Welcome To My February Newsletter

Since the tragedy at Grenfell Tower in 2017 it has emerged that there are thousands of buildings across the country that have dangerously combustible cladding or have numerous other fire safety defects. I recently met with leaseholders in Luton South who told me about their experiences of this. I heard how they were forced to pay thousands of pounds every month for a "waking watch" and face an even bigger bill, in the millions of pounds, to rectify the cladding and other safety defects. They also told me how, as a result of these defects, their insurance premiums have skyrocketed and that as things stand they are unable to sell their properties. This has left them feeling unfairly treated and has all had a negative impact on their mental health.

I have raised this case with Ministers and joined many other MPs in putting pressure on the government to make the commitment that no leaseholders should have to pay for rectifications to make their properties safe.

Last week the government announced a new fund to support the removal of dangerous cladding. However, the fund is limited to buildings over 18 metres and does not include the fixing of other fire safety defects. For buildings under 18 metres support will only be available in the form of a loan. This is a betrayal of leaseholders, who are the victims of this scandal and should not be forced to pay to fix something that was not of their making.

I have put my name to a number of amendments to the Fire Safety Bill that would ensure that leaseholders will be protected from remediation costs, and will continue campaigning on behalf of my constituents.
Luton Council Funding

The Government finally listened to the calls made by Luton's MPs, Councillors and over 10,000 Lutonians who signed the community petition, and provided Luton Council access to additional finance to tackle the funding gap created as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Government recognised the steps Luton Council has taken to stabilise the situation and stated that the Council's finances are 'well-managed'. So while it is late in the day, and while it would have been preferable for a direct grant to have been given, the Government is allowing the Council to borrow for day to day revenue costs, which is usually only allowed for capital expenditure. 

Councils have been at the frontline of the fight against coronavirus and continue to play a vital role in leading the public health response, coordinating rapid testing, administering support to businesses and supporting the NHS with the vaccination programme. 
Survey Corner

In my last survey, I asked about your experiences of homeschooling. Here is what you told me:

- 92% said that they did not have enough time to plan for homeschooling

- 62% felt that too many children were being forced into schools as they lacked access to data or devices. 

- 69% said that their employer had not allowed them time off to homeschool their

In my next survey, I want to hear about your confidence in the upcoming Local Elections on the 5th May. You can take part here.

#HeartUnions Week

Last week I was pleased to support #HeartUnions week. A week designed to celebrate and promote the important work that trade unions do for working people and our society. In Parliament, I regularly work with trade unions to raise important issues with the government, fight against injustices and support important campaigns.

Recently I have joined with other MPs in raising our opposition to the 'Fire & Rehire' tactics being used by employers, such as British Airways and British Gas, which would see workers' pay, terms and conditions significantly worsened. 

Unions are important for protecting hard-won workers' rights and ensuring that they have a voice in the workplace. Find out more about the trade union movement and how to join one here.
Fighting For Fair Police Funding

Last week I spoke in the debate on the annual Police Grant and used the opportunity to call for fairer and increased funding for Bedfordshire Police. The government continues to use an outdated funding formula which results in Bedfordshire Police being funded more like a rural police force, which ignores the fact that our area has crime levels and types similar to major metropolitan areas. Bedfordshire has more active organised crime gangs than Norfolk and Suffolk put together and has the 4th highest drug origin rate in England & Wales.

The government's solution to the systemic underfunding of Bedfordshire Police has been to allow the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to raise the Police Precept on Council Tax. This only shifts the burden of the flawed funding model onto council tax payers who are already struggling due to the pandemic. 

By persisting with this unfair police funding, the government is short-changing the people of Bedfordshire and risking public safety.

Find out more

Permitted Development

The Luton News revealed that 25% of new homes in Luton were office conversions allowed under Permitted Development Rights (PDR). These office conversions can often lead to low-quality housing, in inappropriate locations. As a member of the Housing, Communities and Local Government (HCLG) Select Committee in Parliament, I asked a panel of experts their thoughts on PDR. All agreed that they had concerns about its use, and another wanted to see a ban on permitted development in town centre locations.
Kashmir Solidarity Day

To mark Kashmir Solidarity Day I attended a conference alongside other UK politicians and attended by the President of Jammu and Kashmir, to discuss the ongoing human rights abuses in the region. I also highlighted the negative impact the current restrictions are having on children's education and the impact this will have on the ability to help Kashmir develop in the future.
Environment Bill

A large number of constituents have contacted me regarding the Environment Bill, particularly in relation to the use of neonicotinoids and the harmful impact they have on bees which play a vital role in our ecosystem. In the recent debate, I raised these concerns and urged the government to uphold the current ban on harmful pesticides. I also pressed the government to include the waste management hierarchy on the face of the Bill to demonstrate its commitment to waste prevention.

The pandemic has had a huge impact on cancer services in both treatment and diagnosis. The #CatchUpWithCancer campaign estimates that it will take 2 years of services working at 120% to clear the backlog. After meeting with the campaign, I recently urged the Government to provide additional funding in the Budget for cancer services to clear this backlog. You can watch my question here.
Rachel Hopkins MP for Luton South