Just received an Ipswich Labour “leaflet” through my door.
Very surprising to see that there is no mention at all of the £25 million Ipswich will be getting from the Government as part of the Stronger Town’s Fund. I guess even they found it too hard to try to claim credit for something they strongly dismissed as an “election bribe” and something that would never happen.
However, they did find space in their leaflet to launch a full-frontal attack on me and my record as the Town’s MP. I thought it was only fair for me to respond to their charges one by one.
ORWELL BRIDGE: “Broken his promise”. I think out of all the charges thrown at me this is probably the most comical. Since my election I’ve even been nicknamed by some of my colleagues as “Mr Orwell Bridge” for the amount I’ve gone on about it. I’ve been incredibly robust with Highways England in calling for a solution to the bridge closures. Fortunately, we are now at a point where a new speed limit is being introduced during periods of high wind that should eliminate the need for frequent closures of the bridge.
Some of you may remember that I even held a special debate purely about the Orwell Bridge in Parliament on the matter. Is this something the former Labour MP even contemplated?
After years of chaos associated with Orwell Bridge closures we are about to turn a corner and after years of inaction by Ipswich Labour and their former MP, instead of putting politics aside and acknowledging the work I’ve done, all they can do is pour scorn on me.
Last month I was up on the bridge in the early hours monitoring the works and hope to be up there again in the next few days to see the finished work.
ORTHOPAEDIC SERVICES: “FAILED”. Again, after the Orwell Bridge probably the local issue I’ve been most active on. Like with the Bridge I held a special debate in Parliament to raise my concerns and to oppose the relocation of elective orthopaedic services from Ipswich to Colchester Hospital. I’m disappointed with the outcome and I continue to raise concerns about the merger between Ipswich and Colchester Hospital. When it comes to who fought harder for Ipswich on this issue? Me, my Labour predecessor or the Labour council, I think its pretty clear what the answer is.
The reality is I came to this late in the day after inaction by my Labour predecessor and to a certain extent the decision had already been made. I did what I could, but we got the outcome we got and I’m determined to make the best of it.
I was also very much involved in Ipswich Hospital securing over £5 million in funding from the Government for a new Molecular Laboratory which has helped the Hospital dramatically increase its testing capacity and it will also provide long term benefits such as improved cancer diagnosis.
NORTHERN BYPASS: “QUICKLY GAVE UP”. This is a lie. I haven’t given up. In the short-term my focus has been getting the Orwell Bridge resolved but my long-term focus remains the Northern Bypass. A decision was made not to progress plans due to neighbouring local authorities not being prepared to take on all the additional housing necessary to help fund the project. I’ve challenged this and with the new Freeport in Felixstowe the case for the bypass has only got stronger.
NHS heroes: “REFUSED”. Lies again. I didn’t attend a meeting organised by the local branch of the Trades Union Congress TUC (a Labour Party affiliated organisation) for all key workers due to the abuse and threats I’ve received from some of its members/supporters in the past. The idea that I’ve point blank refused to meet with NHS workers who are constituents is a 100% lie. Throughout the pandemic I’ve written many letters on behalf of constituents who work in the NHS about their pay and conditions. Of course, my door is always open to them.
A-LEVEL RESULTS: “FAILED TO SPEAK OUT”. The truth is that I was on the Education Select Committee which produced a report ahead of last summers exam series warning OFQUAL about the effect that having an algorithm might have on that year’s results. I was outspoken in my views. Another lie.
Interesting that the Labour Party had nothing to say on this whole issue of awarding exam results when you’ve had no exams, until it all went wrong and then “Captain Hindsight” Starmer came to the rescue!
CLOSURE of SCHOOLS IN JANUARY: “HID AWAY”. I have no idea what Ipswich Labour actually mean by this. Other than the fact that I was literally locked away for a week during this time due to having to self-isolate because I’d tested positive for COVID-19.
CHILDREN’S CENTRES: “STAYED SILENT”. Another lie. I issued a statement. The statement largely welcomed the new family hubs and addressed many of the mistruths and scare stories put out by the local Labour Party. I do however continue to monitor developments closely. I must add though, that this year I haven’t, from what I recall, received a single piece of correspondence from a constituent complaining about how the new system is working.
FREE SCHOOL MEALS: “VOTED AGAINST”. I voted against a non-binding motion in Parliament. Eligible children in Ipswich and Suffolk continue to receive free school meals during the holidays. This has been funded by the unprecedented COVID WINTER GRANT SCHEME (£2 million was given to Suffolk).
ALLOCATION of POLICE OFFICERS: “SAID NOTHING”. Ipswich and Suffolk have had increased numbers of police officers benefitting from the Prime Minister’s plan to introduce 25,000 new police officers. I have been a keen advocate calling for the national funding formula to change so that Ipswich gets a much better deal.
EASING LOCKDOWN RESTRICTIONS: “CALLED FOR”. I signed letter calling for lockdown restrictions to be lifted at the end of May. By the rate of progress we are making at the moment, and bearing in mind that at the end of March every over fifty has already been vaccinated, what is problem with that? Think about where we will be in the next two months. Would Ipswich Labour rather us be locked down throughout the summer?
If this diatribe of lies is the best that Ipswich labour can do, then my only conclusion can be that Ipswich deserves better, and quite frankly, bring it on.
Today I spoke in Business Questions asking for a debate to be held in Government time on the issue of social media usage in prisons.
The issue of social media use in prison needs to be dealt with for the sake of victims and their families. The actions of the killers who brutally murdered 17-year-old Tavis Spencer Aitkens in Ipswich in 2018 show why something must be done. Every single one of these at some stage has posted on various social media platforms from behind bars.
Two of them are repeat offenders who have posted things such as their birthday celebrations on Facebook and snapchats to their friends from prison. One of these posts from Callum Plaats read ‘two years in, light work’.
The affect this is having on the family of Tavis is tremendous. No victims of violent crime or their family should have to be faced with criminals essentially breaking free from their prison walls to virtually torment them.
The fact that the same people are posting time and again proves that current in-house slap-on-the-wrist punishments do not work. I made clear today my view that future approaches need to involve sentences being looked at in order to actually deter these crimes from happening again.
This is why I have asked the Government for a debate on the the issue of social media use in prison which will include proposals about how we punish this crime going forward, particularly in terms of increased sentencing.
The Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, recognised how troubling and horribly sad this is for Tavis’ family and how it must so much rub salt into the wound. He explained that the Government continues to roll out its £100 million spending programme on prisons security during the pandemic which is funding mobile phone blocking technologies and portable detection equipment as well as on next generation body scanners.
In 2019 the Digital Media Investigations Unit worked with social media companies to remove nearly 400 illegal posts and accounts and by June 2020 had removed 220 accounts.
I appreciate what the Leader of the House said in terms of the advances they are making but ultimately, he didn’t address my question about sentencing which in my view is key to effectively deterring prisoners from committing this crime.
Jacob Rees-Mogg acknowledged that this won’t be much comfort to Tavis’ family and accepted that more needs to be done. I will be challenging him and the Government on what they mean when they say more needs to be done, to make sure there is a concrete solution to this problem
Yesterday I led a Westminster Hall debate on the impact of Covid-19 on Education. I did this as part of my role on the petitions committee, where petitions which receive over 100,000 signatures are debated in Parliament.
This has been a topic of central focus throughout this year on the Education Select Committee, and in my role on the APPG for Dyspraxia. I have been fortunate to have been in regular contact with teachers and schools in Ipswich over the course of this pandemic to get a sense for how the pandemic has affected students.
I wanted to raise a number of points on behalf of the petitioners, but I also wanted to thank teachers for the incredible work they have been doing this year.
There is an important point that we shouldn’t make assumptions or generalisations about how students have been affected during this pandemic. Every single child has been affected differently by this pandemic and if we want to ensure that students who have lost out on learning over this year make it up, we need to ensure that catch-up is tailored to individual students and their needs.
It is also clear that the pandemic has taken its toll on student’s mental health. I really believe that we must be careful of the words we use for the sake of student’s mental health. Some of the words used by the media, for example, refer to a ‘lost generation’. We shouldn’t belittle the scale of the challenge, but we need to be positive about the future, and be sensitive to student’s anxieties that they will be able to achieve their full potential.
I also wanted to address SEND students who have been incredibly affected, particularly those who do not have an EHCP plan and so could not go into school for additional support but rather had to undertake online learning. These are unconventional thinkers who often need to be able to ask teachers for points of clarification or explanation on tasks and who might require more tailored learning to reach their potential. I’m encouraged by what I’ve heard about the new tutoring system, that a lot of SEND specialists have contributed to the programme. This is positive.
This is relevant to those students who do not speak English as their first language as well. We have a large Roma community in Ipswich who are not first language English speakers and lots of schools in our town were making tremendous progress with these pupils before the pandemic. Unfortunately, over the school closures there are concerns from headteachers that this has gone backwards so it is vital that these students are given the resources and attention to get back to where they were.
Some students also prefer to sit exams because they might be unconventional learners who consolidate their knowledge during revision and they rely on the opportunity to prove themselves in exams. With exams cancelled, this year has been hard on these pupils, and I believe that it is crucial that they are given a voice when it comes to how their attainment is assessed.
It is important that headteachers and teachers who know students best are given as much flexibility as possible to decide how best to assess student’s attainment, whether it is in mock exams, in class assessments, or coursework. It is also vital that the students themselves are able to feed into this decision to ensure that they get the opportunity to reach the grades they deserve.
On the whole, I think this is a really good budget for Ipswich. Clearly there are two items that are specific to Ipswich and the local area that stand out. Firstly, the £25 million that was announced for the Ipswich Town Deal that will fund 11 projects across the Town. These projects have now been confirmed having previously gone out for public consultation and I look forward to working closely with Dr Dan Poulter and other members of the Town Deal Board to turn these projects into a reality and a positive legacy for the Town.
Having Freeport East confirmed as one of the first freeports in the country was also great news. All in all, around 6,000 of my constituents are either directly or indirectly employed by the Port of Felixstowe and I’m very excited about what the implications of the Port being a freeport could mean for skills, jobs and investment in the area.
More generally however, I was also very pleased to see the significant amount of new support for businesses. Particularly the hospitality sector that has been so badly impacted by the pandemic. The recovery grants and the positive news regarding VAT, business rates and duties may well end up being a lifeline for many.
I signed a few letters ahead of the budget with other MPs. I signed one calling for the £20 increase in Universal Credit to be extended for as long as the pandemic and its effects go on for. I’m pleased it was confirmed today that the increase has been extended for 6 months. I also signed a letter calling for fuel duty to be frozen. I’m pleased that it was confirmed today that it has been frozen for a record 10th consecutive year.
I also believe that the decision to extend the furlough scheme until the autumn is wise. Hopefully by the time it ends, the economy will have had a good few months to really kick off following the end of the restrictions and we can safeguard as many of those jobs as possible.
Clearly, over the coming years the Chancellor is going to have to make a number of tough decisions to repay the huge debts we’ve incurred fighting this pandemic. He made a start today in outlining some of the ways he plans to do this. However, I was pleased that in outlining his approach to increasing Corporation Tax over time he is acutely sensitive to the need to not hit smaller businesses.