Coronavirus: the latest position

Further to the tier change today, here is my best understanding of the reasons and what our data looks like locally:

How are tiering decisions currently being made?

The decisions are still based on the five assessments that we’ve talked about before – (i) overall positive test rates in the community, (ii) positive test rates in those ‘at risk’ (ie over 60s), (iii) proportion of people testing positive, (iv) trend of increase / decrease in positive test rates and (v) impact on local health capacity.  As before, there are no specific thresholds on each of these – they are all looked at in the round before a decision is taken.

At the same time, it looks like the risk associated with this new strain of coronavirus means the experts are being much more cautious in general.  This new strain means that rates can get out of control really quickly (London went up from 270 to 590 in just a week, as an example). 

Context: the current situation across England

When I last wrote a note in mid December, England had an overall positive test rate of 195 and rising.  Based on 24/12 data, the overall positive test rate in England is now 408 and still rising.

In mid December, there were 18,038 people in hospital who had tested positive and 1,326 people on mechanical ventilation.  There are now 23,771 people in hospital (as of 28/12) – something which is going up by c900 people a day and is higher than during the first phase in Spring.  1,847 people are on mechanical ventilation. 

In terms of death rates, 612 people sadly passed away the day before I wrote my last note.  Yesterday, 981 deaths were reported (which is a few hundred higher than usual so we will have to see whether that is an unfortunate one off or the start of a more worrying trend).

So, whatever way you look at this, the situation has deteriorated significantly since the middle of December across the country.  There is a real risk around the overwhelming of the health service if rates continue to increase in the way they are (with this new strain being particularly dangerous for that).

What are our rates locally?

Taking Derbyshire as a whole, the overall number of positive tests has gone up from 160 to 224 in the last couple of weeks (+ 41%).  The other indicators are also trending the wrong direction.

At the Royal, things still remain difficult but haven’t yet deteriorated massively (thankfully).  The number of people on mechanical ventilation is 9 and has stubbornly stuck around that number for the last month.  The number of people testing positive in the Royal is starting to move up again – from the late 20s to the late 30s.  Whilst it is positive that hospitalisations haven’t shot up, our objective was to reduce the number of people in hospital to prevent any future surges exceeding capacity.  We haven’t managed to do that, I’m afraid.

And, on a district-by-district basis we are seeing problems across the county – including surges again in both Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire:

 24/12 ratesChange since last note 
  Number change% change
Amber Valley186+ 15+ 9%
Bolsover231+ 0No  change
Chesterfield185+ 51+ 38%
Derby267+ 75+ 39%
Derbyshire Dales166+ 93+ 127%
Erewash184+ 63+ 52%
High Peak159+ 28+ 17%
North East Derbyshire205+ 87+ 74%
South Derbyshire277+ 64+ 30%

So, why have we been put in tier 4?

I’m afraid it is due to the deterioration in our numbers shown above.  And, as the new variant gets nearer, the experts want to suppress the virus more so that we are ready for the pressure it is likely to place on the Royal and elsewhere. 

Why is Sheffield and South Yorkshire in tier 3 and we are in tier 4?

Using overall positive test rates, Derbyshire has a positive test rate of 224 currently.  South Yorkshire, which usually is taken together as a unit, is lower than this.  Sheffield, in particular, is significantly lower than Derbyshire – at 175. 

Ultimately, if we accept the principle of tiering, then we must accept that different areas will be in different tiers.  South Yorkshire is currently lower than us so it is reasonable they are in a lower tier – just like it was reasonable that Derbyshire was in a lower tier than South Yorkshire when the roles were reversed in some of October / early November.

In the last day, some residents have told me that it would be better for us to group with South Yorkshire, rather than Derbyshire.  Whilst it (very temporarily) looks as though Sheffield is doing better than us currently, I really would be careful before we make that case – Sheffield and South Yorkshire usually have higher rates than Derbyshire. 

Can I travel to a tier 3 area?

Whilst we must all stay at home as much as possible, you can still travel into tier 3 for work, education, caring, for your support bubble, for your childcare bubble, to seek medical help or to provide emergency assistance. 

We have much lower case rates than the south of England – why are we now in the same tier?

75% + of the country is now in tier 4.  This ranges from areas such as Redcar with case rates at 125 to bits of London and Essex which are over 1,000.  We’ve got to focus on trying to control the virus rather than seeing this as some kind of league where we compare one area with another.

There are 18 other areas (ranging from Gloucestershire to Manchester, Bolton to the New Forest), who have case rates lower than Derbyshire who have been placed in tier 4 – presumably for the same reasons (trends, geography, susceptibility to the new variant) as us.  Derbyshire is not being treated unfairly.

Is this new strain with us?

The assumption is yes – but that it will take a little time to show up in the figures.  It has been moving up the country over recent weeks and, eventually, displaces the other variants and becomes the dominant variant which is transmitted between people.  As a result, more people unfortunately are hospitalised – exactly what we are trying to protect against.

Why not just ask the vulnerable to shield and let everyone else live their lives?

It’s a good idea in principle but nowhere in the world has managed to make this work so far.  When rates of positivity go up in the parts of the population not at risk they inevitably end up with rates going up in the more vulnerable parts of the population, too.  It just isn’t practical.

Why not just do a full complete lockdown?

Throughout all of this, the desire is to try to avoid national restrictions.  We can’t rule out further national restrictions (although I hope they can be avoided) but we should try to avoid them where we can.  Tiering is a long way away from perfect but it’s better than the alternative.

Ultimately, however frustrating it is, there is no lever that Government can pull in terms of how this virus transmits.  Instead it can – as it is trying to do – respond to the circumstances in front of us and keep to the overall strategy of keeping this as low as possible until the vaccine gets out there.

If Andy Burnham was our MP, we wouldn’t be in tier 4

I’m afraid that’s not true: Greater Manchester went into Tier 4 yesterday, too.

Restrictions don’t work – so why are we keeping doing them?

Restrictions may be hugely frustrating (as they are) but they do work.  This virus has a natural R rate of around 2.5.  At the moment we are managing, through social distancing and the restrictions, to keep it closer to 1.  There are times over the last nine months when it has been below 1 and times (like now) when it is above 1 and further actions are necessary.  Yet, if we had done nothing, we would demonstrably be in a much worse position than we are now with many millions more people having got the virus than has done so. 

Would a different unit have meant anything else for us?

As residents know, my preference is that we are dealt with as a North Derbyshire unit, rather than a Derbyshire one.  Again, though, I’m not sure a North Derbyshire unit would have made much of a difference in this latest decision – the North Derbyshire rate is a little lower than Derbyshire (around 210 rather than 224).  Most areas at around 210 also went into tier 4, too.

So, what happens now?

Nothing has changed in the overall strategy – keep the virus as low as possible until the vaccine solves the issue.  I’ve been on calls for most of today on the proposals for ramping up vaccinations in Derbyshire and it still should allow restrictions to fall away in 2021. 

It will take some weeks but look out for vaccinations doing two things – (i) that the overall number of people getting coronavirus starts to reduce and (ii) the correlation between cases and hospitalisations breaks down and hospitals stop being under pressure.  That will take a little time but it will allow us to still get back to normal in 2021.

Coronavirus: What the latest data says

Later today, the Government will announce the latest decision on tiers for England and, in advance, I said I would set out the latest position for residents to be able to review.

Back at the end of November, Derbyshire was placed in tier 3 based on high numbers of cases and a high number of people in hospital. At the time, both of those numbers were reducing but they hadn’t reduced quickly enough to get into tier 2.

There are five tests which the experts are using to make a decision on which tier to put an area in:

• Overall positive test rates in the entire community;
• Positive test rates specifically in the more ‘at risk’ section of the community;
• Proportion of people testing positive;
• Trend of increase / decrease in positive test rates, and;
• Impact on local health capacity

Note on data
Just a quick couple of points on the data I am going to refer to –

1) There are no absolute, published thresholds for where an area has to be in order to be in tier 1, tier 2 and tier 3. Instead, the experts look at all of the indicators and come to a decision.

2) It may also be that the Government is more or less cautious at different times based on what they think is coming up or where the overall situation is in the country. Christmas, and the increase in mixing (and, therefore, likely increase in coronavirus transmission) is a big factor in the considerations for the next couple of weeks – we are expecting rises everywhere for a time in January.

3) There is always a lag in terms of data being available. This means that I need to use data from around 11th December to give you an idea of the current position. When making comparisons with what was happening at the last tier review (on 25th November), I will compare with the data which was available at the time (so again a few days earlier – 21st November or thereabouts).

4) Some of the data isn’t published regularly so I can’t include it at this stage. I have a meeting later today (Thursday) where I expect to receive more and will publish it then.

Context: the current situation across England
At the last tiering decision, England had an overall positive test rate of around 200 and it was reducing each day. By the beginning of December, rates had dropped to around 150. In recent days, however, that has started to climb again quickly. It is now at 195 as of 11th December and rising.

There were 17,084 people in hospital with coronavirus on 25th November and the numbers were reducing by around 200 – 300 a day. As of yesterday, there were 18,038 people in hospital and rising. (Note: this is the number of people who are testing positive in hospital, not necessarily the number of people who are ill – but it is a useful indicator nonetheless). The number of people on mechanical ventilation was 1,480 on 25th November (and reducing) and is now 1,326 (15th December) (and rising).

In terms of death rates in England, 479 deaths were announced on the day prior to the last tiering decision. 612 deaths were announced yesterday.

Unit of assessment: Derbyshire vs North Derbyshire – does it matter?
At the last tiering decision, the whole county of Derbyshire was used as the unit for our area. As a consequence, Derbyshire entered tier 3 (along with Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire nearby).

As many residents may know, since the return to tiering, I have argued that using a whole county approach is very blunt and I would prefer a smaller North Derbyshire unit to be used which better reflects natural boundaries. Individual district by district approaches (such as North East Derbyshire or Chesterfield) are too small as the rules get very confusing and lots of people cross the borders daily for work, leisure and life.

As it happened, at the last decision on tiering, the unit was pretty academic as any reasonable configuration of unit for all area – Derbyshire, North Derbyshire, Greater Chesterfield or the Sheffield City Region – all had rates which would have placed us in tier 3.

I have, and will continue, to make the case that a North Derbyshire unit should be used in the future.

So, what do the comparisons look like at the moment? Well, taking overall positive test rates, there still isn’t much of a difference between Derbyshire and North Derbyshire – and, in fact, a North Derbyshire unit is actually slightly higher than the county as a whole when looking at positive tests (whole county unit is 156 vs the average of Chesterfield / Bolsover / North East Derbyshire being 161). So, again, for the purposes of making a tier decision, the unit is going to be pretty academic. For ease of comparison, therefore, I will refer to Derbyshire as a whole to give you the data below.

Derbyshire: Positive test rates
At the last decision point, overall positive test rates in Derbyshire were around 220 and falling. They are now at 156 and rising.

Derbyshire: Positive test rates for more vulnerable communities
I am awaiting up-to-date figures on this (and expect to receive more later today) but the trends tend to follow the overall population, with a lag. I will update more on this later.

Derbyshire: proportion of people testing positive
The number of people testing positive will likely be rising based on the overall positive rates given that the amount of testing for those symptomatic remains pretty static and mass population testing in the county does not start until Monday. I will update more on this later.

Derbyshire: trend rates
There is a clear rise across Derbyshire in positive tests and, over the last seven days, county rates are up by 20%.

Underneath that number is quite a lot of variation. Looking at individual district-by-district rates:

District / Borough 11th Dec rate Change from 5th Dec (number) Change from 5th Dec (percentage)
Amber Valley 171 + 13 + 8%
Bolsover 231 + 66 + 40%
Chesterfield 134 + 1 No change
Derby 192 + 45 + 31%
Derbyshire Dales 73 – 6 – 7%
Erewash 121 – 6 – 5%
High Peak 136 + 41 + 43%
North East Derbyshire 118 + 11 + 10%
South Derbyshire 253 + 101 + 66%

Impact on the local health capacity
The number of patients in critical care in Chesterfield Royal tends to follow a similar trend line to the overall positive test rates, albeit several weeks behind.

A few weeks ago, there were around 13 – 18 people in critical care in the Royal at any one time. By the beginning of last week, when I had my last catch up with the Chief Executive, that had dropped to 9. This was positive although it remained the case that a substantial number of beds in critical care were being taken up at any one time by coronavirus patients.

Based on data issued two days ago, the number of patients in the Royal is now increasing again and is back up to 12.

Coronavirus Tiering Restrictions: Background Information on the data

Since the announcement of restrictions this morning, residents have asked a number of questions about the decision to put Derbyshire into Tier 3.  I had many of the same questions and have spent much of today working through the detail, meeting with Ministers and understanding the reasoning. Here are the answers to the key questions as I understand them.

In this note, I’m going to refer to some of the datasets that the Government is publishing. Ultimately, it is some of this data which is driving the decisions being made.  I realise that there is an extensive debate about the data itself and some people have questions and concerns. I accept that it isn’t perfect and can be mischaracterised or overemphasised (and if you want to have that discussion join me every Tuesday to debate further – get in touch by email for details).  Nonetheless, it is one of the inputs for making this decision and, for the purposes of answering some of the questions raised about why we are in tier 3, I am going to refer to it.

From my own personal perspective, of course I don’t want us to be in tier 3.  I have argued for the past week to go into tier 2, although I recognised that the data being used meant that the case wasn’t strong for doing so.  When the opportunity next arises, if the numbers are in the right place, I will of course fight to get us down in tier 2 and then, in time as it is possible, for tier 1.  Yet, the numbers have to be in the right place – and they don’t seem to be quite yet.

Why have we gone into tier 3?

Along with around one third of the country, we have gone into tier 3 because our county is one of the areas of the UK with higher rates of coronavirus.  Whilst it is true our rate is falling, it remains much higher than just a few weeks ago.

The decision was made by a committee (Covid-O) and the county as a whole is based on a range of different factors:

  • Cases in all age groups
  • Cases in over 60s
  • Rates by which cases are rising or falling
  • % who have tested positive for coronavirus
  • Pressure on the NHS in the areas

Ministers have published data on the country as a whole here: PowerPoint Presentation (publishing.service.gov.uk).  Slides 10 to 16 are the relevant slides for the East Midlands.  The summary is the following:

  • Derbyshire’s case rate remains high at around 275 (both city and county) whereas most of the areas that have gone into tier 2 have a case rate of less than 200 (slide 11)
  • Hospitalisations in the East Midlands are starting to level off but are still the highest in months (around 3,400 people were in hospital as of two days ago) (slide 15) (important to note that a subset will be seriously ill)
  • Death rates in the East Midlands remain high (slide 16) (the data in the grey area is incomplete and so will be revised upwards)

So, whilst we have made a lot of progress, we aren’t yet in the place where the numbers justify tier 2. 

Who has gone into what tier?

Almost all areas have gone into either tiers 2 or 3 at this time given the prevalence of the virus. 

Derbyshire has moved into tier 3 along with most of the East Midlands (other than Rutland and Northamptonshire) and South Yorkshire.

We’ve gone through national lockdown and yet, after all this time, we have ended up in a higher tier than we went in – why?

As I highlighted above, several datasets are being reviewed before a decision is made.  Yet, the best indicator throughout this has been positive tests rates in an area – and I will use the graph I put up on Facebook every week about positive tests in Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire to highlight the issue that we have.

Both North East Derbyshire and Chesterfield’s coronavirus numbers were incredibly low between June and late September but began to increase in early October.  In mid-October, discussions began about moving us up a tier (to tier 2) and this happened when our 7-day averages for positive tests were between 100 and 150 (the box labelled “2” in the graph above).  After that, cases in both Chesterfield and North East Derbyshire continued to rise quickly and peaked at just short of 400 in late October.  We know that decisions made about coronavirus often take weeks to filter through into the statistics (because the virus takes a number of days to become visible, to make people ill, for tests to come back etc.) so it wasn’t unusual that the rates continued to climb for sometime after we went into tier 2.

At the end of October, the Government announced that all areas would move into national restrictions from early November (where the box is labelled “N” in the graph above).  By that point, we were still at around 350 – 400 cases in our area and, if national restrictions hadn’t come in, we would almost certainly have been put in tier 3.

Since early November, our area has, thankfully been on a downward trajectory and cases have dropped from nearly 400 to around 220.  That is great news but, despite the substantial drop, the number of cases remains high – and higher than is deemed comfortable.  So, although we have made lots of progress and rates continue to drop, we are not yet back into a clear “tier 2” zone.

We are lower than the national average but have still gone into tier 3 – why?

That’s because most areas with rates near to the national average have gone into tier 3. 

Our rates are falling but we are in tier 3 – why?

It’s because they are falling from a very high base and, for now, they still remain high in absolute terms.

Why are we in Tier 3 and London isn’t?

The short answer to this one is that we have a higher rate than London – and, despite some of the misinformation on social media, Derbyshire has been consistently been higher than London for a number of weeks.  The average number of positive tests on a 7-day period in London has been between 150 and 200 since the beginning of the month.  In Derbyshire (excluding the city), it has been more than double that at points and, although we making real progress and the gap has narrowed, it’s still higher than the capital.

The North is being treated unfairly – why?

It’s not. I know there are lots of comments going around on social media (some using some pretty misleading data) about what’s happening.

The approach being used is based on the numbers and the blunt reality is, unfortunately, that rates are higher in the North and some of the Midlands than in the South. My experience of Government is that it tries hard to be fair to all parts of the country and I think we have made good progress in getting our share in the last three years.

And, looking at the numbers underneath these decisions on coronavirus tiers, I cannot see any unfairness here. Where areas have high rates of coronavirus, they have generally gone into higher tiers – irrespective of whether they are in the North, South or Midlands. Similarly, where there are lower rates, they have gone into the lower tiers – irrespective of where they are. That’s why, along with us, Kent, Slough, Bristol and Medway are in tier 3. And it’s why, York, North Yorkshire, Warrington, Cheshire, Cumbria and Rutland are all in tier 2, despite not being in the South.

Why are we being dealt with on a county, rather than District basis?

This is a very fair question. Yesterday, the whole county of Derbyshire was taken as a single unit in order to make the decision about tiering. I don’t agree with that approach.

Different units have been used at different points in the pandemic (ranging from individual Districts to groups of Districts to whole counties to regions and then, as is happening currently, nationwide). There is no “right” answer here although my personal view is that we should avoid country and regional restrictions as they are, most of the time, too broad. Equally, I think individual towns or villages are probably too small for us to set different rules. I think it would become pretty unmanageable, quickly, if Ashover had different rules to Clay Cross which had different rules to North Wingfield.

That said, I do think that county is too big a unit to use yesterday – and I argued against it. Dronfield is very different from Swadlincote or Ashbourne from Ashover and I think it could, in theory, mean that one part of Derbyshire is kept in a higher tier than it should be in the future.

As it happens, though, looking at the numbers yesterday, it was unlikely that a smaller or different unit would have resulted in a different outcome. North East Derbyshire District and Chesterfield Borough remain above 200, a combination of North East Derbyshire + Chesterfield + Bolsover is higher (because Bolsover has an average of around 300 and so drives up the numbers). And, if we were to make the case we were part of Sheffield, we would have been in tier 3 aswell I’m afraid.

I think a “North Derbyshire” unit of some sort would be the best to use and I will continue to make the case in the coming weeks for that.

But parts, particularly rural parts, of North East Derbyshire are very low – so why can’t they be exempt?

This tiering decision has been taken on a county basis, rather than on individual Districts.  My own personal view is that the county is too big an area to use and I would personally prefer us to go back to a smaller unit (perhaps a North Derbyshire area or equivalent).  I have highlighted that multiple times to the East Midlands teams, the Department and the Minister.

I’m afraid, though, there are issues across our area and there isn’t any area, even rural, where there aren’t issues.  Here are figures from a few days ago which break down rates across North East Derbyshire:

  • Arkwright & Temple Normanton: 350 (13/11), 123 (20/11)
  • Dronfield Woodhouse & Holmesfield: 343 (13/11), 179 (20/11)
  • Clay Cross: 294 (13/11), 612 (20/11)
  • North Wingfield & Pilsley: 292 (13/11), 217 (20/11)
  • Ashover & New Tupton: 284 (13/11), 232 (20/11)
  • Eckington West & Coal Aston: 252 (13/11), 45 (20/11)
  • Dronfield South & Gosforth Lane: 230 (13/11), 176 (20/11)
  • Dronfield Town & Unstone: 225 (13/11), 146 (20/11)
  • Wingerworth & Holymoorside: 216 (13/11), 201 (20/11)
  • New Whittington, Hollingwood & Barrow Hill: 216 (13/11), 292 (20/11)
  • Grassmoor & Holmewood: 201 (13/11), 241 (20/11)
  • Staveley & Norbriggs: 189 (13/11), 101 (20/11)

The good news is that rates do seem to be coming down in more areas than going up (with some exceptions) although data, at this relatively low level, does tend to bounce about a bit.

And, whilst there is some variation in different parts of North East Derbyshire (and I accept that these configurations aren’t brilliant in terms of separating out easily the rural versus non-rural parts of the constituency), even with the general reduction in rates in most places it remains the case that villages and towns in very close proximity to each other have high positive test rates.

So, what does this mean – are we still in lockdown?

No; from next Wednesday morning, restrictions will be loosened in North East Derbyshire and Chesterfield.  Shops will re-open.  Gyms will return.  Churches will allow communal worship again.  Life will take a step back closer to normal.

What is true is that there will still be significant restrictions on what we do and, in particular, on some businesses, particularly hospitality.  I’ve spent much of the last few days talking to businesses about this and recognise the acute difficulty this is going to cause over the next few weeks.  I hope those businesses will continue to make use of all of the support that the Government has offered and will look at where they can still operate in the current restrictions.  Hopefully, if our numbers continue to trend in the right direction, we can get into a lower tier in the coming weeks and allow hospitality (and other sectors) some freedom.

Where do we go from here and how do we get out?

These tiers, subject to a parliamentary vote, will come into force next Wednesday morning.  They will be reviewed again in two weeks’ time and, if the numbers are in the right place, I will be the first to make a clear case to get us down a tier.

Bluntly, we need all of the indicators listed above to be in a better place to make a case to reduce the tier next time or in January. Positive test numbers need to be lower as do number of people in hospital. All of these numbers can be influenced by what we do (although, I accept, it takes some time for the results of your efforts to feed through). Please keep going and doing everything you can to reduce the transmission and prevalence of the virus.

And, the ultimate solution will be the vaccine and mass testing which will come in the New Year / Spring.

Why don’t you just vote against the tiering system and us going into tier 3?

I know lots of people are frustrated about where we are and I share that frustration, too.  I wish we weren’t here and I want this virus to go away and let us get back to a normal life – and it will, hopefully soon.  Yet, in the meantime I have a judgement to make, listening to constituents, about what to do.  Whilst I don’t like any of this, I do accept there is a problem and I do accept that it is reasonable and proportionate to, on a temporary basis until 2021 when the vaccine is available, make changes to how we live our lives. 

I’m afraid I respectfully disagree with those who believe that coronavirus either (i) isn’t harmful (it is) or (ii) that it can be dealt with solely by personal choice (I absolutely wish it could but I’m afraid the last few months have shown us the contrary).  I’ve spoken about this in Parliament on several occasions: Covid-19: 28 Sep 2020: House of Commons debates – TheyWorkForYou and Covid-19: 11 Nov 2020: House of Commons debates – TheyWorkForYou

So, given a vaccine is coming, I accept that the Government does have a role to play and that some restrictions (temporarily) are proportionate.  As a result, and given there is no clear cut alternative with an acceptable level of risk, I will support further measures being taken (particularly restrictions that take us away from national, blanket restrictions).  I know many of you agree and thank you for your support and feedback.  Some of you are implacably opposed to restrictions of any sort and we have spent many hours, over many weeks, discussing and debating those points.  I respect your position and I hope that you respect mine.  Some of you remain unsure and, if that is you, I have a weekly meeting to help and to talk this all through on a Tuesday – please email lee.rowley.mp@parliament.uk if you want to join.

Why don’t we just stop testing if this causing so many issues?

It won’ solve the problem, I’m afraid. Stopping testing will reduce any chance of us getting on top of the issue (and will disregard the progress we have made in recent weeks). Also, it wouldn’t help us with the tiering assessment because stopping testing won’t stop the virus transmitting (in fact it would probably make it worse) and the data on hospital admissions would still, eventually, show a problem and prevent a re-evaluation.

What will you do next?

I’ll continue to make the case for North Derbyshire to come out of tier 3 at the earliest opportunity.  I’ll also continue to highlight issues that I see with the rules – in the last few weeks, I have highlighted concerns about churches, swimming, tennis, gyms golf and we have had some success on those.  I will also continue to highlight the concerns of hospitality given the very profound impact on what the sector.

Will this affect Christmas?

No – Christmas is being dealt with by a different set of temporary rules.  From 23rd to 27th December, whatever tier we happen to be in then, there will be special Christmas rules across the country which will allow us all to mix with up to three households.  As I understand it, no tiering decision will change that.  You can find out more about Christmas here: Making a Christmas bubble with friends and family – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

The Trade Bill – busting some myths

A number of residents have been in touch in recent days regarding the votes last Monday on the trade bill and the (mis)representations of that vote which they may have seen on social media and in the press.  Given the level of interest, and those misrepresentations, I wanted to offer some more detail about what happened and why certain MPs, including myself, voted in the way we did.

Apparently, according to some reports and some of the emails I received, on Monday night, I:

  • put the NHS on the table in a future trade deal;
  • agreed that food standards could be significantly lowered in a future trade deal;
  • agreed that animal welfare standards could be significantly lowered in a future trade deal, and;
  • to top if off, voted to stop Parliament having a say on any future trade deal.

If it is true, that was quite the night on Monday that we had.  Look at what those terrible Tories have done again: swiping the nice food on my plate, trying to be mean to animals, removing my free health care and kowtowing to [insert world leader who people don’t like here].

The problem, though, is that none of the statements above are true.

None of them.

They might make punchy headlines or attention grabbing social media posts but every single one of those statements are false.  And it just highlights one of the problems with how some people, organisations and ideological groups twist, mislead and misrepresent – and it needs to stop.

Here’s some of the (many) reasons and problems why all of the commentary is wrong.  The explanations may not conveniently fit on a tweet or a pithy Facebook headline but that is often the issues – the misrepresentation can fit in a sentence whilst the actual, true explanation takes longer to explain:

Problem #1: The bill wasn’t even about future trade deals at all

What’s the thing that connects all of these accusations together?  That all of them are about future trade deals.

And the first problem on that is that the bill on Monday wasn’t even about future trade deals.

That bill, the Trade Bill, was not about deals that we may strike with America, Australia, India or any other country in the future.  It wasn’t about what things might or might not be acceptable, what our strategy is on or how we build closer relationships around the world over the long-term.

Instead, it was about something much more mundane than that; tidying up our legislative framework in readiness for when we leave the European Union transition period at the end of the year.  A lot of Parliament’s work currently is to ensure that we have functioning legal frameworks in the future, particularly as we take back control and powers from the EU.  It was, in the parliamentary parlance, a “continuity bill” – i.e. making sure we can continue to do what we are largely already doing after the transition period, rather than particularly change it at this stage.

So, the actual issues we were dealing with were not the NHS, food standards or animal welfare but, instead, the following:

  • making sure that we roll over existing trade deals, signed by the EU on our behalf in previous years, so we still have those relationships as an independent nation state;
  • making sure we are still part of a global agreement (the Agreement on Government Procurement) that we are currently members of through the EU but which we need to join independently as we take back powers over trade;
  • creating a UK Trade Remedies Authority to replace what the EU does for us today in case any country around the world starts competing unfairly, and;
  • allowing HMRC to collect and share data on trade in the future.

So when some MPs, mainly in the Labour and Green parties, tried to propose amendments dealing with how we negotiate future deals to a bill which doesn’t primarily deal with them, we didn’t agree them.  That seems pretty sensible to me – if a bill is about something else, we need to focus on that, particularly when the issues brought up are being dealt with elsewhere and by other means.

Problem #2: We’ve already confirmed that we will protect the NHS

And on that very point, completely separate to this argument this week, the UK Government has repeatedly already confirmed our approach on the NHS.  Here’s some examples:

“The NHS will not be on the table” (UK’s negotiating mandate for a US-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The Government has been clear that when we are negotiating trade agreements, we will protect the National Health Service (NHS)” (UK’s negotiating mandate for an Australia-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The Government has been clear that when we are negotiating free trade agreements, we will protect the National Health Service (NHS)” (UK’s negotiating mandate for a New Zealand-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The Government has been clear that when we are negotiating trade agreements, we will protect the National Health Service (NHS).  Our objectives reinforce this.” (UK’s negotiating mandate for a Japan-UK free trade agreement, p.5)

“The NHS is not on the table.  The price the NHS pays for drugs is not on the table.” (Secretary of State for International Trade, House of Commons, 17 June 2020)

And there are literally dozens of other confirmations, too.  The Government has made its policy really clear here.

At the same time, I would just caution constituents about the direction that some people seem to want to push the wider debate here.  We can be quite clear that the NHS is not going to be sold off (as we have been) whilst still, at the same time, be willing to take ideas from other countries and work with them where it is in our interests.  I want to find out how other countries are doing things that we can learn from, how we can improve treatments to make more people in the UK better and how we can learn from research, development and treatments being developed elsewhere.  We must not shut our borders like some ideologically-driven shrill voices seem to be suggest and I don’t want to be an MP that says to people in North East Derbyshire that makes it harder for them to have treatment, to benefit from other research or slows down access a new drug just because it was developed outside of the United Kingdom.  That won’t help anyone in the long-term and could, instead, do some real harm.  We can absolutely ensure that the NHS is not for sale whilst still wanting to cooperate with other countries in the future.

Problems #3 and #4: We’ve already confirmed that we will have high food and welfare standards

Equally, on food and animal welfare standards, the same points apply as the NHS.  We have confirmed in all of the mandates we have set out for negotiations underway with other countries that we seek high food and animal welfare standards.  You can find dozens of confirmations in those documents and in statements to Parliament by Ministers.

Problem #5: Beware of unintended consequences

Another problem is that some of the proposals put forward in Parliament on Monday night had potentially significant unintended consequences.  Even if put aside my issue that this bill wasn’t about future trade deals for a minute, and even if I had been willing in principle to legislate on a subject which wasn’t part of the scope of the laws we were debated, I still wouldn’t have voted for some of these proposals given the way they were written and the potential implications they had.

Take, for example, one of the proposals that some MPs wanted to be added to the Trade Bill: new clause 11.  That clause states very clearly that agricultural goods would not be allowed to enter the UK in future unless they were produced to standards “as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law” relating to animal health and welfare, protection of the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, and plant health.

That amendment looks innocuous and acceptable at first glance.  Yet, it actually has the potential to have huge implications for our existing trading relationships, never mind the ones we might or might not strike in the future.

If the UK passes a law which says that the production of agricultural goods absolutely everywhere in the world must be at the level of what the UK decides then we aren’t actually dealing with potential future trade but, instead, potentially impacting the trade which we already do – and which no-one has raised an issue about and which were negotiated on our behalf by the EU.  The Minister on Monday evening in the Commons highlighted the potential unforeseen consequence as part of a slightly broader point here:

“the Opposition think they are talking about chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef, but are they actually able to look people in the eye and say that cocoa from the Ivory Coast has been produced to at least as high environmental standards as in the UK?  Are they able to say that beans from Egypt are being produced to at least as high labour standards?  Are they able to say that tea from Sri Lanka comes with the same high labour standards?  I think they are putting a lot of this country’s existing trade at risk.”

Problem #6:  Parliament already has the ability to scrutinise future trade deals

Contrary to some of the statements and myths, it simply isn’t true that Parliament doesn’t have the ability to scrutinise or vote on future trade deals when it comes forward.  Parliament already is able to review, scrutinise, vote on and, for all intents and purposes, stop the implementation of trade deals should they wish through the Constitutional Reform & Governance Act (2010).

At the point in the future when the Government has negotiated a draft trade deal, they will have to lay that draft treaty in front of Parliament and give MPs or Lords 21 days to review it.  Parliament is free to say that the treaty shouldn’t be ratified and, should it wish, can repeatedly delay that ratification – indefinitely if it wants to.  In addition, if a treaty requires changes to domestic legislation in order for the UK to comply with the terms of the negotiation, then that legislation would need to be voted on in Parliament and MPs, again, are free to reject the changes if they so wish.

I absolutely accept that there is a debate about the best way for Parliament to be involved on reviewing trade deals and I know that others take different views about whether existing processes are sufficient at the current time.  Yet, it is not true to suggest Parliament does not have the ability to review, discuss, debate, vote on and, should they wish, delay and practically stop implementation.

 

So, after all of the noise since Monday night, where are we?

Well, on Monday morning the UK Government was committed ensuring the NHS wasn’t sold off, committed to high food standards in any future trade deal, committed to high animal welfare standards in any future trade deal and there was a law that had already been in place for ten years which ensured scrutiny and oversight of trade deals.

Then Monday night came along and MPs, such as myself, voted on a continuity bill which wasn’t supposed to be about future trade deals.

And, on Tuesday morning, nothing changed.  The UK Government remained committed to ensuring the NHS wasn’t sold off, high food standards n any future trade deal, high animal welfare standards in any future trade deal and the law remains in place still allowing scrutiny of any trade deals which the Government signs by Parliament.

Instead, what has actually happened is that a number of groups and people, some with pretty crude political and ideological motives, have caused unnecessary concern and anxiety by misrepresenting what happened.  And this is happening, currently, every few weeks – as certain organisations and parts of the media play games with the Parliamentary process and what we are doing.  We had the same histrionics and same media outlets accuse us of voting to lower food standards over the Agriculture Bill a number of weeks ago as we did this week over the Trade Bill.  Some of the press stories and posts could almost have been cut-and-paste word-for-word statements.  And, each time, these bills are about something else and the Government’s intention and approach do not change irrespective of what is alleged.

For me, putting aside all of the silly political game playing (as frustrating as it is), the heart of this issue is the UK becoming comfortable again with controlling trade policy.  The EU has dealt with our trading relationships with other countries since 1973.  It has signed trade deals on our behalf (too slowly, in my view).  It has negotiated on behalf of us.  We have forgotten how trade works and the need for a proper conversation about how it works.

For the first time in half a century we are taking back control over our trade policy.  We are learning again, as a country, how trade negotiations work, how things take time, how we need to allow space for proposals to be brought forward.  And, in the interim, a lot of loud voices are trying to skew the debate, claim things are happening that aren’t and scare people about trade.  I make no bones about it: I’m a proud free trader.  Trade deals have lifted billions of people out of poverty around the world in recent decades, brought countries closer together, created wealth, generated jobs and helped the United Kingdom prosper.  Thousands of jobs in North East Derbyshire alone depend up trade.  And we can create thousands more in the future if we can strike good, mutually beneficial trade deals with all of the countries the EU wasn’t able to do in previous decades.  We shouldn’t be afraid of those potential deals.  Of course we need to have red lines, to debate extensively and have clear objectives.  At the same time, we also need to be willing to make compromises and find agreements which are mutually beneficial and agreeable to countries over the long-term – but without crossing the red lines that we have.

So, next time you see an accusatory headline about trade policy on Facebook or Twitter, be sceptical.  If it accuses Conservative MPs of basically eating babies, then it’s probably not true.  There’s always an explanation for everything.  Our system does not, never has and, frankly, could not, deal with everything through law alone.  There is a process in place on tidying up our domestic legislation (like on the Trade and Agriculture bill) to get us ready for the end of the transition period and there is a separate process underway on striking future trade deals.  Let’s let both of them continue, based on the explanation above.  It’s hugely disappointing that Labour, the Greens, the Lib Dems, certain campaign organisations (38 Degrees and the like) and many parts of the media continue to play games on trade policy but, as an MP, I can’t stop people doing that if they want to.  What I can do, however, is vote on laws in a sensible way, approaching them based on the scope that was intended and recognising that the Government has already made strong commitments on many of the issues under debate.

And, finally, one of the big issues that all of these debates highlight is the propensity for misinformation and misrepresentation across social media and the press.  I’ll come back to this in the coming weeks as we need to debate and discuss that more as a constituency.  Yet, just because a screaming headline makes strong claims doesn’t mean it is right.  And just because an explanation takes more than a single tweet (as this one did today on the Trade Bill), doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.

Dominic Cummings

Thank you to everyone who has been in touch to let me know their views on Dominic Cummings; I’m grateful for everyone who has written to me and spelt out their views so plainly, whatever those views happen to be.

From reading every one of those emails (although not, yet, having been able to get back to everyone), it’s obvious that people are very concerned about what has happened.  Residents have highlighted their real frustration and, in some cases, anger.  Many have told me about sacrifices they have made and difficulties experienced over the last two months to help tackle coronavirus.  I understand all of that and, on a personal level, I have had many of those same difficulties and challenges.  Like so many others, I didn’t see most of my family for two months.  Many people I know have caught the virus and I couldn’t help or support them, other than down the phone, when they needed comfort.  Very sadly, an extended family member of mine passed away of coronavirus a few weeks ago.  It’s been grim – and so many people have had much worse experiences than I have.

So, when people asked my view on the Dominic Cummings situation, I wanted to wait to give you a proper, considered view. And, after considering it over the weekend, I’m going to go through my thinking in detail.

Firstly, for those wanting a short and sharp answer: I’m afraid I cannot give you one.  I didn’t have the evangelical certainty of some early on Saturday that he had unquestionably done the wrong thing.  I refuse to draw an immediate and snap conclusion, based on inadequate information, rumour and innuendo.  And, even now, twenty-four hours after the press conference yesterday, I remain of the view this is a finely balanced issue and one that deserves more thought than some press and commentators have offered.

Yesterday, Dominic Cummings told us his side of the story.  That was absolutely necessary and the right thing to do. A series of charges (many unfair) had been levelled at him and we needed to hear his explanation.  I’m glad that he made his statement and, as he said himself, it would have been better if he had done it sooner.

Secondly is the question of whether what he did was reasonable.  From what I can see, there is a pretty balanced judgement to be made here.  He wanted to protect his child in the event that he and his wife became incapacitated.  I don’t fault him on that.  Should he have done all of the things he told us about yesterday?  In hindsight, maybe not.  Other people may take different views but I saw someone yesterday whose ultimate answer – that he tried to do the best for his family – was pretty straightforward even if the underlying detail was tortuous and involved.

Over the past day, I’ve tried to ask myself a single question: what I would have done?  The honest answer to that remains, still, that I don’t know.  I can see why some people would have made the trip and I can also understand why others wouldn’t.  That isn’t fence-sitting; it’s a recognition that everyone’s real lives are complex and it’s often impossible to put ourselves in the shoes of people making difficult judgements. We’ve all tried our hardest to fit into these restrictive and difficult guidelines for the sake of everyone but, ultimately, sixty five million lives will never go neatly and continuously into such constraints.

Taking Cummings out of the equation for a moment, where I’m much clearer is that the guidelines did include the ability for people to take other decisions in extenuating circumstances.  Most of my job over the last two months has been to try to help people whose lives don’t fit neatly into the guidelines.  I have spent hours on long phone calls, often with other MPs of all parties, going through a myriad of scenarios that the regulations could never hope to cover; returning from university when you weren’t supposed to travel, helping relocate to another part of the country for important, very serious personal circumstances, family members in real need a long way away, coming back into the country, not coming back into the country, visiting a second home for animal welfare issues and so on and so on.  The list has been long and varied.  It could easily have included a resident with the same question as Cummings.  And, each time, I’ve tried to help work through the guidance, identify the options and help people decide how to approach it.  Sometimes people have had to do things using one of the exemptions.  Other times they haven’t.

I’ve never been a politician who throws stones and I try to be relatively temperate in my judgement.  People are generally trying to do the right thing and, where politicians (or advisers) are concerned, they are mostly in it for the right reasons.  In my three years in politics, I haven’t really seen “one rule for one and one for another”.  I’ve seen people mostly do the right thing and sometimes not.  That’s human nature.

So, if you want me to condemn someone on the basis of a finely balanced judgement that he has made then, given the information I have, I’m not going to do it.  I’m going to accept that he was trying to do the best he could in difficult circumstances.  He knows, because he told us yesterday, that some people will agree and some people won’t.  And I’m going to continue to believe that most  people do the right thing most of the time – not because they were told to by Government or because a letter came through the door (as important as they were).  They did the right thing because it’s what people do.

The British people are a fair-minded lot.  And I can totally understand why they are frustrated at the moment.  Yet, being fair also means being willing to give people the benefit of the doubt at times, even if the judgement call could have gone either way.  That’s not me towing the party line or trotting out what the whips have told me.  I’ve gone against my party on enough issues that I hope my constituents know that I try to think things through.  And on this one, I’m sorry but I can’t, based on what I know at the moment, join the frenzy to condemn.  And neither am I going to condemn the Irish Prime Minister, the scientist on SAGE, the Scottish Medical Officer, Labour MPs or anyone else that made a value judgement or, in some cases, what looks like a debatable decision. People are human. My starting point is they are all trying to do their best and they do the right thing the vast majority of the time.

And, frankly, like I said on Facebook Live on Sunday, I don’t want us to go down a road as a country where we are deciding what was acceptable or not in every crevice of people’s personal lives.  Sometimes there are judgements to be made which are balanced.  That’s not me excusing Cummings.  It’s me saying I don’t think we really want to be in a political world where we are litigating how many times someone stopped for petrol or the toilet habits of a four-year old.  We can do better than that.

Now, I know that for some people this won’t be enough.  And to those, I say, in advance, I’m sorry. Yet, I’m not sure some of those with the racing certainties of recent days are actually looking to discuss. They made their mind up at the start or, in the case of a few, long before the story even came out.

For many others, they may remain sceptical after days of stories. Some of you just aren’t convinced and, even if you were, you still find it concerning. And I get that. We’re in a difficult time and our frustrations are high at the moment. I hope, in time, we can look back and say that, even if you still think he made the wrong decision, that you can see how someone might have come to that conclusion.

So, based on what I know, I’m not going to condemn Dominic for wrestling with the guidance and trying to work out what to do his best in difficult circumstances. So many of my constituents have gone through the same agonising questions. When they came to ask me for advice, I tried to help rather than condemn or criticise. It was the right thing to do then and it’s the right thing to do now. Lives are complicated. Decisions are difficult. Judgements are balanced. I think most people will get that, if not now, in time. And, as a politician, I want to tell it as I see it, even if sometimes some people don’t agree with me. It might have been easier to write a one-liner here that he should resign. But, genuinely, based on what I currently know, I don’t think he should. And you elected me to think through these things. You might not agree with my judgement on this one. But I hope you can see that I’ve at least thought about it and accept that, on balance, it’s a legitimate conclusion to draw.

Fracking – next steps

On 4th November 2019, the Government announced a significant change to its fracking policy through the introduction of an immediate moratorium on further fracking within England. The details of this policy announcement can be found here: https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2019-11-04/HCWS68/.

Fracking has been one of the biggest issues in North East Derbyshire for the entire time I have been a Member of Parliament. The proposal to drill at Bramleymoor Lane has cast a long shadow over our area and the overwhelming majority of people both close to the proposed site, and across the constituency as a whole, remain opposed to it. Back in 2017 when I became your MP, I promised I would campaign against the application and seek to stop it happening. Since then, I have done just that and have also been one of the MPs who has led the wider fight against fracking in the last Parliamentary session. This has included organising debates, meeting with Ministers, submitting dozens of questions, establishing a new Parliamentary group to monitor the impact of fracking, inviting experts to Parliament to discuss the matter, convincing an independent watchdog to investigate, introducing new legislation to stop earthquakes and speaking against the Bramleymoor Lane application on multiple occasions.

I strongly welcomed the decision by the Government to change policy in November. As I have said to residents over many months whilst we fought this battle, getting any Government to change key elements of their policy is difficult and akin to turning around a supertanker in mid-flow – it takes time, patience and a need to properly engage with the arguments to win people around. I always thought it would be a challenge but the weight of evidence, to me, seemed to point to fracking not being realistic or practical within the United Kingdom and I thought, over time, we could make a strong case. I am very glad to see the policy change.

More than that, I think the wording in the written ministerial statement is very helpful to those of us who have opposed fracking. Whilst the Government has been clear it will be led by the evidence, it has also stated explicitly that the attempts to frack last year in Lancashire, and the consequences of that attempt, were “clearly unacceptable” and that the moratorium will be maintained unless and until new evidence is presented. It also completely abandons the plans to loosen the planning rules around fracking, or determine fracking applications centrally, which was another key part of our campaigns last year.

During the General Election campaign, fracking was discussed extensively, including at many of the hustings that we held around the constituency. As will happen in an election campaign, there was a significant amount of political knockabout and fracking was caught in the crossfire of political point scoring. At a time when we had largely achieved our objective to stop fracking, new litmus tests were created by those seeking to differentiate their positions. That, I guess, is inevitable in politics! Notwithstanding that, my position has always been and will remain the same: that I oppose Bramleymoor Lane (and will fight it) and that I do not think fracking works for the UK as a whole (and I will fight it).

A number of residents have been in touch since the election to ask about what happens now with fracking. Well, from my perspective – and for what it is worth – I think the Government is absolutely genuine about the moratorium and about changing policy. I know that some concerns were raised during the election campaign about whether the moratorium might prove to be temporary and that it may return soon after. As someone who has campaigned extensively in Parliament on this, I absolutely do not think that is the case. Of course, there are a range of opinions down in Westminster on fracking. Some, like me, think it is a bad idea. Others are willing to try it. There is nothing inherently wrong with that latter position, although I strongly disagree with it. Whether they conceptually think it is a good idea or not, most people now, however, realise that fracking is not a policy which seems practical and are supportive of the moratorium. I would expect and hope that energy policy discussions move on to other issues rather than trying to unpick the moratorium in the future.

So, in this new Parliamentary term, I wanted to set out my view on where we are and where we go next. Firstly, I take the Government at its word that it has stopped fracking in the United Kingdom and it will not change that policy without compelling new evidence. I think the argument against fracking has been won and that the many thousands of residents and campaigners who have fought to change policy have really achieved something here. As a result, we need to move the campaign from one of activism to vigilance – that we have largely achieved our aims and that we now need to keep watching this issue to make sure that there are no problems in the future and that the current moratorium is strong enough not to be circumvented.

In North East Derbyshire, therefore, I will continue to work with our local anti-fracking groups to support them in areas where we can work together. I am also continuing to monitor the current planning application for Bramleymoor Lane with Derbyshire County Council until the permissions to explore run out on the 16th of August 2021.

And down in Parliament, I will re-constitute the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Impact of Shale Gas so that it is ready and available in case there are any issues in the future (which I hope there won’t be). We will hold an Annual General Meeting in the coming months and then will organise meetings as needed.

I also think there are a couple of points to pick up on the moratorium which need further focus. The announcement back in November said that the Oil and Gas Authority, the body charged with reviewing this area by Government, would continue to put together evidence on how fracking works. I want to understand what additional evidence is being put together by interested parties like the OGA. I am currently in correspondence with them and will come back shortly. And, secondly, we need to make sure that it is clear that, given there is no future for fracking, there is no point in exploratory drilling. That is something I am working on at the moment and, again, will report back when I have further information.

All told, I want to tie up any loose ends and make sure that fracking has permanently and absolutely gone away. Ultimately, the proof on that will be time and little else – so we will be vigilant in the coming months as the moratorium beds in and the policy recedes, hopefully, into the distance.

Finally, I just also wanted to address one other point that a small number of residents have been in touch about – that of a ban. I know that there are some in the anti-fracking community who are unwilling to stop the campaign until a ban is put in place. I respect their positions and their desire to continue but, from my perspective, I am unsure that is a good use of time or, practically, changes anything on a day-to-day basis even if it did come into practice. Most campaigners have accepted that the decisions by other Governments, such as the Scottish Government, to stop fracking are the end of the matter – and they were moratoriums not bans. If it is sufficient in Scotland, I think it is sufficient in England. Whilst I wish those who want to pursue a ban well, I think my focus is best maintained on the points I have raised above.

Of course, if there was any likelihood of fracking coming back (which I hope and expect there won’t be), then, as I said in the hustings during the election campaign, I would do whatever was necessary to try to stop that including a ban if necessary. For the moment, however, a ban would not change anything on the ground and my preference is to work on ensuring the moratorium framework is strong.

We’ve made extraordinary progress over the past few years on fracking. Eighteen months ago, the Government were pushing ahead with fracking across the country and were planning on loosening planning rules to help it achieve that. Fast forward to January 2020 and we are now in a place where the policy has been reversed, the Government have a presumption against fracking, a moratorium stops fracking happening anywhere in England and the plans to loosen the planning rules have been abandoned. That is huge progress and thank you again for all of your support and help in getting us to that place. We have really achieved something here – and the campaign now moves into a different phase. I will continue to be vigilant to ensure fracking does not return and to work on the outstanding points described above.

Together, we have achieved a big win here. Thank you again for everything you did. North East Derbyshire said it didn’t want fracking. And now, thanks to everyone’s efforts, it won’t happen.

Stagecoach Bus Services: Outcome of Consultation

As many residents are aware, Stagecoach recently consulted on some proposed changes to their bus services across North East Derbyshire, which will come into effect on 26 January 2020. Thank you to everyone who got in touch with Stagecoach as part of that consultation and who raised their concerns, issues and comments.

Like so many changes to bus services in recent years, the majority of the proposals are sadly for service reductions as a result of continuing decline in demand in bus usage across Derbyshire (and which is happening in most places across the country also).

During the period of the consultation, and since it closed in November, I have been in regular communication with Stagecoach to highlight the community’s concerns about these proposed changes. This included meeting with Stagecoach along with a number of local Councillors from Killamarsh and Eckington, liaising with them to highlight residents’ concerns, monitoring the status of the proposals and, just in the last few days, raising further concerns about the proposals that they have come forward with, particularly on the Killamarsh service.

Stagecoach have now published their intended changes and, as is expected (and is extremely disappointing), there are a number of changes which will negatively impact on local communities in North East Derbyshire.

Firstly, there is a little bit of good news, with a couple of the proposed changes now being dropped. The proposal to reduce the frequency of the 51 service will not go ahead. Likewise, the proposed change to the 43 service to extend to Newbold in Chesterfield has also been dropped which will not elongate the time to get from Chesterfield to Dronfield. These are positive wins and ones which are welcome for all of the communities who were going to be impacted.

Unfortunately, the remainder of the proposed changes are happening which is extremely disappointing. Whilst I am grateful that we’ve had a couple of small wins on this, I am disappointed as a whole with Stagecoach’s decision to go ahead with most of the reductions. The proposed changes to the 70, 70A, 71 and 72 services have received a particularly large amount of concern from residents in Killamarsh and Eckington. I have queried Stagecoach’s reasoning for these changes and have been informed that both services have lost around 10% usage over the last two years alone.

In the last few days, when the changes were announced, I went back to Stagecoach and asked them to reconsider on the drop off points in Sheffield too for the Killamarsh and Eckington services. Unfortunately, they have already registered the new service changes, so further changes are not now possible.

Bus services have also been a difficult subject and there is no easy answer on the matter. Bus companies like Stagecoach are clear that the networks are not sustainable in their previous forms because demand for the services continues to decline. On the other side, reductions in services mean that large villages and towns across North East Derbyshire are left with no, or minimal, services. And there is a ‘chicken and egg’ element to this which often creates a spiral – if there isn’t a functioning bus service throughout the day then that encourages more and more people to get cars or change how they get about, reducing demand for buses further. Whilst we have been able to get some wins on stopping reductions over the last couple of years – we had success in Holymoorside earlier in the year and Stagecoach’s abandonment of the proposals to reduce the 51 are very positive – we still see service reductions on a fairly regular basis.

As a community, we are going to have to think more about how we try and improve the situation here. Stopping service reductions like Holymoorside or the 51 are small and very important wins but the wider, and likely continuing, challenge regarding demand decline needs more thought. I would be keen to hear from residents with interests in this who want to get together to talk more about what we do in the future. As an MP I don’t have the power to direct companies to run services (nor is it sustainable for local authorities to simply throw lots of money at services where demand is low) but I will keep trying to find a way through this and, along with your local Councillors, to get involved where I am able.

In the meantime, I encourage residents to take a look at the information below to browse the new timetables for specifics, available here: http://www.derbysbus.info/times/tt_65_120.htm.

Thank you North East Derbyshire!

It is a privilege to be re-elected as the Member of Parliament for North East Derbyshire and thank you to everyone who voted in the election a few weeks ago.  It is great to be able to get back to work and to continue to try to make our area better.

As ever, if you need any help or assistance, or just want to highlight your views on an issue, just drop me a line at 439222 or lee.rowley.mp@parliament.uk.

General Election 2019

On 12th December, the United Kingdom will go to the polls to elect a new Parliament in a General Election.  I will be standing in that General Election as the Conservative Party candidate and hope to be re-elected to continue the work that I have done since 2017 on behalf of North East Derbyshire.

In accordance with guidance issued by the House of Commons, during the period between 6th November and 12th December Parliament is formally dissolved and there are no MPs.  As such, former MPs are requested not to use websites which suggest they may still be in post.  Consequently, this blog (leerowleymp.wordpress.com) will be frozen for that period.  If I am re-elected, I will continue to post here in the future.

Instead, you can find out more about what I am doing elsewhere on the web:

http://www.lee4ned.com

http://www.facebook.com/lee4ned

http://www.twitter.com/lee4ned