I voted in favour of an amendment (the Lord Bishop’s Amendment) to the Fire Safety Bill which sought to protect leaseholders from the remediation costs associated with all fire safety defects (not just cladding). As you may know I was an early signatory to the McPartland-Smith amendment which was very similar but was voted down by the House of Commons on the 22nd March. I was disappointed that that vote was unsuccessful and hoped that the Lords Amendment would pass today. Unfortunately, it did not.
This is the second time I’ve voted against the Government on this key issue and it’s not something I take lightly, but given that there had been no material change between the last vote and this one in a way that would see many of my constituents better protected, I felt that I had to once again vote this way.
I’ve always been clear that my priority is to represent my constituents and it’s possible that from time to time this will involve me voting a different way from my Party colleagues. Yes, when people voted for me, they voted for a Conservative MP, but I also believe that people hoped they were voting for someone who was prepared to make difficult decisions that put their constituents first.
Over the past year the Government have outlined a range of support for leaseholders (in the Billions) and many of my constituents who are leaseholders have received the support they need. However not all. When discussing this matter with Ipswich leaseholders I have been clear that I do not want any leaseholder to be left behind, and sadly at this stage, many still are.
This issue is not just about cladding. Many leaseholders live in properties where there are fire safety defects that need to be urgently addressed including wall insulation, fire doors, wooden balconies and fire brakes. Sometimes remediating these issues can cost thousands of pounds and it is resulting in leaseholders being unable to sell their properties as many mortgage lenders are refusing to lend, essentially making many of the properties valueless.
These leaseholders have bought their properties in good faith and are not to blame for these fire safety defects, and I fail to see why they should be forced to saddle the costs.
Ultimately the taxpayer shouldn’t have to bear the cost of this either. Those who should pay are those who are responsible. Whether it’s the builders or the management agents.
I have had many detailed discussions with the Housing Minister over this matter and he has made clear to me that the Building Safety Bill will be the place to resolve these issues. However, a key concern for me is there isn’t currently much detail regarding this, and I haven’t been given a clear timeline for when this new Bill will be in place and when the uncertainty and anxiety that many of my constituents face will be ended. Ultimately this is what led to me voting again the way I did today.
Since the moment I was elected I’ve done everything I can to support leaseholders in Ipswich and I will continue to do so.
Today I asked the Prime Minister a question about the importance of grassroots sports clubs in Ipswich, particularly boxing clubs and the support they will get. In the summer I visited Patrick’s Boxing Club which got help in the first lockdown but, like others, is struggling at the moment with fixed costs such as rent and utility bills. I also mentioned Unity FC and the Ipswich Kickboxing Academy as well which has a fantastic ‘jab not stab’ scheme which helps combat crime and antisocial behaviour.
I sought assurances that when he considers further support for these crucial clubs which are based in some of the most deprived parts of our town, that he will take into account not just the benefits for physical and mental health but also the key role which they play to keep kids on the straight and narrow, to keep them out of harm and trouble which makes such a fantastic contribution to our town.
The Prime Minister assured me that the Government would be supporting these clubs with an extra £210 million of funding to help wonderful community institutions such as Ipswich Kickboxing Academy through this pandemic. He also reminded me that Ipswich will be benefitting not just from kickboxing jabs but from vaccination jabs as well to help us get through this crisis faster.
Yesterday was International Men’s Day and it was important to raise the issue of men’s mental health in the Chamber. Mental health in our society was an issue before this pandemic, but given the impact of the last few months on everyone’s mental health, awareness of our mental wellbeing has never been higher. And we must use some of this focus to encourage men to talk about mental health and do away with the notion that somehow talking about it is a sign of weakness.
I spoke about my own dad, who a couple of years ago would have most likely taken the stiff upper lip approach to talking about mental health. But being older and having to shield during this pandemic he has spoken about it with me and I think that’s a good thing. Hopefully more of these conversations can happen across the country.
I also spoke about the great support group set up by Penny, the Landlady of the Kingfisher Pub in Chantry. She spoke to me in the summer about wanting to do something to help men’s mental health in the community and the support group she’s set up already has 33 members with the group growing every day. Of course talking about mental health is still easier said than done for many men and the pub has also set up an allotment at Robin Drive where men can go and just have some peaceful time away and grow vegetables to be served in the pub. It’s important these kind of ways men can focus on their mental well-being go hand-in-hand with more encouragement to talk about the pressures they’re under.
Penny and the support group have ambitious plans about how the support group can grow and reach more people and I’ll back them all the way. And I’ll keep raising the importance of addressing mental health across the board in Parliament.
I spoke yesterday about the need for certainty as soon as possible across a number of key areas. I was able to relay to the Minister some of the concerns that were raised with me last Friday by year 10 and 11 pupils at Stoke High School about how they will be assessed this year, I was also able to raise the concerns that have been communicated to me by the retail and hospitality sectors in Ipswich.
This also follows a letter I received yesterday from Ipswich Central. Ahead of the 2nd December (end of national lockdown) they need certainty asap about what things will look like after this date. They need to be able to plan now and every day of extra planning matters and will make a huge difference in determining whether or not they will be able to make up some of the lost ground they are experiencing this month.
The Government should soon be outlining what the plan is post 2nd December soon and though I’m confident this will not involve an extension of the national lockdown, we need to know asap what any new locally tiered system will look like and where Ipswich will end up.
Special educational needs is one of things I’m most passionate about. Since my election I became a member of the Education Select Committee in Parliament and locally I have become an Associate Governor of the Sir Bobby Robson school on Lindbergh Road which started up this September and provides tailored support for those with social, emotional and mental health (SEMH) needs.
The Sir Bobby Robson school has made a positive start and will hopefully turn the lives around of many of the young adults who have started there this September. However its a sad reality that not everyone who could benefit from a place at a special school such as the Sir Bobby Robson school is able to get a place. This academic year in Ipswich we are seeing two new special schools but we need more. We also need to ensure that those with special educational needs who are within a mainstream school get the support they need, I did but many don’t this is a great unfairness that I’m determined to be part of addressing.
Yesterday I raised with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the need for the newly announced £170 million Covid Winter Support grant scheme to be easy to access for those who need the support the most and that work must start now to ensure this is the case.
I welcome the fact that the Government are providing £170 million to local councils from the start of next month until March to provide targeted support to the children and families who are most vulnerable over the winter (80% ring fenced for food and bills) but we need to ensure that everyone knows as much as possible about the fund and how it will work in practice, as soon as possible.
In her response to my question the Secretary of State who is of course a Suffolk MP I was able to share with me that it seems that Suffolk is in line for around £2 million through this fund. However the work must start now to identify those who need the support the most and raise awareness of this fund.
Earlier this year the Government provided £800,000 to Suffolk and Suffolk Councils added further to this to provide a £1.5 million Suffolk Hardship Fund. However my concern is that awareness of this fund wasn’t as widespread as it could have been and I know that some concerns have been raised by those who have tried to access this fund through the hotline provided.
I plan to hold a number of meetings over the coming weeks to ensure that the support provided works as intended and that the moment this money is distributed to Suffolk we are well placed to ensure that the support gets to all those who need it as soon as possible.
All in all what was announced on Sunday was unprecedented in its scope and ambition to support the most vulnerable however it needs to work in practice on the ground and I’m keen to play my part to ensure this is the case. It must be easily identifiable, easy to understand and efficient in distributed support to all those who need the help.
As I’ve said before I really do welcome the Holiday Activities and Food Programme having seen it in action in Ipswich over the summer. The £220 million expansion of this support across the country to cover next Easter holidays, Summer and Christmas 2021 is hugely positive news.
Following my visit to the Hawthorn Drive GP surgery, I’ve now written to the Health Secretary calling for fairer funding for GP surgeries in Ipswich. At the moment the national funding formula doesn’t take into account local pockets of deprivation when working out how much money GP surgeries should get. Yet this is a significant reasons why Hawthorn Drive and a number of other GP surgeries see more people who are living with mental illness and other conditions. This has contributed to the funding pressure the Hawthorn Drive practice is under and this pressure will only get greater with an aging demographic in Chantry.
I’ve called on the Health Secretary to look at increasing funding for the Hawthorn Drive Surgery in particular but also GP services across Ipswich which are losing out in this way. The second lockdown will only increase the pressure in areas like mental health and it mustn’t be areas with higher disadvantage which get left behind.
On Monday I met with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution about preventing suicidal behaviour on the Orwell Bridge and how those at risk on the Bridge can be helped. Every suicide and every time someone goes up on the Bridge with suicidal thoughts is a tragedy and we must take every possible step to ensure the authorities can intervene before the worst happens.
One of the issues raised with me by the Institution was their understanding that cameras on the Bridge, which could spot people at risk, aren’t currently working. Any cameras need to be consistently monitored as well. And I’ve now written to Highways England’s CEO calling for this to be look into. As well as the Orwell Bridge, we also need a local approach to looking at other potential sites where people could be at risk and what we can do to make sure the chance to help isn’t missed. The Institution have also said the number of incidents on the Bridge have increased since the first lockdown. Clearly with the new national lockdown and more restrictions on people’s ability to see loved-ones and potentially more pressure on their finances in the run up to Christmas, we have to do everything we can now.
I’m also looking to raise this issue as part of my work on Ipswich’s Transport Taskforce and its engagement with Highways England. We must ensure this issue is prioritised locally. This will be a focus for me over the coming days and weeks. I’ll keep working with the local branch of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution based in Harwich which is mainly made up of volunteers who respond with lifeboats if someone is at risk on the Orwell Bridge. And of course I’ll continue working with organisations like Suffolk MIND and our local NHS to ensure everything is being done to stop anyone getting to the place where they feel their only option is take their own life.
Yesterday I spoke in a debate before Wednesday’s vote on the second national lockdown. I’m spending a lot of time studying all the data and reading the emails sent in by constituents before deciding how to vote. I want to hear your views as well so please let me know on firstname.lastname@example.org and later today I’ll be sharing a poll on Facebook where your can tell me what your views are.
In my speech yesterday, I mentioned some of the issues which are very much on my mind with this national lockdown. Clearly this is a difficult national decision which the Prime Minister has agonised over, and agree or disagree, I believe it’s a decision he’s taken with the need to protect lives, livelihoods and liberties in mind. I know this will be a difficult decision for some in Ipswich to understand while we still have relatively low rates of Covid-19 despite recent rises. And while I understand there are no patients with Covid in our local hospital’s ICU, being mindful all the time that this is likely to change. I also raised the 18-year-old I met in Chantry a few months back who was working every hour God sends in a bar to provide for his three-month-old daughter and was terrified what a second lockdown would mean for his livelihood. I’m reflecting on all of this before making my decision but one thing we must be clear about now is that this national lockdown must be the last and it must end on 2 December. I’m glad the PM has made this promise.
I hope the Government will also look closely at issues like communal religious services which currently won’t be able to go ahead from 5 November. A large number of constituents have contacted me about this and I know how significant they are to many people of faith in Ipswich. This should be an area where we look at what can be done in the guidance going forwards.
I also mentioned Ipswich Town FC and the meetings I’ve had with the club and the EFL about getting a support package in place to protect our clubs future. The club is woven into the DNA of our town, it’s at the heart of our economy, culture and community and we must support it while fans can’t return.
I’ll be weighing up all the factors before the vote tomorrow and once again please do get in touch with your views at email@example.com I’ll be making this decision based on what I think is right for Ipswich.