Yesterday’s Spending Round…

June 27, 2013

I think the proposals outlined in George Osborne’s Spending Round which were unveiled yesterday in Parliament, have much to recommend them. The Chancellor described the economic situation in which the UK has found itself to be in transition, “from rescue to recovery” and George Osborne referred to various measures which will be implemented to continue this positive trajectory.

The freeze on council tax bills will certainly be welcomed by all. Equally, it makes sense that we are brought into line with other European countries with the news that jobseekers allowance claimants will have to wait 7 days before they can claim. It can only be beneficial for all concerned, that claimants will need to learn English (if they have not done so previously), in order to receive benefits too.

In other areas, I am pleased to hear that there is to be scheduled investment in the transport capital budget with it planned to rise by 5.5%. Increased budgets are promised for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (9%), the Department for Energy and Climate Change (3%) and also the Department for Education to £53 BN which is good news too.

Unfortunately with increased expenditure, in order to maintain an even keel, there must also be reductions. The Cabinet Office budget is scheduled to reduce by 10% and there will be an end to automatic pay progression (excluding the armed forces). Other areas of reduction include the budgets for the Foreign Office (-8%), the Home Office (-6%), Department for Communities and Local Government (-10%), HM Treasury (-10%) and HMRC (-5%).

Obviously we would all like to see increased investment across the board. However for the Chancellor to steer the UK’s ship through the unsteady economic waters, the kind of approach taken in the latest Spending Round is very necessary and on the back of this, I am hopeful that the next quarter’s economic growth figures will show positive results.

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Steps taken to curb online child sex abuse…

June 20, 2013

I am extremely glad to hear that the Culture Secretary of State Maria Miller MP and leading members of the internet industry met at the beginning of the week to discuss the way forward on curbing online child abuse. This is a repulsive activity and every effort should be made to stamp it out. At the meeting, I understand there were also representatives of the UK’s major Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Virgin Media, Talk Talk, BSkyB and BT in addition to the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre, plus Ed Vaizey MP, Damian Green MP, Ed Timpson MP and Claire Perry MP. It was agreed that going forward the IWF and CEOP would work together to identify online child abuse and ensure its prevention. In addition, £1M of funding was pledged by the four ISPs mentioned above to deal with the creation and distribution of child sex abuse material and a “zero-tolerance” pledge was signed against child sex abuse imagery. The need for “splash pages” which alert internet users if they are attempting to access a banned internet page was also highlighted.

The news of this week’s summit is extremely welcome – access to online child pornography has clearly been far too prevalent in the past and I am glad to see that the Government is taking positive steps to ensure its distribution is stopped. I understand that following on from the meeting, industry representatives are planning on reporting back to Maria Miller in the next month on how they feel their technology and knowledge can be used to best facilitate this new approach going forward. I look forward to hearing on what further steps will be taken in the future.


New Cancer Care Centre

June 10, 2013

I had a detailed brieifng yesterday about the new £2.9 Macmillan Cancer Care Centre at The Lister Hospital. A new state-of-the-art building will bring the majority of the hospital’s cancer services under one roof for the first time. The treatment area for patients receiving chemotherapy will be able to accomodate almost twice the numbers and there will also be space for relatives to sit with their loved ones. There will be a dedicated information and support centre for patients and families, as well as two garden areas for patients to relax in while undergoing treatment.

 

The cancer services provided at the moment are first class, but patients and staff have to contend with cramped and unsuitable surroundings. In particular there has been a real lack of privacy for those receiving their diagnosis for the first time and attempting to adjust to the consequences. The new Centre will be an enormous improvment.

 

Of course, these facilities come at a cost and Macmillan Cancer Care are hoping that local people will feel that they want to contribute to the fund-raising efforts. I was told that 1,500 people in East and North Hertfordshire are diagnosed with cancer each year and 10,000 people are already living with cancer in the region. We have all been affected by cancer within our families or workplaces. The building work will begin in July, but the fund-raising will be needed for many months.


Mobile Phone Coverage

June 6, 2013

I was interested this week to hear about an initiative to create a mobile coverage map.  The idea is to find the strength of mobile phone signals in a particular place and to plot this on a map.  This would provide data to press phone companies for better coverage, especially in rural areas.  I know that there are parts of my constituency which have poor or no coverage and this is an inconvenience to those who live and work in rural areas. A free app called Rootmetrics can be downloaded onto a smartphone or tablet and the results of a signal strength test will be recorded automatically. I hope constituents will take part.