This week started with the welcome news that people can now register to offer a temporary home for Ukrainians fleeing the war zone. Understandably there has been a great deal of pressure on the Government about helping refugees but I think that this is a good response to the crisis, offering a meaningful and practical way for us to support Ukrainians who want to come to the UK.
If you would like to register an interest in offering accommodation you can do so online at homesforukraine.campaign.gov.uk. The offer needs to be for a minimum of six months although the expectation is that many of those involved will want to return to their homeland when the war is over. The Government will offer financial support to households taking in refugees.
The sign up rate has already been brilliant, with over 100,000 making the offer on the first day alone. The Somerset County Council website is a good source of information about what we do locally to help refugees, including from Afghanistan and now Ukraine.
This week in Westminster I met Greg Hands, Minister for Energy, Clean Growth and Climate Change, to discuss a more balanced approach to Net-Zero ambitions in light of both pressures on household finances and also the threat from Russia. The immediate priority has to be more energy security at home, which involves domestic gas and nuclear power for a reliable base load.
I am supporting the Treasury with work on financial and monetary stability in the context of the war and resulting shortages in various materials and energy. We do need to stop the capping of shale gas wells in order at least properly to evaluate what onshore gas could do for our energy independence in the short to medium term.
Whilst this uncertainty continues I will keep pressing the Government to pause any planned tax rises and in particular the rise in National Insurance. We certainly do need to tackle challenges in Health and Social Care but I don't believe it is right to create a stipend separate from the annual general revenue commitment. That commitment was around £190 billion last year or £3500 per person on average. National Insurance is a tax paid by employers and employees and at a time when the economy faces some significant headwinds I am very much against this and indeed voted against it. I am also pushing for fuel duty to be reduced to help with the cost of living.
My other main focus in Westminster at the moment is on pressing the Ministry of Defence to speed up the procurement process for new medium lift helicopters, for which Leonardo’s AW149 is the best candidate. It is a brilliant opportunity for the company and surrounding supply chains but the MoD's process is cumbersome and I will keep making the case for reform to make it nimbler.