Many of us enjoy living or working in Sussex and so it is fantastic that a few years ago Ian Steedman in Worthing followed by Martin Ellis in Crowborough set out to re-establish the Sussex day celebration. The day has a particular focus on the themes of the wellbeing of our neighbours, our wildlife and local businesses. Ideally our Sussex MPs will help promote the day and its themes, although it was rather sad that only one of them referred to Sussex Day on Wednesday. Many thanks to Tim Loughton from East Worthing and Shoreham for his statement which was consistent with many of our residents although he did not endorse the Government whips.
Happy Sussex day, Madam Deputy Speaker. Like every good, horny-handed son and daughter of Sussex, I am afraid I “wunt be druv” into the Government Lobby this evening.
Given that one of the Government whips is Maria Caulfield from Lewes, Tim may have helped her to understand that position as some of those words are particularly related to Lewes. Of course, challenging a government is something that all MPs should be prepared to do, although inevitably the MPs who are part of the Government structure may be less comfortable in doing so. Nevertheless, all MPs should be willing to stand up for people and businesses along with wildlife when any government focuses on other priorities.
Last week as usual, most of the Government Ministers spoke on several occasions in Parliament and one of them was Nick Gibb who is the MP for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton. Although he did not mention Sussex Day he was speaking a day before it occurred during a debate under the headline of Catch Up Premium. This was an attempt by the Opposition MPs to improve matters for our children involved in education. The comments from Nick included this statement
the Government are getting on with the challenging job of tackling the pandemic, keeping our economy alive, supporting people’s incomes, supporting the NHS and our doctors and nurses, vaccinating the nation, and providing education and support to 8 million children and young people.
Clearly this touched on two out of the three themes that are inside the Sussex Day statement. If this was correct then of course we could simply ask them to add in their intentions for wildlife and we could potentially endorse the Government for their grasp of the Sussex Day. Sadly, however things are not as strong as Nick is claiming. In the last few days, the elements he referred to have been exposed by other people as falling a long way short.
One of these was published last week by an agency called the Early Years Alliance (EYA) who sent the Government Department that Nick works for a Freedom of Information request to ask what the government has calculated as the funding for early years places for three and four year olds would cost. The response was that an average of £7.49 per hour by 2020/21 is what is required. However, the average rate paid to local authorities for this offer is currently just £4.89, according to independent analysts. This indicates a shortfall of £2.60 per child, per hour or £2,964 a year, according to the EYA. Clearly this shortfall is impacting many early years providers including a significant number here in Sussex and it is potentially preventing support for our local families.
Another issue that emerged last week came from a Sussex Optician who operates in Heathfield. She is dropping out of the NHS provision because they only pay a total fee of £21.71 for the work that is needed. This is far less than the cost of the work and indeed many others practices are facing the same conflict. As it happens back at the end of January 2020 Jonathan Reynolds who is a Labour MP asked Jacob Rees-Mogg if Parliament could have a debate regarding the contribution made by opticians to public health? He stated
My local opticians tell me that the fees they receive from the NHS have not risen, even by inflation, for nearly 20 years.
Mr Rees-Mogg agreed, stating he
raises an important and interesting point. Opticians can, through eye tests, find out important things about people’s more general health. That is part of the very valued role they carry out
Sadly he has not arranged a debate so far and this is now impacting Sussex businesses and our communities. Perhaps all of our Sussex MPs or the none Governmental MPs could raise these two themes in the next few days so that the improvements can be discussed and organised. It would be fantastic if by the next Sussex Day that our Opticians and Early Years providers and perhaps others could be delivering a more sustainable set of services to Sussex.