The latest edition of my monthy e-newsletter is available to read here.
In yesterday’s Health Questions, I asked the Secretary of State what he will do about the funding crisis in mental health services.
Mr Bradshaw: People in Exeter and Devon with mental illness are now waiting more than two years for treatment. This is totally unacceptable and will, if it has not already, lead to the loss of lives. The Minister has repeated today his criticism of NHS England’s decision to cut funding for mental health, but as the shadow Minister reminded him, he is not a passive observer; he is the Minister responsible. What will he do about it?
Mr Hunt: The reason we are not passive observers is that we have made some substantial improvements in mental health provision since coming to office, including legislating for parity of esteem, which is precisely why the right hon. Gentleman feels able to ask that question. There are 55,000 more people every year getting a dementia diagnosis and nearly 80,000 people going on to psychological therapies. Lots has been done, but there is lots more to do, and we will continue to do everything we need to until we get that parity of esteem.
March 27, 2014 in Local
Exeter Citizens Advice Bureau have released their latest figures which show worrying evidence of rising personal debt levels.
Debt problems continue to increase
Local charity Exeter Citizens Advice Bureau today publishes its latest advice trend statistics for January 2014 which show that it has helped 4359 clients directly with advice since April 2013.
Demand for advice has increased in the following areas compared to the previous year:
• A seventy-one percent increase in problems about housing association rent arrears
• A fifty-four percent increase in problems about local authority rent arrears
• A fifty-four percent increase in problems about Council Tax arrears
• A twenty-six percent increase in problems about telephone and broadband debts
• A thirty per cent increase in problems about Bankruptcy and Debt Relief Orders (DROs)
On average, clients of the charity have debts of some £12,969.
Exeter CAB Chief Executive Steve Barriball said: “It’s good news that things are looking up on the economic front, but for many individuals and families the legacy of recession remains. The combination of squeezed wages, the impact of welfare reform, energy costs rising seven times faster than earnings, and childcare costs going up 5 per cent every year, will not be erased overnight”
Steve continued: “Pressures on household budgets and a lack of affordable housing are contributing to the increase in arrears. The impact of welfare reform has also been a driving factor in people being unable to make ends meet. At present, low interest rates have helped some people with mortgages. However, if we see increases in interest rates it is likely to hit first time buyers hardest.”
Steve finished by saying: “We are committed to provide the advice people need for the problems they face. However, we can only continue to do this if the bureau has the necessary resources and we need to increase public and business donations to that end. Anyone wishing to support our work can donate on-line by going to the Donation Support section of our website (www.exetercab.org.uk)”
Alternatively, donations can be made in person at the Bureau offices on King William Street in Exeter.
Exeter Citizen’s Advice Bureau has responded to the Government’s 2014 Budget.
Chief Executive, Steve Barriball, said:
“The Chancellor talked about making, doing and saving. This Budget needs to work for those who are making do and can’t save. Those on low incomes face a daily struggle to fight off poverty. This year Exeter CAB has seen increases of more than 50% in enquiries about housing association and local authority rent arrears and Council Tax arrears. For many the priority is making ends meet. We welcome proposals that will see more cash for hard-pressed households.”
“Middle income families have had to adjust and savers will welcome the extra support. The proposals to free up pensions are welcome, particularly the new ‘right to advice’, which recognises the significant value of impartial, trusted advice. I hope Government departments across Whitehall will follow suit and formally recognise the value of advice in helping people cope with other policy areas.”
“We’re half way through the austerity programme and many spending cuts have yet to bite. Families are feeling the cumulative impact of the stripping away of support and services from all sides. Support for childcare will be a welcome relief but it’s only partial respite for households dealing with almost a decade of austerity.”
“Better targeting childcare support to the poorest families will help to make work pay for them. Stronger, immediate investment in house building would ease the pressure on people struggling to manage rocketing housing costs. Putting weight behind efforts to help young people into work will prevent a new generation of long-term jobseekers.”
“Government must take the long view of positive economic news. Unemployment is down but growing self-employment can be a sign of instability: self-employed people are as likely to need help with debts as unemployed people.”
For a comprehensive response from the Citizens Advice service to the Budget 2014 see: http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/pressoffice/press_index/press_office-20140319a.htm
I spoke in yesterday’s Opposition Day debate on the importance of long term plans to address flood risk.
Mr Ben Bradshaw (Exeter) (Lab): My hon. Friend is right to talk about the slow and belated but ultimately welcome response. Is not the danger that, now that the national media circus has moved on and the visiting Ministers have gone way, the Somerset levels are still under water and both of our main rail connections from the south-west to the rest of the country are still severed, and likely to be so for several more weeks? We need sustained and comprehensive attention and policies to address flood risk and flood management in the long term.
Maria Eagle: I acknowledge the truth of what my right hon. Friend said. Of course, it is the job of Her Majesty’s Opposition to try to make sure that the Government realise that need as much as we do. I am sure that we will seek to do that.
February 13, 2014 in Local
I asked Ed Miliband to Exeter today because I didn’t think enough thanks has been expressed to the hard working and dedicated staff of the Environment Agency and Met Office during the recent floods and storms. I also wanted him to be left in no doubt of the needs of our region for better flood defences and rail resilience.
Exeter is home both to the globally renowned Met Office and the South West regional headquarters of the Environment Agency (EA). Both have been performing an incredible job over the last few weeks. This is the second year running that they’ve more or less had to put Christmas on hold.
Ed saw the control room at the EA on the Sowton estate and met regional director Richard Cresswell and colleagues. He was shown how future storms and floods are both predicted and then reacted to using real time data on rain and river levels and wind and wave strength and size.
This year’s storms and floods were described by the EA experts we met as a 1 in a 250 year event. Last years floods were a 1 in a 100 year event. Yet, against that sort of back drop they are losing staff and funds, the very people who are currently help us get through this crisis. That cannot be sensible and I was pleased Ed raised his concerns about this during Questions to the Prime Minister this week.
At the Met Office, Ed met weather and climate change experts who showed him their world leading forecasting technology and talked him through the latest evidence on the impact of climate change on our weather. They are in no doubt that the increase in the frequency and severity of major weather events is connected to global warming and that even with the recent pause in the pace of increase in global surface temperature the oceans have continued warming, their levels rising and the ice caps melting. Julia Slingo, the Met Office’s chief scientist, said “Globally, the last decade has been the warmest ever recorded.”
From there, Ed had a cup of tea at the home of a couple who live on Exeter Quay who wrote to David Cameron this week about the huge increase in their flood insurance and sent a copy of their letter to me. They’ve been hit by the reduced protection offered by Exeter’s 1960s flood defence scheme – which was built to withstand a 1 in a 100 year flood, but will now only withstand a 1 in 40 year one.
Later in the afternoon, the Chairman of Exeter Chamber of Commerce told us that businesses on Marsh Barton have recently had the excess on their flood insurance quintupled! Some have also been told that if there is a flood warning they have to move everything to a first floor, when many of them are only single storey.
I then took Ed to show him the railway line at Cowley Bridge where we had the serious flooding problems last year. It was after that when the Government promised an extra £31 million for improved railway protection – money which never came. David Cameron appears to have re-announced it this week. But we’ll have to see if the Government actually delivers this time.
Finally we went to the Mill on the Exe (not for a pint, sadly) but to look at the city’s existing flood relief channel and to get a briefing from the city council on the plans for an upgrade. The leader of Plymouth City Council, Tudor Evans was on hand to lobby Ed on the particularly serious plight of Plymouth – now without a railway link as well as an airport. Ed also spoke to Derek Philips, local councillors, City Council officers responsible for the flood defence scheme and the rep for Unison for the Environment Agency in the South West.
I hope he left with a clear idea of all the hard work and effort that has being going on to deal with the recent crisis, but also of the needs of Exeter and the South West for much better flood defences and more resilient and reliable transport connections.
Below is a letter from myself and other South West MPs asking the Government what has happened to the £31 million funding for rail resilience promised after last winter’s floods.
Rt Hon Patrick McLoughlin MP
Secretary of State for Transport
Department for Transport
Great Minster House
33 Horseferry Rd
10th February 2014
As you know vital rail services in the South West Peninsula have in the last couple of weeks once again been disrupted by severe weather, further underlining the weak resilience of our region’s strategic transport links. The South West Peninsula is increasingly southern Britain’s front-line for extreme weather. The events of this week have again underlined that fact. Climate change projections warn that such events will occur more frequently up to 2050 and beyond.
We need urgent Government investment in our region’s rail infrastructure and services. In early 2013 Network Rail drew up details plans setting out work required to reduce the likelihood of damage from flooding, at a reasonable cost of £31.3m. It was expected that this investment, which would also come from the DfT, would materialise in the Autumn Statement. It was, however, omitted despite public commitments to produce the funding.
Consequently, there is widespread concern in the region that the Government is failing to grasp the urgency of these repairs. The immediate effect of the 2012/13 floods has been an estimated £140 million cost to the public purse, transport and economy of the Peninsula. The cumulative total will be significantly more when more recent severe weather disruption is taken into account.
Attached with this letter is a report put together by the five major local authorities – Cornwall, Devon, Plymouth, Somerset & Torbay – and the region’s LEPs, called ‘The South West – Extreme Weather Resilience’. The report contains a deliberate and measured assessment into the severe weather events of 2012/13 and serves as a siren warning for the kind of infrastructural and economic damage these severe weather events can and will inflict.
Securing the investment needed for Network Rail’s flood resilience programme for the South West is the urgent priority and a necessary first step in a campaign to deliver the transport infrastructure and services vital to the Peninsula’s future economic security.
We would therefore urge you to read the report and heed its recommendations, and deliver as an immediate priority the £31.3m flood resilience funding so that work can begin to strengthen the South West’s rail network for the future.
Nick Harvey MP (North Devon)
Ben Bradshaw MP (Exeter Central)
David Heath MP (Somerton & Frome)
Anne-Marie Morris MP (Newton Abbot)
Adrian Sanders MP (Torbay)
Neil Parish MP (Tiverton & Honiton)
Geoffrey Cox MP (Torridge & West Devon)
Stephen Gilbert MP (St Austell & Newquay)
Andrew George MP (St Ives)