This evening I gave a speech about Ipswich’s churches and the effect Covid-19 has had on them. Our churches are fundamental part of the story of our town and they remain central to life in Ipswich today. Their closure has been particularly difficult for many in Ipswich who go to them to worship or to access important community services. That’s why I called on the Government to make support available to them if necessary.
I directly raised two community services provided at churches in Ipswich which sadly won’t be reopening after the lockdown because of the financial pressures of Covid-19 – the Quay Place wellbeing centre at the St Mary at the Quay church near the Waterfront and the Tourist Information Centre at St Stephen’s Church. Both these services have had a hugely positive impact on our town over the years and it won’t feel like going back to normal without them.
But as I said in my speech, both these churches have gone through difficult patches in the past and it’s now up to us to find new uses for them so they can continue to serve future generations. And I’m glad the Minister was able to provide assurances that the Churches Conservation Trust is working to ensure that the St Mary at the Quay church can reopen and serve our community again.
Last week, I also visited the St Lawrence Café at St Lawrence church which has recently reopened. The café has been sorely missed during lockdown and it’s good to see it back up and running. I was able to speak to the wonderful staff there about the challenges around reopening and let them know they have my full backing. I’ve also been in close contact with local church leaders during the Covid-19 outbreak and I’ve been clear that they and their congregations have my full support as Ipswich’s MP. I’ll continue to do everything I can to support all our local churches as we embark on our recovery from the virus.
This is very bad news for Suffolk and Ipswich. The first I knew of this was reading the news story on the Ipswich Star website. I am currently looking into the matter will establish the full facts. I have just come off the phone with the Leader of Suffolk County Council and I am keen to ensure that as far as possible everyone who was receiving support from Age UK Suffolk doesn’t lose out here.
I knew there were challenges which is why I chose to fundraise for them but today’s development has come as a real shock. It’s been a difficult week for Ipswich.
I intervened today during an Opposition Day debate called by the SNP calling for an extension of the EU transition period supposedly because of the disruption caused by Covid-19. I pointed out that it’s the same people calling for an extension of the transition period now who were previously fighting tooth and nail to block Brexit after the 2016 referendum. And the use of this Opposition Day to actually rehash the old arguments about Leave and Remain was clearly coming through in the SNP’s arguments.
Just as this might be expected from the SNP, we are also now used to the sound of silence from the Parliamentary Labour Party on whether they support an extension to the transition period. There wasn’t a single Labour MP on the call list to speak in today’s debate and I didn’t spot one backbench Labour MP present in the Chamber, even just to listen to what was said.
And Labour’s abstention on today’s motion leaves the public none the wiser as to where Her Majesty’s Opposition stand on this crucial issue for our country’s future.
We know that the Labour Party in London wants an extension as does the Labour Party in Wales. But the national Party led by Keir Starmer continues to flip flop. I’ve said before that the Leader of the Opposition has a tendency to go to ground on the big issues and sit on the fence, and today was another example of this consistent failure to provide leadership.
Sometimes in Parliament it feels a little like you’re banging your head against a brick wall, but yesterday I again intervened twice in a debate on the removal of flammable cladding to call on the Housing Minister to step in immediately to eliminate the uncertainty and anxiety faced by leaseholders at St Francis Tower in Ipswich. Leaseholders in the tower have been harassed with life-changing bills for the removal of highly flammable cladding which they were not responsible for putting up.
I also made the point that the ongoing legal dispute between the current freeholder of St Francis Tower and the previous freeholder for the costs of replacing the cladding is an admittance in itself that one of them is responsible, not the leaseholders.
I raised this issue in a Westminster Hall debate in February and I’ve also recently written to the Secretary of State to set these concerns out in detail and make the case that current balance of power between leaseholders and freeholders is unjustly stacked in favour of powerful freeholders.
I remain in close contact with St Francis Tower leaseholders and I’ll keep fighting for leaseholders and residents of St Francis Tower in Parliament no matter how long it takes to get them the support they need.
I’ve now tabled a series of written questions to the Home Secretary and Justice Secretary on pet theft. I’ve worked closely with some of the founders of the pet theft petition I held a discussion with last month to craft these questions and ensure they go right to the point about the need for pet theft reform. Ministers must respond to these questions and I hope it draws their attention to this important issue.
In short, without a specific offence for pet theft and the robust sentences this would make available to judges, not enough pet theft cases are resulting in appropriate prison sentences for this cruel crime. The pitiful fines which are often handed out in these cases don’t act as a deterrent and don’t give the police the proper incentives to put resources in tackling pet theft.
This is just one of a number of steps I hope to take alongside pet theft campaigners over the coming months, including lobbying Ministers directly for reform. I’ll keep you updated as the answers to these questions come in as well.
Today I wrote the Chief Executive of Highways England calling for the deployment of a full complement of Highways England Traffic Officers to Suffolk to assist our local police with traffic control on our major roads. Currently there isn’t a single Traffic Officer based in Suffolk. This means that, unlike in many other counties, Suffolk Constabulary’s specialised road policing units have to manage traffic control when they should be able to focus on improving road safety, preventing crime and catching criminals.
The resources of our local police are invaluable and the lack of Traffic Officers in Suffolk means resources which could be used to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour on the streets of Ipswich aren’t being fully exploited. The current level of support isn’t good enough for our local police and the people they protect.
I’ve also sent a copy of this letter to the Transport Secretary to make him aware of this issue, and I’ll continue to work closely with Suffolk Constabulary to push for action from Highways England.
I have made clear before that I don’t believe Suffolk Police are fairly funding and that there should be a wholesale review of the Police funding formula at the national level. Suffolk are getting an additional 50 police officers as part of the 20,000 extra police officers the Government are bringing forward across the country but a fairer funding formula would have meant we would have got even more than this. I have also supported the Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner in his bid to secure extra funding through the Safer Streets Fund, we should know whether we’ve been successful very soon. However in addition to securing further resources it would be beneficial for unnecessary pressures to be taken off the resources that Suffolk Police currently has.
As someone who struggled and continues to struggle with dyspraxia and dyslexia, I’ve said before I’m passionate about using my position in Parliament and on the Education Committee to raise awareness of the need to support young people with SEND.
It was therefore a privilege to be asked to become an Associate Governor of the Sir Bobby Robson School in Ipswich and have the opportunity to be involved in this issue at the level where that support must be delivered. When the Sir Bobby Robson School opens in September it will offer specialist places for youngsters with complex social, emotional and mental health needs.
The school will be based on Lindbergh Road and it couldn’t be more important that we get it right. If the young people are given the support they need then there is no reason why they can’t go on to live a good and fulfilling life and make a major contribution. We should be ambitious for everyone at the school. However, as we’ve often found in the past it is often those with SEND who, when they don’t get the support they need, can go down the wrong route.
Adam Dabin, the Headteacher, and the team at the Sir Bobby Robson School are making plans to adopt an almost therapeutic approach to welcoming vulnerable students to school in September, with a focus on their well-being during the Covid-19 outbreak. They all would have been out of school for many months so the transition back to the classroom, a social environment and the routine will be very important. I’ve already asked the Education Secretary to support this approach in Parliament and I’m looking forward to working with the School over the coming months to overcome the challenges of opening for the first time during Covid-19.
Tom Hunt ‘disappointed’ government won’t formally intervene in Ipswich Hospital orthopaedic centre move
This week I again wrote about the campaign to prevent elective orthopaedic services being transferred from Ipswich Hospital to a new centre in Colchester. A decision will be made on Tuesday by the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and I have further meetings scheduled with some of those central to the decision making process. Operationally the local Hospitals Trust and CCG are very much in the driving seat when it comes to the way in which our local health services are organised and though Government intervention wouldn’t be without precedent it seems that on this occasion it won’t be forthcoming. It became clear during the adjournment debate last week that this has been something that has been in the pipeline for a number of years and though I have done everything within my power as the local MP to stop it I was coming to the party at a late stage. Over the past few weeks I have secured a Parliamentary debate on the topic, raised on two further occasions in the House of Commons Chamber, have tabled a number of written Parliamentary questions and have written a number of cross Party letters to the local CCG Chair with the leader of Ipswich Borough Council. As I say in my column, I’m really not sure what further steps I can take other than carry out the further meetings I have planned ahead of the decision being made on Tuesday. Public opposition could not have been any clearer with nearly 10,000 signing the petition opposing it and the public consultation demonstrating clear opposition to the plans.
I was hopeful that the local Hospitals Trust and the local CCG would listen to the public opposition and take into consideration the very strong arguments opposing the proposals and it still be that they might and I won’t be giving up before Tuesday but the honest answer is sadly that I’m not overly hopeful.
I will post again post the decision to outline clearly what steps I will take going forward. To date I haven’t been satisfied by how this has been handled by the local NHS management and I’m glad to see some news coverage that suggests there could be some reform to the system to ensure that the views of local people and local elected representatives is taken more into account than currently.
Yesterday evening was my adjournment debate on orthopaedic services at Ipswich Hospital. And I called on the Health Minister to carefully look into the plans to move elective orthopaedic surgery away from Ipswich Hospital to a new centre in Colchester and meet with me again to discuss my concerns ahead of the decision on the plans on July 14th.
Public opposition to what can only be described as a downgrade to our hospital is overwhelming, and frankly the local NHS management have had their head stuck in the sand when they haven’t been openly dismissing the public’s concerns. It was therefore only appropriate to raise as many of these concerns as I could in the House yesterday evening and bring them publicly to the Government’s attention.
I said when I stood for election that I would always fight with everything I had for Ipswich’s interests and the campaign to keep elective orthopaedic surgery at Ipswich Hospital doesn’t end here. Waiting times and cancellations to planned hip and knee replacement must be tackled, but in a way which keep services local to the people who need them. And I’ll continue to fight these plans at every opportunity locally and in Parliament, and make the case for new ones where neither Ipswich nor Colchester has to lose out.
Some good news! Yesterday I was informed that I’ve been successful in securing an adjournment debate on this issue for this coming Tuesday. This will be a special debate about orthopaedic services at Ipswich Hospital at the end of the days sitting in Parliament that will take place in the House of Commons Chamber. The relevant Government Minister will be in attendance throughout as well as other MPs. This is a significant development and will enable me to go into great detail about all the various reasons why the proposal to strip Ipswich Hospital of its elective Orthopaedic services should not go ahead. This represents the best opportunity head to outline our case. I will provide more details over the coming days.