Blogs > Danny Kruger Devizes MP Diary

Danny Kruger Devizes MP Diary

Houses of Parliament

29th July 2020

29th July 2020

I have spent the last fortnight writing my report on communities for the PM; I handed it in on Friday and very much hope he and the Government like it.

I set out some big ideas on how to sustain the community spirit we have seen during lockdown, creating a more flexible public sector that gives local people more power and responsibility to look after themselves and their neighbours. I look forward to publishing it in due course.

The parliamentary term ended last week. Just before recess I was delighted to be chosen (through an opaque process overseen by my Wiltshire neighbour James Gray MP) for the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme.

Along with a dozen or so other lucky MPs I will spend part of each month over the next year getting a privileged insight into the workings of the British Army, including joining them on exercise and attending special briefings on operations.

We even get a sort of uniform, though James was at pains to stress this does not make us real soldiers, and we are not allowed to wear it except on AFPS duties.

Coronavirus and its appalling consequences, for the families of those who have died and for those who have lost their livelihoods, continue to occupy the bulk of every MP’s time and most of our postbags.

I am enormously relieved that the UK death and infection rate have fallen so much and that we are now able to open up the economy. In that context it appears paradoxical that this is the moment we must all don face masks when we go shopping.

But really the paradox is an attempt to have to have it both ways, which is what we need to do: stop a new outbreak of infections while getting out and about as much as possible.

From my conversations with retailers this week (Monday), it appears the masks are something of a restraint on trade. I very much hope we all get used to wearing them and can resume browsing and shopping as before. 

face mask (pixabay)
Danny Kruger hopes we can get used to wearing masks quickly and get back out onto the High Streets

I have written to the Health Secretary and the Care Minister about social care and I continue to push for desperately needed reform in this area. I had the pleasure of a visit to the new Avebury House care home, by the canal in Devizes, to meet the team who will shortly welcome their new residents.

We discussed the really terrible plight of families who would dearly love to keep their relations at home, but the absence of proper support for ‘domiciliary’ care means they have no choice but to send them to live in a residential care setting - which even if it is a lovely place, is not home, and costs the taxpayer far more than it would have cost to support the family to keep the elderly person at home. 

Much change is needed and I will keep up the pressure on government to deliver their plan for social care reform. From my conversations with the council, including the new Cabinet member for social care, the Devizes councillor Simon Jacobs, I am encouraged that Wiltshire is leading the way in developing the sort of system we need.

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 1:05pm

24th June 2020

24th June 2020

Steve Cook bought the Walter Rose and Son butchers shop, at the end of Sidmouth Street in Devizes, when he was 21. Now silver-haired (but buzzing with vim and vigour) he tells me what lockdown has meant for him.

The shop has done fine but the business behind it delivers local meat to hotels and restaurants all over the country, and those hotels and restaurants are closed.

He has dozens of delivery vans parked in his driveway, the drivers on furlough, the farmers and abattoirs who supply him without a market for their meat. The news today, that hospitality businesses can open again on 4 July, has not come a moment too soon.

I spent Friday popping into shops. Some - like the butchers, and Planks Farm Shop near Devizes - have stayed open through the lockdown but others, like the wonderful Digger and Mojo (furniture and home stuff) in Woodborough have emerged from hibernation into uncertain weather. Devizes Books, and the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, have continued to sell online but now can welcome customers again. Please do patronise your high street as much as you can. 

My highlights of the last week or so:

  • I held a public meeting on Zoom (advertised in these newsletters and online) at which I was lambasted (sometimes gently, sometimes not) on a range of government policies, and particularly the challenges faced by small businesses. I explained that my team and I spend most of our time lobbying government on behalf of constituents, as well as pointing them to the many generous schemes that do exist. 
  • I visited the site, in Lydeway on the edge of Devizes, where we hope the new train station will sprout like an organic mushroom, almost invisible but packed with nourishing goodness for the whole neighbourhood. I have also spoken to the Department for Transport and look forward to more discussions about how to land this vital project.
  • I attended a meeting with the Chancellor and asked him for reassurances that British food and farmers will be supported through the trade deals we strike as we leave the EU. He gave them!
  • I spoke in Parliament to urge the Government to prioritise local track and trace systems - human beings working in local government and community groups - not just apps and national call centres. My Wiltshire neighbour Andrew Murrison MP (and GP, and experienced public health practitioner) and I spoke to Tom Riordan, the official in charge of the local element of the track and trace system, about the situation in Wiltshire and nationally.
  • I joined a cross-party group of MPs discussing the looming crisis in youth employment. Joblessness among young people has fallen steadily since the peak following the 2008 crash, but will now almost certainly rise sharply, and we urgently need a range of initiatives to save a generation from the long-term effects of unemployment in early adulthood. 
  • I wrote a long letter to the Health and Social Care Secretary setting out principles for the social care system we need, and which the Government is working on. This is inspired by conversations I have held during the lockdown with Wiltshire social care providers and local charities. The system at the moment isn’t working for vulnerable adults and older people, or their families, or their carers and care workers. But a better system is possible.
  • I spoke to a director of the Post Office to discuss the opportunity and need for a strong local Post Office network. Separately I’ve been pushing for the local Post Office in Marlborough to reopen and am assured it will be open by the end of the month. 
  • I spoke in Parliament in the debate on Free School Meals. I’m glad the Government has committed (OK, under pressure from an articulate and passionate footballer) to an even bigger support package for children over the summer, and beyond into the next academic year when they will need additional help to catch up on missed school work and personal development. 
  • I asked the Health Secretary to commend the work of the British Army stationed on Salisbury Plain, in helping the NHS and other public services rise to the challenge of the pandemic. I also said I was pleased the NHS was becoming far more collaborative, and less of a fortress - and that we should try to sustain this new openness into the future. 

In Devizes Books I bought the late lamented Lorna Haycock’s famous History and Guide to Devizes. Here I discover the strategic importance of the Devizes Castle in the old days, when a chronicler called it ‘the finest and most splendid in Europe’.

In the wars of Stephen and Matilda the adventurer Robert Fitzhubert boasted that if he took Devizes he could control the whole of England from London to the far west. He captured the castle - but was soon captured himself by King Stephen, who hanged him in the market place and replaced him with his son-in-law, Count Hervey. 

Next comes the point of the story: the tradespeople of Devizes were sick of all the fighting, and forced Hervey to hand over the castle to Matilda, who promised peace and prosperity.

She gave it: ‘My burgesses of Devizes, in consideration of their service, are exempt from land-toll, ferry-toll, fair-toll and every other Custom throughout the whole realm and the seaports.’

That’s what we need! Cuts to rates and rents and taxes and tolls and tariffs. Less fighting in the streets. Less civil strife. Peace and prosperity. A few years after Matilda the Crown Jewels were brought to Devizes, as the safest place in the country to keep them. In our past is our future.

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 10:35am

26th May 2020

26th May 2020

One of the consolations of lockdown for me has been the opportunity to watch a whole season pass. For you long-term Wiltshiremen and women this will seem perfectly normal, but I don’t think I have spent two uninterrupted months in the countryside since I was a child.

On our daily walks we have watched the bare fields sprout their first leaves, the spreading green quickly cover the brown earth, and then the barley grow to knee height in a few short weeks. 

I wanted to speak for Wiltshire farmers in the Agriculture Bill last week. I was on the Bill Committee - hours and hours of line-by-line discussion of the proposed law - which usually guarantees you a speaking slot in the debate which follows.

But this time, because of the restrictions on time imposed by the new virtual arrangements, no Bill Committee members were called to speak. I also didn’t get called for this week’s debate on the Trade Bill, which has a major implication for agriculture too. 

This was a shame. The point I wanted to make is that while we need free trade (not least because our farmers will benefit from the export opportunities) we also need to protect our farmers from competition from imported food whose price is artificially deflated by harmful practices we don't use here.

Rather than simply banning such imports, as Labour and the NFU argued, we should use tariffs to remove the advantage of low environmental and animal welfare standards. I think this debate, between farming and free trade, or ‘beef and liberty’ as the old saying has it, is crucial to the country we want to be after Brexit.

WE OWE IT TO CARE HOME RESIDENTS TO KEEP THEM SAFE

The lockdown is slowly easing, but we still need to be careful. I spoke on Friday to the head of the NHS for our region who advised that while Wiltshire and the South West still have lower infection and death rates than the national average, there are indications that our R number (the rate of transmission) is now higher than elsewhere in England (as much as 0.9, compared to 0.4 in London).

This is partly because, being rural, we are behind the curve. But, having an older population than most places, we are also more vulnerable: 28% of the Wiltshire population is at risk of complications if they catch Covid-19. 

The national spotlight is now on our care homes; we owe it to our older residents to keep them as safe as we can. I am assured that all care homes are getting the PPE they need. But we still need to make sure the R number in the county stays under 1.

This is why we simply have to hold fast to the ‘Stay Alert’ guidance, which basically means ‘Stay-At-Home-Except-For-Clearly-Defined-Activities-Which-Are-Spelt-Out-On-Government-Wesbites-But-Are-Too-Varied-For-A-Two-Word-Slogan.’

I appreciate the eccentricity of the guidance (cleaners and estate agents can visit your home but not your own family members, for instance) but the reason is simply to allow some limited social contact for commercial activities while limiting the activity that would really let the flood-gates open on virus transmission: social mixing of friends and family. 

Schools are another matter. I support the plan to get children back into school next month but I wonder how on earth we can do it if we stick to the social distancing rules. I had a ‘robust’ zoom call with a group of head teachers last week (they were robust, I was timid) and I have written to the Education Secretary with my concerns. 

I’ve also been pushing the Government on support for small business owners who are paid through dividends rather than salary. This is a group, often not well paid, who fall between the (very wide and generous) safety nets laid out by the Chancellor so far. 

As you can tell from my frustration about the Agriculture and Trade Bill debates, I don’t think Parliament is working properly at the moment. There isn’t enough time for debates; without the opportunity for interventions or the intimacy of the chamber, they aren’t debates anyway, just a series of speeches to camera; we can’t do the essential business of scrutiny and accountability like this.

I hope Parliament will meet properly after this week’s recess, even if we have to change the arrangements to eliminate crowding in the chamber and voting lobbies.

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 2:41pm

28th April 2020

28th April 2020

The weather is turning this week, with rain forecast. Farmers will be pleased. But the glorious spring weather has been the great consolation of this strange and worrying time. 

At least bad weather will keep people from thronging the parks and beaches. I fully understand how irksome the restrictions must be for families living in small homes with no outside space; for children and young people with energy to burn; for anyone who just needs some different company but their housemates, or themselves. 

But even more, I sympathise with older people who have been required to self-isolate, without even a trip to the shops to liven up the day, and prevented from seeing their children and grandchildren.

As we begin to look beyond the catastrophic scenario - thankfully averted so far - of the disease overwhelming the NHS, we urgently need to think about how to make life better for this group.

I talked this week to the boss of Age UK Wiltshire and we agreed to work together and with others to develop proposals to improve support for isolated elderly people in our area.

I thought the Prime Minister’s speech in Downing Street on Monday was helpful - not just because it’s wonderful to have him back, but because he clearly explained where we are in the story of this crisis.

‘We are coming to the end of the first phase’, he said, meaning the battle to contain the spread of infection. This is a great achievement in which the whole country can take pride. Things didn’t look so positive a month or two ago.

Attention can now turn to the second phase, which is the task of reopening the economy in a way that doesn’t cause a second peak in infections.  

My main job during the lockdown remains constituent casework (in which I am assisted by a brilliant team, all working remotely of course but we meet each morning by Zoom and stay in touch all day).

We spent much of the last week trying to help local businesses access the Government’s loan scheme. I have been in regular touch with Treasury ministers on this and I’m glad to say the situation has improved somewhat.

One important example: the owners of the iconic Polly’s Tea Rooms, in Marlborough, spent weeks trying to get help from their bank; this week, finally, they got it. 

I am also busy discussing with other MPs and different experts what future policies we need to make a better Britain. My particular interest is in communities and civil society.

We are seeing an outpouring of neighbourliness right now; how can this be maintained and used to transform our society on the other side of the lockdown?

I hope we might emerge with a better economic and social settlement than we had before the virus struck.

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 3:03pm

24th March 2020

24th March 2020

On Monday evening (23rd March), the Prime Minister announced the closure of all places where people can gather. This is a deep blow but a necessary one.

We are now required to do what, until today, was simply advised: stay home, except to fetch the essentials, to exercise, or to go to work if you can't work from home. It's very simple and stark and no-one can misunderstand. 

If we succeed, by minimising the transmission of the disease from one household to another, we can avoid the fate of Italy, where the disease leapt upon them before they had sufficient capacity in their health service to withstand it.

The reason for the restrictions is simply to slow the spread so we can build up our stocks of ventilators, protective personal equipment, and testing kits. 

In general, I don't inflict my private life on you but on this occasion I thought I'd share what my family and I are doing. We came down to Wiltshire at the weekend. I expected to return on Monday to go to Parliament.

But on Sunday, my wife and I both developed very mild symptoms which might, or might not, be Covid-19 - so far we think not, or that we've had the weakest dose possible.

Anyway, we are self-isolating in our cottage near Great Bedwyn. This means I am trying to do my job as an MP while also helping my wife manage three children age 10, 8 and 6 - all of whom seem convinced they are on holiday!

I mention this because I have every sympathy with every family suddenly thrown into the dual challenge of home-working and home-schooling. There are upsides, of course - spring is here, and at lunchtime we had a game of football among the daffodils, which is not what I normally do on Mondays. But this isn't going to be easy for anyone, particularly the elderly. 

Our village is like so many others across the constituency. There is a huge store of goodwill, built up over the years, on which neighbours can draw in time of need.

We have an elderly couple down the lane who are being supported by everyone else. My family and I have also been offered massive support for our 14 day isolation, which I hope to repay some day.

I also want to praise the work of the parish and town councils, and the brilliant volunteers, often organised through churches, who have sprung up to organise the practical and social support that so many elderly people are going to need. And above it all, Wiltshire Council, whose staff and leadership have been exceptional. 

I won't go on. It's been a strange week since I last wrote, with Parliament effectively closed, except for the few MPs allowed into the chamber at any time. I've spent a lot of time on the phone to businesses, councils, hospitals, and other community leaders, to understand the pressures they're under and how Government can help.

Obviously a huge number of people have been in touch with problems, offers of help, or suggestions for national policy, and my brilliant team and I have been busy responding as fast as we can, reassuring or helping where we can and passing requests and offers up the Whitehall chain as fast as possible. 

The Prime Minister said this week 'each of us is now enlisted.'

This is a war, and we must all act to stop the virus spreading. For some that will be a greater sacrifice than for others, but we are all called to carry the burden that is placed upon us, and to put others ahead of ourselves. 

Posted by Danny Kruger MP at 11:31am

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