This is not an easy time for young people who are just getting on the employment ladder and today I raised the situation of local apprentices on the Education Committee. 350 of Suffolk New College’s 450 apprentices are currently on furlough and there is significant concern that many of them may not have an apprenticeship to go back to. We must look at what we can do to ensure that apprentices can complete their qualifications and don’t fall behind.
There are also many fewer businesses offering apprenticeships next year which will significantly reduce the funding colleges like Suffolk New College receive for the teaching element of apprenticeships they provide. Even before Covid-19 there was a general recognition that more investment was needed in apprenticeships and technical education, but due to the virus further education colleges are now facing a particularly acute impact on their finances.
In response to me on the Committee today, the Chief Executive of the Association of the Association of Colleges, David Hughes, underlined how about £2bn of colleges’ income is at risk for the next academic year out of a total £7bn.
This comes at a time when our further education colleges couldn’t be more important for getting young people well-trained and into our economy. And I will do everything I can to support all our colleges and further education providers in Ipswich. I will support more funding for them to meet these unprecedented challenges wherever possible.
Further to my recent interventions on the issue, today I sent a joint letter with Cllr David Ellesmere (Ipswich Borough Council, Leader) to the Chair of Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group. They will make a decision next month on whether or not the proposal to transfer elective Orthopaedic services from Ipswich Hospital to a new centre in Colchester will go ahead. I think if ever there was a time to put Party politics to one side this is it. Essentially as the two most senior elected representatives in Ipswich we have both come to the same conclusion. That conclusion is that what is proposed is bad for our Hospital and not in the interests of the people we represent.
When I was elected I said as the local MP I would fight for our local Hospital and not be afraid to take stands that I believe to be in the best interests of my constituents, even against considerable resistance. To be honest the only people whose views I really care about are those of my constituents. I trust that most of you will believe that I am doing the right thing.
I’m looking forward to going on a socially distanced bar crawl in Ipswich on 4th July to support our local pubs after the Prime Minister announced today that they will be able to reopen on that date.
As well as pubs, a number of changes were set out today to the lockdown which will allow people to see more of their friends and families, and allow more businesses to reopen their doors to customers.
From July 4:
Pubs 🍻 and restaurants 🍝 can reopen
Hairdressers 💇can reopen
Hotels and B&Bs 🏨 will also be able to reopen their doors.
2 households will be able to meet up in any setting with social distancing measures
If they can do so safely, other hospitality businesses and community centres will also be able to welcome back customers and visitors, they include:
Places of worship and community centres. 🛐
Outdoor gyms 🏋️
Museums and galleries 🖼️
Theme parks and arcades 🎢
And libraries and social clubs. 📚
The Prime Minister also announced that the guidance will allow people to keep a one-metre plus distance from each other when two-metre distances aren’t possible.
We must continue to make reducing the spread of Covid-19 our top priority and that’s why “close proximity” venues such as nightclubs, indoor gyms, water parkers, bowling alleys and spas will remain closed for now.
As long as we stay vigilant, this summer presents an unmissable opportunity for all of us in Ipswich to rally around our local businesses and support them with our custom. The support they have received throughout the lockdown has been essential but it’s just as important that they can reopen successfully and start to get back on their feet. I’m looking forward to visiting many of them as soon as I can.
Yesterday I spoke in a debate on the BBC’s regional politics coverage in the wake of BBC plans to cut its local TV news output to reduce costs.
I, and I think many others, have had mixed views on the future of the licence fee but have stopped short of calling for it to be scrapped partly because of the BBC’s regional and local news coverage and its importance to local democracy and keeping people up-to-date on issues which don’t always make national headlines.
Senior executives at the BBC should be careful what they wish for with these plans. Public confidence in the national broadcaster is already shaky with increased concerns of bias in the Corporation’s national news coverage recently and out of touch decisions like the blocking of past episodes Little Britain and other comedies. These plans to cut local TV news coverage, which also set a worrying precedent for radio and stations like BBC Radio Suffolk, could be the tipping point which causes many more people to fundamentally call into question the licence fee and the future of the BBC in its current form.
I hope the BBC will hear the concerns raised by many MPs this afternoon and look instead at tackling the real issues which are causing audiences to become increasingly frustrated.
Today the Home Secretary made a statement on the horrific terrorist attack we saw in Reading at the weekend. And I asked her whether she thought our legal system is becoming a roadblock which prevents elected governments taking decisions in the best interests the law-abiding majority.
It appears the suspect in the Reading attack was a foreign national who came here illegally in 2012 but was granted asylum in 2018 despite having being jailed for other crimes as well.
We must have a legal system which allows us to deal with illegal immigration and to deport those who pose a risk to our country. This is the overwhelming view of the public but not it seems of certain liberal sections of our legal profession which exploit loopholes in our legal system to keep criminal foreign nationals in the UK.
I’m glad the Home Secretary is working to overcome the obstacles currently preventing more deportations and I will support the implementation of her plans as soon as possible.
Another school visit today. I went to Copleston High School to see their new building (opened in April) and see the plans they’ve put in place to welcome back pupils in year 10 and year 12. Pleased to learn more about how they’ve been supporting all pupils remotely with a special focus on mental health. As many of you will know they’ve also been providing a community food self to support the local community. The team have done a very good job over the past couple of months in very difficult circumstances.
WEEKLY COLUMN: I have written in my column this week about debate over our statues and other cultural expressions. I share the anger at the death of George Floyd and the contempt for racism in all its forms. But we shouldn’t let his death lead to a culture war in this country where the symbols of our past are torn down without proper thought and reflection.
We should be open to having a proper debate about all aspect of our history, good and bad. And if there is strong public opposition to a statue staying in place then there should be a democratic process for this to be pursued. More often than not though I’ll be opposed to bringing down our statues. I don’t think it’s in our national character to do so and our statues often have greater significance to our past and present than whether we consider the people they represent to be good or bad by today’s standards.
Following my meeting with Highways England earlier this month, today I asked the Secretary of State for International trade to work with HE to implement their plan to end closures of the Orwell Bridge by the end of this year. With the Port of Felixstowe, East Anglia should be at the heart of our country’s ambitious trade plans but that potential won’t be fully realised until road freight and our town aren’t brought to a standstill when it’s windy.
This issue deserves national attention and I hope the Secretary of State will recognise the national significance of getting the 40 mph speed limit solution in place as soon as possible and pull all necessary strings to ensure that happens. I’ve written already to City University to ask them to move ahead as quickly as possible to complete the additional safety work in their currently closed wind tunnel. But I’ll keep raising this issue at the highest levels to ensure that it’s treated with the urgency needed and the timeline doesn’t slip.
I have now co-signed a letter to the Lord Chancellor with the Chair of the Petitions Committee about the pressing need for pet theft reform. This follows my virtual meeting with the Stolen and Missing Pets Alliance earlier this month where we presented their petition calling for pet theft to be made a specific offence with tougher sentencing.
The full video of our discussion is also now available to watch here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GOKQOIPVIpM
Despite pet theft being raised a number of times through petitions and in Parliament over recent years, the Government hasn’t yet moved to make the necessary changes to the Theft Act which would make sentences of up to 2 years more readily available to our courts to punish this particularly cruel crime. I hope this letter will cause the Government to look again at changing the law because, as you can hear in our discussion, the law as it stands often results in pitiful sentences which only take into account the monetary value of the pet and not the emotional cost to the owners and the harm caused to the pet.
In the letter we have also stressed how the lack of a specific pet theft offence makes it harder to record pet theft cases and focus the full scale of this growing crime. Sadly we know that pet theft has increased during the Covid-19 lockdown, robbing many an important source of companionship during this difficult time, but many cases won’t even get a crime reference number and this issue isn’t attracting the attention it should.
The sentencing law on pet theft must be changed to deter this abhorrent crime and provide an incentive to our police to track down those responsible, and I hope the Government recognise this in their response. I do not plan on leaving this issue here though and I am reaching out to pet theft campaigners to look how we can continue to raise this issue in Parliament and make further direct representations to Government ministers. Watch this space.
BREXIT: I was ticked off by Mr Deputy Speaker today as I used a statement on the UK-EU negotiations to ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office about Keir Starmer’s tendency to go to ground on the big issues, especially the big Brexit-related issues, and how it’s vital that by contrast the Government is resolute in ending the transition period on the 31st December and Freedom of Movement along with it.
My question was quite political and this is what the Deputy Speaker picked me up on. But while I appreciate that Keir Starmer wasn’t there to respond, frankly I felt I had to ask someone about his position given that the Leader of the Opposition doesn’t seem so sure himself.
On a serious note, I think many members of the public are understandably confused about whether Starmer’s Labour Party supports an extension to the transition period. We know that the SNP, the Liberal Democrats and the Greens support an extension and so does the Labour Party in London and Wales, but we are still no clearer to knowing what the position of the Labour front bench is.
This is a case and point of how Starmer consistently ducks big judgement calls on key issues, and when he finally can’t duck them any longer, his message is often muddled and indecisive. This is a world-away from the leadership needed on this issue and it’s vitally important that by contrast we work to retain the public’s confidence by ending the transition period on time, and by delivering on fundamental aspects of the Brexit vote like ending Freedom of Movement.
I am glad that Michael Gove reaffirmed the Government’s complete commitment not to extend the transition period, and I thought his comment that we don’t know if Keir Starmer is the Scarlet Pimpernel or the invisible man was particularly apt.