The Health Secretary’s statement yesterday confirmed that from next week Birmingham will be in Tier 3. Unfortunately, this demonstrates once again that the Government has not used the last few weeks to boost test and trace adequately to allow for the country to come out of lockdown properly. We know that test and trace is vital for tackling the spread of the virus and fixing the system would have the added benefit of allowing us to open up the economy, instead of watching businesses flounder and fail because the Government will not provide the support that is needed to those in the higher tiers. Despite the disappointment and the challenges, I know that constituents will continue to obey the rules, to look after each other, and to modify their behaviour to bring the rate of infection down.
Wednesday brought us the Chancellor’s Spending Review and it was disappointing in the lack of vision, the lack of understanding of the lives of real people in the country, and the lack of intention to deal with the other problems facing us: rising inequality, environmental issues, and investment in our communities. The Chancellor has betrayed our key workers – those who have worked so hard for us during this crisis – and handed them a real terms pay cut. This will not help the economy recover as hard-working people will have to tighten their belts even further as prices continue to rise. He has also continued with the inhumane plans to cut Universal Credit, which will affect many people in the constituency, especially with rising unemployment. To cut it now is cruel in the extreme.
I had also written in advance of the review to call on the Chancellor to offer further support to victims of the cladding scandal and to ensure that adequate funding was in place that could be released quickly to those in need. The delays in remediation funding from the Building Safety Fund have been highlighted by campaigners, as well as the rising costs (both financial and psychological) of temporary measures such as waking watches. A recent Select Committee report indicated that existing funding simply wasn’t enough to address the issues with high rise and high-risk buildings. A new settlement for leaseholders must therefore include funding for other fire safety defects and costs for interim measures. In addition, there is a need for the Government to work with insurance companies to ensure there is insurance available for those living in high rise buildings to further reduce the burden. I am disappointed that the Chancellor did not take heed and will continue campaigning and pressing the Government on this issue.
I have also written to the Chief Fire Officer of West Midlands Fire Service this week on a cladding-related issue. One of the concerns that BrumLAG and UKCAG members have previously raised relates to the provision of a waking watch, to ensure round-the-clock surveillance of affected buildings. My constituents inform me that the bills for waking watch continue to rise, compounding the dire financial situation in which leaseholders have found themselves through no fault of their own. In comments following the publication of updated guidance on simultaneous evacuation, NFCC Chair, Roy Wilsher confirmed that waking watch should be a short term measure to mitigate risk, and that building owners should move to install common fire alarms as quickly as possible to reduce dependence on waking watch. He also stated that waking watches and the arrangements for existing buildings should be reviewed regularly. I would like to know whether there has been any cooperation between the West Midlands Fire Service and management of affected buildings to discuss the updated guidance and whether the Fire Service will seek to reduce dependence on waking watch in buildings where common fire alarm systems and additional mitigations have been introduced. I’ll update you as soon as I can.
I also wrote to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Rough Sleeping and Housing this week on the new exempt accommodation pilot in Birmingham. The growth in the sector in Birmingham has led to concerns regarding an increase in antisocial behaviour, litter and dumping, and inadequate support for supported tenants from providers. I have welcomed the £1.048 million funding from the Housing Ministry for this pilot which will focus on how to implement measures to drive better quality, enforce standards, scrutinise how welfare funding is spent, and to work with providers in the area to deliver the appropriate accommodation for residents. I have also suggested that local authorities are given greater powers to prevent the saturation of exempt and supported units and greater clarity in legislation of the requirements for support for residents.
If there are issues you want to raise with me as your local MP, please get in touch by emailing email@example.com or by calling 0121 661 9440. My team and I are of course subject to many of the same challenges and restrictions as other families in Birmingham Ladywood at the minute, but we will do everything we can to help constituents in these difficult times.
Keep your social distance, stay safe and healthy – and please, keep washing your hands!