Liz writes March 2021

Every day that Labour is in opposition is frustrating and until we get into Government we will not be able to deliver on many of our priorities that will make this a fairer, more prosperous country. But there are moments when we can make a difference for people and now Parliament is in recess for Easter I’ve been reflecting on some of our recent successes.

One of my priorities over the past year has been campaigning around reducing sewage discharges into our rivers. This week the Environment Agency published alarming data showing water companies discharged raw sewage into rivers and coastal waters in England more than 400,000 times last year – a 27 per cent increase from the previous year.

Untreated human waste flooded into rivers and seas for a total of 3.1 million hours via storm overflow pipes that are only intended for use in extreme weather to relieve pressure in the sewage system. This pollution of our rivers poses a real threat to wildlife, agriculture and potentially to public health, so it is vital that Britain’s “blue arteries” are much better protected from harmful discharges.

So, I welcomed the news earlier this week that following the campaigning of MPs and third sector organisations like The Rivers Trust and Surfers Against Sewage, new legal duties will be placed on water companies and Government to stick within defined limits.

The Government will be duty-bound to publish a plan by September 2022 to reduce sewage discharges from storm overflows and will have to report to Parliament each year on progress on implementing the plan. Water companies will also be expected to play their part, by publishing yearly data on storm overflow use.

As always, the devil is in the detail and I will be following this development closely. And as The Rivers Trust have said, it will be good to see more funding for water infrastructure improvements and much-needed public education.

Over the Easter break many of us will be heading out to enjoy the countryside, but it’s vital that we all play our part as individuals and utility companies to protect our shared natural habitat, including the littering which blights so many of our otherwise beautiful landscapes.

Since joining the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Loneliness, I have been working across Parliament and alongside the British Red Cross and Co-op to develop the right long-term solutions and policies to tackle loneliness.

In 2020 we led an independent enquiry, collecting evidence and gathering hundreds of views and expert opinions. The result of this work can now be found in the British Red Cross report, ‘A Connected Recovery’, which you can read on their website.

We are now calling on the Government to adopt 15 recommendations from the report to reconnect our communities – from investing in public spaces and transport, to closing the digital divide. All of these things are crucially important in order to have a joined-up approach to tackling loneliness properly and our work continues.

Northumbria’s Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness has warned violent crime could increase in the North East after the Tories cut a dedicated knife crime fund by 40%.

Home Office Surge funds are handed to police forces to pay for enforcement activity in hotspot areas – for increased patrols, preventing street-based violence and weapons sweeps. But I’m concerned that fighting crime in Northumbria will be harder following Government funding cuts.

The Home Office claims to back local police forces to deal with violent crime. But the Surge funding figure announced for Northumbria – £906,500 – was, in fact, a 40% reduction in the previous year’s vital knife-crime cash. The previous £1.524m Surge funding was used for targeted knife crime crackdowns, with several operations targeting street gangs and known offenders.

Northumbria Police have worked hard to get violent crime and knife crime down – but with lockdown ending and pubs and clubs set to re-open shortly, I’m very concerned the funding cut from the Conservatives could have dangerous consequences. As restrictions are eased, the Government may have serious questions to answer over public safety.

Sport England launch new Coronavirus emergency fund

Sport England has opened a new £20 million Community Emergency Fund to help sports clubs, community sport and physical activity organisations, through the ongoing Coronavirus crisis.

The fund is now open and welcomes applications for grants between £300 and £10,000 to help organisations experiencing short-term financial hardship or the ceasing of operations due to the impact of Coronavirus.

All information, including criteria, FAQs and the application process, can be found on Sport England’s website below.

https://www.sportengland.org/how-we-can-help/our-funds/community-emergency-fund

Charities provide essential frontline services, but they need more funding during COVID-19 crisis

Charities are providing much of the frontline support in our communities during this crisis, but they need additional funding to continue their work. It is vital that the Chancellor recognises this and provides contingency funding, so they can continue to respond to the needs of our most vulnerable.

I raised this with the Minister yesterday. Listen to my speech here:

Bin collections and COVID-19

Advice from Gateshead Council in relation to bin collections states:

To help protect our crews and you and your family, we need you to wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before you do any of the following:

  • before you put anything in your bin
  • when you put your bin out for collection
  • when you bring your bin in after collection

Full information on bin collections can be found here.

Sign up to Gov.uk email updates on Coronavirus

It is vital that we filter out any “fake news” about the Coronavirus, which can be very misleading and puts you and your family at risk.

The official website of the Government – Gov.uk – is the best place to find official advice relating to Coronavirus.

You can sign up for a daily or weekly email briefing from .Gov.uk by clicking below, so you have all the correct information at your finger tips.

Click here to sign up.

Liz leads cross-party letter to BioMarin

This afternoon I sent a cross-party letter to BioMarin, calling on them to make Kuvan more affordable so PKU patients in the UK are able to access it. It is about time BioMarin put patients before profits.

This follows the petition handed in to BioMarin’s London HQ last month, signed by more than 16,000 people, which asked that BioMarin make Kuvan affordable to the NHS. With BBC Newsnight recently covering the problems those with PKU face, we believe this issue is starting to get the attention it deserves.

You can read more about the campaign here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-48218737