This has been an incredibly difficult week for some in our region, as they deal with the devastation left by Storm Arwen.
In my own constituency, hundreds of homes in places like Marley Hill, Winlaton, Blaydon, Sunniside, Whickham, Chopwell, Greenside and Coalburns were left without electricity and hot water for days. At the time of writing, some of my constituents are in their sixth day without life’s essentials.
For families the disruption has been enormous. Children have once again had their learning disrupted, with schools left without power and water and therefore unable to open to pupils. I have been particularly concerned about those who are medically dependent on electricity and our older and vulnerable folk.
My office has fielded dozens of enquiries and continues to keep constituents updated on progress by Gateshead Council, Northern Powergrid, Northumbria Water and other partner organisations, who have responded well to difficult circumstances, prioritising the most vulnerable. I also demanded the Government give us more information on support available in the House of Commons yesterday, and I’ll continue to ensure everyone gets the help they need.
In the face of adversity there have been glimmers of hope. I would like to put on record my thanks to our council and emergency services, and all those volunteers who have played a part in helping others over the last week.
It is no surprise that volunteers, business and local groups were once again out on the frontline on Saturday morning, opening emergency hubs in places like the Winlaton Centre, the Riverview Bakery in Blackhall Mill, Sunniside Club and Ye Olde Cross pub in Ryton, as well as Chopwell Community Centre, Barmoor Hub and AJ Cook’s lounge.
They provided space for people to come and charge their devices, sit down for a bite to eat and a drink or simply to warm up. We have once again seen our community at its very best, while dealing with the worst of events.
Over the last two years we have seen the effect of the pandemic on our transport systems, with services cut and routes being cancelled due to driver shortages. Last week I led a debate in Parliament about the urgent need for more funding for public transport in the North East.
Nexus fears the Government will cut all support which could result in a further reduction in bus services of up to 20%. This simply cannot happen. I will be meeting government ministers next week to pursue the matter.
The lack of engagement from Tories in the North East in this debate was astounding and another sign that their priorities are all wrong. Of course they did turn up to vote to protect one of their own MPs mired in Tory sleaze.
We’re all tired of sleaze dominating the headlines. I was pleased to see Angela Rayner announce Labour’s plan to overhaul and strengthen the rules that govern the conduct of government ministers and protect taxpayers’ money by establishing a new independent watchdog.
The next Labour government will bring forward a fully Independent Integrity and Ethics Commission to replace the current the regime, which is controlled by the Prime Minister. The system as it stands has failed to prevent Boris Johnson and his government’s corruption.
Weak rules and a lack of proper enforcement have allowed this government to break the Ministerial Code and rules repeatedly, without sanctions or consequences. We’ve seen former Ministers such as David Cameron and Philip Hammond take up paid lobbying jobs and £3.5bn of taxpayers’ money was handed to Conservative Party donors and friends of the Conservatives in Covid contracts.
We will deliver tougher rules and enforcement by a truly independent body, to clean up politics and protect taxpayer’s money. We’ll ban all second jobs for MPs, with limited exemptions and stop the revolving door between government and the companies that ministers are supposed to regulate with a ban for five years after leaving office.
It is only right that we stop murky foreign money interfering in British politics and create stricter rules about political donations. Our new Office for Value for Money and reform of the public procurement system will stop more dodgy contracts going to ministers’ mates.