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.
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:
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