Welcome to my third e-newsletter of the year. If you want to know more about what I am up to, please follow me on Facebook, Twitter and check for updates on my Website.
As ever, if you have any queries, or if there is anything that I can do to assist you with any issues that you have, please do not hesitate to contact me.
This month sadly saw Parliament and our democracy come under attack in events which tragically led to the deaths of Aysha Frade, Kurt Cochran, Leslie Rhodes and Andreea Cristea. It also led to serious injuries to many others along Westminster Bridge, many of whom are still in hospital. The tragedy didn’t end there as PC Keith Palmer was murdered trying to stop the terrorist accessing the Parliamentary estate. PC Palmer’s bravery led to him making the ultimate sacrifice and the incident has given us all cause to reflect on the selflessness of those whose duty it is to protect democracy. My thoughts are with all of the victims and those who are close to them.
I would like to thank the many constituents who have enquired after my welfare as a result of the incident. Although I was close to where the attacker entered around 30 seconds or so before he arrived, I was heading straight to the voting lobbies by the chamber which were sealed very shortly after I arrived. Clearly we were anxious for a period after this as it wasn’t clear what was happening other than there was an attack, but as time wore on we realised that there were not going to be any further attacks at which point it was simply a case of letting the authorities do their job until they were confident it was safe to let people out. In the circumstances being locked in the Chamber for four hours was no hardship at all.
Parliament has now adjourned for Easter, which gives me the chance to spend much more time in the constituency holding surgeries, organising community events, visiting local groups and business. I have a packed diary which will see me in visiting every part of the community.
The biggest political event this month was the start of Britain’s formal negotiations to exit the EU with the triggering of Article 50. This is the start of a process that could take two years to finalise the terms of our exit. The most important issues from my perspective for the constituency are trying to get the same benefits as we currently have as members of the single market and the customs union in order that our industries are able to continue to export freely and competitively. A Brexit that secures Britain’s future cooperation with the EU, a strong economy, managed and fair migration, fundamental rights, national security, and the distribution of power and opportunity across the country are all major elements of what I want to see achieved. You can be sure that as your MP I will hold the Government to account every step of the way to fight for our best interests.
This month also saw the final Spring Budget, with all future budgets now taking place in the Autumn. It will be most remembered for the chaos that surrounded the u-turn over planned National Insurance increases for self-employed people, with the incompetent Chancellor failing to realise that this would breach his own party's manifesto. However, unfortunately there was less attention drawn to the fact that planned cuts to local school budgets also breach the Conservative manifesto, which promised to protect the funding that follows each pupil.
Every school in Ellesmere Port & Neston is facing a cut, which head teachers tell me will lead to fewer pupils, bigger class sizes and some subjects being withdrawn. Across Cheshire West & Chester, schools stand to lose £4.2 million in 2019/20, rising to £6.4 million beyond that. At the same time, while schools in Ellesmere Port & Neston are being cut, many Tory areas are actually going to see an increase, with West Sussex getting an extra 1.9% and Hampshire 0.7% and Surrey 1.7%.
I'm fighting these disgraceful cuts every step of the way. I've spoken up in Parliament on several occasions and this month I raised local concerns personally with the Minister, along with Chester MP, Chris Matheson and the Council's Cabinet Member for Children & Young People, Cllr Nicole Meardon. The Consultation has now closed and I will be watching closely to see whether the Government listens to the concerns of thousands of local parents.
I am also continuing to campaign on range of other issues, which the Chancellor also chose to ignore in his Budget. The first of which is the fact that thousands of policyholders have still not been adequately compensated for the regulatory failings that led to the Equitable Life scandal. I spoke up on the issue in a Parliamentary debate and raised the fact that approximately 895,000 people who were caught up in the scandal have received only 22% of their losses, including a number of my constituents who have contacted me.
The second is the ongoing WASPI campaign, in support of women hit by the acceleration of the equalisation of the State Pension Age, a change which began in 1995 and was compounded in 2011. The women were not given sufficient notice, which left them with no time to make alternative retirement plans, with extremely serious consequences. In Ellesmere Port & Neston, according to the independent House of Commons Library, around 4,070 women are directly affected by the 2011 Pensions Act alone.
The leasehold scandal campaign has continued to gather momentum, as thousands of homeowners discover that their properties were sold to them on a leasehold basis, with ground-rents that are set to increase significantly in future, in some cases doubling every ten years. The freeholds to the properties have in many cases been sold on to private investors, despite assurances being given to the residents that they would be given the first opportunity to purchase them.
I have been speaking up inside and outside of Parliament to make the case that there is no reason for houses to be sold on a leasehold basis, other than to allow developers to make more profit. I recently joined a protest outside the new Redrow development in Little Sutton, calling for all new houses to be sold only on a freehold basis.
In my role as a Shadow Health Minister, while it did not grab many headlines; it was extremely disappointing that a House of Lords amendment, which would have seen more patients able to access life-saving innovative medicines without delay was voted down by the Conservatives. I spoke in support of the proposed changes to the Government’s Health Service Medical Supplies (Costs) Bill, which I have been leading on for Labour.
Through both their failure to back this amendment and their recent changes to NICE, which could further delay access to new medicines, the Government is presiding over a system which leaves increasing numbers of patients in the heart-breaking situation of being unable to obtain innovative treatments which could save or extend their lives. It is also worth pointing out that this directly breaks the Conservative party’s 2015 manifesto promise to speed up the introduction of cost-effective medicines into the NHS.
Last week, even more promises were broken, as the new NHS England Plan, "Next Steps on the NHS Five Year Forward View" confirms that the NHS does not expect to meet the A&E target, to see 95% of patients within 4 hours, which Jeremy Hunt described as being “critical for patient safety,” for at least the next year. It also sets out plans for another round of rationing of treatments and the abandoning of the 18 week waiting target for surgery.
Of course all of this leads up back to where I began with the fact that only an adequate financial settlement can deliver the health and social care service that we all want to see.
I continue to speak up in Parliament as much as I can, to highlight local and national issues. In the weeks since my last update, I have spoken on the following issues (please follow the links to read my contributions in full):
- Improving access to new and innovative medical treatments
- Access to careers in the arts for working-class people
- Calling for action following recent reports of illegal fox hunting in Cheshire
- The NHS winter crisis and delays in A&E
- Support for Vauxhall and the automotive sector following Brexit
- Justice for Equitible Life policy holders
- The need to improve social mobility and access to leading professions
- Tackling the exploitation caused by bogus self employment
- Calling on the Government to tackle the leasehold scandal
I also raise a number of Written Questions to Ministers each week, which you can keep up with here. I have asked nearly 650 since I was elected, so it would take up too much space to include a full list!
Of course, this is just a snapshot of what I got up to this month and if you want to know more, you can follow me on social media or keep up to date with my website or send me an email.
I hope that you enjoyed reading.