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Your March Update:

Your Voice in Parliament

As your voice in Parliament, I have been focussing on the roll out of testing and vaccinations in our city, as well as lobbying for the economic support we need to come out of this pandemic on a stable footing, ready for recovery. As part of this, I have started a new Parliamentary committee on data poverty, working with the Government and internet providers to introduce a low cost ‘social tariff’ for broadband got families on lower incomes. With internet providers already signing up to provide cheaper broadband for low-income families, you can follow our progress here. I’ve been meeting with experts on anti-poverty policy throughout February. I expect to announce exciting news soon about a broader piece of work on child poverty; building on progress made in January.

I have also been preparing for the Spring Budget, expected to be presented in Parliament tomorrow. This budget is the Chancellor’s last opportunity help the millions of people who have been unfairly excluded from financial help so far. Having consulted with constituents excluded from covid support, businesses struggling in lockdown and industry leaders about our national strategy, I’ve written to the Chancellor spelling out Bristol’s expectations for this Budget. We need a change in approach from the Chancellor that goes beyond flashy branding and headlines. We need a compressive skills-focussed jobs program, targeted support for highstreets, retail and hospitality, proper funding for nurseries and early years; as well as a review of the employment rights system that places Britain bottom in Europe for sick-pay. Ahead of the budget, you watch a summary of my Business Committee’s recommendations and read my personal thoughts about what’s needed next for the United Kingdom to succeed.

My work on climate change has also increased in priority, with the UK hosting the UN international summit – COP26 – this November. As chair of the energy committee, I have been closely involved with the Government and the COP team on preparations for November, as well as our own domestic work in the UK to decarbonise by 2050.

I’ve also been involved in Bristol’s bid for the ‘Great Western Freeport’ to Government. I have many reservations about the Government’s policy on freeports – which would designate parcels of land in Avonmouth and Severnside as having tax and/or customs benefits – but the West of England may as well take part and so I have lent the bid my support, albeit with several conditions. If you’d like to know more about this, please do get in touch.

Your Champion in Bristol

Bristol is making huge strides in the campaign to get our city vaccinated; we’re currently the seventh best performing region for the roll-out. A huge thank you to our local GP surgeries, pharmacies and other health and social care staff and volunteers for working so hard to get the vaccine out as quickly as possible. With the success of the community surge testing effort in Bristol and beyond, I am confident our city is in a great place to start opening back up. I welcome the Prime Minister’s roadmap to lift lockdown restrictions, but this strategy must be accompanied with continued economic support until the restrictions have been fully lifted. In a pre-budget report from my Committee in the House of Commons, I have set out our cross-party expectations of the budget for workers and businesses.

I know some constituents are anxious about when our loved ones will get their vaccine appointment or are hesitant about getting a new vaccination. Last month, I sat down with Dr Tim Whittlestone to discuss how the vaccine approval process works, what you should expect when you go to your vaccine appointment and why it is important to get the jab. You can watch our full video and subtitled highlights here: darren-jones.co.uk/vaccine. As this roll-out progresses, I am continuing to engage fully with our regional NHS Clinical Commissioning Group overseeing Bristol’s vaccination effort. My casework team and I have been successful in raising and resolving edge-cases for vaccine eligibility. I’m confident that we’re in a fantastic place to complete our roll-out, support people nervous about getting the vaccine and drive down hospital admissions.

My next topic-focused online briefing will be on the use of Neonicotinoids, the Environment Bill and Agriculture Act. I’ll be hosting more of these throughout the summer; picking a policy area based on what constituents are most frequently writing to me about. For this briefing and Q&A, on April 14th, I’ll be joined by the Shadow Secretary of State for Agriculture, Luke Pollard MP. You can sign up for tickets to join us on Zoom, and watch my initial video briefing summarising my position on our current Environment and Agricultural strategy, as well as the use of pesticides on bee populations, at http://darren-jones.co.uk/aabriefing/. I hope to see some of you on April 14th!

Finally, thank you to all those that attended the Excluded UK Bristol North West forum in February. I’ve written to the Chancellor ahead of the Spring Budget with your feedback, alongside a report from my Committee which calls out the discrimination in financial support between employed and self-employed workers, and for recent mums who have taken parental leave in the past three years. I was also delighted to host so many residents to discuss Bristol’s Clean Air Zone last week, the feedback from which I have now sent to our Mayor. Although this is a change put onto Bristol from the Government, and a chance to fix our city’s air pollution problem, I’ve sought assurances that it will not disproportionally impact local business constituents or residential communities.

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Darren warns British Gas against the use of Fire and Rehire tactics.

Today, Darren took evidence from Mr O’Shea, the CEO of Centrica PLC, the parent company of British Gas. Mr O’Shea was questioned on the use of controversial Fire and Rehire (Section 188) notices by Darren and the Business committee.

You can watch highlights of Darren’s questions to Mr. O’Shea here:

The Business Committee evidence session took place as Centrica was accused by GMB of ‘bullying‘ its 20,000 employees into accepting worse pay and working conditions during the COVID19 pandemic. So far 80% of Centrica employees have accepted these new employment conditions.

Darren wrote to Mr O’Shea in October 2020 asking for an explanation about the use of Fire and Rehire notices during the early stages of negotiations with trade unions. Darren cited this tactic as an ‘extreme measure’ and asked for transparency about how the decision to threaten workers with Section 188 notices was taken. You can read Darren’s letter in full below.

 

 

 

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Stop ignoring child poverty, warns Darren to Chancellor

Following a disappointing Financial Statement from the Chancellor this winter, Darren questioned the Government’s commitment to eliminating child poverty.

Despite rates of child poverty increasing in the UK, the world 6th richest country, this winter’s financial statement does nothing to address the system causes of child poverty. The statement also fails to dedicate budget to helping families during the winter period that are suffering from in-work poverty.

Speaking in Parliament, Darren raised this issue to the Chancellor directly. You can watch the exchange here:

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Darren calls for clarity over COVID-19 Business Rules

Darren, as Chair of the Business Committee, has written to Alok Sharma, Secretary of State, asking for urgent clarifications about the COVID-19 rules and restrictions for businesses once England’s national lockdown ends at the start of December.

Darren and the Business Committee took evidence from Excluded UK, UKHospitality, Marston’s PLC, PureGym and more to understand the effectiveness of support available to businesses and the impact of Coronavirus restrictions. These insights were used to scrutinise the BEIS department’s guidance and support made available to businesses, as well as how taxpayer’s money has been targeted and businesses have been consulted.

Speaking of the importance of delivering clarity of businesses ahead of the Christmas trading peroid, Darren said:

“On Tuesday, business leaders in retail, leisure and hospitality warned of devastated high streets and even higher job losses unless urgent action was taken by Ministers to confirm what will happen after the second lockdown. Businesses need urgent clarity on the rules they will be required to follow under any new tiered system of restrictions so that they can make plans for their staff, sites and suppliers.

“Christmas trading is a crucial period and the Government needs to target support – alongside required public health measures – to help, especially for retailers who have been deemed non-essential during the second lockdown. Specifically, Ministers need to better target support and bring stakeholders together to find a solution to commercial rent debts. Ministers also need to take steps to ensure that businesses and unions are more involved on issues relating to local lockdowns, such as the system of curfews, so that safe and responsible trading can take place.”

You can read Darren’s letter to the Secretary of State below:

 

 

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Darren takes evidence from Metro Mayors about COVID and Levelling Up

Darren took evidence from England’s Metro-Mayors about the value their office adds to their regions.

Following the dramatic confrontation between central Government and the Manchester region over a lack of localised lockdown support this Autumn, Darren asked Metro-Mayor’s about their approach to connecting central and local government.

Darren and the Business Commitee took evidence from Bristol’s Conservative WECA Metro-Mayor Tim Bowles, and other regional Metro-Mayor’s:

  • Rt Hon Andy Burnham, Mayor, Greater Manchester Combined Authority
  • Jamie Driscoll, Mayor, North of Tyne Combined Authority
  • Steve Rotheram, Mayor, Liverpool City Region Combined Authority.

While most Metro Mayors were able to explain in detail the role their office plays in securing funds to level up their region and maximise the impact of local leaders in ther region, some struggled to find examples of where they’d been effective during their time in office.

You can watch the whole evidence session here.