Darren asks about the cost of the 2017 UK general election

As I found out by asking the government, the cost of the 2017 General Election was £140,850,000 – that’s money spent by the Prime Minister to try and shore up her majority. This cost could be reduced by using digital democracy tools.

I asked:

What was the cost to the public purse of holding the general election 2017?

Chris Skidmore MP, Parliamentrary Under Secretary for the Cabinet Office, replied:

The Parliamentary Secretary at the Cabinet Office notified Parliament of the forecast cost

of the UK general election of £140,850,000.

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Darren says ‘Stay well this winter’

Winter brings with it a number of challenges for all of us, but particularly the increased risk of illness as temperatures drop.

Getting the flu can be bad enough for even the fittest of us, but for older people and those with long-term conditions in particular it can cause serious health problems. The Chief Medical Officer warned this week that flu and complications associated with it – such as pneumonia – cause 8,000 deaths on average a year in England – around 6,000 of which are people with existing heart and lung conditions. This is not to mention the hundreds of A&E trips to Southmead Hospital, GP appointments and emergency admissions that our local NHS sees every year over winter – official figures show that flu and pneumonia account for 2.9m bed days in English hospitals.

The strain, and therefore strength, of flu changes every year, so even if you’ve had vaccinations in previous years these won’t offer protection. And if the experience in Australia and New Zealand is anything to go by, this winter could see a much stronger strain than in recent years.
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Darren asks the Department for Education about pupil data protection

The National Pupil Database is a database containing school children’s personal details.

Darren asked the Department for Education:

Whether any data extracted from the national pupil database has been transferred from an approved third-party organisation to any other organisation

and

How much income her Department derived from allowing third-party organisations to access the national pupil database.

It is perhaps worrying that the government has failed to say to whom and for how much money they have sold our children’s personal details to.

Darren asks the Department for Exiting the European Union about the EEA

Darren asked the Department:

What steps his Department will need to take to confirm formally withdrawal from the EEA agreement as a matter of international law?

Robin Walker MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, replied:

As the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said when he addressed the House on 7th September, there is agreement that when we leave the EU, the European Economic Area Agreement will no longer operate in respect of the UK.

However it is clear that there is disagreement on this issue (e.g. https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/article-127-and-single-market), and therefore the government’s lack of proper consideration of this issue is concerning.

17th of October Science and Technology Select Committee Highlights

Today I attended the Science and Technology committee, where we interviewed Government Science advisers. We also interviewed Jo Johnson MP with regards to his role as Minister for Science. Highlights of what I said are available below:

 

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Darren continues to raise concerns about Universal Credit roll-out

Following receipt of an MP Briefing from Citizens Advice, Bristol North West MP Darren Jones has continued to push for a delay to the roll-out of Universal Credit, which is due in Horfield and Shirehampton in May 2018.

Citizens Advice has released unparalleled evidence on the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) – they have helped people with over 100,000 UC issues since it was introduced and have seen the equivalent of 12% of new Universal Credit claimants every month.

The Citizens Advice briefing that highlighted:

– Universal Credit isn’t working for too many people.

– The 6 week wait risks pushing people into debt. Over half of the people we’ve helped who receive UC were forced to borrow money while waiting for their first
payment.

– 1 in 5 claimants wait longer than 6 weeks . Support isn’t available for new claimants having problems with evidence verification and the claimant commitment.

– Advance Payments help but are only partially propping up a flawed system. They provide people with only 50% of a payment, which covers 2 weeks, and most people wait 6 or more weeks.

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Government fails to guarantee post-Brexit Erasmus funding after Darren asks them to

Darren asked the Department of Education:

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, whether reciprocal funding for Erasmus students will continue after the UK leaves the EU?

Jo Johnson MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science, replied:

The Government is considering future participation in Erasmus as part of the European Union (EU) Exit negotiations. We see future co-operation in education programmes (as with research) as an area of mutual benefit to both the UK and the EU, provided we can agree a fair ongoing contribution.

There is, of course, a range of wider international mobility activity supported by organisations such as the British Council, UK and others. The Government has made clear many times that it values the Erasmus+ programme and international exchanges more generally and has stated publicly that the UK is committed to continuing full participation in the Erasmus+ Programme up until we leave the EU.

We will underwrite successful bids for Erasmus+, which are submitted while the UK is still a Member State, even if they are not approved until after we leave, and/or payments continue beyond the point of Exit.

It is clear that his answer could be summarised as ‘not sure’; scarcely reassurance to British and European students looking to benefit from UK Erasmus participation in the future.

Darren raises the issue of mental and physical health equality

Darren Jones MP, Member of Parliament for Bristol North West, has challenged the Department of Health on the vital topic of mental health, which is often overlooked compared to physical health.

He asked the Department:

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, when the Government plans for funding relative to burden of disease to reach parity across mental and physical health?

Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, replied by saying that:

NHS England’s ‘Standard for Mental Health Investment’ requires the local National Health Service to increase mental health investment by the same proportion as overall allocations. This is planned to be met across England as a whole in 2017/18 and 2018/19.

It is for clinical commissioning groups to make decisions on spending priorities to best meet the health needs of their local population based on evidence based health assessments.

We were the first Government to place mental and physical health on an equal footing in law. Parity of esteem is the principle by which mental health must be given equal priority to physical health. It was enshrined in law by the Health and Social Care Act 2012.

But in reality, mental health funding is still far short of of where that of physical health is.  According to the Kings’ Fund, ‘Mental health problems account for 23 per cent of the burden of disease in the United Kingdom, but spending on mental health services consumes only 11 per cent of the NHS budget’.

 

 

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Darren challenges the Department of Education on childcare

Darren asked the Secretary of State for Education:

Whether the Government has made an estimate of the number of work hours for which people cannot work on account of free childcare not being available for a full week of 37.5 hours and during school holidays?

Robert Goodwill MP, Minister of State For Children and Families, answered with the following:

We are increasing support to working parents by doubling the free childcare entitlement from 15 to 30 hours per week from September 2017. The introduction of 30 hours’ free childcare aims to make childcare more affordable and to enable parents to work, or to work more if they choose to do so.

The department knows that parents’ working patterns vary significantly and we are working closely with local authorities and providers to ensure that the 30 hours’ free childcare entitlement delivers high quality and flexible childcare that meets parents’ needs.

Our statutory guidance makes clear that parents can stretch their entitlement over more than 38 weeks of the year, enabling them to take it up during the term time and the school holidays.

By failing to specify whether or not they have estimated the amount of work hours lost due to their childcare policy when specifically asked if they have, the government raises the suspicion that they have not.

Darren asks the Government for an update on Euratom replacement

Darren used a Parliamentary Question to ask the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy what progress has been made on delivering an alternative body to Euratom (the European regulatory body for Nuclear Materials) ahead of the UK’s proposed withdrawal from Euratom in May 2019.
The Secretary’s response?
 
‘We have decided to establish a domestic nuclear safeguards regime which is as comprehensive and robust as that currently provided by Euratom.
This new regime will deliver to existing Euratom standards… We have already started building additional capability within the UK’s Office for Nuclear Regulation, who will be running the regime’
 
This is a perhaps disappointing lack of concrete progress, considering the importance of this issue. Nuclear materials deliver radiotherapy and chemotherapy in our hospitals, for instance, as well as providing zero carbon energy.