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.