‘Covid-19 isn’t over...we must support people through the challenges’ - Ipswich MP Tom Hunt
PUBLISHED: 07:23 28 August 2020
Next week I’ll be heading back to Parliament after the summer recess and it’s clear that a hugely significant few months lie ahead.
Recess has been productive and it’s been enjoyable to get out and about across the town. Just some of the highlights were visiting FareShare East Anglia in Ipswich and seeing the work they’re doing to redistribute hundreds of tonnes of low-cost food to local charities.
I’ve also visited businesses like the exciting IJYI software company and the excellent new Hank’s vegan pub on St Helen’s Street. It’s been a difficult time for businesses recently but it’s reassuring to see the way many have adapted to the circumstances.
I’ve also greatly valued the opportunity to learn more about a number of brilliant grassroots initiatives. I visited Gary Staff at the Ipswich Kickboxing Academy to hear about their work with the police to give young people a positive alternative to getting involved in anti-social behaviour. The Jab not Stab initiative set up there is inspiring and I’m confident they’ll carry on the fantastic work. Rory Burke at the Patrick’s Boxing Club the other end of town is also doing hugely positive work with significant benefits for young people.
In terms of knowing what’s going on there is no substitute to knocking on doors and sadly Covid-19 has made this impossible. Over the past few weeks however I have been delivering a number of surveys and I’ve enjoyed being able to have the odd chit chat about local goings on.
Thinking about these conversations and looking ahead to the return of Parliament, there are several key issues which must be the focus of our attention over the coming months.
Covid-19 isn’t over and we must be prepared to support people through the challenges we still must face. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is set to end on October 31 and I know many have concerns about what this will mean for them.
From the beginning of the outbreak I’ve been working to help employees and businesses access financial support and ensure the most vulnerable are supported. This furlough scheme may be coming to an end but my support will not. This period will be as crucial to get right as when the scheme was first set up and I’d urge anyone with concerns to get in touch.
Parliament will also be returning at the same time as schools with full school reopenings set for September. And likewise this is a moment we cannot afford to get wrong.
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The closure of schools has had a profound impact on young people. And it’s essential now that all children get their education back on track and that we are in a position to fully support their well-being. Parents also need confidence that their children will be in a safe environment and this week I visited Northgate High School to see how their preparations are going for the return. I made it clear to staff at the school that they have my full support in Parliament to get everything they need to make it a success.
Parliament’s return will also be an opportunity to scrutinise, and next week the Education Committee will be meeting with Ofqual’s leadership. I intend to ask a number of questions about the failings of the grading algorithm which left many Ipswich A-level students feeling deeply let-down and confused when they opened their results this month.
Awarding grades when exams have been cancelled was always going to be an imperfect process. But I do have questions about whether concerns raised beforehand were taken into account. Back in July, the committee published a report setting out our concerns that some pupils could be disadvantaged by the grade standardisation process and a number of recommendations.
Ultimately the decision to use teacher-assessed grades instead was the right one but I believe many of my younger constituents deserve answers about why they were caused this anxiety on results day. I’ll be pushing for this next week.
Locally I welcomed Vicky Ford this week, the minister responsible for children, social mobility and SEND provision, to Lindbergh Road to see the excellent government-funded catchup sessions and summer activities being run by Inspire Suffolk there. I also showed the minister the site for the new Sir Bobby Robson School where I’m starting out as an Associate Governor. It’s hugely important for the town that the school gets off to a positive start.
We are also heading into the climax of the negotiations on our future relationship with the EU and this is another area where we mustn’t take our eyes off the ball as Parliament returns. Many people in Ipswich voted to leave the EU and I was proud to vote in Parliament to get that done earlier this year. But they didn’t vote for the status quo by other means as part of the future relationship.
This is what the EU is trying to get by insisting on a level playing field in areas like state aid, and preferential access on fisheries. So far the UK negotiating team led by David Frost has pushed back on this well and rightly emphasised instead the benefits of a simple, mutually beneficial trade deal which minimises disruption. This is my clear preference as well.
Sadly though the EU doesn’t seem to fully realise yet that this is a new government which won’t compromise at any cost, and crucially, is prepared to walk away if a deal doesn’t return the powers we need to become a fully independent country again and make a success of our future.
As we reach the crucial point in these negotiations, we must continue to hold the government to its commitments, particularly to exit on WTO terms if an acceptable deal can’t be struck, and be on guard against those in the Labour Party who still haven’t accepted the 2016 result and have proved it by voting to continue freedom of movement.
The recess has been a good opportunity to get my ear to the ground in Ipswich and it’s now time to go back to Parliament to deliver. A number of key issues are coming to a head and I’ll do everything I can to make sure Ipswich’s interests are properly represented in Westminster. What we do over the next few months will be decisive and the stakes are high. We must be bold and courageous, and as long as you keep returning me to Parliament, this is the voice Ipswich will have.
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