Local Government Financing

Part of Opposition Day — [2nd Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 29th June 2010.

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Photo of Paul Uppal Paul Uppal Conservative, Wolverhampton South West 5:30 pm, 29th June 2010

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and may I belatedly congratulate you on your elevation and appointment? I also congratulate all Members who have delivered their maiden speeches in this House. I have been privileged to listen to many discussions and many maiden speeches, and I have waited patiently, deliberately not rushing to make this speech-after all, in reality, I have probably been waiting for more than a quarter of a century to make this speech. That long wait commenced during a particularly inspiring lecture by one of my A-level politics tutors on a wet Wednesday afternoon, so a few weeks, and indeed a couple of hours, are a small price to pay.

I have not traditionally been an individual who has subscribed to a fatalistic view of life, but I have found my scepticism tested by the fact that my majority of 691 that has bought me to this great House is exactly the same as that of another young Conservative Member of Parliament who won the seat of Wolverhampton South West for the first time in 1950-one Enoch Powell. I make that statement with my tongue firmly pressed against the inside of my cheek and an ironic smile on my face. I also appeal to all Members of the House to take me to one side and proofread any of my speeches should I feel compelled in 18 years' time to make a controversial speech at the Midland hotel. That is unlikely to happen, primarily because the hotel is no longer there, but I have lived enough of a life to know that one should never say never-I ask the Hansard reporters to note that my tongue is now firmly affixed to the other side of my cheek.

Am I here via the product of karma or kismet? I do not know, but I do know that by uttering those words I have probably created some confusion among those who record our statements, as I have introduced some Punjabi words into the rich texture of the records of Hansard. I have to state that I felt honour bound to do that as I am the first Sikh Member of Parliament to sit on the Conservative Benches.

As is customary during these speeches, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Rob Marris. During the last few weeks of the election campaign, although we were political adversaries we did manage to have many convivial chats and conversations, and during those last few weeks I found Rob to be a man of his word and a thoroughly decent bloke. He was an assiduous consistency MP and will undoubtedly be a tough act to follow, but I will endeavour to fill those extremely large shoes.

In terms of the Wolverhampton South West constituency, perhaps one of the most impressive sights to meet anyone coming in from the city centre is the Molineux stadium, which is home to Wolverhampton Wanderers football club. I am delighted to say that I am a season ticket holder and fan, and I am even more delighted by the fact that we stayed in the premiership this year. The seat is entirely urban and it is also home to the Express & Star newspaper, the country's largest regional newspaper, which reaches more than 136,000 regular readers. One thing that does stand out for the Express & Star is that, uniquely, it has more than nine editions, covering local areas across the west midlands and maintaining a community base that is not just Wolverhampton-centric.

The constituency is also home to the brewer Marston's, and only recently I was honoured to be present at the opening of its new visitors centre. I would heartily recommend anybody visiting Wolverhampton, including fellow Members, to sample our fine local ale during a visit to the constituency. I could speak at length about the history of the city and its prominent attractions, but that would be to miss out the greatest strength and asset of Wolverhampton-its people. Wulfrunians are famed for a no-nonsense approach to life; they say it as it is, approaching life with an open mind and refreshing honesty. In many ways that attitude mirrors my own personal experiences of growing up in a Sikh family. It is a Punjabi tradition to live life to the full and with "dhel"-that is a Punjabi word for a generous spirit and courageous heart. That, in essence, sums up the vast majority of Wulfrunians. One will not find a city populated by a more decent people, who always speak straight from their soul. As my family always told me when I was growing up, "Real friends will tell you the truth. It is acquaintances who will tell you what you want to hear."

In Wolverhampton, I have spoken to representatives of various bodies about health care in the city, and that is why I have chosen to make my maiden speech in this debate, which is essentially about funding. We have the Phoenix centre, a walk-in centre that offers a wide variety of treatments, along with the Gem centre, which I passed every day during the general election campaign. However, through my discussions with various individuals and numerous bodies I have uncovered a great deal of frustration with the fact that for the last six years, under the last Government, just under £100 million of private investment in health care provision in Wolverhampton had not been spent after discussion after discussion after procrastination. It would appear that after years of waiting to spend this money, we now have a stalemate and it seems likely that with the passage of time Wolverhampton and my constituents will have missed out on more than £100 million of investment in health care because of dithering, indecision and inaction. I am not interested in apportioning blame, but have chosen to raise the matter as I feel passionately about it. The issues raised by such inaction could provide guidance to legislators and executives both nationally and locally. I am stoical in my view that we cannot change what happened yesterday, but we can change tomorrow.

To get to the nub of the issue, Wolverhampton has been involved in a dialogue with a LIFTCo-a local improvement finance trust company. A LIFTCo is essentially a PFI initiative to push forward service-led initiatives to bring about radical change in primary and social care. We can talk long and hard about the pros and cons of PFI initiatives, but, through my discussions with various bodies, I have discovered that total inaction is universally perceived to have been the worst option. Without going into the minutiae of the detail, the public and private sectors have essentially come together in good faith but, over a period of time, either the private sector has lost faith or the project has fallen away, as everybody feels that they are at a total impasse. I feel that the reason for that is that, eventually, somebody has to make a decision and ultimately take a risk. In the past few years, "risk" has become a somewhat dirty word associated with young men wearing garish braces and shouting colourful language across trading floors, leading ultimately to the likes of us picking up the bill for their recklessness. That is the point-in essence, I am talking about calculated risks and about people moving outside their comfort zone.

Perhaps I can illustrate my point more graphically by reciting another conversation with a similar colleague who has done a great deal of work on the role of young men in street gangs. I know I am veering away from the issue of health provision, but the subject of individual risk-taking is just as pertinent. My colleague spoke to many young men about their dreams and hopes and why they had eventually become gang members. One individual story jumped out more than the others. A group of teenagers would regularly meet at a park and it happened that their central meeting point revolved around a set of gymnastic parallel bars. There was a pecking order and young men would impress their peers and, importantly, young women by showing off their prowess on the bars. One day-almost inevitably-somebody fell off and, because of the resultant scratches and bruises, the local council felt honour bound to remove the bars after health and safety got involved. After a few years the youngsters had formed a gang and a pecking order became established, with antisocial behaviour becoming a badge of honour.

Having been a young man once, I can vaguely remember the desire and the engine that would drive a person to seek acceptance and admiration from their friends and to impress members of the opposite sex. Luckily for me, a sports field was my arena, but it comes back to that basic point: if we endeavour to eliminate risk, we emasculate society and it appears that young men in particular feel that acutely. To put this as bluntly as possible, in terms of our public-private service providers we need to put radical thinking and calculated risk taking and decision making at the centre of provision.

The motives of officers should not be just their salaries and pension pot at the end of their careers. I am under no illusion that this will be easy, but I dare say that governance of any sort over the next few years will be challenging. I-like many Members, I suspect-am always interested in the discussion of ideas, but some have said to me that that does not always happen in the Chamber with the new modern politics.

Forgive me if I have strayed on to controversial ground, but as I suggested earlier, straight talking and a no-nonsense approach is the Wolverhampton way. In that vein, I would make a plea for all Members to revisit the issue of postal voting fraud, which, I am sad to say, appears to be alive and well in many of our metropolitan areas. Since I was elected, I have been approached by numerous individuals in my own constituency who have spoken to me about the issue. In my case, it worked against me; I would say to Opposition Members that there might be cases where it will have worked against them. In any event, we are all very much at a crossroads. I can envisage a time soon when very easily and quickly we will all face an escalation of a fraudulent race here, as either side endeavours to outdo the other. I hope that Opposition Members will trust my motives for wading into this area, as it damages us all in this House and damages our reputation as a country.

It is all too easy to stereotype the motives of Members as partisan, mischievous or surreptitious. As a child, I often faced brutal stereotyping on my daily journey to school, but even more painful was the pigeonholing inflicted on me on my first day in a new primary school: I was placed in a remedial class for a few years because the natural assumption was that I could not speak English. I say that to illustrate that we are almost all guilty of occasionally judging a book by its cover. So when the Conservatives are castigated for being uncaring over the next few years, I ask hon. Members to remember that I am somebody's son, father, brother, husband, cousin and friend and that in their eyes one could not find a person further removed from that caricature.

I thank hon. Members for their patience and indulgence in letting me speak and I hope they will forgive me if I have troubled any sensibilities. This great House is nothing if not a reflection of the individual stories of its Members, and I hope that by adding my perspective I have added to the strength of its foundations and the breadth of debate.

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Trevor Andrews
Posted on 30 Jun 2010 1:08 pm (Report this annotation)

regard your comments about the late Enoch Powell I simply hope that any predictions you choose to make are more cheerful than his, yet they too prove to be the THRUTH ! ! !