David's first year - End of Year Report
The year since I returned to parliament to represent the Stroud constituency has flown by. I’ve enjoyed meeting many constituents, at schools, business events and more, finding out about the issues that matter to people in Stroud as well as raising their concerns in parliament.
Brexit has, of course, occupied much of parliament’s time. The government’s Brexit approach remains shambolic, with the lack of clarity making it impossible to progress negotiations with the EU.
Here in Gloucestershire we held a conference on Brexit, where I heard from many employers and farmers about the impact Brexit is already having on their businesses, including by making recruitment more difficult. I am working to develop a post-Brexit farming policy that will help farmers to maintain our high-quality food production and protect the environment.
Headteachers of primary and secondary schools across the Stroud district all tell me they are experiencing a financial crisis and having to reduce the number of staff, including teachers, as well as cutting subjects and resources just to make ends meet. This is negatively affecting the quality of the education our children receive.
The government’s new Funding Formula is not fair, with some schools’ budgets cut more than others, particularly mid-sized primary schools and comprehensive secondary schools.
I am also concerned about the lack of oversight about planning school provision for the future. The result is that schools are now competing rather than co-operating.
In May, more than 600 people attended a meeting I organised with the Stroud branch of the Waspi (Women Against State Pension Injustice) campaign to tackle unfair changes to women’s state pension age. Women born in the 1950s were not given enough notice about the changes, despite some now having to work six years longer before receiving a state pension. This has led to increased numbers of women aged over 60 forced claim other benefits, or even turn to foodbanks. The extraordinary turnout reflected the impact this is having on Stroud families and office is continuing to work with Waspi to tackle pension inequality.
In my role as Shadow Minister for the Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs I have focused on several key issues, including incineration. Work continues at the Javelin Park Incinerator here in Gloucestershire, despite no evidence of environmental or economic benefits. I am concerned about the impact of incinerator emissions on public health and am working with experts to develop Labour policy on a more effective waste policy.
I am continuing to oppose the ineffective badger cull and look for more effective ways of tackling Bovine TB. I have been working with experts and campaigners including Brian May and Lord Krebs to develop an alternative policy. The badger cull is expensive and unnecessary with no scientific evidence that it works. It is also diverting resources from finding a real solution, such as more accurate blood testing of cattle.
Working with the farming industry to prepare for the future is a priority. I want to make sure that we continue to protect environmental standards, animal welfare, good practice and food standards as well as support for farmers, and particularly small farmers.
For those interested in the statistics, I have spoken in 110 parliamentary debates in the past year and received answers to 573 written questions – both figures are above average among MPs. Of course, the numbers don’t tell the whole story; I have spoken at a broad range of debates on issues as varied as school funding, banning live animal exports, slaughterhouse CCTV, free school meals, fly-tipping, social housing, gambling and much more.
The government’s ongoing cuts to the benefits system have affected many people in Stroud. It is often the most vulnerable people who bear the brunt of these cuts, with heart-breaking results.
One example is the axing of SMI (support for mortgage interest) benefit. This is a long-standing benefit designed to prevent homelessness in people facing redundancy or ill health. Its withdrawal has had a devastating impact on people with long-term disabilities who were advised by the government to use SMI to secure a home for their future. I raised this directly with Theresa May during Prime Minister’s Questions and she pledged that the Secretary of State will meet me to discuss this issue. I will be calling for these families to be exempt from the change.
Railways are vital to our local economy and I recently met with key stakeholders to look at the possible reopening of the direct route from Stonehouse station to Bristol.
I continue to oppose the government’s plan to redraw constituency boundaries, which would see Stroud constituency lose Cam and Dursley and reduce the number of parliamentary constituencies from 650 to 600, diminishing democratic representation nationally.
In Stroud, it means the return of Minchinhampton, which I would welcome because of its historical, cultural, social and administrative ties with Stroud district. However, I strongly oppose the loss of Cam and Dursley for the same reasons. The Stroud constituency should consist of as much of the Stroud district as possible
My small caseworking team has worked on at least 800 cases, which reflects the impact of the government’s austerity cuts. We have seen a great many problems relating to Universal Credit and I will be meeting with the Jobcentre to try to address this. There has also been an increase in complaints about NHS underfunding, particularly when it comes to the lack of mental-health services and delays in surgeries due to the severe shortage of beds.
Around 20% of our cases involve the housing shortfall, which is why I have formed the All Party Parliamentary Group on Council Housing. Building more council homes is a vital part of the solution to our housing crisis.
Priorities for the next year:
· Develop a farming policy with animal welfare, environmental protection and increased domestic production at its core
· Develop a waste policy that properly looks at the health impact of incinerators and has waste reduction and re-use as priorities
· Ensure fair and adequate funding of all schools
· Build the right kind of housing in the right place, prioritising affordable and council housing
· Pursue reform of local government so councils can provide better local services.
· Help our high streets to restore vitality
David Drew MP, for Stroud constituency