are often made worse by light or noise, significant impairment of short-term memory and post-exertion malaise that can last days and even weeks.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this debate. Does she agree that there is still huge concern among ME patients that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says it will not abandon the promotion of physio-social therapies for ME, despite the widespread scientific criticism of the PACE trial methodology, and that we must ensure that that is addressed as a matter of urgency?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I will come on to the NICE guidelines later in my speech.
Although ME is a pathological, not psychological, condition, much about it remains a mystery. The reasons for that are twofold. First, many sufferers are housebound and therefore easy for society to ignore. Secondly, there is a lack of awareness among medical professionals and as a result a woeful lack of quality research. What we do know is that ME is often triggered by a viral infection such as flu, but, unlike healthy individuals, people living with ME do not recover. Into that research drought entered the PACE trial—pacing, graded activity and cognitive behaviour therapy; a randomised evaluation.
The trial was unique in medical research. It was funded by the Department for Work and Pensions to the tune of £5 million, a point to which I will return. From the very start the PACE trial was flawed. In contravention of the World Health Organisation classification, it assumed that ME was psychological and sufferers could recover if they chose so to do. Thus the PACE trial was framed in psychological terms.
I thank the hon. Lady for securing this important debate. Does she agree with me that a lot of employers do not really understand how people with ME suffer and that that can affect their employment? It can also affect housewives.
Absolutely. The public perceive it as mere tiredness, but it is so much more than that. The debilitating pain that ME sufferers experience is something that we all should be aware of.
The participants in the PACE trial received a range of different treatments, including cognitive behaviour therapy and graded exercise therapy, where patients were encouraged to become physically active and then increase the activity’s intensity. Unbelievably for a trial this large, none of the groups was given specific medical interventions. The results were published in The Lancet in 2011, with the contentious claim that CBT and GET brought 30% of patients back to normal, while 60% improved. The media reported that all ME sufferers had to do to recover was exercise. However, the report was immediately questioned by the patient community. How could exercise, the very thing that was known to worsen symptoms, actually help?
My friend Jo from Leeds wrote to me:
“I’ve had CFS/ME for 25 years. I’d had it for 10 years before it was diagnosed. When I was diagnosed in Sheffield I was told there was literally no service they could refer me to and relied largely on a local support group. I was told by a Leeds GP to ‘just get on with life’ despite trying to hold down a professional job and look after a young child.”
That is a typical story of somebody with ME.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. It is typical, because the PACE trial had such publicity and was lauded by many as the answer. One participant in the original trial has contacted me:
“I was determined to be a part of the...trial because I wanted to get better—so if this ‘treatment’ could make me better I wanted to give it the chance to do so. I was assigned Graded Exercise Therapy. It never occurred to me that it would actually make me more ill. Nor did it occur to me that decline would not be documented, and that despite patients not recovering (or in some cases worsening), they would publish that the treatment was successful...It was stressed that I would only get better if I tried harder, and even though the graded exercise was clearly making me worse, my struggle and pain was dismissed.”
Absolutely. In fact, I will be calling for the patient voice to be heard in any treatments.
Calls to publish the raw data—basic protocol in good research—were ignored. Queen Mary University spent an estimated £200,000 on keeping the data hidden. Finally, after a long battle, patients won a court order to force the PACE authors to release the data. It was discovered that the authors had altered the way in which they measured improvement and recovery, to increase the apparent benefit of the therapies. Re-analysis showed that the improvement rate fell from 60% to 21% and the recovery rate fell from 22% to just 7%.
The method of patient reporting has also been questioned. As one participant says:
“After repeatedly being asked how severe...my symptoms were—in the context of…it’s just me not trying hard enough...I started to feel like I had to put a...positive spin on my...answers. I could not be honest about just how bad it was, as that would...tell the doctors I wasn’t trying and I wasn’t being positive enough. When I was completing questionnaires...I remember second guessing myself and thinking for every answer: ‘Is it really that bad? Am I just not looking at things positively enough?’”
Yes. I will come on to how an appropriate trial could be done. First, I will mention the self-reporting that was a part of the trial. Questionnaires provided the data and measures of success. There were no physiological or scientific measurements. For patients the damage was done. I am a science teacher by profession and I always told my pupils that there are a number of stages to any scientific investigation: “Start with a hypothesis. Decide how you will test this theory, what measurements you will make, how you will record your results and how you will use these results to draw your conclusions. Those conclusions, which might be different from the original hypothesis, must be based on the evidence you have gathered.”
That did not happen in the PACE trial, which relied on patient self-reporting, rather than measurable physiological parameters. Furthermore, when the results were not as expected, rather than revise the original hypothesis, the investigators simply changed the success criteria. Thus patients participating in GET who had deteriorated during the study were considered recovered.
There are, of course, ways of measuring the physiological impact of exercise. The two-day cardiopulmonary exercise test can objectively measure post-exertional malaise. We know that a person with ME can perform adequately—sometimes even well—on the first day, but can have greatly reduced cardiopulmonary function on the second. The test requires the participant to exercise on a static bicycle, and allows data on oxygen consumption, workload and gas exchange to be measured. Two identical tests, separated by 24 hours, must be carried out to properly measure the impact of exercise. Results from a single test could be interpreted as a lack of fitness. Two tests change that to something quite different. A healthy person will perform better the second time; an ME sufferer will most likely be worse.
Of course, the failure of the PACE trial to do that could simply be put down to bad science, but unfortunately I believe that there is far more to it. One wonders why the DWP would fund such a trial, unless it was seen as a way of removing people from long-term benefits and reducing the welfare bill.
The hon. Lady is speaking very well about the challenges that this illness presents to people, but does she share my concern that in Scotland there is only one specialist, nurse-led ME facility and there are no specialist ME consultants? She raises an important point, but in terms of NHS awareness of the condition, we need to do more to ensure that people are getting the treatment that they undoubtedly need.
This is a worldwide issue. The PACE trial results have affected people all over the world. In my folder, I have examples of people from Australia, the United States and Canada. Although there are no specialist centres in Scotland, the ones in England are recommending graded exercise therapy, which is making people worse. We need to deal with the issue.
I will make some progress. The PACE trial was used to inform NICE guidelines, which has meant that symptoms have been disregarded, and sufferers are considered to be attention-seeking hypochondriacs or even, in the case of some female patients, hysterical. Although in some ways the lack of belief has been the most difficult thing for sufferers and their families, the impact of the PACE trial and the resulting NICE guidelines is far further reaching. Many sufferers have reported major difficulties in accessing financial support. Employment and support allowance assessments do not consider the impact of exertion on a person’s ability to function on subsequent days, and personal independence payment assessments, which consider ME to be psychological following the PACE report, mean that sufferers struggle to access that entitlement and simply rely on family members.
Conflicts of interest in the trial are also deeply worrying. The former chief medical adviser to the DWP sat on the trial’s steering committee, and ultimately the results of the trial have been used to penalise those with ME. When we consider the relationship between key PACE investigators and major health insurance companies such as Unum, the trial takes on a far more sinister slant. Sufferers have reported that their health insurance company would pay out only if they undertook a programme of GET—an impossible task, as the insurance giants knew.
It is not only adults who are affected. Children with the disease have been subject to care proceedings because of widespread misunderstanding among health workers. ME has been mistaken for school phobia, neglect or even abuse.
I will in a moment. One mother contacted me, saying:
“Our 12 year old son was seen at specialist ME centre by a consultant who prescribed GET. In one year this ‘programme’ caused our youngster’s body to develop higher and higher levels of inflammation, he began limping, was in continual pain from not only the ME headaches but joint and foot pain. The comments were ‘well he managed to limp into my office’, ‘you were very active, now since the virus you are very inactive, so you will have this pain due to lack of exercise’.
GET caused his body’s immune system to go into overdrive. My son developed Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. This was treated by a paediatric Rheumatology Consultant who was shocked it had been left so long and told my son that his toes would be permanently swollen even after treatment as the bones had grown abnormally during the inflammation”.
Many parents who try to home school their children also face local authority intervention, trying to get the children back to school. We must listen to patients.
This disease is very easy to ignore. All too often, those living with ME are housebound, and suffer from what they refer to as “brain fog”, which makes it difficult to mount an organised campaign. That means that much about ME remains unknown. There is some evidence that it could be grouped with auto-immune conditions such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Some people have reported that certain anti-viral drugs improve their condition, but without properly conducted scientific research, we do not have the answers. Ultimately, the impact of the PACE trial on those with ME has been devastating.
My hon. Friend makes a good case. My constituent Carol Ann McGregor has had ME since 1996 and has been bedbound for seven years. She says that she has
“lost my life, health, husband, my career and my home”.
Does my hon. Friend agree with my long-term family friend Maureen Bivard that the cover-up, and the way in which the PACE trial was carried out, amounts to a miscarriage of justice for patients?
I am just going to finish off. I am pleased that NICE is reviewing its guidelines on ME and has removed the recommendations to embark on harmful exercise, but I was contacted only last week by a lady who had been told recently by her GP to exercise her way to health. That highlights the huge need for education and for raising awareness among both the public and medical practitioners.
I ask the Minister: can the next set of guidelines be drawn up through listening to those living with ME? What plans does she have to introduce compulsory training for medical practitioners on ME care and treatment? Can she assure me that specialist ME treatment centres are not advertising graded exercise therapy as a method of recovery? Will she support proper funding for ME research? Lastly, will she work with DWP colleagues to ensure that new guidelines are drawn up for dealing with people with ME?
Finally, I thank the Countess of Mar and the ME Association for helping me to prepare for today. I also thank those living with ME, whose voices are not being heard.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) on securing today’s debate. As she has articulated so beautifully, the situation is clearly very concerning. I know that she has done an enormous amount of work in this area, and has met people, both in her constituency and more widely, affected by the condition, and with expertise on the condition, to hear about its impact on individuals’ lives. As MPs, we all know people in our constituencies who are affected by the condition.
As we have heard, chronic fatigue syndrome, also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis or encephalopathy, is a debilitating and very poorly understood condition, which is estimated to affect more than 200,000 people in England. We do not understand the underlying causes of it, there is no one diagnostic test to identify it, and although patients can improve and recover, there is no cure for it. The condition, which for brevity and to avoid covering you in a thin layer of spittle, Mr Hollobone, I shall refer to in the abbreviated form CFS/ME, can stop a life in its tracks, leaving sufferers unable to carry out the most basic tasks. In the most serious cases, people can be bedbound for weeks at a time. It has a complex range of symptoms, including a very disabling, flu-like fatigue and malaise, and neurological problems. Of course, the impact on friends, families and carers can be significant as well.
It is also true that the difficulties in diagnosis mean that patients with CFS/ME often experience delays in getting the treatment and support that they need. In recognising the need for GPs to be aware of the condition, the Royal College of General Practitioners identified CFS/ME as a key area of technical knowledge that GPs should have as part of their qualifying exams, which answers a question raised by the hon. Lady.
The recommended treatments for CFS/ME, namely cognitive behavioural therapy, or CBT, and graded exercise therapy, or GET, and the evidence for them are the subject of today’s debate. Those treatments were first recommended for patients with mild or moderate CFS/ME in 2007 in the NICE guidance, in line with the best available evidence, which showed that the treatments offered benefits. The guidance sets out that there is no one form of treatment to suit every patient and that the personal needs and preferences of patients should be taken into account. Doctors should explain that no single strategy will be successful for all patients; that in common with all people receiving NHS care, CFS/ME patients have the right to refuse or withdraw from any part of their treatment; and that those with severe symptoms may require access to a wider range of support, managed by a CFS/ME specialist.
The results of the PACE trail, which examined pacing therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, graded exercise and specialist medical care for chronic fatigue syndrome, were published four years after the NICE guidance. The trial ran from 2005 to 2011 and, contrary to what the hon. Lady said, was primarily funded by the Medical Research Council, not the DWP. Total funding was £5 million and the MRC contributed almost £3 million.
The study was undertaken by the Queen Mary University of London. It was the largest ever trial for CFS/ME, including more than 600 participants in England and Scotland. It sought to assess and compare the effectiveness of the four main treatments for CFS/ME—adaptive pacing therapy, CBT, GET and standardised specialist medical care.
The peer-reviewed trial results published in The Lancet in 2011 found, as the hon. Lady said, that 60% of patients with CFS/ME benefited from CBT and GET when provided alongside specialist medical care. CBT and GET were found to be better than pacing therapy or specialist medical care alone in improving both symptoms and disability, and a follow-up study looking at recovery after one year further supported the benefits of interventions. The trial had ethical approval from the NHS research ethics committee and had ongoing oversight from an independent trial steering committee, which included patient representatives. Trial reports were regularly provided to a data monitoring and ethics committee that had the power to halt the trial if harm was indicated. NICE considered the PACE results in 2011 and concluded that they supported its existing recommendations on both CBT and GET.
The Government are aware that the use of CBT and GET in treating CFS/ME has long been a controversial issue for patient groups, charities and some clinicians. That began with the publication of the NICE guidance 10 years ago and continued with the PACE trial. Since 2011, PACE trial data has been shared with many independent scientists as part of normal research collaboration, including the internationally respected research organisation Cochrane, which independently validated the findings. However, in the last 18 months, the attention on the trial has increased substantially, following a tribunal ruling in August 2016 ordering the release of the trial data to a member of the public, which the hon. Lady referred to. The data has since been examined more widely and critics, including some clinical academics, have suggested that it shows that CBT and GET are not as effective as the trial results suggested.
This is clearly a very important debate. I think both the hon. Member for Glasgow North West and the Minister would agree that it is not possible to do justice to the concerns raised by all our constituents, and the 200,000 sufferers that the Minister has identified, in half an hour. Does the Minister agree that this is a subject worthy of wider debate in the House of Commons? Constituents such as Sarah Reed, who have written to me, say that because of the belief in CBT and GET, and because academics believe in the results, many other treatments have not been pursued. Does the Minister feel angry about that?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her intervention. As has already been said, it is important that we listen to patients. As I will go on to explain, NICE is now looking at reviewing its guidance on this and, in the light of that, it may well be worth discussing the issue more fully.
Does the Minister agree that believing patients is also important here? Patients with the condition are often not believed and concerns about the PACE trial have not been believed, and that has just loaded concerns on those individuals.
As I have already set out, sometimes it can take a really long time for this to be diagnosed. People have to keep going backwards and forwards to GPs and others with their symptoms. Many other potential conditions have to be discounted before it can be fully diagnosed, which often leaves people feeling that their symptoms are not being taken seriously or they are being dismissed. Obviously, that is massively concerning, which is why, as we have already said, it is important that patients are listened to and that clinical professionals are well-equipped to be able to recognise the symptoms and identify them.
As I said, the data has been examined more widely. Critics, including some clinical academics, have suggested that it shows CBT and GET are not as effective as the trial results suggested. In turn, the trial authors have defended their work. They have responded to criticisms in medical journals and the wider medical printed press. I know the hon. Member for Glasgow North West raised one such criticism at the oral evidence session of the Science and Technology Committee in January, concerning possible conflicts of interest of the PACE trial authors. On that point, in line with normal practice, all such conflicts were published with the trial protocol as well as the results. If she has evidence to the contrary, I would be very happy to discuss that with her afterwards.
ME sufferers in my constituency welcome that the NICE guidelines are being reviewed, but one problem is that when they find that the existing treatments do not work for them, there is a lack of alternatives. Does the Minister recognise that alternative treatments need to be looked into urgently and offered to patients?
I am sure that will be part of the NICE guidance. Where there is significant evidence that alternatives deserve greater investigation, I am sure NICE will look at that. I will talk about that a little more in a second.
On conflicts of interest, it is obviously important that researchers and scientists with particular expertise in one area will have worked and shared their expertise in related fields and industries, but transparency regarding conflicts of interests is vital to the integrity of the research. The NHS Health Research Authority already issues guidance on conflicting interests and I understand it will consider whether any further clarity is needed.
Clearly, the controversy around the trial is problematic for researchers, but it is most of all distressing for patients with CFS/ME, who deserve the most appropriate treatment from the NHS and to have confidence in the treatment that is being provided. That is why we welcome the NICE decision to undertake a full review of the guidance, which will examine the concerns around the PACE trial and any implications for its current recommendations. NICE develops its guidance independently to support NHS organisations and clinicians to deliver services in line with the best available evidence. It welcomes the input of stakeholders and more than 10 CFS/ME charities and organisations are already registered to support the guideline development process. All other parties who are interested can comment on the draft scope and draft guidelines at the appropriate time during the development process. Final guidance is expected in October 2020.
The Minister makes the point that final guidance is expected in October 2020, but given the significant doubt over CBT and GET and their impact now, does she recognise the strong case for NICE to suspend the current guidance, which points people towards those potentially damaging treatments?
As an independent organisation, that will of course be a matter for NICE, taking into consideration the evidence.
I know it is a priority for the CFS/ME community that more research into identifying the underlying causes of the condition be undertaken. I would like to reassure those affected that both the MRC and the National Institute for Health Research welcome high-quality applications for research into CFS/ME, including studies to investigate its biological causes, and it will come as welcome news that the MRC is currently funding a project to examine the relationship between abnormal brain structures and symptoms of CFS/ME.
I again thank the hon. Member for Glasgow North West for raising this important issue on behalf of those affected by the condition in her own constituency and up and down the country. I hope the debate has been helpful.
Question put and agreed to.
NHS Staff: Oxfordshire
I beg to move,
That this House has considered recruitment and retention of NHS staff in Oxfordshire.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I am delighted to have secured this important debate on the retention and recruitment of NHS staff in Oxfordshire. It is a pleasure to see fellow Oxfordshire MPs in the Chamber.
Since my election last summer, the state of the NHS in our county has been one of the issues that my constituents have raised with me most frequently. I pay tribute to all those who work in the NHS in Oxfordshire at every level for their outstanding dedication and commitment to delivering first-class care. We owe it to them, and to patients and their families, to ensure we are providing the best possible service across Oxfordshire and, indeed, the country. I am sure all hon. Members will agree that the staff do an incredible job, but they are under increasing pressure. Some have described the situation as a crisis. Although politicians are prone to hyperbole, I fear that that word is increasingly apt.
Last month, our local NHS hit the headlines nationally, as a leaked memo suggested that Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust is considering rationing rounds of chemotherapy at the Churchill Hospital for terminally ill cancer patients because of a 40% shortfall in the number of specialist nurses needed to deliver care. I spoke with the trust bosses, as I am sure many other hon. Members did, and they assured me that the leaked suggestion is not their policy—it is important to reaffirm that point—but they confirmed that it is one option among many being considered by senior staff in the privacy of internal conversations. It is alarming that they are having such conversations at all. That points to a wider issue that needs to be addressed urgently.
The problem, of course, goes beyond cancer services at the Churchill. I am sure Oxfordshire colleagues have their own experiences. In my advice surgery, junior doctors, who prefer to remain nameless, have told me in confidence that staff shortages at the John Radcliffe Hospital and high workloads are leaving some departments dependent on less experienced doctors. They tell me that that would not have happened in years past, and that they are now anxious about patient safety. They work far more than their allocated hours to catch up with paperwork, and they are especially concerned about the night shift, when the problem is most prevalent.
In recent years, the NHS in our area has been propped up by the good will of staff at all levels—doctors, nurses and ambulance workers alike—who put patients first, but the stress of the job is affecting them and their families, and I am afraid that some are voting with their feet. In nursing, the shortage is most acute. In Oxford, we had 560 unfilled vacancies at the end of last June. The vacancy rate increased from 6% to 10% at OUH trust between October 2016 and October 2017.
Mental health is another area of concern. The child and adolescent mental health services in Abingdon provide outstanding care and support to young people with mental health issues and their families, but I have been contacted by residents who are worried that experienced staff are leaving the profession and the NHS altogether due to the pressure on the service and their workloads. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in the Thames valley area, we have a below average number of consultant psychiatrists per 100,000 people, below average numbers of junior doctor psychiatrists, and below average numbers of psychiatric nurses.
The Department of Health’s pledge to expand the mental health workforce to the tune of 570 extra consultant psychiatrists by 2021 is welcome, but the number of medical students specialising in psychiatry has flatlined. The Government must do more to ensure Oxfordshire has sufficient mental health specialists to make parity of esteem between mental and physical health a reality. I am interested to hear from the Minister what they are doing about that.
On the mental health of NHS workers themselves, there is a huge if perhaps unsurprising problem relating to stress and sick leave. A freedom of information request by the Liberal Democrats found that nurses took 5,869 days off for stress and mental health-related illnesses in Oxfordshire in 2016-17—up 11% on the previous year.
Why are we having all these issues? There are several strands to the problem, some of which are specific to Oxfordshire and some of which are represented more widely in the country. I will take each in turn. My Oxfordshire colleagues on the Conservative Benches, in particular, would be disappointed if I did not take the opportunity to speak about Brexit, so let me do that first. To put it bluntly, the Government need to do more to reassure the EU citizens working in the NHS that they are not just welcome in the UK but valued. They face uncertainty about their future status, whether they will be settled and the cost and bureaucracy of it all, and they do not have faith in the Home Office to manage the gargantuan administrative burden. More than 2,700 EU nurses left the NHS in 2016—a 68% increase since two years ago. Separate figures from the Royal College of Nursing show that the number of EU nationals registering as nurses in England has dropped by 92%. I am told by local EU nurses that one of the main sticking points is uncertainty about whether their time spent in the UK will count towards career progression in their country when they go back home, so people are making the decision not to come to the UK lest they risk being at a disadvantage in their career. Is the Minister aware of that problem? If so, what is the Department doing to tackle it? I would also like to see the introduction of an NHS passport, or an equivalent with a different name, to secure the rights of EU citizens who have made their home here and to encourage others to come now, because we cannot wait to address this crisis.
Coming back to our home-grown population, the Royal College of Nursing suggests that the next generation of British nurses is deterred by pressure, a lack of funding and poor pay. It also says that the cuts to training places are exacerbating the problem. Just a fortnight ago, we learned of a 13% reduction in the number of UCAS applications for nursing, compared with the year before. This is the second year in a row that applications for nursing courses have fallen, and 700 fewer nurses are even starting. NHS Digital figures show that one in 10 nurses is leaving the NHS every year, and that those leaving now outnumber those joining.
I recently visited Abingdon Community Hospital, and the staff there told me that the shortages mean that they are increasingly using agency staff to fill the gap. Although those staff are well trained, there is strain associated with bringing them up to speed while managing everything else. It is not a sustainable situation.
The RCN is clear that the Government’s attempts to increase the number of trainee nurses are not working, and that care failings are becoming more likely. The Government must address this situation urgently so the public can have confidence in safe staffing levels in our NHS. The Department has pledged an extra 5,000 places for student nurses in 2017. Again, that is welcome, but how does it square with the collapse in applications? I would like to hear what the Minister and the Department are doing about that.
I think we can lift the 1% pay cap for NHS staff, who deserve a decent, fair and long overdue pay rise. The Minister must be aware of what the cap is doing to morale across the NHS—especially in areas such as Oxfordshire, where the cost of living is high.
I congratulate the hon. Lady on securing this important debate. She may be about to address this point—I apologise if I am foreshadowing her speech—but she mentioned the cost of living, and of course the cost of housing is a big issue for all of us in Oxfordshire, no matter where we live. Does she agree that one of the most helpful things we can do is to follow the example of schemes such as the partnership in my constituency between Blenheim Estates and West Oxfordshire District Council, which is looking at providing substantially reduced market-rent housing for all key workers—not just those in the health sector? There is a great deal to be done there. Furthermore, institutions such as hospitals may be able to look at similar practices. The clinical commissioning group might take up the long-standing invitation for it to attend growth board meetings, in which it will be able to have some input into the housing provided for key workers, what it costs and where it is located. I am sorry that there are so many points there, but perhaps the hon. Lady can consider them.
Not at all; I thank the hon. Gentleman for his helpful intervention. He is right to foreshadow what is coming later. The more times we make the point, the better, because it is the crux of the issue in Oxfordshire. On the pay cap, when will we see the timetable for the pay review? We need to ensure that the basic cost of living at least is covered. I will come on to housing later.
I am glad about the renewed focus on social care in the Department since the reshuffle, but I sincerely hope that it extends beyond just a name change. Staffing levels for the sector are even worse than in nursing in Oxfordshire. One of the more surprising facts I have learned in recent months has been about how many social care staff are leaving the service locally to fill positions in the retail sector created by the opening of the shiny new Westgate centre in Oxford. Pay is at a similar level, but the work is less stressful, so the people doing those vital social care jobs are deciding that they would rather do something else and take the easier path.
It is not just pay that we are talking about; Oxfordshire pays well for such jobs in comparison with other parts of the country. Our area still struggles to recruit and keep people. The recently published Care Quality Commission report for Oxfordshire found that
“The system in Oxfordshire was particularly challenged by the issues of workforce retention and recruitment across all professions and staff grades”,
and that “countless” concerns had been expressed about recruitment and retention, and their impact on developing a skilled and sustainable workforce.
The report goes on to highlight the need to do more to increase professional development. We must ensure that budgets are available for continuous professional development within the NHS, allowing existing staff to train, develop and build their career over time. Without such opportunities, it is little wonder that they move on. That has been raised vociferously by nursing leads as another key factor in the retention crisis. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about CPD and whether the budget for that will be increased.
Then there is overall funding. At the election, all political parties pledged more, but it was not enough. Rather than just talking about how much, I want to talk about how we can be honest with the public about how to pay for more funding, if we are all agreed that that is needed. In the short term, my party would like to see a ring-fenced penny in the pound on income tax, providing a £6 billion cash injection. In the longer term, and as a replacement for national insurance, on the basis of wide consultation, we advocate a dedicated health and social care tax. The advantage of that would be that people could see in their pay packets exactly what we were paying for.
We also want an NHS and care convention to bring together all political parties and stakeholders, so we stop using the NHS and social care as the political football it was during the election. Recently a letter on the issue backed by nearly 100 MPs was sent to the Prime Minister, but I was saddened to see that it was not taken up. I therefore urge the Minister not only to continue to ask the Prime Minister and the Treasury for more money for the NHS but, critically, to back something along the lines of a cross-party NHS and care convention, so that we can take the NHS out of the hands of political pundits and put it back into the hands of patients, where it belongs.
I have talked about what I would like to see from the Government: an open and generous offer to EU citizens; a decent pay rise; better funding, which is not kicked about as much; improved working conditions; and action on bursaries and training for nurses. But, to come to the point made so eloquently earlier, that will not cut the mustard for Oxfordshire, because our biggest issue by far is the prohibitive cost of housing in the county.
I will share an email I received from one of my constituents in Kidlington who works for the NHS. She contacted me to say that she feels as though she will never be able to afford a house of her own:
“I work for the NHS and although it comes with fantastic benefits and, I hope, great security it doesn’t pay like those who would be doing the same job as me as an office manager, in the private sector.
My situation is that I have been working for NHS nearly 9 years now. I want to move out and I live in Kidlington. To have a slight chance I would have to do shared ownership. Although not ideal it is a great stepping stone, and you have to start somewhere. However, if I was to look outside Kidlington, the Bicester area where there is up and coming new builds, the prices are still out of my range. It is disheartening to be rejected, especially when you are literally outside the affordability, yet you have worked, paid taxes and generally contributed to society.”
That is a damning indictment, and the despair is shared by so many public sector workers across Oxfordshire. A 2017 study by Lloyds bank listed Oxford as the most expensive city in which to live in the UK, with the average house price now 11 times average earnings. The recent CQC report on Oxfordshire found that staff at every level cited cost of living and housing as barriers to staff recruitment and retention.
There have been some steps in the right direction. As the Minster will know, in March 2016 the OUH trust launched a scheme in which new nursing recruits were offered a cash incentive equivalent to their first month’s rent and a deposit. I have no doubt that the council, the NHS and other organisations in other parts of the county, as we have heard, are doing everything they can—I am not here to bash them—but the fact is that the new houses to be built will not fix the problem. At best, the models show that house prices may flatline over time, but the definition of affordable as 80% of the value of incredibly expensive houses is still nowhere near enough to tackle the problem for public sector workers.
I can propose a solution. I would like to see some kind of Oxfordshire housing allowance for public sector workers given to local NHS staff to help them meet the extremely high cost of living and to tackle our recruitment crisis. Unison’s Oxfordshire health branch has called for the reintroduction of an Oxford weighting to help staff with living costs in the area, in line with the NHS weighting already paid to staff in London. I prefer not to do that, simply because “more pay” can be seen as “more valued”, which is not what that is meant to be. I would prefer to see the introduction of a specific payment for housing—a specific payment for a specific problem.
I am open to exploring all options, and I am very keen to hear what fellow Oxfordshire MPs and others think. Without an Oxfordshire housing allowance in some form, we will always struggle to recruit the NHS staff we require. Moreover, we need to start doing something now.
To conclude, the Government can and must take a role collaboratively with stakeholders to recognise the unique situations and challenges that we face in Oxfordshire. If we do nothing, we risk the rationing of care and treatments and, rightly, a backlash from our constituents. God forbid that anything should happen to a single patient as a result of any of the issues I have described today. It is our duty to tackle the problems head on and to ensure that we recruit and retain the staff whom patients deserve and our local NHS desperately needs.
Thank you, Mr Hollobone, and it is a pleasure to take part in the debate. I thank the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) for securing it.
It is great to see all my fellow Oxfordshire colleagues present today. If I may say so, they have all been great allies in my fight to save acute services at the Horton General Hospital. Talking about recruitment in some detail is particularly useful, because that is our greatest local challenge with regard to good healthcare.
It is also good to see the Minister in his place. Since he took up his role, he and I have spoken many times about the issues faced at the Horton. We in Banbury are waiting patiently to hear the outcome of the Independent Reconfiguration Panel’s initial assessment of the permanent downgrade of our maternity services. Our hopes are pinned on a full review, and we were due to find out 10 days ago whether that would take place. We have heard nothing yet, but I am watching the post with interest.
The Independent Reconfiguration Panel is familiar with our situation, having looked at similar proposals to downgrade maternity at the Horton back in 2008. Just as recruitment was the contributing factor almost 10 years ago, the failure to fill middle-grade vacancies at the Horton’s obstetric unit was the straw that broke the camel’s back in 2016. However, failures in recruitment are not, as we have heard, unique to maternity services at the Horton. We have spoken briefly about chemotherapy services at the Churchill, and at a meeting in January with local GPs, many expressed concerns about the sustainability of their practices in the current recruitment climate. Last week, the Care Quality Commission observed the following in its full and, if I may say so, quite critical review of the local system, which the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon has quoted and which I will carry on a little:
“The system in Oxfordshire was particularly challenged by the issues of workforce retention and recruitment across all professions and staff grades, especially acute hospital staff…and in the domiciliary…market. This resulted in staff shortages, heavy workloads and impacted upon seamless care delivery and integration of services.”
I am reassured that the Department takes recruitment seriously and has invested significant time and resources in addressing current workforce challenges across the nation. Attracting more people to the profession and training them takes many years. The cost of living in our area is high and London weighting is a significant pull factor out of our area, particularly given our very reliable transport links to the capital. We may be a wealthy county but we must think creatively to overcome the current challenges. The future of our services depends on that.
When I called for help, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of local schools and businesses in my area, which offered discounted school fees, free shirts from Charles Tyrwhitt, and free beer from Hook Norton—that made the headlines—to any prospective obstetricians who wanted to apply for a job at the Horton General. As a leading house building authority, Cherwell District Council has been exemplary in its support for the Horton, exploring the possibility of golden handshakes and providing key worker housing. A local developer came forward to offer one of its new build properties to any obstetrician looking to relocate to our area. Yet all of these offers remain completely unexplored by the local hospital trust, which has refused repeatedly to engage with me on this issue.
Last September, the Secretary of State announced plans to offer salary supplements to GPs in rural and coastal regions, which was a really welcome development. Market towns such as Banbury, Bicester, Abingdon and the many others represented in this Chamber desperately need similar incentives to attract newly trained professionals, whether through an Oxfordshire weighting or a ring-fenced housing allowance. I have no particular view about which would be the more effective incentive—I am happy to explore both. More money is always welcome, but it does not have to be the only answer. Just yesterday, I heard from a Banbury GP who has not been able to recruit a fully qualified international GP who is a resident outside the EU, because of problems with the tier 2 visa requirements. The person is an Australian who trained in Banbury and is very familiar with the local system, and we would really value having her back.
It is important that we consider specialties such as general practice and obstetrics when looking at the shortage occupation list that needs to be filled, because there are gaps in those areas too. We must think outside the box and talk across Departments to find the solutions that we desperately need. We must also have some clarity. When obstetric services at the Horton were suspended in August 2016, we were told that the rota needed six obstetricians to operate safely. But the goalposts were moved; the trust now tells us that nine are needed before the unit can reopen. Those decisions have real consequences. We must know the potential domino effect that shortages can have on other medical rotas. Since maternity services at the Horton were downgraded, the hospital has, in turn, lost one of its anaesthetic rotas. Difficulties attracting professionals to CT1 and CT2 posts pose a very real risk to the future sustainability of the one remaining rota. Until that can be full resolved, the threat to all acute services at the Horton cannot be fully ruled out.
Finally, we must learn, as I say repeatedly, to communicate openly and transparently. Extracting recruitment information from the trust is painfully slow. Rather than offer updates, it leaves us to ask for meetings. We are still waiting for the meeting that my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) requested for us to discuss recruitment at the Churchill. Yet when I made remarks on local radio about a perceived culture of secrecy, the trust chairman was very quick to summon me to meet her. I was told by the trust that all Oxfordshire MPs would be sent a detailed briefing on recruitment and retention challenges by 1 February. I have not had such a briefing and I do not know whether other hon. Members have.
Time and again I have offered assistance with tackling recruitment. Schools and businesses made generous offers to attract obstetricians, and I am furious that the trust continues to fail to engage. I am hopeful that the CQC report provides a long overdue reality check and that we start to see a real step change in its approach. I have made clear numerous times that we MPs are ready and waiting to help. I am really hopeful that under the new excellent interim head of the clinical commissioning group, we will start to develop a vision for our future healthcare, which we have so desperately lacked for so long.
This year we mark 70 years of the NHS. I am hopeful that many of the hard-working staff in Oxfordshire will be recognised at the upcoming parliamentary awards. I am particularly grateful to the dedicated Horton midwives who now face an almost three-hour round commute to and from the John Radcliffe, following the downgrade of our unit. Experience has taught us that we need to keep up the pressure.
It is a real pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Hollobone, and to be among my fellow Oxfordshire MPs. I wish that we could always take the same friendly approach as this county group to different policy issues. It is a pleasure to participate in this debate and to follow the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis) and the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), to whom I am very grateful for calling it.
In common with my colleagues, I receive a huge amount of case work from patients, members of the public and NHS staff who are concerned about the local NHS. I want to share one very recent example that offers some very telling lessons. A local nurse who came to one of my surgeries had talked to other nurses in her department and put a notice on the staffroom noticeboard asking for people to add their comments about issues that they wanted raised with their local MP. Low pay and understaffing came right at the top of that list. She was absolutely dedicated to helping her patients, but she felt under extreme pressure. She said to me that the recent negligence claim that was brought against a doctor, which many of us will have seen, could have happened anywhere in the NHS, and that she was enormously concerned. I was very impressed by her dedication and concern to make sure that these issues were dealt with at political level. She did not believe that they were being dealt with and I do not believe that they have been either.
The Library briefing rightly indicates that recruitment and retention are largely the responsibility of individual trusts, yet they are undertaken within a framework of national policy. This is a particular problem for the local NHS—colleagues have already mentioned that. The pay cap in particular is a big issue in Oxford—we have no uplift compared with London, which is a competitor in staffing terms—as is the large number of EU staff in the local NHS. I will briefly run through each of those three matters before turning to some of the positive moves that are ameliorating the situation but are being countered by those strong headwinds from national-level factors.
The seven-year pay cap has been a particular problem for NHS staff in Oxford because of the gap between wages and our high living costs. It is the No. 1 issue whenever I talk to NHS staff. Yes, there will be local concerns too, but so many staff say to me that they feel they are being forced either to leave the profession or to work as an agency or bank member of staff, because the pay is not keeping pace with the costs that they face. That is a much more expensive way of staffing the healthcare system, because it is much more expensive to fill those gaps through bank or agency staff than by using the permanent workforce. The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon mentioned that the Government have maintained that they will lift the pay cap, but that is contingent upon an “Agenda for Change” process. A lot of the NHS staff I have talked to have said they are worried that that could be used as an excuse to screw down terms and conditions.
More than one nurse has said to me on the doorstep that they are concerned about the impact of the removal of the nurse training bursary and pointed out that nurses who are in training cannot do other jobs to keep themselves afloat. They are expected, in effect, to live on thin air. That might be possible at times in some low-cost areas, but it is just not possible in Oxford, and it leads to a lot of potential recruits abandoning their dream of entering nursing. That really is a dream for a lot of people, and they are very motivated to do it, but it is becoming very hard to achieve.
Colleagues have already referred to Oxfordshire’s particular problems with mental healthcare. Mental healthcare funding generally is low in Oxfordshire compared with other clinical commissioning group areas, but that is compounded by the issues with recruitment. Again, there have been positive developments, such as the reinvigoration of the child and adolescent mental health service, but we still have many issues with recruitment.
That is of course compounded by the lack of Oxford weighting, which is a particular problem for us because we are so close to London. If we were not, we might be in a different situation, but there is a natural process whereby staff look to London and see what they would be able to afford there, where their housing costs would be the same, if not lower. Colleagues will know that local NHS staff began a petition calling for some kind of Oxford weighting to be introduced. That petition now has more than 7,000 signatures.
Such a weighting must not be used as an excuse to move away from collective bargaining. I am a bit disappointed that some Government Members have said to me, “Yes, this is why we need to abandon collective bargaining.” That is not what NHS staff have told me they want. A weighting introduced specifically to cover housing costs—we could call it a levy, a special payment or whatever—could be part of a system that recognised the abnormally high costs in Oxford, which is the most expensive place in the UK to buy a home and one of the most expensive in which to rent.
We need to ensure that outsourced staff are covered by any uplift. I was appalled to hear that some outsourced staff have been living in a corridor in a shared house because they cannot afford a room. This is not about people being able to afford their own flat or house; it is much worse. I recently came across a couple living with their children in Blackbird Leys, which is a relatively low-cost area of Oxford, who both work in the NHS. They were unable to afford their rent and thought they would have to move out of the city. That is not uncommon.
I do not want to stress the point too much, but I do not think the answer is to stop Oxford’s economy growing. Instead, we must ensure that we pay NHS staff properly. My party set out in our grey book how we would do that by removing the pay cap, which, given the issues with recruitment and retention, may end up saving the NHS money in the long run. NHS staff have told me that they believe it would save the NHS in particular on filling gaps with agency staff that are not filled by permanent staff.
The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon mentioned the reliance of our local NHS on EU staff. Oxfordshire has about double the national average of EU staff. It does not give me any joy to say that—although I expressed concerns just before the referendum and afterwards about the danger that a new immigration system for EU staff similar to that for non-EU staff would end up costing the NHS money and result in it losing staff—all those chickens seem to be coming home to roost. I have experienced the same kinds of issues as the hon. Member for Banbury, who mentioned NHS trusts’ problems with recruiting staff from outside the EU, and particularly with getting them on to their books. It will be an enormous problem if we end up taking the same approach to staff from the EU, because the system is already very costly, bureaucratic and unclear.
Given those circumstances and all the problems, local measures can have only limited impact, but I will mention a few of them, because they demonstrate that solving the current problems with recruitment and retention requires national commitment. First, Members have already mentioned that one of the major problems for our local NHS is social care, which is under enormous pressure in Oxfordshire. Social care is the responsibility of Oxfordshire County Council, which has struggled to deliver adequate services since its budget was cut by about one third due to reductions in central Government grant. However, there are positive developments in Oxfordshire. The home assessment reablement team—HART—has brought together social care and NHS staff and delivered a big acceleration in the provision of the social care that people need when they are able to go home. That ultimately has not been enough, but it has helped.
Secondly, it has been good to see Oxford Brookes University develop its own nursing and midwifery school in an innovative attempt to bring together research, education and training, which does not happen anywhere else in the country, and to persuade local people that nursing and midwifery may be for them. Again, though, that is a big challenge, because people still have to be able to afford to live in Oxford while they undertake that world-class training.
Thirdly, we have spoken quite a bit about housing. Oxford’s housing plans include a commitment from the city council to enable the NHS to meet employee needs by exempting staff housing schemes on land owned by the NHS from social rent requirements. However, it is important that we ensure that any housing that results from that exemption is permanently provided on a favourable basis, for affordable rent, to those who need it. If it is only later going to be sold and returned to the free market, it is not going to deal with the problems. Applying a 50% affordable housing requirement to new developments in Oxford will also help the situation. Constituents I speak to, including people who work in the NHS, say that schemes such as Help to Buy and the stamp duty holiday are not having an impact, because even contemplating buying a house is far too much of a jump. Genuinely affordable housing would help.
The removal of restrictions on land acquisition, new rules on viability and enabling local authorities to borrow to build would help improve the situation further, especially when it comes to the provision of key worker housing. In Oxford, that has to involve co-operation with neighbouring councils. I am pleased that we have had such co-operation on the Oxford to Cambridge corridor, but that needs to come to fruition. Independent assessments indicate that Oxford needs about 30,000 new homes, but there would be space for only about 8,000 within Oxford’s boundaries even if occupancy levels in the city were intensified. The Oxford to Cambridge corridor plan has to focus on delivering housing for key workers and people on low incomes; otherwise it will not deliver the change that we need.
The leader of the city council and I wrote to the Housing Minister last week to detail some of the areas where we desperately need change. Oxford probably has the biggest housing crisis of just about any city. Unfortunately, we see that right in front of us every day from the number of people on the streets, but there is also a hidden problem of people struggling in overcrowded or unsuitable accommodation.
The local NHS trust is working hard on recruitment and retention, and it has done some innovative things. The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon mentioned the golden handshake people get when they start, which is obviously necessary. A lot of work has been done on advertising, recruitment fairs and so on, and there is an attractive on-the-job training offer, although we always need more funding for that. However, all that has been done in the context of the almost perfect storm of factors that affect us in Oxford—particularly the pay cap and uncertainty for EU staff.
There is an enormous amount that we, as Members who represent Oxfordshire constituencies, should be proud of, and I am sure that we all are. We have world-class services and incredible opportunities because of the proximity of Oxford University, Oxford Brookes University and other research centres, and the incredible diversity of innovative companies and others in our area. However, those world-class services are under pressure like never before. If we want to continue providing the kind of excellent care that I am grateful to have received when I gave birth to both my children in the John Radcliffe Hospital, we need to deal with these issues very quickly.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing this debate, and I echo her praise for NHS staff who do a fantastic job—indeed, only the other day I was approached in the street by a constituent who told me just how fantastic his NHS treatment had been.
The issue under discussion is not a new problem or something that started only in the past year. I have chaired a group of Oxfordshire MPs and the clinical commissioning group for a number of years, and this issue has been there from the beginning. If I can segment the NHS market a bit, perhaps we can consider how different elements of the NHS can play their part. First, however, let me say that the release of information to The Times by Churchill Hospital must be opposed. It created much stress among patients, and it bore no resemblance to the policies of that hospital. We should send a firm message to Churchill Hospital that the way it behaved was unacceptable.
Perhaps my constituency is very fortunate, but on several occasions I have been told by constituents that a surgery is full and can take no more people, and that that is all down to new housing. Each time I rang the GP surgery, however, I was assured that that is not the case and it still had a tremendous amount of room to take more people. Nevertheless, that does not reflect the current problem with the GP practice system which, however we look at it, we must admit is in need of considerable reform. There are at least two reasons for that. First, we have the problem of young doctors who are unable or unwilling to take on the stress burden created by taking out the loans necessary to buy into the surgery. Secondly, there is a limitation on the ability of GP practices to do some of the minor operations that they have done in the past, and which allowed them to carry on the excellent work that they do for their communities. I urge the Minister to look at that, and perhaps to remove some of the restrictions that apply to the ability to operate in GP surgeries.
Of course GPs need to adapt to new ways of working, and they need to use the internet in a much better way. My own results from what is, I hasten to say, a minor health issue are dealt with by the internet. I email the information in on a regular basis, and the results come back on the internet—fortunately they come back clear each time. [Interruption.]
I know, and I will leave that issue there.
Social care has been mentioned in terms of its competition with the retail sector in Oxford, which I think is a very real threat. Another issue goes back to one of the more substantial points in the Care Quality Commission report, which is that the joining up and interlinking of different aspects of social care in Oxfordshire leaves a lot to be desired. For example, the amount that was paid by the NHS health trust was different to the sum paid by the county council for the same number of people doing the same amount of work. Evening up that difference must be something to concentrate on, and I wish people success in doing that.
The income of the clinical commissioning group amounts to about £880 million. Staff costs are about 70% of that, at just over £600 million. A 1% pay increase means at least £6 million to £7 million as an unfunded pressure on the health care system, and that is not a very productive way forward. There is no getting away from the fact that the biggest problem with recruitment and retention is living costs in Oxfordshire. There are a number of ways that we can tackle that problem, such as by building more houses—the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge express way is a good joined-up process for dealing with that, and I hope it comes to fruition.
The second thing we can do, I am afraid to say, is change the housing policies in Oxford city. That goes back to conversations that I had ad nauseam with the predecessor of the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds). We were known for our fighting over the green belt, and I am glad to infer from what the hon. Lady has said that Oxford is changing the way it deals with issues of planning and housing.
We are talking about a marginal increase across the board, and the uplift that that will bring will not have a big impact on retention and recruitment. It would be much better for us to focus any increase in funds on the issue itself. I ask the Minister, formally, to agree to a weighting for Oxfordshire that gives it some of the strength that London has. As we have already heard, housing costs in Oxfordshire are at least as great as those in London, and that must be tackled. We need a specific weighting, not a marginal increase in pay, and since there will be only a limited pot of resources for increasing pay, it makes a lot of sense to concentrate the impact of that in those places with more intractable problems, such as the housing market and living costs in the city.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone, and I thank you for saving the best till last. I congratulate my Oxfordshire colleague, the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran), on securing this important debate and on her extremely eloquent speech. I echo the way that she opened the debate by paying tribute to our colleagues who work in the NHS. When talking about the problems faced by our NHS locally, we should not lose sight of the fact that we are supremely well served by some extraordinary men and women in our hospitals and GP surgeries, who go well beyond what is required of them to provide first-class care. As Oxfordshire MPs we are also lucky to represent a population that, on the whole, is pretty healthy—indeed, the greatest health care challenge we face is the fact that a lot of our constituents, thankfully, live to a serious old age.
I also want to pay tribute to the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) and my two hon. Friends the Members for Henley (John Howell) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for their fantastic speeches. It may be frustrating for the Front Bench that, although potentially there were plenty of goals to be scored, the debate was conducted as all Oxfordshire debates have been since I became a Member in 2005, in the spirit of doing the best for the county.
I want to mention particularly the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury on the Horton General Hospital, which relates to the problem I want to focus on. She has worked tirelessly to maintain services there, and has made it clear to me that although the Horton is geographically well away from my constituency the services that it provides mean that my constituents benefit from choices. The pressures on the local NHS are spread further, enabling a better service to be provided for all. My hon. Friend has come up time and again, as she pointed out, against a culture of secrecy. There have even been court proceedings in which she has been involved. The mind boggles at how the local NHS goes about its business.
Perhaps when the Front Benchers speak we shall go back to playing the traditional national blame game. However, I want to play a bit of a blame game myself—but placing the blame squarely on local NHS management. I do not want to put words into my colleagues’ mouths, but whenever I go to meetings with local NHS management—ably convened by my hon. Friend the Member for Henley—I find that they are passive, unimaginative and deeply bureaucratic. I find the local NHS system completely opaque, and mired in jargon, endless consultation—or non-consultation—and a woeful lack of action.
The CQC report well illustrates the inability of silos to come together for conversations for the greater good of healthcare in Oxfordshire. An example of that is provided by the biggest local issue for me and my constituency: the closure, coming up for two years ago, of Wantage Community Hospital. It closed in April 2016, apparently for justifiable reasons. It is a very old building and its pipes are ageing. There were continual outbreaks of Legionnaire’s disease, so it was closed for safety reasons; but one would have expected some rapid developments to solve that problem. We were promised a consultation that was going to happen in October 2016; that never happened. Then we got a consultation in January 2017, but because of the opaque bureaucracy that my local NHS enjoys that was a phase 1 consultation. Apparently the community hospital was going to be in phase 2, which of course—like the gold at the end of the rainbow—has not materialised.
I took it upon myself at the end of last year to convene a meeting—ultra vires, you might say—of local stakeholders, my local GPs and health managers. It was the first time they had all met together, convened by me, the local MP, not by the health authority. Again, there was complete passivity. I shall not bore my colleagues with the complexities of the attempts to untie the Gordian knot, but clearly one of the solutions for local healthcare in Wantage is the expansion of the local GP surgery. It is owned by a private landlord, Assura, but it seems to me a benign landlord that wants to do the best thing; it would be happy to expand the building. Of course it would receive increased rent as a result. We need, potentially, some financing from the Department of Health and Social Care, but at the very least we need some engagement from health management. I am the one who has effectively brought Assura to the table to discuss how we can develop the GP surgery, to put some proposals on the table and to search for a funding solution. That could involve all sorts of imaginative solutions. I think there will be a meeting at the end of the month to take things forward, but I find it deeply frustrating that I am the one having to drive the process, and not my local NHS management—not that I am complaining, as it is the only way we shall get results.
[Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair]
As to the quasi-national issues that have been raised, I echo much of what has been said. As a convinced remainer—although, sadly, the horse has bolted—may I get well behind the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon and point out that we have, proportionately, twice as many EU citizens working in our local NHS as elsewhere? As the hon. Lady said, it is absolutely reasonable to say that the Government must do more to reassure our European colleagues who live and work here, who contribute their taxes and want nothing more than to be good citizens of our communities, that they are welcome here and that we have nothing against them. I am sure that now that we have Mr Nigel Evans in the Chair that sentiment will be echoed by him at the earliest opportunity.
Housing is clearly an issue, and although I am sure that all our postbags are full of letters from people who do not want an increase in the amount of housing, we need to speak up for all the people for whom it is essential. They include the very people charged with keeping us healthy. I had not appreciated the issue of visas—that is why the debate is so important. I am driven mad by the lack of imagination on the part of the people running our local health service. That came up in what my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury said about the imaginative solutions that her community came up with to secure a senior obstetrician. Shift patterns are an example of what I mean. Nurses leaving the John Radcliffe after 9 o’clock in the evening is something that needs to be looked at.
Parking at the JR is appalling. Surely it is possible for representatives of the local council and the JR to sit down and find a parking solution. An imaginative health authority and imaginative health leaders would look holistically, if I may put it in that way, at the entire working environment for nurses and doctors, particularly in hospitals: how do they get there, how much does that cost, how can parking arrangements be improved and how can permits be given to people who need them for their shift working pattern? That could make such a difference, above and beyond pay. It needs everyone to come to the table. It sounds incredibly boring to keep talking about getting people together for discussions; however, in my time as a Minister—and as a Back-Bench MP—I have often discovered, on bringing together people who I thought probably had regular conversations, that they never sit down to discuss the issues.
My right hon. Friend is making the most marvellous speech I have ever heard him make, on a number of issues. I regret interrupting him, but I want to echo what he said and suggest that, as we despair slightly of anyone else taking the action in question, perhaps we as a group—with the Minister if he is willing to be involved—could take the baton and go forward. When I was in charge of fundraising as a volunteer at my local hospital, as I was for many years, I offered charitable funds to look at car parking. That was ridiculous, really, but it was an attempt to break through the bureaucratic impasse that we so often came up against. Let us take matters forward together.
I agree that it is a marvellous speech, and I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that. On the point he was making, we must be sanguine, of course, and I am sure that colleagues will be. There is a tension that I have discussed many times with the trust, and with others; it wants a green and pleasant environment for patients and staff, but intensifying car parking, as many want, might go against that. There could also be planning implications. To be fair, the trust is actively looking at the issues.
As to innovation, the new district heating system that has just been put in is pretty unique. We should give credit where it is due, sometimes: it will ultimately save the trust hundreds of thousands of pounds.
I thank the hon. Lady for a course correction in my so-called brilliant speech. I have perhaps been too hard on the NHS management locally to make that point. I am sure that there are hundreds of examples of great innovations that they have introduced. I want to re-emphasise what I said at the beginning of my speech about my huge admiration for nurses, doctors, consultants, surgeons and indeed NHS managers, who do a difficult job. However, I hope that there is appreciation of the frustration that I feel as Wantage Community Hospital’s closure comes up to its second anniversary and there appears to have been no movement.
I do not have time to discuss pay but I noted what my hon. Friend the Member for Henley said. He is a bold and brave advocate for pay locally, and if he thinks that an Oxfordshire weighting is a good idea I am happy to support that, because of his venerable experience in the area. I would be delighted for us to get together as all the MPs of Oxfordshire and with key stakeholders. Personally, I would leave the Minister out of it, because the key message for me in this debate is that Oxfordshire has its issues, but a lot of them can be solved locally.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing the debate and on the powerful arguments she made about the recruitment and retention crisis affecting NHS services in her area and across the country.
As the hon. Lady said, the NHS has been a frequently raised issue in recent times, certainly since her election. I join her and the other right hon. and hon. Members who have spoken today in praise of the dedication and commitment of the staff who work in our health service. She said that we are close to a crisis in the NHS. I believe that only the dedication and commitment of staff prevent a crisis from turning into a complete catastrophe. She was also right to say that the good will of staff is propping up services at the moment. That is something that, I am sad to say, I have to keep repeating every time we have a debate: it is the good will of staff that keeps the show on the road.
I was concerned to hear that some staff had approached the hon. Lady to say that some of the levels of experience in particular wards were raising concerns about patient safety. She highlighted in particular the shortage of mental health specialists. She is right to say that the good intention to try to achieve parity of esteem will be extremely difficult to meet when there are so many shortages.
The hon. Lady diagnosed a number of issues that have contributed to causing the crisis. Uncertainty around Brexit has certainly accelerated some of the staffing challenges already in place. The abolition of the nursing bursary has also created issues, and I will come back to that later on. I agree with her that reliance on agency staff is unsustainable, and we can talk about that in a little more detail later. She mentioned the pay cap, as I think every hon. Member did; that is something else I will come back to later, but I remind her that when her party was in government it enacted that policy for a full five years.
The hon. Lady also mentioned staffing shortages in social care. It is sad to hear that those doing one of the most valuable jobs in society feel that they have a better prospect of earning a decent living in retail. That brings home the challenge we face. The issues she raised about training and professional development are also particularly relevant.
The hon. Lady was right to mention that behind all of that is the funding challenge we currently face. We are in the longest and most sustained financial squeeze in the history of the NHS, and it is inevitable that those kinds of issues will come up until we reach a sustainable funding settlement. She also raised the question of housing and the cost of living in Oxfordshire. I think most hon. Members touched on that point. She said she was concerned that unless the issues are tackled in a comprehensive way, services will be rationed. I am afraid to say that services up and down the country are already being rationed, as we have discussed here on a number of occasions.
It was a pleasure, as always, to hear from the hon. Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis). She always speaks strongly and passionately about NHS services in her area. She said that staffing issues were a major factor in the proposals to downgrade the maternity unit at Horton. It is a sad fact that half of all maternity units up and down the country have had to turn expectant mothers away at some point in the last year, often due to staffing shortages. We currently have a national shortage of about 3,500 midwives. It was interesting to hear some of the possible initiatives to attract new obstetricians in particular. Certainly, the prospect of free beer is something that works for me, but I do not know whether the hon. Lady can wait quite as long as it will take for me to train in that profession. I think we will have to do without my particular skills in that area.
The hon. Lady raised the issue of transparency and openness. It is disappointing to hear the difficulties she has had with her local trust on that issue, but it is clear from what she has said today that she has a lot to contribute to the wider health economy in her area. She is not alone on that issue. The Government have been pushing through policies on sustainability and transformation plans, accountable care organisations and the capital expenditure processes, which are all done under a veil of secrecy. There are wider issues in play there.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) described the current situation as a perfect storm—an apt description. I am impressed at the way in which she has engaged with staff in the health service in her constituency to get to the real meat and bones of the issues. It was sad to hear that staff feel they are forced to leave the profession and go to work for an agency; she was absolutely right to say that forcing staff to go and work for an agency to make ends meet costs us more in the long term. There are ways in which that could be a saving for us if the pay cap was lifted.
The problems with the nursing bursary were again highlighted, particularly how they are exacerbated in the Oxfordshire area by the cost of living. Has the Minister done any analysis of the cost of living in different parts of the country and the income streams available to those undertaking nursing degrees, who, because of the way the degree is structured, do not have the option of supplemental employment?
My hon. Friend explained very well how the proximity to London creates recruitment difficulties. The stark image of staff living in a corridor highlighted to me the impact of eight years of pay restraint. She also highlighted the bureaucratic nature of recruiting overseas staff. I know immigration policy is outside the Minister’s remit, but I hope he is making representations to the Home Office about how we tackle those issues in future. My hon. Friend highlighted how, despite the Government’s various initiatives for getting people on to the housing ladder, it is still too big a leap for many. We need much more genuinely affordable housing to be built.
We also heard from the hon. Member for Henley (John Howell). I agree with him that the problem did not start in the last year. He raised the question of challenges in GP practices, particularly younger GPs not feeling able to make the financial commitments to buy into practices, but also the restrictions on operations. He was right to mention that GPs need to move with the times on technology. A number of interesting initiatives are doing that up and down the country, although we have concerns about some of them and how they may exclude patients.
Finally, we heard from the right hon. Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey). He painted an impressive picture of how healthy the Oxfordshire area is, but a report by the Oxfordshire clinical commissioning group shows a gap in life expectancy of nine years between different parts of the county—something about which the Opposition feel passionately.
It is fair to say, from the right hon. Gentleman’s comments, that the local NHS leadership are not on his Christmas card list. He gave a pretty damning assessment of their ability to engage, but of course the structures we are currently working under were brought in under the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which led to the removal of the Secretary of State’s responsibility for much of the system and to the fragmentation with which we are all grappling. I applaud the right hon. Gentleman for his efforts to try to bring everyone together, but he should consider whether the legislative framework we currently work under is fit for purpose. The way in which he has brought people in the NHS together is important and we should be doing more of that. In this particular area, that should be not just on the health economy, but on the wider issues, particularly those relating to cost of living and housing.
As we have heard, the potential impact of the recruitment and retention crisis was brought into stark focus by the issue that sparked the debate: the leaked email from the head of chemotherapy at the Oxford University Hospital’s NHS Foundation Trust that found its way on to the front page of The Times. That memo confirmed to staff that the trust was down on nurses at the day treatment unit by approximately 40%, and as a consequence that the hospital was having to delay chemotherapy patients’ starting times to four weeks. It also stated that there was no prospect of an improvement in the situation for 18 months to two years.
More worrying was a proposal to reduce the number of chemotherapy cycles available to dying patients, which is totally contrary to National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines, as well as the national cancer strategy. We were therefore relieved to hear that the trust has now backed down from those suggestions.
To be clear, as other Members have mentioned, those were not live proposals. The problem was that the trust had to scope out the full range of potential action, given the challenge it was facing. However, the proposals were not something that it wanted to do—quite the opposite. I just wanted to underline that.
I thank my hon. Friend for that point. I was not trying to imply that the proposals were live, but the fact they were being considered is of huge concern, which Members have rightly raised. It will be helpful if the Minister could look at what caused the proposals to even be discussed, because they are contrary to so many of the principles and guidelines that we want in our NHS. I hope he will be able to assure us that those kinds of dramatic measures are not being considered in other areas.
The impact of recruitment and retention issues at the trust extends far beyond chemotherapy. In January, 2,159 patients waited for longer than four hours to be seen in A&E, falling well below the 95% target—a measure that the Health Secretary described as “critical for patient safety”. Even more worryingly, since December eight cancer operations and 26 heart operations were cancelled either the day before or on the day itself. Although that is at the upper end of operation cancellations, it is sadly a story that we now hear up and down the country. Cancelling an appointment at short notice causes immense frustration. It is sometimes unavoidable, but we know that it can have devastating consequences and put patients at unnecessary risk, not to mention the emotional impact. On the practical side, cover has to be arranged, spouses and family members have to arrange their own time off, and sometimes even national or international travel is required.
Staffing shortages are not behind every cancellation, but they will be a factor in many, and the vacancy rate at the trust tells us that it is an increasing problem. As we heard, vacancies at the trust for nurses, midwives and nursing support workers have almost doubled in the past year, from 5.99% in October 2016 to 10.8% in October last year, leaving about 400 whole-time equivalent vacancies. As we have heard from hon. Members, local factors have undoubtedly contributed to that. A 2017 study by Lloyds bank listed Oxford as the most expensive city in the UK, with average house prices 10.7 times average annual earnings. As we have heard, there is some support for the introduction of an Oxford weighting-type arrangement.
There is also a national context to look at, with housing costs being exacerbated by the pay cap. It is clear that, although that is probably at the sharper end of the pressures, Oxford’s issues are being repeated up and down the country. We now know that, after eight years of this Government, more nurses are leaving the NHS than joining. That position is particularly sharp in the Thames valley area, where there were 39% more leavers than joiners between September 2016 and September 2017.
While almost all trusts up and down the country have been unable to fill vacancies, Oxford’s is probably one of the more acute situations. However, much of it was completely predictable. One of the first decisions the Government took in 2010 was to cut the number of nurse training places by 3,000, which has led to about 8,000 fewer nurses nationally. We then had the Health Secretary’s farcical decision to take on the junior doctors, which has led to a demoralised workforce.
Then, to cap it all, as Members have said, came the decision to scrap nurse bursaries, which is possibly the most ill-conceived decision the Government have made—and there is plenty of competition for that particular award. We warned at the time that, far from providing more nursing places, the move would lead to a drop in the number of applications, with the biggest impact being on mature students, who bring a huge amount of experience from outside the profession.
As we have heard, statistics show that there was not only an 18% drop in applications in 2017, but a 2.6% decline in England in the number of students accepted on to courses. Among mature students, 13% fewer of those aged between 21 and 25 were accepted. That decision is discriminatory and stands in stark contrast to the Government’s aims on social mobility. Those are not just my words—they are in the equality assessment undertaken by the Department for Education. However, instead of learning from that lesson, Ministers have decided to scrap NHS bursaries for postgraduate students as well.
Alongside that disastrous decision, we have had the counterproductive capping of pay, which has led to hard-working NHS staff losing money in real terms at the same time as their workload has increased. We have heard encouraging noises from the Government recently, but we have seen no firm action. Perhaps the Minister can provide some clarity when he responds. The Nursing Times reported this week that the Treasury apparently still needs convincing that a rise in wages should be “meaningful”. Will the Minister send his Treasury colleagues a transcript of the debate, to persuade them that a strong case is being made for an increase?
Across Oxfordshire and the whole of our NHS, a recruitment and retention crisis is exacerbating a situation that has already reached crisis point. The Government need to act, realise their mistakes and urgently give hard-working NHS staff the belief that their work is valued and the confidence that their concerns are being listened to.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Evans. I congratulate the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon (Layla Moran) on securing the debate. We have met a number of times and I have responded to a number of her written questions, so I know that she is working hard on this subject.
It is always great to hear Members speak personally about their experiences—maybe none more so that my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Victoria Prentis)—and how passionately they speak about the national health service. Members from the county of Oxfordshire have spoken well; I do not know how they play in private, but in public they seem like a very good team. That may not be the case in Hampshire; maybe there are too many of us on the Front Bench. We are only a two-party state in Hampshire; perhaps that is why.
The debate is not only important but timely. I had the pleasure of visiting the Churchill Hospital, which is part of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, last Tuesday during our half-term recess. I saw the superb and innovative cancer care provided by the dedicated staff—I obviously echo all the praise for the staff—and had the opportunity to discuss workforce issues for a little time with the chief executive, Dr Bruno Holthof, who is a very nice man, and his senior team. I therefore hope I can provide some well-informed replies to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon and Members from across the county. The NHS in Oxford is working hard to ensure it has the doctors and nurses to continue to provide excellent care to Members’ constituents.
We met in Maggie’s Oxford cancer centre. As Members will know, I am the cancer Minister—it is the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning—and I was blown away by Maggie’s cancer centre. I know there are a lot of them across the country, but this was in a beautiful building, was brilliantly designed and had incredible, passionate staff. I met a number of patients who described Maggie’s as a haven for them while they are going through their cancer treatment. It was great, as always, to talk to patients.
My hon. Friend the Member for Banbury spoke about the recent story in The Times—the front-page splash on changes to patient cancer treatment plans at the Churchill—which a number of hon. Members mentioned and which I suppose was the spur for the debate, although it seems to have broadened out into everything, covering about four different Government Departments. I, too, was obviously concerned when I saw the story. I called the chief executive of the trust, and he was very clear that, although it would have been a great story, there was only one small problem: it was not true.
The leaked emails—whoever leaked them can examine their own conscience and motives—set out hypothetical challenges and invited suggestions from clinical staff, ahead of a meeting taking place this month. There has been no change to formal policy on chemotherapy treatment at the trust, and any such decision would be a matter requiring clearance at board level anyway. As we discussed, the chief executive’s first consideration was, rightly, the obvious and needless worry caused to cancer patients across Oxford and the wider area. I am pleased, although obviously disappointed it was necessary, that he quickly put in place plans to communicate to his patients that there were absolutely no changes, as the hon. Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) said, to chemotherapy treatment.
The trust continues to meet two of the three main cancer waiting time standards and is working hard to meet the third. We discussed that last week, too, and the trust should be very proud of it. I was able to congratulate some of the team personally last week. The trust is considering how best to deliver chemotherapy services going forward, and I am confident that it will do that in the correct way, through the correct channels, and of course in compliance with NICE guidance.
When I was on site at the Churchill, I was able to pop in to the ACE wave 2 pilot. ACE stands for accelerate, co-ordinate and evaluate—I know that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr Vaizey) enjoys these acronyms. I met Fergus Gleeson, Sara Bainbridge, Shelley Hayles, a local GP in Oxford who leads on cancer, and Julie-Ann Phillips, who is the navigator—a great title—and seems to make it all happen there. I, as a cancer Minister, and we as a Government are very excited about ACE. It is about taking patients with suspected cancer from the GP and into the accelerated diagnostic centre and getting them a diagnosis or clearance quickly. I met patients and saw how much it means to them.
I asked patients about stories on the front pages of national newspapers, which of course are trying to sell national newspapers. I noted, in relation to the story, which was gleefully run by the BBC that morning once it had read The Times, that by the end of the day the coverage had slightly changed as it realised that it had been reporting fake news all day. I asked patients what they thought about seeing that sort of thing on the front page of The Times while they were receiving world-class cancer treatment in Oxford, and I will not repeat the exact words that they used, but they were very clear about how disappointed they were to see that, and that they did not feel that it represented the professionalism that constituents of hon. Members across this Chamber see. I think that hon. Members can get a sense of what I thought about that story, and I do not take The Times anyway.
Let me start with the global picture, and then I will localise. The dedicated men and women who work in our NHS are of course its greatest asset. The Government have backed the NHS. We have made significant investments in frontline services and are now taking bold steps to plan for future generations. We do, however, recognise the workforce challenges that the NHS faces in its 70th year. That is why the entire system embarked on a national conversation, with the publication by Health Education England in December of “Facing the Facts, Shaping the Future: A draft health and care workforce strategy for England to 2027”, which is designed to stimulate debates such as the one that we are having today. I know that HEE will read the record of this debate.
The strategy sets out the current workforce supply and retention, and the challenges that we face, but also the significant achievements made from work already under way. It is the first step towards a proper plan that stretches beyond any electoral cycle—we must get away from working in that way—and secures the supply of staff for future generations in our health service. The strategy posed a number of questions that will inform a comprehensive strategy for the workforce over the next decade, to be published in July this year. We need to think innovatively about how we can make the NHS workforce fit for the future, and as always in debates about our NHS, we have heard a number of excellent suggestions today. I encourage hon. Members to engage with the consultation, and from what I have heard today, I do not doubt that they will.
We have heard a lot today about recruitment. Of course, that is not the only way to ensure that the NHS has the workforce that it needs to deliver the safe and high-quality care in which I, the Secretary of State and all hon. Members are so interested. We need to ensure that our excellent doctors and nurses want, and are supported, to stay in the national health service, and we have a clear plan to ensure that the NHS remains a rewarding and attractive place to work.
Let me list a few of the things that the plan covers. It includes arrangements for more flexible working—we know that many health professionals are married to other health professionals, and quality of life matters as much as quality of pay—and a system of staff banks for flexible workers across the NHS, increasing opportunities for staff to work on NHS terms and to reduce agency costs for employers. Something else that we discussed last week is a scheme to offer the right of first refusal to NHS employees on any affordable housing built on NHS land, to increase NHS workers’ access to affordable housing, with an ambition of benefiting up to 3,000 families. When I got lost while trying to find Maggie’s cancer centre on the Churchill site, I noticed that there is a lot of surplus NHS land on that site, and I know that it is looking at that. In addition, since September 2014, more than 2,700 nurses have successfully completed the nursing return to practice programme and are ready for employment.
Let me localise to the recruitment and retention of NHS staff in Oxford, which I also discussed last week. It is important to note from the outset that although there are workforce challenges, Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has 388 more hospital doctors and 591 more nurses than it did eight years ago. It is also successfully seeing 11,500 more patients—a 120% increase—with suspected cancers than it was in 2010. One of the key challenges that we discussed is that Oxford, much like London, is a very expensive area to live and work in, as hon. Members have mentioned, and unemployment is very low. Those conditions present a recruitment challenge that other, less affluent areas do not have.
The hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon mentioned continuous professional development, and I promised to mention that. It is a matter for employers; any agreements, such as for protected study time, would need to be negotiated between employer and employees. However, it is always in the best interests of employers to encourage and support the learning and development of their employees. HEE provides national funding to support development of the NHS workforce and invests up to £300 million every year in supporting NHS employees to achieve registered qualifications, and that will continue.
We are increasing the number of nurse training places by 25%. That means 5,000 additional nurse training places every year from September 2018. It is one of the biggest increases in NHS history, and I was glad that the hon. Lady welcomed that in her opening remarks. She also mentioned Brexit, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wantage did. The Secretary of State and the Prime Minister could not have been clearer: the Government hugely value the contribution of EU staff working in our NHS and understand the need to give them certainty. The Secretary of State has made it clear that after Brexit, we will have an immigration system that means that the NHS is able to get the staff that it needs, not just from the EU but from all over the world.
The hon. Lady asked about career progression; I think that she was referring to scale points earned in the NHS and whether they would transfer. I will get back to her on that; I will get a note to her and copy it to other hon Members in the debate, as I know they will be interested.
Pretty much everyone mentioned the idea of pay weighting for Oxford, as with London, given the proximity of the county. There are a number of mechanisms in the NHS funding and pay system to compensate for higher costs in particular areas. It is open to the independent NHS Pay Review Body to make recommendations on the future geographical coverage and value of such supplements. Additionally, there is flexibility for local NHS employers to award recruitment and retention premiums where recruitment is difficult at standard rates of pay, so when they are having their team get-together—
I will not, because I need to give a minute to the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon, who introduced the debate.
Pretty much everyone asked about the public sector pay cap. I am glad that everyone recognises and welcomes the fact that we have said that that will be lifted. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), and the hon. Lady leading the debate asked about the timetable. I cannot give an exclusive in this Westminster Hall debate today, but I can say that talks between NHS Employers and the trade unions continue, and I know from my hon. Friend the Minister for Health that they are constructive.
So many other points were raised. They included the future of the Horton. I am told that the decision has been considered by the Independent Reconfiguration Panel and the Secretary of State will consider its advice and recommendations in the next few days. I have a funny feeling that when we have a vote tonight, my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury will seek out the Secretary of State.
My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) left us hanging as to what he is transmitting via the internet with his GP. [Laughter.] Perhaps that is the wrong expression, but his point about primary care at scale and truly integrated services that can take pressure off the NHS was so well made and is exactly what we mean: sustainability and transformation partnerships are about one NHS and bringing NHS services together.
If I have not covered any of the points, I will write to hon. Members. The pressures on the health system are significant. I have talked about the sheer increase in the number of people coming forward needing cancer treatment in the area of the hon. Member for Oxford West and Abingdon, and that is true across the NHS. The demands are intense, but the workforce are responding brilliantly. We understand that there is a workforce challenge. That is why we launched the workforce consultation, with which I know hon. Members will want to engage. We look forward to the responses to the consultation exercise, so that collectively we can ensure that the NHS remains the best health system in the world, and the envy of the world, as it celebrates its birthday in June.
I end the debate by thanking all my fellow Oxfordshire MPs for their fantastic contributions. I am pleased to see that we are in violent agreement on most of the issues that we face. We also agree that the staff, above all, must be thanked for the work that they do; we cannot say that enough. I thank the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston (Justin Madders), for his remarks, and the Minister. I hope that he can see how passionate we all are about this matter and that we hunt as a pack, so this will not be the last time that he is contacted by us. I look forward to his note and to any answered questions that come back to us on this issue.
Rail Services: Kettering
I beg to move,
That this House has considered rail services to and from Kettering.
It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans, and I thank Mr Speaker for granting this debate. I welcome the rail Minister to his place. I want to place on record my thanks to the formidable Kettering rail users group and its two main advocates, Christopher Groome and Stuart Porter, who must be among the most able leading amateur rail enthusiasts and timetable experts in the country. Christopher is also chairman of the Leicestershire and Northamptonshire rail action committee. If an organisation could be more formidable than the Kettering rail users group, it would be that organisation. I also praise all the station staff at Kettering railway station. They must be among the nicest, most pleasant and hardest working railway staff anywhere on the system. They are forever courteous and helpful, and go out of their way to ensure the passenger experience is as smooth and trouble free as possible.
I want to make several points to the rail Minister on behalf of my constituents. Railway issues and timetables can get formidably complicated. I do not want to go down that route. I just want to highlight some key issues. The reason for this debate is that the rail franchise through Kettering—the east midlands franchise—is coming up for renewal, and it is important that we get the rail services to and from Kettering right in the next franchise. The first point the Minister needs to understand is that nowhere on the midlands main line is growing faster in housing development than Kettering, Wellingborough and Corby. They are among the fastest growing places in the whole country, and the railway line through those three constituencies is extremely important.
My second point is that about 10 years ago, when the branch line was reopened to Corby, the main line rail service to and from Kettering northwards was effectively downgraded from a half-hourly service to an hourly service. That was done by the last Labour Government and I am looking to this Conservative Government to right that wrong. They should be able to do that, if the Minister and his officials were to revisit the superb representation made in the franchise consultation by Christopher Groome and Stuart Porter. In their submission, they are not just arguing Kettering’s corner. They are standing back, putting themselves in the rail Minister’s shoes and asking, “How can we help the Minister to develop a new franchise arrangement that will facilitate a better service up and down the line?” The proposals that they advance would reintroduce that half-hourly service.
My third point is that rail fares to and from Kettering are relatively expensive, compared to other rail fares around the country. We effectively have inter-city rail fares, but an increasingly commuter-style service. I am frequently surprised, whenever I travel by rail to any other part of the country, by how cheap rail travel is compared to the expensive fares that passengers to and from Kettering have to pay.
Kettering is effectively at the apex of a Y-shape coming out of St Pancras station. The midland main line comes out of St Pancras in London and goes north. The first junction is at Kettering, with the Corby branch line. Because Kettering is that junction, it makes sense to reintroduce the half-hourly services, because effectively Kettering is the hub, and that will help all the commuters from Wellingborough, Corby and Kettering to go north. It is important that the rail Minister bears that Y-shape in mind.
The central demand of the Kettering rail users group is for trains to call at Kettering every half an hour, because that will provide platform connections to Wellingborough, Bedford, Luton and Corby. Ideally one service should be from Sheffield and Derby, and one from Nottingham, and then run non-stop to St Pancras. That might be too ambitious in terms of non-stop to St Pancras—but it is the frequency of the service. Once it is less than every half an hour, passenger numbers start to drop off.
Cross-platform connectivity between trains happened very well at Leicester, which is a far bigger station than Kettering, until 2009. That led to a substantial growth in ridership. Since 2009, passenger growth has been suppressed because of the changes made then, particularly for Kettering journeys to Leicester, Birmingham and beyond. Kettering is the optimum hub for the towns in north Northamptonshire and their connectivity to Leicester and beyond.
Fares have been set at inter-city levels for many years to reflect the level of service and comfort. The rolling stock specification, journey times, comfort and capacity need to be of a high-enough standard to justify those inter-city fares and the premium charge, compared with, for example, Northampton to Euston or Huntingdon to King’s Cross fares. Some passengers from Kettering will drive to Northampton or Huntingdon to take advantage of the cheaper fares.
I firmly believe, as does the Kettering rail users group, that we have an opportunity for strong rail growth by restoring Kettering’s half-hourly off-peak service to Leicester. Before we lost that frequency 10 years ago, travel to both Derby and Nottingham was possible via an easy cross-platform connection at Leicester—effectively a half-hourly link to both, with equivalent connections to Birmingham. But train journeys from Kettering to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds have become car journeys today, due to the reduced frequency to Leicester and beyond. Any delay to a connecting southbound service now leads to an hour’s wait. The risk of that is too high for too many passengers. Corby passengers also suffer an hour’s wait heading north, due to poor connections. When the Corby shuttle comes into Kettering, it is not timed to meet the hourly service going north from Kettering.
A mix of connections and through-services, as suggested by the Kettering rail users group in their submission to the Minister, from Leicester to Kettering, Corby, Wellingborough, Bedford and Luton, is needed to avoid future rail growth from Leicestershire, Nottingham and beyond being replaced by car journeys. It would be a tragedy if the new franchise on the midland main line ended up seeing an increase in car journeys in the east midlands, when we want to see the opposite.
I mentioned at the start that Kettering, Wellingborough and Corby are very fast-growing parts of the world, and that is exemplified by the crowding and overcrowding figures on East Midlands Trains. In May 2017, the East Midlands Trains website showed the following trains as forecast to have over 90% of seats taken when leaving St Pancras: the 3.29 to Nottingham, the 4.01 to Corby, the 4.26 to Sheffield, the 4.29 to Nottingham, the 4.57 to Sheffield, the 5.01 to Corby, the 5.30 to Nottingham, the 5.57 to Sheffield, the 6 o’clock to Melton Mowbray, the 6.30 to Lincoln, the 7.15 to Nottingham, the 7.28 to Derby, the 8 o’clock to Corby and the 8.30 to Nottingham. Those are all at 90% of passenger capacity when they leave London. On other trains, 75% to 90% of seats are taken: the 2.58 to Sheffield, the 3.26 to Sheffield, the 3.58 to Sheffield, the 7 o’clock to Corby, the 7.32 to Leeds and the 8.15 to Nottingham. The system is already groaning at the seams, and that is why we need more seats and more services.
The Kettering rail users group has complained often about overcrowding and poor connectivity since the changes that were made about 10 years ago. The franchise is the chance to correct that mistake, to improve journey opportunities from Kettering to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds and to provide a timetable that varies at peak times to avoid creating overcrowded services. The group’s aims for 2020 and 2023 are better connectivity north and, if possible, quarter-hourly commuting frequency and two fast services to London each hour throughout the day.
Chapter 4 of the Department’s consultation document on the new franchise claims that the line is full, but our experience is that many hourly freight paths are underused on the line. Freight paths should be allocated only at less of a speed differential to passenger paths. The Kettering rail users group believes that three minute or four minute scheduled headways should be more widely specified and that freight passing loops between Kettering and Wigston should be sought and funded to allow more, faster trains on that key section. An engineering solution could help to fit more passenger trains on the midland main line.
The Kettering rail users group has frequently pressed East Midlands Trains to restore the two trains an hour service between Leicester and Kettering, though with no success so far, and other stations have taken prior advantage of the line speed improvements that have been made. Recently the situation has got even worse than it was 10 years ago. The Sunday pattern was the old pattern until very recently, when East Midlands Trains switched Sunday afternoons over to the inconvenient weekday system in May last year. With growing demand, the hourly Nottingham service is now frequently full with passengers standing when it leaves Kettering going north, especially on Saturday mornings, in school holidays and at key times. Ironically, line speed improvements between Kettering and Corby mean that the hourly Corby southbound service arrives in Kettering just after the northbound hourly Nottingham service on the main line leaves, making a connection impossible if both trains are on time. The Corby passengers then have to wait an hour at Kettering before they go north. That situation cannot be right.
Kettering Borough Council, of which I am proud to be a member and therefore declare my interest, has a great opportunity to develop Kettering station. The redevelopment of Kettering’s station quarter has been in the pipeline for several years. Additional investment could lead to increased car parking, enhanced passenger facilities and an improved station gateway. Land west of the station could be developed as a business innovation centre. There would also be the opportunity to create access from the west, so that local passengers do not need to drive round the one-way system to the other side of the station before accessing trains. If the franchise is got right—if the train pattern in the new franchise encourages passenger growth—Kettering Borough Council is well placed to ensure that the infrastructure at Kettering station is upgraded to help.
Our other problem is that because of the Thameslink timetable changes, passengers from Kettering, Corby and Wellingborough who would take a peak service to Bedford or Luton will now have to do so by bus. That will lead to a dramatic decline in the number of passengers using this rail/bus service, and I urge the Minister to think of a physical rail infrastructure solution. Network Rail could extend the platform or platforms at Bedford to take a shuttle service from Kettering, Corby and Wellingborough while the Thameslink timetable settles down.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that passengers from Kettering, Wellingborough, Luton and Bedford will be badly affected by those journeys and that the franchise should compensate them for their losses, because thousands of people moved to those areas so that they could easily commute to work?
In effect, Thameslink is a very narrow tunnel that goes underneath London, and therefore all the trains that go in and out of it have to be timed exactly to fit on to the other train routes, including the midland main line. That is clearly leading to a bottleneck in our part of the world. I understand that problem, but I believe that there is an engineering solution. There is no doubt that East Midlands Trains will take a huge revenue hit with the loss of passengers using its service. I think East Midlands Trains is doing its best given the constraints placed on it, but the Minister needs to work with Network Rail to see if an engineering solution is possible at Bedford: the extension of a platform and the purchase of a shuttle train that can run backwards and forwards, so that passengers have at least a train service to Bedford instead of having to go on the bus.
It is welcome that electrification is coming to Kettering and Corby. I urge the Minister to consider extending electrification to Braybrooke, and then to Harborough or Wigston, because of the feeds from the national grid. An engineering solution would mean that that could be done at very low cost. Early procurement of bi-modes for the new franchise is needed, because part of the line will be electrified and part will be diesel. There are also easy stretches for upgrading and electrification further north. It would be a shame to break up the engineering teams installing electrification up to Kettering and Corby when, with a little bit of forward planning, they could be sensibly deployed to deal with stretches of the line that can be electrified fairly simply and at low cost. That would not be 100% electrification of the whole line, but other bits north of Kettering could be done at very low cost.
It has been a pleasure to have this debate under your benign guidance and chairmanship, Mr Evans, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I would like to start by thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr Hollobone) for securing this debate. I congratulate him on that, and thank the hon. Member for Bedford (Mohammad Yasin) for contributing. It has been a helpful, if somewhat short, debate. I am keen to respond to the questions that my hon. Friend has put to me, which cover much of the ground that we covered in our very useful meeting with members of the Kettering rail users group and those from the hon. Gentleman’s constituency in Bedford just a few days ago, on 7 February.
I am grateful for the considerable work undertaken by the Kettering rail users group on the complex areas that my hon. Friend mentioned. I hope he will be reassured by the fact that the Department has shared the group’s proposals with Network Rail. Department for Transport officials are in discussions with Network Rail and the train operating companies that were present at the meeting that he and the hon. Gentleman attended—East Midlands Trains and Govia Thameslink Railway—to see whether it is possible to bring life to the proposed engineering solutions: the introduction of a shuttle service involving the extension of a platform at Bedford. A shuttle service between Kettering and Bedford would enable us to remove the bus service mentioned by the hon. Member for Bedford.
I also acknowledge the wider aspirations for rail services in Kettering, as mentioned by my hon. Friend. On the specific aspiration to reintroduce the half-hourly northbound service and occasional faster peak services, Department for Transport officials are giving careful consideration to what will be specified in the next franchise. However, ultimately, it will be a matter for consideration by the bidders for the new franchise. I encourage the Kettering rail users group to engage directly with the bidders to see whether its aspirations can be secured through those bids.
That said, I have listened carefully to the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering and the hon. Member for Bedford about their constituents’ recent experiences and their concerns about the immediate plans for rail services through Kettering and affecting Bedford. It is clear that, to a great extent, their constituents have lost patience and confidence in the process, partly due to the lack of consultation—that theme came up in the meeting a couple of weeks ago—on the plans to introduce service changes. I will say more about that.
I apologise to hon. Members, their constituents, passengers and local businesses inconvenienced by the planned service alterations in May. The Department recognises the short-term pain that the changes will cause, and we regret it. I assure them that the Government, Network Rail and the train companies are doing everything possible to mitigate the impact of the changes, particularly on rush hour passengers. The hon. Member for Bedford asked about compensation. I bring to his attention an announcement by the Department offering a dedicated fare for season ticket holders who have to use the coach service; it will be 50% lower than the equivalent rail fare. In addition, there will be a 25% reduction on anytime fares affected by the change.
On a more positive note, I would like to be clear about two things. The enhancements that we will ultimately deliver to Thameslink and the midland main line are essential to sustaining the long-term prosperity of Kettering and the east midlands in general. The passengers, businesses and communities that will have to cope with some service reductions in the shorter term are the very people who will benefit in the medium and long term from newer, faster trains, more services, more seats and more destinations.
[Mr Albert Owen in the Chair]
We are also dealing with challenges associated with success, not failure. I recognise that such statements will be of little comfort to hard-pressed commuters in Bedford and Kettering facing the short-term prospect of fewer trains, even if they will be more certain of a seat on those trains for their journey. However, that is the reality. Demand for rail travel quite simply exceeds supply. The Thameslink programme and the upgrade of the midland main line represent only two examples of the major investments that this Government are making across the country to give passengers the rail services that they demand. Last year, we announced our intention to commit some £48 billion to improving the reliability of the rail network between 2019 and 2024. However, the clear and unavoidable cost to passengers of delivering all those improvements is often, unfortunately, a short-term impact on current services.
I appreciate that the Minister has a complicated job; he is playing with a huge train set across the country. The key thing for the midland main line and Kettering services in the long term is to have an eighth train pathway. The present ambition is to have six trains an hour from London; can he confirm that the long-term ambition is to have an eighth train pathway? It would make a lot of the problems go away.
I understand that that is the aspiration. It is right that my hon. Friend is a powerful champion for rail users in his constituency. We are giving careful consideration to all the trade-offs involved in the development of the franchise, and we will be setting out specifications in due course.
I said that I would return to the question of consultation. May 2018 represents one of the largest timetable changes in recent rail history, affecting services across the south-east of England and beyond. The scale, complexity and late emergence of the impact of the planned changes were such that it was not possible for train operators to consult on the changes as they would have done in normal circumstances. I acknowledge that lack of consultation.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely right: there was a regrettable lack of consultation, which the Government acknowledge and apologise for. It runs counter to the open and transparent approach to service planning and franchise design generally adopted in recent years, and the Government have no hesitation in offering their apologies to my hon. Friend and the hon. Gentleman for the inconvenience suffered by their constituents as a result and the frustration that they must feel at the lack of consultation on the development of the timetable changes.
In the case of Kettering, once the electrification of the midland main line is complete in 2020, passengers at Corby, Kettering, Wellingborough, Bedford, Luton and Luton Airport Parkway will benefit from a new, dedicated fast commuter service into London St Pancras. The electric trains will be longer, with more seats. In total, a 50% increase is planned in the number of seats into St Pancras during the peak by 2020, with further increases as new rolling stock is introduced on the inter-city services. With the introduction of the new timetable in December 2020, Kettering will become a key interchange between the inter-city services and the dedicated fast commuter service from Corby into London.
In the meantime, let us not forget that the £7 billion Thameslink programme was designed to transform the rail services that are so important to my hon. Friend’s constituents, as is the planned upgrade of the midland main line. From May 2018 to 2020, while the upgrade is being delivered, Bedford and Luton will, as discussed, lose the direct connection from Kettering during the peak. However, the Department has agreed to fund East Midlands Trains to lease three additional high-speed trains to mitigate other adverse impacts.
In addition, as part of the timetable development work, East Midlands Trains has found a way to maintain its existing calls at Luton Airport Parkway in the peak, enabling airport passengers from north of Bedford to continue to enjoy a direct service. When completed, the Thameslink programme, along with the timetable enhancement in 2020, will also open up new connections for passengers with other GTR services from Bedford to Farringdon, as well as to London Bridge and further south. It is not all bad news. We will continue to work closely with my hon. Friend, the hon. Gentleman and their user groups to ensure that their views are taken carefully into account as we specify the work for the new franchise.
I appreciate what the Minister is saying about the new franchise from 2020, but between May 2018 and 2020, the changes will affect many people who moved to Bedford because they could easily commute from there to work in London and the north. Now, during those two years, they might lose their jobs or be unable to commute to work, so they might already be moving out of Bedford. The damage will be done by 2020. What does the Minister say about that?
I would say that we are working hard to ensure that they get the train services that they need for the future, which will sustain the local economy and give them a viable basis for getting to work and going about their business.
Question put and agreed to.
Social Housing and Regeneration: Earl’s Court and West Kensington
I beg to move,
That this House has considered social housing and regeneration in Earl’s Court and West Kensington.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. Last Thursday, Property Week carried the story that Capital & Counties Properties plc, the promoter of the Earl’s Court development, is about to sell the Empress State building to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime for around £240 million. Capco confirmed the leak. Indeed, using the “cui bono?” test, Capco was responsible for the leak, which gave a glimmer of good news to its shareholders, who have only had bad news in recent years, ahead of its full-year figures for 2017 being published later this week.
At over 30 storeys, Empress State was the tallest commercial building in London when it was built in the early 1960s. When it was vacated and sold by the Ministry of Defence, the Metropolitan police rented it from its new commercial owners. When Capco acquired the freehold in 2014, it gave notice to the Met and got consent from a complicit Conservative administration—with only weeks to spare before they lost control of Hammersmith and Fulham Council—to approve Empress State’s redevelopment as 440 mainly luxury flats.
Why give up now on luxury residential development, which was previously seen as not just another licence to print money, but a way of integrating the key Empress State site into Capco’s master plan for Earl’s Court and West Kensington? The answer is that throwing in the towel on Empress State is the clearest sign yet that not just the master plan, but Capco itself is in serious trouble and is seeking to cut and run to save its own skin.
This is a story about arrogance and greed; about politicians who thought they could treat people as commodities, units of production and pieces on an electoral chessboard; about developers who could not believe their luck and then fell prey to changing political and market forces; about a vibrant part of London full of industry, commerce and entertainment that was ordered to be razed and replaced with monotonous high-rise blocks as safe deposit flats for the investment market; and about a proud community of 2,000 people who have stood firm for 10 years against the threat of their homes and community being demolished and dispersed.
Ten years ago, Capco conceived a master plan for 77 acres of land straddling the borders of Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea. It was dubbed Earl’s Court, although the majority of the land lay in the marginal North End ward of Hammersmith and Fulham. It was billed as the biggest urban development outside China, with an estimated built-out value of £12 billion.
The plan was audacious, because although designated as an opportunity area, this was no derelict, brownfield land. One third of the site comprised the Earl’s Court exhibition centre, including its iconic 1930s entrance, which is now sadly demolished despite the UK having only a third of France’s exhibition space and a quarter of Germany’s. One third comprised the maintenance, manufacture and stabling of a significant part of London Underground in the Lillie Bridge depot, which was a major employer of skilled labour. One third comprised two estates of predominantly council housing: Gibbs Green and West Kensington. Around 2,000 of my constituents live there in 760 good quality, spacious, affordable 1950s, 1970s and 1990s low or medium-rise homes.
In place of all that, Capco promised 7,500 high-rise flats, of which only 11% would be additional affordable homes that stretched that definition to its limits by, for the most part, offering nugatory discounts on extortionate market prices. Interestingly, now Capco is aching for a deal—any deal—to get out of the scheme, it does not say, as most developers do, “Look at our viability assessment. It is all that we could afford.” It says, “We did what Conservative politicians asked, and they wanted precious little affordable housing and not one new social rented home.”
At the start of the process in 2008, Capco told me with similar candour that it did not want to include the estates in the master plan. Developing the exhibition centre and depot meant negotiating with a single partner, Transport for London. Bringing in the estates meant not only a political minefield, but buying up the land interests of the hundreds of freeholders and leaseholders who had bought the desirable homes, flats and maisonettes on Gibbs Green and West Ken.
Why did Capco succumb? Because the ideologically driven council in Hammersmith and Fulham decided to attract the attention of its political masters in the Department for Communities and Local Government by showing that whole areas of social housing could be wiped and reconceived as luxury developments—they called it “sweating the asset”. For Capco, demolishing the estates was the price of the Tories’ co-operation with the scheme.
Capco drove a hard bargain. The inequality of arms between developers and local authorities is not unique to Hammersmith. The deal done with TfL on the exhibition sites was hugely preferential to Capco, despite TfL owning the freehold—perhaps the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) was also not trying too hard—but that looks like a master stroke compared with the deal that the Hammersmith Tories did for the estate land.
In 2013, Hammersmith and Fulham Council made a deal to receive £90 million for the estates, plus space in the new development to replace the homes lost. Uniquely in the experience of most planners and developers, however, that sum was not index-linked—as if property prices never rise in central London.
Moreover, the council needed to deliver vacant possession of the land. That meant buying out 171 leasehold and freehold homes, which is normally the developer’s task. The maximum needed to acquire the homes was budgeted as £60 million, although valuation experts assessed the true figure as between £150 million and £174 million. The council has already purchased 26 homes at an average price of £552,000, excluding compensation, which is well in excess of the estimated £350,000.
The true value of the land is not recorded, but reading across from the valuation of the exhibition centre site, which is, suggests that a more accurate figure is around £1 billion. By accepting no more than 10% of the land’s value and by underestimating the costs of acquiring vacant possession, the council could now be left with a zero receipt and a maximum of 672 replacement homes for residents of the estates, having sold 88 homes to cover its shortfall. That will also not guarantee a home for all residents in the new scheme.
For reasons of time, I must return another day to what I regard as one of local government’s great financial scandals: how not just prime land, but whole communities were sold for a song to serve an extreme political agenda of gerrymandering and social engineering. Most of the guilty men of the previous Conservative administration—and they were all men—have taken their poisonous philosophy elsewhere, but Capco still squats on Earl’s Court and West Ken like a toad.
Capco is represented by its chairman, Ian Hawksworth, who is now most famous for being on the guest list for the President’s Club dinner, and Gary Yardley, its managing director, who is quick to pick up lavish bonuses for the granting of planning consents with negligible community benefit and huge community loss. Its development partners are even less savoury. They include Hong Kong-based mega-developers Kwok Family Interests. One of the family, Thomas Kwok, is currently serving a five-year sentence for bribery.
Although I have referred, and will continue to refer, to Capco as the developer, in fact the estates were purchased through an obscure entity called EC Properties LP. The sole partner capital contributed to EC Properties LP is £2 paid in cash by Jersey-registered EC Properties LP Ltd. These and further labyrinthine arrangements appear designed to put Capco in control while shielding it from liability and allowing it to take advantage of offshore tax arrangements.
Before being tempted by the prospect of rich pickings in Earl’s Court, Capco’s business was commercial and retail estate management, specifically through its ownership of Covent Garden. It has no experience as a major land developer, and it shows. It does not have control of the master plan site; it has no option on Lillie Bridge depot, which is owned by TfL; the estate residents, through their lawyers, dispute that the conditional land sale agreement for the estates is enforceable; and now the deliverability of its scheme has been further undermined by the sale of the Empress State building.
Capco’s scheme, the value of which fell by 20% in 2016, includes £1.8 billion of enabling infrastructure costs. At £148 per square foot, that is more than three times the cost of larger development schemes in London. Other residential developers have commented on Capco’s extreme construction costs, which are thought to be 30% to 45% above the market rate.
Capco’s assumptions for residential value, which are significantly higher than the local market and schemes elsewhere in London, have not been realised. Sales are slower than expected: flats have been selling at a rate of less than one a week. At one point it was selling one flat a fortnight, at which rate it would take more than 150 years to sell the entire scheme, yet the business plan relies on a high sales rate of 480 private homes a year. Unsurprisingly, Capco has tried in recent months to sell some or all of the site to overseas investors in America, South Africa, Japan, China and Saudi Arabia, but it has had no takers. Frankly, any developer, however much of a gambler, would be beyond reckless to take any of the Earl’s Court site off Capco’s hands.
With no money in the scheme and none from outside, Capco’s only other option is to return to planning and come up with a new master plan with increased heights and density. Sadly for Capco, that option also looks like a dead end. With Eric Pickles at the Department for Communities and Local Government, the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip as Mayor in City Hall, and Stephen Greenhalgh in Hammersmith Town Hall, anything was possible, but the political weather has changed. Now Sadiq Khan is Mayor and has very different ideas about what constitutes affordable and sustainable development. He has also made a strong commitment to tenants’ ballots and said that he wants
“to make sure people living on social housing estates…are at the heart of any decisions”
involving demolition. Stephen Cowan, the Labour leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, has described the Earl’s Court scheme as “unviable” and “undeliverable” and called on Capco to return the estates to the council. He has the full support of the North End ward Labour candidates, Councillor Larry Culhane, Councillor Daryl Brown and Zarar Qayyum. It appears that he also has the support of the deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea, Councillor Kim Taylor-Smith, who spoke about the scheme at a meeting of the full council on 24 January.
On Monday, I wrote to the chief executive of EC Properties, whose parent company is Capco, to seek a meeting to consider the site’s future. I told him that on 14 June the facts on the ground in Kensington had changed. I wrote:
“I want to make it very clear that I do not believe the continuation of this development under the current terms is right. And, as a minimum, if this is to continue I want to see more social and more truly affordable housing included in this scheme.”
I am pleased to see my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) present, because part of the site is in her constituency. As she knows, my reference to 14 June was to the Grenfell Tower fire.
So what happens now? It is too late for the exhibition centres that were demolished in an act of vandalism, but it is not too late to build an acceptable replacement on the site. It is far from too late for the Lillie Bridge depot, which is still owned by TfL, to undergo sympathetic redevelopment to preserve necessary infrastructure for the tube and new affordable homes. If hon. Members will forgive me, however, I will turn my focus to the estates, or rather to the people who live there.
I first got to know West Ken and Gibbs Green in 1985 as the newly selected council candidate for Gibbs Green ward. The first campaign that I had to fight was to stop the then Tory council putting a relief road through the West Ken estate. It has been a pleasure to represent the area as a councillor and MP for 28 of the past 32 years. Although on aggregate it is a low-income community, it includes people from every walk of life, ethnicity, nationality and profession.
Residents reacted with horror to the prospect of demolition of their homes. At first, there was no guarantee of rehousing in the area—only the statutory requirement to rehouse secure tenants in suitable alternative accommodation. Even when residents were told that homes would be available on the site, there were strings attached. Homeowners, private tenants and households who moved into the estates after the land sale agreement was signed in 2013 have no guarantee of finding a replacement home in the area on eviction. Secure council tenants who move into the first phase of replacement homes could see their service charges triple to between £2,500 and £3,500 a year on top of rent. Having been initially promised like-for-like replacement homes, residents who currently have spacious flats and houses built in the 1960s and 1970s, some of which have gardens and off-street parking, have now been told simply that replacement homes will meet the legal minimum size standard. Even if the developer had the finances and political support to begin evicting residents tomorrow, redevelopment of the estates would still take at least 20 years to complete.
Residents have done everything they can to make it very clear what they do not want: demolition. In December 2009, a year after learning of the possible demolition of their homes, residents from 83% of households on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates signed a petition to oppose it. In March 2012, 80% of residents who responded to the council’s consultation on the scheme said no to demolition.
Residents have also been very clear about what they want instead: community ownership. In March 2011, they formed West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes, a community-controlled not-for-profit organisation with membership from more than two thirds of households on the estates. It was set up with the intention of exercising council tenants’ right to transfer.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his powerful speech. Does he agree that residents could do a lot worse than learn from the community ownership experience in a neighbouring estate? Walterton and Elgin Community Homes was set up in the face of a threat from Westminster City Council in the late 1980s. It has proved to be one of the most successful and popular models for social housing in the country. Does he agree that that experience shows exactly the approach we should take when estates are threatened?
It is a pleasure to see my hon. Friend in the Chamber. I am not surprised to hear her champion one of the most successful community-held developments in the country. I will say a little more about that development before I conclude my speech.
The right to transfer allows council tenants to choose a different landlord for their area. The objective of West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes is to become the community-controlled landlord for its members’ homes. For four years, it lobbied the Government to implement the necessary legislation to enable it to use the right to transfer under the Housing Act 1985, as amended by the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008. The necessary regulations came into force in December 2013, and in March 2015 members voted 100:1 to serve a right-to-transfer proposal notice. That is a comfort to those whose priority is simply to remain in their homes. Some residents have lived on the estates with friends and neighbours for 30, 40 or even 50 years and dread the disruption of redevelopment and forced transfer.
Estates are home to people who are the lifeblood of our towns and cities. Many residents are people on minimum wage or zero-hours contracts, who feel the rising costs of living the most. Demolishing and marginalising social housing will not work; more importantly, it dehumanises an entire category of people. Certain councils and developers generalise about social housing tenants. They assume they know better than the tenants what is good for them, and they tell them to be grateful when their homes are under threat. That is what the Conservatives did before agreeing the sale to Capco, describing estates as “not decent neighbourhoods”, “barracks for the poor” and “ghettoes of multiple deprivation”. Is it any wonder that communities such as West Kensington and Gibbs Green are bidding to take control and ownership for themselves?
So residents came up with the people’s plan, which shows the professionals how new development ought to be done. At the outset, Community Homes brought more than 100 residents into workshops and site visits with architects. Residents and architects together identified space for up to 327 new homes and devised plans for improvements to their homes, streets and community spaces. The plans were costed and valued, and residents were able to show that they could help to pay for improvements and subsidise the building of new homes at social rent levels through sales. Residents from 65% of households provided written feedback on these proposals, and 90% of respondents said that the plans were “excellent” or “good”, and “better” or “far better” than the Capco scheme. Here is some of their feedback:
“Everybody is trying to save our homes from these rich people. What do you want to destroy people’s lives for? For money?”
“I like that there is a plan to build new homes but I can keep my home. I don’t understand why they are going to demolish decent homes.”
“The most important thing is that we get to stay. I love it here. We know each other and look out for each other.”
I have two final things to say. First, I thank everybody in the community at West Kensington and Gibbs Green, and their supporters and advisers, for the struggle of the last 10 years. It has been gruelling, and 2,000 people have had their lives on hold, unable to move on with everything from modernising their home to planning their family’s future. However, it has created a fantastic community spirit and inspired people to create their own vision for the future.
Even before the political climate began to thaw, I knew that we would win, because I have known people such as Sally Taylor and Diana Belshaw, the chairs of the West Ken and Gibbs Green residents’ associations, and Keith Drew, the chair of West Ken Gibbs Green Community Homes Limited, for 20 years and more. They are strong Fulham people who are standing up for their communities, and they are not daunted by the dirty tricks of the developer and its political cipher.
I am delighted that so many residents have been able to attend this debate. I apologise if I cannot name them all, but they stand for the hundreds and thousands of people on the estates who have fought for their homes and their livelihoods over many, many years. That battle is not over, but there is at least some light at the end of the tunnel.
As I say, there are too many people for me to name, but I cannot leave out Jonathan Rosenberg, the community organiser for these 10 years, who brought not only his absolute focus and determination to an often exhausting David and Goliath battle, but 30 years of experience of community housing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) knows, Jonathan is the chair of Walterton and Elgin Community Homes, which is in her constituency. He is a slayer of Shirley Porter and a champion of tenants’ rights. Jonathan has been ably assisted by a number of professional advisers—accountants, architects and planners—and by community activists across both boroughs, and indeed by residents who have turned up, often when everything looked hopeless and bleak, time and again to assert the identity of their community.
I must also mention Dave Hill, the former Guardian journalist who now runs—I will give it a blatant plug—the “On London” website, which he is crowdfunding for. Dave has written dozens and dozens of articles to expose what has gone on in West Ken and Gibbs Green over the last 10 years. I do not always agree with everything that he says—he is a good, independent journalist—but he has chronicled what I am afraid to say lazier and more partisan journalists would have otherwise missed. It is good that we have it all on the record.
In conclusion, I have only a couple of simple requests to put to the Minister. I know that, new as he is to his post, he will have listened attentively. From my time holding the justice brief, I know that he is serious and has intellectual weight, and I hope that he will give me good news today. First, will he please determine the Community Homes application for the right to transfer, which his Department has been waiting to determine for more than two years? When he does so, can he please heed the residents’ call for him to uphold their legal right to take back control—a phrase I am sure he is keen to hear in this Chamber—of their community, so that they can deliver the homes that we need?
Secondly and more broadly, I ask the Minister to get the Government, including his Department, to work with the residents, the boroughs and the Greater London Authority—they are all now of one mind, a very different mind from the one of 10 years ago—to provide decent, genuinely affordable homes across the Earl’s Court site for families? That perhaps includes families from Grenfell, and thousands of others who are in overcrowded, unfit and unaffordable accommodation in two of London’s most expensive boroughs.
This situation should not be seen as a tragedy but as an opportunity. If there is going to be redevelopment, it should be sympathetic and sustainable, and in the interests of the people who need it most. They are the people who need social and affordable housing in Hammersmith and Fulham, and in Kensington and Chelsea.
Like many Kensingtonians, I have a long history with Earl’s Court exhibition centre. As a child, I visited the Bertram Mills circus, when they had performing animals; it was the “olden days”. I also attended the Royal Tournament, countless Ideal Home exhibitions, and—of course—some of those amazing concerts. However, the site is not just part of my story. It was, and could be again, a thriving and well-used commercial centre, comprising a third of our country’s exhibition space, and providing jobs and customers all year round for our local hotels, restaurants, shops and pubs—remember pubs?
According to the Greater London Authority, Earl’s Court exhibition centre generated £1 billion of business a year. Now, however, it has been flattened and all that business has gone elsewhere. I remember those crazy days eight years ago when Hammersmith and Fulham Council was under a different administration, and the then director of housing and homelessness was exposed for vile racist views, including, in the context of the estates, expressing a wish to “bulldoze the ghettos”.
Enter Capco, the social cleanser’s friend. Its plans, promoted as being “sensitive” to local context and character, put on the Kensington side a forest of lumpen, bland, blocky chunks of real estate with brick cladding, where no one would ever live; shopping streets where no one would ever shop; and a “river park” without a river or, indeed, anything like a park, and where, despite the optimistic visuals, small blonde children would not play with red balloons.
Facing Warwick Road, in place of our beautiful and now demolished art deco facade, would be a bizarre pair of supposedly landmark buildings that I am sorry to say are reminiscent of Italian fascist architecture. Put simply, world-renowned architect Terry Farrell, whose work I have known for many years, had apparently transported a piece of one of his Chinese cities into our beloved borough. It was a cut and paste job, and was very disappointing.
In May 2015, I had the pleasure of speaking at a seminar at South Bank University, called—enticingly—“Politics with Planning”, which is my favourite combination. I was up against the chief executive of Capco, Gary Yardley. I expressed my misgivings about the proposals for Earl’s Court. How he sneered, because he was reimagining a chunk of our heritage. Who was I to question him? After all, the 14% social housing on offer, or 10% based on floor space, was all that the poor thing could offer, because he had consultants. And this is what Section 106 Consultants says to its developer clients,
“if a Section 106 viability report cannot entirely extinguish your liability to provide Section 106 affordable housing”,
then all is not lost. It says that much may yet be achieved, either
“through delivering…affordable housing of a type…that is more valuable to you”—
that is, to the developer—
“or identifying and prioritising those types of contribution that are most important to the Local Planning Department.”
Let us hope that the days of cosy relationships between developers and planning departments are well and truly over.
How the world has changed. Three years on, Capco is on the ropes, its share value plummeting due to the local luxury housing over-provision, and the heat has been taken out of the market, by, among other factors, fears over Brexit. Capco’s recent half-hearted attempt to intensify the provision of units at Earl’s Court—to provide more small housing units that it thought it could sell, rather than the huge and unwanted super-prime units of its dreams—seems to have hit a brick-clad wall.
Politically, culturally and in terms of local need, the scene has changed dramatically. The international appetite for buying flats to park money—sometimes dodgy money—has waned, and it seems that even Capco has accepted that. It had hoped its desire to intensify Earl’s Court could be agreed within the current planning permission, but that is not happening.
Let us not compound the litany of errors and developer greed with yet another round of international online poker, using our neighbourhoods as chips, to sell the site abroad. Local house prices are plummeting—or what the estate agents call “softening”—and there is no longer any taste for these super-luxury developments that have turned parts of London into ghost towns. The current plan is undeliverable; we need to start again. We need to curtail the developers’ rampage through our neighbourhoods and look to a future at Earl’s Court that does not offer empty units for international investors but instead satisfies local needs and provides homes for existing residents.
After the atrocity of the fire at Grenfell Tower, we have seen a dramatic change of heart at Kensington and Chelsea Council, which we need to consolidate and compound with a completely new approach to the development at Earl’s Court. We need to listen to our constituents, who are the experts on what is needed, now, at Earl’s Court. The Save Earl’s Court campaigners are relentless, intelligent and forward-thinking and have good and achievable ideas.
The UK is desperate for exhibition space and London lags dangerously behind in its offer to those who need large exhibition centres. Earl’s Court is struggling, with local shops and restaurants closing and hotels clinging on by their fingernails, ironically propped up by the council using them as temporary accommodation. The heart has been ripped out of Earl’s Court and we need to put it back.
The deputy leader of Kensington and Chelsea Council has stated that communities must take the lead in future developments. Let us trust them, and listen to the knowledgeable and conscientious Save Earl’s Court campaigners, all our local residents and Councillor Wade. They have been working on proposals for an environmentally sustainable and very green exhibition centre with social rented housing on site, offering a green lung in an area of terrible air quality and with jobs on the doorstep. Demolishing estates of social housing is not the answer to deprivation; working with communities is the way forward. We must set the current undeliverable plans aside and start again.
The world has changed since the repellent comments were made by the former Hammersmith and Fulham director of homelessness; we are better than that now. The world has also changed since 14 June 2017, when the result of poor maintenance, lack of care and absence of social conscience was exposed to the world with the Grenfell Tower fire. Let us show that change now by finding ways to realise our constituents’ ambitions. Let us leave the 2,000 residents of my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) in peace to enjoy and manage the homes built with conscience and care over the past 50 years. On my side, at Earl’s Court, let us support a struggling area that has been decimated by developer greed, by working closely with the London Mayor and the Government to repeal the current planning permission where possible and work with the people of Earl’s Court to provide socially rented and truly affordable housing for those who need it, cleaner air, and a fantastic modern exhibition centre that will provide jobs and return vital business. Let us get them out of those hotels.
Thank you, Mr Owen. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter). He made a powerful speech that was clearly embedded in the needs of the people he represents, some of whom have come here today to hear the debate and others of whom will want to know the outcome. I say kindly to the Minister that there is a real expectation that today we begin to move the long-running saga of Capco’s plan forward in a way that is acceptable to the local residents.
If I may, I will set the debate in a wider context, going back to before the Grenfell fire. It has been recognised that the policy of owner occupation being the only viable form of tenancy, which was driven during the bulk of the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition and in the early days of the present Government, had to change, in the face of the reality of what modern Britain is all about. It is worth putting on record some of the national statistics that are part of the process faced by people in this part of London. Since 2010, there has been a 50% increase in the number of people who are unintentionally homeless and are deemed to be a priority, people who desperately need rehousing and regarding whom our local authorities have a duty to respond. The local authorities find that extremely difficult of course, because of the lack of available properties.
Those who present themselves to local authorities as unintentionally homeless are only part of the picture. Many families and individuals are in inadequate, overcrowded housing, perhaps living with parents or other relatives. We know that the need for affordable social homes is massively greater than that illustrated by the unintentionally homeless figures. It is a scandal that some 120,000 children nationwide are in temporary accommodation—and the number is growing. In London in particular, in recent years there has been a tripling in the number of people described as rough sleepers, people who have been abandoned by our society in many ways.
That is all part of the background. So why is this? It is because policies dictated to take out social housing—affordable housing for people who need it—have been massively detrimental. That is what the ideologues my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith talked about earlier wanted to achieve. Since 2010, we have seen a 174,000 reduction in the number of council properties nationwide. According to the Chartered Institute of Housing, 150,000 social housing units have been lost, and it is predicted that a further 80,000 will go between now and 2020. At the same time, in 2010 there were 40,000 social housing starts and in the most recent year the figure was down to 1,000. Frankly, this is a crisis that has been made at political policy level, because of incompetence and the unacceptability of developers taking control of our planning process.
Something has gone drastically wrong, and the situation in Earl’s Court and West Kensington fits into that national pattern. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith made the point forcefully that there is something fundamentally wrong when developers can sweat assets that are people’s homes, land on which perfectly adequate estates and communities make their lives. That is not sweating assets; it is prostituting national resources in the interests of developer profit and it cannot be acceptable. Nor can it be acceptable that simply because the market is turning and Capco no longer sees the development as viable we now have the possibility of a change of policy. The policy should never have been allowed in the first place, putting, as it does, people’s lives and homes at risk.
Everything I know of the situation my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith has talked about says that this is a collection of viable estates of popular homes. I understand there are very few voids, empty properties—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith confirms that—and that they are properties that are not so old and not really in enormous need of repair. With that background, the idea of destroying those homes simply to allow the sweating of assets—in fact, to allow people to make enormous amounts of money—does not fit in with the social values we ought to espouse. Even the Government have now begun to espouse those values, as they talk in a slightly more nuanced language about the need to develop more affordable social housing.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith made some important points about the situation that would be unacceptable anywhere. “Like for like” should be the minimum requirement of any transfer for individuals. It is not like for like when we know that people who have substantial properties will be offered properties with minimum space standards—whatever that means. In fact, it increasingly means much reduced standards and therefore a lower quality of life. My hon. Friend talked about people possibly seeing a tripling of service charges to £3,500 a year, and that is not a small amount of money. It would have a significant impact on people’s incomes, and it simply is not sustainable. Given that background, there is something fundamentally wrong with the model. Residents are rightly looking not only to the local authority—it now has a different political complexion and a different view of the situation—but to central Government to see what they can do to alter the situation.
My hon. Friend asked for specific things from the Minister. The Minister should look at the capacity of the right to transfer. If that issue has been on his predecessor’s desk for two years, it needs to be brought to a conclusion. I hope today he can begin to move that process on. My hon. Friend also talked about the need for the provision of affordable housing. There is something fundamentally wrong in the design of a new area that is supposed to have some 7,500 properties when the number of affordable homes would be less than the number being taken out. In the world in which we now live, the proportion of affordable homes should be significantly in excess of replacement. It should make some real impact on the dire need for social homes—affordable social homes at that—in London in particular. I hope the Minister will comment on what that means for future developments such as this and what the Government can do to begin to bring pressure to bear on Capco.
In conclusion, my hon. Friend has brought a shocking story to the House. The support that my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad) and for Westminster North (Ms Buck) have brought is important. I congratulate the residents of the area. Their 10-year fight is not yet over, but had they not been prepared to stand up to Capco and the developers, the issue most certainly would have been finished long ago with them in massively inferior conditions to what they now have. I hope that where we are today promises something better for the future.
We look to the Minister for a credible response. The saga is complicated because a lot of the control rests with the developer, but the developer is now on the ropes. I hope he accepts that it should not depend on changing market conditions for us to have a more rational housing policy that says that the rights of existing viable communities should not be wiped out simply to sweat those assets to make more money. The Government’s changing attitude says that that is the wrong situation for us to be in, and I hope the Minister will confirm that.
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. As is the custom, I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing this debate. We have sparred many times on justice matters, and I look forward to an equally rigorous friendship on housing issues. He takes a close interest in those issues and I know how tenaciously he makes his case for his constituents and on matters of principle. I pay tribute to the residents who have come to listen to him and to hear the different views on this important matter.
I take note of all the hon. Gentleman’s points regarding the merits or otherwise of the development of the Earl’s Court and West Kensington area. He will know that the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government has been asked to make a decision on two specific matters submitted for his determination. The determination requests are currently being considered in the Department. The hon. Gentleman made some specific requests that I want to address clearly. As a lawyer and an assiduous local MP, he will know that that process precludes me, for legal and propriety reasons, from commenting specifically on the regeneration proposals for the Earl’s Court and Kensington area. As he knows, to do so would prejudice the very decision making he is calling for. Notwithstanding those limits, in his usual deft way he has highlighted his concerns over the Earl’s Court project while also raising—the shadow Minister did this, too—wider issues relating to social housing and the place for regeneration within that. I will say as much as I conceivably can.
Members will know that social housing is a priority for this Government. Last year we announced a review to examine the issues affecting social housing. To help inform the Green Paper we have spoken directly with 1,000 people who live in social housing, as well as with more than 7,000 people through online surveys. Notwithstanding the fact I have only been in this post for a short time, I have been to two workshops this year in Basingstoke and for Lancaster West residents in north Kensington. I hope that reassures the hon. Member for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad). Those workshops and the wider feedback have made a profound impression on me. We have an important opportunity to look afresh at the sector. A lot of the wider points that Members have made will feed into, touch on and resonate with some of the issues we will be grappling with. We will publish the Green Paper this year for consultation, and I look forward to engaging with all Members at that point on those wider policy issues as we strive to get the best out of the social housing sector.
More broadly, the Government are increasing the supply of homes and implementing policies that help people to access housing, whether they are renting or looking to buy in whichever sector, private or social. In 2016-17, which is the last year for which we have full figures, nearly 220,000 net additional homes were delivered. There were more than 41,000 affordable housing completions, which was up 27% on the previous year. We saw nearly 145,000 completions on the Help to Buy equity loan scheme by the end of September 2017.
Building affordable homes is a top priority for this Government. Since 2010, we have delivered more than 357,000 new affordable homes. In relation to the specific issues raised by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, about one quarter of those homes have been delivered in London. The Prime Minister recently announced an additional £2 billion of funding for affordable housing. That will increase the affordable homes programme budget to more than £9 billion. The new funding will support councils and housing associations to build more affordable homes where they are needed most: where families are struggling with rental costs and some may be at risk of homelessness.
The shadow Minister raised the issue of affordable housing in the wider context, and the hon. Member for Hammersmith made a number of political points. I hope both will forgive me for pointing out a few basic undeniable facts about affordable homes in Hammersmith and Fulham. Affordable home delivery in Hammersmith and Fulham in 2016-17 was 28% of the level of the last year of the previous Conservative administration. In the same year, Hammersmith and Fulham delivered 15% of the affordable housing that Wandsworth delivered. I note that as a matter of balance with the account of the borough given today by Members. It is worth putting it in some perspective. Nevertheless, across the political aisles and across the country—the issue is most acute in relation to London, where there is a serious housing shortage and high demand—I think we all are clear about our ambition and restlessness to go much further.
At the autumn statement in 2016, we agreed a record-breaking £3.15 billion package of funding for affordable housing in London to deliver at least 90,000 new affordable homes by March 2021. In addition, London will also get a share of the extra £3.4 billion investment in the affordable homes programme announced recently. Since 2010, we have delivered more than 357,000 new affordable homes, and about one quarter of them have been in the capital.
As London struggles to build enough homes to keep pace with demand, attention is naturally turning to the broader options regarding the regeneration of housing estates. Estate regeneration done the right way can create new improved homes and communities for the people who live there. It can increase the supply and quality of homes through densification and design. Those two can be viewed as a win-win, rather than a zero-sum game. Savills has estimated that in London there is capacity to provide more than 54,000 additional homes using a street-based model. The Government published a new estate regeneration national strategy in December 2016, which supports local partners to improve how they do estate regeneration in partnership with residents to drive better quality housing, local growth and wider opportunities for the residents of local communities.
To give some examples of good practice, in the north Solihull area of Birmingham, a focus on education with the local community infrastructure amenities has led to an increase in educational standards. The regeneration set out to change the lives of 40,000 people by building new homes of mixed tenure, developing new state-of-the-art schools and creating new village centres with improved health and enterprise facilities. The best estate regeneration schemes make the community central to the project.
The Spirit Quarters redevelopment in Coventry is a resident-led scheme. They have set up three social enterprises: a community café, a neighbourhood centre and a business centre. In addition to the physical transformation, there have been improvements in many social and economic outcomes. Overall, reported crime in the area is down by almost 20% and the number of residents claiming jobseeker’s allowance has reduced by 44%. The percentage of students leaving school with five or more GCSEs at grades A* to C has increased from 5% to 33%. Those are all incredibly positive outcomes.
The issue of tenant participation has been raised by hon. Members. Residents are clearly key partners in any regeneration scheme. They should have opportunities to participate from the start, developing the vision, design, partner procurement and delivery. Working with residents can help to build trust and consensus on regeneration. I have said this numerous times since taking on this portfolio: we need to build more homes, but we also need to build up stronger communities, too,
It is particularly important that residents have the opportunity to express their views on the final options for regeneration, whether as individuals or through the democratic process more generally. The way that is done should be agreed locally. That is the template for the national policy that we put out. The regeneration should have the support of a majority of the residents whose lives will be directly affected. At the Wornington Green estate in north Kensington, support for the regeneration was helped by early and ongoing conversations with residents. It included a resident steering group, regular outreach, independent advice and advocacy, regular public meetings, and training for residents.
It is important to set out a clear set of commitments about how the regeneration process will work and what housing options are available. Providing security and confidence through a charter early on is one option for helping to establish trust and foster positive discussions about the scheme. All existing council and housing association tenants, whether on a lifetime or fixed-term tenancy, should have the option to return to the estate. It is a legal requirement for leaseholders to be compensated if their home is demolished. However, we expect that schemes will go further and offer leaseholders a package that enables them to stay on the estate or at least close by.
It is important that home purchase options are made available. Residents should be given the opportunity to change tenure if they so wish. Regeneration can help first-time buyers get a foot on the housing ladder and provide opportunities for tenants to own their homes. Shared ownership has an important role to play in helping those who aspire to home ownership but cannot afford to buy. For example, residents of the Rayners Lane estate in Harrow have been guaranteed the right to remain in affordable housing on the estate, with the extra 260-plus homes creating a vibrant mixed-tenure community through the introduction of outright sale and shared ownership. All of that requires strong leadership from local authorities.
Our strategy highlights the importance of devolution and the leadership role of local authorities working with their communities to support estate regeneration. We have seen good examples of that type of strategic leadership and co-operation. Notwithstanding the criticisms that have been made, I hope we will not throw the baby out with the bathwater and lose sight of the good examples and the positives.
I will make a little more progress and the hon. Gentleman can comment at the end.
Combined authorities in the Tees valley, the west midlands and Greater Manchester are now tackling housing and regeneration alongside transport, infrastructure and skills as they take a more holistic approach. Strategic regeneration plans can act as the catalyst for delivering place-based services and infrastructure through, for example, new community hubs and schools that service the areas being regenerated.
Opposition Members have sometimes accused me of focusing too much on London and the capital. However, the regeneration of Anfield in north Liverpool has focused not only on housing, but on the place as a whole, including the commercial offer and the wider infrastructure. Your Housing association, Liverpool football club and Liverpool City Council created a partnership that enabled them to consider the needs of the community across the whole Anfield area. That was important and is a good example of the strong joint partnership and long-term community engagement that has transformed Anfield into a place where people want to live.
I appreciate the tone of the Minister’s speech and what he said about not giving a view on the regeneration scheme. However, may I press him a little on two points? First, if he cannot say what his position is, can he indicate—this is not unreasonable after two years—when there is likely to be a decision on the right to transfer? Secondly, there are many regeneration schemes, but so many of them involve a reduction in the number of social rented homes. When we have a new deal for Earl’s Court and West Kensington, will he agree to work with the other players there to ensure that we preserve and enhance the existing community?
The hon. Gentleman has made his point in a constructive and reasonable way. I appreciate his frustration on the time issue. After the length of time and all the issues that have been churned over, no one will say this has been done in a rushed way, but we need to take the time required to get the decision right. I cannot give him a specific timeframe, but we will move as expeditiously as we can. I certainly will take back to the Department the point that he has made.
On the wider question, we have an opportunity through the social housing Green Paper. We will collate the extraordinarily wide range of feedback we have had. We will put that into the proposals through a Green Paper for consultation. I look forward to working with the hon. Gentleman and hearing from him at that stage.
In conclusion, I want to make sure this debate does not lose sight of the fact that local regeneration can offer enormous scope to build more homes and at the same time build up our local communities, which, whatever side of the political argument we sit on, is the shared objective. It requires ambition from local authorities, which many are providing. It also requires that residents have a strong voice in the process to shape the local plan, and support from central Government, which London and many other communities are receiving, not least with the recent homes infrastructure funding that has been made available. It also requires strong leadership to carry local communities with us.
I am glad we had a civilised debate, but that does not detract from the fact that what has happened, particularly to the tenants and residents of the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates over the past 10 years, has been an outrage. It would not have been tolerated were this not an area of social housing. Threatening to demolish 750 private homes in the same way simply would not happen. All we ask is that similar standards are adopted. That is why I am delighted with the Mayor’s new guidelines and his wish to use his own power and economic clout to ensure that tenants are fully consulted in future.
I want to make two or three quick points. I accept that local authorities can always do more and that it is very difficult to build genuinely affordable housing in London, where land values are high, but it is not impossible. I do not want to dwell on the political past, but I will give one statistic: in the past three years of Conservative control in Hammersmith and Fulham, the number of social rented homes actually fell. It is the only borough in London where that happened. I would be willing to draw a line under the past and to accept at face value what the Government say and what some Conservative councils now say about a new commitment to social rented homes. I suspect the new settlement will not be until after the local elections because Capco, like all desperate gamblers, will want one more throw of the dice to see if it can get a more sympathetic administration. I suspect it will be unlucky on this occasion, not only in Hammersmith but in Kensington. I invite the Minister to work with all players after that time to ensure that we begin to build the homes that Londoners need and can afford.
I end where I began by thanking everybody who has taken part in the debate, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for Rochdale (Tony Lloyd), for Kensington (Emma Dent Coad), and for Westminster North (Ms Buck), who are passionate about these issues, as I am. Most of all I thank the tenants and residents not only for giving up their day and being here—they have given up so many days—but for everything they have done for their community. By resisting the demolition that was due in the area, they have prevented it from happening to other communities in Hammersmith and elsewhere. For that we all owe them an undying debt of gratitude.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered social housing and regeneration in Earl’s Court and West Kensington.