James Frith MP appears as a guest on the BBC’s Sunday Politics North West programme

James Frith MP appears as a guest on the BBC’s Sunday Politics North West programme


James you’re up against the Government in a crisis and you’ve spent the summer, not you personally, but the Labour MPs have fallen out with themselves. Well we’ve made very clear that we’re ready to move on from that. It was an unhelpful period, it has been an unhelpful period over the summer, but we’ve got a very clear agenda that we want to put into Government. That’s why we’re calling for a general election if Theresa May can’t deliver on a Brexit deal. You say nothing’s changed, people want Theresa May to go. Are you among them Will? No, I am not one of those among them. I can assure you of that. All right. Well I’m sure we’ll come back to this. And we also welcome Donna Peach from the British Association of Social Workers. Now Donna’s been a social worker for thirty years and now investigates complex cases. Donna, so what’s it like working in childcare at the moment? Well if I could just set the landscape because we hear a lot of language used to describe it. The National Audit Office says that we’ve had a 50% cut in real budget funding for local authorities. The Local Government Association are calling for funding and BASW, the British Association of Social Workers, support that call. How is it affecting day-to-day life? The reason that we’re doing it is because we are seeing families being separated and in other circumstances they wouldn’t be. We’re seeing parents who are struggling with this increased vulnerability from the cyclones of financial cuts that keep coming through our communities and social workers are also now feeling the pressure where 55% of social workers, according to the survey that BASW undertook, are saying they’re not sure they see themselves in the profession in 18 months time. Well on the pressure that they’re under, this latest inspection in Oldham found that one in five of the social workers there had less than two years experience should be dealing with ten case as some are dealing with 21. What’s that like on a day-to-day basis? So living with that, what we have to understand is that social workers are humans too. Living in a community where their own families are struggling to get services and so people feel under pressure, their mental health is affected and we have core values in our profession of intending to help people and to meet their needs and when we can’t do that that’s crushing for us. How is this an acceptable situation under your Government’s watch? Well I don’t believe it is an acceptable situation. Donna is talking of her incredible experience that she has on her association have. I think the issue is that these services have to be paid for and consequently councils are having that over spent. I think nationally the figure is about £2 billion and I will be entirely supportive if that overspend was met by central Government in this case, given that councils have to be able to step in in these cases. It is worth noting as well, as was alluded to in your report, the increase in demand I think… Oldham council says that’s due to your austerity though, it’s creating this perfect storm, welfare cuts and pullback of support services. There may well be a number of reasons and I’m entirely open to people putting them to me. The councils have had budget cut by 40% under your Government in some of the most deprived areas. The central grant from Government, yeah that is true, but what needs to happen therefore is if they have a deficit in this particular area, given that they have to have that statutory duty to provide those services and I think it’s only fair that that should be met by Government. James, if they do have the reserves it’s not not a legitimate use? I mean, what else are they far and apart from emergencies? I have news for you, Kevin, there there are no reserves. This is entirely created in Whitehall under a Government that’s pursued an austerity agenda for a near decade. What we’re seeing are the consequences of this austerity agenda and it’s looked after children and children and young people generally, that are shouldering the worst effects of this. As Donna has rightly said, it’s a combination of factors around people in work but in work poverty, some of the changes to the welfare system and not enough local government funding. In Bury, the borough I represent, we’ve lost £80 million in our budget since the Tories came into Government, with the coalition Government 8 years ago. The implications of that are seen in a rise of looked after children but what I would also say, absolutely support what Donna has said, the risk is and the danger is here, that it isn’t just the looked after children that are affected, but it’s those children that are on the fringes of being in receipt of those services if they’re not being taken care of before they fall into crisis. services if they’re not taken care of Some councils are running services better than others… This is an argument that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny around budgets. Competence is all very well, competence absolutely. You have to hold your local council, you have to hold your Members of Parliament to scrutiny on their competence, but competence cannot manufacture funding. Now, what we’re seeing in an explosion of looked after children and vulnerable children going into care, or on the fringes of going into care, is a whole lack of funding a kind of dynamic approach. Whether that’s mental health, whether that’s social care, whether that’s looked after children or kids at school. The Government are saying £270 million available for innovative ideas to help do you have any? There are lots of innovative things happening I think what we have to counter is that 20 out of 23 boroughs in our north west area are on their knees. We’re losing a generation of young people here. Employing enough social workers would be innovative, wouldn’t it? Giving social workers the resources they need, we’re only one resource, giving families the resources they need so they’re not in need of help from services like ours to the point where we’re having to separate children from families. There are great innovative ideas. What’s actually happening in Stockport the New Beginnings project, which is working with parents who will then work with all the parents to strengthen communities but that is not a remedy for the catastrophic impact that we’re having in our communities. This paints a desperate picture, you said Government should step, where’s the money coming from? You constantly say that there’s no money tree? Well there’s no magic money tree, of course there isn’t, but where councils have got a statutory obligation, I absolutely agree with the two of the guests that as they’re obliged to fund those services, if they cannot and are not in a position to do so, then it’s for Central Government to step in. In the Budget, does Philip Hammond need to announcement something? I think he does, yes. And not just force it onto local councils like he did with the social care precept? I think there’s various issues there we can talk about councils reserve etc, but if at the end of the day, there is not sufficient funding for councils statuary obligations, then yes he does. James, where would you get the money from? I think we’re got to be more ambitious for our towns and our councils and our young people. It’s not more ambitious for our towns and our acceptable to just concentrate on the statutory, the minimum, requirement. There are children going into care with complex needs that get overlooked. As councils retreat from from any spending they once had and the services retreat, we lose all ambition for our young people and we cause a false economy. But it’s a false economy. Let me give you an example, if faced with a child going into care, that could have been prevented with some funding further upstream, that costs thousands and thousands of pounds more when they reach crisis or have to go out of borough for care. Some £35,000 for one year and And we’re seeing a cut in that. We’re seeing £500 million taken from our First Aid Early Intervention Services. with another £183 million cut left to come. So whatever funding the Government say they’re going to bring, that has to be in the context of all the other cuts that were already bracing for. So James, a big problem for your party this isn’t it. It appears, to a casual observer, that Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of sorting it out. We’ve moved on from the disagreement over the summer. We have finally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and all examples. I support that I called for it as well. The time now, actually, is not to add too hateful disagreements but move on and move on together. But if Jeremy Corbyn, himself, who wanted to put in this caveat which allowed people to describe the creation of Israel as a racist endeavour, and that would be allowed, it was Jeremy himself. As I understand it, it was pointed out that the examples to be adopted allowed for the principle of free speech. I believe in the principle of free speech we should be free to criticise nation states. The problem is, of course, is if people want to criticise the existence of that and there is a distinction there, an important distinction there, but for me, Kevin, this is this is principle not party. I don’t know anybody that wouldn’t agree to say no to antisemitism. James are you worried that the Lib Dems are gonna start taking supporters off you, upset by the infighting and the lack of an obvious coherent strategy on Brexit? No I’m not. There was a vote in the House of Commons on Brexit that Vince Cable lost, so it’s a bit johnny-come-lately to be suggesting now You mean he caused you to lose it? Well he was one of two that didn’t vote, himself and the former leader Tim Farron, didn’t turn up so it’s a bit rich now saying he’s woken up to leading the Liberal Democrats. Two Labour MPs also supported that though Yes, we’re a broad church and disagreement is a fundamental part of democracy, Kevin, but it’s all very well Vince Cable talking now about having woken up to the demands of being the leader of the Liberal Democrats simply saying I’ve got open house and inviting everybody in. It ain’t gonna cut the mustard. Is Labour moving towards their position though? Sadiq Khan early saying he’d support a second vote, a couple of weeks ago Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Mayor, saying if there’s no deal, he’d back a second vote? Look, the Government is making an absolute mess. We’re facing a no deal Brexit which is the worst kind of deal The Labour Party I think is doing a responsible job in opposition, we’re holding the Government’s feet to the fire, we don’t rule anything out. We haven’t ruled anything out I said at the top of the programme… That means you haven’t really got a clear position though, doesn’t it? That’s not true at all. If you see the public changing their mind, as they are, then we are saying we want a general election on this, as opposed to a People’s Vote, but we don’t rule it out and that’s the responsible position to take. Will, you’re a Brexiteer who thinks no deal would be fine, aren’t you? I don’t think it would be fine, it might present its own challenges, but I’m actually quite confident that common sense is going to prevail and that will be a deal at the end of this, despite all the bluster and the brinkmanship that we’ve got at the moment. But not Chequers because you’re opposed to that, are you? I think Chequers has its shortcomings, certainly, and I don’t think what becomes before the House of Commons will be Chequers anyway. There’ll be a number of further compromises to persuade the… I don’t call it the Chequers deal, it’s a Chequers proposal. So I will wait to see what become what comes before Parliament ultimately. ultimately as the prime minister says But this is the only proposal in front of the House. The Prime Minister had an opportunity two years ago to unite the country. She started with the 52% the voted to leave and then took her instructions from the 1922 committee, which is this small rump of hard-line Brexiteers who show no care or responsibility for people in Bury and the town I represent. They’re saying they’re honouring the way those people voted. A majority of people… They’re pursing hard-line ideologies. There’s no bravery in their line that ignores the needs… Many people would agree with Teresa May’s red lines though on immigration… But every red line she’s put down, actually, the moment, I will show some independent thought on this Kevin, look the Chequers deal actually is the first moment when she finally acknowledges this is not going to be as straightforward as she has said and her team have said it’s going to be. Actually, it’s her coming around to the Labour Party’s thought on a customs union that respects the Northern Ireland border, the no hard border, and keeps jobs and prospects for young people and jobs and prospects for young people and all people in towns like mine. Well, Liam Fox did promise the easiest, quickest trade deal in history and no deal isn’t what the people were promised is it? What he said was, there’s the political will to do so and that is the issue that we’re facing the political will as we… Theresa May’s red lines have made it impossible because they break the EU’s rules. Which is why, as far as the EU is concerned and this country is concerned going down the line a free-trade arrangement is far preferable to what is proposed in Chequers. James, if no deal is such a disaster, surely Labour’s should be promising to support whatever Theresa May comes back with? So there is very little time left but a lot still to go on. The Labour still to go on this so the Labour Party’s priority at the moment is to look at amendment fixing so that there isn’t this brinkmanship that Will talks about. That there isn’t this bad deal or spinning us off into no deal territory. I’m very clear, I accept and respect the result of the Brexit referendum, but I also said it needed to be a Brexit that work best for Bury and Britain. I see no evidence of that in the direction this Government or this Prime Minister is taking us in. So Will, is this the blatant power grab that Labour is saying it is? Listen, nobody’s going to get the violins at the idea of having fewer MPs. I don’t think it’s a power grab at all, I think the fundamental principle that you should have similarly sized constituencies is an argument for fairness. I think the question that remains is if that should be done on the basis of 600 or 650 to avoid the strange sort of combinations of historic areas as was referenced in your report. Labour’s all about equality isn’t it? Surely you’d be in favour? We certainly are Kevin. The point is that the Boundary Commission was commissioned before then another 2 million registered voters came online at the snap general election, so these figures are old, are old news. But it wouldn’t have a huge amount of change for you would it, but it would effect Labour quite considerably. It would and we challenge the independence of this, frankly, because of the disproportionate impact it has on the sitting Labour MPs. I myself, set to gain a ward where I used to live, in Unsworth, and where my wife used to live. So the Labour Party oppose this and I’ll be voting against it, if it makes it that far, but I don’t think Will and Boris Johnson are going to let this go. Well if it does make it that far, what realistically, with everything else going on, is the prospect of this going through? I think it’s slim to say the least at the moment, to be honest with you. It would help you in terms of a snap election early next, wouldn’t it Will? It depends if it was adopted but I’d also rule out prospect of another snap election I think we’ve had enough of those for the moment. Yes I think there might be some painful stuff. Do you see it happening before any kind of election at all? So the government is in such disarray we learn on Thursday what is happening the following week. I don’t think the Government knows what they’re doing and we wait for what they bring to the house so we will see in the next few weeks whether they dare bring it in front of us

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