08 MAR 2019

Education funding

A number of people have written to me with observations on school funding. I am happy to respond with a detailed analysis.   I do of course recognise that there are cost pressures on schools and I am doing all I can to raise these with the Department of Education. But we have come a long way and I would like to set out where we are. I have obtained detailed information from the Ministry of Education which I am happy to share with you.

There has been no cut to the central budget for schools; quite the reverse. In fact, the core schools and high needs budget will rise to a record £43.5bn next year.

In addition, analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that next year real terms per-pupil funding will be more than 50% higher than it was in 2000 for 5 to 16 year olds. 94% of academy trusts and 90% of maintained schools are operating with a cumulative surplus or breaking even, with a total of £4 billion of cumulative surpluses in the system compared to £300 million of cumulative deficits.

UK spending is also high by international standards. In 2015 (the latest year for which the analysis is available), the UK spent as much, or more, per pupil, on primary and secondary state education as any country in the G7, apart from the United States. Among G7 countries, the UK spent the highest percentage of GDP on state spending on primary and secondary education in 2015 (3.8%), which put us both above the OECD and EU22 averages (3.2% and 3.0% respectively).

We have also taken on the historic challenge of introducing a fair national funding formula, to ensure that resources go where they are needed most – not based on accidents of geography or history.

In December, we published local authorities' allocations for 2019/20 under this which allocated at least 1% more funding per pupil and up to 6% for the most underfunded schools over two years (compared to 2017-18 baselines). Local authorities will continue to use this funding to set schools' budgets, in consultation with schools, to reflect local circumstances.

The issue is not therefore the overall funding for schools. This remains at record levels and talk of cuts to this is completely inaccurate. It is the fact that many schools have set out how they see cost pressures outstripping the funding that is available. Let me take some of these categories individually and set out what we are doing with them.

Teachers' pay grant: in addition to the money schools are receiving through the national funding formula, we are providing £508 million over two years to help schools with the cost of a teachers' pay rise (the largest in almost ten years) – the difference between the 1% increase schools would have been budgeting for, and the higher award the department set (3.5% main pay range, 2% upper range and 1.5% leadership range).

Teachers' pensions: additionally, we will cover for state schools and FE providers who are obliged to offer the Teachers' Pension Scheme (TPS) the increased costs of pension contributions, which underpin one of the most generous pension schemes in the country – an important part of the remuneration package for teachers. We have recently closed a public consultation on this, where we invited evidence relating to the impact on all sectors covered by the TPS, in advance of determining final funding arrangements in due course.

Capital funding: at the Budget the Chancellor announced an additional £400 million this year for capital projects in schools and other eligible institutions. We announced final allocations for individual institutions at the end of January and payments were made at the start of February.

High needs: in December, we announced a further £250 million funding for high needs over this year and the next, recognising the particular concerns that have been raised about the costs of making provision for children and young people with the most complex special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). We also announced an additional £100 million to provide the specialist facilities that children and young people with SEND need, bringing the total investment of capital funding to £365 million between 2018 and 2021. We know that the additional funding, on its own, is not the only solution, which is why at the same time we announced funding for more Educational Psychologists; in-depth research on the impacts of different types of provision and a new SEND leadership board to improve commissioning; evidence-gathering on the financial incentives in current arrangements, in particular on the operation and use of mainstream schools' notional SEN budget, which pays for the costs of SEND up to £6,000; and reviewing current SEND content in Initial Teacher Training provision and building on our existing SEND specialist qualifications.

What this means is that we are on course to create 1 million new places this decade, the biggest expansion in two generations. Already 825,000 places have been created since 2010, including through expansion of good and outstanding schools. There are now 443 free schools open across the country, with another 263 in the pipeline. This contrasts with a net loss of 100,000 school places in the six years running up to 2010. Between 2004 and 2009, 236 primary and secondary, 98 special schools and 76 PRUs closed.

I do, of course, recognise that there are still pressures on school budgets beyond these amounts, and schools rightly will always want to do more for their pupils. As well as continuing to ensure that we invest properly in our schools, it is important how that funding is used in practice, so that schools can direct the maximum resource into what they do best – teaching. That is why our Supporting Excellent School Resource Management strategy is working with the sector to help schools reduce costs and make the most of every pound eseocially with regard to support staff and recrutiment.


06 MAR 2019

More on Brexit

There is nothing that is very much new to add to the subject of Brexit at this stage. We shall have to wait a little longer for this. I am writing now to address a few points that have been brought up with me particularly after the Prime Minister offered Parliament options of either extending Article 50 or simply going for a No Deal if her Deal did not get through.

First, I want to comment on the decision of the Prime Minister to offer these alternatives At the last major vote in Parliament the Prime Minister was given a very clear sense that the House of Commons should pursue an Agreement with a legally binding solution to the Irish Backstop. A number of people have asked why she is pursuing this since they believe it is a waste of time and that the EU will not re-open the Withdrawal Agreement. She is doing this because it is what Parliament asked and it is part of our commitment to the result of the Referendum however we may have voted initially.

I have already stated my preference for the Deal that is on the table with a change to the Irish Backstop – the insurance policy that binds us to the EU The indications from both London and Brussels are that progress is being made on finding a solution to the Irish Backstop which will be acceptable. However we do not have control over the date on which a solution will be forthcoming. We could, of course, simply not wait for the EU to come back to us. But with progress being made as I write, I think that would waste a tremendous opportunity to achieve a deal. With the timing not wholly in our hands there needs to be flexibility on bringing the final state of play forward. The fuss that has been made by the Press and by the Opposition about not having the Meaningful Vote by this stage is neither realistic nor a sensible way of looking at the situation. The situation in Parliament is that the Withdrawal Agreement has been put forward by the Government. Its fate is not entirely in the Government's hands. We could simply give it up and leave without a deal. I have consistently voted for the Withdrawal Agreement because I feel it is a compromise agreement that shows that we are all moving forward. Other members of Parliament have not seen it in this light.

If the Prime Minister had not given the options she set out last Tuesday in the House, the result almost certainly would have been the removal of No Deal from the negotiating table and a potentially long extension to Article 50. That goes against what we set out in our manifesto, and what the Labour Party set out in its manifesto, - that the result of the Referendum would be honoured. What we have done is kept alive the possibility of exiting the EU and of maintaining that commitment to the result of the Referendum. As someone who has done commercial negotiations and is involved in arbitration, I look at the No Deal situation from a different perspective to some people. I do not want a No Deal. I think that ending our membership of the EU with agreement and cleanly is much to be valued and brings tidily to an end that membership.

I would just point out for those who commentate on the situation that despite the current uncertainty the UK economy is still performing outstandingly with record employment and inflation at its lowest level in two years. Productivity is up, real earnings are up, disposable household income is up and real household spending is also up. Average weekly earnings for employees are up. Foreign Direct Investment into the UK is up, and, the UK is likely to be the joint-third fastest growing economy in the G7 in both 2019 and 2020. Data released by the ONS shows that our deficit is continuing to fall while borrowing in the current financial year-to-date is down by £18.5 billion.

However, leaving without a deal will bring a very uncertain future for companies. This has nothing to do with whether we trade on WTO terms. I do not believe that the Prime Minister wants to leave without a deal either or that it would be consistent with what we promised in our 2017 manifesto. But that option is not entirely in our own hands. You cannot give up part of your negotiating strategy in mid-course and whether we are forced into a no deal situation depends in part on the flexibility of the EU. This is not simple brinksmanship; it is a normal part of negotiations that will be familiar to those who have done negotiations around the world. All of this suggests we must play a careful waiting game for a little while longer until the options are clearer.

Some have also seen no reason to compromise on the deal being presented by the Prime Minister. That deal is consistent with what we promised in our manifesto. It does not tie us into the EU forever. It sets out a further transition period of two years in which we can put together the sort of relationship we want with the EU. Many who look at it seem to want to read it as applying forever to the future. To say this is not toadying to a Party line. It is setting out a realistic vision of compromise that is a reliable way forward.


02 MAR 2019

Climate Change

I have said in my article in the Thame Gazette this week that I believe that climate change is a crucial issue facing the planet. However, attendance at (or the number of) a particular debate is not an indication of commitment to an issue either from me or from the Government. It is important to look at the context of the debate and what it is seeking. The debate was to seek a Statement from the Government which will tell where we go from here. It is part of the structure of the way we govern ourselves that MPs like me are representatives not delegates and as such it is down to me to allocate my time and my energy in the way I think best. On any day there are competing demands on my diary to attend public meetings, debates, committees and also private meetings with Ministers, constituents and other representatives from organisations. One of the problems with Back Bench Business Debates like the one on Climate Change is that the exact timing is not known in advance and I had a full diary of other commitments to which I needed to attend. In the Parliamentary calendar, Thursdays are generally a day when the business is such that MPs can anticipate less disruption from Government business to the diaries and thus a good day to arrange other meetings. These will have been set well ahead of publication of the topic for debate for the day.

Apart from debate in the main Chamber there are also debates in the second chamber of the House of Commons known as Westminster Hall. Here recent debates include the UN Climate Change Conference 2018 and Extreme Weather Events. In addition, Questions to Ministers and Ministerial Statements also play an important part as was the case with the Paris Climate Change Agreement and in assessing the climate change impact of Heathrow. The questioning of Michael Gove by the DEFRA select committee is also another example of intervention on climate change issues. Beyond the House, debate also continues in the Council of Europe of which I am a member. Here I have fully supported the climate change work of Lord (John) Prescott and spoke on it as Conservative Group Spokesman as well as on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the cause of Caribbean hurricanes.

Talking about climate change in debate is not the same as taking action on climate change. One advantage of these other methods of questioning Ministers is that they give MPs the chance to hear directly what Ministers and the Government have been doing.

I hope you are pleased to see that our wind farms generated more electricity than coal plants on more than 75% of days in 2017 and solar also outperformed coal more than half the time. Overall, renewables provided more power than coal plants on 315 days in 2017. Wind beat coal on 263 days, and solar outperformed the fossil fuel on 180 days. Overall, renewables now generate over 31% of our electricity.

I am pleased that since 1990, the UK has cut emissions by more than 40% while growing the economy by more than two thirds, the best performance on a per person basis than any other G7 nation. The Government's Energy Act puts Britain firmly on track to meet the 2050 target to reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases by 80 per cent and underpins the remarkable investment that the UK has seen in its low carbon economy since 2010. Greenhouse gas emissions have fallen by 23% since 2010.

The UK is a world leader in clean growth and the Government has invested more than £52 billion in renewable energy in the UK since 2010. The Industrial Strategy and Clean Growth Strategy identify and target the huge potential opportunity for the UK from clean growth and transition to a low carbon economy, while the National Adaptation Programme 2018-23 sets out a strategy for dealing with the effects of a changing climate. The Government has also agreed to support and expand offshore wind, and made the historic commitment to close all coal-fired power stations by 2025. The UK will be one of the first developed countries to take coal out of the equation, and all coal-fired power stations where carbon emissions aren't being captured and stored will be closed. A new, clean energy infrastructure will be built that is fit for the 21st century.

There is only so far we can go by getting our own emissions down. It is developing countries' action that makes the real difference, but it is these countries that cannot afford to invest. I was delighted that the agreement reached in Paris included $100 billion of support for poorer nations to mitigate, and adapt to, the impact of climate change.

The Government set up the International Climate Fund (ICF) to help the world's poorest adapt to climate change and promote cleaner, greener economic growth. Since 2011, the ICF has provided access to low carbon energy to more than 2.6 million people. The funding for the ICF has recently been raised to £5.8 billion, and is used to reduce carbon emissions, help people adapt to the effects of climate change and reduce deforestation. In addition, the UK supports efforts to integrate climate change policies into international development plans.

The Government does not provide subsidies to fossil fuel production or consumption. The sums argued by some are features of the tax regime and promote the industries concerned. For instance, the UK oil and gas sector which has made a huge contribution to the economy and supports thousands of jobs.

The Government has also made clear, through its Bioenergy Strategy, that only biomass from sustainable sources should be used in the UK. Under new biomass sustainability criteria bioenergy suppliers must report on the sustainability of their operations if they want to claim Government subsidy, and any generators that do not comply will lose this support.

We will of course need to legislate for a net zero emissions target at an appropriate point in the future, to provide legal certainty on where the UK is heading. In the meantime, Ministers will continue to seek advice from the UK's independent advisers, the Committee on Climate Change, on the UK's long-term emission reduction targets.

In this constituency it is worth noting that we have one of the leading centres in the world for the development of Fusion Energy at the Science Centre at Culham. This is a non-radioactive form of energy similar to that emitted by the Sun and will provide limitless energy without an effect on climate change. As chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fusion Energy I am very supportive of these developments.


12 FEB 2019

The Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Expressway

I am sorry to have to write again on the subject of the Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge Expressway but false rumours are being spread about its route.  The Minister of Transport has recently confirmed publicly in debate 'our strong preference is not to cross Otmoor. We have therefore selected options that do not do that; we have given that very clear signal.'  However, he has also pointed out to me the damage that a judicial review of the chosen route would bring.  The initial project on the road was launched in a strategic document prepared by the Ministry of Transport under the Coalition Government between the Conservatives and the Liberal-Democrats and all major political parties have supported the Expressway at some point in the past.  Two LIberal-Democrat Ministers were members of the Department at the time.

The proposed Expressway is part of a wider project over a geographical arc from Oxford to Cambridge via Milton Keynes. It is a linking up of key centres of excellence of Oxford and Cambridge and the Milton Keynes link is an important aspect of it which necessarily influences any infrastructure proposals. It is a major project with the work being pulled together under the umbrella of England's Economic Heartland. http://www.englandseconomicheartland.com/Pages/home.aspx In terms of communications the project includes East-West rail, digital infrastructure as well as the proposed road link. Let me say upfront that in principle I am generally supportive. History has shown that we must look to the longer term with infrastructure investment. It is too easy to just focus on the short term, perhaps with vested interest, and not look to the future.

If the road is to be built. suggested completion is planned for around 2030. Much of the preparatory work for this was undertaken by the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC) and Highways England have now taken it on.  There has been debate over the possible route of the road, particularly at the Oxfordshire end. Much of the rest is agreed and some key faciliatory works already planned or underway. At early stages three potential broad corridors for the route around Oxford were put forward. In September last year the Minister announced the proposed corridor would be Corridor B and within that discounted B2 leaving B1 and B3 for further investigation. B2 was discounted mainly due to the negative environmental impacts near to Horspath, Wheatley and the Otmoor Nature Reserve which are considered to be particularly difficult to overcome. The next stage is to look at detailed routes in the two corridors. Last autumn Highways England held some key stakeholder information events to which parish council representatives and other local councillors were invited. These were 'to discuss local constraints and opportunities with the technical specialists with a view to gathering additional local intelligence which will be fed into the route options identification and sifting process.' During this year they will be working to narrow down options. I understand that there will be a public consultation in the autumn of this year.

At present there are campaign groups working in all potential areas either seeking to support a particular route or to object to a particular route. This is only to be expected with an infrastructure project such as this and the views of all are an important part in the process. For my part, and in the absence of alternative information, I have taken the view that the route should utilise existing roads wherever possible rather than carve a new path through Green Belt land or damage other areas of environmental interest and I have suggested it needs to be routed to the west of Oxford. My rational for my view is that I have long since supported the need for the upgrading of the A34. The accident record alone suggests that we have to do something about this road.

I am also aware that congestion on the A34 puts pressure on villages which can be seen as a rat run to avoid the jams. I would be looking for improvements to the A34 along with measure to deter diversions through villages. Together with colleagues I also support the widening of the scope of the project to include the A420. This is another road that needs attention and improvements to the A420 would take pressure off of the A34.

The key focus of the project is on infrastructure to support the business rather than housing. I am aware of the National Infrastructure Commissions vision for housing along the route of the arc. I am also aware of the letter that the Housing Minister wrote last summer to all local planning authorities along the arc asking them to look to increase their housing numbers to support the arc. I was pleased to see the reply from SODC asking for clarification that the already planned growth for of the Oxfordshire authorities would be included in this. The appropriate place for consideration of any further growth would be through the preparation of the Joint Statutory Spatial Plan for Oxfordshire, the Oxfordshire Plan 2050. This is a shared plan being produced by Oxfordshire councils which is currently under first stage consultation. https://oxfordshireplan.inconsult.uk/consult.ti/Oxfordshire_Plan_Intro/consultationHome

I do not anticipate any real news on the proposed Expressway now until later this year. Details of the project can be found online at https://highwaysengland.co.uk/projects/oxford-to-cambridge-expressway/


11 FEB 2019

National and local

One of the most interesting challenges for an MP is dealing with the bigger picture issues such as the Finance Bill or Brexit (or the international issues which are the staple of an MP's life) while staying focused on the nitty gritty issues that directly affect constituents. Much of this is a question of choice as to who is best placed to deal with the issue. Many of the everyday issues facing constituents are already dealt with by local councils whether at the county, district or parish level even although many people may not be aware of this. The question is therefore about which level to direct people.

A major part of Conservative activity since 2010 has been in ensuring that decisions are located at the appropriate level. This is particularly so with planning where I invented Neighbourhood Planning. Neighbourhood Planning gives to local parishes the right to participate in the planning system by providing their own plan on where the houses should go, what they should look like and which open and green spaces should be preserved. It is not an exercise which the parish undertakes alone. It does so by partnering with the local district council although we have taken steps to ensure that local district councils cannot unduly hold up Neighbourhood Plans. Having gone to this stage in giving local parishes the ability to undertake this work it would be foolish for an MP to tread in this area apart from by giving advice.

Similarly, questions to do with roads fall into two very distinct forms. The first is about the amount of money that is made available by Parliament for example to fix potholes. That is a question for MPs and here in Oxfordshire the Government has made available over £7 million this year alone for this purpose. Contrast this with the work undertaken by the County Council to actually fix the roads and to use that money wisely which is a responsibility of local councillors.

So, a lot of the work of concern to local residents is in reality the function of local councillors. They too are elected and they have an everyday relationship with the Council. MPs do not have this relationship. Of course, it is right for MPs to keep councillors up to the mark but that is a different thing to getting involved with the problem itself.

There are of course issues which affect local constituents and where Central Government has a role. This includes for example making sure that mental health solutions are widely available including in schools. Personally, I think this is an important area of work. Also important is the activity of the NHS in the area. I chair a grouping of Oxfordshire MPs which hold the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) to account CCGs are clinically-led statutory NHS bodies responsible for the planning and commissioning of health care services. Together we have seen the number of people bed blocking in Oxfordshire radically decrease and I think this activity worthwhile. Another area where MPs can play a part is in the transformation of NHS services. One example of that is at the Townlands Memorial Hospital in Henley which we had re-built and re-provisioned the hospital but with beds in the neighbouring care home rather than in the hospital itself. This has changed the way social care and the NHS work together and also changed how clinical staff regard patients and are more likely now to ask for them to be treated at home where most patients want to be.

In all, in the past year in Parliament I have spoken just under 190 times. That is more than twice the average for an MP. Only 4 of those times have been to do with Brexit. What this shows is that despite Brexit there is still important work going on in Parliament and it is crucial that we speak out on it and how it affects our constituents. That has included the use in the UK of Sharia courts for settling cases by means of Alternative Dispute Resolution methods such as arbitration and mediation. These have no legal status and undermine the role of women. It also includes children's life limiting illnesses which is a crucial issue for many families. All of these issues are important and demand our attention.


20 DEC 2018

Brexit update

While we wait to see how the vote or votes on the relationship with Europe will be tabled in January, I wanted to comment on a number of points made in emails to me. There is nothing more likely to be a major turnoff to the British public than an attempt to humiliate the British Prime Minister or the British people. Yet this is what the EU has done in dealing with Mrs May. It follows the same treatment of David Cameron when he tried to get a comprehensive deal that would have prevented the current Brexit problem in the first place. It follows the treatment of one of my Parliamentary colleagues – a Remain voting MP – in trying to get a simple answer from Mr Junker when he visited the Council of Europe about how he controlled the Commission budget which Mr Junker tried to say was none of our business. As I was present when this exchange was heard, I was not impressed.

The issue we face comes down to making sure that we are not trapped in what has been called the Irish Backstop forever and have our own ability to come out of it. Since the EU does not want us to have a Backstop and, we believe it will never be used, I cannot see why they are being so obdurate over it. The Prime Minister has therefore sought time to see what movement there might be on the issue – a discussion which is still going on - before the Deal as a whole is brought back to the House of Commons.

I do not believe that anyone, except a small group, wants a no deal exit from the EU. This is not about whether we can survive on WTO terms of trade. It is about bringing to a successful conclusion all the issues which will have no solution if we leave without a deal such as law cases, and being pursued through the courts for money that we owe the EU. The £39 billion set out in the Agreement that we will pay the EU is not a sum plucked from the air but has been calculated carefully to reflect the balance of what we are likely to owe. So, no! I will not agree to fetter Mrs May's discretion in dealing with Europe. She must have the right to threaten a no-deal outcome even although no one – on either side – is looking forward to a no deal outcome.

Secondly, some people are suggesting that I have changed my view and am now a Leaver. Let me be clear; it would still be my preference to remain in the EU. However, in a national referendum, the Remain argument lost the vote and it does none of us any good to continually go back over this and use opinion polls to suggest that the situation has changed.

I am also asked to be more visible in supporting a Peoples' Vote campaign and staying in the EU. For every email I get asking me to support another referendum I get an email reminding me that 'leave means leave. We have already had a 'people's vote' and Leave won. I do not believe that another referendum would help cure the divisions we currently face in our country. Furthermore those seeking a second referendum seem to believe that it would be decisively 'remain'. This may not be so.

Under Article 50 the time limit for the initial period for making arrangements for our departure from the EU was 2 years. It was always going to take this long and the period has not been wasted or prolonged. We have a deal on the table, which with one exception (the Backstop), I can support. Those who see it in terms of betraying the Referendum result or our relationship with Europe have missed the point that much of it relates to the transition or implementation period of a further two years. It does not define our relationship with the EU for the future.

And lastly, I am told that it is the biggest crisis faced by this country since the end of the second world war. I disagree profoundly with this. It is not a crisis at all – just something that has to be worked through.

The Withdrawal Agreement will ensure that, pace the transition period, the UK takes back control of its laws, borders and money, an end to free movement, the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice coming to a close and after the £39 billion has been paid vast budget payments to the EU ending once and for all. We will also be out of the Common Agriculture Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. EU and UK citizens will have their rights protected, including for healthcare and pensions. They will be able to continue to live their lives broadly as they do now.

At the same time, the UK will be able to negotiate its own international trade deals from the start of the transition or implementation period. This will allow us to take advantage of the estimated 90 per cent of world growth that will come from outside the EU in the future.


06 DEC 2018

The Withdrawal Agreement

SENT AS AN ELECTRONIC NEWSLETTER

Ahead of the five day debate on the Brexit deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated I wanted to set out my thinking thus far.

Let me start by saying that, despite what the papers may say, I have not decided how I am going to vote in the 'Meaningful Vote' that will come at the end of the debate. To do so would rather destroy the purpose of the five days of debate in the House of Commons. One long standing MP rather cynically put it to me that the purpose of debate was not to change anyone's mind but simply to make position statements. That may be true of some but I find that one of the most depressing aspects of this whole business. Thankfully it is not true of all MPs.

What I want to do in this briefing is to set out how I see the Agreement as it stands. I do so having read the whole of the draft agreement published on 14th November and having had discussions with Ministers on some of the details. I have also heard differing views already expressed by colleagues, read some of the analysis in the media and the views sent to me by constituents. I will admit that I have been frustrated by those who have written with their views but who openly admit that they have not actually read the Agreement. If this is such an important issue then surely it is not too much to read the source document rather than rely on the interpretation of others. The document although long is not dense.

Just before I set out the detail, I would like to point out that it would be wrong for people to believe that I have had nothing but requests to vote against the Agreement and the deal that has been done. I have also had a large number of emails and letters in support of the deal. In fact I have had emails telling me that I should take a whole number of competing actions on this with most seeming to assume that there are no alternative views. There are those who voted to leave the EU who are urging me to push for us leaving with no deal; there are those who voted to leave reminding me that we should honour the outcome of the Referendum; there are those who voted to remain in the EU who want the Government to ignore the outcome of the Referendum and ask again; there are those who are urging me to support the current deal due to concerns at leaving with no deal – and so it goes on.

THE AGREEMENT
The Agreement contains good measures as well as those about which I have concerns. With an Agreement of this size that is inevitable. The Agreement is effectively divided into two key sections – the transition period and post-transition. This is based on a date of leaving the EU of 29 March 2019 at 11.00am. The transition period will last until 31 December 2020 and one of its purposes is principally to make sure that business, Government departments and individuals have a clear understanding of where they stand at that date. In the meantime, during the transition phase, businesses will be able to trade as now.

The transition period contains the following. First, the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. After that date, the temporary arrangement whereby the UK continues to count as if it were a member of the EU ends for good.

In the meantime, the Agreement commits us to work towards putting in place co-operation on issues of foreign affairs, security and defence but we would not be obliged to join an EU army if the rest of the EU developed this proposal.

During the transition phase it is not true that the UK will be excluded from all EU institutions and that we will effectively be what has been called a vassal state. We will continue to participate on a case-by-case basis with EU bodies particularly where what is being discussed affects the UK. During this period, we will be able to sign and ratify new bilateral trade deals between the UK and other countries.

In relation to fisheries our quota cannot be reduced. From the last year of transition we will be negotiating on a case by case basis with the aim of putting in place a new agreement shortly thereafter.

More generally, the UK ceases to be part of the EU Budget in December 2020 and negotiates its contribution based on what activities it participates in. Its capital in the European Investment Bank and the European Central Bank are repaid. A large element of the payment the UK will make relates to pensions for which we would otherwise be pursued through the courts.

The chapters on goods and customs contain some sensible provisions on the handling of matters related to what any charging authority would want to see as transition arrangements. Some of these inevitably last more than two years.

On Citizen's Rights the Agreement provides certainty over rights and applies both to EU citizens and their families living or working in the UK and to UK citizens and their families living or working in mainland Europe. This includes mutual recognition of each other's professional qualifications. UK courts will decide issues arising but will be able to seek the advice of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) for a period that has been seen to cover 8 years.

On the question of Northern Ireland I remain curious as to why this has taken on so much importance. Of course, I do not want to see the Good Friday Agreement compromised. But I think that too much emphasis has been placed on what should be an administrative problem. The Agreement creates a single customs territory of the UK so Northern Ireland will not be part of a separate customs territory. It also commits us to agreeing a better arrangement before the agreement or Protocol on Northern Ireland comes into effect. If this is not possible it gives the UK the right to two courses of actions – (1) either an extension to the transition period or (2) a backstop which maintains that the economic and constitutional integrity of the UK is maintained and to ensure the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will remain open as it is today.

Under the backstop there will be no tariffs on trade in goods between the UK and the EU and most trade restrictions will be removed. Northern Ireland will be the sole part of the UK which will be aligned to extra rules of the EU's single market meaning some checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

Although it is not intended for the backstop or the extension of the transition arrangements to come into force, this does give rise to concerns about how we will exit the backstop if we wish to without the agreement of the EU. I believe that this would fall to the international arbitration committee, which will handle disputes, to decide on but am waiting for clarification of this point from the Attorney General.

There is also a legal commitment to use best endeavours to avoid the backstop ever coming into force and there is scope in the framework about exploring alternative options. However, the reality is that the EU have every incentive to avoid the backstop coming into force as it would create a major back door risk for their single market and customs union and effectively give us access to the single market for goods without either money or free movement

This issue comes down to one single matter – trust. Do we trust that we will be released from the backstop? I know that the EU has not given us just cause for too much trust – or is that the spin put on by the press? But I am not going to believe that in the full international light of day either the EU or the 26 member countries will chose to stand in our way.

I am not going to pretend that the Agreement or deal answers all my questions or yours. But it is a million miles from the attacks on the EU I have been expressed. There are differing views on the extent to which the EU can be trusted with these negotiations but I do not believe that it is right to go into these negotiations not trusting them at all either to deliver on this Agreement or to do what they have committed to do.

 


31 OCT 2018

School funding

I have written before on School Funding but I make no apology for coming back to the subject now. It is an important one. Different aspects of funding for education have been hotly debated for some time and still are. I have raised many questions and had meetings with Ministers and schools in the constituency over time to do what I can to support our schools and sixth forms. I have been involved with a group called the f40 group which challenges the formula used for government funding. This formula has been weighted to areas of under privilege. Whilst this is understandable in some ways it has probably gone too far and has left Oxfordshire, an area of very high cost, as one of the 40 lowest funded education authorities. I remain committed to work to support our educational establishments.

As I said in the House of Commons last week, there are various figures being quoted by different campaign groups lobbying on different aspects of school funding and quoting a range of sources. It is not easy to get to what is really going on when each group, including the Department for Education, publishes only headline figures. The f40 group in fact published considerable detail. In order to help me get some dispassionate facts on the reality of the situation, I have turned to the non-partisan experts in the House of Commons Library to look into this for me. Once I have their research I will be able to make my own assessment and determine what action to take going forward.

However, I want to raise another point. First, I do not believe that any group – either a campaign group or those in the Department for Education – is lying over the figures and I find completely disingenuous the suggestion being made that the Department is showing deceit and dishonesty in this. Such accusations are neither constructive nor helpful in working together for the benefit of our young people. I am urging that going forward this confrontational approach can be changed into a more collaborative one so that we can properly understand the issues and work to make appropriate changes within budget constraints.

As it is, earlier this year, we announced the biggest increase to teachers' pay since 2010: a 3.5% increase to the main pay range, 2% to the upper pay range and 1.5% for school leaders. We will be funding this with £508 million over two years, over and above the core funding allocations schools have received, to cover the difference between the 1% that schools would previously have been budgeting for, and the pay award. The £187 million for this year's pay award is going out to local authorities and academies now. We also intend to fully fund schools and academies for the increased costs of teachers' pensions, planned for September next year.


29 OCT 2018

How "overwhelming" was our Referendum vote?

The vote to leave the EU was a national vote as is the way of all referenda. Votes are cast in the usual counting areas and then pooled for an overall result. Neither the voting nor the counting areas were parliamentary constituencies. They were based on local government areas which in our case was the area covered by South Oxfordshire District Council. In the shockwaves that have been felt among those who voted to remain in the EU, some have tried to get breakdowns of the vote in a range of different ways. I cannot see the merit of this as it does nothing to change the outcome of the vote or add anything constructive to negotiations. The important thing to me is to recognise that a large number of people, like me, voted to remain but that we must now do all we can to get a good and fair deal.

However, mindful that some people are quoting various statistical analyses to try to get to a result constituency by constituency, I have looked at the analysis conducted.

Up until recently, the only source of information on constituency votes was a statistical analysis undertaken through the University of East Anglia. The BBC has tried to obtain data based on individual wards and was successful only in about a quarter of constituencies. The Henley constituency was not one of them. Electoral returning officers are not covered by Freedom of Information legislation and many councils mixed all ballot boxes before counting. The only ward disclosed by SODC was one which showed a large percentage of people who wanted to Leave. The BBC figure for South Oxfordshire as a whole was 54.9% Remain.

We are, therefore, forced back to the University of East Anglia data which suggests that the Remain percentage in the Henley constituency was 56.9%. However, as the House of Commons Library have made clear these figures are only "an indirect way of estimating what the results by constituency may have been. The actual results at constituency level may have been different."

That difference comes about from the fact that the "model was built by first examining the relationship between the demographic characteristics of local authorities and their referendum results, and then estimating what the results may have been within each constituency given its demographic characteristics."

 Analysis of the known data compared with the work done in East Anglia has led to questions over the reliability of the university data. In Birmingham, for example, it over-estimated the Leave percentage by close to 10% and 24 constituencies had a difference of 3% or more. Six constituencies had their result outcome under this model swapped. Four constituencies had been estimated to have voted remain when they voted leave while 2 constituencies had been estimated to have voted leave when they voted to remain.

This assessment suggests that such manipulation of the referendum data is not reliable and I have to wonder why such effort is put in to it. We had a national vote and the result is an overall result. No amount of playing with the data can change that.


17 OCT 2018

Unemployment

New figures show that youth unemployment has halved since 2010, whilst the unemployment rate remains at its lowest since 1975, and real wages grew for the seventh consecutive month, helping families have more money in their pockets.

Since 2010 the number of young people out of work has more than halved, and the unemployment rate is at a 43-year low – meaning more people have the security of a job and are able to provide for their families. The number of claimants in Henley constituency is 25 lower than August 2018.

Key statistics

  • Employment: 32.39 million (up 289,000 over the last year and up by 3.35 million since 2010).
  • Employment rate: 75.5 per cent (up 0.4 points over the past year and up 5.3 points since 2010).
  • Unemployment: 1.36 million (down 79,000 over the past year and down by 1.15 million since 2010).
  • Unemployment rate: 4.0 per cent (down 0.3 points over the past year and down 3.9 points since 2010) – the lowest since 1975.
  • Wages: Average weekly earnings for employees in real terms increased by 0.7 per cent compared with a year earlier.
  • Youth unemployment: There are over 475,000 fewer young people out of work since 2010 – a reduction of over 50 per cent.

Other useful statistics:

  • Latest data shows that wages increased at their fastest pace in nearly ten years. And wages are continuing to rise faster than prices – this is good news, but there is more to do.
  • The rate of employment is 75.5 per cent – a near record high – meaning more people are in work with the security of a regular pay packet.
  • The unemployment rate is 4.0 per cent – the lowest since 1975.
  • Youth unemployment has fallen by 50.1 per cent since 2010 – and the proportion of young people who are unemployed and not in full time education is at a record low of 4.3 per cent.
  • The number of workless households is down 964,000 – helping to make sure everyone gets the best start in life.
  • Almost 600,000 disabled people have entered work over a 4 year period (between Q2 2013 and Q2 2017).
  • The employment rate among ethnic minority groups is now at a record high of 65.5 per cent. This is 73 per cent of the way towards our target to increase the level of BME employment by 20 per cent by 2020.
  • The number of people working full-time is at a record high, with 80 per cent of jobs created since 2010 full-time.
  • There are now over 1.6 million more women in work since 2010.
  • The UK has the 3rd highest employment rate in the G7.


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