This Week’s Parliament Review
This week in Parliament the agenda was dominated once again by the cost-of-living crisis that the Government has presided over and the future of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. The energy price rises that are facing consumers this year are astronomical and will force many people to choose between heating and eating.
Many households are effectively getting no support, just a loan – that won’t even kick in until October. They face paying £493 extra this year. For those getting additional support under the Council Tax rebate, they still face paying an extra £343. Many pensioners and those on low incomes don’t pay council tax and won’t be eligible for automatic support.
The Chancellor could have made a different choice. A windfall tax as Labour has called for on oil and gas producers would raise an estimated £1.2 billion to help support families and businesses facing the energy price crisis. This support could include reducing VAT on energy bills to zero – immediately saving households £200 – and increasing the warm homes discount from £150 to £400 and extending it from the 2.2 million families who currently receive it to nine million. Unfortunately, the Government instead chose to shield oil and gas producers while loading the cost on to working people and pensioners.
Meanwhile, on Monday, an update was provided by the Prime Minister on the updated he had received from Sue Gray. This is not the full report, it is only an update and it is vital that the Police conduct their investigation as soon as possible and that we then know the extensive factual information Sue Gray has said she has gathered.
We now know there were 16 separate gatherings with 12 of those having met the threshold to be investigated by the police. This is a shocking situation with the Prime Minister accused of breaking the law he himself set. Labour has called on the Prime Minister to do the right thing and resign.
Sue Gray Report Statement
On Monday (31 January 2022), the Prime Minister delivered a statement to the House of Commons. This was in response to an update from Sue Gray about her inquiry into the Downing Street parties which breached COVID-19 public health regulations. This update makes clear that COVID regulations were flouted routinely in Downing Street, including on several occasions when the Prime Minister was present.
As the Leader of the Opposition Sir Keir Starmer said in his reply to the Statement, the Prime Minister repeatedly assured the House that the guidance was followed, and the rules were followed. But we now know that at least 12 cases have reached the threshold for a criminal investigation and are being examined by the Metropolitan Police. These include the party on 20 May 2020, which Boris Johnson is known to have attended, and the party on 13 November 2020 in the Prime Minister’s flat at which he is reported to have been present. Keir stated there can be no doubt that the Prime Minister himself is now subject to criminal investigation and repeated his call for Mr Johnson to resign. I echo this call.
Cost of Living and Energy Crisis
On Thursday this week, the Chancellor made a statement to the House of Commons which I attended. He set out that in April the energy price cap would rise by £693 to a total of £1,971 per year for the average household. In response, he said the Government would provide £200 off all domestic energy bills from October, to be paid back in £40 instalments over the next five years. He also said households in England in council tax bands A-D would receive a £150 rebate on their council tax bills from April. In addition, he said the Government was providing discretionary funding of £144 million for vulnerable people and individuals on low incomes that do not pay council tax, or that pay council tax for properties in bands E-H.
I am extremely concerned that the Chancellor’s announcement will still leave families in Britain – including some of the poorest – paying hundreds of pounds more for their energy from April. Furthermore, the Chancellor’s plans load up costs for the future with a “buy now, pay later” scheme.
Government Statement on COVID-19 Waste
Also, on Thursday, the Government made a statement on its decision to write-off billions of pounds spent on protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.
I made an intervention during the debate and called on the Minister to publish a list of those companies that have not delivered on their contracts and asked what steps he is taking to ensure that companies that have not delivered pay back the taxpayer.
Documents published by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) show items costing £673 million were unusable and equipment worth £750 million was not used before its expiry. The largest write-off – £4.7 billion – was because the Government paid more for it than it is currently worth. A further £2.6 billion of equipment was judged to be unsuitable for use in the NHS.
The Health Minister said the Government made “tough but necessary decisions” to secure personal protective equipment (PPE) during the early days of the pandemic, at a time of inflationary pressures and global competition to secure supplies.
Yet I am concerned by this shocking and inexcusable level of waste, which could have been put to far better use in hospitals and care homes that are understaffed and overstretched. Taxpayers’ money has been misspent at a time when a record six million people are on NHS waiting lists.