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Jim Shannon (DUP) asked on: 7 January what steps the Government is taking to increase the number of GPs in rural constituencies. Jo Churchill (Con), Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department of Health and Social Care) answered on: 14 January that the actions set out in the NHS Long Term Plan, backed by the extra £4.5 billion of investment in primary and community care by 2023/24, and the five-year contract framework for general practice, are already being implemented and will build the general practice workforce and improve access to primary care services.
Olivia Blake (Lab) asked on: 14 January what the timeframe is for establishing the new independent Office for Environmental Protection; and what consultation process will be used to define strict new laws on air quality. Rebecca Pow (Con) answered on: 22 January that the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) is to be operational from 1 January 2021. Our Clean Air Strategy (CAS) was published in 2019 following a thorough consultation exercise and included new and ambitious goals, legislation, investment and policies to clean up our air faster and more effectively.
Jim Shannon (DUP) asked on: 13 January what (a) recent discussions Defra has had with farming unions on and (b) funding she plans to allocate to help in reducing carbon emissions after the UK leaves the EU. Rebecca Pow (Con) answered on: 21 January that since the General Election, the Secretary of State has spoken with farming unions, amongst other groups to listen to their priorities for the year ahead. Discussions covered the importance of our British farmers being the climate and nature leaders that the world is looking for and how the Secretary of State will raise the profile of agriculture across Government at the new Cabinet Committee for Climate Change.
Tom Tugendhat (Con) asked on: 14 January what plans the Government has in place to support rural communities affected by flooding where cost-benefit calculations make it more difficult to fund schemes as a result of the dispersed nature of properties. Rebecca Pow (Con) answered on: 21 January that the Government is investing a record £2.6 billion from 2015-2021 to better protect 300,000 homes in England from flooding, and £1 billion to maintain existing defences. In addition to homes better protected, this investment will also protect 700,000 acres of agricultural land that will help avoid more than £1.5 billion worth of direct economic damages to agricultural land, benefiting rural communities. Government funding policy recognises where deprivation is highest through higher funding payments. This also can help benefit rural communities where there is economic disadvantage.
In Topical Questions, Scott Mann (Con) asked how the Minister would support the rural post office network as the post office network is becoming increasingly relevant to communities where many of the big banks are withdrawing their support for rural areas. Kelly Tolhurst (Con) said that the Government recognises the importance of postal offices in rural communities, both throughout the UK and in his constituency. Access to branches exceeds the national standard that the Government set, with 99% of rural populations living within three miles of a post office. The Post Office is currently delivering further investment in rural branches, through the community branch development scheme, to underpin the long-term viability of our post offices.
On Monday 27th, the Lord Bishop of St Albans will introduce the Agriculture Bill in Oral Questions in the House of Lords. Elsewhere, MPs will debate the NHS Funding Bill in the House of Commons. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness will hold its inaugural meeting.
On Tuesday 28th, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Rural Services will have their AGM. Elsewhere, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Retail Crime will have their AGM. Retail theft crimes are rising year on year. The Group has therefore been campaigning to highlight the cost of retail crime to the high street (£600m a year), improve understanding of how this type of crime affects small businesses and what impact incidents of retail crime will have an effect on high streets if left unchecked.
On Wednesday 29th, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for District Councils will hold its AGM to discuss what is next for districts and devolution. Later, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Devolution will meet.
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