Attitudes to the Prime Minister

In the last twenty four hours I have had around 50 emails hostile to the PM over the culture in Downing Street. Some of these came from longstanding opponents of the PM, but some from new voices.  I have also had strong  complaints about the lack of support for UK  farmers to grow food and the licencing of foreign supertrawlers to plunder UK waters. In previous days the main preoccupation was the domestic energy shortage and prices.

I consulted the Executive of the local Conservative party this morning. The overwhelming view was to await the Report on what happened in Downing Street , who attended which gatherings and whether any of them broke the guidance or law at the time. There was widespread disapproval of senior civil servants holding drinks events during lockdown and a wish to see appropriate disciplinary action taken where the facts justified it.

Improving the UK’s Test and Trace System

I have received the below enclosed letter from the Health Secretary about improving our test and trace regime.

Dear Colleague,

Strengthening our testing regime

I am writing to provide an update on what we are doing to strengthen our testing regime in the light of unprecedented demand across the UK.

Testing has played a key role in our response to COVID-19 – we’ve used testing to find cases, protect those most vulnerable (such as in care homes or hospitals) and to help keep children in face-to-face education.

More recently our testing capability has enabled us to take further steps towards normal life, including by reducing self-isolation periods to re-unite individuals with their loved ones during the Christmas period, keeping venues that would otherwise pose a much greater risk open through use of the COVID Pass and allowed vaccinated people who have had contact with someone who is positive to take daily tests instead of having to self-isolate.

In contrast to many countries, the UK Government provides both symptomatic and asymptomatic testing free of charge, and provides isolation support payments to those who need them, demonstrating our focus on keeping the country running smoothly and avoiding unwanted restrictions (particularly during the festive period where many families come together). To enable this, we are doing more testing per head than any comparable country and we have focused recent communications on encouraging testing before seeing friends and relatives, particularly those who are vulnerable, over the festive period.

The arrival of the Omicron variant has caused record case numbers and unprecedented demand for both PCR and Lateral Flow Device (LFD) tests. This has inevitably placed strain on the testing system, despite the impressive scaling-up of supply, logistics and laboratory capacity. Other countries have faced similar challenges.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, over 350 million PCR and LFD tests have been registered in England (nearly 400 million in the UK), and we now see an average of around 1.5 million tests reported each day. In response to recent challenges, the UK Health Security Agency has more than doubled LFD deliveries from 120 million tests to nearly 300 million in December, more per head than any other country.
To respond to anticipated demand over the coming few weeks we are buying hundreds of millions more LFD tests, bringing new products on board and accelerating their deployment to the public. We are also doubling our total delivery capacity with Royal Mail to 900,000 test packs and PCR tests a day. We are tripling the supply of LFDs in January and February from our pre-Omicron plan of 100 million to 300 million per month.

We are constantly reviewing system performance and ways to maximise its response to the demand for tests. However, in light of the huge demand for LFDs seen over the last three weeks, we expect to need to constrain the system at certain points over the next two weeks to manage supply over the course of each day, with new tranches of supply released regularly throughout each day.

Our daily PCR capacity has also been ramped-up, from around 530,000 per day in November to up to 700,000 per day now, excluding the tests for NHS patients and staff being processed in hospitals. Our world-leading Lighthouse Laboratory Network has and will continue to work 24/7 over Christmas and the New Year to process tests, despite like many sectors being impacted by staff sickness.

We will continue making tests available to everyone who needs them, particularly vulnerable groups such as care home residents and those who work in critical sectors such as the care workforce. Today, for example, there was particularly high demand from care homes with 190,000 PCR tests submitted to laboratories for processing, and these groups were rightly and will continue to be given priority. Everyone who may be eligible for anti-viral medication will be receiving a PCR kit in the post by mid-January, which they can store at home to use if they get symptoms. These will also be prioritised at laboratories.

I would encourage you and your constituents to continue testing when engaging in activities that carry the greatest risk, and before coming into contact with people at risk of serious illness. If people cannot get tests through GOV.UK they should try local pharmacies or see whether their local authority is distributing tests. Tests can also be collected from some community places such as libraries. If your constituent attends or works at a school, college or nursery they can get rapid tests through these too. I would like to thank your constituents for their continued understanding and patience during this unprecedented time.

Finally, I’d like to thank the men and women on whom our testing system relies. Whether working in the labs, on test sites or in our logistics network, they are rising to the challenge, volunteering to work extra shifts and extra hours to deliver the testing capacity our country needs at this challenging time. We owe every one of them our gratitude.

Yours ever,

RT HON SAJID JAVID MP

Covid 19 Vaccine Update from the Health Secretary

I have received the enclosed letter from the Health Secretary regarding on the latest Covid 19 vaccine update:

COVID-19 Vaccine Update – Children and Young People

I am writing to you to update you on the latest developments on our deployment of COVID-19 vaccines.

The national COVID-19 vaccination programme has been a great success with 126 million COVID-19 vaccines administered to date. The programme has prevented 127,500 deaths and 24,144,000 infections as of 24 September 2021.

The advice provided by the independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) to the Government during the COVID-19 pandemic has been invaluable in ensuring a safe, effective, and successful vaccination programme in the UK.

As you will be aware, in response to the emergence of the Omicron variant in the UK, I accepted advice from the JCVI on 29 November 2021 that all children and young people aged 12 to 15 years should be offered a second dose COVID-19 vaccine at a minimum of 12 weeks from the first dose. In this advice, it was noted that no vaccine was at the time authorised in the UK for use in children aged 5 to 11 years.

Following a careful review of the relative balance of risks and benefits of vaccination, the JCVI have updated their advice on children and young people issued 29 November 2021.

The JCVI now advise that children aged five to 11 years in a clinical risk group or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed (both as defined in the UK Health Security Agency Green Book), should be offered two 10 micrograms doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine with an interval of eight weeks between the first and second doses. The minimum interval between any vaccine dose and recent COVID-19 infection should be four weeks.

A new paediatric formulation of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for use in children aged 5 to 11 years old has been approved for use in the UK today (22 December) by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) after finding that it is safe and effective.
This approval was given following a robust review of safety data that shows a positive benefit-risk profile for this vaccine to be used in this age group. The JCVI will issue further advice regarding COVID-19 vaccination for other five- to 11-year-olds in due course following consideration of additional data.

Moreover, the JCVI now advises an expansion of the booster programme to include:

• All children and young people aged 16 to 17 years;
• Children and young people aged 12 to 15 who are in a clinical risk group or who are a household contact of someone who is immunosuppressed, and
• Children and young people aged 12 to 15 years who are severely immunosuppressed and who have had a third primary dose.

The JCVI advise that these groups should be offered a booster dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine no sooner than 3 months after completion of their primary course. Prioritisation of booster vaccination within eligible cohorts will generally be in the order of descending age groups, or clinical risk, whichever is more expedient. The JCVI will continue to review new data and consider whether to recommend further vaccination of under-16s without underlying health conditions in a timely manner.

In accepting this most recent JCVI advice, I pay tribute to the tireless work of the Committee in negotiating the emerging science and data and making recommendations that are in the clinical best interest of patients.

I have directed the NHS to plan for operationalising this advice in the new year, as our immediate focus continues to be the national mission to offer COVID-19 booster vaccinations to all adults by the end of this year.

As with all groups that have been offered the vaccine, the considerations of risks from COVID-19 have been assessed against vaccination. This means that the parents and guardians of those called to receive the vaccine can be confident the decision made by them is the right one for their child.

It is essential that we and our constituents continue to play our part in the UK’s COVID-19 response and protect the country from the virus by coming forward for vaccination when contacted by the NHS. I would like to thank you all for your efforts to encourage your constituents to be vaccinated. I wish to conclude by once again encouraging all in the UK, when eligible, to get their jab.

Yours

SAJID JAVID MP

Funding Agreement for Whiteknights Primary School

FUNDING AGREEMENT FOR WHITEKNIGHTS PRIMARY SCHOOL

I am pleased to inform you that the Secretary of State for Education has agreed to enter into a Funding Agreement to allow Whiteknights Primary School, in Wokingham Borough Council, to become an academy.

The date of conversion will be 1 January 2022 and the Minister is writing to the local authority to instruct it to cease maintaining the school from that date.

As you know, academies form an integral part of the Government’s education policy to raise attainment for all children and to bring about sustained improvements to all schools. I am delighted that the school recognises the benefits academy status will bring.

Approval of Funds for Full & Final Settlement for Postmasters with Overturned Criminal Convictions

I have received the enclosed letter regarding the settlement funds for Postmasters:

Approval of Funds for Full & Final Settlement for Postmasters with Overturned Criminal Convictions

This House is aware of the distressing impact that problems with the Post Office’s Horizon IT system have had on the lives and livelihoods of many postmasters.

The Court of Appeal handed down a landmark judgment on 23 April 2021 which quashed the convictions of 39 postmasters whose prosecution had relied on Horizon evidence. 72 convictions have now been quashed to date, and several others are in progress. There are potentially hundreds more postmasters whose convictions have relied on Horizon evidence and may seek to have their convictions quashed.

We want to see these postmasters with quashed convictions compensated fairly and swiftly. So far, the vast majority of postmasters who have had their convictions quashed have each received an interim compensation payment of up to £100,000 while they wait for the next steps in the proceedings.

I am pleased to confirm that today the Government is making funding available to facilitate Post Office to make final compensation payments to postmasters whose convictions have been overturned. We are working with Post Office to finalise the arrangements that will enable the final settlement negotiations to begin as soon as possible. By providing this funding, Government is helping Post Office deliver the fair compensation postmasters deserve.

With the Secretary of State’s status as sole shareholder in the Post Office, my Department continues to engage actively with Post Office Limited on this and will maintain strong oversight of the compensation process.

 

Post office: Compensation Payments for Postmasters with Overturned criminal convictions

I have received the enclosed update from Minister for Small Business, Consumers & Labour Markets about compensation Payments for Postmasters with Overturned criminal convictions.

Dear Colleagues,

I know members across the House are aware of the longstanding Horizon issues whereby postmasters were prosecuted and convicted on the basis of Horizon evidence that we now know to be unreliable. On 23 April 2021, the Court of Appeal handed down a landmark judgment which quashed the convictions of 39 postmasters. To date 72 postmasters have now had their historical convictions quashed.

I have been clear in Parliament that Government wants to see postmasters who were prosecuted and convicted on the basis of Horizon evidence fairly compensated as quickly as possible. I wrote to you in July 2021 to inform you that Government would be providing funding support to Post Office to make interim payments of up to £100,000 to eligible postmasters who have their convictions quashed. These payments are intended to provide postmasters with some financial relief in advance of full and final settlements being reached with them by Post Office.

As of 29 November, the Post Office has received 66 applications for interim payments. Of these, 62 offers have been made and 50 accepted and payments made. Payments made to date have all been for the maximum interim amount of £100,000.

I am also pleased to inform you of the steps Government is taking to facilitate the settlement of claims and the payment of compensation to the postmasters whose criminal convictions were based on Horizon data and have been quashed.

The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in his capacity as sole shareholder in the Post Office, has agreed to make funding available to provide Post Office with the necessary resources to enable it to reach full and final settlements of compensation claims in a timely manner.

We are now working with Post Office to finalise the arrangements that will enable the final settlement negotiations to begin as soon as possible. The final settlement of claims for compensation is for Post Office and individual postmasters or their representatives to agree. It will involve claims being evidenced and quantified so that fair payments can be made providing postmasters with the compensation that they deserve.

My department continues to engage regularly with Post Office regarding its settlement of compensation claims. I am committed to seeing these longstanding Horizon issues resolved, learning what went wrong through the Post Office Horizon IT Inquiry, and ensuring something like this cannot happen again.

I have today notified the House of this decision in a Written Ministerial Statement, which you will find attached.

Yours ever,

PAUL SCULLY MP

Minister for Small Business, Consumers & Labour Markets

Minister for London

Update on M4 Junctions 3 to 12 Motorway Upgrade

I have received the enclosed update from National Highways:

Dear Sir John,

M4 Junctions 3 to 12 motorway upgrade update

I am writing to update you on progress on the M4 Junctions 3 to 12 motorway upgrade project, part of which runs through your constituency, and to outline a recent milestone in the delivery of the scheme.

Since July 2018, we have been constructing four lanes in each direction between junctions 3 and 12 of the M4 motorway, with upgraded technology to make journeys more reliable.

Between Junctions 8/9 (Maidenhead) and 12 (Theale) all temporary restrictions have now been removed and this section of the M4 motorway upgrade is finished.

The key changes drivers will see are as follows:

  • The M4 between junctions 8/9 and 12 is now operating at the national speed limit.
  • There will be variable speed limits at certain times to smooth out traffic and tackle frustrating stop-start congestion.                             
  • The hard shoulder has been converted to a new fourth traffic lane in each direction, boosting capacity by a third on this vital route between London, the south west and Wales.
  • Between junctions 8/9 and 12, if drivers get into difficulty, they will be able to use one of 29 places to stop in an emergency, which include emergency areas.

The new radar Stopped Vehicle Detection (SVD) technology identifies a stopped vehicle, typically within 20 seconds, and provides an alert to our control room. At the same time, it can also automatically display a ‘report of obstruction’ message to warn oncoming drivers of a stopped vehicle ahead. Our operators then set a Red X sign to close one or more lanes, adjust speed limits and deploy traffic officers.

When the entire upgrade project between junction 3 and 12 is fully completed, there will be places to stop in an emergency approximately every 1.3 miles.

In October 2019, the Secretary of State for Transport asked the Department to carry out an evidence stocktake to gather the facts on the safety of smart motorways and make recommendations. A wide range of data was considered, and conclusions drawn on what the evidence told us about the safety of this type of motorway. This work is set out in the 2020 Evidence Stocktake and Action Plan: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/smart-motorway-evidence-stocktake-and-action-plan. 

We’ve been working with the Department for Transport to implement the actions from the stocktake, and in April of this year we published the Smart Motorways Stocktake first year progress report, setting out our progress in delivering the 2020 Action Plan, the latest evidence on the safety of smart motorways, and commitments we have made to accelerate measures.

On 2 November 2021 the Transport Select Committee (TSC) published the findings of its inquiry into the rollout and safety of smart motorways. We are absolutely committed to making smart motorways as safe as possible and we welcome the TSC’s scrutiny. We are considering the inquiry’s findings and recommendations in detail and working with the DfT to support them in the response that they will be making to the report.

Activity is continuing between junctions 3 and 8/9. Inevitably, a scheme of this size and complexity does have an impact on local residents and road users and we do our utmost to minimise this. We have a community relations team that deals with correspondence from residents and we liaise regularly with the local authority to discuss any issues of concern.

We continue to engage with local communities through parish councils, site visits, letters, newsletters and email updates. This will include notifications and dissemination of information on forthcoming work and the motorway closures. The latest information can be found on the project website at: https://www.nationalhighways.co.uk/m4j3to12.

Yours sincerely,

Mike Grant
Delivery Director, M4 Junctions 3 to 12 motorway upgrade

Visit to the Holt School

On Friday 19th November I visited the Holt School and heard a series of presentations about how to improve the environment. The students presented some good ideas to tackle litter, to plant more trees, to collect more rainwater, to grow more food locally, to reuse and recycle more and to offer more vegetarian options for school meals.

In the conversation with three of the students leading the initiative  we ranged widely over environmental issues, with particular attention to energy. I set out some of the background for them on current energy policy and how the UK generates its electricity before we went on to explore issues about combining interruptible renewables with other forms of power to keep the lights on.

Remembrance Sunday in Wokingham

On Sunday November 14 th civic leaders and representatives  met in the afternoon in  the Town Hall to lay wreaths on the indoors war memorial. We marched down to All Saints for a service with members of the Borough and Town Councils, and the uniformed services.

In the service there were touching memories of those who lost their lives in war, as we were invited to explore the power of love to overcome hatred and fighting.

Remembrance Parade and service at Arborfield

On Sunday 14th November I joined the British legion in Arborfield for the march to the War memorial and for the service. I laid a wreath alongside others from local Councils and  the uniformed services. It was a poignant moment when the names of all those who died in the 1914-18 war were read out. it was too many young men from what then was a small rural village. We looked across at the green fields beyond the road to a glimpse of the  rural England they knew and would have kept in their hearts during the terror of the trenches.