Newsletter 25th March 2018

Peter Heaton-Jones MP

Working Hard for North Devon 

News Update -

Date: 25th March 2018

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Cold War 2?
The last few weeks have been dominated by the aftermath of the nerve agent attack on the Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury.  A police officer was also seriously injured, and we've learnt in the last few days of a fourth person who's almost certainly been affected by the chemical weapon.
I was present in the House of Commons for both the Prime Minister's statements as the story unfolded.  In the first, she set out clearly that Russia was the only possible source of this agent, and Moscow had two days to provide a response.  Either the Russian government had to admit responsibility, or explain how they'd lost control of this deadly weapon and allowed it to fall into the hands of a renegade assassin.
No such response was received, and so Theresa May returned to the House to set out a series of tough measures against Russia. These included the expulsion of diplomats from London, and curbs on the movement of money.  The Prime Minister made it clear that an attack of this kind on British soil will never be tolerated, and would always be met with stringent measures.
There was almost unanimous approval for her tough stance.  I say 'almost', because sadly after both the Prime Minister's statements, Jeremy Corbyn got up and made a disgraceful speech.  He questioned whether the UK authorities were cooperating with Russia; he indulged in political point-scoring about Russian donations to political parties; and he even called into doubt Russia's involvement in the attack.
This last point is particularly worrying, since it shows Mr Corbyn has no faith in our security and intelligence services.  Their advice to the Prime Minister would have been watertight; she would never have been so unequivocal in the House of Commons if there was any doubt.  To question their reliability on an issue of national security is, frankly, dangerous.
I am glad the Prime Minister has taken a tough line.  It's what I expected from Theresa May, and it's what she delivered.  Sadly, Jeremy Corbyn also did not surprise us.  He again demonstrated, through his complete lack of judgement, that he is utterly unsuited ever to be trusted with the government of this country.
Nursery Closures
I am extremely worried by the news that Ofsted has suspended four privately-run nurseries in northern Devon, pending an investigation into safeguarding.
My first concern of course is for the wellbeing of the 450 children who attend these nurseries, and I have written to Devon County Council to seek urgent reassurance on this matter. I have also asked about the future provision for the affected families, and sought assurances about the employment situation of the 100 staff.
This is a very worrying situation and I will be monitoring it closely, but while the investigation is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment further.
For information, the nurseries involved are:
- Claire's Newport Nursery in Barnstaple
- Claire's Little Bear Nursery in Barnstaple
- Claire's Little Robins Nursery in Bideford
- Claire's Flying Start Nursery in Barnstaple
NHS pay deal
I warmly welcome the government's proposals that will see wage rises of between 6.5 per cent and 29 per cent for over 1.1 million NHS workers in England.  As a result of pay reform, the lowest-earning NHS staff such as porters, cleaners and hospital caterers will see their wages rise by 15 per cent over the next three years. A newly-qualified nurse will receive starting pay 12.6 per cent higher in 2020-2021 than this year, and starting pay for a midwife will increase by 18.1 per cent as a result of pay band reform. In fact, the government is investing in higher starting salaries for staff in every pay band.  NHS staff work incredibly hard, day in, day out, here in North Devon and right across the country.  I am really glad this has been recognised.
School Meals
There's been a lot of talk about last week's vote in the House of Commons concerning free school meals.  I thought it was worth setting the record straight, particularly given the misinformation being circulated by opposition parties and social media campaigns.
The government is not 'cutting free school meals for a million children'. This claim has been debunked by the independent Fact-Check service of Channel 4 News (not a media organisation ever knowingly supportive of the government).
The facts are as follows: Ministers temporarily made Universal Credit a qualifying benefit for free school meals, regardless of income. This was only ever an interim measure during the period of switch-over.  Hence Parliament has now voted, by a large majority, to confirm the final eligibility criteria.
Unfortunately the opposition are trying to portray this change as a cut, which it is not. Firstly, transitional protections will mean that nobody currently receiving free school meals will lose their entitlement when moving onto Universal Credit. And secondly, the number of children receiving free school meals overall will actually increase by about 50,000.
It is disappointing that the opposition parties are making misleading claims about free school meals. Their cynical scaremongering worries people unnecessarily, and proves that they won't let the facts get in the way of their political game-playing.
It also demonstrates, once again, that much of what is found on social media needs to be treated with a great deal of caution.


Peter Heaton-Jones MP
North Devon
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