We fight to keep the weekly bin collection in Wokingham

I have supported our Conservative Councillors in trying to keep our weekly bin collections. I was pleased to see this press release from them:

Conservative Councillors Win Vote to Keep Weekly Bin Collections Following Petition of 1800 Residents

Wokingham Conservative Group and one of the Borough’s Independent councillors voted to retain weekly bin collections despite the Liberal Democrat/Labour Coalition administration’s plan to reduce bin collections to fortnightly.

The vote came after a debate on a petition of 1800 residents’ signatures.

The petition, presented to Council last month, reflects concerns for larger families, for people who have more waste to dispose, such as nappies, and for residents who do not have room to store rubbish.

At the Budget Council meeting in February Liberal Democrat Cllr Ian Shenton described the petition as “spurious”.

This follows a Council consultation where only 24 per cent of responders said that they liked the idea of fortnightly collections.

The Council consultation on waste did not include an option to retain the current system of weekly collections or blue bags, preventing local people from expressing a view.

Wokingham Conservative Councillors would retain weekly waste collection and make savings by enabling residents to recycle more of their household waste. The cost to the Council of disposing of recycling is significantly cheaper than that of general waste.

Despite other nearby authorities moving to fortnightly collections, previous Conservative administrations in Wokingham Borough have kept weekly waste collections for 20 years, through careful management of the Council’s finances.

Cllr Norman Jorgensen, Shadow Executive Member for the Environment said “It is clear the majority of residents wish to retain weekly waste collections. I am pleased that an Independent councillor recognised just how unpopular this policy is and has voted with us.

“The Lib Dem/Labour Coalition didn’t give residents the chance to express their views on keeping weekly bin collections. I am glad we were able to bring resident’s views to the Council despite Liberal Democrat’s attempts to discredit it as “spurious”.

“Waste collection and recycling are important universal services that everyone in the Borough relies on. This policy will not save any money in the short term. In fact, it is expected to cost £2 million to implement. And future savings are not guaranteed. Remember this is the administration who said, when they scrapped the caddy liners, that they would increase recycling, saving the Council £300k. As we predicted at the time food recycling has not increased.

“Residents are being expected to pay more for less – this is not value for money for taxpayers.”

Cllr Pauline Jorgensen, Leader of the Conservative Group, said, “This was a vote on one of the Liberal Democrat/Labour Coalition’s key policies. They have wasted months trying to force through this unpopular and flawed decision.

“The Liberal Democrats didn’t include imposing fortnightly bin collections on residents in their election literature. In fact, some members of the Liberal Democrat Executive previously campaigned to keep weekly waste collections.

“Now residents have had their views heard. I hope that this will make the Lib Dem administration think again.”

ENDS

Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review

I have received the letter, reprinted below, from the Secretary of State regarding the Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review. In response to concerns about sentencing for perpetrators of domestic homicide, the Government commissioned an independent expert, Clare Wade KC, to review sentencing in domestic homicide cases to establish whether current law and sentencing guidelines were fit for purpose and identify options for reform. These concerns were brought to light by the family of Ellie Gould, a young woman, who was tragically murdered by her ex boyfriend. Both Ellie’s parents, and her aunt, who is my constituent, campaigned tirelessly for changes to sentencing.

Having raised the concerns of Ellie’s aunt with the Secretary of State for Justice, I am pleased that the Government has taken on onboard the recommendations made by Clare Wade KC and have published the measures they are taking.

17 March 2023

Dear Colleague,

DOMESTIC HOMICIDE SENTENCING REVIEW

Tackling violence against women and girls is a priority for this Government, and we are committed to protecting victims and ensuring that the most serious offenders spend longer in prison. We are working tirelessly to deliver this commitment, including taking decisive steps to increase the volume of rape prosecutions, which we are on track to deliver through our Rape Review Action Plan, quadrupling victims funding from £41m in 2009/10 and launching a 24/7 rape helpline so victims have the support they need. As part of this priority, the Government commissioned an independent expert, Clare Wade KC, to review sentencing in domestic homicide cases to establish whether current law and sentencing guidelines are fit for purpose and identify options for reform.

Today, I am publishing Ms Wade KC’s Domestic Homicide Sentencing Review (the ‘Wade Review’) and announcing a package of reforms to ensure sentencing reflects the seriousness of domestic homicides. The published review can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/domestic-homicide-sentencing review. The Wade Review makes a number of other recommendations and the government’s position will be outlined in a full response to be published before the summer recess. The measures announced today demonstrate our commitment to delivering tougher sentences for the perpetrators of these horrific crimes and allow for necessary legislation to be introduced as soon as possible. All recommendations in the review and the measures announced today apply to England and Wales.

We will increase sentences for murderers with a history of controlling or coercive behaviour against the victim.

The Serious Crime Act 2015 introduced the criminal offence of controlling or coercive behaviour. Controlling or coercive behaviour can comprise economic, emotional or psychological abuse, and is a purposeful pattern of behaviour over time. Controlling or coercive behaviour by the perpetrator towards the victim was identified in 51% of the murder cases analysed for this Review, yet the courts were inconsistent in reflecting this in sentencing.

The review recommends that a history of coercive or controlling behaviour should be added to the statutory aggravating factors to murder. We will introduce legislation to make this change as soon as possible. It is absolutely right to ensure abuse before death is properly considered and these serious offenders are kept off our streets for longer.

We will consider further reform by consulting on a 25 year starting point for murders preceded by controlling or coercive behaviour While the addition of a history of coercive or controlling behaviour as a statutory aggravating factor to murder will be an immediate step to increase sentences, we do not rule out toughening sentences further. We will launch a public consultation this summer seeking views on whether there should be a starting point of 25 years for cases of murder where the perpetrator has controlled or coerced the victim before killing them.

The current sentencing framework recognises the particular seriousness of the illegal possession and use of knives in public with a 25-year starting point for murders where a weapon used has been taken to the scene with intent. It is important that this starting point is maintained and therefore we will not be accepting the recommendation made in the Wade Review to disapply it from domestic cases. However, the changes announced today will ensure that the framework also recognises the particular seriousness of domestic murder, including where a weapon has been used, and this consultation will ensure all reform options have been fully explored.

We will make ‘overkill’ a statutory aggravating factor in the sentencing framework for murder. Overkill is defined in the Wade Review and wider literature as the use of excessive or gratuitous violence, beyond that necessary to kill. It amounts to violation of the body and causes intense distress to the families of victims. Overkill was identified in 60% of the murder cases analysed for this Review. The Wade Review recommends that overkill should be added to the statutory aggravating factors to murder. This would mean that a judge must consider increasing an offender’s minimum custodial term where overkill has occurred.

We will introduce legislation to make this change as soon as possible. This change will ensure the horror of overkill and the anguish it causes families of victims is taken into account when sentencing such cases. While sentencing always depends on the facts of the case and is a matter for our independent courts, this change could see sentences increase by around 2 years or even more in the most serious cases.

Building on our ban of the ‘rough sex defence’ in the Domestic Abuse Act, we want to see longer sentences for perpetrators of so-called rough sex manslaughter. The government made clear in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 the ‘rough sex defence’ is not recognised in law as a person is legally unable to consent to “serious harm”. However, there continues to be concern about low sentences in some cases of manslaughter where consent to so-called rough sex is argued. There have been recent cases where offenders have received less than 5 years in prison after killing their partner through rough sexual activity, despite blatant disregard for the victim.

The review recommends manslaughter sentencing guidelines should be amended to consider the offender highly culpable and impose a higher sentence where death occurs during violence alleged to be consensual during a sexual encounter. This could mean a starting point of between 8 and 12 years for sentencing. The production or revision of sentencing guidelines is a matter for the independent Sentencing Council. However, today I will ask the Council, which has a statutory duty to consider my request, to consider revising sentencing guidelines to reflect the recommendation made in the Wade Review. While this is our preferred approach, we will keep legislative options under review to ensure we can deliver reform.

I am grateful to Laura Farris MP, who has championed this issue. These measures build on the pledge from the Prime Minister to drive a zero-tolerance approach to violence against women and girls by ensuring that sentencing delivers justice for the victims and families. Our actions today show that this government is firmly on the side of victims. I am very grateful to Clare Wade KC for her work on this review. I would also like to pay tribute to Carole Gould and Julie Devey for their tireless campaigning after the tragic murders of their daughters, Ellie Gould and Poppy Devey-Waterhouse.

Yours sincerely,

RT HON DOMINIC RAAB MP

NHS pay

I am glad to see progress with sorting out the NHS pay disputes. I have along with others put to Ministers the idea of a one off back payment for this year  given the sharp acceleration of inflation in the first part of the year. I have pointed out that the NHS needs to fill a large number of medical staff vacancies as we need to get the waiting times and waiting lists down and put in extra beds with staff to support them.

Meeting with local teachers over pay

Yesterday I met a group of local teachers to discuss their pay. We agreed that talks need to resume between the government and the teaching unions, and agreed that the cost of living squeeze has taken its toll on the spending power of their salaries as with others.

They told me of difficulties in recruiting and retaining teachers locally, especially in some subjects like computing where there were other jobs than teaching readily available in our area. I said more data and examples would be helpful to their case, as employers do need to ensure pay levels are high enough to fill vacancies.

I agreed to renew my conversations with Ministers about these pay issues following my meeting with them. I have of course had various talks with NHS and Education Ministers over how to resolve the pay disputes already and made suggestions to them.  They also asked about a possible extension to boundaries for London weighting in pay, which I said I would also put to Ministers. This has not been on the government agenda, and talks about national pay levels are a more likely route to early changes in salary.

My Intervention in the SEND and Alternative Provision Debate

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con)
I warmly welcome more resource and better service in this crucial area. Where new schools are being considered, will the Minister ensure that local MPs are properly consulted, because there will be a lot of local public interest in the location, the style of development and the impact on existing provision?

Claire Coutinho (Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing)
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Yes, I am happy to discuss with him the school—I think there might be two—coming forward in his area

The Government Sets Out The Special Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision Plan

I have received the letter below from the Secretary of State for Education regarding the Special Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision Plan for England.

The Government recognises the need to deliver a more positive experience for children and young people with SEND and make it easier for their families to obtain the support they need for their children. The Improvement Plan sets out how it will achieve this through a single national SEND and alternative provision system.

I know from my constituents who have children with SEND that is often difficult to navigate the system to access support and I also know how the children flourish when they do get the service they need. I am always happy to help where parents are finding it difficult to get the right support.

You may be interested in reading the full Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision (AP) Improvement Plan here: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1139561/SEND_and_alternative_provision_improvement_plan.pdf

Dear Colleague,

SEND AND ALTERNATIVE PROVISION IMPROVEMENT PLAN

I passionately believe that it must be the government’s utmost priority to ensure that no matter where you are from or what stage of life you are at, every child and young person should always be able to get a high-quality education and receive the right support in the right place at the right time – and this is particularly pertinent for children and young people with SEND or those in alternative provision.

I am writing to inform you that today the Department for Education and Department of Health and Social Care have jointly published the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan for England (SEND and alternative provision improvement plan – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).

Publication of the Improvement Plan marks our response to the 16-week consultation period on the proposals set out in the SEND and alternative provision green paper. Through this consultation period we attended 175 events and heard from over 4,500 people, as well as receiving thousands of responses to the consultation.

I would like to put on record our thanks to all children, young people, and their families, organisations and sector groups across education, health and care who have provided feedback including via the SEND and alternative provision green paper e-consultation and through our consultation events.

It is time to deliver a more positive experience for children and young people with SEND and to restore families’ confidence in the system. The Improvement Plan sets out how we will achieve this through a single national SEND and alternative provision system with the mission to fulfil children’s potential, build parents’ trust and provide financial sustainability. New National Standards will improve early identification of needs and set clear expectations for the types of evidence-based support that should be available in mainstream settings, to give parents confidence in the support that should be made available for their child.

To deliver the National Standards in local areas, new local SEND and alternative provision partnerships will create evidence-based local inclusion plans that will set out how the needs of children and young people in the area will be met. These plans will be in line with the National Standards and the vision for alternative provision. By improving early identification and the quality of support, we expect that more children and young people will have their needs met consistently through ordinarily available provision in their mainstream setting, preventing escalation of need that pushes some children to Education, Health and Care Plans.

For children and young people who need a plan, we will reduce bureaucracy by introducing new standardised plans and supporting local authorities to use digital technology consistently. Our investment into specialist and alternative provision places, including opening 33 new special free schools with 49 in the pipeline, means that more children will have timely access to the right support in their local area. A three-tier alternative provision system will focus on targeted early support in mainstream schools, time-limited intensive placements in an alternative provision setting, and longer-term placements to support returns to mainstream or to sustainable post-16 destinations.

We know how important an expert workforce is in supporting children and young people with SEND or in alternative provision to fulfil their potential. We will invest in the workforce across education, health and care to build the capacity of the specialist workforce and to improve confidence and expertise in supporting children and young people with SEND promptly and effectively. This includes funding up to 5,000 early years staff to gain an accredited Level 3 early years SENCO qualification. To increase the capacity of specialists, we will use a £21 million investment to train two cohorts of educational psychologists between 2024 and 2025.

To help build parents’ trust we will strengthen accountabilities, with every partner held to account, including through the new Ofsted/CQC Area SEND Inspection. From autumn 2023, local and national inclusion dashboards will provide increased transparency to parents.

To help all children and young people to lead healthy and fulfilled adult lives, we will support young people into employment including investing £18 million between 2022 and 2025 to double the capacity of the Supported Internships programme. These are complemented by the Adjustment Passports we already produce with the Department for Work and Pensions, to support young people with SEND to enter work.

Children and young people can only get the right support within a system where costs are managed effectively. An over 50% increase in high needs funding to over £10 billion by 2023-24, compared to £6.1 billion in 2018-19, will help children and young people with SEND in both special schools and mainstream schools receive the right support. We are working hard with local authorities to improve services and address deficits, including through the existing Safety Valve programme, which has already helped authorities begin implementing plans to reform their high needs systems for the benefit of children and young people. We are also continuing to invest, through an additional £2 billion a year, from this April, secured in the Autumn statement. Of this, £400 million has been earmarked for special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision.

Our goal is to deliver a system that is more responsive to the needs of individual children. To make sure we get this right we will use our £70 million Change Programme to establish up to nine Regional Expert Partnerships who will help us co-produce, test and refine key reforms.

The steps in the Improvement Plan cannot be delivered by government alone and local system leaders can start now in learning from and adopting good practice that already exists across the country. We look forward to working in collaboration with system leaders, parents and families, directly and through a National Board that will be co-chaired by Claire Coutinho, the Minister for Children, Families and Wellbeing and Maria Caulfield, the Minister for Mental Health and Women’s Health Strategy. It is important that we work together to deliver a single national system that delivers consistently for every child and young person with SEND and in alternative provision.

Please do not hesitate to contact me should you want any further detail.

Yours sincerely,
Rt Hon Gillian Keegan MP
Secretary of State for Education

The need for more self employed

In early 2020 there were over 5 million self employed. The most recent figures show this has slumped to 4.3 million, a fall of 14%. This has occurred at a time of continuing low unemployment. It took place against a background of changes to Treasury rules for companies employing self employed contractors designed to reduce the numbers. There were also early retirements from self employment brought on by lockdowns.

Self employment growth is essential to healthy growth in an economy. Self employment can expand capacity quickly where it is needed. It can produce more innovation and better value than large companies can manage quickly or at all. Many self employed people provide great service. They have to take full responsibility for their actions and for their customers’ satisfaction.

The latest  variant of IR 35 rules makes it more difficult for people to start up as self employed, and puts larger companies off hiring them. Of course there should be rules against people who simply work for one company entering into an arrangement that is designed to create tax advantages for themselves and or the company compared with a proper employment contract and PAYE salaries. Nor do we want to see people forced into less job security by employers who want to strip them of some benefits whilst keeping the benefits of their work.

What we do want is the ability of people who choose to do so to offer their services to a range of companies and customers without tax rules getting in the way. We need a pro self employment revision to the tax code, which was better before the 2017 and 2021 changes.

Meeting with Michael Gove on housing numbers

I had a meeting with the Secretary of State for Levelling up, who is the senior Minister for Planning. I sought clarification  that the new system will allow a Council like Wokingham to settle its own numbers of additional homes to be built in the next local Plan. There will be  no override from national estimates or guidance. He stressed the importance of  any Council producing a new plan, and  confirmed the local ability to set the housing targets, without of course engaging on any detail over the specific Wokingham position.

The future of the hotel used for migrants in Wokingham

I held a meeting with officials over the Home Office use of hotels in the local area to house migrants pending resolution of their cases. I stressed the undesirability of long delays both to the migrants and to the local community. If someone is a genuine asylum seeker we need to welcome them and let them get on with establishing a new life in the UK, and if they are illegal economic migrants they should not be put up for extended periods in hotels at taxpayers’ expense. We need our hotels available for their normal users, to allow business people and visitors travelling to Wokingham a good choice of hotel, and to cater for weddings, conferences and events.

I asked when the Home Office plans to vacate the hotels . They did not know.

I asked what plans they had to ensure a smooth return of hotels to normal use. They said that was a matter for the hotels.

I asked for an assurance they would not be taking any more of our local hotels. They did not think so, but could not guarantee that.

I asked why they did  not recruit more staff and get rid of the backlog of cases. They said they were doing so.

I asked why it took so long to decide a case for someone who had travelled from a safe country like Albania. They said they were now speeding these  cases up.

I asked how they handled people who had come from a safe country like France. They said these  cases could be complex and could not be done promptly.

I asked if I could assume they had not identified anywhere in our area for the idea that they transfer people still having to wait a long time from hotels to other accommodation. They thought that was true but could not confirm.

I asked for written follow up to the issues where they could not be sure of the answers, which I will share when I get it.