Monthly Round Up – Feb/March 21

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.

In Westminster

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 

 

Monthly Round Up – Jan/Feb 21

This week, I welcomed Labour leader Keir Starmer’s ‘New Chapter for Britain’ speech: his economic policies provide a sorely needed long-term route forward to address the many inequalities following a decade of tory cuts and short-term thinking, which have been further exposed – and deepened – by the current pandemic. The British Recovery Bond for the funding needed to invest in our communities, funding for start-up loans, proper funding for local authorities and affordable housing would rebuild Britain into a prosperous and just society.

Be assured my labour colleagues and I will continue to fight for a fairer distribution of support in anticipation of the Chancellor’s Budget, and for the safe reopening of schools and for the prioritising of vaccines to critical workers. Next week should see the PM announce the Government’s roadmap out of lockdown restrictions, which we will take care to scrutinise closely – and hope that lessons have at last been learned.

After three months of high admissions of Covid-19 patients to Bedford Hospital, my sincerest gratitude to all the frontline workers who continue their vital work despite exhaustion and the personal sacrifices they have made.

In the constituency

I’ve received a steady stream of queries and concerns about the vaccine roll out, and I’ve continued to meet with the Vaccine Minister, Health Portfolio Holder Cllr Louise Jackson and the CCG to better understand any pressure points and advocate on behalf of my constituents.  Given we have an older demographic, the decision by local Primary Care Networks to work together to offer two clinics appears to have been sound, with a very large proportion of the top four priority groups successfully receiving first vaccine doses by the Government’s deadline of mid-February, and I thank all the staff and volunteers making this happen.

Post Brexit concerns are manifesting in emails about the passage of the Environment and Trade Bills through Parliament. Constituents express concerns that previously afforded protections are being retrenched and new proposed legislation is not adequate. Highlights are the campaigns around Neonicotinoids and Bees, shortcomings of the Environment Bill, the ability of Parliament to scrutinise future Trade Deals and in support of the recent Opposition Day debate around protecting working hours.

We have seen a concerted campaign to Support Pubs (and the wider hospitality industry) in a number of ways including advocating for a cut in Beer Duty and supporting a campaign to reopen safely. People have also written in significant numbers expressing concerns about the ongoing effects of the pandemic on people with Dementia living in Care Homes who have been unable to receive visitors consistently for nearly a year.

There are come constituents who remain concerned about the impact of refusing a vaccine and find the messaging from Government around the topic inadequate. We have received emails on the interrelated matters of a Medical Freedom Bill and Domestic Vaccine Passports.

A national movement which had significant local ramifications was the Choose Love directed campaign around appalling asylum accommodation conditions, advocating for the closure of Barrack dorms at Penally and Napier. This segued with the vital local drive to prevent the Home Office opening temporary asylum accommodation on the wholly inappropriate Yarl’s Wood site.

Last week, after pressure from myself and Labour councillors to provide grants to taxi and private hire drivers, Bedford Borough agreed last week to waive licence fees, which is progress. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve worked with Shadow Rail Minister Tan Dhesi on the issue of taxi permits at rail stations. Given that rail operators have received financial support from the Government given the dramatic drop in rail users, I firmly believe this support should be passed down the line to benefit taxi drivers who have been extremely badly hit by the slowing of trade through the pandemic.

Taxi and private hire drivers are of course not the only sector struggling due to a lack of support: the beauty industry, for example, is reeling following closure for many months of the past year, without the same alternatives for diversifying and offering services online available to some other sectors and I will continue to fight for decent financial support packages to ensure these businesses can reopen once restrictions are lifted.

I was pleased to virtually meet Year 12 students at Mark Rutherford last week, and I hugely admire the continued efforts of all teaching staff across Bedford and Kempston as they face the challenges of delivering virtual and in-school teaching. I will be meeting with members of teaching union NASUWT next month to hear their concerns.

This week I will meet with the British Transport Police regarding policing activity to tackle County Lines criminality in Bedford and Kempston.

In Westminster

The pandemic has exposed the digital divide across the UK, with approximately 9% of children without access to a laptop, desktop or tablet to access remote education, including in Bedford. I continued to work with the Lord Lieutenant on Bedford laptop drive.

Whilst I welcome the infrastructure investment, I am concerned by the news that the East-West rail investment connecting Oxford to Cambridge will be used by diesel trains. The Government declared a climate emergency, as did Bedford Borough Council. New infrastructure projects need to be based on clean energy – I wrote to the Transport Minister to raise this but haven’t yet received a response.

There are widespread concerns that some communities, especially Black Asian and minority ethnic communities are showing vaccine hesitancy. I joined with a number of other Asian MPs across the political divide to record a video to share on social media.

It has been an ongoing source of frustration that the Government have refused to publish local level vaccine data, and missing ethnicity data has been an avoidable obstacle in the challenge of overcoming vaccine hesitancy, but I’m aware that hard work is going on at grass roots community level working with the CCG to allay any fears and to combat untruths to ensure as many people as are eligible take up their opportunity to be vaccinated.

I would have hoped to share the Health Secretary’s responses to my letters in January about vaccine delays and the issue of data, but I have not had the courtesy of any replies.

I raised the concerns of the dental profession in Parliament over the impact of Covid.

In a huge U-turn following sustained opposition by me and Bedford Borough, the Home Office pulled their plans to open accommodation on the Yarl’s Wood IRC site for asylum seekers.

HCLG Select Committee

The HCLG Select Committee held sessions on local government financial sustainability and section 114 notices and on the impact of Covid-19 on homelessness and the private rented sector. The Committee has also told the Government it has not gone far enough in compensating the victims of the cladding scandal.

I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:

26th January – HOC Chamber: Educational Settings – Remote learning 

3rd February – HOC Chamber: Support for University Students, rental accommodation 

11th February – HOC Chamber: Future of Health and Care, Emergency dental treatment 

Monthly Round up Dec 20/Jan 21

I am sure we all share a great sense of relief to see Joe Biden and Kamala Harris sworn in as President and Vice President of the United States this week, finally bringing Donald Trump’s divisive and regressive administration to an end, giving hope for improved human rights in the US and abroad and getting back on course in tackling the climate emergency.

I am also delighted that, after initial supply delays, hundreds of Bedford and Kempston residents and health workers have now received their first vaccines.

I know that this is otherwise a very difficult time, as we are once again in a national lockdown, with schools closed and an uncertain timescale ahead before restrictions are lifted, and I hope we are all able to support each other to get through the winter with the promise of better to come this Spring.

In the constituency

We are living through extraordinary times – dominated by the Government’s response to the ongoing Coronavirus crisis. Constituents are contacting me about a number of issues arising from the current situation. The matter of school closures, protecting staff across settings, ensuring the safety and viability of Childminders other Early Years providers and the treatment of University students all appear repeatedly in my inbox.

I have also received letters from people who are worried about the civil liberties aspect of lockdowns, whether this is in direct opposition of restrictions, concerns about the detail of the government guidance and the possible future implications of refusing a vaccine.

The long-term effects of Coronavirus on specific industries, most specifically in their instance – hospitality are still an issue of major concern. We are hearing from several campaigns to cut Beer Duty, support pubs and the wider entertainment and hospitality sectors.

The after-effects of Brexit are hitting home and concerns about the Trade Bill and Food Standards in the UK, The Environment Bill and changes to environmental protections and standards after Brexit are causing real concern. I am also hearing from many constituents on the matter of free movement around Europe for British citizens who may live or work abroad.

In the last two weeks my inbox has seen an influx of messages relating to the scandalous free school meals provision by external providers and the impact of removing the £20 UC uplift.

Many constituents have written regarding Covid-19 vaccines with various queries and concerns about the roll out in Bedford and Kempston, and with many advocating for different key worker groups to be prioritised.

I am in regular contact with the Bedfordshire, Luton and Milton Keynes Clinical Commissioning Group to discuss the roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines in Bedford Borough and it was an honour and very moving experience last Friday to witness the extraordinary efforts of so many coming together providing the smooth delivery of vaccines at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara.

Constituents have written about cancelled NHS procedures, housing and benefits issues, and to bring areas of Bedford and Kempston experiencing antisocial behaviour to my attention.

Parents have told me how their home-schooling efforts are being hindered by lack of access to laptops, and so together with Susan Lousada, the High Sheriff of Bedfordshire, we are coordinating a drive for second hand devices, which can be quickly refurbished and distributed to those who need them. Keep an eye on my social media for more details.

I have also been contacted by local businesses struggling to access grants, financial support or the reduced rates to which they believe they are entitled.

My team and I have been attending meetings and raising concerns about the development of temporary accommodation for 200 asylum seekers on the site of the Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre.

Last week, I met with David Michael MBE, Labour’s Police and Crime Commissioner candidate, who would bring a wealth of experience to the role, and I wish him the very best with his campaign.

On January 11th I put together a public health message to reach our diverse communities who may not have a good understanding of the English language. It’s vital that everyone in our communities is reached.

In Westminster

On 30th December I chose to abstain on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal. I promised not to vote for a Brexit deal that was not in the interests of the people of Bedford and Kempston, but I also could not allow an even worse and hugely damaging no deal, because the deal falls well short of what his party promised the British public.

We were promised the exact same benefits, frictionless trade; that it would be the easiest deal in history and that the United Kingdom would remain on the same footing with the EU.  MPs were given just hours to try to scrutinise one of the most important pieces of legislation in our history. It is a deal which under any honest reading is a substantial downgrade of the UK’s relationship with the largest trading bloc in the world with significant consequences for businesses, jobs, workers’ rights and protections, food standards, our freedom of choice and our economy, or no deal.

On 7th January I wrote to the Health Secretary regarding the delay in the delivery of the Covid-19 vaccine stock to Bedford and Kempston. I asked him to explain the reason for the delay and what actions will be taken to ensure that future stock is not delayed.

Last week I wrote to the Education Minister calling for teachers and school staff to be offered vaccines as soon as possible, if they are to honour their claims that schools will be last to close and first to open, and am pleased there are signs of this happening.

HCLG Select Committee

This week, we held an important session on the impact of COVID19 on homelessness and the private rented sector. At another meeting this month, we held another session on the future of High Streets and a session on leasehold reform. The Committee have also written to the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick seeking clarification on non-disclosure agreements in funding applications for building safety works.

I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:

15th December – HOC Chamber: Question to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy on Royal Mail price hikes and the temporary air carrier surcharge 

16th December – HOC Chamber: Immigration Rules: Supported Accommodation

17th December – HOC Chamber: Local Authority Funding

6th January – HOC Chamber: Nursery School Funding 

14th January – HOC Chamber: Transition Vouchers for Small Businesses

18th January –  HOC Chamber: Free School Meals 

Monthly Round Up – Nov/Dec 2020

This has been a monumental week, witnessing a triumph of human endeavour as members of our society received their first dose of what promises to be a highly effective vaccine against Covid-19 – something we perhaps only dared dream would be possible. With December comes the anticipation of Christmas, and I fully appreciate just how different this festive season will be for many this year. Unfortunately, cases are rising again steeply in Bedford after moving out of lockdown and into tier 2, and I hope we are all able to find the balance between enjoying the season whilst keeping each other safe.

In the constituency

As we approach the end of this extraordinary year, I would like to sincerely thank the efforts of my team, who have handled an astonishing 13,092 emails into my office email address alone in 2020 so far, opening 6.5k new cases and keeping on top of correspondence. I am impressed and grateful that despite emails into the office doubling from previous years, constituents have continued to receive prompt responses and committed support with their issues. Since my November update my team opened 544 new cases and 159 of these are new casework.

My constituents in Bedford and Kempston continue to engage with a wide range of issues – challenging me and calling for action on a variety of topics. The Chancellor’s spending review in November has given rise to a large volume of work with constituent’s questioning the Government on their spending allocations and other priorities.

This month, the health, social care and public sectors have been at the fore with constituents writing in support of pay rises for Nurses and other workers, expressing their concerns about the impact of lockdown upon patients with dementia and their families, and questioning the current Government’s approach to addressing a Cancer backlog.

Environmental issues are always a matter of concern and this month I received significant correspondence on the efficacy and scope of the Environment Bill as it passes through Parliament, as well as more specific issues such as ending Peat Burning and Sea Blasts – both of which have worrying detrimental environmental effects.

As we navigated a second national lockdown, constituents continued to express concerns about inconsistencies in the Government’s approach to restrictions and their devastating impact on areas such as hospitality. In particular, a campaign to save local pubs features heavily in my inbox.

Brexit is ever present – this month I received many emails and letters relating to the Internal Market Bill following its amendment by the House of Lords.

The last week of November and early December saw a torrent of correspondence on the matter of significant cuts to the UK’s Foreign Aid commitment. I have assured concerned constituents that I will continue to oppose the decision to reduce the UK’s aid budget.

I’m aware of significant additional costs faced by school leaders making their schools Covid-19 secure from PPE, cleaning costs, to paying to cover absent staff. Schools are also face loss of normal income through hiring out their premises, and combined this is leading to very difficult decisions. I await a response having written to the Chancellor on this topic ahead of last month’s Spending Review.

Universal Credit has been in the spotlight recently due to loopholes and fundamental flaws in its design and I urge anyone who feels that they or someone they may know may have been underpaid due to pay date clashes and double counting, or any disabled students unlawfully refused a work capability assessment, to please get in touch with my office for advice.

In the constituency, I was pleased to meet last week with the new CEO of the Kings Arms Project Kirstie Cook, to hear to hear about current work and future plans to support those without homes,  in particular meeting the challenges of the pandemic but crucially what may follow.  I was pleased to also meet with WASPI National Campaign Manager Linda Jack regarding next steps to redress this injustice.

As it hasn’t been possible to visit schools as I would under normal circumstances, I’ve been very pleased to be invited to school events online, where I’ve met with students answering questions about politics and leadership. Earlier this month I was delighted to virtually attend the Bedford College Achievements Ceremony and I congratulate ALL students and pupils in Bedford and Kempston across every school and college for their resilience and commitment to their studies during such a tough and uncertain year in education. Likewise, my sincerest thanks to all those working in the sector.

I was also pleased to be invited to the first meeting of a group established to discuss Health Inequalities and the Black Community, and I am certain that this will be an extremely important and useful forum for change in Bedford and Kempston.

Thanks to NHS and care too…

In Westminster

I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:

18th November – HOC Chamber: Question to the Prime Minister on Government failures for the disabled

19th November – HOC Chamber: Financial Support for the Sport Sector on the furlough scheme

30th November – HOC Chamber: Question to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the Universal Credit uplift

The HCLG Committee  published its report on the Building Safety Bill which was drafted following the Grenfell Tower fire. In our report, we urge the Government to guarantee that leaseholders will not have to pay, come up with alternative proposals for financing the remediation work, explore ways of making building companies pay for fixing problems they created.

I voted against the Government’s decision to strike out the Lords amendment to the Internal Markets Bill to override the Brexit divorce deal and break international law which had been removed in an historic defeat in the House of Lords. Despite all but 1 Tory MP supporting the measures, they were in fact dropped by the Government the next day.

The Government presented parliament with a vote to agree to its flawed tier system or to risk no restrictions at all. So, I abstained to express my concerns at the government’s measures as they stand but not to leave us in the reckless position of having no measures at all to keep the virus under control.

I joined pupils at The Hills Academy to be part of Be Internet Legends livestream assembly -a fantastic virtual event, part of a wider campaign offering primary school teachers across the UK the chance to download and be virtually trained on a free PSHE Association-accredited curriculum pack and a new teaching module on digital wellbeing.

I supported letters to the Government on inadequate levels of Statutory Sick Pay, to extend the free school meal provision to children from low-income families – for those on Universal Credit and those who have no recourse to public funds, a Letter asking the Government  to protect free-to-use ATMs in the hardest to reach places, a letter to the Chancellor regarding the Small Breweries’ Relief (SBR) scheme, a letter supporting Sue Ryder’s campaign to introduce a paid, statutory right to bereavement leave, a letter to support the end to the import and sale of fur in the UK, a letter ahead of the Spending Review asking the Chancellor for an increase in local authority funding and a letter to the Health Secretary  calling for NHS parking to be free for staff, a letter to support farmers rights in India and a letter to the Home Secretary asking for the deportation flight to Jamaica to be halted. Although the deportation went ahead, there are reports that an estimated 37 fewer people were on the flight than planned, including people that the Home Office has now acknowledged may be victims of modern slavery.

On the launch of Disability History month, I asked the Prime Minister why his Government has let down disabled people so much during the pandemic. 6 out of 10 people killed by Covid-19 is disabled. Yet during this pandemic, disabled people have seen their care cut back, struggled to isolate without sufficient support, and been excluded from the government’s shambolic communications.

Monthly Round Up – October/November 2020

We are now approaching the second week of this second national lockdown, and I appreciate that these are tough times for all, as we make huge personal sacrifices to protect the NHS and save lives. A glimmer of real hope this week came with the news of a vaccine – subject to it passing the final stages of approval – representing an extraordinary feat of human achievement.

In the constituency

Since my previous update my team have opened 721 new cases. 156 of these were casework, with the remaining relating to policy and campaigning issues.

As with the first lockdown, my office received a surge in enquiries at the announcement of the second lockdown, with many constituents writing with a particular focus on wishing to see gyms, places of worship or outdoor sporting activities remain open during the lockdown, whilst many people were opposed to schools and colleges staying open. Some constituents opposed the lockdown altogether.

At the end of October, appalled by the tragic deaths of migrants in the channel, I received many emails from constituents, and I have promised to continue to bring whatever pressure I can to bear upon the current Government to reinstate refugee resettlement, which was suspended due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In recent weeks, many constituents have written to share their concerns that after a decade of austerity, our fire and rescue services have been left in a perilous state, requiring urgent investment.

I await a response from Barclay’s Bank to my recent letter to the Chief Executive, following meeting with several managers who talked me through the planned closure of their Kempston branch. I’m deeply disappointed with this decision, which sees essential, convenient face-to-face banking disappear for residents of Kempston, and which I believe will put further strain on local post offices, and the town centre branch. The elderly and most disadvantaged who either cannot or would prefer not to bank electronically will suffer the most, and I have urged Barclay’s Bank to reconsider this decision.

At the end of October, I met with members of the Bedford Blues RFC Board of Directors to the current crisis they are experiencing a result of the pandemic and cancellation of Championship rugby. I followed up with a letter to the Chancellor and a Question in the Commons to the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport requesting  a £1 million support package to ensure the club will still be there for us at the end of this dreadful pandemic.

In Westminster

I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:

5th November – HOC Chamber: Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Questions on Bedford Blues RFC

9th November – HOC Chamber: Work and Pensions Questions on small and medium-sized enterprises 

Early in November I voted against the controversial Overseas Operations Bill. The main purpose of the Bill is to provide greater legal protections to Armed Forces personnel and veterans serving on military operations overseas but the final drafting breaches the Armed Forces Covenant by preventing British Armed Forces personnel from holding the Ministry of Defence to account when it fails to properly equip personnel, or when it makes serious errors that lead to death or injury of British forces overseas. The Bill does not reflect British values of fairness and justice nor meet the necessary standards for investigations, welfare and legal protections for forces personnel or international law.

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee held the opening session of its new inquiry into supporting high streets after Covid-19.In a report published last year, the Committee highlighted the challenges facing high streets and town centres due to strong competition from online competitors, an unfair taxation regime and fragmented ownership of commercial properties. The Covid-19 pandemic has placed even greater pressures on businesses with many having to adapt to new ways of operating or not being able to open at all.

I supported Labour’s Motion to extend school meals in the holidays during the pandemic for children eligible for free school meals. The Government rejected Labour’s motion only for the Prime Minister to do another screeching U-turn on the issue following Marcus Rashford’s campaign.

After supporting Keir Starmer’s calls for a circuit breaker lockdown, to make use of the half term when schools were at home, which the PM described as a “disaster”, I supported the Government’s U-turn to introduce a second national lockdown. We learned from the first lockdown that dithering costs more lives and jobs and I hope the Government uses this time to finally fix it’s test, trace and isolate system to begin to bring infection rates under control.

Although necessarily scaled down from original plans to commemorate Remembrance Sunday and Armistice Day this year, I attended small services on both days to honour the memories of men and women whose service and sacrifice secured peace and freedom 75 years ago, and all who have served to defend our way of life.

Monthly Round Up September/October

As we find ourselves getting to grips with the Government’s new three-tier Covid-19 restrictions, I know that this will be an enormously challenging and unsettling time for all. Whilst there is no short-term prospect of a return to normality, I hope you are staying as well as possible and continuing to look out for each other through this continued crisis.

In the constituency:

The return to school led to a presumably predictable rise in tests, and as in other parts of the UK, constituents shared their experiences with me of outrageous delays both in finding tests and receiving results.

As ever, constituents have written to me on a broad range of issues, although the after-effects of Brexit and the current coronavirus pandemic dominate – encompassing concerns about the passage of several significant pieces of legislation; the Agriculture, Trade and Overseas Operations Bills. Constituents in Bedford and Kempston are hugely concerned about protecting Animal Welfare and Food Standards in post-Brexit Trade deals. I am also seeing many letters and emails about the need to protect the creative and hospitality industries and their employees from the financial effects of Covid-19 as well as people seeking clarification about the ever-changing lockdown rules.

I’m seeing very long waiting times for Universal Credit claimants trying to get responses to their complaints, waiting up to a year for a decision maker to look again at a payment decision, which should take a matter of days or weeks, and with the Department for Work and Pension’s own ‘Independent Case Examiner’ experiencing an unacceptable and extraordinary backlog of around 18 months. I continue to be contacted by many constituents who are rightly very concerned about the restrictions of visits to loved ones in care homes and hospitals, and I have met with representatives of local care homes sharing their experiences of a multitude of issues including that costs of PPE have doubled and will soon be unaffordable, and that slow Covid-19 test results have meant staff don’t know if they are safe to work or not, amongst others.

On the advice of the speaker, my staff continue to work from home wherever possible and I will carry on holding my weekly surgeries virtually, with constituents able to book in between 3-5pm on Fridays via Zoom. Email the office on office@mohammadyasin.org to book in.

In Westminster:

Conference Season was very different this year because of Covid with Labour swapping the seaside for a virtual world. Labour’s online event, Connected, ran over 4 days whilst Parliament was still in session and featured a strong keynote speech from Keir Starmer. (https://labour.org.uk/labourconnected/) In the HCLG Select Committee this month, we focussed on Pre-legislative scrutiny of the Building Safety Bill and building materials in response to the Grenfell Tower Tragedy. The Committee launched a new inquiry to investigate Government proposals to reform the planning system and relaunched its inquiry into the impact of Covid-19 on tenants, landlords and rough sleepers.

Notable votes in Parliament included the Internal Market’s Bill which despite opposition sailed through Parliament with its infamous undermining of the EU Withdrawal Agreement – showing the
Government’s intention to break international law. MPs did not get a chance to vote on amendments to the Coronavirus Act extending the government’s emergency powers. Speaker Hoyle said the Government were treating Parliament with “contempt” by rushing through new powers to tackle coronavirus without debate but he was unable to select any amendments ahead of a vote on the renewal of the powers to avoid “undermining the rule of law”.

In the Agriculture Bill, I voted for amendments to require imported food to meet domestic legal standards from 1 January. All but 14 Tory MPs (none of them in Bedfordshire) struck down a Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill to force trade deals to meet UK animal welfare and food safety rules. The Government also voted down Labour amendments to the Fisheries Bill to enshrine in law a commitment to keep fishing quotas within the sustainable limits advised by scientists and an amendment aimed at banning supertrawlers from marine protected areas was also defeated by 331 votes to 197.

I’m deeply concerned about the latest CQC report into the East of England Ambulance Service Trust which has again gone into special measures. I’ve had two meetings with the CQC, government
ministers, this week including a representative from the EEAST. The Trust has endured serious problems for the last decade and the feeling amongst MPs is that the Trust area is simply too big
and unwieldy.

I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:

29th September – HOC Chamber: Questions to the Secretary of State for BEIS, on the job support scheme: https://bit.ly/378jv3D
1st October – HOC Chamber: Questions to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, on food standards: https://bit.ly/3dwmyDL
12th October – HOC Chamber: Questions to the Education Minister, on pupils from disadvantaged pupils: https://bit.ly/37f7zxf
15th October – HOC Chamber: Question to Health Secretary about blood test shortages: https://bit.ly/2Her12c

Monthly Round Up – August/September 2020

In the constituency

In August we saw the Government forced to U-turn after putting the futures of students undertaking their A-Levels in peril thanks to Ofqual’s results algorithm, despite warnings from experts. Several young people, parents and teachers in the constituency wrote to me with their concerns. This is far from resolved, with students who have fallen through the net still trying to battle for the grades they deserve, and with a potential crisis looming for next cohort of examination students if the Government doesn’t take urgent action.  The Government must address the disparities in how the time out of school has been spent, with the most deprived students hit disproportionately hard.

Constituents have written on a number of environmental issues, including the illegal killing of hen harriers and other birds of prey on the UK’s grouse moors, and calls to ban supertrawlers and other destructive industrial fishing from UK Marine Protected Areas once the UK leaves the EU Common Fisheries Policy. Constituents have shared their concerns that the Government’s proposed planning reforms for housing and infrastructure must not be at the expense of nature and the climate. Constituents have written regarding their wish to see an Animal Sentience law legislated, and those who wish to see a ban on the sale of real animal fur in the UK.

Another local issue that several constituents are understandably concerned with is the continued closure of many of Bedford and Kempston’s leisure facilities, operated by Fusion Lifestyle. Bedford Borough Council have this week advised me that they are hopeful of being able to announce the reopening of some further services within the next few weeks.

Constituents have written and are appalled by the Government’s Internal Markets Bill, and many have contacted me to share their views on the EU negotiations and future trade deals.

Many constituents wrote to me as they wish to see this Government commit to resuming, and increasing the funding, for the refugee resettlement scheme. I have also been contacted by constituents keen that furlough and business support schemes are extended to prevent a potentially catastrophic number of jobs being lost and business going under.

In the diary

In recent weeks I have met with Kevin Bolt, the Chief Executive of bpha, the largest local housing association; one of our regular opportunities to discuss housing sector key issues and challenges. I also met recently with SpectaculArts, a local organisation, hearing how they have responded both to the Covid-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement by refocussing their plans on bringing Bedford communities together through the arts and education.

It has been great to see constituents embracing technology through these challenging times, and I was delighted to virtually attend a surprise 90th birthday party hosted by the Retired Caribbean Nurses’ Association. And whilst the culture and entertainment sectors have been dreadfully hard hit through this crisis, I was pleased to attend and support The Place Theatre’s innovative Table Top Swap Shop in August, which was a carefully planned and fully socially distanced event.

Also in August, making the most of the fair weather and opportunity to meet with people outdoors, I visited a number of  local businesses to speak to business owners and workers first hand to better understand the challenges they have faced to date due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and what issues they anticipate on the horizon, including when we end the transition period and fully leave the EU.

Following Bedford being named one of 101 towns that could bid for up to £25million from Central Government for a Town Deal last September the Board, of which I am a member, will be asked to recommend submission of the Town Investment Plan to the Government when we meet next on 12 October.

On the advice of the speaker, my staff continue to work from home wherever possible and I will carry on holding my weekly surgeries virtually, with constituents able to book in between 3-5pm on Fridays via Zoom.

In Westminster

Since lockdown, I have participated in a virtual parliament but I made the decision to physically return after recess ended in September. I haven’t been drawn in the ballot yet to speak and because of social distancing measures in the chamber it’s not possible to spontaneously ask questions, but some of my notable actions include:

  • The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, which continues its inquiry into devolution in England and on Monday 7 September took evidence on health and fiscal devolution.
  • On Monday 14 September The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee began taking evidence as part of its pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Building Safety Bill, starting with fire safety and construction industry representatives.
  • I added my name in support for the cross-party letter to the Chinese Ambassador AmbLiu Xiao Ming, signed by over 140 MPs & Peers expressing horror and absolute condemnation of the oppression of the Uyghur Muslims in China.
  • I attended the report launch of the first UK-wide citizens assembly on climate change.
  • I voted for the Government to abandon its one-size-fits-all withdrawal of the Coronavirus Job Retention and Self-Employment Income Support Schemes. I had my speech ready for the debate, but time ran out and I wasn’t called.
  • I voted for Labour’s amendment to the Fire Safety Bill, requesting that the Government put into law the official fire safety recommendations made during phase one of the Grenfell inquiry. The Government voted it down.
  • I voted against the Government’s Internal Markets Bill to try and prevent the Government from instigating new legislation that will override key parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, risking the collapse of trade negotiations with Brussels.

 

Monthly Round Up – July 2020

In the constituency

Since my previous update my team have opened 971 new cases, with the office inbox alone receiving almost 1,700 emails in June, which is the highest I’ve ever seen since becoming an MP. 318 of these were casework, with the remaining relating to policy and campaigning issues.

What is notable during these times is the sheer breadth and diversity of the issues and concerns that have prompted constituents to get in touch, with many sharing concerns about the annexation of the West Bank, amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill, writing in support of banning fur imports, in support of the cross-party amendment NC17 led by Yvette Cooper MP which seeks to ensure that all NHS and social care workers whose visas are due to expire before January 2021 can have their visas extended for one year for free, and regarding opposition to the government’s plans to introduce Reception Baseline Assessment (RBA) this academic year for young children starting school.

Constituents have written in smaller numbers but across a very broad range of issues, including: concern for local high rates of covid-19 here in Bedford; calling on more support for the arts and theatres; for certain types of businesses to reopen (where there were clear contradictions in the Government’s lockdown easing strategies); against the threatened redundancies at British Airways; for and against changes to Sunday trading hours; regarding the Government threatening to back track on the Gender Recognition Act (GRA); requesting that places of worship be reopened; general concern about children’s education; making Black British history mandatory in the national curriculum; calling for a green recovery post Covid-19; concerned about the government’s proposals to remove support for heat pump technology; wishing to see the Brexit transition period extended; supporting a pay rise for NHS workers; to protect the NHS in trade agreements; regarding the suspension of Marston Vale train services; urging the Government to put a deadline on removing dangerous cladding from buildings; and regarding a Universal Basic Income, amongst many more.

Individual casework this month has included constituents contacting us with issues where employers are not furloughing staff, or paying staff according to the scheme, alongside many other issues.

I’m delighted by the news that Grange Academy in Kempston has been awarded £2.26 million funding for new classrooms. I visited Grange Academy in January and was shocked at the state of repair of some of the temporary classrooms. That month, I asked the Prime Minister to urgently review the funding formula for capital and revenue, so that schools for children with special educational needs and disability are not disadvantaged simply because they have fewer pupils. I hope the follow up letter highlighted their plight and made the Government rethink the rejected first bid. Congratulations to the headteacher, Catherine, the Governors and the Trust who fought hard to get the funding and carried on fighting despite the setbacks.

In June I met with a consultant from AECOM, who won the tender to support Bedford’s investment plan to hopefully secure up to £25million from the Government’s Towns Fund. I’ve spoken with Bedfordshire Police’s Chief Constable Garry Forsyth raising several issues brought to my attention thanks to the momentum that is building from the Black Lives Matter movement. I participate in a weekly Bedfordshire Resilience forum, where key stakeholders discuss the local impact of Covid-19 as the crisis continues and we enter new phases, and my team and I have joined meetings to discuss specifically the impact of Covid-19 on the Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities. I was pleased to meet recently with local constituents at an innovative virtual lobby to discuss climate change.

The interim report of the deep dive into Bedford’s high rate of covid-19 was recently published, and at last Pillar 2 testing is also being included in the Government’s published data, giving us a better picture of cases locally. I raised this at Prime Minister’s Questions, and it was shocking how long it took for this vital data to become available. I am pleased that the rate in Bedford does now appear to be dropping, but we have some way to go.

I am holding weekly surgeries, with constituents able to book in between 3-5pm on Fridays via Zoom. More details on my Surgeries page.

In Westminster

Whilst shielding continues, I have continued to join Westminster virtually.

I supported eight new clauses covering four areas in the Domestic Violence Bill: the rough sex defence; the DPP review of prosecutions lowering charges; the non-fatal strangulation issue; and anonymity for victims.

I’m very pleased that in light of this, the Government introduced a new clause which puts into statute law that defendants cannot argue rough sex as their defence.  That obviates the need for a DPP review of charging and the issue of anonymity for the deceased will no longer be a problem as the evidence of sexual violence in their relationship will be irrelevant and therefore inadmissible. I‘m pleased that the Minister agreed to keep the issue of non-fatal strangulation under review.

I was also a named supporter on a Loan Charge clause in the Finance Bill to stop retrospective law costing lives and tackle tax evasion. At least seven people have taken their own life after receiving a huge and unfair retrospective tax bill they could never hope to pay back. I’m sad to say the amendment was not pushed on to vote but I will continue supporting the Loan Charge APPG to fight this unjust tax.

I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:

8th July 2020 – HOC Chamber: Question to the Prime Minister (Care Homes)

7th July 2020 – HOC Chamber: Coronavirus

2nd July 2020 – HOC Chamber: Railways – Passenger Confidence

24th June 2020 – HOC Chamber: Question to the Prime Minister (Pillar 2 tests)

23rd June 2020 – HOC Chamber: Windrush Compensation Scheme

22nd June 2020 – HOC Chamber:  Higher Education Institutions: Covid-19

10th June 2020 – HOC Chamber: Sub-Postmaster Convictions

As more businesses are opening again, with many of us starting to be able to enjoy the easing of lockdown measures, please remember we must continue to be vigilant to keep ourselves and others safe. Please contact my office if we can offer you any assistance.

Monthly Round Up

In the constituency

Since my last update my office has opened 892 new cases, and we continue to see a huge number of people contacting me across a wide range of issues as the Covid-19 Coronavirus crisis continues.

Of these, 255 were casework, and the rest were policy and campaign cases. Very large numbers of constituents have written to me regarding the Black Lives Matter campaign, deeply troubled by President Trump’s handling of the protests in the US in response to the devastating murder of George Floyd, and calling on this Government to end UK exports of riot gear such as tear gas and rubber bullets to the US. I have received many emails calling for justice for Ms Belly Mujinga. Many constituents have raised their dissatisfaction with the lack of BAME content in UK school’s curriculum, and the lack of recommendations within the Government’s report on the effects of Covid-19 on BAME individuals.

A huge number of constituents wrote to share their anger at Dominic Cummings and the failure of the Prime Minister in allowing him to keep his job despite public outrage and calls for Dominic Cummings to be sacked, or to resign.

The reopening of schools also concerned a great deal of constituents, who felt that the science did not demonstrate it was safe to do so.

Constituents have also been hugely concerned over the Agriculture Bill leaving open reductions in standards for farm animals and imports, and they asked for my support to vote for the amendments, which to my great disappointed didn’t receive the votes required to pass through.

Constituents have also written on the following topics, amongst others: calling on the Government to impose sanctions on proposed Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank; to protect the NHS in any UK/US trade deals; to attach conditions to airline bailouts; for zoos to reopen; many have written about their concerns about the lack of progress in the EU negotiations and the impact of leaving the EU whilst we are dealing with the impact of the health pandemic; and the Trussell Trust – provider of foodbanks – calls for a Coronavirus Emergency Income Support Scheme.

I am pleased to have resumed surgeries, with constituents able to book in between 3-5pm on Fridays via Zoom. Find out more about booking an appointment here.

In Westminster

After the ludicrous scenes witnessed with last week’s return to Westminster, with MPs queuing at length to vote, and where myself and other MPs who could not attend due to self-shielding or caring responsibilities were prevented from contributing, I am relieved that I will be able to continue to participate in parliamentary proceedings and represent my constituents virtually via Zoom.

MPs continue to join forces to put pressure on the Government on a range of issues linked to the Covid-19 crisis and other key issues, including last week co-signing a letter from Dawn Butler MP to the Government calling for an immediate suspension of all export licences to the USA that are linked to riot related items and signed the Early Day Motion #520 with the same call to action. I also signed a letter from Sarah Olney MP urging Ministers to renew guidelines and urgently upscale PPE for all transport workers. I signed a letter to the Chancellor calling on him to continue the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme and was pleased to see this was extended. I also added my name to those signing a letter to the Secretary of State for Education voicing concerns for the reopening of schools.

I have raised written questions regarding when applying to the DVLA for a provisional licence will resume and regarding the effect of Universal Credit on childcare payments.

I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:

6th May 2020 – HOC Debate: Census – Sikh ethnicity census tick box

12th May 2020 – HOC Debate: Covid-19 Response – Government grants for small business

18th May 2020- HOC Debate: Covid-19 Response – Schools Reopening

Please keep safe during these uncertain times and please contact my office if we can offer you any assistance.

Monthly Round Up – April 2020

In the constituency

It will come as no surprise that the vast majority of correspondence to my office in recent weeks has been related to the current Covid-19 Coronavirus crisis, and my office has opened a staggering 974 new cases (almost 100% more cases were opened in March than in any month during Brexit negotiations). 493 -approximately half – of these were casework, the remaining were campaign or policy based.

As the nation approached lockdown, constituents got in touch in large numbers with a wide range of issues relating to the measures introduced by the Government. Some key issues that caused concern included the Government’s delays starting lockdown and closing schools, the impact of the Coronavirus Act on those with disabilities, the concern that religious burial requirements appeared to be contravened in an early draft of the Coronavirus Bill, which was addressed, and the impact of the emergency measures on accessing abortions.

Many constituents contacted us to say either they or family members were stranded overseas, and my team worked tirelessly to keep pressure on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to ensure flights were made available for these individuals. To date the vast majority of those who got in touch are now safely home.

As we moved into lockdown, and the Government announced their series of support packages, we have heard from sadly far too many constituents who are falling between the gaps, largely those who are self-employed but who are not eligible for government support, small businesses who don’t meet the criteria, and those who work for umbrella companies. The implications for people’s personal finances, employment and housing have evolved, and my team have either sought out the most up to date information from the Government or we have pushed for the gaps to be addressed, wherever they have become apparent.

Many constituents have written regarding the ongoing issues with insufficient supplies of PPE for staff working across a variety of settings.

Usual casework has, of course, also continued – with Home Office, Universal Credit, housing and other benefit issues still causing a great deal of stress for constituents.

I have stayed closely in touch with Bedford Hospital, Bedfordshire Police, HMP Bedford and other institutions and organisations in Bedford throughout, to keep firmly abreast of any issues in the constituency to inform my work in Westminster.

Please note that whilst lockdown and social distancing continues, despite not being able to offer any appointments or hold surgeries in person, my team and me are still here to answer any emails and calls as usual, and video calls can be arranged where they are preferred.

My team prepared FAQs relating to Covid-19, for the most commonly asked queries.

In Westminster

Parliament has reconvened and I am joining virtually rather than in person, and the next few weeks will be an incredibly important time for opposition MPs to scrutinise and challenge the Government on their decisions to date, current and ongoing issues, and any exit strategy from lockdown, which has been suggested will be announced next week.

Since the current crisis, I have written to Ministers, co-signed by other MPs, including writing regarding passengers onboard the Coral Princess cruise ship, which for a long time was unable to dock, and am pleased to say all passengers, including constituents of Bedford and Kempston, are now safely home.

I wrote to Matt Hancock with regards to the disturbing actions that were being taken by some institutions across the UK, including some within our constituency, where blanket ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ letters were sent by medical or care home management to patients or residents. I was pleased that shortly following on from my letter Matt Hancock reiterated that blanket DNRs should not be sent during a daily briefing.

I have co-signed letters to Ministers on issues including demanding support for Nurseries and Childcare providers, to ensure Postal Workers are protected through this crisis, to provide more support for the thousands of carers who are struggling financially, seeking clarification about the Government’s plans to monitor and collect data on the use of emergency police powers under coronavirus legislation, to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport asking why there haven’t been sign language interpreters at the Government’s daily briefings and regarding regulating online gambling during lock down, amongst others.

I made the following representations recorded on the Hansard:

03/03/20: led Westminster Hall debate on nursing workforce shortage in England

03/03/20: Commons Chamber – Recent Violence in India.

12/03/20: Commons Chamber – Public Transport (Covid).

13?03/20: HCLG Select Committee launches survey on dangerous cladding.

16/03/20: Commons Chamber – Covid 19

16/04/20: Commons Chamber – Budget Resolutions

17/04/20 HCLG Select Committee launch inquiry into impact of Covid 19 on homelessness and private renters’ sector.

RECESS

27/04/20: HCLG Select Committee takes evidence from Local Government Association on Covid-19 impact.

27/04/20: Commons Chamber – Covid-19: Local and Regional News Organisations.