Lucy Allan debates involving HM Treasury during the 2019 Parliament

Funeral Plan Industry

Lucy Allan Excerpts
Thursday 26th May 2022

(1 year, 12 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the funeral plan industry.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mrs Cummins. I am grateful to the Chairman of Ways and Means, for her wisdom in selecting this afternoon’s debate; amid the noise and chaos that is the normal week in Parliament, she has provided a space to consider the needs and concerns of decent and often vulnerable people who are trying to do the right thing.

People who buy funeral plans are elderly, and they may be ill—perhaps terminally so. They may have struggled with the cost of a funeral when their spouse died, and they do not want to burden their children with the same anxiety. They may fear the shame of a local authority funeral—a pauper’s burial. These are people who have worked hard and saved hard, and they want some piece of mind at the end of life. They are not people who grab the headlines and demand the limelight or who, when something goes wrong, take to Twitter, call their lawyer or send emails in capital letters to their MP twice a day. They may even be quite reluctant to contact their MP, and if they do, it will be politely understated. For that reason it is all the more important that we are here today to ensure that their voices are heard in this place, and I am very grateful to all Members for attending the debate.

The funeral plan industry sees these people, who I think we can all agree are vulnerable, as a lucrative target market. Until now, it has certainly been a huge growth industry. Today, 1.6 million people hold a funeral plan, with 218,000 people taking out a new plan only last year and with over £4 billion in funds under management held in plans. There is huge trust placed in funeral plan providers by vulnerable people, yet this lucrative industry is unregulated.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab)
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Does the hon. Lady share my concerns about some of the practices and sales techniques that are used to get people to sign up to these plans? She has already mentioned that people are vulnerable, but when we read the small print in the glossy brochures that are provided, it is clear that these plans do not actually deliver what has been promised to many people.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct, and I will come on to some of those high-pressure sales techniques, which I very much hope the new regulatory regime will remove.

The Funeral Planning Authority held itself out as providing some form of oversight, giving itself a veneer of respectability as a quasi-regulator, but it was not, and we have to remember that the industry is entirely unregulated, despite any appearances to the contrary. The Minister rightly took steps some years ago to rectify that omission, and I pay tribute to him for that. Of course, there are good providers, such as Dignity and Co-op Funeralcare, which care about good governance and are working to ensure that this unregulated industry is brought within the perimeter of the Financial Conduct Authority by 29 July. However, that creates challenges for the industry, because some providers have not applied to be regulated and some have not been accepted for regulation, for good reason. There are concerns about where that will leave people who hold plans with those providers. I have had useful meetings with Dignity and the FCA, and I am grateful to them for their work in this area.

Let us make no mistake: as the right hon. Gentleman just alluded to, this is an industry with a record of using high-pressure selling techniques, such as cold calling, telesales and having a sales rep sit in someone’s kitchen until they sign on the dotted line. People sign up for some extraordinary fee arrangements, whereby 25% of the plan could be taken as commission. Then there is the use of intermediaries, such as will writers, to sell a funeral plan as if it were an add-on, when all people really wanted was a will. They are told that their money is held in trust and overseen by independent trustees, and that it will be ringfenced and invested in blue-chip equities, yet there is a complete lack of transparency as to how their money is invested. Then there is the playing on people’s fears, and I am afraid that even the more reputable companies tell people that a funeral plan is an essential part of end-of-life planning.

That brings me to the ironically named Safe Hands Funeral Plans, now in administration. While we can all agree that only a small number of providers pay scant regard to good governance, the industry as a whole has long known about these providers and their practices. I am sad to say that it knew about Safe Hands Funeral Plans and its methods, which were an open secret in the industry. As we move towards regulation, it was only a matter of time before any rogue operators would fail. A number of investigative personal financial journalists have covered this story, and I particularly pay tribute to Jeff Prestbridge for his sterling work in this area. I encourage him and others to keep up the campaign.

When my constituents, Don and Toni Haines, from Ketley in Telford, contacted me about their Safe Hands plan, sold to them by Equity Wills in Market Drayton, Shropshire, it did not take me long to see what had happened to the money supposedly held in trust for the benefit of plan holders. Yes, I am a chartered accountant and I specialised in insolvency, including administrations and liquidations, but even a cursory glance at note 8 on page 6 of the Safe Hands accounts, freely available to anyone online, makes clear that the company is entitled to receive any surplus declared following an actuarial valuation of the Safe Hands Plans Trust—the moneys held in trust for savers could be distributed to a director shareholder.

The surplus declared on the Safe Hands Plans Trust as at May 2020 was £2.4 million. In 2019 the surplus was £10.9 million. It is clear that moneys supposedly ringfenced for plan holders were distributed to director shareholders as a dividend. Did Equity Wills of Market Drayton tell Mr and Mrs Haines that this would happen if they bought a Safe Hands plan? Did Equity Wills check the Safe Hands accounting policies themselves before pocketing their commission? They did not even tell Mr and Mrs Haines they were buying a Safe Hands plan, so my constituents could not even check for themselves.

Digging a bit deeper into the accounts, which of course make full use of the small company exemption to file only limited information, we see that a loan of £3.5 million appears to form part of the assets of the trust, which are ringfenced for plan holders. This loan was advanced to a director of Safe Hands—a Mr Malcolm David Milson, and his wife. By 2020, he was no longer a director shareholder and the advances made to him were not recovered. In anyone’s book, this is clearly financial misconduct. The administrators believe that, out of a portfolio valued at at least £60 million, they can realise between only £10 million and £16 million, leaving plan holders with a return of between 10p and 20p in the pound—and we should not forget that that is after they have paid their 25% commission.

Let us call this what it is: theft. Anyone associated with this company should be disqualified as a director, along with anyone who signed off the accounts or certified the surplus. There is a duty of care to the vulnerable. As much as I admire what Dignity is trying to do, in the material that it circulated to Members it has not fully recognised or accepted that these people are vulnerable. It is important that that is acknowledged, and I am sure the Minister will do that in his response.

I am not somebody who uses exaggerated language, because it often diminishes the power of an argument, but what has been happening here is clear: it is what any accountant will call teeming and lading—in other words a Ponzi scheme. As long as the provider keeps selling to new customers to pay the maturing plans of existing customers, there is no problem, but if the music stops—as it did in this case when the provider was prevented from selling any new plans by the FCA as it moved to regulate the industry—the house of cards collapses, leaving vulnerable savers in this instance with 10p to 20p in the pound.

My fear is that Safe Hands plan holders will not be the only casualties. In fairness to Dignity, it has so far underwritten the plans that are now maturing and is working with the FCA to see how it can take plan holders on as clients. However, there is a big concern that its long -term proposal would require plans that are fully paid—we should not forget that most plans are fully paid—to make further payments to Dignity on the basis that people would at least be better off doing that than just having the 10p to 20p in the pound that the administrator would pay. That is not good enough.

The industry knows that nobody needs a funeral plan. Let us not pretend otherwise. A person can tell their children what they want when they die and put their monthly contribution into an ISA or bank account. Why risk it with a funeral plan? Why pay exceptional commissions? If their estate is valued at less than a few thousand pounds, the cost of the funeral gets the first call on the deceased’s assets. If there are no assets at all, the local authority picks up the cost.

I am very concerned that some industry lobbyists are seeking to water down the FCA regulatory proposals and are lobbying MPs to that end, and I urge the Minister and the FCA to stand firm. These are vulnerable savers and they must have the gold standard of protection. Watering down the proposed new regulatory regime for the industry would make it easier to become regulated. I understand that we do not want to exclude providers from regulation altogether, but it would be counterproductive. We have been there with the FPA, which, as we have seen, has provided no regulation whatever, just the veneer of regulation or some form of respectability.

Funeral plans are savings and investment products targeted at vulnerable people, and those savers should have at least the same level of protection as anyone else buying a savings financial product. There is a duty of care to protect the vulnerable from exploitation and mistreatment—I am sure the FCA and the Minister will agree.

Kevan Jones Portrait Mr Kevan Jones
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Does the hon. Lady agree not only that it needs to be clear what people are purchasing, but that if the people selling the plans are receiving commission —in some of the examples I have come across, the third party selling them has been on commission—that should be clearly stated, too?

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. The lack of transparency is a significant feature of where this industry has gone astray.

Protecting funeral plan holders from some of their loss, which is what is suggested, is not good enough, and nor should the industry expect taxpayers to bail it out. This is a problem of the industry’s making, and it needs to work together to find a solution. If the industry cuts plan holders adrift, it will have sullied its own reputation, creating longer-term consequences for itself.

This is also about accountability. The auditors, the actuaries, the trustees, the directors and the fund managers cannot just walk away from these vulnerable customers. Why should plan holders with fully paid plans have to pay more to save their funeral plan? It is no good saying that a Safe Hands customer’s loss would be less if they paid to switch to a Dignity plan than what would otherwise crystalise from a distribution from the administrator. That is no comfort to anyone. I welcome the steps that Dignity has taken to date, but it must consider whether it, with other reputable members of the industry, can go further.

I know that the Minister wants to do the right thing, and I know that the industry understands that if it wants to survive this financial shock—this battering to its reputation—it too will go the extra mile to do the right thing. The voices of people who work hard, save hard and trust others to do what they say they will do with their money are being heard today by the Minister loud and clear.

I hope the FCA will have no truck whatever with the view that these vulnerable saving plan holders should be treated less favourably than other plan holders. There must in all circumstances be a duty to protect vulnerable customers, a requirement to hold capital to be able to honour the guarantees that are given, and an industry compensation scheme for the plan holders who will be excluded from the financial services compensation scheme. This is an important point. Anyone who will lose out prior to 29 July will not be protected by the financial services compensation scheme. Those people must have a scheme that protects them from losses, and that must be a funeral plan industry scheme. I do not think it should be topped up by the Government. The industry got into this mess, and it needs to work together to get out of it.

I know that, sadly, this matter will not be at the top of the Treasury’s in-tray, at what is a challenging and difficult time for all Treasury officials. The Minister is one of my favourite Ministers, and I urge him to make sure that the little people do not end up at the bottom of the pile, and to consider that how we treat the vulnerable says much about our financial services industry as a whole—and, indeed, about our society.

We want to build a reputation for probity and integrity in the financial services sector. There are vulnerable people whose vulnerabilities have been exploited. We cannot just hope that they will not know that they lost the money; that, if they do know, they will not have the capacity to fight for themselves; or that they might die, leaving local authorities to step in. If we do that, we will damage not only the funeral plan industry, but the financial services industry. There are MPs across the House who will not let that happen—I am one of them. These individuals are the people we are all here to represent. I hope that the Minister will allow us all to be part of the solution.

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John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins. I thank hon. Members who contributed to the debate: the hon. Members for Putney (Fleur Anderson) and for Gordon (Richard Thomson), the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), and of course my hon. Friend the Member for Telford (Lucy Allan), who has professional experience in this domain and used her accountancy and forensic skills to examine some of the issues relating to Safe Hands. They are very relevant to some of the things we need to discuss this afternoon. I know she cares deeply about these matters, and I will try to attend to the points that have been made during the debate.

That people care so much about funerals is not particularly surprising. No one needs to explain to me the important role they play in celebrating the marking of a life and helping bereaved families and friends say goodbye to their loved ones. I have said previously that no one nearing the end of their life, or their families, should be consumed by money worries relating to the cost of their funeral. The hon. Member for Putney raised a number of issues about the broader nature of support for funeral provision. I will probably not be able to attend to them this afternoon, but I note those points and I will try to secure an answer for her.

Safe Hands’s going into administration will naturally be very upsetting for its customers and their families, and those consumers will, of course, be anxious to know who will look into the behaviour of the company and its directors. A number of points have been raised about that, particularly by the right hon. Member for North Durham. Within three months of any administration, the administrator must report to the Insolvency Service on the conduct of the directors prior to the company’s failure. In addition to the Adjournment debate and some of the points made during that debate two Thursdays ago, more points have today been made, helpfully putting on the record some of the concerns about those behaviours. When that administration process has concluded, those matters will obviously be there to be taken up. I understand that, where there is misconduct that shows people to be unfit to be a director, they may be disqualified from acting as a director for up to 15 years where that is in the public interest. Separate criminal investigations may also be undertaken in any administration where evidence of criminality is uncovered. However, it is only right that at this stage we await the outcome of the administration process.

As hon. Members will be aware, and as has been mentioned this afternoon, Dignity, one of the UK’s largest funeral plan providers, stepped in to provide funerals for Safe Hands customers, following the firm’s entering administration. I have met with Dignity myself, in the Treasury, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Telford has met with Dignity as well. I am very pleased that Dignity has now agreed to do that—at no additional cost to plan holders—for a further six months.

Although the Financial Conduct Authority does not yet regulate funeral plan providers, it is currently going above and beyond its legal duties by helping to support the industry and administrators as they look to find a longer-term solution for Safe Hands customers. I am hopeful that customers will not need to wait too much longer before they see further progress on a longer-term approach. The example of Safe Hands clearly demonstrated the need for a better-regulated funeral plan market, because although the sector provides a valuable service, we must ensure that the situation that has developed for Safe Hands customers is not repeated. That was the purpose of the work that has been done.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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The Minister is making very important points, so I am grateful to him for giving way. He is talking about the Safe Hands plan holders and arrangements for them. A question that has come up today is what provision will be made for the plan holders who will be within unregulated products after 29 July, because it does appear likely that a significant number of plan holders will be holding a plan that is not backed by any form of compensation scheme or regulation.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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Going forward, people either are regulated—those who are going on the journey into regulation by the end of July go under FCA regulation, and it will be keeping an eye on their selling practices—or become an appointed representative of a bigger, regulated firm, which keeps an eye on them, and then the FCA keeps an eye on it. Many firms, most firms—I think it is in the order of 67 firms—are going through the journey into regulation. There will be smaller firms that decide not to go on that regulatory journey, and either they will become authorised under the appointed representative regime or they will wind down, and return the funds to their customers.

Those are the two options. The FCA is working with the industry to smooth that journey. The House passed a statutory instrument to ease that process of transition. But those are the options available. Of course, we are midway through that journey, but what this afternoon’s debate has shown is the imperative of the industry working to sort out some of the issues that have been laid bare by the Safe Hands experience. I think Safe Hands is an exception, but it is a pretty awful experience for those customers. My belief is that this process of regulation will give clarity to the situation, going forward, in terms of who is regulated, how they are regulated and what being under regulation, either as an appointed representative or directly from the FCA, means. The FCA will be responsible for communicating that.

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Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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I am very grateful to all Members who have attended today’s debate. I know we are competing with the platinum jubilee address to Her Majesty; in fact, the Member who has just sat down in the main Chamber, the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier), is the Member who secured the Adjournment debate on this topic two weeks ago. There are many Members from across this House who would have wanted to be here, making some of the points that have been so ably made by other colleagues.

I am particularly grateful to the right hon. Member for North Durham (Mr Jones). He spoke about the abuse of trust, and a day of reckoning coming for those people who engage in these types of activities. He is absolutely right: financial misconduct is something we cannot tolerate when it targets the most vulnerable in our society.

I also pay tribute to the hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson), because I met somebody the other day who told me that she is almost as good as her predecessor. [Laughter.] That is a very fine compliment to her, because I worked closely with her predecessor for many years. The hon. Lady was absolutely right to talk about dignified funerals: that is a vital issue, and I am pleased that she has also highlighted the issues of anxiety, worry, stress, and all the other things that happen in this market where these selling techniques are used. Both the hon. Member for Putney and the right hon. Member for North Durham talked about people wanting to do the right thing, and we as parliamentarians are here to promote that, support those people and ensure that those who do the right thing do not get penalised by people seeking to exploit them. That is why this debate has been so important.

I am grateful that the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) talked about people who are selling peace of mind, because that is exactly where things have been going wrong. We all crave peace of mind, and if somebody is going to sell it to me in a bottle, I am going to pay for it. Taking money from people by creating fears and then not delivering on promises is a disgraceful abuse.

I am grateful to the Minister for everything he has said today, and have absolute confidence that this is something that will stay in his in-tray—somewhere in the middle of his in-tray, perhaps—and continue to have his close attention. The FCA is doing a great job, although it needs to recognise that it was maybe a bit slow to the party. These things have happened on the FCA’s watch.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I would respectfully say that in the end, this has to be the responsibility of Government, because we mandated the FCA to do this. The Government must take responsibility, not the FCA, but my hon. Friend is absolutely right that it is now incumbent on the FCA to get this right, and I believe it will.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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I thank the Minister for that point. The FCA always talks about things being within or without its perimeter, and I sometimes wonder how a savings product targeted at the most vulnerable could ever have been without its perimeter. I agree that it was the Government—and, in fact, the Minister—who made sure that this issue came within the FCA’s auspices, and it is now working constructively with industry players and Members of Parliament, which is extremely important. I will continue to champion the interests of vulnerable people whose vulnerabilities have been exploited, and I know many others will join me in doing so. Mrs Cummins, thank you very much.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the funeral plan industry.

Oral Answers to Questions

Lucy Allan Excerpts
Tuesday 15th March 2022

(2 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nia Griffith Portrait Nia Griffith (Llanelli) (Lab)
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8. What recent steps he has taken to help ensure value for money in public spending.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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13. What steps his Department is taking to manage the public finances effectively.

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Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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We always continue to encourage best value, and this is at the heart of all Treasury documents on the use of public money. On the hon. Lady’s point about test and trace, it is very important to reaffirm that the great majority of the costs associated with this scheme were about testing as opposed to tracing, and it was only that scheme that allowed us to come through the enormous challenges of the period, particularly prior to the availability of the vaccine, in a way that allowed our society and our wider economy to keep going to the extent that they could.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has been incredibly agile in responding to exceptional crises. As he tackles the impact of Putin’s war on our economy, will the Minister take every measure to accelerate growth, including reducing taxes on fuel and energy?

Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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As has been discussed earlier in this session, as my hon. Friend rightly highlights, the Government recognise that households do need support with the rising cost of energy. Indeed, the Chancellor has already provided support worth some £9.1 billion for the financial year 2022-23. On her wider point about boosting growth, the Chancellor outlined in his Mais lecture the importance of the Government investing in capital, people and ideas, so that we can strengthen the economy and make sure that the UK is best placed to succeed in what is a challenging set of circumstances.

Economic Update

Lucy Allan Excerpts
Thursday 3rd February 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I am happy to confirm to the hon. Gentleman that the Barnett consequentials for Scotland will be around £290 million, which I hope he will welcome. My right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury will be speaking to Kate Forbes later today to go over the details, and I very much hope that the Scottish Government will choose to do something very similar to what we are doing, to the benefit of Scottish citizens. Of course, Scottish citizens will benefit from the rebate scheme on bills, because that is a Great Britain-wide policy, as I outlined.

With regard to the hon. Gentleman’s broader points on the North sea, there is a clear point of difference between us on the Government side of the House and the SNP. We believe in the future of the North sea, in the oil and gas industry, and in the 200,000 jobs it supports, and we want to ensure it plays an important part in our transition to net zero. I hope he can see that that is the right thing for Scotland and will join us in supporting that very important industry.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent statement, and particularly for the thoughtful and progressive nature of the actions he plans to take. Does he agree that it is right to help not only the poorest, but those on middle incomes who are struggling with their household budgets?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right; I know that is something she is perhaps bringing up on behalf of her constituents. A price increase of this magnitude impacts almost everybody, and it is right that our response therefore helps almost everybody. That is what we are doing: ensuring that those families who are working hard on household incomes of £40,000 or so will still get £150-worth of support. Four out of every five households will benefit. We are on the side of hardworking families like those, and I make no apology for it.

Oral Answers to Questions

Lucy Allan Excerpts
Tuesday 7th December 2021

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lindsay Hoyle Portrait Mr Speaker
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Order. He might want to apologise now—we cannot take so long on the first two questions from either Front Bench.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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T5. I thank the Chancellor for his hugely successful plan for jobs. I recently visited an organisation in Telford called Teach A Trade, which successfully trains long-term unemployed and older people changing careers to get gas and electrical qualifications, which are in short supply in my constituency. What is his Department doing to work with organisations such as Telford’s Teach A Trade to make these courses more accessible to more students? Can he please tell me what his Department can do to help Telford’s Teach A Trade so that it can expand the excellent work it is doing?

Oral Answers to Questions

Lucy Allan Excerpts
Tuesday 2nd November 2021

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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James Wild Portrait James Wild (North West Norfolk) (Con)
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4. What steps he is taking to increase funding for capital investment in the NHS.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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14. What steps his Department is taking with the Department of Health and Social Care to help ensure scrutiny of NHS trusts’ capital spending.

Simon Clarke Portrait The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr Simon Clarke)
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It has just been announced, through the spending review, that the NHS will receive: over £12 billion of capital funding for investment in and maintenance of the NHS estate; £5.9 billion for diagnostics, technology and elective recovery; £4.2 billion for at least 70 hospital upgrades and 40 new hospitals; and funding to eradicate mental health dormitories. That is on top of £500 million of additional capital funding given for the second half of this year to help tackle the elective backlog. It means that NHS capital budgets will have increased by over 8% year-on-year above inflation since the start of the Parliament.

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Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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I welcome my hon. Friend’s clear and obvious passion for improving the lives of his constituents. As well as committing £3.7 billion to make progress on the 40 hospitals named last year, the Government have committed to fund a further eight new hospitals by 2030. The process for selecting those eight is being led by the Department of Health and Social Care and will be based on a range of criteria, including clinical need and deliverability. I encourage my hon. Friend to engage in that process, but I am happy to have any further discussions that would be useful.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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I thank the excellent Front Bench team for a brilliant Budget which benefited every member of my constituency. I know the Treasury team cares passionately about delivering value for taxpayers. When it comes to significant capital spend for NHS projects, such as the Shropshire plan to build a state of the art critical care unit on the Welsh border, where costs have escalated from £312 million to £560 million, will my right hon. Friend say who is responsible for ensuring value for money and how they are held to account? Can he also assure me that no more cash will be allocated to that project until a ringfenced sum is allocated for accident and emergency care in Telford?

Simon Clarke Portrait Mr Clarke
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I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words about the Budget. I agree: it was a major fiscal event, one which puts the country on a strong path for continued growth. She is absolutely right to highlight the importance of delivering value for money. That is certainly something I take very seriously. It is, obviously, a shared responsibility across Government. In terms of the specific concerns she raises about that case, I urge her to speak to colleagues at the Department of Health and Social Care about the right hospital configuration for Shropshire. Again, I am always happy to have any conversations that are useful.

Health and Social Care Levy

Lucy Allan Excerpts
1st reading
Wednesday 8th September 2021

(2 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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I thank the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care for bringing forward this proposal. It is a bold decision—a difficult decision—but it is the right decision at the right time.

Initially, I really struggled with this concept. When the Prime Minister stood up to deliver his statement yesterday, I did not expect to feel able to support it, but by the time he sat down, I could. That is not just because the PM has excellent rhetorical skills; it is down to the simple and obvious fact that most people want better health and care provision. Most people understand the challenges created by covid and the devastating impact on the NHS. Most people want to see money spent on the NHS, and they expect everybody to make a contribution—and so they should. Covid has brutally exposed what a fragile and struggling health and social care system we have, and yes, the enormous backlog of cases that has arisen must be tackled. Therefore, of course more cash is needed.

I fundamentally believe in incentivising and rewarding hard work, in allowing people to keep more of the money they earn, and that people know better than the state how to spend their own money. A low-tax economy is a buoyant economy, and I hope that when this is all over, we can revert to proper Conservative economic policy. Any MP would say that healthcare features uppermost in their inbox. The struggles to access a GP, the waiting lists, the cancelled operations, the waiting times in A&E and the quality of care are all raised with us day in, day out, and they have very human consequences.

It may be that this is more of an issue in Telford than elsewhere. We have a particularly challenged hospital trust and clinical commissioning group, and some very serious problems have arisen during my time as MP. The trust is now in special measures, it is facing a police investigation into maternity deaths, and there has been a constant revolving door of highly paid senior managers who do not seem to be able to grasp some of the challenges. We have a GP super-surgery with 60,000 patients that has long operated telephone triage. Even pre-covid, people could not get the phone answered, so they have no option but to go to A&E and face huge waits. It is fair to say that it is completely understandable that Telford residents will always put the NHS as their No. 1 concern. We have also had grand transformational schemes devised by hospital management to spend £600 million of Government money. They have had seven years of thinking about it, and they still have not been able to put a shovel in the ground.

I have never been one to believe that throwing cash at a problem will provide a solution. We have a duty to ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely, and that waste and bureaucracy are stripped out. We need to make clear that what we are approving today is no blank cheque and that we expect trusts, CCGs and their management to work to put patient care and the patient experience first. That has been lacking. I know that from my experience and my constituents’ experience. They are so often treated as a nuisance or with contempt. That must stop, and this money will help that to happen. I want my constituents to have far, far better patient care than they currently receive and I know they want to see extra cash spent. They will expect improvements, and I caution that this is not the time to be removing the A&E or other local services from Telford.

The motion before us today is a much-needed first step that I welcome fully. I congratulate my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Health Secretary for being bold, for being ambitious for our future and for being willing to embrace the big challenges that others have failed to seize. They have my full support, and I hope that all Members on the Government Benches will also be able to support our leaders.

Oral Answers to Questions

Lucy Allan Excerpts
Tuesday 22nd June 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Chris Clarkson Portrait Chris Clarkson (Heywood and Middleton) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage employers to take on more apprentices.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage employers to take on more apprentices.

Edward Timpson Portrait Edward Timpson (Eddisbury) (Con)
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What steps his Department is taking to encourage employers to take on more apprentices.

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Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I am delighted to hear that my hon. Friend is working with Hopwood Hall College in his constituency to hire an apprentice. Hopefully, I will get an opportunity to meet them in the future. He is right about the ability of this scheme to support all types of employers. Small businesses in particular should know that the £3,000 equates to about a 35% wage subsidy for young apprentices and the Government pay 95% of all training costs, so there has never been a better time for employers to do as he says to help turbocharge our recovery and to hire an apprentice.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan
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As with every economic crisis, it is Telford’s young people who have been hit hardest by the pandemic. Telford College is playing a vital role in working with employers across the region and securing 1,000 quality apprenticeships this year, helping young people to build their future. Will the Chancellor congratulate Telford College on its inspirational work, and will he commit to putting skills and opportunities for young people front and centre in his economic recovery plan?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I am delighted to hear that news from my hon. Friend. I am happy to congratulate Telford College on a fantastic performance in creating new apprenticeships and working with its local employers to provide those opportunities. She is absolutely right: young people have borne the brunt economically of this crisis. They comprise the majority of the job losses, so it is right that they are front and centre of our minds as we think about the recovery. That is why, whether it is the kickstart scheme, tripling the number of traineeships or the new lifetime skills guarantee, we are focused on providing them with the opportunities and support that they need.

Covid-19: Economy Update

Lucy Allan Excerpts
Thursday 22nd October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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It is exactly because we need to adopt a balanced approach that we have taken the more regional and tiered approach that we have. We never pretended there are easy choices here—it would be wrong to say otherwise. We are balancing protecting the economy and protecting people’s jobs and livelihoods while suppressing the virus, in the least damaging way possible. There is no perfect answer. As I said, there are no easy choices. But we will always be honest about that and try to tread that careful path between those two things. What would be more damaging for people’s jobs and livelihoods is a blunt national lockdown, which would inflict unnecessary hardship and suffering on people where the virus is not particularly rampant.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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Throughout this crisis, the Chancellor has shown himself to be adaptable, nimble, flexible, dextrous and agile—perhaps it is down to the Peloton bike or a yoga exercise. I do not know what it is down to, but those are critical skills, essential for success in any endeavour. I thank him from the bottom of my heart for the measures he has announced today, which will benefit my constituents, who have struggled so much to keep their livelihoods afloat. I am truly grateful to him. Does he agree that the sledgehammer blunt instrument of a circuit breaker or fire break—call it what you like, but that type of lockdown—would be devastating to our communities and our economy? Will he do everything he can to ensure that that does not happen?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank her for her warm words. She knows, as someone who is a huge champion of small businesses in her area, repeatedly bringing their concerns to this Chamber, how damaging it would be to inflict unnecessary pain and suffering on those businesses and those people’s jobs and livelihoods. That is why the Prime Minister’s and this Government’s approach of a regional, tiered strategy is absolutely the right one.

Covid-19: Disparate Impact

Lucy Allan Excerpts
Thursday 22nd October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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The Government are providing money to those people who have to self-isolate. On the broader issue of people from ethnic minority backgrounds working in lower-paid employment, this is one of the things that we dealt with as part of the employer risk guidance, which we repeatedly gave in July and September.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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May I say what a fantastic job the Minister is doing in tackling some of the most difficult issues head on? I pay tribute to her for her courage and I thank her for participating in the trial at Guy’s and St Thomas’s. It is abhorrent that any Member of the House should do anything to discourage participation in any such trial. Does the Minister agree that it is the duty of every Member of the House to work with our communities, as leaders, in encouraging participation in such an important trial?

Kemi Badenoch Portrait Kemi Badenoch
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I agree with my hon. Friend and, as I said to the hon. Member for West Ham (Ms Brown), this is not something that should be a cause for division in the House. We should be working together on this. I did not write the letter just to Conservative colleagues; I wrote it to all colleagues, and I hope that people will take up the notices in it and share them across their communities.

The Economy

Lucy Allan Excerpts
Thursday 24th September 2020

(3 years, 8 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I apologise to the hon. Gentleman; I will find his correspondence as soon as I can and get him the reply that he deserves. I do not think I disagree with him. It is right that we focus our support on viable jobs. Those jobs are, in part, not viable because of the restrictions. The balance that we have to get right is in understanding that we will be dealing with this virus for a while to come—it is not here and then gone. That changes what our support should do. We have to focus it on those with a genuine prospect of employment, and I think the job support scheme gets that balance right. It is generous and flexible. With regard to hospitality, which is important to his constituency, I know that the industry will warmly welcome the extension of the VAT cut into the spring.

Lucy Allan Portrait Lucy Allan (Telford) (Con)
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The Chancellor has shown himself to be nimble and agile throughout this crisis. I congratulate him on his statement and his recognition that we must adapt and evolve and can no longer put our lives on hold. I particularly welcome the measures to support hospitality and the 5% VAT rate extension. The fantastic Telford International Centre for businesses and conferences brings in 300,000 people every year, but its turnover is now zero. Will he continue to do all he can to support the events industry, which is so important to my town?

Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I thank my hon. Friend for her comments, and she is right: the Government must respond with agility as the virus and our economy evolve over the coming weeks and months, and we will continue to do that. I very much sympathise with her and those in the events industry, given the difficulties they are experiencing. I know that conversations are ongoing with the Business Secretary about what can be done to best ensure that, at some point in the future, we can return to what we all want, which is the thriving industry her constituency wants to see.