1. Health & Care
Ambulances: I invited the Chief Executive and Chairman of the ambulance service to Parliament to give East of England MPs an update on the Turnaround Plan to improve ambulance response times. This coincided with the date that the ambulance service was moving to new performance indicators, which should improve the deployment of resources for patients in our area. On the old indicators, the service is continuing to make good progress in responding to emergency calls more quickly, with their Red 1 performance up by almost 15% and Red 2 up by 9% from 18 months ago. The last time the Ambulance Service was inspected by the CQC they 'required improvement' but the Chief Executive is confident through recent conversations and visits by the regulator that they are now headed for a 'Good' rating.
Handover delays are getting much worse though, which is very disappointing considering I had previously written to offending hospitals and they assured me they were 'looking at ways of urgently improving the situation'. I am raising this with the Health Minister. Undoubtedly, there is still a way to go before the full turnaround is achieved but the vital work of paramedics and our laser-like scrutiny is helping patients.
Waveney CCG: I met Melanie Craig, the new Chief Officer of Waveney CCG to discuss Community Hospitals and the Naylor Review.
Suffolk Energy Gateway: Suffolk County Council undertook a consultation on the whole of the proposed Suffolk Energy Gateway, the new road to by-pass the four villages along the A12. The proposed improvement between Wickham Market and Saxmundham is designed to open up the entire energy coast for further economic growth and housing development, as well as mitigate against traffic issues for Sizewell C. In his March Budget the Chancellor allocated £1m for the business case to be worked up and the consultation will help Suffolk County Council in its proposal to Government. I did not think the consultation was very well done and will be raising my concerns with the council.
Halesworth Crossing: I marked Rail Safety Week by reminding users of the Halesworth crossing that it needs to be used safelyor it will be closed. Network Rail's planned closure of the barrow crossing at Halesworth was put on hold last year and instead they installed gates with additional safety warnings giving instructions to wait until a train has cleared the platform before crossing. However, Network Rail has flagged that the crossing was misused on 278 occasions during a week in the summer with most breaches due to people walking behind or in front of stationery trains. That said, it seems that contradictory advice has been given to people on the platform, which may account for some of these issues. I have asked Greater Anglia and Network Rail to meet to resolve this issue.
School Funding: The indicative funding rise for each school has been published. This includes rises varying from 0.5% to over 18% locally. I say indicative as the council decides the final allocation with the advice of the schools forum. This big change in the new national funding formula ensures that every school has a higher basic percentage of funding for every child. Suffolk has traditionally suffered because we have very high employment rates and have far fewer children than the national average receiving free schools meals, which means money has been diverted elsewhere. However, our average levels of household income is not as high as some other places where schools have traditionally been funded more generously – so the change to the formula has started to right those wrongs.
Early Years Childcare: I attended a meeting with all seven Suffolk MPs and the Minister, Robert Goodwill, regarding the Government's new childcare policy. I set out the concerns that nursery and other childcare providers have shared with us, as well as hearing from the minister and officials the basis of the scheme specific to Suffolk.
The Minister has subsequently agreed that some of the affected providers can provide evidence to the Department of Education through an open book review, so the DFE can understand their financial position as a result of the Government's free 30 hours of childcare initiative.
Off Gas-Grid Fuel Poverty: Early on being MP for Suffolk Coastal, I raised the profile and need for help of residents off the gas grid. Fuel poverty is considerably higher for those who don't have mains gas to warm their home. To help prevent this the Cold Weather Priority Scheme has been introduced to identify people who may be susceptible to colder conditions and who are off the gas-grid. The scheme enables fuel suppliers to take pro-active steps to get fuel to you during times of fuel shortages or extreme cold weather. You can sign up for the CWP initiative if there are one or more residents aged 75 years or over in your household or there are one or more residents known to be chronically sick or registered disabled. More information is available at - http://www.coldweatherpriority.co.uk
East of England Energy Group: I hosted an event in Parliament which showcased the importance of the East of England in maintaining the UKs energy supply.
Mobile Phone Signal: Ofcom is encouraging all Android mobile phone users to help them improve mobile phone signal by taking part in their crowdsourced research project and downloading the Mobile Research App. The App helps Ofcom understand how mobile networks perform across the UK with a focus on coverage and the consumer experience in their local area. This is particularly important here in rural Suffolk – as Ofcom checks to ensure that 02 are fulfilling their licence obligation to provide 4G indoors coverage to 98% of UK premises by the end of this year and that the four UK mobile network operators provide 90% UK landmass coverage by the same date. For more information and to download the App go to - https://www.ofcom.org.uk/phones-telecoms-and-internet/coverage/ofcom-mobile-research-app.
Remember you can check the mobile and data coverage from different mobile operators on the Ofcom coverage tracker by entering your postcode at https://checker.ofcom.org.uk/mobile-coverage.
Nuisance Calls: From October 2018 Ofcom are banning all phone companies for charging for caller display facilities, which will help more people screen nuisance calls. The new rules will help prevent people receiving automatically dialled calls, confirming that phone numbers displayed to people receiving calls must be valid, dialable and identify the caller. The regulator are also requiring companies to identify and block calls with an invalid or non-dialable number – a feature of many nuisance calls.
6. Constituency and Suffolk Matters
Woods Lane Closure: I share the frustration of many local residents regarding the closure of Woods Lane in Melton this month and from January to mid-April next year. Housing developer Bloor Homes have applied for the road closure after they bought the site from Christchurch Land & Estates Ltd, who obtained the planning permission. I have expressed my concerns to Suffolk County Council and Bloor Homes directly, posing several questions on behalf of constituents and I'm working with local councillors to try and mitigate disruption, including trying to facilitate longer working hours to shorten the closure period.
Local Plans: Both Suffolk Coastal and Waveney held consultations on their Local Plans.
Farm Visit: Thank you to the NFU for organising a visit to Church Farm in Eyke. We talked about agricultural policy, waterabstraction and, of course, Brexit - as well as the farmer-led Environmental Scheme which brings together farms along the coast to promote good stewardship of our countryside.
Beach Clean: I picked up litter on the Aldeburgh beach clean as part of the Great British Beach Clean. I spent Bank Holiday Monday in Felixstowe as Sky Ocean Rescue brought its plastic whale to the seafront. Made entirely of plastic recovered from the sea, the whale is a stark visual reminder of the prevalence of plastics in everyday life and the need to dispose of such items carefully. The government introduced a 5p charge on single use plastic bags and purchases of them fell by 85%. We have now started the process to remove plastic microbeads from certain cosmetic products. We will continue to do more but we need help from everyone to consider their own individual actions on how to reduce plastic that can often end up in our oceans.
MMO: I organised a meeting for the Alde & Ore Estuary Partnership to speak to the Marine Management Organisation.
Constituency Tour: I undertook another successful annual constituency tour during the first week of September, criss-crossing the 300-odd square miles of the Suffolk Coastal stopping at 90 locations. Many of the issues raised by constituents are the responsibility of the local councils so I have followed up on a number of issues with councillors and other organisations
Budget: The Chancellor delivered the Budget which lays the foundations for a Britain fit for the future. This Budget was a balanced approach that continues to reduce the deficit and pay off our debt (still £65,000 per household) while supporting families by increasing the National Living Wage, cutting income tax, freezing fuel duty and investing in public services we value. The careful management of the economy means that the Chancellor was able to put an additional £2.8bn into our NHS. On business rates – the Chancellor brought forward the planned changes to uprating from RPI to CPI, worth £2.3bn to businesses over the next five years; announced a shorter revaluation period from 5 years to 3, which will reduce the size of future changes; and extended the £1,000 rates discount for pubs. Crucially, the Chancellor also announced progress on making our business tax system fairer with measures focussed on our digital economy and a commitment to find solutions internationally. Stamp duty on all house purchases up to £300,000 has been abolished and a new 26 – 30 rail card will be introduced, giving 4.5 million more young people a third off their rail fares. The Chancellor also committed to a package of measures, which are forecast to raise an additional £4.8bn on top of the £160bn we have already raised for public services by clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion. For more details of today's Budget see here.
EU Withdrawal Bill: Parliament took another step in the journey of leaving the EU with the European Union Withdrawal Bill passing to the next stage to receive full scrutiny. The legislation is designed to transfer all EU law into UK law – ensuring a smooth transition with legal certainty for businesses, consumers and investors.
Party Conference: In Manchester the Prime Minister set out what the Government is doing to build a country that works for everyone. She was clear that we will continue to take a balanced approach to the economy, dealing with our debts whilst also investing in public services – making our country a fairer place to live and work. This includes a big increase in the affordable housing budget; a cap on energy bills; changes to the mental health act and an opt-out system for organ donation.
Statue in Parliament Square: The first female statue will be erected in Parliament Square next year to recognise the life of one of Suffolk's most famous daughter's, Millicent Garrett-Fawcett, pioneer of women's suffrage. Millicent was born and lived in Aldeburgh. The statue will mark the centenary of voting rights being extended to women under the Representation of the People Act 1918 and the ability for women to stand for Parliament for the first time under the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918.
Littering: As the Minister responsible for litter, I announced tougher penalties to deter and punish the anti-social minority who continue to drop rubbish. From April next year the maximum on-the-spot fine for dropping litter will almost double from the current limit of £80 to £150. Throwing rubbish from a vehicle is just as unacceptable so councils will also be given the power to impose fines on the owners of vehicles from which litter is thrown. Up till now councils had to prove who was driving the vehicle. These new fines will make sure the perpetrators, not the local community, bear the cost of keeping our streets and roads clean.
Ivory Ban: The Government announced plans for a full ban on the sale of ivory. Our ban will put the UK front and centre of global efforts to end the ivory trade and we will continue to press other countries to close their markets. My department are undertaking a consultation on the detail of the ban, which you can see here.
CCTV in Slaughterhouses: My Department announced plans to require all slaughterhouses in England to install CCTV, an important preventative measure to crackdown on animal cruelty.
I also attended the EU Council in Luxembourg; the G7 agriculture meeting in Bergamo; World Hunger Day in Rome and Our Ocean conference in Malta.
9. Other Meetings and & Events
- Met Nikos Savvos, Principal of West Suffolk College.
- Met the Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner of Suffolk Constabulary.
- Attended the grand opening of Walpole's new playground.
- Attended the Deben Probus club event in Ufford as their guest speaker.
- Attended the East Anglian Federation of Small Business event.
- Attended an Ovarian Cancer Action event in Parliament.