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Leadsom ‘clueless’ on how to support food industry after Brexit  

Tom slammed Andrea Leadsom’s performance at Wednesday’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.

Under questioning from MPs the former Conservative leadership candidate failed to confirm what the consequences of Brexit would be for the food industry or consumers.

Her ‘lack of strategy’ was criticised by GMB, the union for the food and drink industry.

Leadsom, who campaigned for the UK to leave to European Union, was unable to state if the UK would be forced to use World Trade Organisation rules if it failed to reach an alternative agreement with the EU by 2019. She also appeared unclear about the effect of Brexit on food prices for the consumer.

Tom, who previously worked in food preparation factories in Thirsk and Billingham said:

This is just another example of a minister who cannot cope with the complexities that Brexit has presented.

The food industry is important not just for its employees but also for UK consumers. The industry needs a plan and certainty to be able to grow. People in the sector are worried about tariffs and unions are rightly concerned about what this will mean for jobs and workers’ rights. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Andrea Leadsom has the answers.

 

The government and Brexiteers are clueless on the details, and it’s risking the future of the UK food industry.

 

Eamon O’Hearn, GMB National Officer said:

 

Andrea Leadsom has today utterly failed to explain what the Brexit she vocally supported will mean for the UK food industry or for shoppers feeling the pinch.

The lack of answers coming from the leading Brexiteer and now Environment Secretary will leave consumers, business and the hundreds of thousands of people working in this industry in limbo with an unpleasant taste in their mouths. Brexit is a huge threat to the viability of the UK food industry and requires a strategy to protect it – and it’s now clear there isn’t one.

People need a guarantee that their jobs will be safe, that goods will not become too expensive and that workers’ rights won’t be eroded because of this Government’s Brexit negotiations.

 

Tom Blenkinsop battles for Boosbeck Post Office

Tom has today taken up the cudgels over the temporary closure of Boosbeck’s Post Office.

The Post Office, located in the High Street in a branch of Mace Convenience Stores, is the only post office outlet in the village, with the only alternatives either in Skelton or Lingdale.

The reasons for the closure are unclear to the shop’s owner, Neil Johnson, but they are connected to a long running and national issue with the computer system and software used by the Post Office called Horizon. Horizon is supposed to offer the Post Office’s own cash flow and accounting system online to sub post office branches. In other parts of the country sub postmasters had been reprimanded by the Post Office for alleged false accounting – something which they vehemently deny.

The shop’s owner, Neil Johnson, said

I really have to apologise for not being able to offer the Post Office service the village deserves.

The worst thing is that I cannot get a full response from the Post Office for their suspension of the service. All I want is a full explanation and from that to see what could be put right or amended. All I have at the moment is an invitation to a ‘meeting’ with post office bosses – but that’s not until the 31st of this month.

Tom said,

It just isn’t good enough and leads to an honest shopkeeper being possibly branded with an unfair image or tarnished by rumours. There have been many questions and debates in the House of Commons about these issues, but at the root of everything is the fact that sub post offices are privatised and are unaccountable to the public and even MPs. 

I did write on Mr Johnson’s behalf to the Post Office’s parliamentary liaison office, but all I have had back so far is the standard response that this is ‘being looked at’, and advice as to where the nearest other offices are – which I know anyway! This is going to mean yet another question to ministers in coming days.

Tom pledges to defend local community pharmacies

Tom has backed a campaign opposing the government’s plan to cut the budget for local chemists, after talks between the government and the sector broke down.

Negotiations on a new package of funding for community pharmacies have halted and the government is set to push through a funding cut that could force thousands of chemists to close across the country.

The government’s initial plan to cut £170 million from the community pharmacy budget – a cut of 6 per cent – was put on hold after pressure from campaigners, but a new round damaging cuts could now be imposed by the government.

The government’s own figures have shown that the £170 million cut could force up to 3,000 community pharmacies – one in four across the country – to close their doors to the public.

This puts the 271 community pharmacies in Durham, Darlington and Tees Area at risk.

Further, a leaked document today revealed the government’s relief package for community pharmacies is intended to assist just one in ten pharmacies across the country, meaning the vast majority will receive no further support.

Tom said:

The Tories’ plan risks losing important services for my constituents. The government should drop their cuts and negotiate a new deal with the sector.

The logic behind this plan is flawed because cuts for community pharmacies mean even more pressure on A&E, GPs and other services. This is a short term cut that will damage our NHS in the long run.

Under the Tories many NHS services in my constituency have closed and now more are threatened. If local community pharmacies close young families, elderly people and housebound patients in Teesside will suffer.

The government’s proposed support package isn’t enough and they need to think again about this urgently.

Tom calls for more action on assaults on Police Officers

Tom has called on the government to take steps to keep Police Officers safe from attacks.

161011 TB protect police

In a debate organised Holly Lynch, MP for Halifax, Tom said he was concerned that cuts in police numbers were risking officer safety, as more police patrols were conducted by lone officers. He also highlighted the case of one Cleveland Police Officer who had twice suffered a broken jaw in the last year as a result of being assaulted.

During a ‘Protect the Protectors’ event in Parliament Tom met with members of the Police Federation and serving Police Officers to discuss the latest assault figures and discuss how violence towards the police affected their ability to protect their communities.

The most recent Home Office figures on police officer assaults show that there were approximately 23,000 assaults on Police Officers with nearly 250 assaults in Cleveland alone.

However, even this is thought to be an underestimate as the Home Office believe that many assaults go unreported. Some police forces do not collect data recording the total number of assaults meaning that the national figures provide an incomplete picture of the situation.

Tom said:

Police Officers in my constituency and around the country work to keep people safe, but increasingly they are at risk themselves.

Cleveland Police work tirelessly to protect my constituents – the least we can do is ask that police are given proper support and those who attack police are properly punished.

I fear that government cuts are contributing to the problem. The Tories need to get their act together when it comes to recording and tackling this sort of crime.

Government backing China over UK steel reveals where their priorities lie

The Chancellor Philip Hammond last week recommitted the government to backing Market Economy Status for China, despite the fact the move could flood the UK steel market with cheap, subsidised Chinese steel.

161010 TB in chamber

Granting China Market Economy Status would weaken or remove trade barriers on the dumping of cheap Chinese steel in the European market, the main market for UK steel businesses. Tariffs for Chinese steel currently stand up to 73.7% in the EU but at more than 500% in the USA. The decision whether to change China’s market status will have to be made in December of this year.

During a visit to Washington Mr Hammond said the UK was ‘bound to’ support the change in status due to ‘certain undertakings we gave to China’.

Steel exports from China have increased by 395% since 2009 and have been blamed for the loss of some 6,000 jobs in the UK.

Tom, said:

It is depressingly clear that the Chancellor has prioritised his ‘undertakings’ to China over his commitments to UK steel workers.

The idea that Communist China, whose steel companies are state-owned, is a market economy is obviously absurd. The government has put itself in this ridiculous situation to ingratiate itself to the Chinese. Now it is clear that continuing with this policy will damage British industry they don’t have the courage to stand up to the Chinese and change the policy.

The government should do what is in the national interest and what is common sense, and change its policy of supporting Market Economy Status for China.

Tom yesterday raised the issue with David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, by asking what trade protection measure the government would seek to keep in place if China were granted market economy status.

Slap in the face for British industry: French steel to be used to build new trident submarines

Today it has emerged that French steel will be used to build Britain’s new nuclear submarines – just a day after the Defence Secretary boasted in a speech to the Conservative party conference that he was travelling to Barrow-in-Furnace to cut the steel for the first submarine.

Tom, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on steel, said:

When the Defence Secretary cuts the French steel for the first trident submarine today, he is cutting a potential lifeline for hundreds of British steel jobs.

Once again government action on steel has failed to live up to their words. The government and ministers at BEIS have reassured me that they understand the strategic importance of maintaining a steel industry in the UK. So I struggle to understand why they have failed to use British steel when building the new trident submarines.

The government, if they are serious about securing the future of the steel industry, need to start doing all they can to get companies to buy British steel for infrastructure projects from HS2 to Heathrow. These projects could help get the industry back on its feet and competing globally.

While, I hope, the government is busy devising an industrial strategy they are missing short term opportunities to help this vital industry.

The Daily Mirror, which first reported the story, estimates the steel contract is worth tens of millions of pounds and could have protected at least 1,000 UK jobs.

Hunt’s doctors plan doesn’t deal with the NHS’ recruitment ‘emergency’

Jeremy Hunt’s announcement that the Conservative government will increase the number of medical school places by 25% would not come close to solving the recruitment crisis in the NHS, claimed Tom.

Today’s announcement states the government will increase medical school places in England by 25% (1,500) from 2018. However, figures published earlier this year show that between 2013 and 2015 the number of vacancies for doctors in the UK increased by 60% (to 4,669), while the increase for nurses was 50% (to 18,714). This recruitment problem is predicted to get worse due to increased difficulties in attracting foreign doctors to the NHS post-Brexit.

Mr Hunt’s plans would increase the number of training places for doctors from 2018. As medical degrees take several years to complete it would be 2024, some 5 years after Britain is expected to leave the EU, before these extra doctors began treating patients.

Tom Blenkinsop said:

This announcement doesn’t come close to solving the recruitment crisis in our NHS, which has got dramatically worse under this Tory government.

Demands on our NHS are growing and the Tories have shown themselves to be incompetent in coping with increased staffing levels required. Their failure to recruit enough nurses has already meant hospitals rely on expensive agency staff, which has contributed to the financial predicament the NHS is in.

Patients across England are already starting to feel the effects of this government’s failure. In my constituency, last month it was announced Hemlington Medical Centre would be closing due to an inability to recruit a GP to run the service.

Our NHS is struggling with recruitment and finances. It’s an emergency and the Tories aren’t dealing with it.

’The story of this site isn’t over’ – Tom on SSI stats

New statistics show 93% of those forced to rely on unemployment benefits by the closure of the Redcar Steelworks have stopped claiming, one year later.

Statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions show 1990 of the 2150 of those made unemployed, either as a direct or indirect result of the SSI site closure, no longer rely on Job Seekers’ Allowance.

Tom welcomed the findings but warned there is still more to do:

These statistics show the impact of the closure of the SSI plant is still being felt by my constituents and others on Teesside. They show over 150 of those made redundant in the closure of the site are still unemployed. The fact that the vast majority have found jobs is testament to the hard work of the SSI Task Force.

But these statistics don’t show the whole picture. They don’t show if many highly skilled workers are now employed in jobs that fail to use their range of abilities, if they are poorly paid, or if those jobs are sustainable in the long term. The reality is these statistics on their own don’t demonstrate success, success can only be demonstrated in rebuilding lives of those who lost their jobs a year ago.

The steel industry on Teesside didn’t die with the closure of the SSI site. ‘British Steel’ now operates the long products site in Skinningrove and the Lackenby bean mill, and, hopefully, Hartlepool tube mill has a viable future. With the right government support these works can thrive and expand, perhaps then these former SSI workers can get back to doing what they do best – producing high quality British steel.

The story of this site isn’t finished yet, and we can’t let the government use these statistics to close the book on the men and women who have played a part in it.

These figures were released to accompany the SSI Taskforce’s One-Year-On report, which highlights the progress made by the Taskforce in the year since closure.

Liam Fox’s speech hints at ‘abandoning steel industry’ says Tom

The Secretary of State for the new Department for International Trade has said the government ‘must turn our back on…voices that tell us: it’s OK you can protect bits of your industry’ in a speech to the right wing Conservative Way Forward group.

The speech, leaked to the Times newspaper on Saturday, urged the government to be ‘unreconstructed, unapologetic free traders’. Such an approach would have serious consequences for the UK steel industry, which has suffered following a flood of cheap Chinese steel into the European and UK markets.

Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, who last week asked Mrs May to implement ‘trade defence measures’ on Chinese steel dumping, said the comments were worrying:

This government’s promise of a comprehensive Industrial Strategy gave many people employed in the steel industry hope that Theresa May’s government would actually take UK steel’s concerns seriously.

However, this speech suggests that Liam Fox is unwilling to help protect the industry from the dumping of Chinese steel. That steel is sold in Europe and elsewhere by Chinese state-owned companies at below cost price – something no one can compete with.

I believe that on a level playing field UK steel would be able to compete and could be a world leader. But we’re not on a level playing field and we never will be if the government listens to Liam Fox and abandons UK steel to the forces of this distorted market.

Liam Fox’s speech also drew controversy by referring to British businesses as ‘fat and lazy’. No. 10 has said that the Secretary of State for International Trade was merely ‘expressing private views’.

Boulby Potash accidents raised in parliament

Tom last week raised the death of miner John ‘Richie’ Anderson and other accidents at the Boulby Potash Mine in the House of Commons.

Tom asked that time be made available in parliament’s busy schedule to debate the safety issues and the treatment of those workers injured in the accidents. In particular, he highlighted that the low sick pay received by some of those injured had meant they had to return to work despite their conditions.

Tom said:

Recently we’ve seen a pattern of accidents at the Boulby Potash Mine, including the tragic death of my constituent John ‘Richie’ Anderson. I am concerned by safety at the mine especially given that following recent redundancies there are less people, working longer hours on the site. This may get worse if there are further job losses at the site.

I have been contacted by constituents who are troubled that those men injured in the underground fire incident have had to go back to work as statutory sick pay is simply not enough to cover their bills.

I worry that such a situation risks further accidents. An interim solution needs to be found that ensures fairness for those injured and safety for all working at the mine.

In the last year several accidents have occurred at the site including:

  • The electrocution of a contractor working on the site at surface level (August)
  • The death of miner John ‘Richie’ Anderson following a sudden gas release (June)
  • The hospitalisation of seven miners due an underground fire, in which a total of 11 workers were injured (April)

David Lidington MP, the Leader of the House, said he would raise the matter with relevant ministers.

See Tom’s question and the minister’s response.