Last weekend, I was delighted to receive my first Covid-19 vaccine dose, and I offer my sincere thanks to all the vaccine centre staff and volunteers for their amazing, life-saving work. If you haven’t already received yours, when you are invited, please don’t hesitate to accept. The end of restrictions appears in sight, but for now it is vital we all continue to play our part and adhere to the rules to keep the case rate down so that society can safely reopen according to the Government’s plan.
In the constituency
Constituents in Bedford and Kempston continue to demonstrate their concern for animals and the environment, emailing me in relation to: the issuing of new badger cull licences, the treatment of pigs and other caged farm animals and, consistently, the impact of Neonicotinoids on Bees.
I am also receiving significant numbers of emails on issues relating to civil rights and crime with the campaign to ban Conversion Therapy and requests for me to vote against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill dominating my inbox.
In relation to the NHS, there is groundswell of consternation about the 1% pay rise currently on offer, as well as concerns about how health services will ‘catch up’ post-Covid-19.
Whilst we navigate towards an exit from national lockdown, people remain concerned about support for businesses, particularly those in hospitality. Once again, my office has received many emails about financial support packages for pubs. Another significant body of correspondence has been received about the post-Brexit arrangements, specifically in relation to arrangements surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol.
I have met with constituents, the Borough Council and East West Rail regarding concerns to the planned Route E. EWR’s consultation over the finer plans for Route E is expected to become live soon.
The local roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine programme has continued to progress, despite what the Health Secretary is calling a ‘lumpy’ supply, and whilst I’m pleased the CCG are now briefly in receipt of higher than ever stocks, it is greatly concerning to hear we must expect lower supplies again over the coming weeks. I continue to meet regularly with CCG to discuss progress and any challenges and have been working with different stakeholders on tackling vaccine hesitancy.
I attended a NASUWT meeting attended by several teachers from the constituency earlier this month, which was a welcome opportunity to hear directly from staff on the ground about the challenges they are facing, some regarding the pandemic but also wider issues. Already a highly pressured job, the past year has thrown so much at teachers, and I am grateful for how well they have adapted to the frequent demands made of them but I am hugely disappointed the Government failed to administer priority vaccines to school staff, and obstinately continually fails to recognise the investment needed to properly fund our schools.
I met with the Chair of the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Trust for an update on progress being made in getting the Bedford and Milton Keynes Waterway Park off the ground – an ambitious project to link the Grand Union Canal in Milton Keynes with the River Great Ouse, establishing a green corridor right at the heart of future developments on the Oxford to Cambridge Arc and bringing benefits in relation to increased biodiversity and improved water resilience.
I attended an informative virtual tour of the local Jobcentre Youth Hub, where young people who would benefit from more tailored support to find employment or training opportunities can access a range of services from the DWP and local stakeholders.
This week I’m meeting with Bedfordshire Police and Cllr Colleen Atkins to discuss the issue of begging in Bedford and Kempston and I also have a meeting planned with the newly appointed Head of Midwifery for Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to discuss improvement plans for Bedford Hospital’s maternity wing, highlighted by the recent CQC report.
This week I voted against the Police, Crime and Sentencing and Courts Bill at Second Reading which, among other things, would give police greater powers to restrict “non-violent” protests.
I spoke in the International Women’s Day debate about Home Office’s plans to open a new network of immigration detention units for women contrary to previous pledges to reform the system and reduce the use of detention for women.
I wrote an open letter to the Secretary of State for Business about the new grant for businesses without business premises and a letter from Bedford Labour Group to the Foreign Secretary about the plight of Indian farmers.
I signed parliamentary letters on: the issues of violence against women and girls, advocating for the living wage in global fashion supply chains, support for the School Breakfasts Bill, asking for urgent help for the weddings industry and on mental health support for people with eating disorders.
I signed EDMs on: visiting in care homes and hospitals during the covid-19 outbreak, investment in prison education technology, job losses at National Art Library, the Marie Curie Great Daffodil Appeal and reorganisation of the NHS and social care.
For this month’s column for Bedfordshire Life I wrote about the Budget – one that might get us through the next months of the pandemic but falls far short of what is needed to get the UK on a recovery track for what has been a catastrophic hit to the economy – the worst of any major economy.
HCLG Select Committee
The HCLG Committee launched a new Inquiry into Local government and the path to net zero and a new inquiry into Long-term funding of adult social care.
The Committee also examine the Government’s proposals for tackling the legacy of dangerous cladding and fire safety defects on residential buildings taking evidence from Minister for Building Safety and Communities, Lord Greenhaulgh.
I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:
22nd February – HOC Chamber: HCLG Questions – Increasing disabled facilities grant
22nd February – HOC Chamber: Covid-19 Roadmap – BAME vaccine data
23rd February – HOC Chamber: Coronavirus: Supporting Businesses and Individuals – Beauty industry
2nd March – HOC Chamber: School Staff Vaccinations
8th March – HOC Chamber: Women’s Health Strategy – Midwife shortage
11th March – HOC Chamber: International Women’s Day – Women in detention centres