I recently sent a survey on my work in Parliament to residents.
Many people kindly completed the survey, the vast majority having never contacted their MP before. These survey responses help to provide a more complete and balanced picture of local views and to better shape my work on your behalf in Westminster. All of the responses have been considered and it is clear that there are common views across a number of policy areas.
I asked which of ten areas I should focus on in Parliament. I want to explain how all of these issues are being tackled nationally by the Government, through my work in Parliament and locally in your area.
More than eight out of ten believe the government should spend less to balance the books, with a much smaller amount wanting the government to borrow more to stimulate quicker growth.
Fixing the economy has been the number one priority for the Government. Since 2010 nearly a million and quarter jobs have been created by the private sector and mortgage rates have been kept at record lows due to confidence in the Government’s economic plans. We have also been able to reduce income tax for 25 million people altogether, and unemployment continues to fall. In my role on the Public Accounts Committee I have reviewed a host of major government projects to ensure that the taxpayers gets better value for their money. I also work closely with local businesses to ensure they are supported and have also launched a campaign to tackle derelict buildings with blight nearby shops, which has seen an enforcement order now served on Constantine House in Wisbech.
More than nine out of ten respondents felt immigration was too high, reflecting a failure to put in place controls when new Eastern European countries joined the European Union in 2004. Seven out of ten respondents said immigration should continue to be a top priority for the Government.
There was too much immigration under the last Government and we are now dealing with the consequences of this – whether it is in pressure on primary school places or the high number of houses of multiple occupation. I am therefore pleased that, following my meetings with Ministers, the Government awarded £179,000 to Fenland District Council to tackle overcrowded housing. The Government has made progress overall in cutting net migration by a third, but the pressures locally remain. The new Immigration Bill will deliver improvements by making it easier to remove people with no right to be here. But more still needs to be done. I am calling for tougher action for example on illegal Gangmasters, benefits fraud, and illegal foreign vehicles on our roads.
Six out of ten respondents supported using private providers for NHS services, as long as treatment remained free at the point of delivery. Just under four in ten people thought all treatment should be provided by the public sector without involvement by private firms, like Circle who run Hinchingbrooke Hospital.
The Government has protected the NHS by ring fencing the health budget, which by 2015 will have risen by £12.5 billion. In Parliament I have focussed on improving patient safety, including better protection for whistleblowers who speak out on behalf of patients. I am also working to secure a fairer allocation of health funding across the county, as a number of local GP surgeries receive less than practices in south Cambridgeshire. Other campaigns have included voting to secure compensation for mesothelioma victims, who had previously been denied payments if insurers or previous employers could not be traced, to strengthen language testing for foreign doctors following the tragic death of local resident, David Gray, and closing loopholes used for secret payments gagging whistleblowers. These campaigns have secured changes by the Health Secretary to improve transparency and strengthen patient safety.
Law & Order
A key issue locally is anti-social behaviour, including from street drinking, anti-social tenants, and irresponsible driving. I was a member of the House of Commons Anti-Social Bill Committee which strengthened police powers to tackle anti-social behaviour, including bullying. I also secured the support of the Home Secretary for a government backed multi-agency taskforce, Operation Pheasant, targeting illegal gangmasters and criminal activity in the Fens. The resulting police operation, code named Operation Endeavour, saw ten people arrested and three gangmaster agencies suspended. In Parliament I was awarded the Road Safety Campaigner of the Year award by the charity Brake, for working to secure tougher penalties for drivers who kill on our roads, following the tragic death of constituent Jamie Butcher. Visit www.stopdangerousdrivers.com for more details on this campaign.
There was very strong support to renegotiate or leave the EU, with minimal support for retaining our current relationship unchanged. I support a referendum on Europe, and voted for James Wharton MP’s Private Members’ Bill to deliver this by 2017. The Government has taken a number of steps to protect the UK in Europe, such as ending UK participation in EU bailouts, vetoing a new EU fiscal treaty and saving of hundreds of millions of pounds by negotiating a cut in the EU Budget when we were told this would not be possible. However for too long the British people have not had their say on Europe, and I believe it is in the national interest that we now hold a referendum.
The Government is promoting Britain interests worldwide with 20 new UK embassies, consulates and trade offices. I campaigned for the reopening of the Foreign Office language school, which the previous Government closed. This has now been re-opened and will enhance the performance of diplomats given that too many do not currently speak the local language of the country where they are posted. The Government has also taken a more robust approach to international aid. Aid has been stopped to countries such as China and Russia, and to under performing organisations like the International Labour Organisation. I have been working to highlight the importance of preventing fraud in the aid budget and the Government has agreed to publish detailed figures broken down by country by June. I am also repeatedly pressing the Foreign Office to do everything they can to address the issue of British Citizens deprived of their pension payments by the Zimbabwean government.
A key priority for me has been securing improved opportunities for local students and apprentices. It is therefore great news that the Government has awarded £4.6m of funding to the College of West Anglia to build a new teaching centre and upgrade existing facilities at the Isle Campus in Wisbech. The £5.5m project which is scheduled for completion in 2015 will create a brand new centre with cutting edge IT and teaching facilities including spaces for vocational training in areas as diverse as health & social care, hair & beauty and uniformed services. However, schools in North East Cambridgeshire are still disadvantaged by an unfair funding formula which was put in place by the previous Labour Government. I have been working to resolve this with ministers and officials at the Department of Education. I have met with the Schools Minister repeatedly to push the case for reform to the school funding formula, including arranging for him to visit our constituency to see the challenges first hand. I hope changes will now be made in the next spending review.
Better transport links are vital for the prosperity of our area. I recently met with the Secretary of State for Transport to push for better transport links for our region, making the case for electrification of the rail across Cambridgeshire, an hourly service on the Ipswich to Peterborough line, and reconnecting Wisbech to the rail network. I am also working with the A47 Alliance to make the case for dualling this route. Following work with a number of Parliamentary colleagues, it is welcome that the A14 improvements will go ahead without any road tolls. Together with the Ely Southern bypass, it reflects real progress in improving key transport infrastructure for local residents and businesses.
After many years during which the cost of welfare went up and up, this Government has taken action to cap welfare benefits in the face of strong opposition. I do not believe it is fair that those out of work should receive more in benefits than an average household in work. Benefit payments have therefore been capped at £26,000 – for now. This is still more than many people earn locally, and I am keen to ensure we continue to raise the amount people can earn before having to pay tax to help support those doing the right thing. It is also immoral to leave people trapped on benefits because going back to work does not pay, and for the country to borrow more and more money from future generations to pay for it.
Despite having the eighth largest economy in the world we continue to have the fourth largest defence budget, and maintain our continuous at sea nuclear deterrent. Over the next 10 years £160 billion will be spent on new equipment. Two new aircraft carriers will be completed; £5.5 billion will be spent on new armoured vehicles and the RAF will take delivery of the Joint Strike Fighter. As a member of the Public Accounts Committee I have worked to help ensure the procurement related to this investment is done in the most efficient way possible.
If you would like to find out more about my work, including campaigns covered by the national media, please visit my website where I regularly blog at www.stevebarclay.net. I also provide updates via Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/stevebarclaymp) and Twitter (@SteveBarclayMP). If you have a particular casework enquiry which you would like to discuss with me, I hold a regular constituency surgery which can be booked by calling 01354 656 635.