In Westminster before 11:00 and straight into a meeting with colleagues as we try to unpick the UK government cabinet reshuffle and now that the dust has settled its obvious that some ministers that we had invested considerable time in to produce a working relationship have moved to other departments or been moved out. Now that I am at Westminster, I am back to the pre-COVID methods of communicating with my office team via Teams. We cover casework with an emphasis on the social welfare aspects. Later on, I have a briefing from an expert on the Online Safety Bill as I would like to feed into the committee on the gambling safety angle. In the evening there are four votes on the Social Security (uprating of benefits) Bill and one vote on the Elections Bill which ended at 20:49. It’s worth noting that I am not recorded as voting on New Clause Two as I was acting as a teller.
Unusually for a Tuesday I don’t have a select committee meeting. So, I had a long lie and a big breakfast! No I didn’t. I used the time to meet with a representative of the cruise ship industry for an update prior to tomorrow’s debate on the contribution of the cruise industry to the economy. I then wrote my column for the Greenock Telegraph and my speech for tomorrow. I had a group meeting with councillor colleagues in the early evening, followed by the same with my MP colleagues.
Straight into Westminster Hall for the debate on the contribution of the cruise industry to the economy. While acknowledging the value of the industry I also brought them to task over their carbon footprint. I know they have a net zero target of 2050 but that is not ambitious enough.
In the chamber for Prime Minister’s Questions. And unusually it was good. Maybe because the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition were not there. Instead, Dominic Raab was chief apologist for the Conservative and Unionist government and Angela Rayner led the cross examination. Angela did an excellent job and landed punch after punch on the deputy Prime Minister exposing his lack of knowledge of the hardships facing people across the UK because of the welfare cuts and rising costs being inflicted upon us all. The cross party, cross platform group on Universal Basic Income had a meeting for the co-chairs. The group does a great job in engaging with all levels of government on this topic. In the evening I met with colleagues to discuss common interests.
I had a very interesting meeting with representatives of Scottish Renewable energy sector. It was primarily about the Transmission Network Use of System (TNUoS) and the impact that has on the energy industry. I am perplexed as to why, as we transition towards net zero, Ofgem (the energy regulator for Great Britain) are enforcing geographical charges on energy generators and suppliers. This inhibits development and creates a great deal of uncertainty in the business. We should be doing everything we can to encourage clean green renewable energy, not placing obstacles in their way. The vast majority of countries in Europe do not charge anything for the cost of installing and maintaining their energy transmission systems. I caught up with Scottish Government advisers to discuss the changing face of gambling legislation. It is a fully reserved matter, but it is always good to have these discussions to help me understand the mood within Holyrood. I will also be looking to include something in the next programme for government. I managed to get home for 19:00 just in time to take part in a local planning meeting with colleagues.
I shall be helping a local company KSB Controls promote a product that I have bought from them to help the air quality within my office. As we transition out of COVID it is important that when people are in my office I have created the best working conditions that I can. This product is part of that. I visited Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL) in their refurbished offices in Port Glasgow and I had a call with the local DWP to plan for the end of furlough and the end of the £20 uplift in Universal Credit. Along with increasing energy prices and the oncoming winter we need to ensure that people do not need to choose between heating and eating.
For many people Furlough has become a financial life jacket that has kept them afloat during the pandemic and it is now one that is due to be withdrawn. Furlough allowed employers to keep people on their books while work was not available or practical. We are now approaching the harsh reality of COVID without furlough and many people will be greatly concerned that they are doomed to face financial hardship. My office has already reached out to local charities, organisations and the DWP to ensure that we can work together to stop people falling through the gaps. The welfare system can be a scary and complex world and I know that the staff in the job centre in Greenock are skilled in managing this situation. Sometimes they are limited in what can be done but the fault is not theirs. We have a welfare system that has been kicked about and abused for years with the result that it’s creaking at the seams.
Along with the withdrawal of furlough we will have the removal of the £20 universal credit uplift which will harm 9,285 people in Inverclyde. that is 18.7% of our population. To add to this unfolding crisis the U.K. government has decided not to increase pensions in keeping with the triple lock as promised in the Conservative and Unionist party manifesto. There was cross party support this week at Westminster to change the pension and Universal Credit plans, but the UK government pulled their ranks together and refused to listen to the argument for compassionate legislation. At the start of this pandemic, I said that it was wrong to say we were all in this together and that the poorest and most disadvantaged would pay a higher price, both in health and money, unfortunately I was right.
I arrive at Westminster at 11:00. My first appointment is off the estate at Birdcage Walk with families who have lost loved ones to gambling related harm. It is as a very emotional meeting and is followed up with an interview for Channel 4 news with the focus being the Gambling Act review. There was a statement in the house on the lack of HGV drivers which has resulted in shortages of all sorts within industry and empty shelves in supermarkets. I was particularly vexed about this as I know the UK government blames COVID but is suspect it is more to do with Brexit. I had asked the Secretary of State for Transport a question about this in July 2019 and it appears that nothing has been done since to address the problem. There were votes up until 20:46.
This morning my hotel was full of men from countries around the globe wearing every conceivable military uniform you could imagine. There is a trade fair of military armoury on in London. I couldn’t help but wonder if these men, going to the same exhibition, staying in the same hotel, dining in the same restaurants were going to go home and start killing each other’s citizens with their new weapons. My select committee took evidence for the Minister for the constitution regarding the Elections Bill. There is a degree of scepticism regarding the need for much of it. And a genuine concern that voter ID will disenfranchise many people from the electoral franchise. I had the great privilege of joining the anti-gambling advertising in sport campaign group The Big Step to hand in a petition to number 10 Downing Street. I had meetings with the Scottish Whisky Association and the Bourbon Industry. There is an interesting tie between the two as many of the barrels used by the Bourbon manufacturers are used to age whisky. There is an issue with tariffs imposed on the USA which is adding to the cost and are detrimental to both industries.
Prime Minister’s Question actually became a pantomime this week, with the speaker intervening on the proceedings when the Prime Minister said, “I can see that panto season has come early” the speaker intervened to say “if it has, it is certainly behind him”, referring to his own members braying and bawling. Fortunately, there was a sensible debate in Westminster Hall on geothermal energy extraction. It was my job to sum up, which entails a quick run through the contributions from the previous speaker and a short addition of my own. The conclusion was that geothermal, like all clean green renewable energy, requires investment and it requires it now. Final vote was at 19:00.
My second select committee of the week was planned for this morning. It was the pre-appointment hearing for the position of the Public Appointments Commissioner. The role is to provide independent assurance that ministerial appointments to the boards of public bodies comply with the relevant rules. According to the Institute of Government this covers around 300 UK and 55 Welsh bodies. In truth these are appointments not interviews. By this stage there is only one candidate and it’s William Shawcross. However, with the cabinet shuffle resulting in a new Secretary of State (SOS) for Digital Culture Media and Sport (DCMS), I decided overnight to miss the committee and attend questions to DCMS. The plan was to ask the SOS to meet with families from Gambling With Lives as her predecessor has agreed to do. As it turned out I didn’t have to as Ian Duncan Smith managed to ask before me. It’s a swift reminder of the fluidity of work at Westminster when plans chop and change from hour to hour. In keeping with that we had a statement from the Prime Minister about ‘our friendship with Australia and the United States and the security of the Indo-Pacific’. The Prime Minister was very weak on the details and strong on the tub thumping. I took part in the COP26 debate and caught the 17:00 flight and was home by 20:00
The day starts with my regular catch up with Stuart McMillan MSP and SNP council group leader Liz Robertson. It always good to know what each other is doing so we don’t duplicate work but can help and support each other when appropriate. At midday I had a meeting with local activists and Keep Scotland Beautiful regarding plans we are hatching for Inverclyde. The afternoon is consumed by constituency case work.
To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, what (a) steps his Department is taking to ensure effective provision of post office services across the UK and (b) funding his Department has provided to support that provision in each of the last five years. (44381)
Tabled on: 07 September 2021
The Government protects the branch network by setting minimum access criteria and protects services by setting minimum services to be provided at post offices across the UK. These criteria ensure that 90% of the population are within one mile of the nearest post office branch and that 99% of the population are within three miles of the nearest post office branch.
The Government invested £640 million in the Post Office between 2015 and 2018, £370 million from 2018 to 2021 and £227 million in 2021/22. This funding allows Post Office Ltd to safeguard services in the uncommercial parts of the network and invest for the future.
The answer was submitted on 15 Sep 2021 at 16:56.
To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment she has made of the effect of the planned removal of the £20 per week uplift to the standard allowance of universal credit on claimants in Inverclyde constituency. (44382)
Tabled on: 07 September 2021
This question was grouped with the following question(s) for answer:
- To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what impact assessment her Department has undertaken of the potential effect of the end of the £20 uplift to universal credit on young women. (46952)
Tabled on: 10 September 2021
- To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, what assessment she has made of the potential effect of ending the £20 uplift to universal credit on levels of poverty. (44433)
Tabled on: 07 September 2021
No impact assessment has been made.
The Chancellor announced a temporary six-month extension to the £20 per week uplift at the Budget on 3 March to support households affected by the economic shock of Covid-19. Universal Credit has provided a vital safety net for six million people during the pandemic, and the temporary uplift was part of a COVID support package worth a total of £407 billion in 2020-21 and 2021-22.
The latest poverty figures (2019/20) demonstrate that absolute poverty rates (both before and after housing costs) for working-age adults in working families have fallen since 2009/10. In 2019/20, 8% of working age adults in working families were in absolute poverty (before housing costs), compared to 9% in 2009/10.
There have been significant positive developments in the public health situation since the uplift was first introduced. With the success of the vaccine rollout and record job vacancies, it is right that our focus is on helping people back into work.
Through our Plan for Jobs, we are targeting tailored support schemes of people of all ages to help them prepare for, get into and progress in work. These include: Kickstart, delivering tens of thousands of six-month work placements for UC claimants aged 16-24 at risk of unemployment; Restart, which provides 12 months’ intensive employment support to UC claimants who are unemployed for a year; and JETS, which provides light touch employment support for people who are claiming either Universal Credit or New Style Jobseekers Allowance, for up to 6 months, helping participants effectively re-engage with the labour market and focus their job search. We have also recruited an additional 13,500 work coaches to provide more intensive support to find a job. In total, our Plan for Jobs interventions will support more than two million people.
The answer was submitted on 15 Sep 2021 at 18:00.