Good news this week on a public health issue I have been interested in for some time. In response to a question in the House of Commons chamber I asked on Tuesday, health Minister Steve Brine announced a consultation with a view to introducing the fortification of flour with folic acid. There is strong evidence, backed by the Scientific Advisory Committee of Nutrition, that folates in the diet during pregnancy can significantly reduce the risk of foetal abnormalities including spina bifida. They estimate that up to 900 pregnancies are affected by neural tube defects in the UK each year and they are one of the leading causes of infant mortality and disability.
There is always a bit of philosophical discourse about measures such as this – adding fluoride to water to reduce tooth decay has been controversial across the globe. There will be concerns about a ‘nanny state’ approach. However, it’s very positive that work will now be done to determine whether there is any risk to pressing ahead. Many pregnant women already take folic acid but many miss out particularly from deprived backgrounds or where the pregnancies were unplanned. It’s important that all the ramifications are explored by medical professionals but I think it’s a really positive step that this is happening.
Whilst the media would suggest that Parliament is all about Brexit (and that is still the biggest issue) there is a huge amount of energy and activity on other things in Westminster. Earlier this week I met with County Council leader David Fothergill to talk about their finances ahead of my meeting with Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak. With the Budget approaching this is my biggest focus. The dramatic rise in Children’s Services costs was hard to predict and due to an improved service but more money is needed and addressing the imbalance between rural and urban areas is more urgent than ever.
I also had a positive conversation with Justice Minister Lucy Frazer this week about some of the ways that her Department can influence Local Authority spending and next week am meeting Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani to discuss local community transport. We could be on heading towards a small revolution in that area; on my recent Committee trip to Japan I heard about some great initiatives with companies such as Uber in that area.
This week I have also signed up to the campaign to cut VAT on tourism. Many of our neighbouring European countries have much lower rates than we do which limits our competitiveness. Analysis shows that a drop in VAT would lead to more business, more jobs and ultimately more revenue for the Treasury so it makes good sense. It could be a very useful addition to promoting our Somerset brand across the globe and a big boost for the whole of the South West.
As always, if you would like to get in touch about any of these issues, if I can help with a problem you have or if you would like to book an appointment at one of my regular advice surgeries, please do call 01935314321 or email Marcus.firstname.lastname@example.org