To my considerable relief, parliament is now on its Easter break. I’m delighted to be able to have some time back in my constituency. Brexit chaos has meant I’ve had to spend extra days in Westminster in the past few weeks, and if the EU hadn’t agreed an extension to exit date this week, I’d have been back in parliament next week, picking up the pieces of a disastrous ‘no deal’ Brexit.
But while I’m pleased and relieved that the EU27 agreed to extend exit date to 31 October, what simply can’t happen between now and then is for the Prime Minister to carry on doing what she’s been doing for the last two years: pursuing a deal that MPs simply won’t vote for, because we know it isn’t good enough for our constituents, or for the country. We have to find a new way through this mess. And every day it is becoming increasingly clear that whatever parliament eventually decides, any final deal back must go back to the public in a confirmatory vote.
In the meantime, it seems the UK will be participating in elections to the European parliament in May – and I for one am pleased we’ll be doing so. If major decisions about our future relationship with the EU are still to be taken, I want UK MEPs in the room to be a part of the decision.
Away from Brexit, my campaign for a fair deal for new homebuyers is making slow, but some, progress. Last month, Persimmon announced it would introduce a ‘snagging retention’ of 1.5%, meaning buyers hold back some of the purchase price until defects are rectified. This week, MPs queued up in housing questions to ask the secretary of state about the lack of progress in introducing a New Homes Ombudsman. This was promised by the government 5 months ago, but nothing further has happened, yet I continue to receive reports from up and down the country of poor-quality building and shoddy workmanship.
The secretary of state told me that he hoped that initially a ‘shadow’ scheme could be introduced, while he waits for a slot in the parliamentary calendar to pass legislation (those slots are hard to come by, as Brexit swamps the parliamentary agenda – another good reason to get it sorted). He assured me that consumers’ interests would have primacy over developers’. I know there is a lot of scepticism about the industry designing its own scheme, as that would simply mean it marks its own homework. I won’t stand for that, and I’ll be watching developments very carefully.
I was very pleased to participate in a debate on retail crime – I recently visited the Coop in Flixton with shopworkers union USDAW and was shocked to hear about violent and threatening attacks on shop staff. I’m also concerned that shoplifting in Stretford and Urmston is higher than the average across the country. 650 shoplifting offences were recorded in my constituency in 2018, and of course that doesn’t include offences that go undetected. Shoplifting isn’t a ‘victimless’ crime, we all pay for it in higher prices for goods and produce.
It was good to get away from parliament yesterday in time to join my great friend Abdul Qayum, and the Kramblers walking group, at an amazing conference on health and wellbeing among Black and Ethnic Minority communities. Abdul set up the fabulous Kramblers walking programme 6 years ago, and it has mushroomed since then, with groups now walking together across the country. I’ve joined Kramblers on one of their walks, and I can vouch for how good you feel having spent time out in the open air, chatting to friends, admiring beautiful scenery – even if the route turned out to be rather longer than expected! Kramblers are fundraising for Oldham mountain rescue team, who were delighted to receive a generous donation from those attending yesterday’s conference.
It was also a pleasure to join the Friends of Urmston Station (FOURS), who have taken over care of the station. Together with volunteers from Intu Trafford centre, and with the support of Urmston in Bloom and the Urmston Partnership, Northern Rail (nice to have a good news story about them!) and Transport for Greater Manchester, FOURS took part in the Great British Spring Clean, and the difference they’ve made to the appearance of the station is tremendous. Northern Rail are keen to work with Friends groups who want to ‘adopt’ other local stations – so if you have ideas for how we could improve stations on our local line, visit https://d2cf7kiw5xizhy.cloudfront.net/images/community/Station-Adoption-Guide-Final.pdf for more information.
Finally, many thanks to members of St Mary the Virgin in Davyhulme for the warm welcome last Sunday evening at the licensing of assistant curate Simon and the commissioning of Chris as Area Dean. Mayor of Trafford Tom Ross and I were delighted to catch up with many friends, including Deacon Debbi, who undertook a secondment in my constituency office in 2017. We absolutely loved having her!