Food Standards

I support @WhichUK’s calls on the UK government to ensure the UK’s high food standards are protected. Which? research shows 95% of people believe it’s important that the UK maintains existing food standards – so do I.

A vision of 2020

Many of you will have watched the BBC Disclosure programme (17th August) about Inverclyde titled “Scotland’s Covid capital”. Rather than rush to press, I have bided my time and taken time to consider my views. The old adage ‘to see ourselves as others see us’ may be true but we also have to consider, is it a fair representation? I have watched it three times now and I have mixed views.

The premise of the programme was that Inverclyde was suffering from health issues, high unemployment, high crimes figures and drug related problems before the pandemic and that because we started from such a deprived position then obviously we were always going to suffer more. Professor Jude Robinson described the preconditions and the onset of Covid19 as a perfect storm. And she asked the crucial question why Inverclyde was not identified as being significantly at risk before the Covid crisis?

And I agree. From day one I have said that the areas of highest deprivation in the UK will suffer most from the Covid19 pandemic (Greenock Telegraph 24th April 2020). Poorer health, cramped housing, comorbidity will all be factors in the spread rate and ultimately the number of deaths. If that is true for the entire UK then it stands to reason that within Inverclyde the same thing can be said. But we need the evidence to back that up. As the pandemic evolved, it took a few months before Covid figures were available for Inverclyde, initially all we had were the NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde figures and that is no use when trying to identify hot spots in Inverclyde. We cant target solutions to the areas that need them most if Inverclyde is continually treated as part of a much larger health board when it comes to such matters. We need to be as precise as possible when identifying areas that require targeted help. And to take that to its logical conclusion, the Covid infection rates must be made available by each post code. Then we will have a better picture of where the worst affected areas are and that will help us to understand why they are so badly affected and what action must be taken. Simply saying its bad Inverclyde wide isn’t good enough.

The programme makers also insinuated that locally we hadn’t done enough to address these issues and they targeted the council for particular criticism. Of course once we start the blame game fingers get pointed in every direction and solutions become thin on the ground.

The programme then went on to look at the response to the crisis from the voluntary sector.  Pre Covid we already had a vibrant voluntary sector in Inverclyde. It responded and was augmented by new organisations. That fills me with pride and despair in equal measures. The dependency on volunteers highlights areas of need that are not being fulfilled by the paid sector. And that’s poor in two ways. Why are we not funding our paid sector sufficiently to address the problems and why do the problems exist in the first place? Are we resolving problems or are we managing the decline. A perfect example is the growth in the need for mental health support. I am delighted that these organisations exist but saddened that they increasingly have to.

While the programme was keen to point out the problems, I failed to hear any solutions? They quite correctly highlighted unemployment. And while I agree that unemployment is a scourge on our society and poverty is at the heart of the matter, I think it was misleading to say “Inverclyde wasn’t always like this. It’s history is rich with heavy industry. With shipyards here employing thousands of people in its heyday.” As if those were better times. I can guarantee you that the housing was poorer, health was poorer and life expectancy was shorter. A Covid pandemic in those days would have been unstoppable.

Nostalgia can blind us to the truth and harping back to any time as the good old days is often over simplistic. But I am emphatically not denying that unemployment is absolutely a prime factor in poor health, high crime rates and addiction, it is also amongst the most difficult problems to fix. But the upside is that if we solve that one problem then it will have a knock on effect and reduce poverty and deprivation which in turn will address health issues, crime levels and addiction.

If Covid has taught us anything, and the Disclosure documentary highlighted it, it’s that we have a crying need to build a stronger more robust society that not only benefits us all on a daily basis but will be better placed to respond during times of crisis, whatever they may be.

In 2015 I described Inverclyde as an island and said we should look to solve our own problems. Industries should be aggressively lobbied to locate here. Renewable energy can be at the heart of that and the coastline can be utilised in a range of ways from shipbuilding, repair and decommissioning. We can build turbines and platforms, we can build anything we put our mind to. The river can support recreational activities for locals and tourists. Our hills are crying out for reforestation and hydro schemes. But as Covid has taught us we can’t expect a knight in shining armour to come riding in to save us. I think the most pertinent line from the programme was the last one. “When inverclyde needed help, it helped itself.”

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme: what you need to do from 1 September

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is changing from 1 September:

  • CJRS will pay 70% of usual wages up to a cap of £2,187.50 per month for the hours furloughed employees do not work.
  • Employers in your constituency will still need to pay their furloughed employees at least 80% of their usual wages for the hours they do not work, up to a cap of £2,500 per month. Employers in your constituency will need to fund the difference between this and the CJRS grant themselves.
  • The caps are proportional to the hours not worked. For example, if the employee is furloughed for half their usual hours in September, the employer is entitled to claim 70% of their usual wages for the hours they do not work up to £1,093.75 (50% of the £2,187.50 cap).

Employers in your constituency will continue to have to pay furloughed employees’ National Insurance (NI) and pension contributions from their own funds.

Further guidance and live webinars offering more support on changes to the scheme and how they impact employers are available to book online.

We’d be grateful if customers only contact us if they can’t find the information they need from GOV.UK. This will leave our phone lines and webchat service open for those who need them most.

Second Self Employment Income Support Scheme Grant

The Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) opens again for claims from 17 August, when eligible self-employed constituents can claim their second, and final, taxable SEISS grant.

We will contact people living in your constituency (by letter, SMS and/or email) to invite them to claim from a specified date, if they meet the eligibility criteria. The eligibility criteria for the second grant is the same as for the first grant – so as long as their business is still being adversely affected by coronavirus, constituents eligible for the first grant will be able to apply again. Applicants will be asked to confirm that their business has been adversely affected by coronavirus at any time since 14 July, and that they intend to continue trading this tax year.

If people don’t hear from HMRC, but think they are eligible, they can use the online claim process to check whether they can claim.

If a constituent’s responsibilities as a new parent meant they did not submit a tax return for 2018/2019, or their trading profits in 2018/19 were less than their other income (and they were therefore ineligible for SEISS), they may now be able to claim.

Eligibility includes:

  • caring for a child within 12 months of birth, or adoption placement
  • pregnancy or childbirth, within 26 weeks of the date of giving birth
  • a stillbirth after more than 24 weeks of pregnancy

For new parents, their 2017-18 or both 2016-17 and 2017-18 self-assessment returns can now be used to asses eligibility and grant calculation. If these changes mean someone could now be eligible, they need to confirm to HMRC that being a new parent affected their trading profits or total income in the tax year 2018 to 2019. These changes mean new parents may now be able to claim for the first SEISS grant, the second SEISS grant, or both (depending on when their businesses may have been adversely affected by Coronavirus) when applications open for the second grant.

People’s Postcode Lottery funding available

Applications are open from Tuesday 4th August until Wednesday 19th August. Organisations can apply for grants between £500 and £20,000.

Interested organisations can apply to one of four trusts, which each support projects focussed on different themes:

  • Postcode Neighbourhood Trust will help good causes affected by COVID-19. Groups looking to adapt or expand services, or to increase their resilience should apply.
  • People’s Postcode Trust funds projects aimed at promoting human rights, combatting discrimination and helping to prevent poverty.
  • Postcode Community Trust supports initiatives working to improve health and wellbeing in communities, including those that look to reduce isolation. The Trust also supports projects that increase participation in arts and physical recreation.
  • Postcode Local Trust is for groups looking to increase community access to outdoor space and improve biodiversity. Groups looking to improve sustainability or combat climate change are also encouraged to apply.

Good causes should apply to the trust that best supports the aims of their project. Short funding guides and an eligibility quiz can be found on each trust website to help applicants.

Open letter to Pension Minister in support of divestment


We are concerned and disappointed that Pensions Minister Guy Opperman has publicly discouraged pension fund trustees from divesting from fossil fuel companies (7 July 2020). The Minister’s recommendation that investors “nudge” and “cajole” oil and gas companies towards climate-friendly business models disregards the scale of the escalating climate crisis and ignores the clear moral, scientific and financial arguments for divestment.

Mr Opperman’s anti-divestment stance also contradicts Government guidance (which lists divestment as one course of action for funds “seeking to demonstrate leadership”) and his own previous communication in which he praised the “shift away from fossil fuels” in pension fund portfolios.

The Government is making welcome progress in embedding climate risk disclosure in the financial reporting of pension funds. It is therefore puzzling that the Minister dismisses divestment – which is rooted in sound financial risk management. The UN special envoy for climate action and finance Mark Carney, the G20’s Financial Stability Board and the Environmental Audit Committee have publicly warned of the exposure of UK investors, including pension funds, to the risks of overvalued carbon assets which will be left ‘stranded’ as the world transitions to renewables. The particular vulnerability of the oil and gas sector during the COVID-19 pandemic has tarnished its brand as a safe investment and provides an important warning signal to investors.

Government efforts to establish the Paris Climate Agreement as a central reference for pension funds are warmly welcome. Yet Mr Opperman now undermines these by suggesting it is not necessary for pension funds to align investments with Paris at this point in time. With the devastating impacts of the climate emergency evident across the globe, we are left to wonder when the right moment might be.

The world’s remaining carbon budget for the 1.5 degree temperature target is shrinking rapidly. Based on the principle of equity as enshrined in the Paris Agreement, Global North countries must cut carbon emissions faster, not delay and defer the necessary transformation to prolong business as usual.

Fossil fuel companies are not working towards aligning their business models with the Paris Agreement, as the Minister implies. Despite clear evidence that we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground, companies such as Shell and Exxon are planning to significantly expand fossil fuel extraction by 2030. For every £1 invested by fossil fuel majors, over 95p ends up in further expansion of oil and gas reserves that are incompatible with a Net Zero trajectory.

Astute investors know there are far better companies to invest in that are already delivering a green recovery and clean energy transition. At least 10 local authority pension funds are redirecting their investments away from fossil fuels and into clean energy solutions. Following calls from over 360 cross-party MPs for divestment, the Parliamentary Pension Fund has also begun to reduce fossil fuel holdings and shift investments into infrastructure funds dedicated to new solar and wind energy.

Mr Opperman’s assertion that collaboration through investor engagement can turn fossil fuel majors into low-carbon companies is not borne out by evidence. Investor pressure has never reshaped any company’s core business and cannot transform an entire sector of powerful multinationals. Governments must use their powers as policy makers to force fossil fuel companies to become Paris-compliant or wind down.

Divestment makes this easier: as pension holders reduce their exposure to this declining industry, they enable governments to accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels without adverse effects on the wider public’s hard earned pension pots.

Divestment is a logical course of action for prudent trustees who wish to manage the risks and benefit from the opportunities of the transition to a greener economy. Its financial merits and strong ethical appeal have created a growing demand for fossil free pensions. We appeal to Mr Opperman not to discourage others from following the actions that thousands of forward-thinking institutions have already taken.

Yours Sincerely,

 

Ronnie Cowan – Scottish National Party MP for Inverclyde

https://gofossilfree.org/uk/open-letter-guy-opperman

 

Trade Bill

It is beyond belief that at a time when the economy is being hit hard by coronavirus the UK Government is preparing to inflict further job losses by walking out of talks with the EU in less than six months – even if no trade deal has been agreed.

This week, the UK Government queued up to block an attempt to protect our NHS from a post Brexit trade deal with Donald Trump. I have been contacted by dozens of Inverclyde constituents, this past few week, regarding the Trade Bill and many are deeply angry with plans to privatise the NHS, reduce food standards and attack animal welfare.

Just like his notorious Brexit referendum pledge for £350m a week for the NHS, Boris Johnson has shown that his promises are not worth the paper they are written on.

It’s never been clearer that decisions about Scotland should be taken by the people who live here – not an out of touch Tory Westminster government.

Key dates for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS)

Please remind employers in your constituency about key dates for the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and actions they might need to take, to help their businesses.

Key dates

  • Submit your CJRS claim for periods ending on or before 30 June 2020 by 31 July 2020. This is the last date you can make those claims. If you do not make a claim by this date or before, you cannot go on to make a claim for periods starting on or after 1 July.
  • From 1 August you must pay National Insurance (NI) and pensions contributions for employees, including when they are furloughed. CJRS Grants can no longer be used to cover these costs. You can submit your August claim in advance now.
  • Prepare for further changes to the scheme on 1 September (when grants will be for 70% of wages) and 1 October (when grants will be for 60% of wages).

Live webinars offering more support on changes to the scheme and how they impact your constituents are available to book online.

BBC decision to scrap free TV Licence for over 75s

At a time when a significant number of older people will be relying on these services due to the coronavirus crisis and lockdown measures, the decision to scrap free BBC TV licences for most over-75s is disgraceful and will have a devastating impact.

Many older people in Inverclyde will depend heavily on TV licences as their only means of receiving crucial health updates on the coronavirus crisis and measures being brought forward. At this critical time – when we could potentially see further lockdown measures if there is a spike in coronavirus cases – it is grossly irresponsible for the UK government to simply sit on their hands.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK said;

At Age UK we’re bitterly disappointed by this decision on behalf of the millions of over 75s who have had a torrid time over the last few months and for whom this must feel like another kick in the teeth, during a terrible year.

Many older people on low incomes have told us that if they have to find £150 plus a year to pay for a licence then they will have to forego some other essential, or try to survive without TV at all. We genuinely worry about the mental health of older people living on their own in this situation if they have to give up their cherished TV – for some it really is all they have and their main way of alleviating their chronic loneliness.”