My final domestic visit on the Armed Forces Parliamentary scheme yesterday. This time to the Royal Tank Regiment in Tidworth. Fascinating visit and one I won’t be forgetting anytime soon. Had a go at commanding a tank with mixed results as you can see.
The Armed Forces Parliamentary scheme gives MPs an opportunity to spend time with the armed forces to better understand the work they carry out and the challenges they face. It’s a brilliant scheme that gives us a real insight into defence issues. It’s lasted throughout the year but the Army scheme I’ve been on has now come to an end.
My respect and admiration for our brilliant British Army personnel has only increased as a result of the insights I’ve gained. There is a reason they’re called the best of the best. A real highlight for me has actually coming across constituents on the scheme who are currently serving our country abroad.
There’re are key challenges when it comes to funding and recruitment and retention though that need to be overcome. Pleased to see all armed forces yesterday getting a significant pay rise. Hopefully that will make a bit of a difference but issues remain. Saw a bit of this yesterday. The Challenger 2 tanks we came across are great but The sooner the new Challenger 3 tanks are properly rolled out the better.
In Ipswich we have a significant challenge when it comes to tackling homelessness. Due to the challenges around the cost of living, it’s sadly not a surprise there has been a slight increase in most places.
However, it doesn’t seem right to me that instead of shouldering the responsibility to tackle homelessness in their own areas, so many local councils in the Eastern Region are sending homeless people who they are responsible for to Ipswich. More often than not, they are then accommodated in the Town centre.
I raised this issue with the Government. After raising the question, I was able to meet with the Minister for Homelessness, Felicity Buchan, to discuss my concerns in more detail. She said to me that the local authorities in question absolutely have a responsibility to do everything they can to ensure that those who are homeless are accommodated in their own local area first, and not moved to another local area which is so often the case with Ipswich. The Minister said she would look in detail at what’s happening in Ipswich to ensure that all the rules are being followed and that neighbouring authorities truly are doing everything within their power to accommodate the homeless people they are responsible for within their own local authority area.
When another local authority sends homeless people to another area, they pay their accommodation costs. However, this isn’t the only pressure and challenge placed on the area the people in question are being moved to. Currently it really doesn’t feel that this arrangement isn’t working for Ipswich.
I’m very keen to see that those who fall on tough times and become homeless get all the support they need. We have fantastic organisations in Ipswich which work tirelessly to support these individuals. It is important though, that all others step up, and are required to do so. We already have a significant challenge supporting Ipswich people who become homeless. It’s unfair for this challenge to be made even harder by other areas not stepping up like we do.
When the Government of the day is considering what level net migration should be at. It shouldn’t just consider economic impact. It also needs to consider the impact on public services, housing and also social and cultural cohesion.
Net legal migration needs to be brought down to much more sustainable levels, and this is something I plan to campaign on hard.
Today I asked the Lord Chancellor whether he agrees with me that zero tolerance approach to shop lifting is needed and that those found guilty, particularly repeat offenders, should be properly punished. There needs to be a far stronger deterrent.
Sadly it’s become debilitating for many Town centre businesses.
We shouldn’t let anything get in the way of tackling. And this includes cultural sensitivities.
I’m pleased the Lord Chancellor agreed with me. I hope those responsible for sentencing in Suffolk were listening!
It was confirmed this week that since 2019 the Government have recruited 20,000 extra police officers which was a key pledge. There have been 201 in Suffolk specifically.
This is welcomed. However, we need to see the benefits of this through a significant increase in police presence across the Town.
This week we saw another example of how much valued Town centre businesses are persistently the victim of crime. Essential Vintage closed their doors temporarily due to having over £600 of items thieved over the past few months.
The footage of many of these acts is there and clear. I’m pleased that the Policing Minister agrees with me that it’s incumbent on Suffolk Police to take such criminal acts incredibly seriously. To investigate thoroughly. Then of course the criminal justice system needs to punish accordingly.
This thieving is debilitating for many Town centre businesses and the Town centre more generally. Great seriousness needs to be attached to robustly confronting it. There can be no excuses and no sensitivities should get in the way of justice being delivered.
I recently met with the children’s minister to discuss the new SEND improvement plan before it was published. One of the things I’ve been calling for has been for regular teachers to have a better working knowledge of all types of neurodiverse conditions.
I am pleased that the plan pledges to review teacher training to try and ensure this is a case. I will monitor this closely to make sure it makes the changes needed. It’s not just about extra specialists. All regular teachers need to have a better understanding of all conditions. Many young people with learning disabilities will be in mainstream settings and this is vital for them. I know what’s it’s like to be neurodiverse at a mainstream school and have teachers who don’t get you.
It is also key that parents aren’t always left battling to get their child diagnosed. Many end up going privately and paying. This needs to be addressed.
We need a national campaign to make clear all employers are fully aware of the benefits that come with hiring those who are neurodiverse. This isn’t about “virtue signalling” or simply acting in a moral way. They are amongst the most creative and unconventional thinkers out there!
The reality is its all taken too long to get to this point. The SEND review was commissioned many years ago. Even making allowances for the pandemic etc this plan should have been published a long time ago and we should not be at the point where what it’s calling for is being delivered on the ground.
I welcome the fact that Suffolk will be getting a new special school. Ipswich has had two new special schools over the past few years and another one in Suffolk is good news for many families no doubt. It will be a free school giving it extra freedoms and flexibility, something which is important when it comes to SEND provision. I was at the New Skill Centre school in southeast Ipswich recently, they’re similar to a free school and this has certainly been a benefit to them. I was really impressed by what I saw.
The Children’s Minister Claire Coutinho visited the Sir Bobby Robson not long ago and I was pleased that the teaching staff at the school and pupils were able to make their views clear about the different ways in which SEND provision can be improved.
There’re some sensible proposals in the plan. More emphasis on early years and early intervention which will be made easier by more early years specialists (5,000 are being funded). More education psychologists are good but there is a question about whether 400 is enough.
I continue to believe though that more needs to be done to ensure that regular teachers (non-specialists) have a firmer grounding in all different types of neurodiversity. Many young people with learning disabilities will be in mainstream schools and its important their needs and thinking processes are fully understood. I need more reassurances on this.
I would personally like to have seen more emphasis on diagnosis for various learning disabilities. I know there is a reluctance from some to label, but some people really are neurodiverse and have specific needs and its important they, their families, and their teachers know what they’re. A number of my constituents have really had to fight to get a diagnosis for their child and have often had to fund one privately. I need more reassurances on this by the Government.
New national standards will also make clear to parents, schools, local authorities, and other providers what support should be offered at every stage of a child’s journey across education, health and care.
The plan will improve parents’ and carers’ experiences of accessing support, with a digital-first process for obtaining Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP) where they are needed.
The Government have upped the additional ‘high needs’ budget to over £10 billion, which is an increase of more than 50 per cent since 2019. However, we need more. You won’t always see me simply calling for more and more resources but SEND provision is an area more investment continues to be needed. It’s also the case that Suffolk SEND provision in particular is underfunded compared to other areas.
It’s important that improvements are made at both the local and national level to SEND provision, so I welcome much of what was announced. I acknowledge the new SEND special school places that have come to Ipswich over the past few years and all the specialist units in mainstream schools. There have been some improvements. But we have a long way to go locally and nationally in so many ways.
Something good that happens in 2019 was the change that means a school can’t be rated outstanding or good if SEND provision isn’t good also. This is perfectly logical and an incentive to prioritise SEND provision in mainstream schools.
I’m neurodiverse. I had a reading and writing age of an 8-year-old when I was 12. I couldn’t do my shoelaces until I was 14. I was lucky to get diagnosed fairly early and then eventually got the support I needed. It pains me this isn’t the case for many young neurodiverse children in Ipswich. I will always keep fighting for them and others nationally who have the same needs.
I recently had the opportunity to visit Chantry Academy for a careers event. This event was mainly targeted at year 7 to 9 pupils. I was able to talk to several pupils about their future and what they are planning to do for a career.
Around this age, it is crucial for children to start to think about their careers. My message to these pupils was with reference to choosing University’s, was that university is something that no one believes they can’t do, but something that they should not feel pressured to do. This certain path should be chosen because people believe it is right for them to do so.
Outside of university there are many other options which I spoke about, such as apprenticeships, or opportunities in the local economy. I was really impressed with the event and their attitude these pupils took.
After the event I spoke to a group of year 11’s about my job as an MP and what I do along with some of their views about the local area.
Great news today that the Freeport East project at Felixstowe and Harwich has gotten final approval from the Government and will be the 4th freeport fully up and running. The approval comes with up to £25 million in seed funding. We’ve been waiting for final approval since Freeport East was on the initial list of 8 proposed freeports over 1 year ago. I’ve been told the project will now be proceeding at full speed and finally Freeport East can move from being an attractive concept to being something that delivers practical benefits to my constituents.
Freeport East will deliver major benefits to the region, including 13,500 new high-skill, high-paying jobs right on Ipswich’s doorstep. Approximately 6,000 Ipswich residents are already employed either directly or indirectly via the Port of Felixstowe, this go-ahead will provide more opportunities for people in our town. It also creates opportunities for skills training through partnerships with Suffolk New College and the University of Suffolk. Suffolk New College in Ipswich has already received £1 million from the Town Deal to boost skills training and will help deliver hydrogen power for the freeport.
The freeport will also develop into a hub for renewable energy production through its planned Green Hydrogen Hub, and will be supported by existing offshore wind and the planned nuclear plant at Sizewell C. The hub will support high-skilled jobs in the renewable energy sector.
This announcement will really put our local area on the map and help us deliver for the national economy, connecting the North and Midlands to global trade. Felixstowe is already the UK’s busiest container port handling almost half total UK container trade and 60% of our trade with Asia. Giving freeport status to Felixstowe and Harwich is projected to boost UK trade by £12 billion a year, and create £5.5 billion in new gross value added over 10 years.
Also pleased to see the Government make clear in this letter their commitment to the East and that levelling up isn’t just about to the midlands and the north.
As many of you know, I often raise points about how to make better use of the talents of people who have neurodiverse conditions. Due to having dyspraxia and dyslexia myself, I come under this “neurodiverse” label. Many of those who are neurodiverse see things others can’t and think outside the box. As a society it is in our interest to make use of all talents and different ways of thinking.
Recently I discussed with the senior Army leadership how the British Army could make better use of those who are neurodiverse. Due to the increasing importance of cyber, the need for individuals who can think differently has increased so it feels like the issue is coming to a head.
Some of the physical tasks and challenges associated with being in the Armed Forces often prohibit those who are neurodiverse. Perhaps there may be a limit to what can be done, but if there is a way of ensuring that the Armed Forces don’t miss out on the talents of those who are neurodiverse and want to serve, that would be brilliant.
I was remined of my dyspraxia the other week when it took my almost half an hour to put a belt on when I visited Sandhurst.
I was reassured by the response provided by the Defence Secretary. He gets it, as do the leadership team at Sandhurst when I spoke to them about recruitment.