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An hour from Westminster, children are sleeping rough in the freezing woods

In Calais, children as young as nine are in limbo, dreaming of reunion with their families in Britain.

With the Christmas period a time for giving, many of us will have spared a thought and donated to charities helping those less fortunate than ourselves. Now that the decorations have been taken down, most of us have returned to our normal lives.

But the pain and suffering continues, often in the shadows. Many charities will tell you that January can be more challenging than December for those in need, as the weather bites and donations dry up. One group that sticks in my mind are the unaccompanied child refugees I met in Calais last September.

In my first few months as an MP, no event was as haunting as this visit to northern France, where more than a hundred lone children, who have a legal right to be in the UK, wait in limbo to be reconnected with family members.

Children as young as nine sleep rough in the forests and buildings surrounding the former unofficial camp known as “the Jungle”, living in fear of the authorities while dreaming of reunion with their families in Britain.

When the Jungle was bulldozed in October 2016, our government accepted 750 unaccompanied child refugees. In times of emergency, the process of reunification could take a matter of days. A year on, it takes eight to ten months for applications to be processed by UK and French authorities.

The conditions are harrowing; now far worse than they were before the Jungle was razed. With January upon us, there’s a real risk children will die from cold, hunger and preventable suffering. While this should mean an increase in the urgency of action by the government, this is not the case.

Debating the matter in Parliament three months ago, I was struck by a hard truth. I represent Plymouth, four hours from London by train. These unaccompanied kids are an hour by train from London. They’re closer to Parliament than the people I represent, but they may as well be a million miles away.

It will remain cold and damp for months. On 11 December, Safe Passage reported 12 young people asked for somewhere safe and warm to sleep, but emergency accommodation for minors in Calais was full – at 4°C, it was not cold enough for the local authority's “cold weather plan”. Their staff also report having to take children who are suffering from hypothermia to the local hospital.

As well as the cold, these minors face a real threat of violence, trafficking and exploitation. A recent report from Refugee rights Data project stated 93.6 per cent of child refugees in Calais have experienced police violence including tear gas, physical and verbal abuse. Many children have described having their shoes, tents, sleeping bags and blankets taken by police. UNICEF also reports that the number one fear of many of the young girls and boys is rape.

Poor conditions and lack of action from our government is spiralling into a set of desperate circumstances. Getting into Britain should not be more dangerous than fleeing war zones. Yet several children have already died trying to reach their family in the UK, despite having had the legal right to reunion. Delays, poor access to legal support and a lack of shelter lead children to risk their lives in the backs of lorries crossing the Channel. In doing so, there have been three deaths in the last thirty days. A week before Christmas, a 15-year-old Afghan boy lost his life in Calais trying to cross the border to the UK. The death could have been truly preventable, if legal routes had been more readily available.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, said in 2016: “our compassion does not stop at the border… Where those children have a relative in the UK or it is in their best interest to come to the UK, we are doing all we can to bring them over here.” It is legitimate to ask, if she is to stand true to these words, why are we leaving children who have a legal right to be in the UK out in the cold?

Britain has a proud history of welcoming refugees. Recent news that children from Greece have started to arrive in Britain under the Dubs Amendment gives us hope, but the numbers are far too small. To show ministers take this issue seriously, the government must extend the Dubs Amendment’s March deadline to enable more of the most vulnerable children to qualify. It must also work with the French authorities to provide accommodation centres for children while they access legal support for family reunion – the new Calais accommodation centre opened in April, but has only 20 beds.  

Let’s also not be party to the violence of French authorities. British taxpayers pay for additional policing in Calais. We cannot divorce ourselves from their actions as we pay their bills. Stories of the police's cruel treatment of children are commonplace and disturbing. I want to see a full investigation into the tactics used by French police to ensure British taxpayers’ money is not being used to fund human rights abuses towards children on our borders.

A new year should be an opportunity for a fresh start. There are none more deserving than the over a hundred unaccompanied children in Calais who need our thoughts, donations, our voice and our government to act. Let 2018 be the last that young children sleep rough in Calais, dreaming of being reunited with their families in Britain.

Luke Pollard is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport. He visited Calais in September in a cross-party group organised by Safe Passage.

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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.