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Nottingham Citizens hold politicians to account in General Assembly

Last night, Nottingham Citizens held a General Assembly, where over 2000 people from across Nottingham heard local and national politicians be held to account on the issues that matter to the city.

Nottingham Citizens is an alliance of 43 community organisations from education, faith, trade union and third sector backgrounds.

“This is a historic night for Nottingham… these are our issues, we care about justice”

Co-chair for the evening Rev’d Karen Rooms, vicar of St Ann with Emmanuel in St Ann’s, called it “a historic night for Nottingham… these are our issues, we care about justice”.

The five areas identified by Nottingham Citizens as concerns in the city are housing, jobs, living wage, hate crime and social care.

Sajid Mohammed, Secretary of the Nottingham Citizens Hate Crime Commission, told the audience that the commission had found that of 262 acts of hate crime last year, only two were reported. He said he had received vicious messages and threats because of his work, but that “it was worth it for justice”.

“We need a higher standard of accommodation”

Mike Abiodun Olatokun, University of Nottingham Students’ Union Community Officer, reported his housing concerns for students, stating “we need a higher standard of accommodation”.

James Spencer, Chair of the Conservative Federation in Nottingham, joked that when he was a student in Nottingham, his second floor emergency exit was a piece of rope tied to the window frame. He stated that the Conservative opposition in Nottingham would support a compulsory landlord register as long as it didn’t financially penalise responsible landlords.

“Ultimately our aim is to pay the living wage”

Cllr Jon Collins, Leader of Nottingham City Council (Labour) reported that “severe financial pressure” hindered the council’s ability to make improvements. The council is currently a living wage employer, at a cost of about £3 million, but Cllr Collins said that the council could not currently afford ‘accreditation’, which would ensure that all the suppliers and contractors used by the council were living wage employers too.

Cllr Collins said it would be “irresponsible” to promise to become accredited in the current financial situation, but added, “ultimately our aim is to pay the living wage”.

It was reported that Nottingham has the lowest household income in the UK, with over 3000 people applying for a job in a local Morrisons recently.

Cllr Collins also promised that a new conference centre in the city would be both “affordable and desirable” and that he would do his best to “make sure the jobs go to Nottingham people”.

“Nottingham Citizens is a constituency of its own”

Jane Hunt, prospective Conservative MP for Nottingham South, said that “Nottingham Citizens is a constituency of its own”, and Chris Leslie, Labour MP for Nottingham East, stated that “we need decency and tolerance in our city, and we have to stop this epidemic of job insecurity”.

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The national agenda that Nottingham Citizens proposed included holding politicians to account over the end of detention and pain based removal techniques for those seeking sanctuary in the UK, and a focus on adult social care, with “named, trained and reasonably paid” carers.

Care workers from Nottingham reminded the audience that “the system is in crisis, and local Accident and Emergency centres are picking up the bill”.

“Care is a human right. A bath is a human right”

Baroness Barker, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson on health matters, responded saying, “Care is a human right. A bath is a human right”. She called for social care workers to receive the living wage withing two years.

Liz Kendall MP, Shadow Minister for Care and Older People (Labour) also responded, saying “it is essential that [Nottingham Citizens] hold us to account. We’ve got a long way to go until Great Britain is a great place to grow old”. She called for 5000 more home care workers, abolishing the Bedroom Tax, banning zero hour contracts, and increasing the living wage to £8.

“We can’t have a strong healthcare system without a strong economy”

Dr Dan Poutler MP, Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, said that “a more integrated system of care” was needed, and cited the work already done by the Care Act he helped to implement in 2014. He promised that by April 2015, all carers would receive a certificate of training to show that they had received basic training and dementia training.

He also called for the “scrapping for ridiculous 15 minute care visits”, but reminded the audience that “we can’t have a strong healthcare system without a strong economy”.

Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Health, was due to attend but had to pull out at the last minute because of a clash with Channel 4’s Health Debate.

Ending the evening, one of the hosts, Harry Copson, University of Nottingham Students’ Union President, said that “we have learnt a lot this evening, and we have seen the people behind the politics. Now what matters is that we turnout to vote on May 7th”.

Finally, Steve Sylvester, Vicar of St. Nicholas Church, Nottingham, said “we are all people of good faith, a city that wants to shine bright, showing what it looks like to treat people with dignity and respect”.

Beth Rowland

Images: Beth Rowland

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