As the conflict in Ukraine continues I have been asked for advice by a number of Somerset people asking what they can do to help. Donating to national charities such as the Red Cross or UNICEF is a really positive thing to do as they are the experts on the ground who know how best to allocate that help to where it will have the greatest impact. There are also many local organisations helping to coordinate donations including Help for Ukraine Taunton and many others which you can find online.
The Government is working on a second route for Ukrainian refugees to come to the UK alongside the current family scheme, which will involve community groups coordinating offers of accommodation. I understand that a visa centre near Calais is being set up also. Here in South Somerset we have a strong tradition of helping others and this is also evident in the efforts made to donate and the organisations helping with that. It should soon be possible to register to offer accommodation to refugees from Ukraine who do not have other connections with the UK.
The situation with refugees is not quite as straightforward as parts of the press and others are suggesting. In a lot of cases a family member, often the father, has stayed in Ukraine to support the fight and so the family wish to be in as close a neighbouring country as is safely possible. Others hope to return home soon and so do not wish to move far away and countries such as Poland arguably have stronger cultural connections too. We need to make sure the applications we do receive are processed quickly and effectively though.
In the meantime we continue to be the largest bilateral donor of humanitarian aid to the crisis. On Tuesday our 6th heavy cargo flight arrived in Poland with medical and intensive care unit supplies.
On Monday the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Bill raced through the House of Commons as part of the effort to tackle the issue of Russian and other overseas funds being illegally used in the UK. The bill will make property ownership much more transparent amongst other things. I hope that its passage through the House of Lords is also swift although they do seem to have a backlog there which is hardly helpful at times like these.
In the meantime it is crucial that we rethink our energy policy and I have a meeting with Greg Hands, Minister of State for Business, Energy and Clean Growth, about this next week. The technology behind a transition to clean energy is moving quickly but we need to use our own natural gas resources, rather than importing from others, during that period. We also need to cancel tax rises to help with increasing fuel costs. Having voted against it, I am lobbying further to try to reverse the National Insurance rise to support families and businesses at this challenging time.