In her monthly column for The Dispatch, Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves looks at the Bramley Community Centre takeover, developments on Armley Town Street, latest on the aftermath of the Kirkstall floods and recognition for councillor Lucinda Yeadon.
I’m pleased that there is strong support for Bramley Elderly Action to take over running Bramley Community Centre after central government cuts mean Leeds City Council has been forced to look at new ways of running local sites.
I support this move, along with councillors Kevin Ritchie, Caroline Gruen and Julie Heselwood, to keep the centre in use for the benefit of the whole community.
I also support the plans to turn Bramley Library into a community hub hosting a variety of council services in one, easy-to-access place. Similar efforts have been successful in Armley and Pudsey and will secure the maintenance of the library building at a time when council budgets are shrinking.
It was also great to speak at the Bramley Elderly Action AGM, hosted in the Bramley Community Centre – the work done by this fantastic organisation supporting people in the community and proving that age is just a number is always an inspiration.
I would like to thank the board, the staff and the many volunteers for all they do.
ARMLEY TOWN STREET
I’ve been continuing to work closely with local Armley councillors Alison Lowe, Jim McKenna and Alice Smart and community action group All Together Armley to reduce problems in the area.
I recently chaired a packed public meeting marking the one year anniversary of the launch of All Together Armley.
As I said at that meeting, I won’t claim we’ve solved all the problems in Armley Town Street but we are making progress.
In fact there are a number positive steps we’ve taken to really improve things; from the introduction of the Cumulative Impact Policy to limit off-licences in the area, the formation of the Armley Business Forum to give local businesses a voice and, of course, the resounding success of Armley Festival this summer.
Many challenges still remain and I was glad that residents could continue to raise issues at the public meeting.
I was also really pleased to hear about upcoming events in Armley, such as a Victorian-themed Christmas market before the Christmas lights switch-on on November 19th!
KIRKSTALL FLOODS UPDATE
After the devastating Boxing Day flood I – and Leeds City Council and the other Leeds MPs – have pressed the government to offer cast-iron guarantees on new flood defences for Leeds and ensuring affordable insurance for homeowners and the businesses.
On 8th September, the long-awaited National Flood Resilience Review was published by the government. As stated by the Dispatch, the report barely mentioned Leeds and only offered temporary flood defences rather than long term solutions. I highlighted my concerns, as you can read here.
On 11th October, a delegation of Leeds MPs and representatives from Leeds City Council met with Floods Minister, Thérèse Coffey, to ensure that providing sufficient flood defences for Leeds is still a government priority.
The Minister gave us this assurance and promised to put in writing a commitment from government to fund the flood defences needed to protect Leeds homes and businesses.
Following on from a scoping exercise earlier this year, a full business case is being put together and will be ready next Autumn. This will enable work to progress on a new flood defence scheme upstream from the city centre to provide protection, including in Kirkstall.
The Government also recognised the serious problems for small businesses needing flood insurance. As a result of pressure from businesses and MPs, the insurance industry will be launching some new products this Autumn and the Government are willing to talk again about outstanding issues after that.
Finally, the Government, the council and the Environment Agency will now consider if something can be done to make it easier for small businesses to access support and advice in making their properties more flood resilient – and Kirkstall could be where the pilot scheme takes place.
We are awaiting that commitment but in the meantime, I took the opportunity to ask the Chancellor, Phillip Hammond, about what conversations he was having with insurance companies about the affordability of flood insurance for small businesses.
At a national level, I have been working through my position on the Treasury Select Committee to push the Government to deal with excessive charges applied by banks to customers on overdrafts – in some case higher charges than for pay day loans.
On 12th October, the debt charity StepChange published a new survey highlighting how those in debt who used overdrafts to manage their finances, were left at risk from unauthorised overdraft fees of an average of £225 a year.
I am calling on the Financial Conduct Authority to set a cap on these overdrafts in the same way a cap exists for pay-day lenders, you can read my piece on this here. I also spoke to Paul Lewis for BBC Radio 4’s Money Box which you can listen to here.
I was absolutely thrilled that Kirkstall councillor Lucinda Yeadon won an honourable mention at the Councillor of the Year awards, earlier this week.
Lucinda works tirelessly as a local councillor and is a true community champion. Her leadership, empathy and sheer determination were never more evident than at the time of the floods.
Lucinda is very much a team player and I know she will be keen to pay tribute to all the people and groups she works with in Kirkstall – and to her council colleagues Cllr John Illingworth and Cllr Fiona Venner.
I was also very humbled and honoured to receive the Spectator’s Speech of the Year award for what was the most difficult speech I ever had to give after the death of my friend and colleague Jo Cox. You can listen to what I said here:
ALICE BACON BIOGRAPHY: ALICE IN WESTMINSTER
Previously, I wrote about my work writing Alice in Westminster: The Political Life of Alice Bacon. It’s a biography of Alice Bacon, she was the (joint) first woman MP in Yorkshire and the only woman to serve as a Leeds MP until my own election in 2010.
Alice was elected in the great Labour landslide of 1945 and served in the Commons until 1970. She was a vital player in some of the key struggles of the period, including rolling out comprehensive schools in the 1960’s as a minister in Wilson’s government and driving through social reforms such as decriminalising homosexuality and abortion and the abolition of the death penalty.
The book will be published on 1st December at a special launch at Waterstones in Leeds city centre, which you are invited to attend.
You can click here to find out more information and RSVP.