Following on from the sad passing of HM The Queen and the subsequent period of national mourning, the House of Commons sat again this week, with the cost-of-living crisis firmly at the top of Labour’s agenda.
Unfortunately, Liz Truss’ Government decided instead that now is the time for reckless borrowing and to lay out a mini budget transparent in its aim of benefiting the wealthiest.
Never more have we needed Labour to govern and to stand up for working people and families and I will do my utmost to press against this most right wing of Tory agendas.
Mohammad Yasin MP
Constituents get in touch
In summary, campaigns and policy this month focused on:
- The energy and cost-of-living crises
- Ending the continued use of destructive supertrawlers in Marine Protected Areas.
- Anger at the Government’s announcement to end the moratorium on fracking
- Concerns about proposals to privatise Channel 4
The shocking rises to energy bills have been a huge concern for many of my constituents in Bedford and Kempston recently. I have received a wide range of campaign emails, self-penned letters and even phone calls from individuals and families who are dreading the energy price cap increase in October. Some people are on fixed incomes, such as disability benefits or pensions, whilst others are infuriated by the lack of windfall tax on gas and oil giants’ enormous and unexpected profits.
Some of those who are able to keep their heads above water have written to me about their thoughts on the cost of living crisis and the impact it may have on those on lower incomes. I have received several emails on the need for emergency measures to support those at risk of homelessness, heard calls to improve the social security system so that people do not have to turn to food banks, and discussed pausing debt deductions for recipients of Universal Credit.
The environment has also been at the forefront of my inbox recently, with over 40 cases relating to the continued use of destructive supertrawlers in Marine Protected Areas. A further 15 emails have followed the Government’s recent announcement to lift the moratorium on fracking – with those writing in fearful that fracking will cause increased damage to the environment but make only a negligible difference to energy bills.
I have corresponded with constituents on issues such as the Government’s Jet Zero Strategy for aviation; the need for a Deposit Return Scheme to tackle plastic bottle pollution; and the potential impact of continuing with Government plans for a new gas field in the North Sea and the building of the Whitehaven coal mine.
Continuing from earlier this year, the Government’s proposals to privatise Channel 4 is causing concern amongst many constituents; if these plans continue, it will mean the potential loss of a world-leading platform with progressive, creative and often independent British content and talent.
In the constituency
It was a busy summer and as ever when Parliament is in recess this provides me with more time to organise as many meetings and visits within the constituency as possible.
I visited Bedford Borough Council’s Hydropower Plant by the Embankment in Bedford. Hydropower and other renewable electricity methods are vital in our efforts to tackle the climate emergency.
I met staff at the Cardington Road Tesco pharmacy to see their excellent work and to discuss the issues they face to retain and recruit staff to continue to provide life-saving medication, monitoring and discussing patient conditions.
I visited the RMT Trade Union picket line outside Bedford train station. Rail workers are not just striking against real-terms pay cuts, but also proposals to close ticket offices, cut pay whilst making specialist staff cover other roles putting safety at risk, and compulsory redundancies.
I also gave my support to the CWU Bedford branch in their industrial action in August. Out of BT’s £1.7bn in profits, less than 5% were put towards the pay of frontline workers.
Labour unequivocally supports workers’ right to strike to improve their pay and conditions, and we understand the strength of feeling among rail workers, BT and Openreach staff struggling to pay their bills.
I met with ACC Basra, the Assistant Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police, to discuss concerns raised by constituents about drug dealing in the area and to hear steps being taken to offer new training to officer and county-wide strategic planning. At a national level, much more needs to be done to fund our public services to enable them to tackle drug crime and anti-social behaviour, given the huge cuts to numbers of neighbourhood police officers and PCSOs.
I met with Governor Butler of Bedford Prison to discuss progress in staff recruitment and retention, the challenges facing the Prison at the moment, and the positive ongoing work to decrease violence and self-harm. It is vital that Prisons are properly resourced both to keep the local community and staff safe, and to ensure that effective rehabilitation programs can take place.
I visited Anglian Water’s Bedford Water Recycling Centre to see for myself their process to treat sewage and reduce the environmental impact of the process. We discussed the issue of sewage water entering rivers and their storm tank capacity and the ongoing issue of odours from the facility, particularly for Riverfield estate residents. Anglian Water seem committed to reducing the environmental impact further and their facility is in part powered by solar energy and makes use of natural biological treatments where possible. I am pleased they have committed to continue work to reduce the impact from odours on residents.
I met with Michael Sheridan Regional Director for the East of England at Ofsted to discuss their role both in the education and care sector. We discussed the challenges many educational and care providers face in recruitment and funding – the cost and availability of childcare was a particular issue identified, which is putting a real strain on families and it’s clear the Government needs to do far more to address these issues.
It hasn’t all been meetings. I’ve been delighted to attend a range of events across the constituency this summer.
The River Festival was a real triumph for the town, with hundred of thousands of visitors
I really enjoyed the incredible performance by the children from the Bedford and District Cerebral Palsy Society at the performing arts centre.
The Asian Festival in Harpur Square organised by SpectaculArts was a great opportunity to showcase a range of Asian cultures and celebrate our diversity in Bedford and Kempston.
Bedford Fire Station’s Open Day was a wonderful opportunity to meet some of Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s local firefighters and speak to them about their work, all whilst raising money for an important cause.
It was a pleasure to join iLearn Bedford for their event where they were giving out free clothes, toys and food to attendees. There was also face painting, Hina/ Mendip, cookie decorating, and other fun activities. A great event aimed at helping people during a particularly difficult time.
I was pleased to attend one of regular drop in coffee mornings for residents at Christ the King Church Hall, hosted by the East Bedford Primary Care network, with a range of voluntary organisations in attendance supporting residents.
I attended the opening of the wonderful new inclusive play area in Russell Park. The area is the only one of its kind in Bedford and has equipment that can be accessed by all users, including those who have special educational needs or disabilities and their families, allowing parents and children to play together. I hope it will make a big difference to these families and children.
The Bunyan Meeting received a blue plaque, celebrating it’s time as the BBC’s Main Radio Control Room during WW2 – it was an honour to attend.
On the morning of the 8 September, the Government finally announced they would intervene in the energy crisis to help with the unaffordable bills that were due to put millions into fuel poverty on October 1st.
As Keir Starmer deftly dismantled the Government’s argument to pay for the energy price freeze by borrowing 1.5 billion pounds that we will pay back on our energy bills for the next decade instead of asking the energy companies to help their customers from the vast and unexpected profits they have made because of the energy crisis, a note was passed around the front benches with the sad news we now know was word of our late Queen’s ill health.
Parliament was then effectively shut down during the period of national mourning. Political parties did consider cancelling the Party conferences, instead they have been shortened as its recognised that the country is in crisis.
So, it’s been a busy week as the Government has made several significant announcements this week including the emergency budget before Parliament breaks for Conference.
On Tuesday the new PM Liz Truss broke another Tory manifesto pledge. And with it one of the biggest Brexit promises. The PM admitted that a trade deal with the US, which they promised would replace the gaping hole left by leaving the biggest trade bloc in the world, wasn’t even on the table and is at best years away.
Liz Truss said she is prepared to be unpopular as she sets out policies aimed at delivering growth. And she hasn’t disappointed. We’ve gone from a populist government to an ‘unpopulist’ Government which is proving to be more dangerous for the country.
This week, her government has lifted the moratorium on fracking for shale gas extraction. Quite a barney ensued in Parliament – many on the blue benches – yet another broken Tory manifesto pledge was broken. Until now, the Government promised it would not support fracking unless the science proves categorically that it can be done safely, and it had strong local support. No such evidence or support exists and in fact on the day it was announced, the British geological survey confirmed that “Hydraulic fracturing can trigger earthquakes large enough to cause structural damage.”
The Shadow Secretary of State for Climate Change and Net Zero, Ed Miliband very effectively made the case that fracking is an outdated, dangerous and expensive way to produce energy that will not provide the clean, secure energy our country needs. There is no public support for it, and it will do nothing to bring energy bills down or help the national energy needs and the crisis we currently face – as it will take at least a decade for any new shale gas to come on stream.
The new BEIS Secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg defended his ‘energy bill relief scheme’ will fix gas and electricity prices for all firms for six months from October 1st while hospitals, schools, charities and other settings such as community halls and churches will also get help.
While I welcome help for energy costs for business, for many businesses this scheme has come too late. The Government’s inaction over the summer, despite continued warnings from the Labour Party and the business community about rising costs, was wrong, and self-indulgent and many businesses have and could now be forced to close as a result.
Even with this support in place, energy bills will still be very challenging for many small businesses. The Government could have adopted Labour’s fully costed proposal to cut business rates by lifting the Small Business Rates Threshold to £25,000 which would have an immediate impact, supporting our local high streets through this difficult winter. But despite having the whole summer to design this plan for businesses, there are still questions about how much this will cost, who will pay for it and what will happen in 3- or -6 months’ time.
Businesses must be able to plan, and I’m not reassured this plan will deliver this.
Thérèse Coffey, the fourth Tory Health and Social Care Secretary in just over a year delivered her “Plan for Patients” – her attempt to fix the crisis in the NHS.
Ms Coffey did a good job of listing the vast problems in the NHS after 12 years of Conservative rule and set out her aims at fixing GP waiting times, increasing staffing levels, easing pressure on GP surgeries and reducing record ambulance waiting times. She said far less about why the NHS was in such a state, exactly how she would fix it and how much it would cost to do so.
The centrepiece of the proposals was a pledge that every person who needs an appointment with a GP will be expected to be able to get one within two weeks, while patients with the “most urgent needs” should be seen on the same day.
To underscore how unambitious this aspiration is, while Labour was in Government, we guaranteed a GP appointment within 48 hours.
It’s a sticking plaster response to the biggest crisis our NHS has ever faced – it completely ignores the gaping workforce shortage, the GP retirement timebomb and the legions of NHS staff leaving the profession. Without a workforce plan there simply isn’t a plan for the NHS.
The week ended with the Chancellor’s emergency ‘mini’ budget. His answer to tackle the cost-of-living crisis is a tax cutting bonanza for the super-rich. The Chancellor’s instant priority is to lift the cap on banker bonuses and to abolish the top rate of tax for the highest earners and axe the corporation tax rise while at the same time tightening the rules on benefits for those who have the least.
This Government has already forgotten that the bonus culture, which rewarded risk, led to the banking crash. Lowering regulations put in place to protect ordinary people and their pensions could be disastrous. At a time when desperately needed key workers are being denied a decent pay rise, the Chancellor has chosen to help his wealthy chums instead of the workers that keep our society afloat.
Growth under the Tories has been abysmal. Brexit has made matters very much worse and minimised the options to solve the problem which is why they are flailing around gambling on the economy again with flawed ideology. The PM is pinning all the pain on workers to grow bankers’ bonuses under the fallacy of trickle-down economics. She is about to find out just how unpopular she and her desperate policies are.
I made the following representation recorded on the Hansard:
20 Jul 22 – House of Commons Chamber – Women’s Health Strategy for England
7 Sep 22 – House of Commons Chamber – Urgent Question re Jagtar Sigh Johal
9 Sep 22 – House of Commons Chamber – Tributes to the Queen