This afternoon there will be a discussion in Westminster regarding the tragic death of a young man called Dylan Ramsay who drowned in a quarry on the 3rd July 2011. Dylan was swimming with two friends near his home. According to a local newspaper, Dylan was a strong swimmer and was in the water for 20 minutes before he got into difficulty. Ever since he died, Rebecca Ramsay his mother has campaigned to warn people about the dangers of swimming in open water and in March she launched a petition which has passed 100,000 signatures. The MP who is introducing the debate is Catherine McKinnell from Newcastle even though the number of signatures in her area are lower than most of the Sussex areas. The most significant numbers in Sussex are in the areas represented by Tim Loughton and Maria Caufield. Presumably both of them will consider participating in the debate? One of the reasons for mentioning this important debate is that the leader of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is Dawn Whittaker and she has a particular focus on this subject. She is the lead for the National Fire Chief’s Council on water safety. It would clearly be fantastic if the MPs who take part in this discussion would raise the importance of working with people like Dawn and using her wisdom to determine how to respond. The petition is entitled “Increase curriculum content about water safety as part of swimming lessons” and it goes on to explain that “Our children NEED to learn about Cold water shock & rip currents”. For several years when I was coordinating the Brighton and Hove Street Pastors I was involved in discussions that were started by the RNLI and involved the City Council, Sussex Police, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service and the Coastguard. As we discussed how to protect people in the evenings who went onto the beach and placed themselves at risk, I was aware that Shooshh which is a nightclub on the seafront helped to coordinate with some of their neighbours to help improve matters. It was a real privilege to be part of the debate and to observe how sometimes agencies that are not directly connected can work together. It would be fantastic if the MPs in Sussex and indeed more widely could learn from this and at the same time use their provision to respond to the call from Rebecca Ramsay.
Along with the work that could occur later today it is always worth reflecting on what has happened in Parliament previously. I have to be honest that I felt very angry when it was announced by Therese Coffey that the £20 per week extra funding for people on Universal Credit was to be closed down in the next few weeks. It was also very disturbing listening to the Prime Minister who was stating very clearly if entirely wrongly that if our nation continues to provide that small amount of funding will discourage people from getting jobs or earning more money from higher value jobs. Although a number of MPs did discuss this, it was primarily Labour MPs. I was pleased to read the text of the contribution from Sally-Ann Hart in the debate on the 8th July. Although the discussion that she took part in was related to Fuel Poverty, several of the other MPs did raise the issue of the Universal Credit. However her comment included the following.
It is hard to comprehend that, in our country today, some households still have to choose between heating and eating. The House of Commons report published at the end of June estimates that some 3.2 million households across England are in fuel poverty, with around 600,000 individuals having fallen into fuel poverty during the coronavirus pandemic.
Given this statement it is very hard to justify removing the £20 per week. Let us hope that our Sussex MPs will take the trouble to read that information and reflect it into their communities before coming back to the Government and demanding a different decision.
Another item that took place on the 8th July was a brief question and answer between Henry Smith and Julia Lopez. Henry asked
What steps the Government are taking to increase opportunities for small businesses to bid for Government contracts.
Sadly, the response was not strong enough and indeed at the end of her statement Julia called for the contracts to go to businesses that are supplying apprenticeships which of course is the wrong way round. If businesses win the contracts and expand their capacity, then they may be in a position to provide apprenticeships although that will still require the Government to provide apprenticeship training that focuses on businesses that are less mainstream than the colleges are expected to train people for currently.