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.

Tom welcomes news of Boosbeck abattoir sale

The news that the controversial Boosbeck abattoir will be sold by the site owners to a developer for housing has been welcomed by Tom.

Tom said:

This news lifts a cloud that has hung over the village for far too long.  The securing of this deal by Labour controlled Redcar and Cleveland is welcome. The quicker the bulldozers are in on the site, the better for everyone.

This issue has taken too long to resolve but the patient hard work of residents and the Labour led council has brought this saga to a successful end, unfortunately this was not helped by a rabble of EDL members drinking and marching through the village causing problems and breaking down community cohesion for their own ends.

However, there is still an unfinished issue to resolve, the abattoir was reopened as a going concern because that was the former business activity on that site. Under existing planning law, all a new landowner has to obtain is a ‘certificate of lawfulness’ confirming that previous activity.

Such a certificate is perfectly legal, its issue cannot be refused by a council and it cannot be challenged in law.

I believe there needs to be a change in law which requires such certificates to be extinguished after a specified period for business activities which could be seen as anti-social – and slaughtering would be high on that list.’

This is something I intend to raise on the floor of the Commons when parliament returns.

Tom asks when £350 million which vote leave said would go to the NHS is arriving

During the EU referendum campaign vote leave promised an extra £350 million a week would be spent on the NHS, they even put it on the side of their bus.

Tom Blenkinsop said:

Hemlington Medical Centre is closing on Friday and just a tiny fraction of the £350 million weekly increase the NHS was promised could attract a GP to continue the service.

If you write a promise in 6 foot letters on the side of a bus and drive it to every part of the country people will believe that you are genuine, so the leaders of the leave campaign who are now in government need to deliver.

I have written to the three ministers with responsibility for Brexit to see when this extra money will be arriving in my constituency, I won’t hold my breath.

Tom’s comments on the approval of plans for 128 homes at Swans Corner

Commenting on the news that Redcar and Cleveland Regulatory Committee, which looks at planning applications, have approved plans for 128 homes at Swans Corner near Nunthorpe Labour Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop said:

Today’s decision to grant planning permission for these new houses, taken together with the previous approval by Middlesbrough Borough Council for 138 houses at Gypsy Lane and the long standing barrier of trying to cross land in the ownership of the National Trust at Ormesby Hall, means the East Middlesbrough by-pass scheme is no longer likely to happen.

The government must take the blame, if there was a will to solve this problem they could find a way. After raising the by-pass in parliament, I had a meeting with Patrick McLoughlin MP, when he was still Transport Minister, pointing out the need for a solution to the traffic issues across South Middlesbrough.  If he had wished he could have called this application in and also queried the earlier Gypsy Lane application while plans for a by-pass were put forward. However, he did absolutely nothing.

The combination of a Tory Transport Minster refusing to call this application in for review, the casting vote of a Tory Chair of Planning and the lack of a local plan, which was voted down by the joint efforts of Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors, to strengthen planning regulations means that is likely that the bypass will never happen

“It is important to look for new ways of easing the congestion in the area, and that has to mean government cash and the will to find a solution.


Hemlington Medical Centre to Close after long fight

Hemlington Medical Centre has been forced to close after the Local NHS CCG could not find anyone to run it.

After looking at a number of options including a new provider for a like for like service, an extension to the existing contract and the option for an existing surgery to extend in to the area, South Tees Clinical Commissioning Group will end GP services at Hemlington Medical Centre on 30th September.

Local Member of Parliament for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Tom Blenkinsop said:

This is a sad end to a long fight to keep GP services in Hemlington. After securing an extension to the existing contract this is a hard blow to the thousands of Hemlington residents who use the centre.

Since 2010 the Conservative led governments have closed every new medical centre, in my constituency, that the previous Labour government opened. This is a massive step backwards for the NHS in our area.

This is just another victim of the GP recruitment crisis which this government has done nothing about. Time after time reports have said that the North East is the hardest place to recruit and maintain GP’s but nothing has been done to solve this crisis which will leave thousands of my constituents looking for a new GP.

I will be raising this issue in Parliament when it returns.