My Interview with BBC Radio Berkshire’s Andrew Peach – Hospital Beds

I was pleased to hear that NHS England will pay for 5,000 more beds and 800 extra ambulances. I have been running a campaign to get more capacity into the NHS, pointing out we are short of beds and the staff to help patients. 6 million people read one of my tweets asking for more beds last December.

I discussed this with Andrew Peach of Radio Berkshire yesterday morning. You can find my interview at 1:15:40 on BBC Sounds attached in the link below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p0dwmlgd

My Speech on the NHS Long-term Strategy – Opposition Debate

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): No one can deny that the health service is under extreme pressure. No one can look at it and not realise that there has been a big surge in extra demand, that there are problems from the hangover of covid when a large waiting list for less urgent treatments built up, and that we are short of doctors and nurses, not because Ministers will not authorise their appointment but because there are vacancies to be filled. As one of those who has been urging for some time to see a published workforce plan, I welcome the decision of Ministers to insist on that, and the sooner we get it the better. However, I am quite sure that there are a whole series of workforce plans already in the many dozens and hundreds of working trusts and quangos that constitute the NHS. It is about aggregating and making sense of those plans.

Yes, indeed. From my hon. Friend’s own expertise, I am sure she is right. When people talk about productivity, they do not believe that hard-pressed staff have to work harder; they are saying there must be smarter working, making jobs more manageable or enabling them to concentrate on the things they are most skilled at, with more relief for the other necessary record keeping, which may indeed need slimming.

 

Dr Caroline Johnson (Con): We often talk about the shortage of doctors. We know we cannot create a doctor overnight. It takes a substantial amount of time to train them. The Chancellor, a former Health Secretary, invested in five new medical schools to increase the number of doctors in training. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Chancellor, with the Health Secretary, needs to invest more money in more medical schools and medical school places, but also look at how we increase the number of doctors by reducing the amount of bureaucracy and paperwork they have to fill in, so that they can spend more time doctoring and less time filling in forms?

 

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): My hon. Friend is right that we could expand our training places further, but as we have heard there has been a big increase in educational provision and it takes seven years for it to flow through. I am glad we are getting to the point where we will see some benefits from that. We need more homegrown talent. Many people are attracted to the privileged career of being a doctor and the more we can allow to do that, the better. However, given the immediate urgency of needing more capacity, and therefore more doctors and nurses, the most obvious place is to look at all those who have already had the training and have left the profession or the NHS for one reason or another. Some may be in early retirement. That is probably not something my hon. Friend wants to change because she enjoys her new job, but there are many others who are not in a very important job like her who might be attracted back. I hope the Treasury will be engaged in the review, because I hear from doctors, as many do, that the quirk in the tax system at just over ÂŁ100,000 where some of the better paid doctors are resting, producing a more penal 60% rate, is an impediment to extra working. I also hear about the pension problems that have been cited on both sides of the House. The Government need to take those issues more seriously if they wish to accelerate returns.

Ministers have very clearly set out that they want more NHS staff and have obtained much larger budgets in the last three years to help bring that about. They have also said very clearly that the public’s priority—and indeed the Opposition’s priority—is to get more treatments and get those waiting lists and waiting times down for those needing more urgent or emergency care. Those Ministers must translate that through the senior health service managers into ways of spending that extra money. If it needs a bit more extra money, there is always some extra available—every time we meet another additional sum is announced—but it has to be well spent. It has to be spent on motivating and recruiting the medical workforce.

I had better not, because we are very short of time for colleagues.

The money has to be well spent and I hope that senior managers, as they give us a published workforce plan, will share more of their thinking. It is not good at the moment that there is such a breakdown in relations with talented and important staff in the health service. There is a complex system of pay reviews, increments, promotions and gradings of activities. All those things have flexibility within them. I look to the senior managers

We need more supply because there is excess demand, for understandable reasons. Huge sums of money were tipped into the system to deal with covid. Not all of it was well spent, but that was understandable given the unknown nature of the beast at the beginning, and the obvious pressures in this place and elsewhere to get instant results with personal protective equipment, testing and so forth. That is now behind us, but unfortunately it disrupted normal hospital work and normal GP work and created backlogs.

I urge the Government to understand that part of the answer is having more bed spaces in hospitals, with the staff to back them up. I do not know why so many senior health executives never want to admit that. They always say that there are lots of bottlenecks and other issues. Yes, of course we need to move people on from hospital as soon as it is safe to do so, and of course we need more capacity in social care, but I say to Ministers that it would be great to have a bit more capacity in the main hospitals to give us extra flexibility and take some of the pressure off. Could not some of the extra ÂŁ20 billion, ÂŁ30 billion, ÂŁ40 billion or ÂŁ50 billion that has been found in recent years be spent on the combination of physical capacity and the staff to support it that we so need?

Energy Bills Discount Scheme

I have received the letter below from the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury in relation to continued energy bill support for businesses, charities and the public sector.

To: All MPs

10 January 2023

Dear Colleague,

ENERGY BILLS DISCOUNT SCHEME

I am writing to set out further details of the announcement I made today in relation to continued energy bill support for businesses, charities and the public sector.

Following a review of the Energy Bill Relief Scheme, I announced that the government would be launching a UK-wide Energy Bills Discount Scheme – a new energy support scheme that will provide all eligible UK businesses and other non-domestic energy users with a discount on high energy bills until 31 March 2024, following the end of the current scheme.

The new energy scheme will help businesses locked into contracts signed before recent substantial falls in the wholesale price manage their costs and provide others with reassurance against the risk of prices rising again.

This further support follows the government’s unprecedented package for non-domestic users through this winter through the current scheme, worth £18 billion per the figures certified by the OBR at the Autumn Statement.

At Autumn Statement, we were clear that such levels of support, unprecedented in its nature and scale, were time-limited and intended as a bridge to allow businesses to adapt.

Whilst wholesale energy prices are falling and have now gone back to levels just before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, we recognise the importance of avoiding a cliff-edge for businesses and want to provide reassurance against the risk of prices rising again. That is why we are launching the new Energy Bills Discount Scheme, which will give businesses the certainty they need to plan ahead.

The new scheme strikes a balance between supporting businesses over the next 12 months and limiting taxpayer’s exposure to volatile energy markets, with a cap set at £5.5 billion based on estimated volumes.

Through the scheme, from 1 April 2023 to 31 March 2024, eligible non-domestic customers who have a contract with a licensed energy supplier will see a unit discount of up to ÂŁ6.97/MWh automatically applied to their gas bill and a unit discount of up to ÂŁ19.61/MWh applied to their electricity bill. The relative discount will be applied if wholesale prices are above a price threshold of ÂŁ302/MWh for electricity and ÂŁ107/MWh for gas.

A substantially higher level of support will be provided to businesses in sectors identified as being the most energy and trade intensive – predominately manufacturing industries. A long-standing category associated with higher energy usage, these firms are often less able to pass through cost to their customers due to international competition. Businesses in scope will receive a gas and electricity bill discount based on a price threshold, which will be capped by a maximum unit discount of £40.0/MWh for gas and £89.1/MWh for electricity. This discount will only apply to 70% of energy volumes and will apply above a price threshold of £185/MWh for electricity and £99/MWh for gas.

Beyond the energy schemes, the government has also taken a number of further steps to support businesses (all UK-wide except as noted):

  • Increasing the Employment Allowance from ÂŁ4,000 to ÂŁ5,000 in April 2022, meaning 40% of businesses with Employer National Insurance Contribution (NICs) liabilities were unaffected by recent changes to Employer NICs.
  • Protecting 70% of actively trading companies with the Small Profits Rate, which keeps the Corporation Tax rate at 19% for businesses with profits of ÂŁ50k or less from 2023.
  • Introducing ÂŁ13.6 billion business rates package worth over the next 5 years to support the revaluation (England-only).
  • Extending the alcohol duty rates freeze for six-months, providing certainty to pubs and breweries.
  • Extending the Recovery Loan Scheme until June 2024, providing businesses with up to ÂŁ2 million of government guaranteed finance (up to ÂŁ1 million for businesses in scope of the Northern Ireland Protocol).

This government is committed to supporting UK business and the voluntary sector, and through this package we aim to give organisations the certainty they need to plan through next winter. We will continue to monitor the situation and engage with representatives across the private and voluntary sectors.

Yours sincerely,

James Cartlidge MP

EXCHEQUER SECRETARY TO THE TREASURY

Wokingham Choral carols

I greatly enjoyed the Wokingham Choral Society’s carols on Saturday 17th.

They sung well, and encouraged audience participation in some of the well known ones.

I would like to thank all who organised it, and to wish them a very happy Christmas with their families and friends.

Proposed changes to National Planning Policy

I have received the letter below from the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Constituents interested can respond to the consultation. I will be having further exchanges with Ministers stressing the need to control migration to reduce pressures for more housing, and the need for local communities to protect green spaces and avoid over stretching local infrastructure and services.

 

Dear colleague,

Proposed changes to National Planning Policy

In my Written Ministerial Statement of 6 December I said that the Government would publish a National Planning Policy consultation before Christmas. This consultation has been published today on gov.uk.

The consultation sets out specific changes that we propose to immediately make to the National Planning Policy Framework to swiftly deliver the Government’s commitments to building enough of the right homes in the right places with the right infrastructure, ensuring the environment is protected and giving local people a greater say on where and where not to place new development.

We know that the best way to secure more high-quality homes in the right places is through the adoption of local plans. At present fewer than half of local authorities have up-to-date plans (adopted in the past five years). Our proposed reforms create clear incentives for more local authorities to adopt plans.

In line with my Written Ministerial Statement on onshore wind, also of 6 December, we are consulting on a more localist approach to consenting onshore development, which provides local authorities more flexibility to respond to the views of their local communities. This will support local decision making and commitments made in the British Energy Security Strategy.

The consultation includes changes to:
1. make clear how housing figures should be derived and applied so that communities can respond to local circumstances;
2. address issues in the operation of the housing delivery and land supply tests;
3. tackle problems of slow build out;
4. encourage local planning authorities to support the role of community-led groups in delivering affordable housing on exception sites;
5. set clearer expectations around planning for older peoples’ housing;
6. promote more beautiful homes, including through gentle density;
7. make sure that food security considerations are factored into planning decisions that affect farm land;
8. and enable new methods for demonstrating local support for onshore wind development.

The document also calls for views on a wider range of proposals, particularly focused on making sure the planning system capitalises on opportunities to support the natural environment, respond to climate change and deliver on levelling up of economic opportunity, and signals areas that we expect to consider in the context of a wider review of the Framework to follow Royal Assent of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

This consultation is the first stage of a broader programme of reform. The government will publish another consultation on the detail of wider changes to the NPPF next year, reflecting responses to this consultation and across other areas of planning policy.
Finally, this document also sets out the envisaged role for National Development Management Policies (NDMPs). These are intended to save plan-makers from having to repeat nationally important policies in their own plans, so that plans can be quicker to produce and focus on locally relevant policies. This document calls for views on how we implement NDMPs and the Government will consult on the detail next year ahead of finalising the position.

The consultation will be open until 2nd March 2023 and I encourage you and your constituents to respond before that date. The Government will respond to this consultation in Spring 2023, publishing the Framework revisions as part of this, so that policy changes can take effect as soon as possible.

With every good wish,

Rt Hon Michael Gove MP
Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities
Minister for Intergovernmental Relations

My article for Wokingham Today about Housing Development

Wokingham needs a new local plan. Recent years have seen a lot of housing development which places strains on schools, surgeries, roads and green spaces. I would like to see a new local plan with a more sustainable rate of new housebuilding, with further additions to services and infrastructure to catch up with the new homes. The Borough draws up the plan, which is then tested in front of an Inspector giving people and businesses the chance to query the proposals.

The Government is currently putting through a levelling up Bill which aims to make investment more even around the country, and to provide more development and construction in those places that want the extra jobs, the new homes and facilities to enliven their areas. Places like Wokingham should be willing to share the dynamism of new homes and new employment more fairly by letting more of the investment go to places in greater need. The Levelling Up Bill had a lot to say about positives to promote the left behind towns and cities. I and a group of MPs also wanted it to say more about letting places with plenty of investment have more say over the pace of future change in our communities.

We tabled amendments to the Levelling Up Bill. One concentrated on dropping mandatory government targets for more housebuilding, which gave too much of it to the areas already full of new homes and new development. Others tackled the problem of developers gaming the system. They would accept the planning permissions granted under a local plan. They would then fail to build out those permissions and instead apply for more permissions outside the local plan areas for development. We proposed dropping the five year supply of land requirement which was often manipulated against a Council even though there were plenty of planning permissions outstanding. We argued for more control over the pace of build out of the permissions already granted within the plan instead of granting additional permissions.

The Government considered all of these proposals and agreed to change its Bill to meet our concerns. They have promised a system to speed build out of permissions where a Council has granted them under a plan. They agree not to use the five year supply of land argument to provide more planning permissions outside the plan, where an agreed plan is being worked through. They accept that whilst the Government will offer guidance on housing numbers, the Council should determine what is a realistic number that can be built given local circumstances. They accepted that where a Council has built a lot of homes in the past that should not be used as an argument for sustaining a very high rate of build. It should be an argument for considering a slowdown. They are strengthening the money that Councils can take from developers to assist with putting in the necessary public facilities to support the new homes.

I welcome the government’s change of approach which gives  the flexibility our Council needs to take more account of our local circumstances, to get some credit for the recent rapid build rate and allows us to protect more of our landscape, farmland and green gaps between settlements.

My Interventions in the debate on the Remaining Stages for the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Can the Minister remind the House how the Government will stop developers gaming a local plan and getting permissions that are not within the local plan under some silly rule?

Lucy Frazer, Minister of State: This Bill and the proposals that we are bringing forward through the revised NPPF will do exactly that. At the moment, in 60% of areas, building is through speculative development, not where communities want it. We want to streamline the local plan process, get those plans in place, where communities want it, and then we can start and continue to build.

Rt Hon Sir John Redwood MP (Wokingham) (Con): Does the hon. Member not understand that the whole point about more local determination is that the local community ultimately has to say, “This is all we can manage and we cannot be overridden”?

Clive Betts MP (Lab): Yes, I understand that, and that should be taken into account, as it can be at the local plan stage. The problem is that, if every local community decides that it does not want house building, we end up with not enough houses being built nationally. That is the simple reality of life. What I am saying is, yes, have the argument at the local plan stage, but all too often now, local plans get bogged down not with where the houses should be built or with the quality of the housing and the infrastructure, but with arguments over housing numbers, with developers and councils employing lawyers and consultants to argue with each other. That is what happens. If we can get agreement between the council and the Government and that is then accepted as the target for the way forward, that is a suitable way to do it, rather than the current endless debate and argument about numbers and calculations.

I want to mention one other amendment, on environmental outcomes. One of the biggest arguments at local level is often on the environmental impact of development. There is great concern among local communities about the environmental impact and the fact that, when developers commission an environmental report, it is commissioned by the developer and paid for by the developer. Communities are often suspicious that the report produces what the developer wants to hear, rather than what the actual environmental impact is for those communities. My amendment 105 is simple: in future, the developer should pay, but the local authority should commission. In that way, we make it absolutely clear that environmental outcome reports on individual developments are completely independent, and that local communities can trust them. That seems to be a sensible suggestion. I hope that the Minister will accept it and move it forward.

 

 

Debate on housing numbers

 

I joined in the limited time debate today on housing numbers and the Levelling-up Bill. In advance of this final Commons  Report stage I worked successfully  with MPs Theresa Villiers and  Bob Seely and others to persuade the government to remove mandatory top down targets for housing numbers, and to allow more flexibility for Councils in drawing up their local plans over how many new homes are sustainable and realistic. We also secured a promise to end the ability of developers to game the system by  getting additional planning permissions for extra houses outside the approved areas in plans. I reinforced these issues briefly during the debate and am glad collectively we have been able to  gain new opportunities for Wokingham – and West Berkshire – to draw up a new local plan with a better balance between new building and protecting farmland and green spaces.

Cold Weather Payments

I have been alerted that Cold Weather Payments have been triggered in some post codes in the constituency.

Constituency Wokingham
Trigger period 7/12/2022 to 13/12/2022
Postcode districts affected in your constituency* RG1, RG2, RG30, RG40, RG41, RG45, RG5, RG6, RG7
Met Office weather station(s) triggered Odiham

 

Cold Weather Payments are made to recipients of selected benefits. To trigger the payments, the average temperature at a specified weather station must be recorded as, or forecast to be, 0°C or below for seven consecutive days. The DWP provides further information for claimants here:

https://www.gov.uk/cold-weather-payment/eligibility

The alert was triggered on 7/12/2022 for the period 7/12/2022 to 13/12/2022.

ÂŁ25 will be paid to eligible residents within Wokingham constituency living in the postcode district(s) listed above.