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BLOG: Tackling the homelessness crisis in Chesterfield

The issues regarding rough sleepers and street drinkers in the New Beetwell Street Bus Station and town centre remain one of the biggest concerns facing Chesterfield. We are seeing rough sleeping levels in Chesterfield that we would previously only have seen in a city centre location, and also experiencing increased street drinking and substance misuse that has created antisocial behaviour.

I recently attended the second in a series of summit meetings arranged by Derbyshire’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Hardyal Singh. The meeting brought together representatives from Chesterfield Borough Council, Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Constabulary, local businesses, homelessness support charities, health & treatment services and other agencies, to create a proactive approach to tackling rough sleeping, antisocial behaviour, street drinking and drug abuse. And these summits are proving to be far more than just a talking shop, real action is already being taken, new initiatives created and a coordinated multi-agency approach to tackling these problems.

The council’s new Public Space Protection Orders will hopefully stop the behaviours we have seen in the town that are causing disruption and concern. The proposed new powers will allow police to confiscate alcohol and ban behaviours that cause nuisance, alarm or distress, stop people loitering near cash machines and shop doorways for begging, issuing fixed penalty notices for urinating or defecating in public and stop people setting up tents. The new strategy will ensure that everything is done to try and get people to engage with support and advice, to help them address their issues. However, if they refuse to engage with support and continue to cause problems then the police and council officers will have powers to issue fines which could potentially lead to prosecutions.

The voluntary sector are also playing a massive role in trying to address homelessness in Chesterfield. One great example is St Thomas’ Church, which has bought the former Ponderosa guest house on Derby Road and have created a new accommodation service called ‘Hope House’ that will provide a vital bridging step to help people address some of their issues, such as substance misuse or debt, whilst providing a stable and safe place to live. The multi-agency approach will help charities, treatment services and housing providers work together to provide holistic support that will hopefully lead to long-term housing stability and the end of ASB issues.

I also joined with Framework Housing Association and Pathways with their sofa push event in Queen’s Park, which has helped raise awareness of the ‘sofa-surfing’ problem in Chesterfield, as well as raising funds for the vital work done by both charities.

There are dozens of other charities, church groups and voluntary organisations working with the council and police to help homeless people engage with support and move towards permanent housing and stable lives. There are more challenges to come with the roll-out of Universal Credit, but I feel optimistic that in Chesterfield we are doing all we can to weather the storm.

Our town centre is still punching well above its weight in comparison to other East Midlands towns, we have fewer empty shops and are continuing to attract investment and new businesses. If we can address the homelessness and ASB problems, there is no limit to our town’s potential.

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Macmillan - Lab Club

Toby Perkins MP joins Macmillan’s ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ annual fundraising campaign

Sometimes it is the simplest ideas that are the best, and that has certainly been shown to be the case with Macmillan’s ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ annual fundraising campaign.

Every September, in cities, towns and villages across the country, hundreds of shops, businesses, cafes, sports clubs, schools and churches, hold Coffee Mornings to raise funds for Macmillan. These Coffee Mornings raised £29.5 million last year alone, and have raised over £165 million since the campaign first began.

Every year, the ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ attracts more and more participants and has become one of the highlights of the community calendar. But we still need it to continue to grow and raise more funds as demands on the charity increase.

As medical sciences advance and new treatments are found, more and more people are living with cancer and for far longer than ever before. There are 2.5 million people living with cancer in the UK today, with this number expected to increase to 4 million by 2030.

When cancer is first diagnosed, patients and their families are not only having to deal with the upset and worry, but can be confused by the different treatment pathways, what benefits they may be entitled to, what support is available and how treatment may affect them. Patients can feel as isolated and Macmillan provide the advice and assistance to help patients to live with cancer and get the support and information they need. They also provide the support to enable people to continue to enjoy life, to socialise and engage with the community.

The ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ has also gotten us talking about cancer more – increasing understanding about the effect it has on people’s lives, encouraging people to recognise the possible symptoms and seek medical advice, and raising awareness about the effect Government policies can have on cancer patients.

I was inspired by the huge effort made by businesses and groups across Chesterfield last year, and met many people whose families have been affected by cancer who are now trying to give something back to help others.

The benefit of all this fundraising was ably demonstrated by Macmillan’s involvement in Chesterfield Royal Hospital’s new Cancer Treatment Centre, which is a real asset and means local cancer sufferers no longer have to travel to Sheffield for treatment.

I am hoping we can make this year’s event even bigger and better than the last. This year’s ‘World’s Biggest Coffee Morning’ is on Friday 29th September and to find the nearest one to you just visit https://coffee.macmillan.org.uk/about/search/. It is a great opportunity to meet up with people, eat some fantastic cakes and raise money for a worthy cause. I will be visiting as many as I can across Chesterfield and hope to see you there!

 

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The Borough Council, Toby Perkins MP, Hardyal Dhindsa and various agencies, charities & businesses have joined together to discuss ways to tackle issues of homelessness and anti-social behaviour in Chesterfield town centre at a series of summit meetings.

Chesterfield’s first ‘Town Centre Summit

Chesterfield is a wonderful place to live, work, socialise and shop. It is a beautiful town that I am proud to represent and I feel optimistic about its future. And I am pleased that the majority of Chesterfield residents agree with me. A recent survey of over 2000 residents by the Derbyshire Times showed 77% of the people would recommend Chesterfield as a place to live and showed that the majority of my constituents feel positive about the town’s future. Chesterfield is a great town with an even greater future.

However, no town is without issues and in these tough economic times there are challenges to maintaining our environment as a peaceful place to live, shop and work. The issues regarding rough sleepers and street drinkers in the New Beetwell Street Bus Station and other town centre sites are one of the biggest concerns facing Chesterfield. I recently attended the first in a series of summit meetings arranged by Derbyshire’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Hardyal Singh, to discuss these problems. The meeting brought together representatives from Chesterfield Borough Council, , Derbyshire Constabulary, local businesses, homelessness support charities, health & treatment services, church groups and other agencies, to create a proactive approach to tackling rough sleeping, antisocial behaviour, street drinking and drug abuse.

The strategy agreed at the meeting will focus on enforcement to tackle the unacceptable behaviour, support to help people get rehoused and access appropriate services, and challenging current Government policies that are exacerbating homelessness.

The police and council are developing new rules to stop the behaviours we have seen in the town that are causing so much disruption and concern. The Council, housing associations and charities are also doing all they can to help rough sleepers in to permanent accommodation. The multi-agency approach will help charities, treatment services and housing providers, to work together to provide holistic support that will hopefully lead to long-term housing stability and the removal of this problem from our town centre.

This will need central government to take action as it is clear that the increase in rough sleeping and homelessness also has roots in escalating financial crises facing people on benefits over the last few years and the cutting of funding for local authorities. Changes to Local Housing Allowance now means that anyone under the age of 35 faces a shortfall in rent. Together with other reductions in disability benefit payments and council tax support, this means many on the streets know they cannot afford the properties that are being offered to them. They want the support, but feel like they are being set up to fail and will only end up homeless once again, possibly with huge debts for rent arrears.

We have wonderful charities like Action Housing, who have created a multi-occupancy supported housing service for homeless young people, which I visited last year, and Pathways, which provides advice and practical support to homeless people. There are also church and charity groups providing food and clothing to rough sleepers. These are all vital in helping provide treatment but not to cure root causes.

Locally, we now have a joint strategy that will hopefully lead to positive change, but homelessness is increasing every year right across the UK and we need Government to take action so that towns like Chesterfield remain safe, enjoyable places to visit and live.

The Borough Council, Toby Perkins MP, Hardyal Dhindsa and various agencies, charities & businesses have joined together to discuss ways to tackle issues of homelessness and anti-social behaviour in Chesterfield town centre at a series of summit meetings.

The Borough Council, Toby Perkins MP, Hardyal Dhindsa and various agencies, charities & businesses have joined together to discuss ways to tackle issues of homelessness and anti-social behaviour in Chesterfield town centre at a series of summit meetings.

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Toby with police

BLOG: Our Emergency services are doing an amazing job – but the Government need to provide them with the resources they need

The horror of the recent tragic inferno at Grenfell Tower in London has rightly aroused feverish attention about the state of high rise housing in 21st Century Britain. A slightly less examined element of the catastrophe and others that have taken place this summer was that of the role of our Emergency Services.

We almost take for granted that at moments like this our Fire Service, Police and Ambulance will be there for us. And indeed the Armed Police’s heroic and speedy response to the London Bridge Atrocity and the Fire Service’s bravery in the face of the Grenfell inferno was hugely impressive.

But the bravery and professionalism shown by our Emergency services should not make way for a complacency about the capacity of these services to continue to respond when required.

The full enquiry into Grenfell will take many months to weigh up evidence, but it is already clear that the response to the fire would have been less intense if it had occurred anywhere outside of London where fewer fire engines would have been available and the Fire Brigades Union themselves have suggested that the intensity of response that was available to fight the fire in the crucial early minutes after its first outbreak will have been less due to the 27 fire engines that had been cut between 2010 and 2017.

Since 2010, Britain has 10,000 fewer firefighters, and fire deaths rose by 15% last year.

But it’s not just our fire service that is stretched.

Britain has 20,000 fewer Police to call upon and many constituents have been disappointed on reporting a crime to get little more than a crime number in response. Our Police share that disappointment, but cuts have consequences.

Our Ambulance service has grown 14% slower than the demand for its service, and if you need an Ambulance for the most serious grade of life threatening emergency there is less than a three in four chance that it will be there in less than 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, as the demands on our Emergency services grow, year on year they are expected to accept a pay cut. For seven years public sector workers pay has been frozen or capped at 1% increase, which with an average increase in the cost of living of over 2,5%, means a pay cut every year in real terms.

I believe that the recent General Election should have sent a message to the Government about how much we value our Emergency services and public sector staff and I don’t believe that continued pay and service cuts are politically tenable or socially acceptable.

So, I will continue to offer my support for our Police, Ambulance and Fire Fighters, and this summer, I’ll spend time with each of the services shadowing them in pursuit of their duties. But I will also call on my political colleagues to offer them more than warm words, with a demand that they get the real investment in the pay, numbers and equipment that they need to continue to rush to our aid at the most serious of times.

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Pic 1 - Result at the count

Election result blog: Thank you for putting your trust in me once again

I don’t think I’ll ever forget where I was when the rumours of the snap General Election were first heard on that Monday morning in April.

Stood canvassing with our County Councillor Dean Collins on Traffic Terrace in Barrow Hill, suddenly the feverish speculation about a snap General Election started swirling around the news channels and my What’s App Group of MP colleagues all reacted with (as you can imagine) a mixture of excitement and alarm.

The Labour Party had never started an election campaign in worse shape, with speculation about the party leader’s performance and barely disguised division within Labour.

Following a slot on the Lunchtime news about the election, I left London for the last time (for seven weeks at least) that night, and can recall many colleagues who seemed already consigned to the fact that they wouldn’t be returning.

In Derbyshire, we still had the small matter of the County Council elections to contest first. We held on to seven of the nine Chesterfield seats, as Derbyshire went blue, but forebodingly, many voters had promised ‘I’ll stick with you locally, but I don’t know about the General Election’.

Immediately following the County Council election, I attempted to marshall our exhausted troops for a further six weeks of electoral effort to retain Chesterfield as a Labour seat, though many already had pre-booked post County Council elections holidays booked, and others were clearly in need of a breather.

The process of getting out on the stump and meeting voters, is always a simultaneously exhausting and uplifting experience. The early days of the campaign were dominated by indecision about the Brexit question, and the fitness of the Labour Party for Government. Early polls showed the Conservatives heading for a monumental landslide and talk of the end of the Labour Party.

And then things started to change. Firstly, I believe the British public became anxious about the prospect of a landslide majority. Secondly, the Tory promise to reintroduce fox hunting, was a useful reminder to many Labour voters of what an unfettered Tory Government would be like. Then the Labour manifesto which offered a genuine alternative vision of what Britain could be like, while the Conservative offering was to say the least, underwhelming.

Meanwhile as Jeremy Corbyn was growing in people’s eyes with his candid and relaxed approach, the Prime Minister’s stuttering and evasive campaign saw her become much diminished.

I was also gratified by the number of people who were placing a vote of trust in me despite their misgivings about national affairs.

By polling day, I was expecting that we would hold Chesterfield, but still harboured pessimism about our prospects nationally.

I think it is fair to say that none of us saw the increase in turnout or the political awakening of younger voters coming. The exit poll electrified volunteers watching the results at the Labour Club, and despite my misgivings proved to be largely accurate.

Attending the count at the Queens Park was, as always a somewhat nervy occasion, but it quickly became obvious that whilst my majority had shrunk a little, the people of Chesterfield had returned me to parliament.

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Toby with Chesterfield North Derbyshire Volunteer Centre staff

BLOG: Combating loneliness

We all know some of the challenges of old age, but one less spoken about is loneliness and isolation. We will all have felt lonely at some point in our lives bit for most of us this feeling is only fleeting, we can call our family or friends, we will see and speak to people the following day, we have a social support network that we can rely upon. However, for some people this feeling of loneliness can be with them almost every day, and many believe they are destined to feel this way for the rest of their lives.

A recent study by the British Red Cross suggests that over 9m people in the UK, more than the population of London, are either always or often lonely. This affects people of all ages, but is more prevalent amongst older people, people with disabilities or dementia, carers and single parents. Polling by Age UK and Independent Age revealed that 3.6 million people aged over 65 stated that the television is their main form of company, and a third of people over 75 feel that their loneliness is out of their control.

Studies also suggest that loneliness could be costing the country £32 billion pounds a year due to the added pressures it places on health and social care services.   Evidence shows that for older people loneliness can cause depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, with depression and isolation also shown to progress the onset and speed with which dementia develops. Many lonely people do not take proper care of themselves as they don’t see the point in making an effort when they rarely see or speak to anybody. This leads to longer stays in hospital and more pressure on community care services.

I recently attended the Chesterfield & North Derbyshire Volunteer Centre’s AGM and heard about the success of their ‘Elderfriends’ service, a befriending service aimed at lonely and socially isolated people throughout Chesterfield and North Derbyshire. These volunteers may just pop round for a cup of tea and a chat, or help with shopping or call up to see how the person is, but it can have a huge effect on the lives, happiness and health of people at risk of loneliness. You can find out more about the service and join as a volunteer by calling the Centre on 01246 276 777.

Before Jo Cox, MP for Batley & Spen, was murdered last year, she was in the process of creating a cross-party campaign to address the silent epidemic of loneliness. Jo was heartbroken by the loneliness she saw in others and the impact this had on their lives. She was committed to tackling this problem and now friends, family, MPs and charities have formed a ‘Commission on Loneliness’ in her name, which aims to continue Jo’s legacy by ridding society of loneliness “one conversation at a time”.

The new campaign is asking people to make a pledge to help tackle loneliness. Jo Cox said “young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate…it is something many of us could easily help with. Looking in on a neighbour, visiting an elderly relative or making that call or visit we’ve been promising to a friend we haven’t seen in a long time.” So I’m asking all of my constituents to join the campaign and make a pledge to start a conversation today. If all of us take a few minutes every day to speak to people at risk of loneliness, we may be able to improve their lives and our communities.

You can find out more about the campaign and make a pledge at www.jocoxloneliness.org

Toby with Chesterfield North Derbyshire Volunteer Centre staff

Toby with Chesterfield North Derbyshire Volunteer Centre staff

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Toby meeting with Green Peace activist Jeff Smith to discuss fracking

Toby Perkins MP gives his views on fracking

Any major planning development attracts local objectors. As an MP ensuring those voices are both heard and informed is an important part of my role. It is also crucial to help objectors to focus on which of their concerns are legitimate and worth fighting for and which actually don’t stack up.

Meanwhile, our local economic development often depends on ensuring that major developments happen, but we must make sure that the greater good doesn’t come at too high a price for the immediate vicinity.

Balancing these twin concerns is always difficult, but it is doubly difficult when it concerns issues as contentious as Fracking, Energy pricing and National Energy security.

For many years Derbyshire was amongst the areas that helped keep the nation going as a coal mining area. As an area that once had coal, we are amongst the many dozens of sites that might be attractive to developers wanting to get permission for fracking,

There are reasons to think Fracking is worth investigating, Gas is a fuel which remains vital to the operation of our homes, services and businesses in the UK. 80% of our homes rely on gas for heating, while around 30% of our electricity comes from gas fired power stations. Most of our coal-powered stations have closed and our North Sea Oil supplies are nearing the end.

While low carbon power generation could reduce the need for fossil fuels over time, we are currently in hock to Russian gas, and with Putin increasingly flexing his muscles, reliance on him is dangerous and foolhardy.

The country’s long-term focus needs to be on reducing our individual energy consumption whilst increasing our output and ensuring energy security from a variety of sources, including nuclear, wind, solar and, potentially, shale gas.

Whilst most people don’t often consider electricity supply (so long as the lights don’t ever go out) it is the job of government to take seriously the potential that we aren’t capable of meeting future demands. Fracking has now given the US and Canada energy security for the next 100 years, as well as reducing wholesale generation prices by 20%.

In Germany, meanwhile, a revolution in Green energy means they now provide 30% of their energy from renewable sources (solar and wind especially), although it has come with an increase in energy prices.

Personally, I would like to see a far greater investment in Renewable sources, although Government policy is heading in the opposite direction and most applications also meet with local objections.

But Fracking in the UK does not yet enjoy public confidence, and Government must ensure that local householders will be both protected from, and rewarded by, any Fracking developments before they should be considered here.

Whilst this process will take place 3000 metres below the surface (far deeper than coal shafts) people will want certainty about the number of lorry movements and the scale of upheaval during construction phase, about whether there reasons to be concerned about land movements (crucially will it have any impact on the ability to get insurance), a good indicator as to whether there are legitimate structural concerns.

We will also need greater clarity on what payments will be made to people for whom Fracking happens under their houses, and whether it has an impact on house prices. Understandably many of these questions won’t be answered until after there have been explorations done to see which sites are likely to be suitable.

Doing nothing on energy security isn’t an answer, but that doesn’t mean that we should just allow anything either. I’ll keep an open mind on Fracking but there are still many more questions to answer.

 

Toby meeting with Green Peace activist Jeff Smith to discuss fracking

Toby meeting with Green Peace activist Jeff Smith to discuss fracking

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EU UK Flags

Vote on Article 50

The article that I have sent to this week’s Derbyshire Times in response to an enquiry about how I will vote on Article 50 ratification

This weekend’s deliberations ahead of the vote that will take place on whether to trigger Article 50 have been amongst the most tortured I have faced in my time as an MP.

To many, the issue is a straight-forward one. Britain voted to Leave the EU (as did Chesterfield) and the invoking of Article 50 is the parliamentary ratification of that vote. As a democrat, whilst being disappointed by the outcome, I respect it, and accept that Britain must get on with negotiating our exit from the EU.

However, accepting that Britain will leave the EU is not the same as accepting that Theresa May, an unelected Prime Minister who voted Remain, is the only arbiter of the terms under which we will leave. I am horrified that she appears complacent about the impact that leaving the EU single market will have on our economy, and the speed with which she appears willing to jump into bed with Donald Trump’s dangerous and divisive vision of Anglo American relations.

The image of our PM holding hands with the President, moments before he invoked an arbitrary order to ban Muslim refugees from seven countries, is an image that will haunt those who feel proud of Britain’s historic role in fighting the rise of Nationalist extremists, and promoting international co-operation.

Meanwhile, the vote will take place before she has produced the White paper which outlines her government’s approach to getting the best deal for Britain. I also feel she missed a trick by agreeing to trigger Article 50 without insisting that Britain could start negotiating with non-EU countries alongside our EU talks which will reduce the strength of our hand in those negotiations.

However, despite my many misgivings about the approach that the Government is taking, it would be disingenuous for me to overlook the extent to which last June’s referendum was a rejection of the ‘political establishment’ view. In that context, I feel the argument that says that we must allow those negotiations to begin in line with the outcome of that vote is a compelling one. Whilst I will vote for amendments that seek to protect our National Health Service and safeguard our economy, I will support the Government’s desire to invoke Article 50 at this week’s 2nd Reading vote.

I will also be fighting Chesterfield’s corner throughout. Leave campaigners promised that there would be more money not less for our vital public services and regeneration projects, I will be insisting those promises are honoured. None of us can be certain what the future holds, but my fight is to retain what is dear too us, not to fight the outcome of a campaign that is already over.

So I will vote to honour the referendum outcome this week, but Theresa MAY be sure, there’ll be no blank cheque on her vision of Brexit from me.

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Welcome

I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

Contact Toby

Tel: 01246 386286
Email: toby.perkins.mp@parliament.uk
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF

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