Weekly Round-Up

I started this week with a meeting of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee where we discussed the regulation of standards in public life for our inquiry into the propriety of governance in light of Greensill. We heard from two former Independent Advisers on Ministerial Interests, Sir Philip Mawer and Sir Alex Allen. When the post was created, an independent panel suggested that in order to increase the independence of the role they should be fixed, non-renewable terms and recruited through open competition. Neither of these recommendations were adopted and therefore the appointment process is entirely at the Prime Minister’s discretion. The Independent Adviser is also relatively weak in comparison to other standards overseers. It is clear that this system needs reform – the Prime Minister cannot have discretionary powers over such a fundamental role which ensures the system can be trusted from the outside. 

I joined a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Healthcare Infrastructure this week, of which I am a vice-chair. This meeting was to discuss a refresh of the health infrastructure strategy. Healthcare infrastructure has to consider more than just the physical aspects of hospitals and equipment; it has to consider whether the infrastructure is reaching the areas it needs to and has the right equipment to support the NHS to reduce waiting lists and provide the care that is needed. After a decade of Tory austerity and mismanagement, the NHS went into the pandemic with record high waiting lists and 100,000 fewer staff than needed. The Tories have dismantled the health service and now are demanding huge tax rises from working people to restore it. 

I was pleased to meet with Christian Shanahan from We are Local. In 2020 they built the UK’s first local community e-commerce platform – We are BS3. The platform is a great way to find local businesses from restaurants to exercise classes, from gifts to technology. Shopping locally is beneficial for so many reasons – we are able to support our local community and economy to grow as well as helping reduce the miles that our products travel. We are Local have worked to replicate this platform in communities across the UK and it was interesting to hear from Christian about the ambitions they have to drive this initiative forward. It’s always good to meet with constituents involved in innovating solutions to support local businesses. 

On St. Patrick’s Day on Thursday it was a pleasure to speak in the Irish Diaspora in Britain debate in Parliament. I spoke about my own parents’ move from rural Ireland to London in the 1970s, and the support shown by the Irish community in Britain for individuals and groups around the country on matters of culture, heritage and health. 

I was shocked to hear the announcement from P&O Ferries this week that they had sacked 800 British crew across its entire fleet with plans to use lower-paid agency staff to operate its ships. The actions of P&O Ferries is a national scandal and a betrayal of workers. At a time when we are already experiencing a cost of living crisis, many workers will now be left wondering how they are going to make ends meet. The Government must take action against this disgraceful act. I asked the Minister whether he’d had any discussions with the Irish Government or with members in the Northern Ireland Assembly about the impact this will have on Northern Ireland and Irish trade. Whilst the Minister has not yet had such discussions, I hope he will consider doing so in order to protect this important trade route. 

I am looking forward to speaking on a panel on “Transforming Women’s Health and Social Care” at Labour Women’s Conference tomorrow. There has been so much change in the last decade or so around women’s health – we are beginning to have the discussions that are so needed for women and girls to understand their health. My Labour colleague Carolyn Harris has been campaigning for more support for women around the menopause that involves pushing for better training for medical staff in identifying the symptoms of the menopause and for improving women’s access to HRT. In Northern Ireland we are still working towards ensuring women have access to the abortion services they are legally entitled to. We also have to remember that women’s health needs to be taught to young girls too. Young girls should not be learning about their periods through experiencing them, without the preparation that helps them understand what they will experience and why. Of course, women’s health needs to be understood by men as well – they need to know how to support their partners, daughters, and mothers. It is good to see these conversations growing, but we need to keep pushing them onto the agenda.

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.