Posts

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.

, , ,

Fix the flaws in previous budgets so Britain can recover and grow, Darren writes to Chancellor

The Spring Budget, expected on Wednesday, March 3rd, will be the Chancellor’s last chance to help the millions of people that have been unfairly excluded from COVID support so far.

Ahead of the budget, Darren wrote to the chancellor outlining the steps that need to be taken to protect livelihoods in Bristol and set the country on the correct path to recovery and growth. These recommendations come after consultation with constituents excluded from covid support, businesses struggling in lockdown and industry leaders.

Darren’s letter calls for action to:

  1. Extend support for those excluded from COVID support including self-employed and new mothers
  2. Finally put in place a multi-year funding plan for nurseries, maintained nursery schools and early years learning.
  3. Keep the £20 uplift in universal credit for families hit hard by this pandemic.
  4. Extend that uplift to unpaid carers, currently receiving only £67.50 per week.
  5. Revamp their business communications strategy so that Bristol’s businesses are not left in the lurch or bearing the cost of more COVID adaptations if we see another COVID case spike.
  6. Target extra support to retail and hospitality, including a cut in beer duty to support our pubs and restaurants.

You can read the full letter here:

 

 

, , ,

Chancellor should seek long-term solutions to fire up business recovery, Darren writes for The Times

Ahead of the March budget, Darren urged the Chancellor to address the long-term challenges the British economy faces beyond the Coronavirus pandemic.

The Business Select Committee, that Darren chairs, have published its recommendations for the Spring Budget focusing on fixing the flaws in the Chancellor’s pandemic strategy. The Treasury’s strategy at this stage in the pandemic will set the foundation of the economy that we rebuild in the coming years. Key inequalities have been highlighted in the Chancellor’s current plan, including gaps in support for new mothers and self-employed people, that will have knock-on effects in the years to come.

You can read the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy report here, and read Darren’s article in The Times here. Or read below:

Chancellor should seek long-term solutions to fire up business recovery

The financial support provided to businesses and workers since March 2020 has been unprecedented. However, as we reflect today in the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy committee’s pre-budget report, alarming gaps in support have arisen which the chancellor has a crucial opportunity to put right next week.

The eligibility criteria for financial support have resulted in discrimination between different types of worker. Self-employed workers were especially discriminated against compared to employed workers. Inequalities continue to be perpetuated, such as ineligibility for recent mothers who have taken parental leave. The chancellor should use this budget to help those workers who have not been supported so far — this is most likely the last chance to help them.

Our report also expresses concern about the long-term prospects for employment in our country. The impact of Covid is just one tectonic plate shifting the British economy, alongside Brexit and the net-zero transition. Retail and hospitality workers have been especially hit, with a disproportionate impact on women and young people. Potential job losses in key industrial sectors, such as automotive manufacturing, also raise significant structural concerns for the British economy and fears about the impact on employment prospects in the communities affected. The government’s recent skills white paper is welcome, but a wider cross-governmental approach to education, training and skills is needed, targeting support to the workers most affected during this pandemic.

In good news, we have welcomed the remarkable ability of businesses and workers to adapt and innovate during the pandemic. Digital transformation has taken place more quickly than we could have hoped. Building on these developments and innovations will be key for our economic recovery. However, many businesses have become saddled with Covid debts during the pandemic and they will need help. As we recommend in our report, the government should consider how best to help businesses invest in their own growth and job creation, and how to deliver improvements to productivity and decarbonisation in this new era of company Covid indebtedness.

Some businesses have been able to succeed during the pandemic, with some deciding to return public funds. Unfortunately, other successful businesses saw access to low-cost government backed finance as a commercial opportunity. We conclude that more transparency is needed about which companies received what public support.

Companies that acted in bad faith, by passing on state-financed dividends to wealthy shareholders or taking the cover of the pandemic to use approaches such as “fire and rehire” in restructuring their businesses, have clearly acted unacceptably. With reforms to company reporting and audit, and the Employment Rights Bill also on the government’s agenda, we should take a broader look at corporate governance and move the dial on what it means to be a good corporate citizen in the UK.

The pandemic has accelerated the pace of change for many workers, businesses and communities in a negative way. High streets across the country have seen a dramatic loss of retail businesses and, sadly, we are likely to see more retailers close their doors — not least because a solution to outstanding commercial rents has yet to be found. At this crucial time, there also seems to be confusion in government over the UK’s industrial strategy and the role the state should play in supporting the economy. Now, more than ever, we need to ensure that government action and financial support is targeted effectively — we cannot afford to spend money everywhere, but the costs of not taking any action would be incalculable.

The budget must clearly set out a continuation of financial support measures for businesses and workers in line with continued public health restrictions, but the occasion also serves as a valuable opportunity for the chancellor to reflect on the long-term lessons for our economy. Will the budget set out a vision for Britain in the decade ahead, that understands the reshaping of the British economy now taking place, or will the chancellor stick to short-term announcements which fail to provide the confidence businesses and workers need?

Darren Jones is a Labour MP and chairman of the business, energy and industrial strategy committee

,

Constituency Office February 12th Weekend Closure

Please note that on February 12th and 15th the Bristol North West Constituency Office will be closed.

If you require urgent help while the office is closed, please email me directly at darren.jones.mp@parliament.uk with ‘Urgent’ in the subject heading. For all other enquiries, our team will respond to you once our office has re-opened on February 16th.

Bristol Support Contacts:

  • Bristol Mind (Mental Health advice): bristolmind.org.uk
  • NHS Urgent Mental Health Helpline: 0800 012 6549
  • We Are Bristol (Food supplies, medicine and essentials): 0800 694 0184
  • Bristol Citizen’s Advice (confidential advice for a range of issues): 808 278 7957
  • Childline (for people age 18 and younger): 0800 1111

 

 

, , ,

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.

 

 

 

, ,

Darren Jones: “It’s time for a social broadband tariff to end digital poverty”

MP calls for new ‘social tariff’ for broadband for children on free school meals.

Today in Parliament, Darren Jones is introducing the Internet Access Bill. This Ten Minute Rule Bill could extend access to an affordable social tariff for broadband to 1.4 million children on free school meals.

On Wednesday 20th January, Darren Jones MP (Labour, Bristol North West) will introduce a Ten Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons that demands the Government use existing powers to introduce a social tariff for broadband that is affordable for low-income families.

The Bill will also call for the eligibility for a broadband social tariff to be extended to include every household with a child on free school meals, which, according to January 2020 data from the House of Commons Library, means over 1.4 million children could be entitled to receive low-cost broadband.      

The Secretary of State for Digital Culture Media and Sports already has the statutory powers (UK Statutory Instrument: The Electronic Communications and Wireless Telegraphy Regulations 2020) to require Ofcom, the broadband regulator, to set up a social tariff for broadband. Ofcom would define what ‘affordable’ is and Internet Service Providers will be required to provide it.

So far, this bill has the support of three former DCMS Secretaries of State, Rt Hon Jeremy Wright MP, Rt Hon Karen Bradley MP, and Rt Hon Ben Bradshaw MP and dozens of other MPs including the official spokespersons for the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Plaid.

Commenting, Mr Jones, who chairs the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, said: 

“Temporary uplifts to mobile data and free access to certain educational websites during the lockdown are important, but temporary. We need a long-term solution to digital poverty in our country, especially for children who need internet access for educational purposes. My Bill merely highlights the powers that already exist in law to introduce a social tariff for broadband. It doesn’t ask for new legislation or money from the Treasury.”

The broadband regulator, Ofcom, estimates that one in five UK households frequently struggle to pay monthly telecoms bill and nearly two million children are missing out on education because their household lacks broadband or a computer.

Commenting Helen Milner OBE, the Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation, said

The Covid pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated an existing inequality in access to the internet. We support Darren Jones’ call for a social tariff for broadband, which we believe will make a fundamental difference to this issue for many children and low-income households across the country. By offering routes to low-cost internet access, we can ensure that no parent will have to choose between feeding their children or helping them to learn online.”

, , , , , ,

Fix Free School Meals and implement a child poverty action plan, Darren Jones writes to Prime Minister

Following the latest Free School Meals scandal which revealed widespread problems with child food parcels, Darren wrote to the Prime Minister demanding action. With millions of children asked to learn from home during the winter spike in COVID cases, families across the country have been supplied with inadequate and unnutritious food parcels by outsourced catering companies, instead of supermarket vouchers.

Parents are the best judge of which foods their children will eat, and the Government’s approach to Free School Meals shows a disregard for the serious issue of child poverty in the UK. The standard of food parcels offered to some families is not only a national embarrassment but deeply offensive to parents struggling to provide for their children during a pandemic that has cost one million jobs so far.

An example of a 10-day food parcel received by parents.

During the previous Labour governments, two million children were lifted out of poverty. Yet since 2017, there has been a 52% increase in children living in destitution in the UK. Darren raised the lack of a child poverty strategy in any of the Chancellor’s economic policies during the last Financial Statement and this admission remains unaddressed.

Darren followed up his letter to the Prime Minister by giving an assessment of the Government’s dismissive attitude towards child poverty on Channel Four News, January 12th. You can read Darren’s letter in full below:

, , ,

Darren welcomes Bristol University’s COVID-19 Vaccine Communication Handbook

The successful roll-out of the COVID19 Vaccination is critical to saving lives, halting the pandemic and getting our lives back to normal.

As with every important scientific advancement and high-profile Government initiative, concerns have been raised about the safety of the vaccine and the Government’s roll-out plan. The vaccine is safe, and Bristol University has published a handbook about the vaccine and how to identify vaccine misinformation. There is an overwhelming global scientific consensus among medical experts that vaccines are the best way to fight infectious diseases and each of the approved COVID19 vaccines successfully passed rigorous tests of safety and efficacy during their development process. The COVID19 Vaccines are highly effective at protecting against the virus, and a speedy, fair roll-out is in the public interest.

Darren has been briefed by medical and scientific experts about the Coronavirus and the vaccines throughout this pandemic. You can see information about the roll-out of the vaccine below, and a guide to COVID19 Vaccine misinformation. If you have not yet received your vaccination appointment, please wait to be contacted by the NHS. Darren is working with Labour colleagues to ensure that everyone who needs a vaccine gets one, and the NHS has committed to a nationwide vaccination roll-out.

nhs vaccine roll out

 

Where and how will vaccinations take place?

In Bristol, vaccination sites have been set-up throughout the city. This includes a super-vaccination centre at Ashton Gate Stadium.

You’ll be invited to book an appointment for vaccination when it is your turn. If you’ve already received your letter confirming eligibility, you can book online here.

Vaccinations appointments will be carried out at:

  • GP Surgeries
  • NHS Hospital Hubs
  • Care Homes
  • At super centres, including conference centres and sports stadiums.

You can find information about the safety of the vaccine and the mild side-effects you may experience here (NHS).

How to spot and deal with vaccine misinformation.

Unfortunately, vaccine misinformation has been created and spread by fake-experts. This is a common and expected reaction to medical advancements, like vaccinations.  There’s a lot of money to be made in spreading misinformation and it can be hard to spot. Below is a guide on common myths about the COVID19 Vaccination, and how to counter them.

You can access the full handbook on the COVID19 Vaccine here– it’s designed for parents, nurses, journalists, students, policymakers and anyone that wants to know more.

 

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.