Weekly Round-Up: 25 June 2021

We had an update statement from the Ministry of Justice this week on the Rape Review, which turned out to be a shocking indictment of the widening gap between the Government’s rhetoric of being tough on crime and the miserable reality. Rape prosecutions and convictions are at record lows but the pitiful announcements of new funding are unlikely to improve these rates. Domestic violence and rape funding have been lumped in together, despite often being very different crimes, which shows a complete lack of understanding about the complexity and challenges in dealing with these difference offences. Funding for refuge accommodation is indeed welcome, but that will have no impact on the challenges in persuading people to come forward and report crimes to the police, in ensuring the police have the adequate specialised resources to investigate these crimes, in ensuring there is adequate funding to ensure that courts are able to manage the caseloads with sufficient numbers of staff, and above all, in educating those involved to ensure that outdated and offensive attitudes are consigned to the past. This Government is failing victims, it’s failing the police, it’s failing court staff, and it’s failing society. They must do better.

Labour are continuing to push the UK Government to implement the New Decade, New Approach Bill in Northern Ireland without delay to avoid prolonging political instability and risking the gains that have been made. The collapse in power-sharing in Northern Ireland in 2017, and the subsequent 3-year absence of power-sharing institutions was eventually resolved via the New Decade, New Approach agreement. The New Decade, New Approach agreement established a programme for government, outlined the way forward on contentious issues such as the Irish Language Act which had prevented the restarting of power-sharing, and agreed a series of measures to reform the sustainability of the institutions. This Bill enshrines the sustainability measures into law and should provide the basis for a more effective operation of the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly. We in Labour believe these provisions represent a sensible evolution of the post-Belfast/Good Friday Agreement landscape that should promote greater stability and good governance, but the 18-month delay in bringing legislation forward has helped exacerbate the current political instability. The lack of urgency shown by this Government is unbelievable considering they are all well aware of the risks of extended political instability in Northern Ireland. We have a responsibility to the people of Northern Ireland to help restore good and sustainable governance.

The question of apprenticeships – a subject close to my heart! – returned to the House of Commons during a question session to the Department for Education this week. This Government continue to say how much they value apprenticeships and how important they are.  However, once again there is a huge gap between their rhetoric and their action. The numbers that they are talking about proudly are tiny, especially in comparison to those going on to higher education at university. In England in 2019/20 there were 322,500 apprenticeship starts, but 23,400 fewer participated in an apprenticeship overall than in the previous year. Attitudes are changing and more people are starting to recognise the value in apprenticeships but the Government must do more to support employers who have the skills and knowledge but lack the support to be able to contribute to apprenticeship schemes. We can build a society that values skills of all types and that recognises that education does not just happen in a classroom or a lecture hall.  Our economy will thrive when variety in education is supported and valued.

I was pleased to meet with leaders at Bristol City Council and Cllr Helen Holland about the Healthier Together partnership with the local NHS this week, and the role of Local Authorities in the Government’s upcoming NHS Bill.  We need a care system that matches the challenges and the opportunities of the 21st century; a care system that will help improve the health and wellbeing of everyone, that will ensure a better quality of care, and that can be financed sustainably. We are, as a population, living longer than previously, but we have pockets of deprivation that we need to close. Reducing health inequalities and ensuring equal access to the opportunities that support our health and wellbeing such as education around exercise and food will go a long way to support our care system and deal with the challenges it is facing.

On Saturday we mark Armed Forces Day, a day to consider the contribution of the Armed Forces to our society and to thank them for the work that they do. Deployments abroad have continued during Covid with support for humanitarian operations and training local forces to deal with the threats that they face. However we have also got used to seeing our service men and women far more in the UK – driving ambulances, building the Nightingale hospitals and supporting the testing and vaccination programme. Their expertise is to be valued and applauded and I thank each and every serviceman and woman who has supported the community here in Bristol South.

There are opportunities within my office, both in London and in Bristol South. I am looking for a Personal Assistant with excellent communication skills and experience of managing a complex diary to support my work in Westminster and a part-time Caseworker to join my constituency team in Bristol South. Closing date for applications is 5 July with a view to starting in the middle of August.

If there are issues you want to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing Karin.smyth.mp@parliament.uk or by calling 0117 953 3575.