Category Archives: Social action

Europe is key to justice for Palestine – Byrne – 26 January 2015


Dear friends,


In the past many many of you have contacted me about the terrible situation in Palestine. Over the weekend I took part in a 3 day fact finding trip to East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority.


You can see some photos from my trip here and you can read my report of the trip below. 


Europe is key to justice for Palestine – Byrne


Britain and its European allies could be the key to securing justice for Palestine said Liam Byrne today after a three day fact finding trip to East Jerusalem and the Palestinian Authority.


Mr Byrne met with the Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, former PLO chief spokeswoman, Hanan Ashrawi, along with UN representatives. Mr Byrne spent two days talking to Palestinian farmers in the West Bank together with Medical Aid for Palestine, EWASH, and PARC (The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee) in a visit to Al Jiftlik and Furush Beit Dajan.


Liam Byrne said:


“Everyone from the Palestinian prime minister down, offered huge thanks to us for Labour’s historic vote in the Commons to recognise Palestine. And ahead of the American elections next year, it’s obvious a Labour government could make huge progress with friends in France, Spain, Italy and Sweden helping ‘jump-start’ fresh hope for the peace process.


‘The Commons debate was closely watched and people were clear: it offered fresh hope’


‘But there’s urgent action needed too. Palestinians are freezing to death in Gaza and we heard direct from the UN that the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism simply isn’t letting in enough material fast enough to rebuild shattered homes. At the current pace, it will be decades before Gaza is rebuilt. That is just not good enough. So I will be laying questions in Parliament to see what more can be done.


‘It’s obvious we need more transparency – and more accountability – for what settlers are doing in the West Bank. We can’t have a country cut into a pieces by illegal settlements that would set back peace.


‘Palestinian leaders have a big responsibility to show they can and will recognise a state of Israel where Jews can realise their own ambitions for self-determination – in peace and safety free from the fear of rocks or rockets. But Israel too must recognise the same for Palestine. Only in that way can two communities stop building walls between each other – and instead start building bridges’.




Mr Byrne was traveling with Gavin Shuker MP, shadow DFID spokesman, Chris Doyle, Director of Caabu and James Denselow of Medical Aid for Palestinians.


Parliamentary Questions:


  • To ask the Secretary of State what assessment he has made of the success of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism in fulfilling its four objectives of; a) enabling the Government of Palestine to lead the reconstruction effort; b) enabling the Gazan private sector; c) assuring donors that their investments in construction work in Gaza will be implemented without delay; d) addressing Israeli security concerns related to the use of construction and other ‘dual use’ material?


  • To ask the Secretary of State what steps the British Government has been taking to support the success of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism?


  • To ask the Secretary of State what assessment has he made of the impact of the Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism on the humanitarian situation in Gaza?




Birmingham and the Living Wage – Statement on strike at Birmingham University

Today at Birmingham University Unison members are going strike in support of the living wage for all support staff such as cleaners, catering staff, security staff, library staff and technicians.

Please see below for my statement on the situation:

“Labour Councils are leading the way in promoting the living wage, with 24 now signed up as living wage employers, and Birmingham City Council is setting a great example by aiming to become the first Living Wage city. Too many people are trapped in an economy where wages are not growing fast enough. We can’t have no-go zones for the Living Wage in our city – and that includes on our campuses.”

Remploy factory closures are shameful

Liam Byrne MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, responding to news that Ministers are set to close at least 10 more Remploy factories and a further five have been put at risk, said:

“This is a shameful act from a contemptuous government. A day after the Autumn Statement in which the claimant count was revised up, David Cameron and Iain Duncan Smith have thrown out of work almost 1,000 disabled workers.

“Iain Duncan Smith didn’t even have the nerve to come to Parliament to tell MPs face to face. Instead he chose to hide in his office while he was putting disabled workers out of a job. He ought to be ashamed of himself.

“Iain Duncan Smith is the minister who said that Remploy workers did nothing better than sit around drinking cups of coffee. Now, in a final act of contempt he has sacked almost all of them, despite knowing that 90% of those who lost their jobs in the last closures are still out of work.

“We say loud and clear this round of closures must stop. David Cameron’s government is failing to get disabled workers back into jobs. The Work Programme is worse than doing nothing. This closure plan must stop until there’s a plan that works to get disabled workers back into jobs.”


Editor’s Notes:

1. Remploy phase two – A day after the Autumn Statement in which the claimant count was revised up, the Government is throwing nearly 1,000 disabled workers on the dole.

Ten factories are proposed for closure. These are Clydebank, Burnley, Dundee, Heywood, Huddersfield, Norwich, Portsmouth, Porth, Stirling and Sunderland.

Three factories face significant restructuring. All staff are at risk of redundancy. These are Neath, Blackburn and Sheffield.

Two factories are not saleable as a going concern. All staff are at risk of redundancy. These are Leven and Cowdenbeath.

Three factories are safe. These are Birmingham, Coventry and Derby.

2. Today, Labour revealed that in the communities where factories are earmarked for closure there are 66% more people chasing every job than the national average

The Government’s much vaunted work programme secured just 1.3 per cent of people on disability benefits into work.
Attached Claimants per vacancy in constituencies affected

3. In July Maria Miller guaranteed this Government would more disabled people into work:

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): The Minister referred to this as a difficult decision, but for the Remploy workers watching this debate it is a tragic decision. She has just mentioned the numbers who left work last time who have never been employed since. How many can she guarantee will be in secure employment in 12 months’ time?
Maria Miller: I can guarantee that by using the money differently we can help more disabled people into work. As a result of today’s measure [adding £15 million to Access to Work], some 8,000 disabled people can get into work who would not have had that support otherwise.

4. 1.3% of ESA claimants referred on to the Work Programme found a job lasting more than six months.

This rate is outcomes divided by referrals:

Outcomes are for ESA volunteers, New ESA claimants, ESA ex-IB claimants over the period June 2011 to May 2012. See Table 1.1:

Referrals are for the same payment groups over the same period (See Table 1.1 in the annex)

5. The Written Ministerial Statement will appear here (copied in full):

Written Ministerial Statement

Thursday 6 December 2012


Disability Employment

The Minister for Disabled People (Ms Esther McVey MP): I would like to make a statement on Remploy to update the House on the next steps in the reforms that my predecessor as Minister for Disabled People, the Rt Hon Member for Basingstoke, set out in this House on 10 July 2012.

The Remploy Board is today making make an announcement, and is quite rightly informing all those employees whom it affects.

The Remploy Board has now concluded its assessment of the Stage 2 businesses. It has been working closely with the Department for Work and Pensions and independent business analysts to explore in detail whether the remaining factory based businesses (Automotive, Automotive Textiles, E-Cycle, Frontline, Furniture, Marine and Packaging), CCTV contracts and Employment Services could viably exit government ownership and if so, how this could be best achieved.

Further work is being undertaken on Employment Services and a separate announcement will follow when a decision has been made.

The Government has decided to confirm the exit of Stage 2 factories and businesses, and the Remploy Board has today announced the results of its analysis and its proposals for a commercial process for stage 2 factory businesses and the CCTV business.

The Automotive business operating from factories in Coventry, Birmingham and Derby is considered by Remploy to be a viable business. It has the potential to successfully move out of Government funded support as a going concern. Remploy will now move to market this business , there is no proposal to close this business and staff at these sites are not formally at risk of redundancy.

The Automotive Textiles operation at Huddersfield is not commercially viable and the factory there is proposed for closure. All staff in this business are now at risk of redundancy.

The Furniture business based in Neath (Port Talbot), Sheffield and Blackburn has the potential to be commercially viable but would require significant restructuring consideration and downsizing of its operations. Remploy will market this business as a prospective going concern, while recognising that the current trading position of the business may ultimately result in no viable bids being received and that there may therefore be consequential redundancies and factory closures. All staff in this business are now at risk of redundancy.

The Marine Textiles business (based at Leven and Cowdenbeath) has an established market position and might attract commercial interest. Remploy Management will discuss any potential opportunities for a commercial exit with its current distributor and any other parties who express an interest. However the business currently makes significant losses and is not saleable currently as a going concern. The employees of the Marine Textiles business are therefore at risk of redundancy.

The CCTV business has the potential to become a viable business or series of businesses and successfully move out of Government control. Remploy will now discuss with the 27 organisations who have let contracts to Remploy their intentions and the opportunity to market this business and its 27 contracts as a going concern. If the business can be sold it may result in potential TUPE transfers.  In the event that it cannot be sold compulsory redundancies will be made and all employees in the CCTV business are therefore at risk of redundancy.

In addition to Automotive Textiles, 3 other Remploy businesses are not commercially viable or have little realistic prospect of being sold as going concerns. These are E-Cycle (based at Porth and Heywood), Frontline Textiles (based at Dundee, Stirling and Clydebank) and Packaging (based at Norwich, Portsmouth, Burnley and Sunderland). These factories are now proposed for closure with all the staff working there and at the associated Business Offices at risk of redundancy

As a means of reducing the number of potential job losses Remploy will, from today commence a commercial process and invite expressions of interest from any individuals or organisations who would like to buy all or parts of these businesses or sites proposed for closure. They will also be inviting expressions of interest for the assets associated with these sites, although “going concern” business sales will take precedent over asset sales.

As a result of these proposals a total 875 employees including 682 disabled employees in the Automotive Textiles, E-Cycle, Frontline Textiles, Furniture, Marine textiles, Packaging and CCTV businesses are being placed at risk of compulsory redundancy.

If a successful sale or transfer of ownership is possible and such sale or transfer falls within the provisions of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006 (TUPE), employees employed in or assigned to the relevant businesses will transfer to the new owner under TUPE. However, if TUPE does not apply, the number of employees who may transfer to the new business cannot be guaranteed as this will be a matter of negotiation between the bidder and Remploy.

It is important to note that no final decisions have been made about the factory closures or about redundancies in Stage 2 factories or businesses at this time.

I expect the process for exits or closures to have been completed by October 2013.

To encourage bids that maximise the continued employment of disabled people, the Department for Work and Pensions will offer a three year tapering wage subsidy totalling £6,400 for each eligible disabled member of staff. In addition Remploy will also fund professional advice and support worth up to £10,000 for employee led bids. This is in line with the offer of support in Stage 1.

Remploy’s Automotive business will continue to operate business as usual. There is no proposal to close this business at this stage.

Remploy Employment Services business will also continue to operate business as usual.

The Government has made £8 million available for 18 months to fund the delivery of a People Help and Support Package across the UK for any disabled individuals who are made redundant.  This tailored support from the People Help and Support Package includes access to a Personal Case Worker to help individuals with their future choices and a personal budget for additional support.

We will use the expertise of Remploy’s Employment Services which, despite difficult economic times over the last two years, has found jobs for around 50,000 disabled and disadvantaged people.

We are working with Remploy Employment Services, local and national employers, and the Business Disability Forum (BDF) to offer targeted work opportunities for disabled people. This could include guaranteed interviews, work trials, industry sector specific training, pre-application training (including mock interviews), on the job training and employer training in how to make adjustments for particular impairments.

We have also set up a Community Support Fund to provide grants to local voluntary sector and user-led organisations to run a variety of projects to support disabled Remploy employees and their families.

Of the 1,349 disabled people affected by the factory closures, 875 have expressed an interest in returning to work and are actively using the support package, so the latest results mean that just under 15% of those are now in work. It is one of our top priorities to maximise employment opportunities for the Remploy factory leavers.

This is an ongoing process, and as it develops, I commit to keeping this House updated on the status of the business plans going through to the next stage. I will provide a further update on progress in the New Year.

What’s this government got against young people?

It was Cabinet office questions in the House of Commons this morning, and our team used the moment to push the government on why their policy for charities, voluntary groups and social enterprise is already beginning to falter.

With youth unemployment up sharply this morning, and plans to cut EMA hurtling down the track, we need youth charities more than ever. Yet, the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services say that 75% of youth charities are CUTTING projects – 80% because of the end of targetted help for young people.

Unfortunately, this looks it could be part of a much wider story. Under Labour the number of people working in the charitable and social enterprise sector rose sharply. Now, for the first time in years, the number of people working in the sector is falling. Charity Times has the story.

Now, at the end of last year, this is what Oliver Letwin said about the outlook for charities;

“I expect the right hon. Gentleman to see an expansion, not a reduction, in the sector and its activities”.

Makes you wonder what planet he lives on, no?

Now more than ever, we need extra support for charities, voluntary groups and social enterprise. Yet, the government now seems to be dragging its feet on setting up Labour’s ‘Big Society Bank’ – something I announced in the last budget.

Last July, the government said that the bank would begin making loans in April 2011. Then in November, Nick Hurd said at a function that setting up the bank up had been “bloody complicated” and it would now go live “in the third quarter of 2011″. This morning, we see in the Guardian that efforts to get banks involved are failing. Santander is one bank that won’t be contributing, Santender is not

“expected to contribute to David Cameron’s £1bn Big Society Bank, as suggested in the so-called Project Merlin talks”.

All this from a minister who was complaining on 4 March 2010,  that;

“We’re frustrated that the Government has dithered over the creation of a social investment bank”

Put all this together, and its no wonder the government has cancelled its ‘Big Society tour’; ministers must be ashamed to show their faces.

Priestley lecture: Raising the good city

Here’s the text of my keynote speech to Birmingham university tonight. Special thanks to Prof James Arthur for the invitation to deliver this annual lecture to the School of Education

  • Vice Chancellor.
  • Members of the University Court, faculty and student body, ladies and gentlemen,
  • Good evening.
  • It is an immense pleasure to have been invited to give this Priestley lecture this year.
  • Sir Raymond Priestley was the embodiment of what Roosevelt extolled as the ‘vigorous life’.
  • He was an explorer of the Arctic, a major in the war.
  • He was a man who had faced the extremes of cold and war.
  • He was a man perfectly trained for the ardour of running Birmingham University – and he did so with distinction for nearly 15 years.


read more

Report back on Hodge Hill schools summit

Councillors from the across the constituency got the chance to sit down with our secondary head-teachers and do a bit of business together, with Rob James, Hodge Hill’s constituency director and Ness Cole from youth services.

First up was a big thank you from us to the heads on behalf of local residents for the total transformation of school results over the last 3 years. I’ll post the full list later,  but it is an incredible record.

Heads are now seriously worried about what the new funding system is going to mean for us; incredibly it looks as if local schools will lose 6-10% of their budgets, through badly designed funding systems which will actually hit schools in Britain’s poorest wards. I’ll be taking this point up with Schools Secretary Michael Gove. Adding to fears is the total confusion about Building Schools for the Future. Around 60% of the funding agreed is to be spent in Hodge Hill. But the government is now saying it wants cuts of 40%. No-one knows why on earth the government is saying this, as it promised a few weeks ago, that all schools in phase 1 (that’s International, Park View and Saltley) are ‘fully funded’.

We also discussed community service for young people – one of my top priorities. I spoke on Thursday to the Chief Executive of the Challenge, which has the contract to run the pilot of community service for Birmingham. Heads this morning agreed to try and make our district a trail-blazer.

Finally, we discussed how we together create a sports village trust in our constituency, which a not for profit community interest company helping open-up school assets out of hours and in holidays to the community. Again there was very strong support for the idea. Me, together with Cllr Tim Evans will developing a proposal on behalf of the constituency over the weeks to come.

Community service for our youngsters

See the video…Liam lobbies for community service 

This morning saw me at the Department for Education to lobby ministers to bring community service to Hodge Hill. I’ve been working with our schools and a range of organisations like the Templeton Foundation for 4 years now to research what we need to put in place to help our youngsters develop the self-confidence and self-esteem that will really unlock their potential. Our youngsters have helped launch this work at Westminster Abbey and No 11 Downing Street earlier in the year.

At the last election, both Labour and the Tories pledged to introduce National Community Service – although on slightly different models. But the key thing is to just get on with it. So, I was pleased that a couple of organisations have been selected to run pilot programmes for Community Service in Birmingham. I’ll be onto them this week to ask how they can deliver in Hodge Hill – building on some of the excellent, pioneering work in our schools – like DNA at International School in Shard End.

Today is a big step forward for my campaign to bring community service to Birmingham. Four years of careful research in Hodge Hill schools tells me community service is vital to help our kids unlock their true potential – and create stronger communities where we live. It helps teach our youngsters how to be the community leaders of the future and it helps them get on in life.

Our campaign for community service

Today I got the chance to see a groundbreaking project underway in Kitts Green and Lea Village – DNA – which could become a model for community service in our constituency.

All the political parties pledged to create national community service for youngsters at the last election – and last year I got the chance to launch some pilots with Gordon Brown.

Now more pilots are on the way and in the next fortnight I’ll we meeting the community service minister to see what we need to do to become a pilot area.
What’s great about DNA is that it’s helping turn around our youngsters sense of self-confidence and self- esteem giving them a much better chance of achieving their unlocked potential.

What’s also good is that thanks to some vision from International School, DNA is becoming part and parcel of the school curriculum. So well done to StreetTalk, the soon to be charity behind the project. I’ll keep you posted on my campaign for community service for youngsters and post some links.
I’ll be saying a little more about why this is so important in my Priestly Lecture at Birmingham University at the end of November.

A steam-roller for the Big Society

Today, the Chancellor has started driving a steam-roller over the Big Society. The huge scale of cuts to local councils will hit charities hard, because it’s where most of their government support comes from (approx 60% of statutory funding is routed to the sector via local councils). The ‘transitional relief’ announced for struggling charities is welcome but it won’t come close to meeting the new £170 million VAT bill charities have to pay and can’t reclaim. And while the new fund is a one off, the VAT bill is paid every year. Worse, both Tories and Liberals have voted against a Labour measure to protect charities from the VAT hike. Today, the Conservatives’ Cabinet Office team couldn’t even explain what contracts Whitehall had in place with charities and the voluntary sector. So it’s no surprise they’ve fallen so short protecting charities from Osborne’s axe.

New challenges

Just home from a frenetic day; today was our annual Meet the Funders’ conference for local community groups, which proved our most successful conference yet, followed by surgeries at Shard End Community Centre. Around a hundred people got the chance to quiz leading funders, like Big Lottery Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund, UnLtd, the Arts Council, Sport England and Lloyds TSB. Thanks to all who came – we’ll be posting the materials a bit later on.

About half-way through one of our guest’s presentations Ed Miliband rang, much to the delight of the assembled audience. I had to call him back and was very pleased to accept the job shadowing the Cabinet Office where I’ll get to challenge some of the empty rhetoric, however well-meaning, of Mr Cameron’s Big Society agenda. I was especially pleased to be asked to lead Labour’s policy review for Ed over the next period. I’ve some strong views on this some of which I set out in my Progress pamphlet published after the election. More on this to follow.