"In the early hours of Friday morning the Prime Minister secured an historic agreement with the European Union, which brings to an end the first phase of Brexit negotiations. The agreement secures the rights of the three million EU citizens living here and the million British citizens living in the EU; it represents a fair settlement in terms of money - the so called 'divorce bill'; and maintains the common travel area within the island of Ireland.
This agreement represents significant progress in the Brexit negotiations – the exact opposite of the picture that has been painted by parts of the national media in recent weeks. I'm grateful to the Prime Minister and our negotiating team for all their hard work in getting the best deal for Britain.
There has been lots of talk about our future financial obligations both during the referendum campaign and during the negotiations – but following a rigorous assessment by our negotiators the Government expects our final bill to be significantly below the £50bn - £100bn predictions that have been talked about in the media. Importantly the 'divorce bill' is money that we would have paid anyway had we stayed in the EU – but as we leave and pay off our commitments there will be significantly more sums of money to spend on our priorities. Including – and whisper it quietly – the NHS. Although I'm not committing to a figure on the side of a big red bus.
Now the first phase of Brexit has been agreed we can move on to detailed negotiations on other issues, including our future trade deal. This is of significant importance to our part of the country and crucial for Felixstowe as we need to ensure we can continue to trade freely through the port. The success of Felixstowe Port post-Brexit is an important strategic issue that affects not only the port itself but the many local businesses whose business relies on it. I'm confident that with the planning that's happening within Government we will avoid significant issues at Felixstowe.
As this is my last column of the year, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a Happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I hope you have a fantastic time with family and friends."
"Ambulance bosses including the Chief Executive and the Chairman came to Parliament recently, at my invitation, to update East of England MPs on the Turnaround Plan to improve response times. This was the first update since the General Election so it was good to get an insight into progress made. To their immense credit things are improving with Red 1 and Red 2 emergency response performance up by 15% and 9% from 18 months ago. I was also pleased to hear that the Chief Executive is now confident through visits by the regulator that they are now headed for a 'Good' rating having previously been marked as 'requires improvement' by the CQC. Unfortunately handover delays at hospitals are getting much worse, which is very disappointing. Especially as I had previously written to offending hospitals and they assured me they were 'looking at ways of urgently improving the situation'. Undoubtedly, there is still a way to go before the full turnaround is achieved but the vital work of our paramedics and our laser-like scrutiny is helping patients.
Constituents often talk to me about the issue of litter which blights our towns and also our countryside when discarded via car windows. As the Minister responsible, I'm pleased to be bringing in tougher penalties to deter and punish those who continue to drop rubbish. From April next year the maximum on-the-spot fine will almost double from the current limit of £80 to £150 – and councils will also be given the power to impose fines on the owners of vehicles from which litter is thrown. Up till now councils had to prove who was driving the vehicle. These new fines will make sure the perpetrators, not the local community, bear the cost of keeping our streets, roads and countryside clean. As BBC Radio Suffolk used to say – Don't be a tosser!
This weekend the country will come together in remembrance. This year I will be in Aldeburgh before heading up to Halesworth for their service of remembrance later in the day. Remembrance Sunday is an opportunity not only to remember those who died for our freedom but also to show our gratitude to our serving men and women who do so much to keep us safe. My heartfelt thanks to them all."
"At the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester last week, the Prime Minister set out what the Government is doing to build a country that works for everyone and to build a better future for the next generation. She was clear that we will continue to take a balanced approach to the economy, dealing with our debts whilst also investing in public services.
The standout announcements for me were increasing the affordable housing budget by £2bn to more than £9bn – allowing more homes to be built for social rent; a price cap on energy bills, we are publishing a draft Bill in Parliament this week; and doing more to bring tackling mental health issues into the mainstream. For the record, I am 100% behind Theresa May as our Prime Minister and so are all my colleagues I have spoken to.
Just over a year ago, I attended a ministerial convention on illegal wildlife trade. After that conference, I visited Kruger National Park in South Africa and saw the carcasses of slaughtered rhinos as well as the rhinos that rangers were protecting. Last week we heard that around 20,000 elephants a year are still being slaughtered because of the ivory trade. If current rates of poaching continue then elephants could be extinct in some African countries within decades. This is why the UK is pressing ahead with a full ban on the sale of ivory. A ban stronger than anywhere else in Europe, stronger than the USA and most of the world. Our ban will put the UK front and centre of global efforts to end the trade in ivory and we will continue to press other countries to close their markets where it is contributing to poaching. My department have just started a 12 week consultation on the detail of the ban, to which we will respond early next year.
Finally, thank you to the NFU for organising a visit to Church Farm in Eyke earlier this month. It was great to meet the Flemings (and other farmers from the area) who run a mixture of dairy, livestock and arable farms. We talked about agricultural policy, water abstraction and, of course, Brexit – as well as the farmer led Environmental Scheme which promotes good stewardship of our countryside. It was also lovely to see calving first hand and the challenges on the River Deben."
"Brexit continued to dominate the national headlines from Parliament last week but the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced an increase in funding for schools. Locally, there are rises varying from 0.5% to over 18%. The big change, which I pressed for with other Suffolk MPs, is that the new formula had a higher basic percentage of funding to go to every child. This reflects that Suffolk has a very high employment rate and we have far fewer children than the national average receiving free school meals, but our household income is not as high as other places like Liverpool. I recognise the frustration locally that increases were not even higher and that Suffolk is still in the bottom quartile for funding per pupil but the teachers' unions and the Labour party campaigned to protect funding for other parts of the country which were already funded much more generously than Suffolk schools. Overall this meant less was available for Suffolk to right the historic wrongs but, we have kept our word, we have improved the funding formula for Suffolk children and we are now firmly on the up for school funding.
Suffolk MPs have been working together again to take up issues on our county's behalf. First all seven of us attended a meeting with Robert Goodwill, education minister who is taking through the new childcare policy. This was useful to set out some of the concerns that nursery and other childcare providers have shared with us, as well as hearing from the minister and officials the basis of the scheme specific to Suffolk. This was followed up with a meeting at Endeavour House. We also met senior transport officials regarding road infrastructure improvements in Suffolk, making the case for further investment on the A14 and key junctions along it.
Friday is the last chance to give your views on the controls on dogs being proposed by the council. While we all want our beaches and pavements cleaner (and thanks to those who helped in the national cleanup last weekend – I was at Aldeburgh), I think the original proposals go too far."
"Felixstowe's confidence is back as a town with a seafront of which to be proud. Recently, it has hosted the Suffolk Armed Forces Day (which Felixstowe style turned into to a weekend) and the transformation of the Pier is the latest triumph in the renaissance of the town. The owners should be really proud of their investment helping the regeneration. There are still a couple of issues to sort out to make Felixstowe even more beautiful, including the eyesore which is the former North Sea hotel but this tourist season is proving that Felixstowe is, once again, a great day out by the sea.
Residents are being given the chance to have their say on future development across Waveney as the council sets out its Local Plan with preferred locations for building 5,000 new homes over the next 20 years, including significant development in Halesworth. It is important that people read this carefully and respond to the consultation which closes on the 22nd September. Suffolk Coastal are due to publish their updated Local Plan shortly.
Exam results are due out this month and I hope that all our students achieve great results. Schools and colleges will be on hand to support students. There is also a national helpline which will open on results day 0808 100 8000 giving impartial advice. For students and parents, it may be a bit surprising for GCSE results are starting to be given as a rating from 9 to 1, rather than A* to G. Grade 4 upwards will be the new pass level. Schools are now assessed on the progress made by students while at school, rather than the proportion of students that pass 5 GCSEs.
My first few weeks of recess have been dominated by ministerial work, including publication of our new air quality strategy and then a recess road trip taking in visits to councils, businesses and environmental schemes across the country. My own constituency tour returns this month and in bank holiday week, I will be stopping off in over 90 parishes and towns across the 302 square miles of the Suffolk Coastal constituency. This is an invitation for constituents to come and speak to me about any issue that concerns you. You can see my tour timeline online - http://theresecoffey.co.uk/tour 2017"
"Since the General Election my constituency work has been firmly focussed on the health agenda – championing patients. As you may have seen in article in last week's East Anglian, I'm highly concerned that the East of England Ambulance Service is pressing ahead with their plans to create super hubs, which would leave no ambulances stationed in the Suffolk Coastal constituency at all. I'm worried that all the work I and others did holding the ambulance service to account to get them to improve their response times will be put at risk by their proposal - especially in relation to the Stroke 60 target, where patients suffering a stroke have to get to hospital within 60 minutes to maximise their ability to recover. I have written to the Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service, Robert Morton on this and I am arranging another meeting for ambulance bosses to come to Parliament so we can quiz them on their plans.
Another one of my long standing health campaigns has been trying to get the money from the sale of both Southwold Community and Patrick Stead hospitals re-invested in local healthcare provision. After many, not very fruitful exchanges with NHS Property – there is some hope with the publication of the Naylor Review. The review, which the Prime Minister has indicated that she is formally accepting, states that any sale receipts from locally owned assets will not be recovered centrally provided the disposal is in agreement with the local Sustainability and Transformation Plan. The Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG 'Shape of the System' plan promised that NHS nursing beds in local care homes would be provided instead of keeping the two hospitals open because it was clinically sound to do so. Despite the need for capital to be invested into this plan, there has been no previous guarantee that the money from the sale of the hospitals would be invested locally. I have asked the Secretary of State to intervene directly on this matter to support the 'Shape of the System' plan and to realise the recommendation set out in the review.
It was Seafarers' Awareness Week recently - and to mark the occasion I paid a visit to Felixstowe Seafarers Centre where I met some sailors and the Centre Manager. The Seafarers' Centre is an oasis on the port where seafarers are made to feel very welcome by the friendly staff and volunteer helpers. There's a chapel, a bar, shop, recreation area for table top games, TV room and a quiet room to sit and write home. I'm proud that such a fantastic service exists within Suffolk Coastal."
Following the Chancellor's Budget announcement to provide a £300 million fund to help businesses hit hardest during the recent business rate revaluation, the Government has been consulting on how that fund will be administered. Provisionally, Waveney District Council has been allocated £417,000 in the first year and Suffolk Coastal District Council has been allocated £406,000. I am encouraging the councils to focus on the small, independent businesses affected the most in receiving the support they need.
It was English Tourism Week recently and as we approach Easter the tourist season is already well underway here in Suffolk. Tourism is a key industry supporting one in nine jobs in our area is supported and if contributes more than £500m to the local economy. A lot of effort is put in by businesses, the LEP and our councils to make sure the Suffolk coast continues to be an attractive destination for visitors. I am therefore delighted to see that investment continue apace, including a completely redeveloped pier in Felixstowe due to open later this year and the £10m Whisstocks project in Woodbridge providing homes, restaurants and shops overlooking the River Deben as well as a new home for the town museum and new shipbuilding facility. As Parliament is now in recess, I am enjoying spending much more time in Suffolk and experiencing our great local hospitality.
All that investment is worthwhile but having clean streets and verges makes such a difference. The government launches its litter strategy this week with a focus on making it easier to get rid of litter and tougher enforcement measures to hit thoughtless litter louts in the pocket. We have particular problems along the A14 and the strategy includes such litter hotspots and a plan to work with the freight industry to improve that.
Finally, my Department has just launched a ground-breaking competition which enables flood defence projects to apply for a share of £1 million to help protect homes and businesses. The competition is open to innovative schemes that plan to use landscape features such as ponds, banks, meanders, channels, and trees to store, drain or slow flood water. For more information and to apply see - www.catchmentbasedapproach.org/resources/tools-and-casestudies/deliver/nfm
"Today is Budget day when the Chancellor will deliver his financial statement to a packed House of Commons. I will be listening very carefully for a mention of business rates, having pressed him and the Financial Secretary of the Treasury on the matter in recent weeks. I am hoping for a positive announcement to help Southwold and Aldeburgh.
It is good news that Suffolk New College are linking up with Alde Valley Academy to use the campus in Leiston as a hub for vocational courses. This is timely news as the Government is set to unveil plans this week to improve technical education, including the introduction of 'T Levels', which could be a good fit for many young people at Alde Valley. Whilst the partnership with Suffolk New College is a real positive for local students who want to undertake these types of courses it is important that there is also suitable A level provision for pupils in East Suffolk and I will look carefully at that.
I was delighted to address the Bawdsey Coastal Partnership AGM last month and welcome their new chairman, Nick Crick. The Government has invested £2.4 million in emergency interventions at Bawdsey since 2010 and Bawdsey Coastal Partnership was formed 2 years ago as a result of the December 2013 storm surge. I was pleased to hear that the partnership is continuing to work with the Environment Agency and have recently funded the Bawdsey Coastal Processes Study to inform future long-term solutions. I spoke at the Suffolk Coast Against Retreat (SCAR) AGM this weekend on the same subject. The January storm surge demonstrated just how prepared we are along the Suffolk coast, thanks in a large part to the local flood action groups. SCAR's concerns about the lack of information from EDF on the proposed jetty mirrored my response to the Stage 2 proposals. It is essential EDF provide information on whether the jetty will impact coastal defences and if it does, how they will mitigate that.
Finally, congratulations to all those who got involved in the Great British Spring Clean last weekend. It was a nationwide triumph. As an Environment Minister my message is not to drop litter in the first place but these big community cleans are a great way of bringing people together to tidy up our towns."
"The House of Commons is set to approve the short Bill which gives the Prime Minister the authority to notify the EU that the UK is leaving, by triggering Article 50. I received a lot of emails asking me to vote against or support a lot of amendments, which were designed to tie the Prime Minister's hands during the negotiation. Parliament has a role in the ratification of treaties and I expect this to be no different. I voted for the referendum, campaigned in it and, as a democrat, I fully accept the outcome. I now expect the Lords will also give consent soon.
I welcomed the Mayor of Southwold, Melanie Tucker, to Parliament last week to press the case on high street business rates with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jane Ellison and the head of the Valuation Office Agency. Business rates account for about £23 billion of Government income and is levied on the approximate rental value of property, which is revalued regularly. Southwold businesses have mostly seen very large increases while elsewhere in Suffolk, business rates will fall. Three quarters of businesses across will see their rates either fall or remain the same and many businesses in Suffolk Coastal will benefit. Southwold is a successful town but I am concerned that the VOA have overestimated when considering new rateable values, which is why I wrote to all businesses on the High St encouraging them to challenge their new rating. I was pleased to hear from the VOA's Chief Valuer that eight businesses have so far had a review before the formal appeals process has started. I will now work with other MPs who represent high street hotspots to put across the value of a mixed retail presence.
I replied to EDF's stage 2 consultation for Sizewell C. The construction of the new nuclear power plant is extremely important for the UK's future energy supply and will benefit the local economy here in Suffolk, with the creation of thousands of jobs. That said, Sizewell C will create significant disruption to local communities and the transport network, especially during the construction phase. It is essential that thee impacts are mitigated as much as possible and I have been robust in challenging EDF to do more work before the next phase of consultation, especially in relation to improvements to the road network and campus site."
"Last week the Prime Minister set out the Government's negotiating objectives for Brexit. She was unequivocal that we are not seeking partial membership, associate membership, or anything that leaves us half-in or half-out. Leaving will mean just that, control over our immigration system, an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and ceasing our membership of the Single Market. Last year's referendum was close but decisive and it is right that we now make progress with leaving. But while it was a vote to leave the EU, it was not a vote to leave Europe – we will continue to be reliable allies, willing partners and close friends with our European neighbours. At time of writing, the court judgement is not yet out so our next procedural steps are to be determined but I am confident that the Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 by the end of March and a two year negotiation. I welcome the clarity that Theresa May has given the British public as well as our friends in Europe, which immediately caused the pound to rise. I'm confident we can forge a brighter future for Britain.
I was shocked and saddened to hear about the death of a crewman who was killed in a boiler room accident on board the Manhattan Bridge container ship at the Port of Felixstowe on Thursday night. My sympathy goes to his family and friends. Thankfully incidents like this are very rare. The Marine Accident and Investigation Branch will be investigating and hopefully lessons can be learnt to ensure the risk of this sort of accident is minimised in the future.
Just a few hours later, on Friday morning, I visited the Harwich Haven Authority as part of a scheduled visit. Harwich Haven serves us all by making sure that one of Britain's most important transport and shipping freight arteries runs smoothly and invests millions of pounds each year in dredging work to keep the shipping lanes open. I met the Chief Executive, Neil Glendinning to talk about a wide range of issues including the potential impact of leaving the EU. It was nice to see the Port Of Felixstowe berths fully loaded from my vantage point at Harwich Quay.
In Suffolk we all know the importance of our port for global trade links and the success of UK PLC. Yesterday the Prime Minister launched her modern industrial strategy to build on Britain's strengths to secure our future as a competitive, global nation. The strategy looks at how it can use trade and investment deals to increase exports. Good news for our part of Suffolk.
Finally, it was a pleasure to welcome the School Council from Waldringfield Primary School to Westminster last week, as they visited Parliament's brand new education centre. We talked about their manifestos and compared notes on the huge responsibility of being elected. Whilst they were there they learnt how Parliament works, including the process of passing legislation through both the House of Commons and House of Lords. I always encourage schools from Suffolk Coastal to make the trip to Westminster and hope to welcome more Suffolk pupils to Parliament in the coming months."
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