Rachel Reeves MP on Leeds’ first Women MP, Alice Bacon

In the last in our series of International Women’s Day blog posts today, Rachel Reeves MP talks about Alice Bacon – who was the first woman to represent Leeds in Parliament.

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Rachel at a book signing for “Alice in Westminster”

Alice Bacon was one of the great unsung heroes of post-war Britain. Born the daughter of a coal-miner in the years immediately preceding the outbreak of World War I and elected to Parliament in the great Labour landslide of 1945, her background was not that of a typical Member of Parliament.

For one, just a handful of women had preceded her as MPs. That fact alone made Alice a pioneer, who had to learn to thrive in an environment that was frequently inhospitable to women. By negotiating the challenges they faced just doing their jobs – whether it was the lack of suitable office space for women MPs, or their pigeonholing as being only interested in certain ‘women’s issues’ – Alice and those who entered Parliament with her were trailblazers.

And, Alice was the daughter of a coal-miner. While this might not have been the traditional preparation for working in the Palace of Westminster, it ensured that Alice was perhaps surprisingly well-equipped to carry out her work as an MP, having helped miners fill in claims for compensation in working-men’s clubs – her training ground, and she developed a strong bond with the kind of community she would go on to represent in Parliament.

Most of all, Alice was a proud Yorkshire woman, who lived for almost her entire life in her childhood home in Normanton. For 25 years, she served the people of Leeds as a dedicated constituency MP, and was known as ‘our Alice’ by her constituents. Her surgeries took place at the Leeds Corn Exchange and were billed as ‘Any Problems’ – even today people remember Alice helping with housing, pension, schooling and other issues. She is a great role model for today’s MPs and Councillors.

Alice was a close ally of great Leeds Labour stalwarts like Hugh Gaitskell and Denis Healey. And when she retired, she was made Baroness Bacon of the City of Leeds and Normanton in the West Riding of the County of York.

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Alice talking to Labour Party Conference in 1965

As a Government Minister, first at the Home Office and then the Department of Education and Science, Alice played a vital role in some of the great reforms of the 1960s: the legalisation of homosexuality and abortion, and the abolition of the death penalty. However, the cause closest to her heart was one shaped by her experience growing up in Yorkshire: the introduction of comprehensive education. On this issue, she spoke as someone who had taught in a secondary modern and understood the problems associated with selective education, as well as excessive class sizes and inadequate school buildings. Alice championed the issue of the comprehensive from the moment she arrived in Parliament, before it was ever accepted as Labour Party policy, and as the minister responsible for schools after 1967, she was able to drive through the reform countrywide.

The Labour Party in Yorkshire has a proud history – from Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle, to Gaitskell and Healey. Alice Bacon deserves to be remembered alongside such illustrious counterparts.

Cllr Alison Lowe on the importance of International Women’s Day today

International Women’s Day events are held worldwide on March 8 to celebrate women and their global contribution. Various women, including political, community, and business leaders, as well as leading educators, inventors, entrepreneurs, and television personalities, are usually invited to speak at events on the day, highlighting their successes to illustrate how much progress has been made, and often how much further there is till yet to go.

Many students in schools and other educational settings participate in special lessons, debates or presentations about the importance of women in society, their influence, and issues that affect them. In some countries school children bring gifts to their female teachers and women receive small presents from friends or family members. Many workplaces make a special mention about International Women’s Day through internal newsletters or notices, or by handing out promotional material focusing on the day.

In Leeds, we will also be celebrating the contribution of women to our fabulous city and honouring them throughout this day.  I will also be there to tell Leeds’ women why they are an asset to Leeds, their families and wider communities and why they should be proud to be women living in this great city of ours.

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Many women in Leeds will not always have had the start in life that their talent or potential deserved – I was subject to sexual abuse as a child and domestic violence as an adult – but that did not define me and nor should it define us. Women are the backbone of their families, communities and cities.  We are peacemakers, mediators, strategists and bringers of hope.  We keep our families together through bad times and good and we go without to make sure our families survive.  In the workplace we are Leaders of Councils, Chief Executives, doctors, nurses, physicists, lawyers and  Chief Constables.  We are whatever it is we want to be – and whatever it is we believe we can be.

If you are a citizen of Leeds, celebrate all that is great about our city, recognise the huge and continuing contribution of women and girls today and be part of making women’s lives better for tomorrow.

In the words of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon:

Countries with more gender equality have better economic growth. Companies with more women leaders perform better. Peace agreements that include women are more durable. Parliaments with more women enact more legislation on key social issues such as health, education, anti-discrimination and child support. The evidence is clear: equality for women means progress for all.”

Cllr Pauleen Grahame on the Barnbow Lasses

On International Women’s Day – Cllr Pauleen Grahame writes about the Barnbow Lasses, A story of women who worked in a munitions factory which also records the worst tragedy in the history of the City of Leeds – in terms of people killed – a story however that never made the news headlines of the day. A dreadful explosion killed 35 Yorkshire women and girls at the Barnbow Munitions factory at Crossgates during the First World War.

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I was honoured to be asked by our local Historical Society if I could help with a Memorial for the Lasses who worked at the Barnbow Munitions Factory in Cross Gates during WW1.

Due to the official Secrets it was never discussed at the time.  I was adamant that there would be something to remember and let people know about these wonderful Women.

The Memorial Stone in Manston Park was agreed by all involved. There are also 2 Lecterns one at each entrance to  park informing people of the tragedy and the wonderful Women who worked there to save lives and many lost their own. I feel great Pride when I pass the park and see people children looking at the memorial.

As the Lasses would have walked the path to get to the factory I like to think that a few may visit in the night. At our Cross Gate Christmas Light Switch On I always mention the Lasses . It is my greatest achievement on I am most proud of as a councillor to have been involved in the recognition of these brave women who saved many lives and paid a great part in winning the war.

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Cllr Al Garthwaite on the history of International Women’s Day

After being celebrated widely during the first part of the twentieth century, International Women’s Day was neglected, apart from in the Soviet Union, where men would present women with flowers and make them a cup of tea, presumably as some sort of sop for doing nothing for them the rest of the year. This was until the second wave of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the late 1960s; from that time, women all over the world celebrate and campaign in the days surrounding March 8th.

In Leeds, in the late 1970s, feminists booked the then-empty-and-going-on-for-derelict Corn Exchange and promoted International Women’s Day events, with lots of stalls showcasing women’s organisations and businesses, film screenings, music, singing, talks, massage, and the chance to help build a wall, facilitated by the organisation Women in Manual Trades. This was very popular; queues of women snaked up Vicar Lane before the start, and we were full all day.

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This idea was taken up again in the 1980s, when Leeds City Council Women’s Sub-Committee offered similar all-day programmes in the Corn Exchange and eventually, the Lord Mayor’s Banqueting Suite in the Civic Hall. Women’s groups all over Leeds also put on events, from motor bike riding to screen printing, conferences against violence against women, steel band concerts and South Asian dancing, funded by a special International Women’s Day grant pot. Vera Media’s 1987’s short film exploring the history of the day, highlighting activities all over the world and focussing especially on events in Leeds, was distributed nationally. (We showed it recently to a audience of mainly young women at the Hyde Park Book Club; 30 years on, it went down very well).

This year, there’s still time to catch some events in Leeds, like I Am Woman (Hear Me Roar); Girl Gang Presents Cool for Crafts Market; the Feminist Archive North exhibition; Edit Wikipedia for Women; and International Women’s Day – the Promised Band, a film exploring women’s lives in Israel and Palestine and how a rock band brought them together. See www.leedsinspired.co.uk/international women’s day for details. Leeds Beckett University and Leeds University also have events, among others listed online.

In the twenty-first century, International Women’s Day is as relevant and necessary as it ever was. Get out there and enjoy.

Leader of Leeds City Council, Judith Blake, writes to the Prime Minister regarding the Adult Social Care crisis, and special funding arrangements for Surrey County Council

The Prime Minister
10 Downing Street
London SW1A 2AA

Prime Minister,

We are writing regarding funding arrangements for Conservative-run Surrey County Council. Specifically, the alleged reason behind David Hodge’s decision to drop a planned referendum on increasing council tax by 15 per cent to cover the severe shortfalls in social care, after apparently holding ‘several conversations’ with Whitehall figures.

It has been widely reported in leaked texts, sent by David Hodge supposedly intended for Nick King, Sajid Javid’s special advisor, that DCLG was working on a ‘Memorandum of Understanding.’

In response, as Leaders of Labour councils and council groups, we have a series of questions:

  1. Was a deal struck for Surrey County Council?
  2. If so, what are the details of the deal?
  3. Why was a special deal struck with Surrey behind closed doors?
  4. Does the Government finally recognise that local Government is grossly underfunded and is that why they have given a special deal to Surrey?
  5. Does the Government now recognise that there will be a £2.6bn shortfall in social care funding by 2020?
  6. If a deal was struck, will Ministers offer the same deal given to Surrey to all councils, regardless of political affiliation, when the Local Government finance settlement is published on 22nd February?

We have a crisis in social care, resulting from the Conservative Government’s cuts to local authority funding. Secret backroom deals are not the answer. We urgently need a proper solution, which means providing councils with the funding they needed to solve this crisis.

Given the public interest in this matter we will be publishing this letter.

Yours sincerely,

Judith Blake              Leeds City Council
Barrie Grunwald     St Helen’s Council
Mohammed Butt    Brent Council
Richard Watts          Islington Council
Stewart Young         Cumbria County Council
Simon Henig            Durham County Council
Nick Forbes              Newcastle City Council
Lewis Herbert          Cambridge City Council
Peter Martland        Milton Keynes Council
Warren Morgan      Brighton & Hove City Council
Jaz Athwal                 Redbridge Council
Sharon Taylor          Stevenage Council
Simon Greaves        Bassetlaw Council
Peter John                Southwark Council
Sam Dixon                Cheshire West and Chester Council
Steven Brady           Hull City Council
Iain Malcolm            South Tyneside Council
Ray Oxby                   North East Lincolnshire Council
David Budd              Middlesborough Council
Jean Stretton           Oldham Council
Simon Letts              Southampton Council
Sue Jeffrey                Redcar and Cleveland Council
Doug Taylor             Enfield Council
Susan Hinchcliffe    Bradford Council
Mark Townsend      Burnley District Council
Hazel Simmons       Luton Council
Alan Rhodes             Nottinghamshire County Council
Claire Kober             Harringey Council
Peter Box                  Wakefield Council
Christopher Akers-Belcher          Hartlepool Council
Richard Leese          Manchester City Council
Bob Price                  Oxford Council
Tom Beattie             Corby Council
Sachan Shah            Harrow Council
Bob Cook                  Stockton Council
John Clancy              Birmingham City Council
Julian Bell                  Ealing Council
Julie Dore                  Sheffield City Council
Steve Bullock           Lewisham Council
Shaun Davies           Telford & Wrekin Council
Terry O’Neill             Warrington Council
Stephen Lydon        Stroud Council
Phil Davies                Wirral Council
Alexander Ganotis Stockport Council
Steve Eling                Sandwell Council
Sarah Hayward       Camden Council
Peter Lamb              Crawley Council
Simon Blackburn    Blackpool Council
Steve Houghton      Barnsley Council
Jon Collins                 Nottingham City Council
Robin Wales             Newham Council
Alistair Bradley        Chorley Council
Stephen Alambritis            Merton Council
Darren Rodwell       Barking and Dagenham Council
Ian Maher                 Sefton Council
Ros Jones                  Doncaster Council
Roger Lawrence      Wolverhampton Council
Martin Gannon       Gateshead Council
Tim Swift                   Calderdale Council
Cliff Morris                Bolton Council
Pete Lowe                 Dudley Council
Tony Newman         Croydon Council

http://www.itv.com/news/2017-01-24/nine-out-of-10-councils-in-england-tell-itv-news-raising-council-tax-has-made-no-difference-to-social-care-crisis/

 

Better Lives

Politics is about making difficult decisions

The decommissioning of care home which directly impinges on many elderly and vulnerable people and their carers is one of those difficult decisions.

Many people on Leeds City Council, including myself, have an elderly parent who we want the best for. Disrupting the lives of vulnerable is not be done lightly and only after careful consideration, consultation and when all options are exhausted.

We have to balance the impact we have on current residents whilst ensuring we are capable of meeting future needs for those who will need our support in the future.

In 2011 it was recognised that doing nothing to change provision of adult care was not an option and we have made many changes since then, including decommissioning of eight homes and many day centres in Leeds.

The MBI’s position is confused. In Morley Town Hall they call for no closures at all, in Leeds Civic Hall they talk about a reprieve for only two years. Why two years? Why not one or three? With the Conservative Government cutting £314 million from Leeds what will happen over the next two years to improve the financial position of the council?

The demand pressures on adult care are around increasing by around £20m per year, there are more elderly people – and the resources of the council to meet that demand are reducing, despite the extra Osborne levy on Leeds Council tax payers raising £5.2m this year.   It is nowhere near enough.   As we all know we are increasing every year the proportion of the council spend on adult care – 40.6% this year. In 2011 when I was elected it was 30%.

This cannot go on for ever we have to take a different approach.

The better lives strategy is an alternative approach and is about supporting people to stay in their homes or ensuring they have alternative models such as extracare housing to meet demand. I believe we will be bring forward proposals early next year to invest £31m over the next three years to improve our ability to meet future demand for extracare housing.

If we do nothing for 2 years we will incur another of £4.2m of costs – then we will still be faced with the same difficult decision about decommissioning of these homes. The economics will not change.

In politics as in life delaying a decision does not help. Booting this into the long grass will not make the decision easier when it comes, it will make it harder.

We have to recognise that demand for places in our care homes is dropping Siegen Manor has an occupancy rate of less than 7O%. Only 7 of the residents in Siegen Manor are from Morley. Our remaining care homes are well run and have excellent staff but we do not have the money to invest in existing or new care new homes. Only the Independent sector can do that.

We need to ensure we provide alternatives such as extra care housing and promote good quality private sector provision.   In Morley I will work to ensure we do have good quality provision to replace Siegen Manor through the private sector or with investment in extracare.

Cllr Neil Dawson – Morley South Ward

The case for International Men’s Day

March 8th every year, International Women’s Day. And every year without fail Facebook and Twitter timelines fill up with – “why don’t we have International Men’s Day!!!?!” – well we do, it was on Saturday.

All of us have multiple identities, and for me being male is one of those – but what does it mean to be a man today, and what are our issues we would highlight on international men’s day.

When we look on the national stage we have plenty of male figures to look up to. Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, Boris Johnson – all towering figures who have reached those dizzying heights by belittling and degrading others, male or female.

Compare this to some celebrated figures on the current and recent world stage who act as role models for women – Hillary Clinton, who received more votes for President of the United States than any white man in history, Harriet Harman, whose list of achievements for women in the UK is endless, Angela Merkel going for her fourth term as Chancellor of Germany or Amal Clooney the British-Lebanese lawyer, activist, and author who recently took on a human trafficking survivor as a client in a groundbreaking legal case to prosecute ISIS generals for genocide.

Is there no huge swell of activity on international men’s day because being male is not a liberation cause? I am not oppressed for my gender in the way that many are for their race, disability, sexuality or religion. But this does not mean that men do not have specific issues that need addressing.

Last month researchers at the Centre for Men’s Health Leeds Beckett University published a study commissioned by Leeds City Council on the state on Men’s Health in the city. Men are more likely to die young than women, suicide rates for men are 5 times higher, and young boys are less likely to achieve a good level of basic education and higher grade GCSEs compared to their female peers.

How to respond to this presents a challenge, those politicians who have entered the fray with men’s issues at the core of their politics haven’t done so in the spirit of helping those vulnerable men – they have done so as part of an anti-feminist rhetoric.

Phillip Davis MP said that “men have lost their voices” – and he’s right. As an elected representative he has been so distracted by criticising women politicians for standing up for women, that he’s forgotten to stand up for any men himself.

As a MP, Phillip Davis has supported huge cuts to local Government. In Leeds we are directly responsible for Public Health – we can directly affect the state of men’s health. But while Mr Davis MP is waxing lyrical about men’s issues, he votes to take over £314 million from Leeds, directly detrimental to men’s health. It’s hypocritical.

We have had men right at the top of the political world since the beginning of time – and these men’s issues have not been dealt with. What does that tell us? We must demand better from those with power.

Now – it’s not that I think that women can only represent women and men can only represent men – but it is a second rate politician who spends their time pointing at others and saying – ‘it’s their fault things are like this’ rather than getting stuck in and resolving a problem themselves. This attitude of blaming others seems to be in vogue at the moment, be it Mexicans, Eastern Europeans or feminists. It’s incorrect and frankly lazy.

Without feminism my sisters would not be equal to me – and I do not want to achieve what I achieve because of certain advantages society lends to my gender – I want to get there on my own merit, because of what I think, say and do.

As a male politician in Leeds, I celebrate the fact that our Leeds Labour Group is now majority women (32 women, 31 men). It demonstrates a fairness to all 63 of us, ensuring that we who govern the city of Leeds, represent the city of Leeds. It does not diminish me as a man to be treated equally – it enhances it.

So international men’s day, let’s look at what we can do as a city to address these problems specifically facing men. But nobody’s rights and representation should come at the expense of another – and it is a poor politician who will tell you otherwise.

Councillor Jonathan Pryor – Headingley Ward

What the Tories grammar school plans mean for local government

In the past few months, we’ve seen Theresa May and her Tory colleagues talking seriously about taking the backward step to reintroduce the grammar school system. Labour understands that grammar schools widen the divide between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from more privileged ones and have no place in a society where every child gets the best start in life.

It’s an absolute disgrace that the Tory Government are proposing to categorise children from the age of eleven by way of a test that can easily be abused by those with the cash to do so. This dangerous strategy is underpinned by the Government’s wrongly held view that selective schools are best placed to support underperforming schools.

We know that grammar schools are over representative of advantaged pupils from families with the skills and educational background to support them. Will these grammar schools really be able to improve schools with a greater mix of disadvantaged, lower achieving pupils and the associated problems of child poverty? I don’t believe they will but luckily we know that local government has a proven track record when it comes to school improvement.

Recent data gathered by the Local Government Association has shown that local authorities have more success in raising school standards than academies or free schools. The LGA say that almost nine out of ten council-run primary and secondary schools are rated as Good or Outstanding, which is a higher number than among academies and free schools. Richard Watts, the Chair of the LGAs Children and Young People’s Board, has said that local authorities have continued to prove their effectiveness in raising school standards using their relationship with schools and their in-depth knowledge of their local areas. He has gone on to question the ability of unaccountable Regional School Commissioners to turn around underperforming schools across large geographic areas they know nothing about. I would also seriously question their ability to turn around schools with a pupil make-up of which they have virtually no experience dealing with and very little desire to gain any. and have demonstrated very little desire to gain any understanding.

Social segregation is not the answer to educational improvement, the answer is real investment and real support through local authorities who know their schools, know their areas and have the experience of delivering the best possible outcomes for pupils and teachers.

Cllr Alice Smart- Lead Member for Child Friendly Leeds

Government plan to take further £100 million from Leeds

Back in 2010, when David Cameron and Nick Clegg where pledging themselves to one other on steps on Number 10, Leeds City Council received £445 million a year in funding from central Government.  This is funding that is spent on front line services here in Leeds – on care homes, public transport, housing and our environment.  The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats cut this £445 million a year right down to £231 million a year – and now, the Conservatives want to take an additional £100 million from Leeds every year.  Leaving us with less than 30% of the Government funding we had before the Coalition came to power 6 years ago.

We’ve seen these ideological cuts to Education, to Health, to Defence and to our Police – but none of them have been cut by 71% as Leeds local Government has.

This has a very real impact on frontline services. Absolute poverty is estimated to affect 155,000 people in Leeds, and local Government is the most effective way of tackling this poverty.  Leeds City Council is doing what it can, by boosting apprenticeships and by paying the real living wage – but the huge cuts from the Conservatives are only taking us backwards.

When Iain Duncan Smith resigned from Government, he himself stated that “Certain policies..are more and more..distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.”

These cuts are a political choice and not an economic necessity, and they are not over yet.

On Wednesday 14th September, Leeds City Council held a meeting of all Councillors, and voted on a motion to condemn the cuts already made to Leeds, and to halt the additional £100 million of cuts.  Unfortunately the Leeds Conservatives voted against this motion.

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The Government’s decision to take all this money from Leeds in such a sustained and counterproductive period of austerity has had an unfair and damaging impact on the city.  There are now 14,000 more people in Leeds, living in deprivation, since the start of these cuts.

Interestingly, this has not been the case in all Councils.  Down South, the Conservative run Council’s of Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Hampshire have received payments of £24 million £9 million and £19 million respectively, to help them cope with this imposed austerity.

In fact, if Leeds received the same level of Government funding per person as Wokingham in Berkshire, the council with the lowest level of cuts, we would have an additional £100 million per annum in our budget.

Just think what that could do to our levels of poverty and deprivation here in Leeds.

Cllr Judith Blake – Leader of Leeds City Council

Reclaiming the “Northern Powerhouse”

As an elected member of Leeds City Council, the biggest local authority north of Birmingham, discussions of devolution and the northern powerhouse are never too far away.

There are lots of reasons for Labour councillors to get excited about regional devolution. It has the potential to provide fiscal devolution which would enable increased spending on public transport and local health services and it would be an opportunity to give local communities more of a say about what happens to them and their area. But there are also a whole host of challenges and underlying concerns. Will this just be a token transfer of power from one set of politicians to another? Will the Tories simply use this as a stick to beat Labour councils with?

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This aside, Labour can’t be seen as being afraid of devolution. Instead this is a moment to be bold, to let go and let communities shape the devolved future they want to see. Our party leadership and the parliamentary Labour Party can learn a lot from Labour in power in the north. City councils like Leeds and Manchester are finding innovative ways to make social and economic progress in spite of funding shortfalls. Leeds is the UK’s fastest growing economy and that isn’t because of George Osbourne it’s because of the Labour council. We need to empower Labour councils who are minimising the worst effects of the cuts and showing the positive difference Labour in power can make.

It’s vital that any devolution deal that is drawn up in this region or the next is more than a token displacement of powers. It is of the highest importance that any movement of power is followed by funding because ultimately, you can’t empower local councils if you impoverish them.

The principle of devolution resonates with a lot of local politicians in the north. We need local solutions to local problems and we’ve known for a long time that Westminster doesn’t have all the answers.

For the past couple of years, George Osbourne has been talking about the “Northern Powerhouse”. Despite this being a Tory initiative, I’m sure I’m not the only Labour politician, who despite myself, wanted it to succeed. I hoped that this renewed focus on northern England would bring more growth, prosperity and opportunities to our northern cities and give them the chance to control their own destinies. But the truth is that Osbourne has drastically failed to follow rhetoric with action. Labour should defend the idea of the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ because in principle it’s something our party should get behind. But we should also hold the Tories to account over their endemic failure to deliver on their promises.

Labour should be arguing for a more ambitious devolution that shapes a new relationship between citizens and the state and redefines the relationship between local and national government. We need to spend more time talking about what we would do with additional funding and powers. Regional devolution has the potential to play a pivotal role in solving the housing crisis by giving regions greater powers and freedoms when it comes to building affordable housing and Labour should be making this case. It’s not good enough for us just to complain that there isn’t enough power or there isn’t enough money. We need to show that we are the party of the north and we have the answers.

I’ve lived in northern England all my life and I’m very proud of our part of the world. I don’t believe that our part of the country is on the decline and it frustrates me when politicians talk about us like we’re the weak link. Labour shouldn’t see the north as a barrier that it needs to overcome on our route back to government but one of the strongest branches of our movement and our country. We need to stop berating the north and utilise it to make our party and our nation stronger.

Councillor Alice Smart – Armley Ward