In a victory for press freedom last week, the Data Protection Bill passed through the House of Commons with two amendments to the Bill not passing. The proposed amendments would have restricted press freedom, undermined high-quality investigative journalism, and negatively impacted local press. The changes would have made it near impossible for newspapers to hold powerful institutions and individuals to account. A free and sustainable press with effective regulation, and public access to a fair and low cost complaints procedure, can be achieved without the proposed amendments.
The Public Accounts Committee this week examined the financial sustainability of Local Authorities. Committee members and I asked representatives from the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government about their assessment of the current financial health of local authorities, how to ensure they can be sustained for the future, and how to ensure taxpayers are able to continue receiving the local services they need.
In the Chamber last Tuesday, I asked Jackie Doyle-Price, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether a comparative assessment of the health and social care needs of rural and urban communities had been made. I also highlighted the future launch of the National Centre for Rural Health and Care to the Minister. The National Centre is a new organisation which is leading the way in developing excellence in rural healthcare. I will be working closely with the group in the future to improve services in communities like ours.
Last week, I signed a cross-party letter sent to Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, emphasising mine, and other rural MPs’, concerns over the progress that has been made in improving 4G mobile signals. We asked him to challenge the current speed and ambition of coverage roll out in rural areas. Recent evidence shows that the market alone is not providing the roll out necessary to meet the needs of rural areas. This means that regulation has a role to play and the main regulation required is a legally binding coverage obligation imposed on all four major network operators. We should not tolerate localised monopolies. The letter also asked for a significant change in the rules on transparency that prevent mobile operators hiding behind ‘commercial confidentiality’ and refusing to tell communities where and when they plan to roll-out coverage.
I visited the Grove Primary School in Totnes last week with Dr Sarah Wollaston, MP for Totnes and Chair of the Health Select Committee, and Virginia Pearson, Director of Public Health for Devon County Council. We discussed the upcoming Green Paper on Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision. Sadly, young people with mental health problems are often not able to fulfil their potential and support from the NHS is not consistently available across the country. I will be working with my neighbouring colleagues with the aim of increasing support available for mental health in schools and colleges in Devon.
It was my absolute pleasure to present constituent Jaki Bent with a Point of Light Award on behalf of the Prime Minister. The Points of Light award recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. Jaki runs ‘If Everyone Cares’, the UK’s first free interactive map for communities and charity projects, making it easier to find local support online. Over 650 projects from across the UK are now listed on Jaki’s map, which enables projects to create their own profiles, share resources and collaborate with larger organisations.
Jaki is proof that if you believe in something passionately enough, you can implement change and make a difference. Her commitment to providing a valuable service within our community, bringing together charities and local projects through a central hub will enable so many people to lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
My next surgeries will be in Newton Abbot on Friday 25th May and Friday 1st June at 2pm. Please call 01626368277 to arrange an appointment.