Every month I receive hundreds of emails covering different issues in regards to what bills are going through Parliament and issues that affect our community in the Bootle constituency. Each month I try to summarise the top issues that I am working on, explaining what I am doing so you can keep up to date and also get information that may be of benefit to you. The issues of Concentrix and Tax Credits have been a huge issue for constituents but I have not included them in this update as I have made a separate blog for that issue and also raised the issue multiple times in parliament (see my parliamentary work). Here are the issues for September and October 2016.
Finance Bill and Tax Avoidance
I opposed the Bill because it has unfairness at its very core and does nothing to remedy the Government’s failings on fairness and equality.
I opposed the measures in the Bill to cut Corporation Tax and Capital Gains Tax. There is no evidence to suggest that cuts to Corporation Tax will help businesses to invest and research has shown that the Capital Gains Tax cut amounts to a giveaway to 200,000 people of about £3,000 a year on average. At a time when our public services are stretched to breaking point and the wider economy is in desperate need of direct investment it seems absurd to give a tax break of £2.7 billion to the richest people in our society. I supported amendments tabled by my Shadow Frontbench colleagues that sought to remove these tax cuts from the Bill. Unfortunately, the Government opposed and defeated the amendments.
The Finance Bill fails to properly tackle tax avoidance and evasion. My Shadow Frontbench colleagues proposed and supported a number of amendments to tighten up the penalties for both enablers of offshore tax avoidance and tax avoiders themselves.
I was pleased that the Government accepted a cross-party amendment on country-by-country reporting and hope that the Government will exercise its powers on this. I shall follow its progress closely. However, while I also welcomed the Government’s concession towards closing the so-called Mayfair tax loophole, I believe it should have gone further. It was also very disappointing that the Government did not accept a new clause proposing a wide-ranging review of the UK tax gap – the difference between the amount of tax that HMRC should collect in theory and what it actually collects.
I voted for an amendment that would have ensured that the pledge to abolish VAT on women’s sanitary products has a clear deadline for implementation. I was disappointed that the Government opposed and defeated this amendment and I hope the policy will not be greatly delayed once the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament.
I also voted for an amendment tabled by my Shadow Frontbench colleagues designed to prevent VAT being raised on energy saving materials. My colleagues hoped that the Government would make it clear that a proposed increase in tax on solar panels would not go ahead. Unfortunately, the Government did not agree to the amendment and insecurity for the solar industry continues.
I voted against the Bill. However, it passed with Government support and will now be considered in the House of Lords.
I am concerned that new grammar schools would impede social mobility and entrench inequality and disadvantage. In Kent, where there are grammar schools, the attainment gap is far wider than it is elsewhere. The evidence against them has been cited by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the Sutton Trust educational charity, the chair of the Government’s Social Mobility Commission and the chief inspector of the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills.
At a time when our schools are facing a crisis in teacher recruitment and retention, with thousands taught in super-size classes and real-term cuts to the schools budget for the first time in nearly two decades, I believe that pushing ahead with new grammars shows that the Government misunderstands the real issues facing our schools.
Many residents contacted me on the continued support from Government for Badger culls. As I am sure you are aware, this issue was debated in Parliament on 7 September 2016. During the debate, my Shadow Frontbench colleagues pressed the Government on the evidence base for culling and called on the Government to put scientific evidence and a proper biosecurity strategy at the heart of addressing Bovine TB. I believe the Government will be letting down farmers if it does not pursue evidence-based policy and I am therefore concerned that the Government has completely disregarded the evidence and is going ahead with another unscientific cull with no rigorous monitoring or evaluation. I believe we need an alternative, science-led approach. It is time for long term solutions to combat Bovine TB and for the Government to prioritise a vaccine, together with improved cattle testing and cattle management with tighter biosecurity measures and improved animal husbandry, as the right way to manage TB. I can assure you I will continue to oppose the cull and to press the Government to abandon its ineffective and cruel policy of culling badgers.
South Korean Dogs Trade
Many resident in Bootle also contacted me about the dog meat trade. In many parts of Asia - particularly China and South Korea - it is culturally acceptable to eat dog meat and the sale and consumption of dog meat is legal.
However, I appreciate that dogs used for meat are often kept in terrible conditions and I share your concern about the barbaric nature of this trade and the inhumane way in which so many innocent animals are treated in its production. I therefore welcome the work of a wide range of animal welfare organisations, including Humane Society International, in raising awareness of this issue. It is also the case, of course, that this industry presents a serious threat to human health. This issue was discussed in parliament on 12th September and the Government has agreed to continue to raise concerns with countries engaged in the trade and the consumption of dog meat.
While the Government cannot legislate beyond the UK, I hope it will continue to use diplomatic and other opportunities to ensure these cruel and hazardous practices are brought to an end and that it will press counterparts around the world to collaborate in efforts to change attitudes and reduce animal suffering.
Fix Britain’s Internet Campaign
Many have contacted me with their concerns about BT’s underinvested in Openreach, leading to poor service which has resulted in customers experiencing service interruptions and slow speeds. I also understand that Openreach has faced criticism for delaying the installation of ultra-fast broadband. I can assure you that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues and I will hold the Government to account on how it plans to improve communications infrastructure and connectivity as the Digital Economy Bill progresses through Parliament.
NHS Sustainability Plans
Like you, I care deeply about our National Health Service. It is one of our great national institutions, which is there for us all when we need it most, and must be defended.
I am aware of the recent investigation by 38 Degrees and the related report by Incisive Health into NHS England's proposed 'Sustainability and Transformation Plans' (STPs). I am concerned at the report's findings that proposed cost-saving measures include the potential closure or downgrading of some A&E units and reductions in the number of hospital beds. I believe the analysis in Incisive Health's report is a indictment of the Government's underfunding and mismanagement of the NHS. Emergency closures of vital units across the country testify to a real crisis. The Government has outlined plans to make £22 billion worth of efficiency savings in the NHS by 2020/21. I am concerned the only way the Government will achieve these savings will be by cutting staff and pay and closing essential services.
My colleagues in the Shadow Health Team recently secured an Opposition Day debate on this issue. The debate took place in the House of Commons on 14 September 2016 and the Opposition's motion called on the Government to publish its STP plans and to provide an adequate consultation period for both the public and practitioners to respond.
The Government has confirmed that the STP plans will be subject to local consultation. I can assure you that I will follow developments closely and continue to hold the Government to account on this important issue. I will also continue to stand up for the NHS and oppose all damaging cuts. Thank you once again for contacting me and for sharing your views.
Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Bill (Second Reading)
I have taken on the role of Shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury as part of John McDonnell's shadow Treasury team. On Tuesday (18 October) I led the House of Commons oppositions debate the Small Charitable Donations and Childcare Payments Bill. The Bill primarily makes changes to the gift aid small donations scheme and some technical changes to the tax-free childcare scheme.
Charities do remarkable work for our local community and many services in our area would not exist without them. The idea behind the gift aid small donations scheme is that, in situations where it is impractical to get a gift aid declaration in the usual way, such as through collection boxes or church plates, a charity can claim a gift aid-style top-up payment from the Government. The Bill’s intention is to simplify and increase access to the scheme.
I am broadly supportive of the Bill but it was important that on Tuesday the Government was pressed on the issue of fraud. I am concerned about how loosening the eligibility criteria for the gift aid small donations scheme could have an impact on the risk of fraud. Charities have been abused in the past, being used as vehicles to avoid tax and to launder money. I hope that the Government will look carefully at any potential loopholes.
The Bill makes minor changes to the tax-free childcare scheme, which is a policy I have some concerns about. Families certainly need help with childcare costs, which have soared in recent years. However, I believe the Government’s scheme is flawed and proposals should be brought forward for a comprehensive system of universal, affordable and good quality childcare.