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Local elections officially announced

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Today Portsmouth City Council officially announced there will be elections on Thursday 5 May 2016. I’m standing for Labour in Charles Dickens ward – covering Portsea, Landport and parts of Somerstown and Buckland – for these important local elections.
You can find out more about the elections on the city council website
The deadline for registering to vote at these elections is Monday 18 April. For further information or to download a voter registration form, please visit how to register to vote.
If you are unable to vote in person you can apply to vote by post, or appoint a proxy to vote on your behalf.
If you wish to apply for a postal vote, please note that the council must receive your application by 5pm Tuesday 19 April.
If you wish to appoint a proxy to vote on your behalf, the deadline for applications is 5pm Tuesday 26 April.  Follow the link for further details on how to vote by proxy.
For news and views from Stephen on the campaign trail in Charles Dickens ward visit www.stephenjmorgan.org

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Health decision-makers approve changes to Guildhall Walk healthcare centre

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A street stall in Commercial Road to help save the Guildhall Walk-In

Community campaigners aiming to save the much-loved Guildhall Walk-In have now received a formal response to their consultation submission and petition as part of the clinical commissioning group’s controversial plans to change the services available in the heart of Portsmouth.
Portsmouth Labour organised a petition to help protect the health care services on offer at the centre led by Stephen Morgan, Labour’s candidate for Charles Dickens ward, when the CCG started a process of consultation about the future of the service last Autumn. Labour’s high profile campaign attracted over 1,000 signatures and included popular street stalls and the support of local businesses.
In writing to Stephen, the Chief Operating Officer for the CCG, Innes Richens, writes:
“Your feedback has been an important part of our work and our proposals have been amended quite significantly throughout the process, as we have received feedback from yourselves and many others.”
Approved by the CCG earlier this month, the recommendations agreed are to retain a practice in the city centre, and continue the option for registered patients to ‘walk in and wait’. This will mean that between now and 30 June, the GP practice service will remain entirely unchanged.
In addition the response states:

  • between 1 July – April 2017, the Guildhall Walk practice will remain, although the walk-in service will only be available to people who register there as patients. The cap on numbers has been lifted.
  • a procurement exercise will now be run, to award a new contract for the provision of GP services, from April 2017 onwards. The precise location of the practice after that time will depend upon the outcome of the procurement – no locations have been ruled in, or out, but the CCG is clear that it must be in, or near to, the city centre.
  • enhancement to the walk-in services at St Mary’s Treatment Centre – from 1 July GPs will now work with the nursing staff, offering an enhanced walk-in service for both minor injuries and minor illness for city residents.
  • commission enhanced pharmacy services in the city centre with an ability for providers to treat a wider range of conditions and for a wider range of people (including students) than is currently the case.

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Labour’s petition attracted over 1,000 signatures

In receiving this news, Stephen said:
“Whilst I’m disappointed this isn’t a complete victory for our community campaign I am assured the CCG has taken on board the concerns of local people.
They’ve made concessions to keep health care services in the accessible location of the city centre and some walk-in services will remain, which is to be welcomed.
But I will be keeping a close eye on these new arrangements to make sure local people are always at the forefront of these important health services. The jury is still out”.
For more information about our campaign on the Guildhall Walk-In and other local community issues visit Stephen’s website at www.stephenjmorgan.org

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Getting things done for you: new community contacts card launched


Local information card with key contacts for residents launched today

Stephen Morgan, standing for Labour in the council elections in May in Charles Dickens ward, has launched a new local information and contacts card to support local people.
The card contains local information to help any resident with day-to-day life in the ward. Details include numbers for debt and generalist advice, who to call if there is a power cut, the city helpdesk, and emergency service contacts.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2cSzsGYKwCU&w=560&h=315]
Part of Stephen’s ‘Portsmouth deserves better’ campaign, in launching the free card he said:
“With internet access in the area lower than in other parts of the city, and residents telling me they find the council’s website hard to navigate, I wanted to act. On the doorstep residents, have been telling me they don’t always know who to contact, so I wanted to help. I hope the information card is of use to other local people”.
4,000 information cards have been produced thanks to the generous donations of local community members. It will be delivered by volunteers across Charles Dickens ward over the next week.
The ‘Portsmouth deserves better’ campaign is a series of community initiatives led by Stephen to help make life better for residents across Charles Dickens ward. Stephen has a long history of community work in the city, including as a school governor at Arundel Court school in the ward and as a charity trustee for an older people’s charity on Kingston Road.
Recent initiatives have included:

  • leading a campaign to help save the Guildhall Walk-In. With over 1,000 signatures, health decision-makers have agreed to keep some ‘walk in’ services and will be enhancing pharmacy services.
  • fighting for your concerns raised on the doorstep such as liaising with housing providers to get repairs done on time and better care taken with redevelopment schemes.
  • improving the local area by reporting flytipping, abandoned trollies and eyesores. Thanks to lobbying, a ‘community protection order’ has been forced on landowners to improve the green spaces in the ward.
  • campaigning to protect police services in the city. You may have caught the news about Stephen’s work on this, and that the police and crime commissioner has decided against building a new police HQ out in Havant.

For more information about Stephen’s community work visit www.stephenjmorgan.org

Letter to The News: "Ordinary people can make a difference"

A copy of a letter from a Portsmouth resident in The News on 23 March 2016:

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People power wins the day on policing in the city  

Stephen Morgan outside central police station

Community campaigners are delighted their efforts have been heard loud and clear and that Hampshire’s police and crime commissioner has now ruled out the option of building a new police investigation centre for the city out in Havant.

Speaking on the radio this morning, the current commissioner, politician Simon Hayes officially confirmed he is now definitely planning to build the new centre in Portsmouth.
On hearing the news, the BBC rang Stephen Morgan – standing for Labour in Charles Dickens ward where the city’s only remaining public police station is based – to offer congratulations. The story broke after the Portsmouth News ran a front page piece on the developments on Saturday morning.
Stephen said:
 “People power wins the day. I’m pleased common sense has prevailed with Havant now officially ruled out for the new investigation centre. There will still be changes to the police service in the city and we will continue to push the Constabulary to communicate and consult widely with the public…
With crime increasing in the city – up 9% on last year and violent crime up 36% – Portsmouth people deserve the full facts. They want to be assured about these changes to policing in the city and that they will only improve services locally.”
Over 400 people have signed Stephen’s petition online and hundreds on the doorstep in recent weeks. Local police and ex-officers had also been in touch with campaigners to offer their support.
To sign the petition and hear about other campaigns on the doorstep in Charles Dickens ward visit www.stephenjmorgan.org


Owners make plans for derelict Brunel House


View of the derelict Brunel House from Millgate House

One of the city’s most prominent derelict buildings – in Portsea – could be about to be converted into flats. Located opposite the main entrance to Gunwharf, Brunel House was built back in the 1960s and was used by the Ministry of Defence. 
Many residents on the doorstep have raised with me their concerns about it being unsightly at a gateway to the city and a safety risk. It has been empty for quite some time. Now the owner is giving the council notice of their intention to divide it up into 242 flats.
A year ago the building was the subject to a planning application for what would have been Portsmouth’s tallest building. It was refused primarily on economic grounds – the tower would have dominated the area, but this harm could have been outweighed by the benefit of getting (say) a hotel instead of the student rooms proposed for the lower floors.
The council has received a ‘Prior Notification’ for the conversion of the building.
It is important to note that this is not a planning application – a couple of years ago, the government changed the rules so that existing office space can be converted to housing without the need to obtain consent. Owners still have to get council sign off over contaminated land, flooding and traffic impact, but otherwise they are free to do what they want.
The submission documents are all dated January 2015, so this plan has clearly been kicking around for some time even though it has only been lodged this month.

To find out more visit the council’s planning portal: the application reference number is 16/00003/PACOU


More and more people support police campaign


Central Police station in Charles Dickens ward is threatened with closure

More and more local people are getting involved and joining the campaign to protect police services in Portsmouth.
Hampshire Constabulary’s police and crime commissioner is looking at changing services in the city.  On the other hand, community members are keen to see the central police station on Winston Churchill Avenue – in the heart of Portsmouth – stay open.
Community campaigners are volunteering across the city this weekend to talk to people on the doorstep, hear other local people’s views and encourage the signing of a local community petition set up by Stephen Morgan and Cllr Yahiya Chowdhury.
To sign the online petition click here


Campaign boosted by Ben Bradshaw MP


Ben Bradshaw MP joins the support for Stephen Morgan

Well-respected MP Ben Bradshaw has joined other local and national figures to back Stephen Morgan for the local elections in Portsmouth this May.
The Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw, one of only a few Labour MPs in the south of England, is well known for his ability to reach out to the electorate and seek broad support for social change.
Ben said:
“Pompey born and bred, Stephen knows local issues and will be on the side of Portsmouth residents. As a longstanding community campaigner, he’ll work hard all year round. He’s exactly what the city needs”.
In response Stephen added:
“I’m very grateful for Ben’s support. I’ve been inspired by his grassroots work to make life better in communities. I’m honoured to have his endorsement”.
For other endorsements for Stephen’s campaign in Charles Dickens ward this May visit www.stephenjmorgan.org

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Changes to legal aid have meant justice is denied for those who need it most


Legal aid has historically been a pillar of the welfare state

Over recent years, there have been severe cuts to the legal aid budget, whilst the cost of court fees has steadily risen.
While savings to the legal aid budget have been made, the wider impacts and consequences are not being measured and the National Audit Office, Public Accounts Committee and Justice Select Committee have all criticised the government for its lack of understanding of the knock-on costs and value for money of its reforms.
Legal aid was first introduced in 1949, as a principal pillar of the welfare state. Administered on the basis of a means test, it looked at a client’s income and capital, and a merit test, which examined their chances of winning in civil cases, and weighed up the seriousness of the charges in criminal cases.
Originally, its reach was almost universal with 80% of British people eligible. But as the years have gone by, eligibility has been dropping, making it harder for those who are in genuine need of legal support and advice.  In 2009-10, over 470,000 people received advice or assistance for social welfare issues. By 2013-14, the year after the government’s reforms to legal aid came into force, that number decreased to less than 53,000 – a drop of almost 90%.
Huge areas of civil law have been removed from the scope of legal aid. All family law cases that don’t involve domestic violence are no longer covered. Immigration cases are only covered if they involve claims for asylum, human rights issues or domestic violence. Benefits, debt and housing cases are also ineligible, unless there is a direct threat of homelessness. Criminal cases remain in scope, subject to means testing. Up until a very recent court of appeal judgment, victims of domestic abuse had to produce evidence that the abuse had occurred in the past two years, in order to apply for legal aid.
This left many having to face their abusers in court without legal representation, with the only other options being to privately pay for their lawyer’s fees or simply doing nothing and remaining in a dangerous situation.
Amidst the growing concern over legal aid, Labour began its review into the future of legal aid in September 2015. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn stated:
I have asked Willy Bach, the former Shadow Attorney General, to undertake an immediate review of the assault on Legal Aid by the Government over the last five years. This has resulted in many of our fellow citizens, often the poor and marginalised, not being able to get advice or representation when they are faced with legal problems such as housing, welfare benefits, debt and employment. Many vital advice services, including Law Centres, have had to close.”
The current Secretary of State for Justice, Michael Gove, has talked about the need to deliver a “one-nation justice system” which delivers access to all. Yet a Citizens’ Advice research report found that only 39% of people believe the justice system works well for citizens and only 17% believe it’s easy for people on low incomes to access justice.
The success of our society relies on the trust we have in the rule of law, as well as the belief that our courts are fulfilling their role and ensuring this a secure system in place to enforce our rights, when needed. However, this trust is unfortunately dwindling as it becomes more evident that the core features of the rule of law are being chipped away.
Whilst it may not be clear how far these cuts will go, one thing is clear; access to justice is being denied for those who need it most.
For information on any legal advice help and support you are entitled to, follow these local links and organisations who can support you:
Portsmouth Citizens Bureau
Advice Portsmouth
University of Portsmouth free legal advice

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Plans to shake up housing are controversial


Out and about in the ward talking to residents about housing issues

The Government is wanting to reform the housing system, with the Tories currently taking their ‘Housing and Planning Bill’ through Parliament. 
Touted as the most significant changes to the country’s housing for a generation, proposals are very controversial with some calling them “a mess”. It’s going to take time to pass, and Labour will fight to change the plans.
It threatens some big changes for many Portsmouth residents who do not own their own homes.
Here is a summary of what you need to know about the Bill.
These are the main features are:
An end to secure tenancies
What is it? Today, people who live in council houses can be offered secure or ‘lifetime’ tenancies. The government wants to change that, so tenancies between two and five years become the norm.
What does it mean? Existing tenants won’t be affected. But anyone who moves or transfers into council housing would be offered a short term tenancy. That means greater insecurity in housing. People may feel reluctant to move and it will be harder to plan for the future.
‘Pay to Stay’ 
What is it? Today, people in council houses benefit from controlled rents that are lower than those set by private landlords. The government thinks households earning more than £30,000 should pay the market rent instead – even though this will probably be a lot higher.
What does it mean? Some people may be reluctant to take a job, or say yes to a promotion or pay rise, because they would have to pay a much higher rent. Others may pursue the ‘Right to Buy’ instead, which means we’ll have fewer council homes than ever – at a time when we really need more social housing. Portsmouth City Council would not even benefit from the additional rental income. The extra money would go straight to central government in London.
Right to Buy extension
What is it? Today, individuals and families benefit from truly affordable housing, provided by Housing Associations. The government wants to give those tenants the right to buy their house. To pay the Housing Associations back for their loss of property, the government will levy a charge on Housing Revenue Accounts.
What does it mean? In plain English, the government will introduce a ‘council house tax’. A tenant in a council home, who is earning a low wage, will effectively subsidise a tenant who lives in Housing Association properties, so that person can buy their house at a discount. Not only is this unfair to the council tenant, it also further reduces the amount of social housing.
My promise to you

Improvements at Wilmcote House in Somerstown are hugely delayed

From the talking to people on the doorstep, I’m aware that housing is a big concern for many people in Charles Dickens ward and around our city.
I will keep you informed about any government changes to housing. I’ll work hard to make sure residents get necessary repairs done and improvement programmes acted on.
And I will do whatever I can to protect genuinely affordable housing in our city.