Today I spoke in the debate on the Fire Safety Bill in support of the McPartland Smith Amendment to which I was an early signatory. This amendment was designed to protect leaseholders from unfair costs of rectifying the issue of unsafe insulation within their buildings. Unfortunately this amendment was not accepted and we didn’t have the opportunity to vote upon it. However the Minister did seem to be open to compromise though which was welcome.
I have previously welcomed the support that Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government announced. The £3.5 billion fund to remove unsafe cladding from buildings over 18m will benefit many of my constituents. This is on top of the already existing £1.6 billion Fire Safety Fund. My first surgery appointment after my election involved me meeting with St Francis Tower leaseholders and I’m glad that since that meeting there has been progress and they no longer have uncertainty hanging over them.
But I made it clear again today that, while this is a good start, this support doesn’t touch a number of my constituents affected by unsafe insulation. Many of those in Ipswich who have come to me since my election still have this uncertainty hanging over their lives which is unacceptable.
The Minister stated that the Building Safety Bill that will be brought forward shortly will be an opportunity for Government legislation to pick up on the issues raised by the amendment that I signed. I plan to work closely with Government to try and make sure this is the case.
I made a promise to my constituents that I would leave no leaseholder behind, yet sadly there are still a significant number of leaseholders who do feel left behind and this needs to be addressed. I’ve worked closely with Minister’s over the past couple of days to try and secure the assurances I need on behalf of my constituents but we’re not currently where we need to be which is why I was prepared to vote for the amendment today.
For my column this month, I wanted to take a look at how well Ipswich compares to other similar towns in terms of Government funding. I also wanted to compare our rates of council tax and how it is spent.
It is vital that our town receives a fair funding deal over the course of this pandemic and as such I have been receiving data from the House of Commons Library to keep an eye on the situation.
In general terms over the course of the last ten years I am happy to report that Ipswich Borough Council has been receiving funding from the Government in line with the amount that is spent on other councils of a similar size and type across the country. To confirm this, I looked at the data from five local authorities which are most similar to Ipswich. These are Gloucester, Lincoln, Chesterfield, Nuneaton and Bedworth, and Scarborough.
All of these are lower tier Borough Councils within rural counties. They are all also Large Town local authorities with similar levels of deprivation to Ipswich. Encouraging data on the amount of additional funding provided by the Government over the course of this year tells a similar story. Millions of pounds of extra funding has been provided to Ipswich Borough Council by the Government to ensure that our local businesses and public services are able to cope during this pandemic.
I think the numbers are interesting. Over the course of this pandemic Ipswich Borough Council has been given, at the very least, £33,569,871 in additional funding from the Government. This figure is drawn from the four tranches of the Emergency funding allocation; the Next Steps Accommodation Programme; the Reopening High Streets grant fund; Small business Grant Fund; and the Council Tax Hardship Fund. The figure also includes the £1,244,250 which was given to Ipswich Borough Council as part of the Local Authority Discretionary grant fund which they have been using to provide further support in cases where there is an extra need.
The largest portion of this support comes from the Small Business Grant Fund which has been used to keep our retail and hospitality businesses afloat with over £26 million. This is Government money that is specifically designed to support our hospitality sector and we are glad that this has allowed Ipswich Borough Council to set up a scheme to support our brilliant pubs and restaurants. I have said before on a number of occasions, that having spoken to the hospitality industry in Ipswich, I would like to see this funding increase and I am hoping for the extension of business rates holidays and tax holidays well into the future.
It is important to remember as well that this figure does not reflect the total amount of additional funding that has gone to Ipswich over this pandemic. Government money also finds its way into our town via Suffolk County Council to support local improvements, but here we have a good depiction of the direct funding which comes straight from the Government to people and businesses in Ipswich. The £2 million support from the Covid Winter Grant Scheme has targeted those most in need and continues to make a real difference across Suffolk.
At the end of February, the Labour Party brought an Opposition Day motion in Parliament on the issue of council tax. What they termed ‘The Prime Minister’s Council Tax hike’ was a reference to the decision announced as part of the offer to give councils the ability to increase council tax by 2% (with an additional 3% social care precept) if they chose to. They don’t have to and have the flexibility to defer this increase for a year.
The Labour Party’s position in the debate was yet another contradiction, given that their leadership in local government, including the Mayor of London, are calling for higher rises, and “Captain Hindsight” Keir Starmer has previously called for the introduction of new local taxes. The ten local authorities with the worst council tax collection rates according the data we have from 2019-20 are all Labour-run. These were Blackpool, Middlesbrough, Salford, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Preston, Nottingham, Tameside and Kingston upon Hull.
Not only this, but Labour councils across the country have spent irresponsibly with countless and needless steps into the world of commercial property investing. The worst culprits for this are Nottingham and Croydon which has officially declared itself bankrupt. Yet in London, Sadiq Khan has still found the money to increase his PR budget to £13 million whilst also raising his share of Council Tax by 10%.
It is no surprise then that many have questioned why Ipswich Borough Council are spending £22.5 million on office blocks in Peterborough. This being spent during the pandemic, when working from home has opened up a whole new debate on ways of working, would appear to make this a questionable investment. It might be different if this money was actually invested within Ipswich, supporting a worthwhile project that could be a significant benefit to the town but this obviously isn’t. Even if things go well, it is anticipated that it will take 10 years of office rents for Ipswich to make its money back. I continue to hope that our labour run Borough Council focusses its attention less on risky business ventures outside of our town and more on spending money on local initiatives.
I continue to lobby the Government at every available opportunity to make sure that Ipswich is not left behind with Government funding and their levelling up agenda. On the whole I am happy to see a Conservative Government back local businesses with emergency funds during the pandemic, supporting those that need it most. I want to see this continue and to go deeper so that nobody is left behind and every Ipswich business has the opportunity to emerge from this pandemic. It is clear that across the country when it comes to keeping Council Tax low, not wasting taxpayers money or exposing them to risky investments, it is Conservative councils that can be trusted.
GROOMING GANGS DEBATE: The appalling crimes committed by those involved in grooming gangs have destroyed the lives of thousands of young predominantly white working-class girls and if the lessons are to be learnt to avoid further pain and suffering then the facts need to be fully established and cultural sensitivities and political correctness cannot be allowed to get in the way of this.
Yesterday I led the Grooming Gangs debate in the House of Commons Chamber following two petitions signed by hundreds of thousands of people calling for the issue to be debated.
Ahead of the debate I touched base with the petition creator and some of the victims of this appalling crime. It’s clear that many of the victims believe that they were targeted specifically because of their ethnic background.
A report was published last December into this issue however it was limited in the conclusions it drew and doesn’t really us to get to the bottom of the issue. I therefore welcomed the Minister’s promise that more work will be done and that going forward data relating to the ethnic background of all those found guilty of child sex exploitation (CSE) will be collected. I’m at a loss as to why this wasn’t the case in the past and the lack of such data has made it very hard to drawn clear conclusions and therefore to robustly tackle this issue. Fully understanding whether there are cultural reasons and explanations for the widespread nature of this appalling crime in certain parts of the country, and particularly in Towns such as Rotherham and Rochdale, is clearly incredibly important.
The victims have too often been let down by the establishment. Both at local and national level. Too often those with knowledge have been too scared of speaking out for fear of being branded a racist. This must not be allowed to happen going forward. Clearly it is totally wrong for different communities to be stigmatised and we must always guard against racism, but we cannot sweep difficult issues under the carpet. This doesn’t help the situation and in the long run it can make community relations even more difficult.
If it is the case that certain crimes are disproportionately committed by members from within certain communities, we need to be open and honest about it, simply sweeping it under the carpet and refusing to confront the hard truths won’t help the situation. In my view that really needs to be one of the key lessons.
Opposition debate today on cladding. I was able to get in an intervention on the Housing Minister. I’ve been very active on this issue since I was first contacted by St Francis Tower leaseholders just over 1 year ago and continue to work closely with Ipswich Cladiators to ensure the concerns of Ipswich leaseholders are addressed.
I’m pleased that St Francis Tower leaseholders have secured support from the Building Safety Fund but there are a large number of my constituents in other buildings across Town who still have uncertainty hanging over them. In my intervention I asked about the £30 million “Waking Watch Relief Fund”. I’m pleased that my constituents will be able to bid in to the fund but I share many of their fears that the £30 million set aside will be insufficient to cover every leaseholder effected right across the country.
I am one of 34 Conservative MPs to have signed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill that would make sure that leaseholders do not have to pay for the cost of remediation work to address fire safety issues in the buildings in which leaseholders live. This is a legally binding amendment to a Government Bill and if passed would have legal “teeth”.
Today I abstained on a non-binding opposition day motion calling for something very similar. I would encourage the opposition to back the legally binding amendment that I’ve signed. It is through backing this amendment that I believe real change will be delivered. The Government have stated that there are some technical issues with the amendment, if this is the case then I encourage the Government to work with the two Conservative MPs leading on this amendment to ensure that it works as intended and provides certainty to leaseholders asap.
It is morally wrong that leaseholders are being asked to pay for defects with the buildings in which they live when they have no responsibility for it whatsoever. I’m will continue to push for more clarity and action for leaseholders over the coming weeks.
This is an issue which affects a number of his constituents and about which Tom feels there a clear moral obligation to protect leaseholders who, through no fault of their own, have been put in danger and should not have to front the cost of rectifying safety defects.
His statement is below:
‘FIRE SAFETY BILL AMENDMENT: Along with around 10 other Conservative MPs I have signed an amendment to the Fire Safety Bill which would prevent leaseholders with being saddled with the costs of remediation works that need to take place to address fire safety issues relating to their building, more often than not to do with dangerous cladding (but not always). It should be either the freeholder or the builder who should pick up the tab for this not the leaseholder and I believe that the Government should provide certainty to leaseholders as soon as possible which is why I have signed this amendment.
As many of you will know, many Ipswich residents who are leaseholders have been impacted by this. St Francis Tower and Cardinal Lofts being two high profile examples but there are other examples across the Town, this is a big issue and it’s not going away. Recently the “Ipswich Cladiators” group was established to represent leaseholders and I attended their inaugural meeting. The leaseholder is in no way to blame for any fire safety defects and therefore its morally wrong in my view for them to often be saddled with eye watering bills, often this also means that the values of their homes have plummeted. Following a debate that I took part in shortly after getting elected the Government did establish a £1 billion “Building Safety Fund” to help address the costs but this isn’t enough.
I understand why the Government wants to have it out with freeholders and builders about who should ultimately meet the costs here, but it shouldn’t be the leaseholders who are caught in the middle. I hope that over the coming weeks the Government will listen to what we’re calling for and provide leaseholders with the reassurance they need.’
After such a difficult year I thought we were all in need of some Christmas cheer. So I’m running a ‘Light Up Ipswich’ competition to encourage us all to get our lights and decorations out and up for everyone to enjoy.
I would love as many streets as possible to get involved and I will personally be visiting all of the nominations to judge the best decorated street. I can’t wait to visit all of the entries and see the Town lit up in its festive glory.
Closing Date Friday 18th December
Used an urgent question in Parliament today to raise the huge costs being faced by leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts by the Waterfront as a result of the dangerous cladding on their building. I’ve been in close contact with residents of Cardinal Lofts who’ve written to me about how they’ve essentially had a note slipped under their door by the management company telling them they now have to pay almost £400 per month per flat for a waking watch because of the fire risk. This is unacceptable when they weren’t responsible for putting this dangerous cladding up. Clearly the bill should be being slipped under the door of those who are responsible.
This is a huge amount of money and understandably it’s left leaseholders with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them. Especially as some I’ve spoken to have said their property price has already plummeted and many are under real financial pressure as it is because of Covid-19.
This is a fundamental issue of fairness and I’ve been raising the similar cladding issues affecting St Francis Tower in Parliament since soon after I was elected. But since then more and more buildings in Ipswich have had issues. And I called today on the Housing Minister to meet with me to discuss how we can provide residents at Cardinal Lofts with the certainty leaseholders need and deserve. The Government needs to look very closely at whether we can stop leaseholders being caught in limbo by providing the funding for cladding replacement up front, and pursuing the freeholders responsible for putting it up afterwards.
I’ve also been working with leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts to submit written questions asking the Government to look at direct support for leaseholders with the cost of waking watches and other interim fire safety measures. The Government’s £1 billion Fire Safety Fund does help with cladding replacement costs (although I think it should go further) but it doesn’t cover incidental costs like waking watches before the cladding is removed.
I have meetings scheduled this week with Cardinal Lofts’ management company where I will raise the impersonal way residents have been contacted about these bills they face. And after my question today I’ll also be meeting with the Housing Minister again. I also hope to meet directly some of the leaseholders at Cardinal Lofts who’ve written in to me very shortly.
Whether it’s meetings, questions in Parliament like today, written questions or sending letters directly to Ministers, I’ll use every tool at my disposal to make sure leaseholders don’t have this cloud of uncertainty hanging over them for any longer.