I want stability and progress for ALL
Thangam Debbonaire was re-elected as Labour MP for Bristol West in May 2017.
Thangam Debbonaire was re-elected as Labour MP for Bristol West in May 2017. The Bishopston Voice caught up with her to find out about her challenges and priorities for the local area.
HELPING people is the best bit of the job as an MP. I’ve only ever been in opposition and I’m a whip, which I find really interesting and the role has given me the most thorough grounding in how to get my constituents views and concerns represented in parliament.
As an opposition MP at a time when all the government is doing is Brexit there are a lot of challenges, but every so often there is a small win in parliament or a constituent who’s heard you voice their concern, and that is incredibly satisfying.
In my first year as an MP from 2015 there was hardly any housing built in Bristol, which was frustrating, but there are now shovels in the ground at Dove Lane, and The Carriageworks is getting to the point where it is finally going to turn into homes and small workshops. The former swimming pool development next to Bishopston Library has been difficult but that’s being turned around now with the help of great local councillors.
This administration is prioritising building houses and regulating private landlords. The underlying problem when people come to see me is often that the private rental market is overheated but now Paul Smith has a handle on every single square inch in this city that we could be building on and he is not tolerant of builders who say that they can’t afford to put houses there.
Some of the people I meet in my constituency work don’t have any sense of permanence and that’s not good for community cohesion. People come to Bishopston, make connections, their kids go to Bishop Road School or Ashley Down and then for reasons of a private landlord hiking their rent up have to move, and sometimes move quite a long way. I don’t want people to move out of the centre of Bristol and that is happening at the moment.
Challenging the new Secretary of State for Education is one of my top priorities as funding for schools, especially support for children with special needs, just isn’t working as a system.
My plan is to get more money for Redland Green. It seems egregious that this extremely successful school is so poorly funded. Money following pupil premium hasn’t worked because it targets parents who are on a specific list of benefits, which isn’t always a good set of indicators when pupils require extra support and facilities.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking parents and the head at Bishop Road Primary School and advocating on their behalf. So far I haven’t got the money that I want for them but it doesn’t meant that I’m going to give up.
In Cotham the balance between students in living in Houses of Multiple Occupation and people who live there permanently sometimes feels uncomfortable for both sides.
The university are building more accommodation and working with private providers to build more. I would like those private providers to contribute to the city council coffers because they don’t pay business rates and the council still has to pay for the services. This could be tackled by changing the laws on council tax to apply to the ‘head of household’ or there could be regulatory change on business rates.
What people tell me about when I knock on doors in Bishopston, Cotham and Redland, is Brexit. It’s still a very live issue in the area.
It comes up because a number of constituents' jobs are being affected or they work with people in the NHS, the universities, the tech and creative industries who are going home because they are European citizens.
I have been lobbying the Education and Science Minister about how we are going to protect the ability of Bristol Universities to attract research grants and partnerships. I am trying to work out in any post-Brexit deal what it would have to look like for my constituents jobs to be protected and for businesses to be able to continue to trade with the EU.
I’m the Chair of the All Party Group on Childhood and Teenage Cancer and, because it is rare, we tend to work with other countries for research. Ideally that should be the ones on our doorstep and I think there is still scope to agree a deal that can allow that. I refuse to give up and accept that there is no solution.
If you were born in one part of my constituency, four out of five children will go to university and if you are born in the other side, it’s the exact opposite. Student finance is one of the biggest reasons for that and I am keen to reintroduce maintenance grants.
This is an issue where the Labour Party are making some headway as the government are now looking at maintenance grants and bursaries and agree that student finance is in a mess. It’s damaging to us all - as we are missing out on all the young people who could be trained for vital roles such as nurses, doctors, radiologists, and radiographers.
There are some serious problems in Bishopston, Cotham and Redland and if you talk to people who live there most know what needs to happen, but getting the council to agree to fund it has been a challenge. I’m going to hold another meeting about parking in the spring.
What I’m here to do is listen to the people of Cotham, Redland and Bishopston and advocate on their behalf. People here are so outward looking and take on board important priorities - global issues such as climate change and the migration and refugee crisis.
I am in awe and inspired by people and honoured to represent those who really give a damn. I am fortunate that my constituents agree with me that these are issues that I should be spending my time on. And I do.
Improve the rights of refugees and fighting for a clean air zone locally matter. I’ve been asking in parliament when are they going to bring in a diesel scrappage scheme. Above all, I want this to be the best place it can possibly be.”