Over the past few days I have been in close discussions with the leader of Suffolk County Council about how we can best support those who need it most in Ipswich, especially over the half term break.
The Suffolk Hardship Fund of over £1.5 million has been made possible from additional funds that have been provided by the Government to support the most vulnerable families during the Covid pandemic. This flexible, localised approach means that local councils can decide how funding is best utilised for each area.
During my discussions it was made clear that those who are eligible for free school meals who are concerned about this half term can claim support. Not just for food but other targeted support as well.
The Suffolk Hardship Fund means that the most vulnerable can access financial help with anything from food and fuel vouchers to school uniform and essential furniture. There is also now a phone line which can help with debt advice, rent, mortgage and credit card advice.
If anybody has any questions or needs further support on this please do not hesitate to email me on email@example.com or call my office on 0207 219 3000.
This localised approach is an effective way of providing support for vulnerable people in Ipswich and isn’t confined to just food vouchers. This allows Suffolk County Council to provide a much wider blanket of support for those in need.
And following the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday, where he outlined the Government’s commitment to ensuring that no child goes hungry, I am confident that further support for vulnerable children will be forthcoming.
Written a letter today to the Transport Secretary about Highways England and their performance over the past 2 years or so regarding the Orwell Bridge. In October 2018 they launched a report into what do about bridge closures that was delayed by 6 months and now the timeline for implementing the recommendations of that report has also been significantly delayed. I was promised that a new 40mph speed limit would be introduced ahead of the 2020/2021 winter season but now they are suggesting a completion date of end of March 2021.
I have previously raised before in the House of Commons and am currently applying to hold a special debate in Parliament on the matter. As I mention in the letter I also plan to meet the Transport Secretary.
Ultimately its all of us who have to pay the price for the price for all these broken promises. Not Highways England.
Spoke today in support of the Animal Welfare Bill which will increase the maximum prison sentences for animal cruelty from just 6 months to a far more appropriate 5 years. This is a private members Bill which is being brought forward by my colleague Chris Loder MP. A large part of the debate was spent discussing his own Springer Spaniel, Poppy. Before I spoke, Chris described how Poppy had been left injured and abandoned by the side of the road on a stormy night in January and left to fend for herself. But Chris rescued her, and although I haven’t been able to meet Poppy in person yet, I’ve seen photos of her and she looks like a very happy and well-loved dog.
Chris and Poppy’s story is a moving one and honestly when I was elected to Parliament and I didn’t expect to spend a great deal of my time in Parliament discussing animal welfare issues. But having taken up the campaign for tougher sentences for pet theft as well and having learnt more about crimes involving animals these past few months, it’s become clear how this is one of the types of crime where the gap is biggest between the what the public expects punishments to be and what the law says they should be.
I also used my speech to expand a bit more on the pet theft debate I led on Monday. Currently the sentences handed out to pet thieves are mainly determined on the monetary value of the pets they have stolen. This is what so often results in pet thieves getting nothing more than a slap on a wrist and a paltry fine. But talk to any pet owner and they’ll tell you that the monetary value of their pet is what matters least to them. It’s the invaluable and irreplaceable companionship they offer which is so important and this is what needs to be reflected in pet theft sentencing. I called again for the Secretary of State to write to the Sentencing Council recommending they update their guidelines to reflect this after I’ve met with him and written to him about it recently. Increased sentences for animal cruelty and pet theft should go hand in hand. And both are crucial changes that must happen if our laws are to mirror our views towards animals in modern society.
It was a big day on Monday because just after leading a pet theft debate, I also led another one on illegal immigration. But I share the exasperation of hundreds of constituents who have written in to me about the porous nature of our border in the English Channel and I thought it was important that their views were at the heart of this debate.
I underlined to the Government how urgent action is needed on two fronts if we’re going to get a grip of this issue. First is stopping all boats trying to arrive here from France. Whether we create some form of blockade or tow illegal boats all the way back to France, we must send a very clear message that all attempts to come here illegally will be futile. This will also help deter migrants from making dangerous crossings which tragically resulted in another death last weekend. The Labour Party have said a more robust approach lacks compassion but clearly the status quo which also fills the pockets of evil people smugglers is far from compassionate. I challenged the Labour Party in the debate to clarify what they would do differently but once again no substantial response was forthcoming.
Second we also need to overhaul our broken asylum system and be clear that anyone who has deliberately chosen to come via an illegal route, including through other safe European countries, should be removed. Illegal migrants know that if they get to our country and claim asylum the odds are they’ll be able to stay even if they don’t have a legitimate claim. There shouldn’t be a reward for breaking our immigration laws and this form of queue jumping is unfair to those in real need of refuge here who want to come here directly from war-torn countries. Helping these genuine refugees in the most unstable parts of the world should be at the heart of a truly compassionate asylum system.
Some on the left will claim that those with concerns about this issue are anti-immigrant or anti-refugee to try and shut down this sort of debate but this couldn’t be further from the truth. We should be open to those immigrants and refugees who want to come to this country legally and make a positive contribution. Tackling illegal immigration is about the rule of law in this country and the fundamental right of its people to decide who can come in to our shared home.
I’ve met with the Home Secretary a number of times about this issue and I know she also finds the current situation unacceptable. The Minister responding to me Monday set out some positive steps the Government is taking like increasing enforcement in the Channel and legislating next year to stop abuse of our legal process, where human rights lawyers use every loophole in the book to prevent deportations.
But over 4 years on from the decision of millions to take back control of our borders we must keep hammering home the urgent need for action when we get opportunities like Monday’s debate.
Raised the BSC Multicultural Services Charity today and the excellent work they’re doing to support disadvantaged people in Ipswich from over 50 different nationalities. During Covid-19 they have been delivering hundreds of food parcels to vulnerable people. But this virus has also severely impacted their ability to raise funds.
This type of community-led support is irreplaceable and it’s right that we do everything we can now to ensure it’s still there for our town in the future. It’s important to raise support for charities in Parliament but one of the reasons why I became an Ambassador is to support BSC Multicultural Services on the ground as well. And I’m looking forward to becoming much more closely involved in their work in Ipswich.
The Chancellor announced a number of welcome measures today for businesses and people with jobs that have been affected by additional social distancing restrictions:
💷 A more generous Job Support Scheme with employers contributing significantly less.
💷 Cash grants for hospitality and leisure businesses in Tier 2 – worth up to £2,100 a month and backdated to August.
💷 A doubling of the self-employment grant from 20% to 40% of self-employed people’s profits.
Much of this support is targeted at areas in Tier 2 which have much higher rates of Covid-19 than Ipswich does but hopefully it will be reassuring for businesses that, as of today, a far more generous support package will be available if the worst comes to the worst and Ipswich is moved to Tier 2 further down the line. However Tier 2 is a long way off for Ipswich and clearly I hope we never get to the point where Tier 2 is necessary.
I’ve been calling for a flexible and localised approach to protecting lives, livelihoods and liberties through this pandemic and it’s good this support package reflects that. It’s also right that these measures support businesses which remain open but are impacted by additional restrictions alongside support that is available for businesses which have had to close.
After his statement, I asked the Chancellor about supporting pubs through the winter by allowing them to use grants to help them purchase equipment like heaters and gazebos which would allow people to continue to eat, drink and socialise outdoors. Clearly in Tier 2, where groups of up to 6 from different households can only socialise outside, having this equipment available is absolutely critical. Even in places in Tier 1 like Ipswich, where social distancing is in place, this is an important way pubs can use the space available to them to welcome more customers.
We need to think carefully about how we can support businesses, including in Ipswich’s hospitality sector, to stay open as much as possible. On the other hand it’s clear that the Labour Party’s approach of shutting Ipswich’s pubs and restaurants down completely, despite the low levels of Covid-19 in our town, would be a hammer blow to them and put the livelihoods of many who work in the sector at risk.
I’ll continue to follow all aspects of Chancellor’s announcement today and what it means for pubs and other businesses in Ipswich.
Important opportunity yesterday to make a speech during Black History Month and pay tribute to the immense contribution made by the black community in Ipswich. We’d be much poorer without this community among us and I thought it was right to pay a particular tribute to the Caribbean and African Health Support Forum in Ipswich which I was able to visit in August and does excellent work raising awareness of the health issues disproportionately impacting Caribbean and African people in our town.
As part of the debate we were also discussing petitions on black history in the school curriculum. I do think there is more we can do to teach the history of black people in this country, including the injustices they have suffered in the past. But this must be done as part of a shared history, which also recognises the great many things we have to be proud of in our past, rather than a separate curriculum being proposed by some. There is much more that unites us as Britons than separates us based on what colour skin we happen to have, and we mustn’t encourage separateness among young people by deciding what they learn based on the colour of their skin.
It was also important to talk about the shocking death of George Floyd and the importance of continuing to stamp out the racism which still exists in our society. I believe this is the true intention of the majority of protesters but it is disappointing that some leadership figures in BLM UK have strayed beyond a unifying anti-racism message into sometimes promoting divisive political rhetoric with calls to abolish things like the police, the nuclear family and capitalism. I also think we have to be careful about divisive terms being used by some like institutional racism which smear entire institutions. We need to root out racist individuals in our institutions and society but it’s counter-productive to label many who aren’t in this way. We must uphold a message of unity and one that focuses about how we can keep improving on the past.
In the Chamber yesterday I raised the comments made by England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, with the Health Secretary when he said: “A national lockdown at the moment would be inappropriate for communities in Cornwall and East Anglia”. And that it would be very difficult to justify to these communities. As things stand with relatively low levels of Covid-19 in Ipswich, I strongly believe he is right. We need a balanced and localised approach to protecting lives, livelihoods and liberties, not the one size fits all national lockdown being proposed by the Labour Party and Ipswich Labour which would completely shut Ipswich’s hospitality sector.
This sector employs thousands of people in our town and includes many great businesses like our local pubs. Labour’s blanket approach would unnecessarily put these livelihoods at risk. It’s important to underline that the situation locally could change but we must be flexible and not approach this crucial issue with the blunt instrument Labour is proposing. It was good that in response to me the Health Secretary re-emphasised Professor Van-Tam’s comments and the need to take action where necessary but not take it where it’s unnecessary. I’ll keep monitoring all aspects of what this pandemic means for Ipswich and represent our town to the best of my ability at every stage.
This week I submitted a letter of objection to the planning application to build 98 dwellings on the site behind Ravenswood Primary School. Opposing new affordable housing in Ipswich is not something I take lightly at all. We do need more housing in our town, including more council houses for Ipswich residents. But unfortunately the Borough Council has come forward with plans in this case which would do more harm than good in their current form.
A number of weeks ago I wrote to every resident in Ravenswood about the plans. I received dozens of responses which overwhelmingly objected to them and I felt this letter was an important representation to make as their MP. I don’t have a formal role in the planning process but I share the key concerns many of my constituents have raised.
Ravenswood has successfully established itself as mixed tenure community with around a 65%/35% split between private and council housing spread throughout the estate. But the Borough Council’s plans turn this on its head with over two-thirds of the homes proposed for social rent and all clustered in single area. This does risk undermining part of what has made Ravenswood a success story of integration and the plans need to take into account the community these homes would become a part of. I am pleased that 10 new starter homes have been allocated in these plans for key workers to get their foot on the property ladder, but I do question why it’s only 10. Now more than ever we are in debt to our local key workers and this would be good opportunity to give more of them the chance to buy their first home in the town.
And before any new development goes ahead and more cars are added to the roads there must be better access for the estate to the road network in place. I’ve personally been caught up in the congestion at the Nacton Road roundabout at rush hour and it’s clear that the addition of more cars to this chokepoint puts Ravenswood in real danger of grinding to a complete standstill. I met again with the County Council today to raise this issue after my Ravenswood survey underlined just how disruptive this bottleneck is. But Ipswich Borough also needs to realise this is a quality of life issue for residents and can’t be brushed under the carpet.
I’ve also mentioned in the letter how local homes for local people are crucial source of public trust in this development. If these plans do go ahead I will work with Ipswich Borough Council to make sure all the new council homes go to people with a strong local connection to Ipswich. This means people on the Borough Council’s waiting list who have lived in Ipswich for over 6 years or who’ve had a strong connection to our town for a similar period of time.
The consultation is now closed but I’ll be monitoring these plans very closely going forward as they go to the Planning Committee. I’m working with Ravenswood’s Residents’ Association and local Conservative Councillors to keep making the case that we need more homes in Ipswich but we need to deliver them in a smart way that respects the distinct communities in our town and brings people with us. I’ll be providing more updates over the coming weeks.
Today I voted against the 10pm curfew being applied at the national level and it applying in places such as Ipswich which have a very large hospitality sector and comparatively low levels of COVID-19. This is the first time I have ever voted against the Government in Parliament and it wasn’t something I took lightly. I was elected as a Conservative MP however I have always said that I will always make decisions based on what I believe to be in the best interests of my constituents and the Town and therefore its likely that from time to time, on occasions like today, that I may take a different position to that of my Party. In Ipswich we are in the position of having a very large hospitality sector and great pubs, restaurants and bars that employ thousands of my constituents whilst at the same time having very low levels of COVID-19 compared to other areas of the country. In addition to this I’m not convinced that the 10pm even makes a positive difference to tackling the spread of the virus. Often what we’ve seen is crowds of people all leaving hospitality venues at the same time and crowding together. All the time when I vote on big items as your MP I ask myself the question, “how does this impact my constituents, on balance positive or on balance negative?”. Having carefully considered the 10pm curfew and discussed with the hospitality sector here in Ipswich I decided to vote the way I did. The reality is that the 10pm is hurting our pubs, restaurants and bars just when they are looking to recover from the first national lockdown. Many of the jobs and livelihoods of my constituents are likely to be lost because of it. I fear it could be the difference to your local making it through this or not. The negatives it brings in my view at this moment in time far outweigh any public health benefits it brings. I was one of 82 MPs voting against the 10pm curfew today but it ended up comfortably passing so it continues but I made my stand. As you will likely already know Ipswich is in tier 1 meaning that things continue as they have been for the past few weeks with the 10pm curfew and the rule of 6 but other than that whilst be careful (hands, face, space) we can largely go about our business as usual. I must say I was a little surprised at quite how many other areas were in this category. Within this tier we have Ipswich and other areas with very low levels of COVID-19 but also areas with much higher rates that are teetering on being moved up to tier 2 such as London for example. It’s a shame that there couldn’t be a tier specifically for low Covid-19 areas where we could look at replacing the 10PM curfew, even an 11PM curfew would be a big improvement allowing restaurants and pubs that serve food a second sitting (this is what they’ve done in Northern Ireland). I am not cavalier about the threat posed by COVID-19 to public health and the lives of some of the most vulnerable within our Town. We need to do everything we all can to contain the spread of the virus. We also need to be alive to the fact that the level of COVID-19 is increasing in Ipswich and Suffolk and neighbouring counties. However, as I’ve previously stated, its critically important we get the balance right between protecting “lives, livelihoods and liberties” and it is my view that at this current time the 10pm for Ipswich doesn’t do this. Just this week we’ve seen the number of those out of work in Ipswich jump and jump at a higher rate that other surrounding areas and I think it would be fair to assume that at least some of this is to do with the size of our hospitality sector and how hard its already been hit by COVID-19.
With regard to the Labour Party’s position and the position of Sir Keir Starmer? They now want a second national lockdown and to close the entire hospitality sector nationwide for up to 3 weeks. Could someone please tell me how closing all the pubs, restaurants and bars in Ipswich will help those COVID-19 hot spots tackle the spread of the virus? The reality is that if we were to shut down all of the pubs, restaurants and bars in Ipswich right now many simply wouldn’t reopen and we should unemployment in the Town rocket to a degree never seen before. This Labour position would be terrible for our Town. There are difficult times ahead and as I’ve said before we need to be vigilant in playing our part as we have all already done to stop the spread of the virus.
This is a very challenging period for the Government and I have every sympathy for the Prime Minister who is desperately trying his best to balance the need to protect lives and livelihoods at the same time. He won’t get everything right and either will I however rest assured that whenever I take a decision its always in what I believe to be the best interests of the people I have the honour of representing, my constituents.