Westminster diary w/b 13th September

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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.

Thursday

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

Friday

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.

Written question – Post Office [15/09/2021]

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

Answer:
Paul Scully:

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.

Written question – Universal Credit [16/09/2021]

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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

Answer:
Will Quince:

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.

Greenock Telegraph 10th September 2021

The active participation of the electorate is fundamental to any functioning democracy. As an elected member, my office has always worked hard to ensure we have been as open and approachable as circumstances allow. The attitude that politics doesn’t matter and is best left to a select few runs contrary to everything that attracted me to it. Maybe this is why I find the UK Government’s new Elections Bill so worrying. It contains a myriad of proposals including the restriction of the involvement of civil society and the restriction of the right to vote through the voter ID requirement scheme. The bill has been widely condemned and will harm, not protect democracy. My opposition is not partisan politics, it is about preventing any single political party from consolidating political power under itself in government and tipping elections in its favour. While the Scottish Government engages with civil society, listens to people, and opens the political sphere, the UK Government seeks to end all opposition and silence dissent both on the campaign trail and in the streets. The SNP will continue to highlight the power grabbing nature of the Conservative and Unionist government and their undermining of elections. But the only way Scotland can be protected from the grasping ambitions of Westminster is through independence and the creation of a modern, democratic Scotland in which the integrity of electoral democracy cannot be undermined on a Prime Minister’s whim. With the council elections on the horizon, we in the SNP are calling for more and better engagement, higher turnouts, and the voice of the electorate to be unfettered.