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.

Monthly Round Up – February/March 2020

In the constituency

From the last GC meeting on the 7th February my office opened 298 new cases. 111 of those cases were casework while the remaining 187 were policy based. In February my office received a total of 662 emails.

The most common issues that arose as casework in February were housing issues. These included properties that were in need of repair, and tenants that needed mould and damp treated in their properties. We also received a large number of immigration cases, with more and more constituents suffering long waiting times for Home Office decisions.

In terms of policy cases, the most common topic was the environment. The need to protect our oceans featured heavily with 47 constituents contacting me, as did the need to strengthen the Environment Bill with 17 constituents getting in touch.

I have now recruited a part time caseworker due to join my office team shortly, and so my office will now be back up to full strength. If you know of anyone that needs assistance, please ask them to get in touch.

I have continued to hold surgeries in new locations, which is encouraging constituents who may not have previously, to make contact, and my team have been taking up their cases.

I met with Kevin Bolt, Chief Executive of bpha to discuss the proposed increases in rent, and the long waiting lists for properties mostly as a result of housing shortages. We also discussed the worrisome rates of child poverty in areas within the constituency.

I attended a youth-led intergenerational seminar at Wixams Academy on serious and violent crime. Whilst it took place outside of the constituency, many of the young people taking part live in Bedford, and it was a heartening and informative event.

Continuing my efforts to visit local businesses I had a fascinating tour of FujiFilm’s premises, finding out about their state-of-the-art medical technology.

Today I met with the Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Nursing at Bedford Hospital, and was encouraged by the detail and comprehensiveness of their contingency plans should there be an outbreak of COVID-19 coronavirus in Bedford.

In the Diary

I will soon be meeting with Garry Forsyth, Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police and have further visits to local schools and businesses scheduled over the coming weeks.

Monthly Round Up December 2019 – January 2020

In Parliament:

It has been a bitter-sweet return to parliament. I am delighted to get back to work to continue to serve the people of Bedford and Kempston but I’m sad to see so many tremendous and hard-working colleagues lose their seats.

There is a strong field of candidates for the Labour Leadership, all of whom would have brought their own talents and energy to the role but for me, Keir Starmer is the outstanding candidate and is the right person to take the Labour Party into the next decade.

It is clear that Labour needs to listen to communities across the country and learn serious lessons following the General Election result. I believe Keir Starmer can bring the leadership necessary to rebuild trust and establish Labour as a united force for good so we can win the next election and deliver the credible and radical change needed to tackle the profound injustices and inequality in our economy and society.

My priorities for Bedford for the next five years will be fighting for funding for Bedford Hospital and improving health and social care provision; supporting Bedfordshire Police to make our town a safer place; and fighting to improve Bedford’s rail services.

In Parliament, I will focus on getting the best Brexit we can which protects workers’ rights, food standards, citizens’ rights and environmental protections. I will do all I can to pressurise the Government on improving and accelerating their very weak plans to tackle the global warming crisis.

I made the following representation recorded on the Hansard:

9th January 2020: Department for Exiting the European Union Questions: Employment Rights after Brexit

I met with Rail Minister, Chris Heaton Harris to discuss ongoing issues with Bedford rail, and a breakdown of the key discussion points at the meeting will soon be published on my website.

Supporting child refugee protections

In the constituency:

My office staff and I have been busy picking up a number of new issues from constituents following the General Election.

I have also received a large amount of emails on a variety of policy issues and campaigns. The most common is the concern over the Government’s disgraceful decision to remove refugee family reunion protections from the EU Withdrawal Bill. I have assured those constituents that I am appalled by the Government’s decision and I will continue to fight for the rights of child refugees. The campaign to equalise payments for living and deceased victims of asbestos related illnesses also featured heavily. I do not believe it is fair for the partner of the deceased (the majority of whom are women) to receive less money at a time when they are grieving.

Several constituents wrote asking me to attend yesterday’s World Watch List Launch, where I heard speakers from the Middle East and South East Asia share first-hand experiences of religious persecution.

My office will continue to be available to any constituent that needs support and if you know of anyone that needs assistance please do ask them to get in touch.

I have recently been appointed a Board member for the Bedford Town Deal, and will attend meetings where my schedule allows this.

I am in the process of meeting with local charities and organisations who support some of the constituency’s most marginal individuals and families to ensure we continue to work together during the next parliamentary term.

Monthly Round Up

In the community

Over the past month I have received campaign emails from constituents wishing to see fracking halted and to share concerns about the risk to the NHS in any trade deal with the US.  Several constituents wrote regarding the NHS’s failure to deliver adequate postnatal check-ups that all mothers should receive 6 weeks after giving birth, others asking me to support unpaid carers, and many have written to say they are against a rise in beer duty and want me to fight to protect pubs.

A large proportion of the emails in my inbox were from constituents contacting me expressing a wide range of views on Brexit, including asking me to stop no deal, support a referendum, to leave without a deal and several wrote on the topic of the unlawful prorogation of parliament.

I have been out and about attending events in the constituency and beyond, including the Mind BLMK AGM in Flitwick and chairing the most recent UpRising Bedfordshire business breakfast meeting. I’ve also attended coffee mornings, including one for Small Businesses and another for the Macmillan charity.

On the 20th September I was delighted to join many young people as they held their School Strike for Climate. Other events included the mayoral reception for Mayor of Kempston, the Health and Wellbeing Fair at the Corn Exchange, and a fundraising event at Bedford Rugby Club for Macmillan.

Earlier this month, I was inspired by the student leaders of the Sixth Form at Bedford School as they lead their inaugural Ready 2 Lead conference, I attended a fundraising event at Bedford Rugby Club, and participated in the events organised by the Borough in the town centre for Mental Health Awareness.

In Parliament

Parliament was unlawfully prorogued for some of the last month but I have nonetheless asked a number of written questions, to which many of the responses raise more questions than answers which require further follow up.

On the 10th September I joined UNISON in Parliament for a Disability Rights UK Roundtable to discuss disability rights post Brexit. 

On Wednesday 11 September I attended Holocaust Memorial Day Trust Parliamentary Reception. Holocaust Memorial Day will take place on 27 January 2020, and will commemorate the landmark 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The reception in September was to launch their resources and announce how the Trust will mark this milestone anniversary year. The theme for HMD 2020 is Stand Together. Now more than ever, we need to stand together with others in our communities in order to stop division and the spread of identity-based hostility in our society.

The following are all my recent appearances in the House of Commons, and links to my written questions:

16/10/2019: Debate on the Address: Public Services

15/10/2019: Unregulated Accommodation: 16 to 17-Year-Olds 

08/10/2019: Written Answers — Department of Health and Social Care: Hospitals: Construction

08/10/2019: Written Answers — Department of Health and Social Care: NHS Trusts: Mergers

08/10/2019: Written Answers — Department of Health and Social Care: Bedford Hospital: Luton and Dunstable Hospital

07/10/2019: Written Answers — Department of Health and Social Care: Bedford Hospital NHS Trust: Vacancies

07/10/2019: Written Answers — Department of Health and Social Care: Bedford Hospital: Finance

07/10/2019: Written Answers — Department of Health and Social Care: Bedford Hospital: Mental Health Services

07/10/2019: Written Answers — Department of Health and Social Care: Bedford Hospital NHS Trust: Medical Equipment

09/09/2019: Written Answers — Department of Health and Social Care: European Reference Networks

09/09/2019: Written Answers — Department for Transport: Railway Track: Weather

05/09/2019: Supply of Medicines: No Deal: challenged the Government on the Yellowhammer document on base case post Brexit impact.

Housing Communities and Local Government Select Committee

In September the Committee took evidence from campaigners and academics in our new social housing inquiry. The new inquiry examines the effectiveness of the Government’s current strategies to boost social and affordable housing provision. 

Also in September, the Committee warned the Government to take heed of local council warnings over restrictive waste strategy: The Committee warned that the strategy risks placing a needless burden on local authorities by enforcing a prescriptive national approach to recycling and waste management.