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.

Visit to Evendons Primary School

On Friday 5th November I visited Evendons Primary School and gave a short talk on the role of an MP. The children asked a wide range of questions about Parliament and the role of an MP. They were particularly interested in environmental matters which I wrote about on my website the following day. I thank the Head for inviting me and for showing me the school, and wish the pupils well in their studies.

The Environment Bill and the issue of storm overflows

A number of constituents contacted me recently about the Environment Bill and the issue of storm overflows. I have now received the enclosed update from the Government:

Dear John

This Conservative government is the first government to set out our expectation that water companies must take steps to significantly reduce storm overflows. We will now put that instruction on an enhanced legal footing.

The Environment Bill will allow us to deliver the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. I am grateful for the scrutiny that you have provided to date, and I would like to address the issue of storm overflows. The amount of sewage discharge by water companies into our rivers is not acceptable. We have made it crystal clear to water companies that they must significantly reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows as a priority.

If we do not start to see significant improvements, we will not hesitate to take action through a swathe of new measures directly on water companies in the Environment Bill. None of us voted to allow water companies to pump sewage into our rivers as some campaigns have caricatured in recent days. We actually voted in favour of a package of measures to reduce harms from storm overflows including:

• a new duty directly on water companies to produce comprehensive statutory Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans, setting out how they will manage and develop their drainage and sewerage system over a minimum 25-year planning horizon, including how storm overflows will be addressed through these plans.

• a power of direction for the government to direct water companies in relation to the actions in these Drainage and Sewerage Management Plans. We will not hesitate to use this power of direction if plans are not good enough.

• a new duty on Government to produce a statutory plan to reduce discharges from storm overflows

• a requirement for government to produce a report setting out the actions that would be needed to eliminate discharges from storm overflows in England, and the costs and benefits of those actions. Both publications are required before 1 September 2022.

• a new duty directly on water companies and the Environment Agency to publish data on storm overflow operation on an annual basis.

• a new duty directly on water companies to publish near real time information on the operation of storm overflows.

• a new duty directly on water companies to monitor the water quality upstream and downstream of storm overflows and sewage disposal works.

Following the debate in the House of Commons last week, we have also announced that we will bolster the measures we are already taking.

In July of this year, this Government set out, for the first time ever, its expectation that Ofwat should incentivise water companies to invest to significantly reduce the use of storm overflows in the forthcoming pricing review period. Ofwat will be required to act in accordance with this expectation.

Our amendment will place this policy position in an additional clause in the Environment Bill to underline the action the government is taking. We are simply placing an existing statement in legislation. The reasons as to why we were unable to accept the Duke of Wellington’s well-intentioned amendment still stand. The complete elimination of discharges from storm overflows would be extremely challenging. Initial assessments suggest that total elimination would cost anywhere from £150 billion to £600 billion.

This process could involve the complete separation of sewerage systems, leading to potentially significant disruption for homes, businesses and infrastructure across the country. Customer bill increases, potentially amounting to many hundreds of pounds, and other trade-offs against other water industry priorities would be unavoidable. We need to understand what such trade-offs might be.

I have been very clear that water companies need to step up. Equally, we should acknowledge what they have done. Between 1990 and 2020 the water industry has invested about £30 billion in environmental improvement work, much of it to improve water quality in rivers.

A further £7.1 billion is planned to be invested between 2020 and 2025, of which £3.1 billion will be on storm overflows. Labour’s plans to renationalise water would have rendered this investment impossible, whilst passing an additional cost of £90 billion to our constituents.

Yours sincerely,

Rebecca Pow

Update on Access to GP Services

I have received the enclosed update from the Government:

Dear John

I am writing to you following publication of Our plan for improving access for patients and supporting general practice.

First and foremost, I’d like to thank our GPs for the outstanding work they’ve done during the most difficult 18 months in living memory. Throughout the pandemic, General Practice was forced to adapt in order to continue delivering care to our communities, keep vital services going and put millions of jabs in arms.

As we emerge from the pandemic it is vital that we continue to support General Practice teams to provide the best possible care to patients. I’m determined to ensure that patients are able to see their GP in the way they want, no matter where they live. The plan we have announced today is a statement of recovery and reform, not just for this winter but for the years to come.

We are investing £250m in a Winter Access Fund to improve the availability of GP practices and increase the number of face-to-face appointments, while also investing in technology to make it easier for patients to see or speak to their GP. Although the latest data shows that there are 1,200 more full time equivalent GPs serving our communities than there were two years ago, we will not be complacent when it comes to our recruitment efforts.

Last year a record-breaking number of doctors started training as GPs, and we’re committed to further increasing the number of training places to 4,000 a year. We will draw on our fantastic community pharmacists and their teams through greater use of the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service, allowing them to use their expertise to advise and treat more patients, freeing up more of GPs valuable time to look after patients.

The UK Health Security Agency has carried out a review of Covid control measures for GPs and primary care providers, and has published recommendations which will further enable face to face consultations, where it is safe to do so.

We’re making practices more accountable to the communities they serve by automatically sending patients a message following their appointment to give them the opportunity to rate their experiences of accessing support. GP appointment data will also be published at a practice level by spring next year, with the NHS increasing its oversight of practices with the most acute access issues.

We know how challenging the past 18 months have been for GPs and their teams, including the disgraceful incidences of staff facing abuse and violence while trying to do their jobs.

This Government has zero tolerance for this utterly unacceptable behaviour. To support practices we are providing £5m of capital funding for them to invest in extra security measures.

Our plan recognises that General Practice is the cornerstone of our NHS, and demonstrates this Government’s commitment to helping staff deliver for patients. The full plan can be found here: Coronavirus » Our plan for improving access for patients and supporting general practice (england.nhs.uk)

Yours ever,

SAJID JAVID
Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

Visit to Floreat Montague Primary School on 24 September 2021

I visited Floreat Montague on Friday 24 September. I met and talked to a number of pupils, and was hosted by the Chairman of the Board John Hutt and the Headteacher, Patrick Pritchett. Councillor Gregor Murray from the local ward who is also a parent joined the visit.

There was an initial discussion about raising standards and the ethos of the school. I praised the use of synthetic phonics as the best way of encouraging good reading and writing at an early age. I also discussed the way project work around stated themes or tasks can be used to allow pupils in a class of varied abilities to participate fully and achieve good outcomes. I was pleased to see the school’s emphasis on kindness and engaging with all pupils.

During the tour of the school a couple of boys were energetic in their enthusiasm for football, and most engaging over opportunities for them to play and to follow Premier League teams. There was a Question and answer session with four of the older pupils selected for the task of interviewing me . I asked them to comment on what they most liked about their school, on what improvement they would like to see and which lessons or activities engaged them the most. The pupils asked about electric cars, charger points, plastic waste in the oceans, sustainability and cycleways. I explained government policy and my own thoughts in line with the views set out on this website.

I was grateful for the welcome to Floreat Montague, and pleased to talk to pupils about their lives in the school and about their interest in issues affecting the local community and the wider world. I wish the school every success as it expands, completes its exciting history mural project and enriches the lives of all pupils who pass through.

More help for families in need- the Council will have access to new fund

This new support fund, at least half of which will help families with children, will bolster
existing measures we have introduced for low-income households, such as increasing
the national living wage, the rise in the Local Housing Allowance, expanding the £221
million Holiday Activities and Food which will be offering nutritious meals and enriching
activities to disadvantaged children this Christmas, doubling free childcare for eligible
working parents and increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers by over a third.
The Fund also sits alongside the Warm Home Discount which provides a £140 rebate
on energy bills each winter to over 2.2 million low-income households and the Cold
Weather Payment which provides £25 extra a week for poorer households when the
temperature is consistently below zero.
Please direct constituents in need of support to their local council who will be able to
help them access the Fund. The Barnett formula will apply in the usual way, with the
devolved administrations receiving £79 million on top of the £421 million for England.

Letter from the Department of Work & Pensions Minister

I have received a letter, reproduced below, from the Minister at the Department of Work & Pensions.

Dear Colleague,

COVID-19 SUPPORT: FOCUSING ON AND INVESTING IN OUR JOBS RECOVERY

Over the past year, the UK Government has helped millions of people as part of its Plan for Jobs to
protect, support and create employment. As we emerge from the pandemic and learn to live with
COVID-19, we remain focused on creating new, better jobs, and helping people gain the skills they
need to succeed. More people are getting back into work, the number of payrolled employees has
returned to pre-pandemic levels and there are record levels of vacancies. This is a tribute to the
British people and businesses and a testament to our comprehensive and unprecedented £400
billion package to support people and businesses through the economic shock from COVID-19.
Despite the biggest recession in 300 years, our support package has helped to safeguard jobs,
businesses and public services in every region and nation of the UK, demonstrating it was right to
provide exceptional support while widespread COVID-19 restrictions were in place.

The temporary £20 uplift was an important part of the measures we took, helping people facing the
greatest financial disruption, specifically those who came onto Universal Credit because they saw
their hours reduced and incomes fall suddenly as a result of pandemic restrictions. We have always
been clear that this was a temporary measure, responding to extraordinary circumstances. In line
with other emergency support it helped to protect livelihoods through the worst of the pandemic.
With most restrictions lifted and with record numbers of vacancies, it is right that we now focus on,
and invest in, jobs and improving the prospects for those already in employment as we bring these
measures to an end.

The Government recognises the importance of giving people time to prepare for a change in their
income. Which is why DWP has been proactively communicating this change with claimants. In July,
we updated the UC statement to show claimants they have been receiving an additional £86.67 a
month in response to the pandemic. In August and September, we notified all claimants via two
separate UC journal messages that this temporary measure would be coming to an end. These
messages outline the date of their last payment which includes the uplift and signposts claimant’s
to organisations who can help with budgeting, and additionally to the “Universal Credit: help with
managing your money” guidance on GOV.UK. Our Work Coaches have been supporting claimants
on changes to the uplift during appointments, as well as signposting claimants to additional support
if it is required. We have also increased the number of people on the telephone helpline and are
monitoring phone lines and UC journal entries to identify vulnerable claimants who may need further
support.

We will issue a final statement change to inform claimants that Assessment Periods ending on, or
after, 6 October 2021 will not include the £20 per week uplift.

We recognise that some people are worried about the cost of living, which is why as well as helping
people move into better-paid work and to progress in work, we are also continuing to support people
with the cost of living and put more pounds into the pockets of low-income families. This includes
raising the National Living Wage, doubling free childcare, supporting households at risk of fuel
poverty through the Warm Home Discount, increasing the value of Healthy Start Vouchers and
through the Holiday Activities and Food Programme. In addition, our new Household Support Fund
will make £500 million available to local authorities during October to help the most vulnerable
households with the extra costs of this winter. The Barnett formula will apply in the usual way, with
the devolved administrations receiving up to £79 million of the £500 million.

For those who require further assistance managing their money, the Money and Pensions Service
(MaPS) provides free and impartial debt advice, money guidance and pension guidance through
their MoneyHelper service which can be accessed at www.moneyhelper.org.uk/en. Individuals who
require help managing payments, credit or loans could also access breathing space through debt
advisors if they are eligible.

As our recovery gathers pace, the Government is continuing to help people into work and increase
their earning potential – the most sustainable route to financial security and the best route out of
poverty. We’re investing billions through our Plan for Jobs and the Lifetime Skills Guarantee. With
over a million vacancies in our labour market and more than 27,000 Work Coaches are helping
people get into work and improve their prospects. We’ve got dedicated programmes helping those
of all ages; Kickstart for young people; JETS for those directly impacted by the pandemic; SWAPs
helping match talent to opportunity by switching sectors; and Restart for the longer term
unemployed. But, our support isn’t limited to those seeking work – Work Coaches are able to help
those already in jobs with extensive training opportunities and other support to boost their hours and
further their employment prospects.

With the economy rebounding, and backed by our Plan for Jobs, we have a unique opportunity, to
help people move into new and better paid jobs, progress in their existing job, raising their earnings
and building their financial resilience. We are dedicated to these tasks as we build back better and
fairer.

DAVID RUTLEY MP
MINISTER FOR WELFARE DELIVERY

Wokingham Arts trail

I enjoyed the Wokingham Arts trail around the town on Sunday 19 September.

There was an impressive array of paintings, needlework, glass work and jewellery displayed by local artists and available for purchase on the various stalls.

My visit included seeing the new history mural at Montague Park School where I talked to Julia Petrova about some of the great scenes and characters from British history featured in the mural. She has so far painted the story up to the death of Queen Elizabeth 1 in 1603, with the later centuries still to come.

The photos show me with Julia Petrova, and also with Jill Chadwick, a talented local glass maker, in the Methodist building on Rose Street.

I was delighted to see so much local artistic talent on Sunday. I thanked the organisers of the successful Arts trail and wished the artists well with their work and sales.

I was pleased to pick up a couple of early Christmas present purchases of things that are a bit special because they are individually crafted items.

It was great to see the Montague Park school mural and I hope it will be well studied by the children to help them with images of the past. Seeing history on the ground in the buildings that survive and the portraits that are passed down can help bring it to life.