Out and about on the doorsteps

My recent sessions on the doorsteps have been of particular interest. Despite the saturation coverage of the tragic war in Ukraine no-one has raised any Ukraine related issue with me in recent visits to Earley, Shinfield, Wokingham  and Winnersh. There have been some issues raised about the Spring Statement and what more the government could do to tackle the cost of living crisis. There have been no questions or suggestions about covid despite the large numbers of cases currently being reported. The occasional person has explained from a distance they are infectious and do not wish to pass it on.

Most of the conversations have been about local issues, often related to levels of development, traffic congestion, road closures and other Council matters. Emails and letters have broadly reflected the same pattern, with just three writing in on Ukrainian issues and many more on cost of living and energy matters.

Extension to the Household Support Fund

I have received the below letter from the Government Minister for Welfare delivery regarding the Household Support Fund which I would like to share:

Dear Colleague,

EXTENSION TO THE HOUSEHOLD SUPPORT FUND

Our new Way to Work campaign aims to get half a million people who are out of work into jobs in the next four months. It will support employers who need to fill their vacancies, whilst also helping claimants by improving their financial situation. Alongside this initiative, we have announced around £400 billion since the start of the pandemic protecting jobs and incomes.

The economy is in recovery, with a record number of people on the payroll, but we recognise the inflationary challenges and that people are concerned about pressure on household budgets. That is why we are extending the Household Support Fund to provide cost of living support for households most in need, shifting the focus of the fund to include more of those people who cannot work. From April, the government is providing an additional £500 million to help households with the cost of essentials. This brings the total funding for this support to £1 billion. In England, £421 million will be provided to extend the existing Household Support Fund from 1 April to 30 September inclusive. The devolved administrations will receive £79 million through the Barnett formula. In England, the allocation for Councils is the same as for the previous 6 months.

In England, the fund will be distributed via upper-tier Local Authorities. This support will continue to help those who are struggling to afford energy and water bills, food, and other essentials, to prevent the escalation of problems. We know energy bills may be of particular concern to low income households and so Local Authorities are being encouraged to focus on supporting households with the cost of energy.

At least a third of the extension funding (£140m) will be spent on pensioners on low incomes and at least another third (£140m) will be spent on families with children.

This will ensure that the most vulnerable, including those unable to work to boost their income, will continue to receive vital support to help with the costs of household essentials throughout the next six months.

This extension is just one way that we are helping families with the rising cost of living and other global inflationary pressures. The government has recently announced a three-part plan of support to help households with rising energy bills, worth £9.1 billion in 2022-23. This includes a £200 discount on energy bills this Autumn for all domestic electricity customers in Great Britain, to be paid back automatically over the next 5 years. This also includes a £150 non-repayable rebate in Council Tax bills for all households in bands A-D in England, as well as a £144 million discretionary fund for Local Authorities to support households who are in need regardless of their council tax band.

We continue our focus on getting people into work. The National Living Wage will increase to £9.50 an hour this April, providing an extra £1000 pay for a full-time worker. This has risen every year since it was introduced in 2016. The cuts to the Universal Credit taper rate and the uplift to the work allowances will also put, on average, an extra £1,000 a year into the pockets of 1.7 million low-income families.

These initiatives, alongside the Household Support Fund extension, will work to help those most in need over the coming months. For MPs in English constituencies, please direct constituents in need of support to their local authority who will be able to help them access the Household Support Fund. Your Council will be required to produce a plan taking into account the new conditions and guidance. I encourage you to give your thoughts directly to your council leader on how you think their scheme could be improved. For MPs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, I would encourage you to speak to the Devolved Administrations about their plans to use their allocations.

Kind regards,

David Rutley MP
Minister for Welfare Delivery

Maiden Place Post Office Reopening

I have received the below letter from the Post Office regarding the good news that Maiden Place Post Office will be reopening on the 26th April:

 

Dear Customer,

Service Re-opening
Maiden Place Post Office
10 Maiden Lane Centre, Lower Earley, Reading, Berkshire, RG6 3HD

We are delighted to let you know that we will be restoring Post Office services to Maiden Place on Tuesday 26 April 2022 at 13:00. The branch closed temporarily in October 2021 following the resignation of the postmaster.

The new service will be operated from the same premises and will offer a range of Post Office products and services. Full details of the new service are provided at the end of this letter.

I know that the local community will join me in welcoming this good news and hope that you and our customers will continue to use this service. If you are a local representative, please feel free to share this information through your social media channels and with any local groups or organisations that you know within the community for example on noticeboards, local charities and in GP surgeries, to help our customers and your constituents understand what is happening to the Post Office in the local community. If you would like a supply of posters, please let us know.

Thank you for your support in restoring a Post Office service.

Yours faithfully,

Network Provision Lead

Why donating cash rather than goods is better for Ukraine

I have received the enclosed letter from Ministers at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport:

Dear Colleagues,

Why donating cash rather than goods is better for Ukraine

Firstly, thank you to colleagues who have been in touch over the last few weeks on this matter. It is clear that you and your constituents are making great efforts to support those who have been forced to flee their homes because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As President Zelenskyy said when he spoke directly to us last week, “we are looking for help from civilised countries, and we are thankful for this help”.

As such, we wanted to give you an update on the best ways to do this. How Government is supporting Ukraine’s immediate humanitarian needs

As the Foreign Secretary wrote in her letter of Monday 7 March, the UK has now committed £394m in aid, including £220m in humanitarian assistance which will be used to save lives; and protect vulnerable people inside Ukraine and in the wider region.

The government’s focus is on supporting the UN and other humanitarian partners to respond effectively to the deteriorating humanitarian situation; as well as strengthen the effectiveness of the overall international humanitarian response.

Advice for the public and organisations

We welcome the public’s eagerness and generosity to support the people of Ukraine at this time of crisis. It is fantastic that the Disasters Emergency Committee’s appeal for Ukraine has now reached more than £130m, including £25m in government funding, our largest ever aid-match donation.

Details of the appeal and how to donate can be found on www.DEC.org.uk.

We do however request that organisations and people who would like to help do so by donating cash through trusted charities and aid organisations, rather than by donating goods. The Polish Embassy in London also reiterated this request in their statement of 01 March.

Cash can easily and safely be transferred quickly to areas where it’s needed. Individuals and aid organisations can then use it to buy what’s most appropriate at that moment. If your constituents or organisations have excess donated goods they could consider donating these to a charity shop who may, depending on the nature of these items, be able to sell these to raise cash which may support the Ukraine crisis. Alternatively, local fund-raising efforts using donated goods can also raise cash.

Unsolicited donations of goods, although well-meant, can obstruct supply chains and delay more urgent life-saving assistance from getting through given the huge logistical and coordination challenges associated with handling and onward distribution. Goods provided may not be what is most needed and run the risk of not reaching affected populations, including looting and theft or being sold further on informal markets thereby distorting the local economy. Distribution is difficult to control and manage well, particularly in conflict affected contexts – the most vulnerable like women, the elderly, disabled and children often do not receive goods.

If members of the public or organisations would still like to take forward a donation of goods we encourage them to reach out to a charity or organising body based in country to establish what is needed and how to deliver it safely before they begin to collect goods. Some useful links can be found in the attached Annex.

Once this has been done, to help facilitate transportation the Government has removed the requirement to complete unfamiliar customs paperwork. Guidance is here and an Export Support Service helpline available on 0300 303 8955. Charities can also contact their online support team.

We will continue to update you and keep you abreast of developments as the situation continues to evolve.

With thanks to you and your constituents for their generous offers of help. We have also included a link to more information on what your constituents and local charities can do to help the people of Ukraine.

Best wishes

Nigel Huddleston MP – Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society

James Cleverly MP – Minister of State for Europe and North America

Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon- Minister of State for South and Central Asia, North Africa, UN & The Commonwealth, Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict

Please give cash not goods for Ukraine

Government request

We do however request that organisations and people who would like to help do so by donating cash through trusted charities and aid organisations, rather than by donating goods. The Polish Embassy in London also reiterated this request in their statement of 01 March.

 

Cash can easily and safely be transferred quickly to areas where it’s needed. Individuals and aid organisations can then use it to buy what’s most appropriate at that moment. If your constituents or organisations have excess donated goods they could consider donating these to a charity shop who may, depending on the nature of these items, be able to sell these to raise cash which may support the Ukraine crisis. Alternatively, local fund-raising efforts using donated goods can also raise cash.

 

Unsolicited donations of goods, although well-meant, can obstruct supply chains and delay more urgent life-saving assistance from getting through given the huge logistical and coordination challenges associated with handling and onward distribution. Goods provided may not be what is most needed and run the risk of not reaching affected populations, including looting and theft or being sold further on informal markets thereby distorting the local economy. Distribution is difficult to control and manage well, particularly in conflict affected contexts – the most vulnerable like women, the elderly, disabled and children often do not receive goods.

 

If members of the public or organisations would still like to take forward a donation of goods we encourage them to reach out to a charity or organising body based in country to establish what is needed and how to deliver it safely before they begin to collect goods. Some useful links can be found in the attached Annex.

 

Once this has been done, to help facilitate transportation the Government has removed the requirement to complete unfamiliar customs paperwork. Guidance is here and an Export Support Service helpline available on 0300 303 8955. Charities can also contact their online support team.

 

We will continue to update you and keep you abreast of developments as the situation continues to evolve.

 

With thanks to you and your constituents for their generous offers of help. We have also included a link to more information on what your constituents and local charities can do to help the people of Ukraine.

 

Best wishes,

 

 

 

 

Nigel Huddleston MP

Minister for Sport, Tourism, Heritage and Civil Society

James Cleverly MP

Minister of State for Europe and North America

 

 

 

 

Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon

Minister of State for South and Central Asia, North Africa,

UN & The Commonwealth Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict

 

Annex

 

  • In Poland the authorities have issued a statement calling on the UK public not to provide further in-kind donations, as previously mentioned above. Specific offers can still be channelled through their official website (https://pomagamukrainie.gov.pl/) and a Polish NGO forum coordinated by PHA (Polish Humanitarian Action) includes a number of national and international NGOs and the Polish Red Cross. You can register to be part of that forum here or contact the Polish Red Cross (PCK) office@pck.pl.
  • In Romania the government has set up a platform to coordinate donations and to link them with needs on the other side of the border (https://www.gov.ro/ro/ucraina-impreuna-ajutam-mai- mult). Note this website is currently only available in Romanian.
  • FCDO is in touch with the Governments of Hungary, Slovakia and Moldova as to whether they have plans to set up similar coordinating bodies. We are similarly not aware of any body endorsed by the Government of Ukraine able to coordinate the delivery of already donated goods directly into Ukraine.

 

  • Where private sector organisations wish to explore in kind donations, we encourage them to explore opportunities through any existing partnerships with the UN, the Red Cross or NGOs that they already have in place; or reach out to established registered charities on The Charity Commission and Fundraising regulator website at UK.

 

  • The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) also encourage companies to refrain from sending unsolicited donations that may not correspond to identified needs or meet international quality standards. Financial/cash donations are more effective than in-kind donations. However, for businesses wishing to contribute in-kind goods or services, please reach out to OCHA with as much detail as possible, including what items they may wish to donate and how much, the time frame for delivery, details on shipping and any other conditions. They can then guide business to most appropriate recipient organization(s). Companies with employees, suppliers, or customers in the country or region, or those with existing agreements with responding humanitarian organizations should aim to provide support directly to these groups. For more information, please contact ocha-ers- ps@un.org.

How to donate support to the Ukrainian people

I have been approached by constituents about how best they can donate to support the people of Ukraine.  I have received this useful advice from the Foreign Office.

Donations in Kind

The UK welcomes the UK public’s eagerness to support the people of Ukraine at this time. We do however request that organisations and people who would like to help donate cash through trusted charities and aid organisations, rather than donating goods. Cash can be transferred quickly to areas where it’s needed and individuals and aid organisations can use it to buy what’s most needed. The Polish Embassy in London recently released this statement asking the UK public not to organise further in kind donations. Unsolicited donations of goods, although well-meant, can obstruct supply chains and delay more urgent life-saving assistance from getting through given the huge logistical and coordination challenges associated with handling and onward distribution. Goods provided may not be what is most needed and run the risk of not reaching affected populations, including looting and theft or being sold further on informal markets thereby distorting the local economy. Distribution is difficult to control and manage well, particularly in conflict affected contexts – the most vulnerable like women, the elderly, disabled and children often do not receive goods. If members of the public would still like to take forward a donation of goods we encourage you reach out to a charity or organising body based in the country where you intend to donate to establish what is needed and how to deliver it before you begin to collect goods:

In Poland the authorities have issued a statement calling on the UK public not to provide further in-kind donations. Specific offers can still be channelled through their official website (https://pomagamukrainie.gov.pl/) and a Polish NGO forum coordinated by PAH (Polish Humanitarian Action) includes a number of national and international NGOs and the Polish Red Cross. You can register to be part of that forum here or contact the Polish Red Cross (PCK) zarzad.glowny@pck.pl / head.office@pck.pl

New Covid Vaccination Centre To Open This Weekend at the Wokingham Library

Wokingham Borough Council have informed me of the opening of a new walk-in Covid-19 vaccination centre at the Wokingham Library. Please see their announcement below:

NEW COVID-19 VACCINATION CENTRE TO OPEN IN WOKINGHAM THIS WEEKEND

*Please note, that due to the severe weather warning made, Oxford Health has made the decision to close all mass vaccination centres and pop up clinics on Friday 18th February, including the new one at Wokingham Library*

A new walk-in Covid-19 vaccination centre will open at the Wokingham Library this Friday (18 February), to help make access to the vaccine easier for residents.

The site will open from 2pm to 7pm on Fridays and 11am to 4.45pm on Saturdays and Sundays, with no appointment necessary. A review of the site will take place after six weeks, so the council is encouraging residents to make good use of the facility.

First, second, and booster doses of the Pfizer vaccine are available to all eligible people, including:

  • Pregnant women
  • 12–15-year-olds
  • People not registered with a GP or those without an NHS number
  • People with no indefinite leave to remain status

Visitors travelling by car can park at Denmark Street Car Park, and more parking options are available across the town.

Cllr Charles Margetts, executive member for health, wellbeing and adult services, said: “One of the cornerstones of moving forward and living with endemic Covid is vaccination.  While the uptake rate is good in the borough, there are still many people who are yet to take up the offer, and we have often felt it would be significantly improved by the provision of more local vaccination centres.

“We have campaigned for months for a standalone vaccination centre in the borough and are pleased that the CCG has agreed to our request. We would encourage all residents to take advantage of this local facility and get vaccinated, and we look forward to welcoming residents in for their jabs.”

Nobody going for their first, second or booster jab will be questioned about why they haven’t had it yet. The onsite staff will be happy to welcome residents. Anyone who has questions about the Covid-19 vaccine can come and chat to the health professionals working at the site or email the council’s vaccine support team on covid.info@wokingham.gov.uk.

“Everyone would like to see the back of the pandemic, but it is important that we don’t lose sight of what protects us from the virus”, said Cllr Margetts. “While Omicron is milder in the sense that it has so far resulted in a lower hospitalisation and death rate than prior variants, it can still make you very sick and it is highly transmissible. The vaccine is what helps make this sickness less serious, reduce transmission and it is still strongly recommended.”

If you tested positive in December and were unable to get your booster, it’s now time to come forward for it (28 days/4 weeks from when you tested positive). Parents, carers and guardians are also encouraged to bring children and young people over the age of 12 to this new site over half term (for 12–15-year-olds this must be 12 weeks from the date of their positive PCR test if they were recently infected).

For Covid-19 vaccine updates in the borough, please keep an eye on the Wokingham Borough Council website: https://www.wokingham.gov.uk/covid-19/testing-and-vaccinations/covid-19-vaccinations/

 

 

Visit to Code Ninjas

On Saturday I visited the Code Ninjas class for young people to learn how to write computer code whilst playing some computer games and meeting other young computer enthusiasts.

The activity took place at St Crispins school in Wokingham.  The Organiser, Naveen Khapali has stated ” I hope to provide a platform and opportunity for 16 to 18 year olds to build their career in computer coding and programming. Code Ninja’s Wokingham has a vision to provide a safe and fun place for kids to learn about technology and the dynamics of technology whilst learning to code, create new games and develop problem solving and life skills”

The facility is available for any child over 5 years old. Parents can contact the organiser on wokinghambrkuk@codeninjas.com to learn more about the terms and conditions and the arrangements for looking after the children.

£50 Million Funding Announcement for Dentistry

I have received the below letter from Maria Caulfield, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Primary Care and Patient Safety at the Department of Health and Social Care:

Dear Colleague,

£50M Funding Announcement for Dentistry

Today, we are announcing that we will be investing an additional £50 million to urgently give more people access to high quality dental care.

Throughout the pandemic dentists have rightly prioritised the safety of their patients and staff, including by introducing infection control measures to reduce the risk of infection from aerosols commonly generated by dental procedures. Although necessary, these measures restricted the number of dentistry appointments that the NHS has been able to offer.

Thanks to the hard work of our dedicated NHS dental teams, the levels of urgent treatment recovered to pre-pandemic levels by December 2020. However, we know some individuals still require urgent access, which is why the NHS will shortly announce that an extra £50 million is being made available to dental practices. The funding will secure up to 350,000 additional dental appointments for those suffering from oral pain, disease and infections to help them get the care they need.

This funding will be targeted at those most in need of urgent dental treatment. Children will be prioritised, as will people with learning disabilities, autism, or severe mental health problems. We aim to spend this additional funding before the end of this financial year with the funding planned to be spent before the end of the financial year.

This government remains committed to recovering and reforming NHS dentistry. We are working with the dental sector to do just this in the short term, as indicated by this injection of funding this financial year, as well as in the longer term. This includes working with partners, including the British Dental Association, to look at alternative ways of commissioning and to improve dental education and training.

NHS regions will commission additional services from contractors that have proven ability and capacity to deliver extra activity. Regional budgets are confirmed in the table below:

 Budget
Region                                  £000
East of England                        5,731
London                                       7,809
Midlands                                    8,904
North East and Yorkshire      8,633
North West                                7,310
South East                                 6,887
South West                                4,726
Total                                        50,000

This £50 million will help with the recovery from the pandemic impact, starting us on the road to stabilising NHS dental services and giving us a firm foundation for our next steps.

                                                                                                                                      MARIA CAULFIELD MP
                        PARLIAMENTARY UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE FOR PRIMARY CARE AND PATIENT SAFETY