This week I asked the Minister for Policing directly about getting robust punishments in place for those individuals who try to use Covid-19 as a weapon by spitting and coughing at police officers. Unfortunately we have seen reports of this despicable crime in Ipswich and around the country during this pandemic. And back in April I called in the House of Commons for the full force of the law to come down on anyone found guilty of assaulting our police officers in this heinous way, when they’re going above and beyond to keep us safe. I’ve also stressed the need to clamp down on this crime with the Government through written questions.
It was good to hear in the Minister’s response that the Government is seriously focusing in on this issue with prison sentences being handed out and that new laws are in the pipeline that will double the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency service workers. Spitting at police officers is a disgusting crime at the best of times, but during Covid-19 it’s particularly aggravating potentially with severe consequences for officers’ physical and mental health. I’ll be making the case that these new laws on tougher sentencing should be brought forward as soon as possible.
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 teamed up with Jonathan Gullis, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, to press the Government for more funding for potholes. Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent are similar in that they’re both urban areas but we don’t get the proportionate levels of funding for road repairs compared to larger metropolitan centres. We also lose out compared to rural areas where the current funding formula puts more emphasis on road length than it does on things like heavy traffic wearing away at our roads in urban areas.
In the debate I specifically mentioned the need for more funding to fix up our roads in parts of town like Chantry, Gainsborough and Rushmere (but I appreciate there are big issues with pavement and road quality across town). And how this isn’t just an important issue for road safety but it’s also about how we should have roads which reflect the pride people have in their local communities and our commitment as elected representatives to leave no street or neighbourhood feeling left behind.
Since I was elected I’ve been out and about across the town flagging potholes and road and pavement surfaces in need of repair with Suffolk County Council. And I’ve also been able to identify a number of road surfaces simply not up to standard through my surveys in Chantry and Ravenswood. Since the summer I’ve been meeting on a monthly basis with the County Council to get detailed updates on road repair schemes in Ipswich and lobby for further ones too. This intensified focus on road repairs in Ipswich is starting to produce results, particularly with the resurfacing of Sheldrake Drive in September. It’s also good to see resurfacing work completed on Avondale Road and Neath Drive and that resurfacing of Stone Lodge Lane West has been locked in for next year.
Clearly there is much more to do across town and that’s why my monthly meetings with the County Council’s Highways Department are crucial. And if there are any road or pavement issues in town you think need raising please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll flag them in my next meeting.
I’ll keep fighting both locally and nationally for better roads and pavements for Ipswich which improve pedestrians and road users’ experience and also give local people confidence that their elected officials care as much about their areas as they do.
Used Justice Questions today to again raise my campaign to end social media use in prison and call on the Justice Secretary to ensure prisoners found to have used social media in prison are punished robustly. As I’ve made clear at length in the House of Commons before on multiple occasions, the punishments available for this serious crime must include reviewing the sentences of those found guilty and adding years to their sentence for their harmful actions.
These posts are immensely distressing for victims and each time they appear they send out a poor message about our criminal justice system to prisoners and those who may be thinking about committing a crime. It’s clear that not enough of the prisoners responsible are brought to book, and when they are, the slap-on-the-wrist punishments handed out through prisons’ internal discipline processes aren’t a sufficient deterrent to stop it happening again. I understand that all those convicted for killing Tavis Spencer-Aitkens in Ipswich have now posted on social media. Clearly there is a sense this is something prisoners can get away with.
I remain in close contact with Tavis’s family to ensure this is put to an end in their case in particular. And I’ll keep raising this issue until victims don’t have to be anxious every time they check their phone and there are punishments with teeth in place including extended sentences. We must be unapologetic about putting our justice system on the side of victims and in saying that our prison system exists first and foremost to punish criminals.
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 email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll be making this decision based on what I think is right for Ipswich.