December Update

It’s been a year like none other, with hardship and sacrifices for so many and a relentless and exhausting workload for our key workers.

But I’m ending this year with optimism about the year ahead and gratitude for the incredible efforts made by so many, including new community volunteers and leaders.

With some of the world’s first Covid vaccinations being rolled out at Southmead Hospital and at local GP surgeries, and with plans to more widely distribute the vaccine in the New Year, 2021 will be the beginning of the end of this awful pandemic. Whilst we will all need to adjust to living with Covid, we should be able to return to some form of normality soon.

I know that many workers and businesses have struggled during the lockdowns and now the tier three restrictions. I have been lobbying at the highest levels of Government for further financial support and will continue to do so.

I also want to say a big thank you to all of you who have volunteered at foodbanks, checked in on your neighbours, set up street WhatsApp groups, signed up as NHS volunteers and organised Covid secure community events.

While I’m looking forward to a break over Christmas, we must all continue to be responsible during this crucial time in the pandemic. I’m sorry that the guidance from the Government hasn’t been overly clear for Christmas. Personally, I’ve decided to cancel my three household Christmas plans and postpone them to Easter. I know it’s hard but – as the Chief Medical Officer has said – we have to keep this Christmas small, short and sharp.

Between the 24th and the 1st of January our constituency office will be closed so that my small team can take a well-earned break at the end of this busy year. If you need urgent support during this time, you can still reach me at darren.jones.mp@parliament.uk by putting Urgent in the subject line. For other enquires, my team will respond once the office re-opens on January 4th.

 

Your Champion In Bristol

With the holidays almost upon us, I’m delighted to show off the fantastic Christmas Card designs made by children across Bristol North West. Thank you to everyone that took part, you can check out all the designs and print out the winning entry on my website here. Thank you too to everyone that took part in my Christmas Café Politics this year, hopefully, next time we’ll be able to enjoy a mince pie in person. Before the year’s end, I wanted to give an update on what’s been happening in our patch of Bristol.

Earlier this month, we experienced a tragic loss in our community following the deaths at the Wessex Water facility in Avonmouth. I know that all of us have the family and friends of Brian, Luke, Ray and Mike in our thoughts and prayers at this most difficult of times. The investigation into what caused this incident is now underway. As ever, I continue to keep in touch with the various regulators in Avonmouth to ensure that lessons are learned and that regulation is fit for purpose.

I’ve been in close contact with Southmead Hospital, Care Homes and the Clinical Commissioning Group throughout the year and want to extend my thanks to everyone involved in keeping Bristol safe and healthy. I welcome the changes that have been made to allow visiting at Care Homes during the winter, and the efforts expended to get rapid testing working in our care homes. I’m also glad that Southmead Hospital has been able to allow partners to accompany pregnant women in a way that keeps people safe and gives comfort and support to expectant parents. Our NHS and Care Homes still look radically different to this time last year, but with these measures and the vaccine roll-out, I’m confident we will get back to where we need to be in the spring.

Throughout the winter, I’ve been hosting online virtual Town Halls for every neighbourhood across our constituency as well as special one-off meetings. With restrictions on holding large in-person meetings in place, I wanted to ensure we protect that vital constituency/MP link by providing spaces to raise local and national issues. These meet-ups have shown more strongly that beyond important hyperlocal issues, we have shared concerns about the health of our high streets, anti-social behaviour, long-run transport and housing shortages, employment and opportunity. I’m looking forward to holding similar neighbourhood specific meet-ups next year, to keep this conversation going.

I’ve used these conservations to inform the work I do in Bristol, for example feeding back frustrations about lockdown ABS to the Police and Crime Commissioner. On the One Economy Board in Bristol and the Business Committee in Bristol, I’m pushing for greater hospitality support as called for by pubs struggling across Bristol North West. Right now for my upcoming Ten Minute Rule Bill, I’m researching policy steps that we can take to gain greater control over our high streets and on how to tackle the growing digital divide that we’re seeing in schools across the country. More on that below.

In Parliament.

As this sessions Parliament draws to a close, questions remain unanswered on the two important issues of our time, Coronavirus and our relationship with Europe. I am wondering where the time has gone. Yes, I am very grateful to spend this time with my family and take a break from the frustrations of Westminster. Yet, it’s clear that we should be in a better position than we are currently. To protect the health of our nation and our democracy these decisions can’t keep being made in the dark, away from scrutiny, and at the last moment.

I’ve been disappointed to see this approach bleed over to the normally cooperative Business department that my committee scrutinises. In November, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Business to ask for an explanation about his dodging of evidence sessions about Brexit preparedness.

Fortunately, answers have been far more forthcoming from the large numbers of businesses, organisations and trade bodies that I’ve taken evidence from in November, including ExcludedUK, the Federation of Small Businesses, Marstons PLC and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders. One thing is clear, poor government communication putting jobs at risk during this pandemic and ahead of the Brexit cliff-edge. This feedback mirrors the evidence I took from elected Mayors, including our own Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees, about the levelling up agenda. I wrote to the Secretary of State urging him to support businesses and livelihoods by getting a grip on Government communications ahead of Christmas.

In the Houses of Commons, I’ve challenged the Government to close the gap between their rhetoric and policy. The pandemic and campaigns from Marcus Rashford have put a spotlight on growing child poverty, so I asked the Chancellor why he’d neglected to tackle this in his national Financial Statement. Likewise, I challenged the Secretary for Culture and Digital to back up his talk about making online safer for everyone, including children, by regulators the power they need. Governments have a greater responsibility than just to tax and spend, they should exist to solve injustices, improve livelihoods and uplift the vulnerable.

That’s why I’m excited about the opportunity to put toward a Ten Minute Rule Bill early next year; a chance to argue for legislation that can solve real problems in the UK. Often these bills fail to become law, so it’s important to shine a light on otherwise overlooked problems. I’ll be using the Christmas break to decide on what my Ten Minute Rule Bills should focus on. I’ve narrowed it down to either high street regeneration or closing the digital divide. As we’ve seen throughout the country, and with the recent collapse of the Arcadia Group and Debenhams, our high streets are at real risk right now. These melting pots for communities are also vital building blocks for local businesses and crucial for some of our largest employers. I’m looking at ways to get more control over the health of our high streets through rebalancing legislation. I’ve also been shocked by the stark digital divide that is widening across the country for young people. We’ve seen this in Bristol with children needing to share laptops and smartphones during the lockdown. Both of these problems need addressing if Britain is to fulfil its potential as a fair and modern country.

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Constituency Office Winter Closure

Between December 24th and January 4th, our constituency office will be closed so that my small, hardworking team can take a well-deserved break.

If you need urgent assistance during this time- please contact me directly on email(darren.jones.mp@parliament.uk) with ‘urgent’ in the subject line. We’ll pick up all other enquiries when our office re-opens on January 4th.

On behalf of my constituency office, thank you for your support this year and Merry Christmas!

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Darren urges Government to avoid another Arcadia/Debenhams collapse

Following Arcadia entering administration and putting thousands of jobs at risk, Darren called on the Government to urgently support the retail sector, including retail supply chains.

Darren wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Alok Sharma, asking the Government to outline their plan to support large retail businesses and their complex supply chain of smaller and independent businesses. The collapse of large retailers like Debenhams has a devastating effect on local communities and both the people directly employed by the stores and those within its supply chain network.

Darren asked Paul Scully, Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Labour Markets, to do more to support the small businesses caught in the storm of large retail collapses.

DJ UQ Arcadia BEIS

Commenting on the stress placed on businesses by Government’s COVID induced recession, Darren called for a taskforce to be set up to limit further damage to livelihoods:

“It has been a dark week for bricks and mortar retail in the UK. While many will point to issues relating to the management record and business models at Arcadia and at Debenhams, there is no doubt that Covid-19 has hit the high-street hard and, sadly, looks likely to bring job losses and store closures to many communities across the country. I hope the Secretary of State will come forward with more detail on the support the Government will provide to the retail sector.

The Government should be doing more to bring stakeholders together to find a solution to commercial rent debts as well as support for small businesses in the retail supply chain. I hope the Secretary of State will look again at setting up a Retail Taskforce with tenants, landlords, banks, supply chain businesses and Ministers to find solutions before more damage is caused.”