Monthly Round Up

Working for You – February 2019

In the constituency

I’ve been contacted by a number of concerned constituents in reaction to news that M&S in Bedford town centre will be closing on the 4th May, and have been in contact with senior M&S staff urging them to reconsider their decision. Many will have been following the M&S campaign online. M&S bosses told me this week that this is a commercial decision which is not influenced by high business rates or the market being held outside the store, and although the high rental costs were something of a factor, it’s simply the case that people do not spend enough money in town centre M&S stores any more, throughout the country.

I have received many more emails from constituents regarding Brexit, again representing a range of views. Constituents have written concerning amendments to the Agricultural Bill to control the use of pesticide, also regarding amendments to protect the environment to reverse the decimation of wildlife populations by restoring nature.

I have also received emails about CAMRA’s campaign to protect British pubs, and by constituents expressing differing views regarding assisted dying, and emails in support of the NSPCC’s campaign to stop people in positions of trust taking advantage of minors.

I was also contacted by a number of constituents after speaking about ME treatment, and I have received emails reflecting both sides of the debate regarding Parliamentary prayers.

My team have been working with constituents to support them with casework, as usual dominated by issues with immigration, housing, and antisocial behaviour. We have new medical cases revealing potential issues with Circle MSK, and issues with combined GP surgeries highlighting the impact that has on patients being sent to appointments across different locations.

In Parliament

Whilst Brexit continues to dominate proceedings, I have made the following appearances:

24/01/19 –  Joint HMI Prison and Probation Report 

24/01/19 –  Appropriate ME Treatment

05/02/10 – Prison overcrowding

06/02/19 – Public Sector Procurement

07/02/19 – Caste based discrimination

07/02/19 – Antisocial behaviour

11/02/19 – Universal Credit: Fluctuating Income

11/02/19 – Free TV Licenses for over 75s


Working for You – December 18 & January 19

In the constituency

Emails continue to flood my inbox on the subject of Brexit, and very many constituents wrote to express their concern about the rollout of Universal Credit. A significant number of people wrote to me to ask for a ban on trophy hunting imports into the UK .

Constituents have written to me calling for pressure to be put on the Financial Conduct Authority to enforce their rules on affordability checks for payday loans, and about the Immigration Bill which had its second reading this week, prompting fears that Government plans will worsen NHS and care sector staff shortages. I’ve heard from a number of people who have asked me  to put pressure on the Government regarding long-term plans for the NHS and their failure to address waiting times for treatment, and an Alzheimers Society campaign regarding dementia care prompted a number of people to contact me too.

The cases that my team have been working hard with constituents to address continue to be varied, but with several local authority issues including housing and Special Educational Needs. My office has also taken up cases relating to mental health provision, Bedford prison and issues with DWP and the Home Office, amongst others.

I have met with constituents at my drop-in surgeries and continued to knock on doors and meet constituents across Bedford and Kempston.

In Parliament

Please follow the following links to Hansard to read about my recent appearances in Westminster.

In December, I was able to ask questions about the administration of Johnston Press, the plight of the Rohingya, the adequacy of the breast cancer screening programme, the state pension issue for women who were born in the 1950s, and raised a question relating to the lack of enforcement of existing legislation relating to the use of fireworks.

At the debate for the NHS Long-Term Plan on the 7th January I raised the issues of the lack of in-patient beds for male adults in Bedford, which has led to a struggle in terms of the care constituents are able to access. Following this, I was able to ask a question on the Secretary of State’s plan regarding this issue and whether they would reinstate in-patient mental health facilities in Bedford.

I raised a question on 15th January about a specific incident involving ambulance response time when called from a GP surgery. I expressed my concern about this issue and asked a question about future action in terms of the wellbeing of patients, regardless of where they call from.

On 17th January I spoke in a debate on children’s social care, raising the issue of unregulated semi-independent living homes for children leaving care, which are often unfit for purpose and leave vulnerable young people at risk.

On 24th January I posed a question about the impact on local residents as a result of intimidating behaviour from prisoners inside Bedford Prison, and as a result of the dilapidation of the Prison estate, to which Rory Stewart MP promised to seek a solution. I also spoke in the debate on the medical condition ME, sufferers of which are often stigmatised and marginalised, and which requires urgent funded research into finding appropriate treatments.


Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards

Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards

Last week I attended the Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards and was proud to have been shortlisted in the category of Political Supporter of the Year.

The Anthony Nolan Supporter Awards are held annually to celebrate, recognise and thank the outstanding supporters who keep the pioneering blood cancer charity moving forward. Over the last year my team and I have supported Anthony Nolan in a number of ways, from promoting their education programme, The Hero Project, to leading a debate on black, Asian and minority ethnic blood, stem cell and organ donation.

It is a privilege to be able to use my position as an MP to raise awareness of stem cell donation among people from ethnic minority backgrounds – because no person should be faced with the prospect of being told that they have no match on the register.

Bedford Group, Bandhan Bedford, led by local woman Poonam Chand, did some fantastic work this year, organising blood stem cell drives and raising awareness around blood cancer and what it means to join the stem cell register. Inspired by the story of little Kaiya Patel (who has now received a potentially life-saving transplant and is now recovering) the support that they have given to this vital cause saw a tremendous increase in stem cell registrations in the constituency.aced with the prospect of being told that they have no match on the register.

Pictured here with Kaiya Patel’s Aunt and Uncle and Anthony Nolan chair of the Board of Trustees, Ian Krieger.

Getting in touch

Getting in touch

I’m receiving a high volume of email correspondence from constituents at the moment about a wide range of issues. I’m always happy to hear from people so please do continue to get in touch with your views.

Some newer campaigning organisations that have been inviting people to submit emails to MPs do not include a return email address however, so it’s tricky to respond. We’ll get responses out on paper to those without full contact details, (if they have sent a postal address) as quickly as we can, but if you have sent me an email recently, you may wish to check that you included all of your contact details when you did so.

The best email address for me is:

Others ways to contact me can be found here.

Working for You – October & November 2018

In the constituency

I have been contacted by many constituents regarding Brexit, and the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement. Large numbers of constituents contacted me wishing to see the rollout of Universal Credit halted, and we have received several emails from constituents concerned that the Environment Bill must be fit for purpose to meet environmental challenges. Many concerned constituents wrote to us to share their anger at confirmation in the budget that the reduction in Fixed Odds Betting Terminals maximum stakes from £100 to £2 would be delayed. I am pleased to see the Government has responded to pressure and made a welcome U turn on this decision, and the reduction will be implemented in April 2019. Good news not only for the individuals and families directly affected, but for the wider community.

Locally, we are seeing several cases related to housing, many of which relate to issues regarding housing allocations. We are also being contacted by local landlords and tenants alike affected by Universal Credit/Housing Benefit direct payments, with Landlords unwilling to rent to claimants leading to tenants facing discrimination.

I attended several moving Remembrance Day services and memorials within the constituency, and I have met with several constituents during busy drop-in surgeries at Project 229, Morrisons  and at Tesco Riverfield Drive.

In Parliament

Please follow these links for my recent appearances in Parliament.

11th October: Transport Questions: Access for All Programme –  lifts at Bedford station 

16th October:  BEIS Questions: Sainsbury’s Asda merger – impact of takeover on workforce

26th October: Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration Etc.) Bill – Registration of Stillbirths

29th October: Budget – Bedford Police Funding

30th October FCO Questions: MET investigation into Rwandan Genocide suspects in UK

6th November: Urgent Q Police Pension Liabilities – emergency funding for Bedfordshire Police

13th November: Opposition Day Debate: School Funding – Bedford funding allocation


Public Losing Confidence in Police

The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts published a report on the financial sustainability of police forces this week which should act as a stark warning to Government that cuts to Police funding must be reversed, and our police forces resourced properly. With a fifth fewer officers and staff since 2010-11 making fewer arrests despite a rise in violent crime and sexual offences, it is no wonder that the public are losing confidence in their police forces.

Despite the Chancellor’s false claims of an end to austerity, the recent budget failed to address the issue of police funding. The report suggests the problem goes even deeper than cuts, claiming that Government ‘does not have a national picture of demand for police services and so has a limited understanding of what resources forces need’.

Having spent a day with Bedfordshire Police not that long ago, I know only too well how hard the officers work to deal with as many issues as they can, but there’s only so much they can do with such depleted resources.

I’ve been calling on the Government to address Bedfordshire Police’s funding crisis since before my election, and I’ll keep doing it. I support their bid for funding from the Police Special Grant too, but that needs to be as well as, not instead of, a proper long-term funding settlement.

It’s sad that public confidence is waning but it was perhaps inevitable in the face of such a complete refusal by Government to accept the facts.

All I can say is I’ll keep fighting, but please don’t stop reporting crimes. Without the data about what’s happening on our streets, it will become harder to make the case that there’s not enough resource.



No end to austerity

This Monday, I was called to speak on the budget.

Once again, it was necessary for me to speak out about the indefensible funding cuts to Bedfordshire Police.

We heard from the Chancellor that despite serious violent crime rising, he isn’t going to give the funding that successive Chief Constables have been asking for, that the previous Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins asked for, that the current PCC, Kathryn Holloway is now asking for.

In the last month in Bedford alone, we’ve seen three murders. Two people, one a teenager, died from stab wounds and this weekend a shooting of a man in his 20s.

And it’s all because of the Government’s austerity agenda and we’ve seen on Monday that austerity hasn’t ended at all.

Although the Chancellor made a big deal of more funding for the NHS and for those transferring to Universal Credit, working people will not feel any benefit, with real earnings to remain stagnant. According to the OBR UK wages won’t return to their pre-financial crisis peak until at least 2024. That’s 16 years until pay is fully recovered – the longest wage slump in 200 years.

Outside of the NHS, public sector cuts are unchanged. The poorest people in Bedford Borough won’t see a meaningful change to their financial circumstances, as all benefits remain frozen as the cost of living continues to rise.

The extra £1.7 billion announced for Universal Credit is offset by the £12 billion of cuts as the Government ploughs ahead with its welfare reform despite it forcing people and families into destitution, food bank use and homelessness.

Schools will still be worse off in real terms over the year ahead. It’s an insult.

Austerity is a false economy. The cuts that have been made to public services are already, and will continue, to increase wasteful spending. It’s happening across the board: legal costs are pushed higher when disputes take longer to move through the courts, avoidable by reinstating legal aid. More children are being taken into care, increasing child protection costs, avoidable by removing benefit caps, and reinstating a full provision of mental health and other much needed services. The list goes on.

As a strategy, it is not only misguided but damaging to economic growth. TUC reveal growth in the UK’s economy is lagging compared with other G7 nations. Extra spending when the economy is weak is necessary to rebuild public finances, and the Government yet again fails to spend money where it its needed: public services must be strong before we can expect the economy to follow suit.

As I said in the Chamber, the chancellor needs to take a look at his figures again and come up with a better deal. He needs to wake up because there’s a terrible human cost when you make the wrong choices about public spending, and we’re seeing the effects of it now.



Call to Scrap Universal Credit

Call to Scrap Universal Credit

Today Labour asked for Universal Credit to be scrapped – and the Government didn’t have a leg to stand on with their defence of this failed system that is clearly causing misery up and down the country. I wasn’t called to speak (so many MPs had stories to tell) but if I had done this is what I would have said :

Universal Credit was destined to fail when it was designed to make people wait longer for payment than they would have to if they were in work.

People can’t learn to budget with nothing. This is a fact the member for Chingford and Woodford Green – the architect of Universal Credit who I suspect would not have to worry too much if he wasn’t paid for a month – failed to understand.

The system relies on people – many only just about managing – taking out loans. Any benefits system that can immediately force recipients into debt, desperation and destitution, is fatally flawed.
Many MPs on both sides of the House have spoken again and again about the devastating impact of Universal Credit on people’s lives, of delayed payments, of sanctions. Families in their droves being forced further into debt, having to take emergency measures to use food banks to get by.

Yet for years the Government has largely dismissed these stories and carried on regardless. The tinkering around the edges has not fixed the problems and has just added layers of complication which in the end – always impact people.

And let us not forget, these people are not victims, they are people in work, out of work – all kinds of situations – claiming benefits they are entitled to for themselves and their children. Yet many people have had to fight and jump through all kinds of hoops to receive payment. And were not believed by this Government, when they told us they were receiving less money than they were before.

My postbag on Universal Credit gives the perfect picture of what humanity looks like under a Conservative Government and I can tell you now, it is not humane. Picture the single parent, a nurse working, studying and trying to better herself: £150 worse off on Universal Credit. Already relying on friends and family to provide school uniform and food banks to feed her child, she said she could no longer afford the childcare to continue to work and study.

Picture the parent who wrote to tell me they couldn’t take it any more after the DWP said they hadn’t received the evidence they needed to proceed with the case when they had – that she wished she could take the DWP to court to pay for all the financial and emotional damage the delays had caused to the family.

Picture the new mother who wrote to me to say she can’t afford the food and milk for her 9 month old, let alone look after herself on £46 a week when her maternity pay came to an end.
This is a picture this Government painted and should be ashamed of. But instead it is the people who are suffering the indignity of this poorly implemented system that are feeling the shame that comes with poverty.

This isn’t helping people into work – it’s making it impossible for some to manage at all.

The Government may have finally admitted to helping people more – but this needs to include retrospective help for the lives they have damaged.

We are now at the ninth delay to the rollout. It’s an unmitigated disaster and must be stopped until the system can be delivered. This means putting back the billions that were taken out of the system at the start because as the Government is finding out, getting it so wrong is costing us more.


Proposed Restructuring of the Hearts Academies Trust Primary Schools

Proposed Restructuring of the Hearts Academies Trust Primary Schools

A number of concerned parents have been in touch about the proposed restructuring of the Hearts Academies Trust primaries, Shackleton, Shortstown and Cauldwell. Shortstown is not within my constituency but Shackleton and Cauldwell are.

I am completely opposed to these plans, which include replacing three qualified and experienced head teachers with one executive head, accountable to a highly paid CEO. I know that my Labour colleagues at Bedford Borough Council are too and that there is widespread opposition across council leadership – so I’ll work to support them in their endeavours to make the trust think again. There is a lot about the way that this has been communicated and the lack of consultation that is deeply worrying.

To be clear, these schools are no longer under local authority control, so while the council can express a view (and I am certain that they will) they cannot necessarily stop it. This seems like a prime example of how the Government’s academies programme has eroded local accountability and influence, allowing trusts to put profits before the needs of children. The blame lies squarely with the Tories and their damaging policies. That is certainly something that I will be raising in Parliament at the earliest opportunity.



Working for You – September 18

In the constituency

I have been contacted by constituents on a number of issues. Last month the most common concerns were over the future of the Pensions Dashboard Project. This month so far, constituents are contacting me asking me to push the Government to make tax changes to ensure retail giants such as Amazon are paying appropriate levels of tax in the UK and to share their concerns over fracking. I attended the short debate on fracking but, unfortunately, I was not called to speak.

Other issues raised include teachers’ pay and blood cancer. On the issue of blood cancer and stem cell donation, I was delighted that following a community campaign a stem cell donor was found for Kaiya, a young girl who has been suffering from a rare form of blood cancer. She remains in hospital and I am following her recovery closely, hoping that the transplant has been a success.

Out and about

Diary highlights in the constituency include experiencing a day spent out and about with Bedfordshire Police. It was a pleasure to visit Guild House to see first-hand the services they offer for people over 50, and I was delighted to be invited to open the Marie-Curie charity shop in its new location on the High Street in Bedford.

I welcome the opportunities to meet residents of Bedford & Kempston enjoying the summer at Brass’s 20th Anniversary picnic party at the Quarry, Salvete Care Home Summer Fete honouring Doris Sharp’s 104th birthday, the Family Fun day at Addison Park in Kempston, and I was pleased to attend the Honour Walk at Priory Country Park, which had a great turn out raising money for wounded and sick Armed Forces personnel.

In Parliament

The House of Commons was back in session for two weeks following the summer recess, and I raised questions regarding the Government’s extreme cuts to funding, which have led to Bedford Hospital’s maternity unit closing its doors six times last year, and which are stretching local mental health provision to breaking point and preventing Bedfordshire Police from effectively carrying out front line policing.

The speaker granted me an urgent question on Thursday 13th September after the extremely worrying news that her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons had issued an urgent notification to the Secretary of State, delivering a damning report on the state of HMP Bedford.

Click on the following links to read what I’ve been doing in Parliament: