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.
Raised Ipswich BMX Club at Landseer Park directly in the Chamber today and their campaign to raise money for a new track. The club does vital work giving young people in the local area a positive hobby but the track is deteriorating and they’re currently around £60,000 short of the amount needed to resurface it. That’s why I called on the Minister to work with me and the club to leave no stone unturned in finding this extra funding.
In response to me, the Minister mentioned funding from British Cycling and I’ve written to them to ask if they’ll consider upping the amount they’ve indicated they will contribute to the project and to meet with me to discuss it. This meeting is now in my diary for next week with Tracey Reeve who’s leading on this project with club.
I’m also having conversations about whether a small amount of the £25 million secured for Ipswich from the Government’s Towns Fund can help make the new track a reality.
The BMX club is a huge community asset in Gainsborough which has been identified as an area of deprivation. In my letters to Ministers about the new track before, I’ve made the case that this investment would be repaid many times over in the benefits it brings the community. You really can’t put a price on keeping youngsters away from negative influences and giving them positive role models which the club does. I’ll keep exploring every avenue to ensure the club can go from strength to strength with this new track.
The Sports Minister also announced a £300 million support package today to protect the sports sector over the winter, and I’ll be looking very closely at how we can benefit from this in Ipswich.
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.
Used a question in the Commons today to ask about the Government’s Kickstart Scheme and how we can make sure as many young people as possible in Ipswich benefit from the job placements it will create. I called on the Government to do this by also prioritising the excellent work being done by local charities like Inspire Suffolk to help young people improve their skills and wellbeing at this crucial point in their lives. This was something I saw first-hand when I visited the charity in Lindbergh Road last month.
It was also encouraging to hear more details about the roll out of the Kickstart Scheme in Ipswich, including the work that’s underway with local employers to get young people onto the Scheme. And that a local youth hub and new apprenticeship positions are being looked into. I’ll be following up on the progress with this over the coming weeks. Covid-19 has increased the challenges but I’ll keep doing everything I can to make sure young people in our town have every opportunity to succeed.
Supporting young people has to be one of our main focuses now Parliament has returned. And today I asked the Education Secretary to continue funding for charities like Inspire Suffolk which works with disadvantaged children in Ipswich and complements the work done by local schools. This is even more important when charities have faced significant difficulties fundraising themselves during Covid-19.
Last week I brought the Childrens Minister to Lindbergh Road to see Inspire Suffolk’s excellent work to run summer activities for children over the summer. Their School Holiday Programme has been backed by Government funding and this type of funding for charities must continue as we face the next challenges like the return to school and addressing the disadvantage gap that’s opened up when schools have been closed.
Charities play an invaluable role in supporting young people across our town and it’s vital that local young people can keep benefiting from the work they do. I’m glad the Education Secretary recognises this and has committed to work with me and local charities to see how Government support can be delivered going forwards. I’ll be working closely with Inspire Suffolk and others on this over the coming weeks.
Tom Hunt, MP for Ipswich, has welcomed the Government’s decision to reverse course on its earlier plans not to extend the Free School Meal Voucher Scheme over the summer holidays. The Government announced today that a new £120 million Covid summer food fund would be set up to ensure 1.3 million children in the most hard-pressed families receive a food voucher worth £15 a week over the 6 week summer break.
The Government’s change of course follows a number of efforts made by Hunt and other parliamentary colleagues behind the scenes to stress the importance of these vouchers to families facing hardship during Covid-19 and to urge the Government to extend them over the summer holidays. Premier League footballer Marcus Rashford also made a high profile intervention in support of the extension of the Scheme yesterday.
On 5 June, Hunt penned a letter to the Minister for Children and Families, Vicky Ford MP, detailing his support for the extension of the scheme and highlighting its importance to many families in Ipswich undergoing severe financial pressure and struggling to make ends meet. Hunt’s letter also came in the wake of a study finding that one in four children in Ipswich are living in relative poverty.
Hunt’s correspondence on the 5 June followed an earlier letter which Hunt co-signed as a Member of the Education Committee on 13 May which urged the Minister for Children to look early on into what can be done to extend the free school meal voucher scheme over the Summer holiday.
Today before the Government’s new plans were announced, Hunt was ready to vote against the Government in a motion calling for money to be available to disadvantaged children over the summer holiday.
Following the Government’s announcement today, Tom said:
“I am pleased the Government has listened to the concerns raised and has decided to extend free school meal vouchers over the summer as part of a new fund. This is an issue I have been intimately involved in as a member of the Education Committee and I know that for many families in Ipswich these vouchers are an essential source of support during Covid-19.
“In my letter to the Minister for Children almost two weeks ago, I raised the fact that there are 3 million children at risk of holiday hunger in the UK and that many of them will be children in Ipswich. This is a scenario which must be avoided and I was ready to vote against the Government today on this issue. But I am glad the Government has listened and will now provide a £90 food voucher for the most disadvantaged children over summer.
“The Covid-19 outbreak has been an exceptional time and it’s important we are ready to implement exceptional measures to ensure that no child is left behind. We will be dealing with the impact of Covid-19 on children’s education for many more months and years to come and it would only have compounded these issues if we didn’t do everything it takes to ensure children come through the summer holidays well-nourished.”
Yesterday I had the pleasure to be the guest on the BBC Radio Suffolk Lesley Dolphin show. During my interview I discussed a range of topics including my first week in Parliament, opportunities for people with special educational needs, closures to the Orwell Bridge and long term fixes to our rail network. You can listen to the full interview below.
I was back at the Nansen Road Baptist Church this morning to welcome the Home Secretary Priti Patel to meet the inspirational volunteers behind the reflections youth club.