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What The Papers Say
Below are some press articles that involve David. All articles are the copyright of the respective journals.

MPs blast 'failed' welfare reform
The Express, by Kerry Gill and Alison Little, 5 July 2023

We're losing war on Benefit cheats
The Express, by Alison Little, 5 July 2023

Tories rap shake-up
The Sun, 5 July 2023

Campaigners shock at hospital times
EADT, by Grahame Dines, 5 July 2023

Plea for help against shoplifters
EADT, by Lawrence Cawley, 5 July 2023

Labours' 'sham' on benefits
Daily Mail, by Tim Shipman, 30 June 2023

Grey power alive and kicking in Suffolk
Evening Star, 27 June 2023

Beds to go as hospital cuts worsen
Bury Free Press, 16 June 2023

Blair U-turn over welfare reforms
Sunday Express, by Julia Hartley-Brewer, 11 June 2023

Blair to water down welfare policy reform;
Sunday Express, Julia Hartley-Brewer, 11 June 2023

NI numbers for thousands of illegal immigrants
The Scotman, by Gerri Peev, 2 June 2023

Thousands face paying back money
Evening Star, 1 June 2023

Benefit claimants may have to face lie detector
Independant on Sunday, by Marie Woolf, 28 May 2023

Revealed: Scottish unemployment almost three times the official figure
Scotland on Sunday, by Eddie Barnes, 28 May 2023

5.5bn pounds of taxpayers' cash thrown away in great benefits fiasco
The Daily Mail, by Tim Shipman, 27 May 2023

Scroungers cost us 1bn pounds
The Express, by Gabriel Milland, 27 May 2023

5bn pounds for fraud and foul-ups
The Sun, by George Pascoe-Watson, 27 May 2023

Benefit fraud and error cost 5.5bn pounds
The Times, by David Charter, 27 May 2023

Welfare blunders cost south-east 300million pounds
The Evening Standard, by Joe Murphy, 26 May 2023

MP talkies saves yorkies
Sunday Express, 24 May 2023

Fight and fight again over debt by Moreton Hall MP David Ruffley
Bury Free Press, 22 May 2023

Hospital in battle to save jobs
Bury Free Press, 22 May 2023

Time for walkies! Redwood helps save sad yorkies
Sunday Express, by Julia Hartley-Brewer, 21 May 2023

Enter, stage left...
Bury Free Press, 19 May 2023

MP calls for vote over police merger
Evening Star, 18 May 2023

Food giants start brown sauce war
The Mirror, 13 May 2023

MP wants Branston in the House
EADT, 13 May 2023

Will Blair leave in tears?
EADT, 12 May 2023

Charities clear message
Bury Free Press, 11 May 2023

Charity's clear message
Bury Free Press, 11 May 2023

Future of Air Search teams to be decided
EADT, 09 May 2023

100 000 pound pre-school opens its doors
Bury Free Press, 28 April 2023

Region's NHS still £90m in the red
EADT, by Danielle Nuttall, 24 April 2023

Hospital braced for another tough year
EADT, 22 April 2023

Benefit overpayments under Labour nearing Pounds 2.5bn
Financial Times, 20 April 2023

2bn aid is blown
The Sun, 20 April 2023

Labour has paid out pounds 2 bn benefits in error
The Daily Telegraph, 20 April 2023

How benefit blunders leave the taxpayers with an extra £2bn bill
The Daily Express, 20 April 2023

surgeries keep me in the picture by Moreton Hall MP David Ruffley
18 April 2023

Questions over 1 million pound repair bill
Bury Free Press, 18 April 2023

Search and rescue privatisation fears
EADT, by Johnathan Barnes, 17 April 2023

Fears over gravestone costs
EAD, by Dave Gooderham, 7 April 2023

Questions over grave repair bill
Bury Free Press, 30 March 2023

Village event axed due to red tape
EADT, Will Graham-Clarke, 30 March 2023

Cost of graveyard repairs revealed
EADT, by Dave Gooderham, 30 March 2023

Countywide anger as police set to merge
EADT, by Danielle Nuttall, 21 March 2023

Going Green by David Ruffley MP
Bury Free Press, 20 March 2023

380 jobs to go in factory closure
Bury Free Press, 17 March 2023

'Phantom parents' claim pounds 260m
The Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2023

'Begging letters' ask pensioners to send money back
The Daily Telegraph, 11 March 2023

U-turn on pension credits clawback
The Daily Mail, 11 March 2023

Ministers to waive excess pension payments to poor
The Times, 11 March 2023

Government paid £ 130m too much through pension errors
The Times, 11 March 2023

Elderly must repay pounds 130m in pension credit fiasco
Th e Daily Telegraph, 10 March 2023

165,000 pensioners could be told to hand back cash
Daily Mail, 10 March 2023

Millions lose out on their pensions
The Express, 10 March 2023

Handouts scandal hits OAPs
The Sun, 10 March 2023

Elderly may have to repay credits
The Times, 10 March 2023

Crossroads is open, but work goes on
Bury Free Press, 6 March 2023

Anger as grant cuts hit disability service
Bury Free Press, 1 March 2023

Mast scheme sparks anger
Bury Free Press, 1 March 2023

Anger and disbelief at cemetery 'desecration'
Bury Free Press, 24 February 2023

Two million questions
EADT, by Lisa Cleverdon, 17 March 2023

'Illogical' smoking ban gets a mixed reaction
Bury Free Press, 17 February 2023

Chancellor accused of 'mandarinism' in MPC
The Times, 15 February 2023

Incapacity benefit skivers who dodge check-ups by a doctor;
The Sunday Express, 5 February 2023

Cheat with a handicap . . .but only on golf course
The Sunday Express, 5 February 2023

Drive to cut benefit claimants 'fatally flawed'
The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2023

Junkies' handout scandal
The Sun, 3 February 2023

Number on sickness benefit has risen 20 times under Labour
The Daily Mail, 2 February 2023

Crackdown? The 2.7m on welfare won't lose a penny
The Daily Mail, 25 January 2023

Sick payout bid 'doomed'
The Sun, 25 January 2023

MPs to call on Brown to review his 'golden rule'
The Times, 23 January 2023

Payouts upheaval rocks pensioners
Sunday Express, 22 January 2023

Blair urged to rescue Post Office contract for benefit payments
Financial Times, 20 January 2006,

NHS is 'out of control'
Bury Free Press, 18 January 2023

Villagers 'in disbelief' after plan is approved
Bury Free Press, 17 January 2023

Death figures make for sober reading
Bury Free Press, 3 January 2024

Health trusts short-changed - claim
Bury Free Press, 28 December 2023

Labour's U-turn on welfare reform
Daily Mail, by Benedict Brogan, 28 December 2023

Cash crisis may force GPs' surgery to close for month
Daily Telegraph, By David Sapsted, 21 December 2023

Return of the `East Anglia mafia'
EADT, by Graham Dines, 14 December 2023

Waiting in shadows
EADT, Editorial, 14 December 2023

New MPs join the front bench
Daily Telegraph, by George Jones, 14 December 2023

'Don't blame me, it's your fault'
The Times, Gary Duncan, 9 December 2023

The Chancellor's "Spin cycle"
The Times, 9 December 2023

Don't blame me, Brown tells MPs, it's the Bank
The Guardian, by Larry Elliot, 9 December 2023

Brown blames slowdown on rate rises
The Independent, by Philip Thornton, 9 December 2023

Public sector unions threaten to strike over retirement age
The Times, by Gary Duncan, 9 December 2023

MP blasts Prescott over 999 mergers
Bury Free Press, 21 October 2023

Regional Government 'by the back door'
East Anglian Daily Times, 19 October 2023

Priced out of the market
Bury Free Press, 4 October 2023

MP goes back to school
Bury Free Press, October 2005

Health secretary issues blunt warning
East Anglian Daily Times, 30 September 2023

Police chief's pledge over merger plans
Bury Free Press, 26 September 2023

People power secures a pedestrian crossing
Bury Free Press, 20 Septmeber 2005

MPs condemn terrorist attacks
by Jonathan Barnes, East Anglian Daily Times, 8 July 2023

Higher council tax bills warning
by Graham Dines, East Anglian Daily Times, 29 June 2023

D-Day for health service cuts
Benedict O'Connor, East Anglian Daily Times, 29 June 2023

MPs hold crisis talks over hospital's debts
Bury Free Press, 27 June 2023

Hospital axes 200 staff amid cash crisis
East Anglain Daily Times, 25 June 2023

Going forward with hope - by David Ruffley MP
Bury Free Press, 22 June 2023

Talks held on club's future
Bury Free Press, 10 June 2023

Council Services Scandal
Jonathan Barnes, East Anglian Daily Times, 9 June, 2005

David Ruffley retains Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket seat
Bury Free Press, 6 May 2023

Looking to the future
Bury Free Press, 4 February 2023

Buses fares hike shocks passengers
Bury Free Press, 15 February 2023

Heat rises at fire station
Bury Free Press, 19 January 2023

Meeting called on the buses
Bury Free Press, 13 December 2023

Bus saga: is end in sight?
Bury Free Press, 10 November 2023

Empty - but not the rhetoric
Graham Dines, East Anglian daily Times, 20 September 2023

Victory as Post Office opens
Bury Free Press, 6 September 2023

Residents concerned after travellers set up camp
Bury Free Press, 6 August 2023

Ruffley tops constituents league table
Graham Dines, East Anglian Daily Times, 24 August 2023

Widow wins battle for medical kit
Bury Free Press, 28 June 2023

Anger over ward closure plan
Bury Free Press, 4 June 2023

Angry commuters seal rail victory
Bury Free Press, 21 May 2023

FURY AS Axe falls on school bus
Bury free Press, 7 May 2023

Villagers 'no' to 600 new homes
Bury Free Press, 29 March 2023

Post office victory
Bury Free Press, 12 March 2023

A14 could become a car park, warns MP
Bury Free Press, 24 February 2023

MP calls for support for CCTV campaign
Bury Free Press, 27 January 2023

He is 'grey suit' man,
East Anglian Daily Times, December 2003

Santa Brown and the Five Wise Men
Ann Treneman, The Times Parliamentary Sketch, 19 December 2023

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail Parliamentary Sketch, 19 December 2023

How Brown will put 3m more in the top tax band
Paul Eastham, Daily Mail, 16 December 2023

Make land available - or forget it, says MP
Bury Free Press, 6 October 2023

Ruffley warns of doctor crisis
Bury Free Press, 28 July 2023

MP takes a look at the young side of life . . .
Bury Free Press, 4 March 2023

He Went for Brown like a Chipmunk at a Bag of Nuts
Quentin Letts, Daily Mail Parliamentary Stetch, 28 February 2023

When All Else Fails, Why Not Try a Little Loyalty?
William Rees-Mogg, The Times, 24 February 2023

City Watchdog ‘asleep on job’ over split trusts
Paul Armstrong, Evening Standard, 14 November 2023

Taxes to go up? Brown still refuses to answer
Paul Eastham, Daily Mail, 19 July 2023

MPs take time out to reflect on a year
Bury Free Press, 6 June 2023

Tax 'black hole' denied by Brown The Budget
Benedict Brogan, Daily Telegraph, 25 April 2023

MP's bid for extra hospice cash
Bury Free Press, 9 April 2023

MP's New attack on Bed-Blocking figures
Bury Free Press, 7 March 2023

The House Magazine
George Jones, Political Editor of the Daily Telegraph

Recognition for a Top Tory
Graham Dines, East Anglian Daily Times, 18 December 2023


MPs blast 'failed' welfare reform
The Express, by Kerry Gill and Alison Little, 5 July 2023
THE Government's longawaited benefit revolution was last night branded a flop. Ministers boasted they would get a million people on long-term sick and disability benefit into work over 10 years and save the taxpayer GBP 7billion a year. But critics said the package offered nothing to those now on Incapacity Benefit because the new rules will be imposed only on people who start claiming from 2008. They also accused Labour of backtracking on previous tough talk, amid suspicion that Tony Blair is running scared of a rebellion by backbench MPs. About 2.7million people now claim Incapacity Benefit - up from 1.2million in 1988 - at a total cost of GBP 12.5billion a year. The figure in Scotland is more than 190,000 and, in certain parts of Glasgow, two in every five adults receive incapacity benefit. Newly released welfare figures show Glasgow has the highest number of incapacity benefit claimants in the UK. More than 55,000 people in the city are on incapacity benefit, according to the Department for Work and Pensions. Glasgow East and North East topped the list of 100 UK constituencies with the highest number of people receiving handouts. They get GBP 57.65 a week, rising to around GBP 78 after a year - an increase which ministers have described as a disincentive to get back to work. David Ruffley, Tory Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, said: "This is a damp squib of a Bill. It may be long on good intentions but it is short on delivering enough effective help to claimants who want to get out of dependency and into jobs.''

We're losing war on Benefit cheats
The Express, by Alison Little, 5 July 2023
THE Government's longawaited benefit revolution was last night branded a "deeply flawed damp squib". Ministers boasted their plans would get one million people on long-term sick and disablement benefit into work over 10 years and save taxpayers GBP 7billion a year. But critics said the package wouldn't deliver the goods, and offered nothing to those now on incapacity benefit because the new rules will be imposed only on people who start claiming from 2008. Critics also said the Government had backtracked on previous tough talk, amid suspicion that Chancellor Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are running scared of rebellion by Labour MPs. About 2.7 million people now claim incapacity benefit - up from 1.2 million in 1988 - at a total cost of GBP 12.5billion a year. They get GBP 57.65 a week, rising to around GBP 78 after a year - which ministers describe as a disincentive to get back to work. Under plans published in yesterday's Welfare Reform Bill, incapacity benefit would be replaced from 2008 by a new employment and support allowance. Specialist advisers in Jobcentres will offer counselling, training and advice to claimants thought able to work. Claimants assessed as able to work in the future would face benefit cuts for failing to cooperate. Those deemed unable ever to work would be exempted. The allowance rates for both groups would be higher than the current upper level of incapacity benefit, but the Government says money will be saved because more people will work and pay taxes. Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton said the measures had "general support''. But David Ruffley, Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, said: "This is a damp squib of a Bill. It may be long on good intentions but it is short on delivering enough effective help to claimants who want to get out of dependency and into jobs.'' He stressed 350,000 people would come off the benefit register anyway over 10 years, due to retirement, death and other causes. He added: "The Bill gives no promise of help to today's existing claimants, half of whom have been trapped on incapacity benefit for over five years. These people, who with the right help could back into some form of work and so lead more fulfilling lives, are going to be left behind in the cold.'' Existing claimants will be allowed voluntarily to switch to the new system but the Government has not set a date for moving all on to it. Mr Ruffley said: "That's New Labour Speak for 'existing claimants, you are on your own, mate'. This is totally unfair." The Government also announced GBP 360million to extend the Pathways to Work scheme, which offers claimants help to return to work. The Department says pilot schemes have helped 25,000 people, but admits early talk o putting job advisers in GP surgeries was still only being piloted in about eight venues. Former Cabinet Minister David Blunkett's threat to "name and shame'' GPs for issuing too many sick notes seems to have disappeared. Mr Ruffley said the new money for Pathways to Work wouldn't be enough to fund it effectively nationally and claimed: "John Hutton has lost his battle with Gordon Brown to get adequate funding for his reform measures. There is a danger that we have watered down welfare reform."

Tories rap shake-up
The Sun, 5 July 2023
TONY Blair's shake-up of Britain's welfare system was branded a"dampsquib" by the Tories last night. The overhaul -published yesterday -will fail to take ONE claimant off incapacity benefit. The Government has set up instead a £ 300million Pathways To Work scheme to help those on sick benefit find work. Tory spokesman David Ruffley warned that existing claimants would be "left out in the cold".

Campaigners shock at hospital times
EADT, by Grahame Dines, 5 July 2023
HOSPITAL campaigners spoke of their disbelief last night after it emerged the Government is preparing to build 50 new community hospitals - at the same time as three in Suffolk face closure. No word has been heard from Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt since she was asked to intervene in proposals to close Hartismere Hospital in Eye, the Bartlet in Felixstowe and to axe a number of beds at Aldeburgh Hospital. The plans, which had been drawn up by primary care trusts in east Suffolk in a desperate bid to claw back overspending of millions of pounds, were referred to Ms Hewitt by the county's health scrutiny committee in February. However, proposals to reconfigure health services in the west of the county, including the closure of St Leonard's at Sudbury and the closure of all beds at the Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury and Newmarket, were accepted by councillors on the scrutiny committee. Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said he had heard “nothing at all” from the Secretary of State. “It is surprising, given that her decision is not difficult because the case for retaining the hospitals is overwhelming. To destroy these hospitals will in no sense meet the under funding facing the primary care trusts in east Suffolk,” he said. Mr Gummer said it would be amazing if the Government was prepared to open up to 50 new community hospitals in England when closing one and a half - the Bartlet and a number of beds in Aldeburgh - in his constituency. In the House of Commons this afternoon, Ms Hewitt will announce that a new generation of up to 50 new NHS community hospitals are to be built in England and she will ask for NHS trusts which want to start building this financial year to put in bids by the end of September. Campaigners last night spoke of their hope the development could help Suffolk's closure-threatened hospitals. Roy Gray, of Save Our Felixstowe Hospitals, said: “I'm pleased to hear the Government has recognised the value of community hospitals. Having heard this, I would obviously be very disappointed if the Bartlet was closed.” Helen Tucker, of the Hartismere Hospital League of Friends, said: “We're hoping it through us a bit of a lifeline. “Clearly each community hospital needs to develop its own business case but I'm certain many hospitals under threat of closure could provide superb care, including Hartismere.” Frances Jackson, of the Walnuttree Hospital Action Committee, hoped the Government announcement would ensure a community hospital is established in the Sudbury area. The Department of Health refused to comment ahead of the Health Secretary's announcement and was not able to indicate when the decision on east Suffolk hospitals would be made. Meanwhile, two MPs are to send a petition complaining about health funding in the county to Secretary of State Patricia Hewitt. Richard Spring (West Suffolk) and David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) met the Rev Jonathan Ford outside Parliament to receive the petition containing 1,001 signatures from the Bury area. “We will be sending it directly to Patricia Hewitt to make her clearly aware of the depth of feeling among residents in Suffolk about the damage being done to the local health services due to the unfair level of funding from the Government,” said Mr Ruffley.

Plea for help against shoplifters
EADT, by Lawrence Cawley, 5 July 2023
A TRADER who claims her store is being targeted by “steal-to-order” thieves has called on the police to supply pictures of prolific shoplifters. Bury St Edmunds once had a Shopwatch scheme where traders would meet and discuss various issues and where the police would provide photographs of repeat offenders. But since the scheme was wound down just over a year ago, traders in the historic market town have not been receiving pictures of known shoplifters. A number of town centre traders yesterday joined forces in calling for photographs of shoplifters to be handed over, so that staff could all be made aware of faces they should be looking out for. Bury police said it welcomed the idea of revisiting the issue of supplying pictures as it was committed to protecting shopkeepers from thieves. Giselle Roadley-Battin, store manager at Palmers Department Store, said the home section of the store had fallen victim to thieves stealing to order. She said: “We used to get mug shots and they were shown to staff during training. It worked wonders but we are now just not in the know. “I would love to plaster pictures all over the staff room. I think they should be there for staff to be aware. We don't have a problem in the fashion department but they steal to order in the home store. “We do try and prevent it and I am very proud of my staff.” She added that her staff's powers to refuse entry to a suspected thief or to follow them very closely around the store would be greatly increased - and more justified - if such actions were based on photographs provided by the police. Mary McIntosh, manager at the book store Ottakar's, in the Buttermarket, agreed and called for pictures to be provided by the police to help with staff training and awareness. She said: “I would be slightly reluctant to have a naming and shaming campaign but I would welcome pictures of offenders to show to staff.” Bury MP David Ruffley has called on the police to resume the supply of pictures to town retailers. He said: “Local shop owners and managers are frustrated and rightly so. These shoplifting criminals pose a threat to local businesses. Staff need to be aware of who the repeat shoplifters in the town are.” Inspector Adrian Calton, of Bury police, said: “Bury St Edmunds Police launched Shopwatch in 2002. The aim of this was to keep all shops within the town communicating with each other and with the police in a bid to reduce retail crime and gather intelligence regarding regular shoplifters. “One part of the scheme was to distribute photographs of regular offenders to a nominated person at each location, in accordance with the Retail Crime Initiative. “The main aim of this depended upon shops joining the scheme and supporting the initiative. Although initial interest in this scheme was positive the majority of stores, despite attempts from the Community Support Officer, failed to support it and as such it ceased to run as we would have liked. “We fully support the proposal by David Ruffley MP to revisit this initiative and would be happy to look into re-supplying photographs to retailers so long as local retailers are committed to joining and supporting this initiative.”

Labours' 'sham' on benefits
Daily Mail, by Tim Shipman, 30 June 2023
LABOUR'S vow to move one million people off Incapacity Benefit within ten years is a sham, say Tories. The Government said welfare reforms would slash the number of claimants from 2.7million today to 1.7million by 2016. But ministers were accused yesterday of fiddling the figures after it emerged there will be 350 , 000 fewer claimants by then even if nothing is done. That means Labour will have to move only 650,000 off the benefit to hit the target. The revelation will embarrass Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton, who made the goal the centrepiece of plans for welfare reform. Ministers say there are fewer claimants because they have already introduced measures to help people back to work. But the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion, a Leftwing think-tank, says much of the fall will be natural wastage. Claimants cease to be eligible when they become pensioners, whose numbers are soaring leading to a drop in those who receive the benefit. Mr Hutton told MPs in March: 'We are not trying to do any statistical sleight of hand.' But fellow minister Anne McGuire released new figures yesterday showing the number of Incapacity Benefit claimants is already due to fall. She added: 'These forecasts do not take into account any of the proposed policy changes.' Shadow welfare reform minister David Ruffley said: 'In true New Labour style, John Hutton has fiddled the figures. It is a sham. He is not trying to help one million people get off benefit. He's only going to help 650,000. This is proof Labour are not serious about helping people out of dependency and leading more fulfilling lives. 'The taxpayer will also have something to say about John Hutton's double dealing. As a result, benefit bills are going to be higher than they need be and the taxpayer will fund it.' A source close to Mr Hutton defended the pledge and attributed the fall in claimants to the Pathways to Work scheme, which makes claimants attend job-related interviews. He said: 'This is in no way a soft target. We will have to fight very hard to achieve it.' A DWP spokesman said: 'This is an ambitious aspiration which we are committed to.'

Grey power alive and kicking in Suffolk
Evening Star, 27 June 2023
PENSIONERS are said to be the group of the population most likely to vote in elections, but in Suffolk grey power is taking on a whole new meaning. But September four of the county's seven MPs will be eligible for free transport on buses - although I wouldn't count on seeing Sir Michael Lord, John Gummer, Tim Yeo or Richard Spring on the Number 13 to Tesco! Sir Michael and Mr Gummer are already pensioners at 67 and 66 respectively, Mr Yeo is 61 and Mr Spring hits the 60 mark at the end of the summer. I'm all for experience, but it is difficult to persuade youngsters to take an interest in politics when everyone representing them is at least a generation older than they are. Just for the record Suffolk's younger MPs are Waveney's Bob Blizzard at 55, Ipswich MP Chris Mole at 48 and the “baby” of them all, Bury MP David Ruffley at 44. None of the older MPs have given any indication that they are thinking of retiring, even though they're passing the age at which civil servants are expected to retire and take their gongs to a retirement cottage. In fact the House of Commons seems to hold a grip over many MPs that makes it difficult to persuade them to leave the stage. The oldest MP, Piara Kabra, is 81. Former prime minister Ted Heath was 85 when he stood down from the House of Commons in 2001 and Sir Winston Churchill was only just short of 90 when he stood down in 1964. Of course experience is very valuable when dealing with matters of great importance - but it does make the House of Commons look very unrepresentative of the nation as a whole. Is it any wonder that 18 year olds are unwilling to vote if the youngest MPs they see are older than their parents? As parliament is currently constituted, the House of Lords is the perfect place for retired MPs to be able to dispense their advice and words of wisdom to those currently running the country. Wouldn't it be better if any MP who steps down voluntarily over the age of 60, and who has served a minimum of 10 years in the Commons, was guaranteed a place in the Lords? That way all those ageing MPs who tell the world they have something to contribute to Parliament would be able to retain their ticket to the Palace of Westminster's bars and restaurants. And the House of Commons might be freed up for more young MPs that the ordinary voters can identify with. But somehow I can't help feeling that the current crop of 60+ MPs would still remain reluctant to swap the green benches of the Commons for the red benches of the Lords. WHEN will Tony Blair step down? That is still the question that is exercising a number of political analysts - and I'm now told that most of his MPs expect him to go next year. I said some time ago that I thought his tenure could be measure in weeks rather than months or years. He seems to have weathered the cash for questions, Home Office and Prescott scandals - but his leadership still looks shaky and I'm not sure that it wouldn't take just one more serious crisis to derail him altogether. If he does make it to Christmas, though, most of his colleagues expect him to call it a day in 2007. The obvious time to announce his departure would be the May elections, which will be the 10th anniversary of his arrival in Downing Street. That would give Labour five months to choose Gordon Brown as his successor in time for a coronation at the October party conference. However many MPs expect him to announce his departure before May - because at that time there are elections for the Scottish and Welsh assemblies as well as district councils across the country. “The party will not want to go into an election with uncertainty over the leadership still hanging over it,” a senior Labour figure told me. “I'm expecting an announcement February or March. Gordon would make a very good prime minister, but I think even he would like a contest to establish some kind of authority over the party.” That's all very well, but who on earth is going to stand simply on the basis that they want to give Mr Brown a contest? If they score a very poor vote - which seems likely given all those Labour people queuing up to say what a wonderful PM Mr Brown will be - where will that leave them when he comes to step down? And frankly their credibility within the party would be hit, possibly fatally. When Mr Blair does announce his departure date, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see no one else stand for the leadership except for Mr Brown, giving him a full summer to prepare for the move to Number 10. I HOPE my car doesn't break down next time I drive along Westerfield Road or Tuddenham Road, I migh get lynched after my comments last week about the proposed north Ipswich development! There have been many letters having a go at my views and denying that the objections are based on snobbery. But they miss the point rather. The issue is that if it is agreed that Ipswich needs more family homes then they have to go somewhere. And it is no good the people in one part of town nodding sagely and wringing their hands before saying: “Of course they can't be built around here, it's totally unsuitable,” simply because it's near where they live. It's no good people in the north of Ipswich saying: “build the homes in Kesgrave or Claydon.” The people of Kesgrave and Claydon have already had their share of new homes. And if they're saying: “Don't build any more homes in Ipswich.” Then they'll be condemning the town to stagnation and just adding to the homelessness problem. The one issue - as I said last week - which does cause a problem is the roads which will need to be improved into the town centre. But Westerfield Road and Tuddenham Road are wide enough for most of their distance into the town - and I'm sure it will not be impossible to overcome the pinch points.

Beds to go as hospital cuts worsen
Bury Free Press, 16 June 2023
West Suffolk Hospital is to close its existing gynaecology and orthopaedic wards as part of cutbacks to save money and streamline services. The current 21 beds in F10 will close and gynaecological services will move to a new seven-bed unit on F12, which is currently unused. The orthopaedic ward on F4, which had 33 beds, will now operate with just 21 beds. These measures are expected to save £600,000 a year. The hospital is currently battling to save £2.45 million but it will need to find a further £1.27 million to break even. Over the last two years, it has delivered savings of £11 million by improving the way it works. However, it still has a £12 million historic deficit to pay back by March 2008. Over the next two years, there will be bed closures and job cutbacks. The West Suffolk Hospitals NHS Trust has already announced plans to cut 100 posts in the coming year - hospital bosses have pledged to try to avoid compulsory redundancies. The 26-bed closure will be effected through more procedures being done through day surgery - avoiding the need for overnight stays. Last year, 55 beds were closed and the hospital nevertheless achieved and bettered Goverenment targets for waiting times. Chief executive Chris Bown said: "We have been freezing posts and managing our vacancies to minimise the impact on staff and it is our intention to redeploy as many members of staff as possible." This week, figures released by the Department of Health showed that the hospital trust was the seventh worst performing in England with an overspend of £11,833,000 - 12.1 per cent of turnover. A trust spokesman said: "No matter where we are in the table, it does not alter the fact we have a job to do and that is to get back in balance financially. "Over the past two years, the trust has managed to save £11 million. This is an amazing feat without dropping major services but we still have a massive target." David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds, has called for the scrapping of the Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority, which oversees the financial management of health services in the region. He said: "It is financial meltdown in Suffolk with such overspend because the SHA have never delivered on anything they have promised. Not one single patient in my constituency would notice the difference if it was scrapped."

Blair U-turn over welfare reforms
Sunday Express, by Julia Hartley-Brewer, 11 June 2023
TONY BLAIR is set to back down on his plans for "radical" welfare reforms because of fears of a backlash from Left-wing Labour MPs. The Prime Minister has ordered his Welfare and Pensions Secretary John Hutton to water down the long-awaited reforms to Incapacity Benefit set to be published this month. MPs were promised a radical shake-up of the system in a bid to get one million of the 2.7 million claimants back to work and save taxpayers billions of pounds every year. The Government is expected to publish the results of a major consultation on the planned reforms within weeks, after which the final draft of the Bill will go before MPs. But the Sunday Express has learned that plans to compel claimants to carry out parttime voluntary and community work to encourage them back into the world of work have been shelved. Many Labour backbenchers think the plan is too close to "workfare", the US-style system which requires all benefits claimants to work. With pressure mounting on Mr Blair and Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott to leave office sooner rather than later, Government whips are wary of repeating the embarrassment of last month's Education Bill, when the Government had to rely on Tory votes to push the legislation through. The welfare reform green paper had promised to require all new claimants to attend a compulsory "work focused interview" to assess whether they were capable of doing any kind of work, even if they were no longer able to continue in their current j ob due to injury or illness. Mr Hutton promised to save GBP 7billion from the welfare bill by cutting 100,000 claimants a year over 10 years, starting from 2008. When he gave evidence to a Commons committee earlier this year, Mr Hutton left open the possibility of compulsory community work for claimants. He has handled proposals to get one million claimants into work skilfully so far, averting a backbench revolt when he announced the Government's plans in January. But he fears MPs could now change their minds if the plans are not watered down. Shadow welfare reform minister David Ruffley MP said: "All the signs are that John Hutton's so-called radical welfare reforms will bottle it, because he is scared of Labour Left-wingers." Britain's benefits system has grown so complex that a one-page leaflet of "do's and don'ts" has been produced by Whitehall's new GBP 290,000-a-year Simplification Unit to help staff through the maze.

Blair to water down welfare policy reform;
Sunday Express, Julia Hartley-Brewer, 11 June 2023
TONY BLAIR is set for a climbdown on plans for "radical" welfare reforms because of fears of a backlash from left-wing Labour MPs. The Prime Minister has ordered his Welfare and Pensions Secretary, John Hutton, to water down the long-awaited reforms to Incapacity Benefit (IB) set to be published this month. MPs had been promised a radical shake-up of the welfare system in a bid to get one million of the 2.7m claimants back into work and save taxpayers billions of pounds every year. The Government is expected to publish the results of a major consultation on the planned reforms within weeks, after which the final draft of the bill will go before MPs. But the Scottish Sunday Express has learned that plans to compel claimants to carry out part-time voluntary and community work to encourage them back into employment have been shelved amid fears of a left-wing backbench rebellion. There is also resentment among the medical profession over the crackdown, which would see GPs drafted in to help police the system. With pressure mounting on Mr Blair and his Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, to leave office sooner rather than later, Government whips are wary of repeating the embarrassment of last month's backbench rebellion over the Education Bill, which forced the Government to rely on Tory votes to push the legislation through. The welfare reform green paper had promised to require all new claimants to attend a compulsory "work-focused interview" to assess whether they were capable of doing any kind of work, even if they were no longer able to continue in their job due to injury or illness. Mr Hutton promised to save GBP 7bn a year from the welfare bill by cutting 100,000 claimants from the benefit roll every year over a 10-year period, starting from 2008. Mr Hutton had left open the possibility of compulsory community work for claimants. But sources have indicated that plans for a compulsory training programme, or voluntary work for all those fit enough, have been shelved. Many Labour backbenchers see any attempt to compel claimants to carry out voluntary work as too close to "workfare", the US-style system which requires all benefits claimants to work. Mr Hutton has handled proposals to get one million claimants into work skillfully so far, averting a backbench revolt when he announced the Government's plans in January. But he fears MPs could change their minds. Shadow welfare reform minister David Ruffley MP said: "All the signs are that John Hutton's so-called radical welfare reforms will bottle it, because he is scared of Labour left-wingers." The reforms could see the doctors recieving bonuses for cutting numbers of patients on Incapacity Benefit. Dr Murray Macpherson, assistant medical secretary of the Greater Glasgow and Clyde local medical committee, said: "There is widespread concern that these proposals could damage the relationship between doctors and their patients, particularly if the Government is looking to set targets and offer incentives. "Using GPs to police the benefits system will not improve the health of patients and may be counter-productive in helping those with sickness and disability back into work."

NI numbers for thousands of illegal immigrants
The Scotman, by Gerri Peev, 2 June 2023
THOUSANDS of illegal immigrants have been issued with National Insurance numbers, after officials were instructed to ignore misgivings about their legal status to work in Britain. The revelation that Jobcentre staff had for six years been told they had a duty to issue NI numbers - even if they suspected documents were forged - has triggered a fresh crisis of confidence in the government's handling of immigration and welfare. Ministers were forced last night to announce an overhaul of the laws governing NI to toughen up the issuing process. But the government was accused of dodging questions about how many migrants had been refused NI numbers. John Denham, the former Home Office minister, posed the question to officials two months ago, but had been given a "misleading" reply, he said. Although Jobcentre officials were told to pass on any suspicious applications to the Immigration and Nationality Directorate after issuing the NI number, the Home Office could not say how many of the 3,300 migrants had been prosecuted. The Conservatives seized on the lack of figures as evidence of "a massive hole in our systems", warning that it undermined confidence in the welfare system. David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "This is not just a massive administrative failure; it is a massive failure of political will to get a grip on this." A memo from Jobcentre Plus told staff: "Where DWP [the Department of Work and Pensions] is satisfied as to the individual's identity, an NI number would be issued in this situation even if we have suspicions around his immigration status. "Any prosecution action in respect of falsified immigration documentation would be the responsibility of IND [the Immigration and Nationality Directorate] - NOT DWP." The Department for Work and Pensions said it decided last month to close the "long-standing loophole", but the announcement was only made last night as the controversy came to light. But ministers could face further questions after David Ruffley, the shadow minister for welfare reform, vowed to make Freedom of Information requests to discover when John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, learned of the practice. "The Department of Work and Pensions has a shambolic record for overpaying and underpaying genuine claimants. Now it is allowing people to claim benefits who have no right to them," he said. "John Hutton leads a dysfunctional department and it is time he answered these questions on abuse of the system." But Jim Murphy, the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire, dismissed the attacks as "disingenuous", adding that the government was trying to take action on a decades-old system that was in place under the Tories.

Thousands face paying back money
Evening Star, 1 June 2023
A SUFFOLK MP today blamed “government incompetence” for thousands of families in Suffolk being ordered to pay back millions of pounds of overpaid tax credits. Figures released by the Treasury have shown that in Suffolk 21,800 families have been overpaid, and ordered by the Inland Revenue and Customs to repay, £17.2m. Families in Ipswich are among the worst affected with 4,400 families having been overpaid. More than 1.9 million claims nationwide were overpaid in 2004/5, up 120,000 from the system's first year when charities warned some families were being forced into poverty by repaying the debt. Overpayments are a part of an IT system bedevilled by problems which was designed to be flexible to take into account changes in income of families during the course of a year. But the scale has been much higher than expected, forcing the Treasury to make changes. Bury St Edmunds Conservative MP David Ruffley says he has dealt with two constituents from Stowmarket in the past month who have received demands for repayments between £1,000 and £2,000. “The blame lies with Government incompetence. Tax credits replaced the perfectly good family credits system which was simpler, less confusing, and had fewer rules and regulations. “It is not the software or the IT which is the problem, but the fact that tax credits were introduced with revenue officers not properly trained for this over complicated system.” said Mr Ruffley.
Benefit claimants may have to face lie detector
Independant on Sunday, by Marie Woolf, 28 May 2023
Suspected benefit fraudsters will facelie-detector tests in a Whitehall initiative designed to catch out cheats claiming cash they are not entitled to. The Government is preparing to test hi-tech voice analysis developed by the security industry in Israel and the United States, to catch out claimants who are not telling the truth. The lie-detector technology measures stress, hesitation and other indicators of anxiety in a person's voice. Ministers say it could help identify people falsely pretending to be single parents or fraudulently claiming benefits. False claims cost the taxpayer pounds 3bn a year. Civil servants have been talking to insurance companies which use the technology to combat fraud about the most effective way to test voice analysis' it could end up being used in telephone conversations or one-to-one interviews. The prospect has alarmed civil liberties campaigners who say lie detectors must be regulated and should not be used without the claimant's knowledge. "New technology such as this needs to be carefully regulated to ensure the innocent are not swept up with the guilty. Surely there are more transparent methods for catching fraudsters?" said Jen Corlewof Liberty. James Plaskitt, the work and pensions minister, admitted in questions from the Tories that he was considering how to pilot the technique. David Ruffley, the shadow minister for welfare reform, said he thought it could be a "valuable tool" but warned it should be used with caution to avoid deterring genuine claim ants. Some insurers do not believe the technology is reliable. Unlike the polygraph, which measures blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, voice analysis measures stress variations in a person's voice against the answers to mundane questions such as "what is your name?". Research has found that when a person is being deceptive, the voice tends to get higher. The technology is said to be able to differentiate between people who are anxious or hesitant and those who are lying.

Revealed: Scottish unemployment almost three times the official figure
Scotland on Sunday, by Eddie Barnes, 28 May 2023
THE true figure for unemployment in Scotland is 250,000 - almost three times the official number - according to a groundbreaking report. Research conducted by one of Britain's leading authorities on the welfare state claims there are 160,000 "hidden unemployed" in Scotland, many of them forced on to sickness benefits through lack of work. They outnumber by almost two to one the official unemployment claimant count of 88,000. The 160,000 make up around half of the total number of Scots presently on incapacity benefit, the GBP 78 a week payment given to those who are deemed too ill or disabled to be required to look for work. However, the report says this group, largely made up of less skilled workers, women and older workers, should be counted as among the unemployed, arguing that they are capable of working and, in a more vigorous economy, would have nothing to stop them finding a job. The report was written by Professor Steve Fothergill from Sheffield Hallam University for Scottish Enterprise, Scotland's job creation agency. Fothergill rejects claims that those on incapacity benefit are "malingerers", arguing that people on the payment do have genuine health problems. However, he insists that they are not so unwell as to be prevented from working. "What has happened is that in the competition for jobs, less healthy workers, many of whom are also older and less well qualified, have lost out," he says. "Sometimes they were the workers made redundant in the great wave of job losses that affected industries such as coal, steel and heavy engineering. Sometimes they lost out indirectly as the ex-miners and ex-steelworkers took jobs that would have gone to other men and women in the local area." Consequently, such people have slid on to incapacity benefit, which offers a more generous and longer-term income than other forms of support. He adds: "Where jobs are in plentiful supply, as in parts of southern England, many people with health problems and disabilities do continue to work and employers can't afford to be so fussy." Fothergill's research works out the numbers of hidden unemployed by benchmarking the number of people on sickness benefits in individual areas against the figures in other regions where there is near full employment. It also factors in regional trends of genuine illness to estimate how many people on sickness benefit are genuinely incapable of keeping a job. By far the largest number of hidden unemployed in Scotland were found in Glasgow. Fothergill estimates that some 39,100 incapacity benefit claimants could work, and should therefore be on the official unemployment register. The figure represents 10 per cent of the entire working age population of the city. The figures come as ministers consult on a welfare reform green paper which is expected to propose major changes to the sickness benefit system in Britain. The government is also extending a 'Pathways to Work' pilot scheme designed to encourage those on incapacity benefit to find jobs. Responding to the claims of hidden unemployment, Scotland Office minister David Cairns said: "There is nothing hidden about it. Through the Pathways to Work scheme and the Welfare Reform green paper we are focusing all our efforts on getting these people back to work." David Ruffley, the shadow minister for welfare reform, said: "It is all very well the government telling IB claimants about all the support they can get, but there are too few jobs to go around, particularly in unemployment black spots." A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "We are committed to ensuring that people, where possible, do not spend a lifetime on incapacity benefit and we are working towards giving people the support and training they need to have fair access to the labour market."

5.5bn pounds of taxpayers' cash thrown away in great benefits fiasco
The Daily Mail, by Tim Shipman, 27 May 2023
A STAGGERING Pounds 5.5billion has been overpaid to benefit claimants over the last five years, a report has revealed. Those claiming Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance and Pension Credit were overpaid by nearly Pounds 1billion last year alone thanks to fraud and error. The overpayments to pensioners, the unemployed and those off work sick come on top of the chaos gripping the tax credits system which overpaid claimants by more than Pounds 2billion last year. MPs and campaigners said the report by the Department of Work and Pensions based on figures from the Office of National Statistics is new evidence of ministerial incompetence and proof that the Government has still failed to get to grips with problems afflicting the complex system of means-tested state handouts. The figures are contained in a report published on Thursday at the same time as the DWP which is responsible for the fiasco was busy publicising the new pensions White Paper. Pensioner groups warned that thousands of vulnerable pensioners and other claimants have faced demands to hand back the money upsetting the frail and elderly and pushing families towards the breadline. The Pounds 1billion a year lost in overpayments would fund 36,000 new nurses, 30,000 new teachers, 26,000 policemen or 156,000 hip replacements. The lost money will cost the average British household Pounds 39.67. The report reveals that fraud accounts for one third of the Pounds 1billion of overpayments. The rest is due to error. Mistakes on the part of claimants accounted for Pounds 230million last year, up from Pounds 160million in 2001. Error caused by officials is now running at Pounds 380million a year, up from Pounds 250million in 2001. Around Pounds 680million of Incapacity Benefit and Jobseeker's Allowance is estimated to have been overpaid, with another Pounds 280million of overpayments in Pension Credit making up a grand total of Pounds 960million. The publication of the figures comes ahead of the release next week of data on the performance of the tax credits system. The National Audit Office has already warned that those figures will show that Pounds 2.2billion was overpaid last year thanks to fraud and government incompetence in Gordon Brown's flagship welfare scheme. David Ruffley, Tory welfare reform spokesman, who uncovered the report, said: 'These latest figures from National Statistics expose the continuing incompetence of Department for Work and Pensions Ministers. 'Over the last five years overpayments of Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance and Pension Credit totalled Pounds 5.5billion due to fraud and error combined. 'Overpayments due to fraud and error have been running at Pounds 1billion a year, every year since 1997. 'Gordon Brown's fiddling with benefits causes confusion to claimants and complexity which fraudsters ruthlessly exploit. Fraud and error at these levels are unacceptable. Vulnerable claimants should not have to put up with government incompetence. We need a simpler, fairer benefit system.' The figures show that the Government is failing to meet its targets to reduce fraud and error in Pension Credit. The Government had a target to cut it by 20 per cent by March 2006, but it has only managed a reduction of 7 per cent. Neil Duncan Jordan, of the National Pensioners Convention, said: 'The Government says it most wants to help the poorest pensioners but they are the people most effected by these problems.' A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: 'We have no control over the timing of the publication of national statistics. Any suggestion that this Government is complacent about fraud and error is rubbish. 'We are well on target to cut fraud and error in Income support and Jobseeker's Allowance by 50 per cent through a series of measures that resulted in nearly 9,000 successful prosecutions last year.' Comment Page 16

Scroungers cost us 1bn pounds
The Express, by Gabriel Milland, 27 May 2023
TAXPAYERS are forking out GBP 1billion a year to pay for benefit fraudsters and Government errors. It is money that will never be clawed back and it provoked widespread condemnation last night. A third of the GBP 1billion lost to taxpayers comes from fraud. The Department for Work and Pensions published figures on the scandal on Thursday night. Officials hoped to sneak them through by releasing them on the day the Government published its White Paper on pensions and when MPs left Westminster for their half-term break. The GBP 1billion is made up from over-payments to those claiming jobseekers' allowance and income support, and to benefits fraudsters. About 200,000 "phantom'' single parents receive hundreds of millions of pounds in benefit payments to which they are not entitled. The annual figure lost works out at GBP 15.95 for every man, woman and child in the country - or GBP 39.47 for every British family. David Ruffley, Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, said: "These latest figures from National Statistics expose the continuing incompetence of Department for Work and Pensions Ministers. "Overpayments due to fraud and error have been running at GBP 1billion a year every year since 1997. Gordon Brown's fiddling with benefits creates confusion for claimants and complexity which fraudsters ruthlessly exploit." He added: "Front line public services and the taxpayer are getting a raw deal because DWP Ministers won't get a grip." The GBP 1billion overpaid between April 2004 and March 2005 could have paid been spent on building 24 new hospitals. Despite taxpayer-funded television advertisements boasting that benefit cheats will be caught, the amount stolen by fraudsters has stayed at roughly the same level. And complexity has become such a big problem within the benefits system that staff are afraid to offer information to claimants in case they get it wrong, a public spending watchdog found last month.

5bn pounds for fraud and foul-ups
The Sun, by George Pascoe-Watson, 27 May 2023
FRAUD and cock-ups have cost taxpayers a staggering £ 5.5BILLION, official Government figures showed last night. Overpayments and benefit fiddles have siphoned off income support, jobseeker's allowance and pension credit worth more than £ 1billion a year. That would be enough to pay for 36,000 nurses, 30,000 new teachers, 26,000 police officers or 156,000 hip replacement operations. Tory pensions spokesman David Ruffley said: "Fraud and error at these levels are unacceptable. "Vulnerable claimants should not have to put up with Government incompetence. "We need a simpler, fairer benefit system."

Benefit fraud and error cost 5.5bn pounds
The Times, by David Charter, 27 May 2023
MORE than £ 5.5 billion has been overpaid in benefits in the past five years, official figures showed yesterday. The annual amount overpaid through fraud and error went down in the last financial year to £ 990 million from £ 1.1 billion the year before. The figure, which covers Income Support, Jobseeker's Allowance and Pension Credit, has fallen from £ 1.3 billion in 1997-8. David Ruffley, Tory spokesman on welfare reform, said: "These latest figures expose the continuing incompetence of Department for Work and Pensions ministers. Last year alone the figure was £ 1 billion. That would fund 36,000 new nurses a year, 30,000 new teachers at year, 26,000 policemen a year or 156,000 hip replacements a year." A spokeswoman for the department said: "Any suggestion that this Government is complacent about fraud and error is rubbish. This is the first government even to measure fraud and error -a reflection of how seriously we take it. "We are well on target to cut fraud and error in these areas by 50 per cent through a series of measures that resulted in nearly 9,000 successful prosecutions for benefit fraud last year. "We have also introduced an error taskforce which reflects our determination to reduce the level of error."

Welfare blunders cost south-east 300million pounds
The Evening Standard, by Joe Murphy, 26 May 2023
WELFARE fraud and overpayment blunders are wasting Pounds 180 million a year in London alone. In the South-East region outside the capital, another Pounds 120 million is being lost through official error or cheating. The figures, from the Office of National Statistics, were condemned today by the Conservatives who said the money could have been used to hire thousands of nurses, policemen or teachers in the capital. A third of the London overpayments - Pounds 60 million - were down to fraud and nearly half were due to official error. Mistakes by claimants accounted for under a quarter of the problem. Job seekers allowance was the most error-strewn benefit, with Pounds 7.40 in every Pounds 100 being wrongly paid out. On average the overpayment was 5.6 per cent. Shadow welfare reform minister David Ruffley said: "London is topping the national league table for benefits overpayment. These scandalous overpayments in the capital alone are the equivalent of 6,800 nurses, 2,200 doctors, 5,600 teachers, 5,000 policemen or 29,000 hip operations." He added: "They tried to slip these figures out last night under cover of the pensions review because they are so embarrassing." The Government denied timing the report to coincide with the pensions White Paper. A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions said: "The amount of error and fraud has been cut by 44 per cent in recent years and the Government is on target to reduce it by 50 per cent."

MP talkies saves yorkies
Sunday Express, 24 May 2023
ANIMAL-LOVING MPs including John Redwood and David Blunkett have come to the aid of Yorkshire terriers rescued from a filthy shed in West Sussex. The dogs are among the 206 rescued from the windowless 60ft building after pet breeder Elizabeth Stevens, 73, died in April. The case prompted outrage after a broadcast showed the animals packed into transport containers and riddled with disease. In "hellish" scenes, six dogs had been partially eaten by others desperate for food. The Celia Hammond Trust animal charity took in 86 of the neediest last month, appealing for help with urgent care. ,b>And when former model Celia contacted Mr Redwood, a friend, he asked every MP for donations. Mr Blunkett, and Tories Julie Kirkbride, Julian Lewis, David Ruffley and many others, sent donations.
Mr Redwood said: "I thought it would be a kind gesture if those of us who care about animals each sponsored one of the dogs." Ms Hammond said: "Dogs in the best shape have found homes. But we've 35 left." Celia Hammond Animal Trust, Wadhurst, East Sussex TN5 6AG

Fight and fight again over debt by Moreton Hall MP David Ruffley
Bury Free Press, 22 May 2023
My online survey for Suffolk residents about the Chancellor's Budget asked: "If a Government increased public spending, which area do you think needs it most?" A third of respondents said: "The NHS." No surprises there. Our Suffolk health service and its hard working staff are carrying debts that are not of their making. Many of you living on Moreton Hall use the West Suffolk Hospital and our local GPs. My concern is the same as yours. We need to sort out the financial mess so that our nurses, support staff, doctors and all those in the caring professions, can concentrate on treating those who most need their help. I have just had another meeting with the hospital's chief executive, Chris Bown. It is clear from that meeting that our local hospital faces another tough year. The West Suffolk Hospital has made £6million savings over the past 12 months but needs to find a similar amount to tackle the ongoing deficit. They are making progress but it is going to be difficult because there is still the underlying problem of the funding formula massively discriminating against the people of Suffolk. If we received the national funding average, we would have less of a problem. For 2006-07, the Government is planning to spend a national average of £1,274 per head on health. West Suffolk PCT will only receive £1,051 per head – that means that Moreton Hall residents will receive £223 per head less than the national average! The Government has changed the funding formula for the NHS four times since 2001 and on each occasion, they have increased the emphasis on social deprivation and decreased the emphasis on age and cost of delivery in semi rural areas like Bury. The areas of England that primarily benefit from the changes to the funding formula are urban areas and cities in the North of England. In 2005/06, Suffolk's funding was in the bottom 10th of the country – 277th out of 304. And let's remind ourselves of the challenge our NHS front line carers and clinicians in Suffolk will face this year. There is a lot happening which will be out of their control. First, they are dependent on the settlement they will this month receive from the West Suffolk PCT. Second, if London-based ministers start making unreasonable demands over early repayment of debt, our hospital will have to make even greater cuts to find savings. Third, the hospital will get less from central government funding after 2008, which could make the debt situation insoluble. My solution? Fight, fight and fight again in Westminster to get health ministers to write off our hospital's debt. Then our local NHS staff can get on with the job they do with such dedication – looking after the people of Moreton Hall.

Hospital in battle to save jobs
Bury Free Press, 22 May 2023
West Suffolk Hospital is facing a desperate fight to hang on to staff as the financial stranglehold on NHS providers continues to tighten. The Bury St Edmunds hospital, slashed 260 posts, 50 beds and two theatres last year as it struggled against mounting debts. Despite this, the hospital made savings of £6 million and improved waiting times for inpatients, day cases, cancer referrals and A&E.; However, the fear is that with West Suffolk facing possible cuts in its funding, more jobs could be sacrificed as bosses battle to reduce a £12 million deficit. Local MPs Richard Spring and David Ruffley met health bosses recently to discuss the hospital's future. "It's to the hospital's credit that it managed to improve its performance, while making some very hard decisions during the last year," said Mr Spring. "However, it had a £6 million shortfall in funding last year and is expecting a similar amount in the coming year, meaning there could be more cutbacks. "My worry is that if there is another round of job losses, it could have a very demoralising effect on the staff, who are doing an excellent job in difficult circumstances." As MP for West Suffolk, Mr Spring criticised the way the NHS was funded, claiming it was biased against the county and needed urgent revision. Mr Ruffley, MP for Bury and Stowmarket, said: "It's going to be a punishing, difficult year for the hospital because there are only so many savings you can make." Mr Ruffley said he would be pushing for Whitehall officials to write off the hospital's underlying deficit, which has to be paid off by 2008. Chris Bown, chief executive of the hospital's NHS Trust, added: "We had a good discussion about the challenges we continue to face and I found the meeting very valuable."

Time for walkies! Redwood helps save sad yorkies
Sunday Express, by Julia Hartley-Brewer, 21 May 2023
TORY John Redwood enlisted the help of animalloving MPs to come to the aid of Yorkshire terriers rescued from a filthy shed in West Sussex. The dogs are among the 206 rescued from the windowless 60ft building after pet breeder Elizabeth Stevens, 73, died in April. The case prompted outrage after a broadcast showed the animals packed into transport containers and riddled with disease. In "hellish" scenes, six dogs had been partially eaten by others desperate for food. The Celia Hammond Trust animal charity took in 86 of the neediest dogs last month, appealing for help with urgent veterinary care. And when former model Celia contacted Mr Redwood, a friend, he asked every MP in the Commons for donations. Labour's David Blunkett, and Tories Julie Kirkbride, Julian Lewis, David Ruffley and others, sent money. Mr Redwood said: "I thought it would be a kind Parliamentary gesture if those of us who care about animals each sponsored one of the dogs to help them on their way to fitness and a new home." Ms Hammond said: "The dogs in the best shape have been found good homes. "But we have 35 left with long-term health problems, who need surgery or are feral."

Enter, stage left...
Bury Free Press, 19 May 2023
Supporters of an historic Suffolk theatre have taken a giant step forward, raising £25,000 towards its restoration. Derek Blake and Simon Spence have spent the last month walking 387 miles across England to raise funds for the £5.1 million renovation project at the Theatre Royal, in Bury St Edmunds. The two theatre board members were joined by more than 100 supporters on the last leg of their walk from Icklingham to Bury on Saturday. Mr Blake, 59, suggested the idea. He said: "We both have mixed feelings over finishing because we saw some wonderful sights and had some strange experiences on the way. "On the third day we were caught in a snow blizzard on the Pennines and a bridge across the Trent which was on our map simply wasn't there so we had to quickly find a boat. "I can't think of any better way to help restore such an elegant building to its Georgian splendour." Mr Spence, a Bury based barrister, said: "This walk has been such a huge part of our lives since we started planning it in September. "We are very pleased to have helped the theatre, which receives such tremendous support from so many people." Dozens of people joined two walkers for the last leg, including David Ruffley MP and restoration appeal board member Sir Jeremy Isaacs. Sir Jeremy, former chief executive of Channel Four, said: "It is wonderful to see so many people waking on such a fine day. "It just shows the genuine community spirit there is among the Theatre Royal lovers and, in my eyes, Mr Blake and Mr Spence are true heroes." The sponsored walk started outside another Theatre Royal – in Richmond, Yorkshire. The appeal, which was launched two-and-half-years ago, only needs another £300,000 to reach its target.

MP calls for vote over police merger
Evening Star, 18 May 2023
A SUFFOLK MP has today called for a county wide referendum to back or reject proposals to merge police forces in the region. David Ruffley is concerned that amalgamating Suffolk Constabulary with forces in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk could put a strain on resources and see officers moved out of Suffolk to police crime hotspots elsewhere. Research conducted on his website reveals that more than 95 per cent of the 642 questioned want the constabulary to remain as it is. The MP for Bury St Edmunds said: “We have already seen that the government's fiddled funding has forced councils to push up council tax bills. “Police forces have been the hardest hit, with the police levy on council tax bills in Suffolk having soared by 157 percent since 1997. “The situation is even worse in the two counties the government proposes Suffolk is merged with. I fear that the government's plans to abolish Suffolk Constabulary, coupled with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire's track record for huge increases in their police levy, could push up council tax bills even more or mean cuts in frontline policing.” Mr Ruffley said that if given the chance to vote in a referendum, he believes people would overwhelmingly reject the cuts. Former Home Secretary Charles Clarke launched plans to merge police forces across the country in a bid to improve intelligence and implement improved counter terrorism measures but Mr Ruffley believes the bid will be too costly with resources spent on reorganisation and bureaucratic measures.

Food giants start brown sauce war
The Mirror, 13 May 2023
A FOOD company and a supermarket chain are battling to take over the Houses of Parliament symbol on the HP brown sauce bottle. Both firms say that as HP owners Heinz are switching production to Holland the Big Ben logo should be used on a brand made in England. Branston said: "We'd be proud to have this label on our sauce bottle if HP is asked to remove it." Asda added: "Producing it in Holland is like making Edam in Eastbourne. It's just not right." MP David Ruffley is urging the Houses of Parliament to replace HP sauce in protest.

MP wants Branston in the House
EADT, 13 May 2023
AS British as bowler hats and warm beer, HP Brown Sauce has been the condiment of choice in the birthplace of democracy for a century. But the brown sauce - emblazoned with an image of the Houses of Parliament, from which it takes its name - has seen its British credentials take a blow after bosses at Heinz announced production could move to Holland. Now, an MP is now calling for a Suffolk-made sauce to take its place on Parliamentary dining tables. David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, is pushing the case for Branston brown sauce, which is produced in Bury. He said: “I am urging the Administration Committee to remove HP Sauce from the Parliamentary Estate and replace it with British produced Branston Brown Sauce. “Branston, which is exported to 70 countries, is made in Bury by Premier Foods and deserves the support of the Palace of Westminster. “Branston would also consider ensuring that the Houses of Parliament image is continued on bottles of Branston brown sauce. “If Heinz want to go abroad to make HP, that's up to them. But they should lose the right to supply the House of Commons which should replace them with excellent British Branston brown sauce, produced in Bury.” Sue Knight, of Branston, said: “We would be delighted to supply the House with a proper British brown sauce on demand. We know how close British-produced Branston is to the hearts of the nation. “If HP is asked to remove the Houses of Parliament from its label, we would certainly be willing to consider having this proud symbol of democracy on our brown sauce bottle.” Nigel Dickie, spokesman for HP's parent company Heinz, defended the proposal to move production to Holland, which he said would continue to be made to the same standards. He said: “This is a rather desperate attempt to gain some publicity for Branston brown sauce which has failed to make an impression on brown sauce lovers in this country. “Perhaps now Mr Ruffley will insisting all stamps are printed in this country or all the Houses of Parliament souvenirs are made in the UK?” The announcement that Heinz wants to close the HP plant in Birmingham and move production to Holland has prompted an Early Day Motion (EDM) amendment from Mr Ruffley. An EDM is a motion put down by Members of Parliament calling for a debate on a particular subject. In practice, there is rarely time to debate EDMs nowadays and their true modern-day purpose is to enable MPs to draw attention to an issue and to canvass support for their views by inviting other Members to add their signatures in support of the motion. HP sauce has been made in Birmingham for 103 years and the move will result in the loss of 125 jobs.

Will Blair leave in tears?
EADT, 12 May 2023
SPARE us the tears please - that's my appeal to Labour MPs, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor. Remember the scenes when Margaret Thatcher, stabbed in the back by her ungrateful Cabinet and backbenchers, quit Downing Street in 1990? As the television cameras cut to a close up in her official Jaguar, she was dabbing her eyes as the tears flowed. A woman who had led her party to three successive General Election victories and spent a whole calendar decade in charge of the nation, probably deserved better from people whose jobs had only been achieved on the back of those electoral successes. But politics is a crude and cruel business and those MPs and ministers, staring electoral defeat in the face because of the Government's unpopularity, wanted to hang on to their jobs. Mrs T wouldn't take the hint. She believed in her own immortality, failing to appreciate that support for her and the Conservative Party was haemorrhaging. Mrs Thatcher showed no sign of wanting to quit so she was forced out, to the horror of her adoring supporters in the voluntary wing of the party. Fast forward 16 years to a similar situation. The longer Tony Blair hangs about, the more likely Labour MPs will openly turn on him and force a leadership contest. The difference between Thatcher and Blair is that while she was determined to go on and on, he has indicated that he'll go before the next election. Following Labour's disastrous showing in last week's council polls, his troops don't want him hanging about too long, especially as the Conservatives are now way ahead in the opinion polls. Mr Blair warns that to issue a timetable now would be to “paralyse” the Government. Yet he says that at some point there will be a “stable and orderly transition” to his successor - which he insists he would prefer to be Gordon Brown. He's now having talks with colleagues to decide exactly when. My guess? He'll announce on May 1 2007 - the 10th anniversary of his landslide victory - that he's standing down. His successor will then be elected before the start of the parliamentary recess and Labour's conference will turn into be a victory celebration for Brown, a joyful farewell to the most successful leader Labour has ever had, and a springboard for a snap election. SUPPORT for Labour is at a 14-year low according to a Populus poll for The Times which found the Conservatives have stormed into an eight-point lead. Labour's 30-point rating is lowest since 1992. The Prime Minister's drastic reshuffle was dismissed by three in four voters as a bid to deflect attention from the foreign prisoner releases, NHS job cuts, John Prescott's affair and poor local election results. David Cameron also achieved something managed by none of his predecessors by moving ahead of Mr Blair in public popularity. And he enjoyed an even bigger lead over Chancellor Gordon Brown. MPs from all parties launched a scathing attack against the enforced merge of county police forces during a debate on the Police and Justice Bill, but the Government was able to fend off Tory demands for a series of referendums, insisting it was an issue for MPs to decide on. Essex police authority is considering holding a referendum on plans to merge it with Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire while Suffolk is against merging with Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, insisting that if it is forced to lose its independence, the best option for the county is a coming together with Norfolk and Essex. Conservative MPs called for ballots to be held in affected areas before any change went ahead. Simon Burns (Chelmsford West) challenged Home Office Minister Liam Byrne, making his maiden appearance in his new role, on the difference between the Government polling people in the North East on regional government and “not wanting to listen to the wishes of local people with regard to the regionalisation of police forces as a result of mergers”. Mr Burns said it was bizarre that the Home Secretary was forcing on Beds, Herts and Essex an amalgamation that no one in Essex wanted, at a cost of £29m. “Essex is one of the largest counties in the country geographically as well as one of the largest in terms of population. Despite all the representations and wishes of the local community, the Government refuses to listen and allow Essex to remain a stand alone force.” This had confused many people in Essex because the next-door county, Kent, had been granted strategic status, as had Hampshire. He suggested the reason was that Kent had a number of highly marginal Labour seats while the Labour chairman of the home affairs select committee was a Hampshire MP. Mr Byrne said mergers were taking place because HM Inspectorate of Constabulary argued most police forces did not provide adequate protection in counter terrorism and dealing with serious organised crime, concluding that the current 43 force structure was no longer fit for purpose and should change. He added that existing legislation allowed for mergers if police forces volunteered or if the Home Secretary deemed it necessary, a move which would trigger debate in both Houses of Parliament. “There is a place for referendums and I think, in our parliamentary system, that place should be reserved for major issues of constitutional significance such as devolution, such as our future relationship with the European Union.” John Gummer (Con, Suffolk Coastal) said Suffolk did not wish to be amalgamated with Essex, Norfolk, or Cambridgeshire. “It is one of the best police forces in the country. The Government cannot find any support for such amalgamations.” Nick Herbert, Tory spokesman on police matters, pointed out that only one amalgamation - Cumbria and Lancashire - had been agreed to by both of the police authorities concerned. Labour's Frank Cook (Stockton North) launched an outspoken attack on the Home Office's approach to the planned amalgamations as “illogical, impolite and verging on the insane.” He pressed the Government to back down or he would not support them in a vote. Stewart Jackson (Tory, Peterborough) paid tribute to Cambridgeshire and Suffolk police authorities for refusing to be bullied into “a so-called voluntary amalgamation. What will the impact be on my constituents' council tax bills? Will democratic and lay justice representation be the same in Cambridgeshire as in Norfolk and Suffolk, under the proposals?” A PLEA for both Government and opposition to do more to break down mental health barriers, which lead to social exclusion, was made in the Commons by Chelmsford West's Simon Burns. “We must focus on it, just as people who are interested and involved more generally with disabilities have concentrated and fought for rights and improvements in society.” He looked forward to the time when mental health received the same sort of sympathy given to patients suffering from cancer. BURY St Edmunds MP David Ruffley has calculated that if ministers introduce surcharges for home improvements such as patios, conservatories, and double glazing - known as “discrete capital values” - average Band D council tax will rise by £365 to £1,540 in Mid Suffolk and £356 to £1,481 in St Edmundsbury. JOHN West, UKIP's 2005 parliamentary candidate in Suffolk Central and Ipswich North, won the regional heat in Chelmsford of his party's Opportunity Knocks public speaking contest with a speech on the subject of regionalisation and control by the EU. Runner up was Ken Wight, last year's General Election candidate in Watford, and the judge was party treasurer Andrew Smith from Epping Forrest. MORE than 140 MPs from all parties have signed an Early Day Motion to stop Canadian black bears being shot, maimed and killed to provide bearskin hats for the British Army's five Guards regiments. It takes the entire hide of one bear to make just one Guards' headpiece and when mother bears are killed, orphaned cubs are left behind to starve. ALTHOUGH I'm no EU hater, sometimes Brussels does send me up the wall. Wednesday was one such occasion. Apparently, at the instigation of Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and Commissioner Margot Wallstrom, all EU passport holders will be issued with an entitlement card to make clear the rights they already have, and how to use them effectively. NORFOLK South West MP Christopher Fraser has decked out a horsebox and converted it into an unlikely battle bus to meet and greet folk in his 1,000 square mile constituency. It includes a luxurious Persian rug, desk, fireplace, flowers, paintings, wood panelling and a chandelier.

Charities clear message
Bury Free Press, 11 May 2023
Getting your message across to deaf children should be easier, thanks to a campaign to promote communication. Deaf Awareness Week is hoping to encourage people in Suffolk to learn a few simple tricks to communicate with children with hearing problems. Vicki Galt, from Elmswell, has two deaf children and she hopes this week's campaign will improve people's interaction with them. Mrs Galt, 34, said: "An easy tip to remember is to tap a deaf person on the shoulder so they either turn around or come closer to hear you. "Also, don't assume you have to shout just because someone is deaf." This week, MP David Ruffley arranged for all his staff to use a typetalk telephone system to help them chat to deaf people.

Charity's clear message
Bury Free Press, 11 May 2023
Getting your message across to deaf children should be easier, thanks to a campaign to promote communication. Deaf Awareness Week is hoping to encourage people in Suffolk to learn a few simple tricks to communicate with children with hearing problems. Vicki Galt, from Elmswell, has two deaf children and she hopes this week's campaign will improve people's interaction with them. Mrs Galt, 34, said: "An easy tip to remember is to tap a deaf person on the shoulder so they either turn around or come closer to hear you. "Also, don't assume you have to shout just because someone is deaf." This week, MP David Ruffley arranged for all his staff to use a typetalk telephone system to help them chat to deaf people.

Future of Air Search teams to be decided
EADT, 09 May 2023
THE Government will make an announcement today about the future of search and rescue helicopter services - including those in Suffolk - amid concerns that a privatisation could lead to job cuts and RAF base closures. A 25-year contract likely to be worth around £1 billion is expected to be awarded to a private company to operate the search and rescue (SAR) services. They are currently operated from 12 bases around the UK by helicopters run by the RAF, Royal Navy and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA). They include Wattisham Airfield, near Needham Market. Competing for the contract is Canadian-based CHC Helicopters which is already taking over, from 2007-12, a contract to operate MCA's SAR operations at Sumburgh in the Shetland Islands, Stornaway on the Western Isles, Lee-on-Solent in Hampshire and Portland in Dorset. With the military Sea King helicopters due for replacement, the Government is keen to bring what has been called "helicopter harmonisation” to SAR services. Other RAF SAR centres are at Leconfield in Yorkshire, Boulmer in Northumberland, Lossiemouth in Morayshire, Chivenor in Devon and Valley in Anglesey. The Royal Navy has SAR bases at Prestwick in Scotland and Culdrose in Cornwall. MPs have voiced fears that some bases might shut and that some crews could be replaced. Conservative MP David Ruffley, whose Bury St Edmunds constituency includes Wattisham, has spoken out in opposition of privatising such crucial services. The RAF's B Flight 22 Squadron, which employs about 60 staff, has been based at Wattisham for about 12 years and has flown hundreds of rescue missions, saving countless lives. It consists of about 20-air crew, 40 engineers, and two Sea King helicopters. No-one at Wattisham yesterday felt able to comment on the potential changes, ahead of the Government's announcement.

100 000 pound pre-school opens its doors
Bury Free Press, 28 April 2023
Cheerful toddlers are jumping for joy after their new-look £100,000 pre-school was officially opened. For the last couple of years, the 34 children at the pre-school have been based at a Salvation Army hall, but now they have their own building, complete with a fun play area. The move came about after local farmer Robert Honeywood offered the pre-school some land at a peppercorn rate and funds were secured from several organisations. Deb Williams, pre-school secretary, said: "Today was great because now we have got our own building and equipment and a play area which the children can use at any time. "It is also nice to invite all the people here who made this all possible and show them what we have achieved." The pre-school has named its site Honeywood Corner, to thank the farmer. Funding came from Mid Suffolk District Council, the Local Network Fund and regional development and environmental agencies. MP David Ruffley, who opened the pre-school, said: "I greatly admire the perseverance with which the school has pursued this project." The pre-school is mostly used by children from Norton, Pakenham, Tostock and Stowlangtoft and any interested parents can call 01359 232736 for further information.

Region's NHS still £90m in the red
EADT, by Danielle Nuttall, 24 April 2023
THE NHS in the region remains more than £90million in debt - despite staff cutbacks and beds being axed. And despite primary care trusts and hospitals in Suffolk making vast savings in the last 12 months, it is estimated they will end the financial year around £50m in debt due to overspends in previous years. The projected figures are contained in a report to Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority. All debts need to be repaid in 2006/07. PCTs and NHS Trusts have received external support from 'Turnaround Teams' to develop plans to reduce expenditure. Health bodies in Suffolk are working with clinicians to ensure that care is cost-effective and to reduce the cost of drugs and the use of expensive mental health placements outside Suffolk. The figures predicted the debts for PCTs in Suffolk would have been nearly £35m at the end of March, while Ipswich Hospital's deficit was expected to be just over £5m, and West Suffolk Hospital's £11.2m. Tony Robinson, lead chairman of Suffolk East PCTs, said: “The financial achievements of the Suffolk East Primary Care Trusts this year are outstanding. “We developed and put into practice a robust financial recovery plan, and thanks to the tremendous efforts of all staff, we hope that our final figures will show that we are now in recurrent balance (not spending more money than we have) and are moving from recovery to sustainability. “Put very simply, we saved £16 million last year. We were spending £2,000 an hour more than we had on healthcare, every hour of every day. Now this figure on overspending has been reduced to virtually nothing at all. “When we started to draw up our recovery plan, we estimated that as an NHS in east Suffolk we would be £47 million in the red. This figure has been significantly reduced to around £26 million.” West Suffolk PCT's forecast deficit for 2005/06 is £13.3million, according to the report. The PCT's financial recovery plan was expected to have delivered £9.6million of savings by March 31, 2006. Mike Stonard, who became chief executive of Suffolk West PCT in May 2005, said: “To save £9.6m in just nine months is a tremendous achievement for which the staff of the PCT and its management team deserve high praise. “Staff have continued to provide high-quality clinical services while contributing to these significant savings at a time of some uncertainty caused by the reconfiguration of primary care trusts and our own plans to modernise services. We still have some way to go but now would be an appropriate time for some public recognition of what has been achieved.” Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley predicted another tough year as health officials grappled with budgets in a bid to clear the deficits by the end of 2006/07. “Suffolk hospitals have had to make massive savings in the last year and this has put a huge strain on staff. The question is will they be able to make similar savings in the coming year to keep the deficits falling?”

Hospital braced for another tough year
EADT, 22 April 2023
A BELEAGURED hospital faces another “tough year” with further possible cuts to services, it has emerged. The West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds has made £6million savings over the past 12 months but needs to find a further £6million savings to tackle the hospital's £11.5million deficit. The hospital's recovery plan was the centre of discussions yesterday between health bosses and local MPs. Among the items discussed were negotiations for a renewed funding package between the hospital and the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT) which are set to conclude on May 24. West Suffolk MP Richard Spring said: “They still haven't finalised where the axe will fall on beds, staff or theatres. “The outlook continues to be grim because they face a huge financial problem. They are moving in the right direction but it is going to be difficult because there is still the underlying problem of the funding formula massively discriminating against the people of Suffolk. “If we received the national funding average we wouldn't have these sorts of problems like being fined for not reaching financial targets.” David Ruffley, MP for Bury, said: “We had a detailed and challenging meeting with the hospital chairman and chief executive - the position is that they have made progress with staff using beds more imaginatively and more efficiently and waiting times have gone down.” But he said there was a lot happening in the next year which would be out of the control of hospital bosses. “Firstly they are dependent on the settlement they receive from the West Suffolk PCT and I hope they receive sensible amount of money to continue the progress they have made. “Another thing beyond the hospital's control is if a London minister starts making unreasonable demands over early repayment of the debt. Thirdly the hospital is facing cuts to central government funding from 2008.” Hospital chief executive Chris Bown said: “We had a good debate over issues surrounding West Suffolk Hospital and they both asked some searching questions about how we have managed to save money during the course of the year but still reduce waiting times. “We presented them with a review of what we'd achieved over the past year and had a good discussion about the challenges we continue to face.”

Benefit overpayments under Labour nearing Pounds 2.5bn
Financial Times, 20 April 2023
Benefit overpayments had reached almost Pounds 2.5bn during Labour's time in power, and an overcomplicated system had led to "shocking" levels of error, the Conservatives said yesterday. The Department for Work and Pensions revealed in answers to parliamentary questions from David Ruffley, the Conservative spokesman for welfare reform, that overpayment of income support caused by officials' errors had reached Pounds 1.17bn since 1997 and pension credit overpayment Pounds 540m. Income support overpayments were one and a half times higher than in 1997-98 and pensions credit overpayment had trebled in the past three years. Together with Pounds 910m excess paid in jobseekers allowance, the overpayment was almost Pounds 2.5bn, said Mr Ruffley, blaming the problem on an overcomplicated system. James Plaskitt, minister for benefits, said an error taskforce had been set up to look at how mistakes made by officials administering benefits could be reduced. "Last year, DWP paid out Pounds 110bn in benefits and over 97 per cent of that was paid correctly and on-time," Mr Plaskitt said. "The fact is, we are the first government to report measures of official error which last year stood at 0.8 per cent. Whilst this is low, we are determined to reduce it further." High levels of error plague the tax credits system ad-ministered by Revenue & Customs. Giving evidence to the Commons Treasury committee yesterday, Sir David Varney, Revenue & Customs chairman, said overpayment was "an inherently complex problem" because it was often caused by multiple factors that were difficult to identify and eliminate. For example, it was difficult to track recent changes in claimants' household in-come and estimates were often wrong. Sir David could give MPs no definitive figures on the causes of overpayment, saying the department was running a sample study to assess the levels and causes of fraud and error. But he disclosed that errors were more significant than fraud, although an investigation was under way into organised fraud and two people had been charged with money laundering offences. Changes to procedures and recently revised, simplified forms would start to have a positive effect to reduce mistakes, he hoped, and some people whose circumstances were likely to change were now being contacted by Revenue & Customs. But MPs were concerned that the increase to Pounds 25,000 in the amount of household income that would be disregarded in calculations of tax credit could make the system open to abuse as income was manipulated to make people temporarily eligible for a year of tax credits. Sir David faced tough questioning about the Revenue decision to settle a dispute with EDS about the botched introduction of tax credits by making half of the Pounds 71.25m compensation de-pendent on the US-based company winning future government contracts.

2bn aid is blown
The Sun, 20 April 2023
Benefit overpayments equivalent to £104 for EVERY household have been made since Labour came to power. Bungling penpushers have wasted £2.5billion of taxpayers’ cash since 1997 - £1.17billion of it on incorrect Income Support payments, figures show. Tory MP David Ruffley, who uncovered the figures, said: “Gordon Brown’s fiddling with the system and ministers’ incompetent running of it is causing chaos.” The Department for Work and Pensions will not ask for overpayments back, it said last night.

Labour has paid out pounds 2 bn benefits in error
The Daily Telegraph, 20 April 2023
THE unemployed and people on low incomes have received more than pounds 2 billion in overpaid benefits since Labour came to power. The Government yesterday blamed "official error''. The Tories described the total as "shocking''. Ministers said there was nothing they could do to recoup the cash other than ask people to repay it voluntarily. The figures were compiled from answers to parliamentary questions tabled by David Ruffley, the Conservative spokesman for welfare reform. He called last night for John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, to report to Parliament on what action he was taking to stop taxpayers' money being sent in error to benefits recipients. Last year the total overpaid in income support - an income-related benefit paid to low earners aged between 16 and 60 - was pounds 200 million. That was up from pounds 140 million two years before and took the total income support overpayment since Tony Blair entered Downing Street to pounds 1.17 billion. The total overpayment for the jobseekers allowance - for people under the state pension age who are able to, and are looking for, work - was pounds 50 million last year, down from pounds 100 million the year before. That lifted the total since 1997 to pounds 910 million. The figures are in addition to tax credit overpayments of pounds 1.9 billion last year and pension credit overpayment which has more than trebled since 2001/02 to pounds 130 million last year. The Department for Work and Pensions confirmed that its top civil servant, Leigh Lewis, the permanent secretary, had ordered task forces into Jobcentre Plus offices, pensions centres and the Disability and Carers Service before Easter to tackle the crisis. Mr Ruffley blamed meddling by "incompetent'' ministers who had created an impossibly complex system. "Gordon Brown's fiddling with the benefit system, and DWP ministers' incompetent running of it, is causing chaos,'' he said. "It is confusing vulnerable claimants, many of whom will, quite understandably, have spent any money overpaid to them. "It is also not getting taxpayers' money to the people who need it most.'' Last month DWP officials said they would try to claw back any overpayment of pension credit that had been made in error in cases where the mistakes would have been apparent to the recipients. Ministers later backtracked and said they would send out letters asking people to repay the money voluntarily. Responding to the latest figures, a DWP spokesman said: "Where there is an official error, we do not seek to claw it back.'' In cases of fraud, as opposed to error, the department tries to recoup the money. In 2004-5 the total that went astray as a result of fraud and error together was pounds 2.6 billion. The combined total lost in fraud and error between 2001 and 2005 totalled more than pounds 11 billion, according to the latest figures. James Plaskitt, the minister for benefits said: "Last year DWP paid out pounds 110 billion in benefits and over 97 per cent of that was paid correctly and on time. We are the first Government to report measures of official error which last year stood at 0.8 per cent. "Whilst this is low, we are determined to reduce it further. That is why the error task force has been set up and its work is already well advanced.''

How benefit blunders leave the taxpayers with an extra £2bn bill
The Daily Express, 20 April 2023
Benefit payment blunders have cost taxpayers more than £2billion under Labour, it was revealed last night. The astronomical sum has been overpaid to hundreds of thousands of welfare claimants – many of them workshy scroungers – thanks to a catalogue of errors by Whitehall penpushers. Officials at the Department for Work and Pensions admitted to the daily Express: “It’s our mistake – and we can’t get the money back.” The overpayments we re made in millions of Income Support and Jobseeker’s Allowance handouts. They would be enough to wipe out the NHS deficit more than twice over. The cash is on top of the £3 billion cost of benefit fraud every year. Tory frontbencher David Ruffley, Shadow Minister for Welfare reform, said: “Ministers are presiding over a quagmire of incompetence that has become a disgraceful burden on taxpayers.” Mr Ruffley, who obtained the figures in a Parliamentary written answer, added: “Taxpayers deserve a properly run benefit system that is simpler and fairer. New labour’s welfare system isn’t working.” The revelations show more than £200 million is overpaid in Income Support and Jobseekers allowance every year. In total, a staggering 1.17 billion has been overpaid in Income Support because of official mistakes since 1997. the figure for Jobseeker’s Allowance has hit £910 million over the same period. Despite repeated promises by Labour ministers to crack down on the benefits bill, total overpayments have remained at around the same level every year, with income Support overpayments increasing by one and a half times. Whitehall insiders admit that “human error” is largely to blame – mostly civil servants typing wrong figures into computers – with glitches in the computer system also to blame. Both benefits are worth up to £57.45 a week to claimants. Last night, officials confirmed that they will not have to repay any of the cash. Mr Ruffley blamed the scandal on meddling in the benefits system by Chancellor Gordon Brown. “It is not getting taxpayers’ money to the people who need it most,” he said. He urged Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton to explain to the Commons how overpayments could be slashed. The blunders were also savaged by the TaxPayers Alliance, which campaigns against Government waste. Campaigns Director, James Frayne said: “This is just another example of how Government incompetence costs ordinary taxpayers billions of pounds a year.” Income Support and Jobseekers Allowance are paid to millions of unemployed and low-income claimants. While most are genuinely in need, a significant number are suspected of milling the system and although ministers have repeatedly pledged to slash welfare costs, the bill has soared to more than £110 billion a year over the past eight years. The figures come on top of blunders over Pension Credit exposed by the daily Express earlier this year. A Work and Pensions Department spokesman admitted yesterday: “These are figures for official errors, so it is down to us. We won’t be reclaiming the money.” Benefits Minster James Plaskitt said: “Last year the department paid out £110 billion in benefits and over 97% of that was paid correctly and on time. “We are the first Government to report measures of official error which last year stood at 0.8%. while this is low, we are determined to reduce it further, that is why the Error Taskforce has been set up.”

surgeries keep me in the picture by Moreton Hall MP David Ruffley
18 April 2023
Moreton Hall is a fantastic place to live. It has a growing community feel and spirit. Every time I visit, it is a pleasure. I was delighted to be able to hold one of my local surgeries at the Moreton Hall Community Centre, which gave me a great opportunity to meet a number of local people and listen to their concerns. One of the issues raised with me is the possibility of a railway station being put in for Moreton Hall residents. This was in the latest Local Plan, currently being developed, and I have highlighted it with council leaders. Moreton Hall is a forward looking area and local people are always keen to see the infrastructure improving. So I think this may be welcomed by many local people. It could be popular with those worried about the level of congestion on local roads. But the train is not for everyone and we must ensure that improvements are made to our roads. Options must be looked at for easing the flow of traffic coming off the A14. Yet the train is favoured by many, especially green minded people, who try not to use their cars. Train services to London, Cambridge, Norwich, Colchester and Ipswich, to where many local people commute, could be improved. Of course, we must consider how local people may be affected by a new train station at Moreton Hall. I would not want to see unnecessary inconvenience caused to local homes. What about parking facilities, building works and noise levels? These are some of my views on the issue but you must all have your say as this proposal is discussed in the coming months. We must always be thinking outside the box and looking for ideas that will improve the infrastructure and facilities of our local area, as well as the local environment. The Chancellor's last Budget provides an incentive for people to use more environmentally friendly cars with lower greenhouse gas emissions. To build a sustainable environment, we must put climate change and environmental policy at the heart of our agenda, not just treat it as an afterthought. We're all in this together and we will never tackle the great challenges we face unless all of us – Government, business, individuals and families – play a part. Let's work together to help secure the future prosperity of Moreton Hall and improve the quality of life for all of you who live there.

Questions over 1 million pound repair bill
Bury Free Press, 18 April 2023
Gravestone tests in St Edmundsbury could leave relatives with a bill of more than £1.1 million, MP David Ruffley has warned. And with fewer than half of the relatives contactable so far, the Bury St Edmunds MP has asked who will meet that cost. "This is an incredibly emotive subject and I have discovered that a quarter of all those headstones tested in Bury are failing the push test," said Mr Ruffley. "Across the whole of the borough, this figure stands at 16 per cent. Potentially, this could cost bereaved relatives more than £600,000 and that is only for those headstones already on the St Edmundsbury Borough Council database. "With several thousand more headstones yet to be accounted for and tested, who knows what this cost could rise to." The borough council has records of 19,395 headstones in Bury and Haverhill and, with repair costs averaging £200 each headstone, total costs could exceed £600,000. But Mr Ruffley said the council was estimating its tally of headstones could rise to 35,000 when it included all those in closed churchyards. If the same 16 per cent failure rate is applied to those headstones, the repair bill could exceed the £1.1 million mark. So far, the council has been able to contact 43 per cent of the relatives whose loved ones' headstones failed the push test, designed to check for health and safety issues. Mr Ruffley fears that once testing is finished, this could result in an unpaid bill of more than £480,000 for around 2,400 graves where the relatives cannot be contacted. The MP has now written to council leader John Griffiths asking who would foot this bill. A council spokesman said: "The reason we have not yet been able to contact some relatives is because they have not kept their records with us up to date." The council will be considering this and a scheme for funding repairs for those in hardship at April's policy and development committee. In the meantime, it has reviewed its procedures, details of which are on the council website.

Search and rescue privatisation fears
EADT, by Johnathan Barnes, 17 April 2023
THE future of a Suffolk-based RAF search and rescue team was thrown into doubt last night amid fears the service is to be privatised. Reports over the weekend suggest search and rescue teams at 12 bases - including Wattisham Airfield - will be sold off by the Ministry of Defence (MoD). It would see RAF, Royal Navy and Coastguard helicopters being replaced by civilian aircraft and crews. Two North American companies are believed to be in the running to secure a contract worth about £1bn when bids are sought next year, with the new contract coming into effect by 2012. Last night, the MoD confirmed a major review of the service was ongoing. “We are currently considering the best ways of continuing to provide a top class search and rescue service and will be making an announcement shortly,” said a spokeswoman. The RAF's B Flight 22 squadron, which employs about 60 staff, has been based at Wattisham for nearly 12 years and has flown hundreds of rescue missions, saving countless lives. Conservative MP David Ruffley, whose Bury St Edmunds constituency includes Wattisham, said: “I certainly don't think that crucial services like this should be privatised for ideological reasons - if any changes are likely to worsen the service they should be rejected. “I will be writing to Defence Secretary John Reid this week to ask him to clarify his intentions regarding my constituents' jobs at Wattisham and also for assurances there will be no stealth cuts to the search and rescue service creeping in before 2012.” No-one at B Flight 22 squadron was prepared to comment last night, but the MoD is believed to have accepted the decision because its Sea King helicopters, which first entered service in 1977, are reaching the end of their careers. Instead, a private helicopter firm is likely to bring in American Sikorsky S-92s or French Super Pumas. The move has lead to fears that privatisation could be extended to police helicopters and air ambulances - both of which operate in East Anglia. B Flight 22 squadron moved to Wattisham Airfield in October 1994. It consists of about 20 air crew, 40 engineers and two Sea King helicopters. Last year, crews were called to 131 emergencies, the majority of which involved civilians in trouble, including climbers stuck in poor weather in the Lake District and a father and son to safety clinging to a sinking boat in Essex.

Fears over gravestone costs
EAD, by Dave Gooderham, 7 April 2023
URGENT answers have been demanded after grieving families were warned the bill for making their relatives' headstones secure could add up to a total of £1.1 million. The figures have been branded “ridiculous” by concerned community leaders and the checks were labelled “unnecessary”. They were released on the same day as local authorities were warned every effort must be made to avoid the large-scale laying down of gravestones during safety checks in cemeteries. Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said investigations into the “push tests” in St Edmundsbury show 16% of headstones had failed the checks - with as many as a quarter of those tested in Bury showing weaknesses. With relatives faced with a bill of about £200 to secure the monuments, Mr Ruffley said the costs of repairs could run to more than £600,000 based on the number of headstones the borough has records for. But the MP said the actual number of headstones in St Edmundsbury could be closer to 35,000 - which could mean the bill could reach £1.1 million. John Douse, churchwarden at St Petronilla Church in Whepstead, said he would be writing to the borough council demanding answers. He said: “I am surprised by the extent of the work and the amount it is going to cost. The whole thing is absolutely ridiculous, as I think the tests are unnecessary. This is a very raw subject and can be very upsetting for the relatives.” Conservative Mr Ruffley said the borough council had not contacted nearly half of those people whose relatives' headstones had failed the testing. “This is an incredibly emotive subject and I have discovered that a quarter of all those headstones tested in Bury are failing the 'push test',” Mr Ruffley said. “Across the whole borough this figure stands at 16%. Potentially this could cost bereaved relatives over £600,000 and that is only for those headstones already on the St Edmundsbury database. “With several thousand more headstones to be accounted for and tested who knows what this cost could rise to.” Earlier this week, relatives demanded an apology from St Edmundsbury Borough Council after finding signs attached to the monuments informing them of the problems. Last week the local government ombudsmen of England and Wales advised laying flat large numbers of “lawn memorials” as a result of safety testing is “unlikely to be appropriate” and almost always avoidable. It recommended it would be “good practice” for councils to inform the bereaved where possible before the checks were carried out. A council spokesman said: “We have a duty under health and safety legislation to ensure that all the memorials in our cemeteries are safe. We understand just how sensitive this issue is for many people and Mr Ruffley has identified some of the difficulties we have faced. “The reason we have not been able to contact some relatives is because they have not kept their records with us up to date. This issue, along with a possible scheme for funding repairs for those in hardship, will be considered by our policy development committee in April. “We care about the services we provide in our cemeteries and therefore we wanted to complete this process in the most sensitive way possible whilst ensuring the appropriate guidelines were followed. “However, following recent expressions of concerns, we have thoroughly reviewed our procedures and a copy of that review is on our website.”

Questions over grave repair bill
Bury Free Press, 30 March 2023
Gravestone tests in St Edmundsbury could leave relatives with a bill of more than £1.1 million, MP David Ruffley has warned. And with fewer than half of the relatives contactable so far, the Bury St Edmunds MP has asked who will meet that cost. "This is an incredibly emotive subject and I have discovered that a quarter of all those headstones tested in Bury are failing the push test," said Mr Ruffley. "Across the whole of the borough, this figure stands at 16 per cent. Potentially, this could cost bereaved relatives more than £600,000 and that is only for those headstones already on the St Edmundsbury Borough Council database. "With several thousand more headstones yet to be accounted for and tested, who knows what this cost could rise to." The borough council has records of 19,395 headstones in Bury and Haverhill and, with repair costs averaging £200 each headstone, total costs could exceed £600,000. But Mr Ruffley said the council was estimating its tally of headstones could rise to 35,000 when it included all those in closed churchyards. If the same 16 per cent failure rate applied to those headstones, the repair bill could exceed the £1.1 million mark. So far, the council has been able to contact 43 per cent of the relatives whose loved ones' headstones failed the push test, designed to check for health and safety issues. Mr Ruffley fears that once testing is finished, this could result in an unpaid bill of more than £480,000 for around 2,400 graves where the relatives cannot be contacted. The MP has now written to council leader John Griffiths asking who would foot this bill. A council spokesman said: "The reason we have not yet been able to contact some relatives is because they have not kept their records with us up to date." The council will be considering this and a scheme for funding repairs for those in hardship at April's policy and development committee. In the meantime, it has reviewed its procedures, details of which are on the council website.

Village event axed due to red tape
EADT, Will Graham-Clarke, 30 March 2023
COMMUNITY leaders have told of their dismay at the cancellation of a popular village event after villagers were faced with “unprecedented” red tape. The dedicated team behind the Woolpit Street Fair, near Bury St Edmunds, last night spoke of their sadness at the enforced decision - but vowed to do all they can to bring back the annual event. The fair, part of the village for almost 30 years, has always been a massive boost to local businesses and has raised more than £10,000 for village projects and good causes. But organisers said this year they have been blighted by a number of problems, including the loss of 400 car parking spaces on the village sports field and rising public liability insurance. “Being hit with a number of expenses and regulations at the same time this year meant we were left with little alternative but to cancel this year's event but hopefully we will be back and in a stronger position,” said organiser Ken Sibley. “Though it sounds very downbeat at the moment we are exploring all avenues to enable us to continue the event in the future. “Like the organisers of Glastonbury Festival, we are taking stock this year and looking at our options. “Mid Suffolk District Council have been exceedingly helpful regarding any requirement for a premises licence and have come up with some suggestions regarding the future.” A spokesman for Woolpit Parish Council said: “We are saddened that the increasing bureaucracy is killing village events, which have always been the mainstay of fundraising for groups. “Not only have insurance premiums increased by unprecedented levels, all the issues of health and safety mean it is no longer worthwhile to organise anything.” Traditionally held in May, the fair attracts thousands of families to the village to see Morris dancing, live entertainment and the colourful stalls. Woolpit resident John Wiley said the loss of the fair was a blow to the village but he believed it would be back. “It raises a lot of money which helps a lot of people including the local playgroup and it has helped put some of the youth in the village through university through bursaries,” he revealed. “We will all lose out in the enjoyment this year and the boost it gives local businesses - I hope it will be back next year.” Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said: “Events such as the Woolpit Street Fair have long been the backbone of village fund raising but an outrageous level of bureaucracy has developed which is making such events less and less viable. “I am convinced the Woolpit street fair committee explored every possible avenue before making this difficult decision. “It is symptomatic of a society that is getting bogged down in more and more red tape; this is the sort of sad news we are going to hear more of across Suffolk.” A spokesman for Mid Suffolk District Council said: “The council has discussed the options with the organisers and have offered to be an early advisor on next year's event.”

Cost of graveyard repairs revealed
EADT, by Dave Gooderham, 30 March 2023
URGENT answers have been demanded after grieving families were warned the bill for making their relatives' headstones secure could add up to £1.1million. The figures have been branded “ridiculous” by concerned community leaders and the checks were labelled “unnecessary”. They were released on the same day as local authorities were warned every effort must be made to avoid the large-scale laying down of gravestones during safety checks in cemeteries. Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said investigations into the “push tests” in St Edmundsbury show 16% of headstones had failed the checks - with as many as a quarter of those tested in Bury showing weaknesses. With relatives faced with a bill of around £200 to secure the monuments, Mr Ruffley said the costs of repairs could run to more than £600,000 based on the number of headstones the borough has records for. But the MP said the actual number of headstones in St Edmundsbury could be closer to 35,000 - which could mean the bill could reach £1.1million. John Douse, church warden at St Petronilla Church in Whepstead, said he would be writing to the borough council demanding answers. He said: “I am surprised by the extent of the work and the amount it is going to cost. The whole thing is absolutely ridiculous as I think the tests are unnecessary. This is a very raw subject and can be very upsetting for the relatives.” Conservative Mr Ruffley said the borough council had not contacted nearly half of those people whose relatives' headstones had failed the testing. “This is an incredibly emotive subject and I have discovered that a quarter of all those headstones tested in Bury are failing the 'push test', Mr Ruffley said. “Across the whole borough this figure stands at 16%. Potentially this could cost bereaved relatives over £600,000 and that is only for those headstones already on the St Edmundsbury database. “With several thousand more headstones to be accounted for and tested who knows what this cost could rise to.” Earlier this week, relatives demanded an apology from St Edmundsbury Borough Council after finding signs attached to the monuments informing them of the problems. Today the local government ombudsmen of England and Wales advised laying flat large numbers of “lawn memorials” as a result of safety testing is “unlikely to be appropriate” and almost always avoidable. It recommended it would be “good practice” for councils to inform the bereaved where possible before the checks were carried out. A council spokesman said: “We have a duty under health and safety legislation to ensure that all the memorials in our cemeteries are safe. We understand just how sensitive this issue is for many people and Mr Ruffley has identified some of the difficulties we have faced. “The reason we have not been able to contact some relatives is because they have not kept their records with us up to date. This issue, along with a possible scheme for funding repairs for those in hardship, will be considered by our policy development committee in April. “We care about the services we provide in our cemeteries and therefore we wanted to complete this process in the most sensitive way possible whilst ensuring the appropriate guidelines were followed. “However, following recent expressions of concerns, we have thoroughly reviewed our procedures and a copy of that review is on our website.”

Countywide anger as police set to merge
EADT, by Danielle Nuttall, 21 March 2023
POLICE officials and MPs voiced their disappointment and anger last night as the Government signalled the end of the Suffolk police force. Home Secretary Charles Clarke met with chief officers and police authority chairmen from a number of counties at Westminster yesterday to unveil his plans for 21st century policing, confirming a list of mergers that includes the forces of Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. Police authorities will have until April 7 to respond, after which Mr Clarke will make a final decision. The Home Secretary has the power to force through all the changes even if local police bosses disapprove. Suffolk Constabulary and Police Authority have not volunteered for amalgamation and last year submitted a recommendation that, if a merger was forced upon them, the most effective solution was to join with Essex and Norfolk. Gulshan Kayembe, chairman of Suffolk Police Authority, said: “We would re-iterate our disappointment that the business case submitted by Suffolk, which was extremely detailed and contained strong arguments on this issue, has not found favour. “Now that we have heard the proposals officially, the authority must consider them in more detail before responding - while still keeping in mind its commitment to ensuring the best possible policing service for local people.” Jim Keeble, chairman of Suffolk Police Federation, said: “What concerns me greatly is that the mergers were justified because they would enable new 'superforces' to be created to deal with major public emergencies but I can't see how three small rural forces such as Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk will be able to achieve that. “You look across at other areas such as the Midlands or Lincolnshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Northamptonshire which are joining together and they are going to be massive forces and you wonder how we will fare. “I'm staggered because there just doesn't seem to have been a scientific process applied. The logical thing, when looking at the rest of the country, would have been to merge all six counties to create an eastern force but it strikes me that politics is playing a bigger part in this than sensible business decisions.” Megan Howes, Unison branch secretary, said police staff in Suffolk felt vulnerable and uncertain over their future job security. “There has been a lot of talking and discontent. People feel a lot of work went into the business case and it's as if the Home Secretary has not taken any notice of that,” she said. “There is a lot of speculation because we don't know how it will affect jobs. There is speculation among staff we will only need one human resources department and one finance department.” Meanwhile, Bury St Edmunds Tory MP David Ruffley spoke of his anger at the decision and called for the election of a “Suffolk Sheriff” who would be accountable to local people. “This news is an absolute disgrace,” he said. “Charles Clarke is forcing these reforms through in the face of overwhelming opposition and against the advice of a report carried out by his own department. “I have repeatedly called for the introduction of a directly elected Police Commissioner for Suffolk. This person would be accountable at the ballot box to local people for the level of crime in their area. Such a move would do far more to focus the police on cutting crime than this ill-conceived regionalisation of our constabularies.” Mr Clarke's plans will see the number of police forces in England and Wales slashed from 43 to 24. A “super force” will be created in the East Midlands, merging five existing constabularies, while two further massive new forces will be created in the East of England out of six existing county forces. Surrey and Sussex will also combine while Kent, Hampshire and Thames Valley have won a reprieve and will remain as they are. Mr Clarke said in a written statement to MPs: “My vision for the police service in the 21st century is that it should be close, responsive and accountable to the communities it serves, supported by larger forces with the capacity and specialist expertise to protect the public from wider threats such as serious and organised crime.” n A special meeting of Suffolk Police Authority to discuss the proposed merger will be held at Police Headquarters, Martlesham Heath, on Monday April 3, starting at 5.30pm.

Going Green by David Ruffley MP
Bury Free Press, 20 March 2023
Striving to achieve a greener environment is something I care about. Together we can all make a difference in our own small way. In Bury st Edmunds we are doing just that. Moreton Hall's new Abbots Green Community Primary School is setting new standards for eco-friendly schooling. Their use of recycled rainwater, solar panels and a plant covered roof to aid insulation are fantastic examples of what can be achieved. Abbots Green is a remarkable asset to the local community. Its environmentally friendly ethos and the vision of headteacher Alex Bedford have created what I imagine will become the model for many schools in the 21st century. St Edmundsbury Borough Council has also come top of the national league table for recycling. This is down to the vision of our local council and the enthusiastic support of Suffolk residents. Residents throughout St Edmundsbury can take pride in the fact that they are recognised as the best in the country when it comes to recycling. With the improvements to the municipal tip just off the Sainsbury's roundabout, it is easy to recycle everything from TVs to unwanted clothing. We are fortunate to experience a great quality of life here in Suffolk and the efforts put in to making sure as little as possible goes into landfill shows just how much our residents care for their environment. Climate change is certainly one of the great challenges we face today. We must manage our environment better for the sake of the planet, our own quality of life and the quality of life of future generations. We are working to a timetable set by nature, not by us; and we haven't much time. As the problem of climate change grows, so the need for action grows, too. The issue of climate change should be above party politics. It is a long-term problem that requires long-term solutions. Consensus is key on this most important of issues. If politicians from different parties agree on things, then they should say so! That is why, for example, my party has joined forces with the Liberal Democrats and three other minority parties in Westminster to forge an alliance on climate change. But we can all make a difference in our homes, which is where a third of all carbon emissions come from – making them the biggest single source of CO2 emissions. Total demand for electricity would fall by 3.5 per cent if every conventional light bulb in domestic households was replaced by an energy efficient one. I have recently been asking local residents for their views on this issue through my online survey website at www.telldavidruffley.com. The response I have received shows how much local people care about the environment. For example, nearly nine out of 10 people have taken practical steps to improve the energy efficiency of their own home with more than three quarters of those who responded saying they used energy efficient light bulbs, only filled the kettle with enough water for their immediate needs and turned off the lights when they left the room. These are easy tips for how we can all make a difference. In addition to this, the Energy Saving Trust website at www.est.org.uk has a number of easy-to-follow tips to help to save energy and help to prevent future climate change problems. We must look to create a cleaner, greener, more environmentally friendly future in Moreton Hall and we can all play our part.

380 jobs to go in factory closure
Bury Free Press, 17 March 2023
Grim-faced workers yesterday arrived for work as usual at an Elmswell meat factory, as the village woke up to the 'nightmare' loss of 380 jobs and the end to 95 years of history. Families have been told that they will probably be out of a job after the Grampian Country Food Group announced its intention to withdraw from Elmswell on Wednesday. A meat factory has stood on the site off St Edmunds Drive since 1911 and was bought by Grampian in 2001 - but all that looks set to end in June. As workers poured through the gates at 6am yesterday morning, Stephen Watts, 26, from Elmswell, said: "It's a total shock. I've been here since I left school - I've got a family to support." His friend Cole Shepherd, 32, also from the village, said: "There was always an inkling of this happening but it's a bit of a shock." But Robert Pearce, 58, from Buxhall, said: "We haven't had any extra work since Christmas, so this isn't a total shock to be honest - but it is a pity to see the place go." Another man, who did not want to be named, said: "I'm 57 this year, so this is going to affect me severely - getting another job is going to be extremely hard." Mid Suffolk district councillor Carol Milward worked at the factory for 18 months around four years ago and got to know many of the families that work there. "It's a hell of a blow. It is going to have an impact on the whole of the village," she said. Fellow district councillor Doug Reed said: "It's devastating for the village, so many people in the village work there. I know of one husband and wife that work there - for them it's going to be a nightmare. "The impact of having a big employer in the village cannot be over-estimated. "Local shops are heavily dependent on people that work there. It is just going to hit everything." Peter Dow, clerk of Elmswell Parish Council, said: "It is an enormous blow - everybody knows somebody who works there." He said the parish council had to be ready to help by offering facilities for re-training. James Cutting, economic development officer at the district council, said the factory accounted for 30 per cent of employment in the Elmswell and Norton areas. Christine Henry, area organiser for the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw), said: "Our members are now on 90 days' notice and are devastated by this announcement. "Many of them have worked there since leaving school and, in some cases, whole generations of one family have earned their living there. "If the site does close in June, then we will make sure our members get the very best redundancy packages possible and will be working closely with them to look at re-skilling and re-training options to secure a very experienced and talented workforce suitable alternative jobs." David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, said: "Over 300 jobs is a hammer blow and I am sure we will all think, at a time like this, of how many families will be affected." He said he would be writing to the firm's management seeking guarantees that they would do all they could to help workers to secure other employment. "I cannot help but think that the tide of cheaper and often inferior meat products from Europe and beyond has been a factor somewhere here," added Mr Ruffley.

'Phantom parents' claim pounds 260m
The Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2023
ABOUT 200,000 "phantom'' single parents are receiving hundreds of millions of pounds in benefit payments to which they are not entitled, ministers will be told this week. The alarming statistics were uncovered by research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions jointly estimate they are paying income-related support to 2.1 million single parents. But according to the institute, evidence supplied by the Office for National Statistics, in its family resources survey, shows there are only 1.9 million lone parents in Britain. MPs fear that the "phantom'' overpayment runs to about pounds 260 million a year, although precise figures are impossible to quantify. The total could be much higher, possibly as much as pounds 1 billion. The IFS report says a proportion of the "lone-parent'' payments are in fact going to cohabiting couples with children, "whether through deliberate fraud or errors made by claimants or the Government''. The report, to be published tomorrow, will be another headache for ministers on top of last week's news that the Government has overpaid pounds 130 million of pension credit. Tens of thousands of elderly people are now to be sent "begging letters'' asking for money to be returned. The institute, which has a reputation for rigour and independence, recommended that ministers urgently review the data it uses to calculate and pay benefits and tax credits. The Conservatives said the figures were a "fiasco''. David Ruffley, the shadow minister for welfare reform, said he would table parliamentary questions this week to establish just how much money was being wrongly paid out. "This simply would not have happened if Gordon Brown had not over-complicated the benefits system during the past eight years. Now vulnerable lone parents who should be getting support will not know whether they are going to get demands to pay money back.'' Mike Brewer, one of the authors, said: "We already know the tax credit system is subject to fraud from people using stolen identities. The latest figures provide powerful - albeit circumstantial - evidence that the system is also subject to fraud from families not being honest about their circumstances.'' However, the Treasury said: "This is a wholly misleading piece of analysis which tries to draw conclusions by measuring very different things. Tens of thousands of people move in or out of the tax credits system every month. ''There are around 15,000 new lone-parent families every month, about 40,000 tax credit recipient's circumstances change every month. There are 300,000 marriages every year and 200,000 divorces.''

'Begging letters' ask pensioners to send money back
The Daily Telegraph, 11 March 2023
TENS of thousands of elderly people who received overpayments of pension credit due to Government blunders are to receive a "begging letter'' from ministers asking if they would mind sending the money back voluntarily. In a partial climbdown, ministers announced that they would be requesting - rather than ordering - repayment from those who benefited through no fault of their own from last year's pounds 130 million pension credit overpayment. However, many pensioners who received too much because they filled out forms wrongly could still be forced to send money back - although not if this would clearly cause them immediate or obvious "hardship''. Ministers were forced to try to reassure pensioners yesterday after it was revealed that they would try to "claw back'' as much of the money paid out in error as possible. On Thursday the Department for Work and Pensions said it would try to get money back where over-payments resulting from Government blunders had been "obvious''. Organisations representing the elderly accused the Government of being "heartless'' and said it should write off the loss. David Ruffley, the Conservative spokesman for welfare reform, who uncovered the overpayment figure by asking parliamentary questions, said the Government had failed to ease pensioners' fears. "There are far too many questions that remain unanswered,'' he said. "Pensioners will be very worried by these letters and many still look certain to face repayment demands as a result of a problem caused by Government incompetence.'' Overpayment of pension credit increased from pounds 50 million in 2003 to pounds 130 million last year - equivalent to 2.1 per cent of total payments. The benefit was introduced in its current form three years ago to help ensure a minimum income for pensioners. Stephen Timms, the pensions minister, accused the Tories of "very irresponsible scare-mongering'' as he defended the pension credit regime. Social security law stated that no pensioner who had benefited from Government mistakes could be ordered to pay money back. "Where there has been overpayment as a result of a mistake by the department a letter is sent but nobody is compelled to pay that money back,'' he said. "Of course if people want to or are willing to pay that money back we will be pleased but nobody will be forced to.''

U-turn on pension credits clawback
The Daily Mail, 11 March 2023
TENS of thousands of Britain's poorest pensioners, who were overpaid Pounds 130million in pension credits after Government blunders, will receive begging letters asking them to give the money back. In a dramatic climbdown, Pensions Minister Stephen Timms yesterday said ministers will not force them to hand over the cash. But he said the elderly will be pressured to return the payments voluntarily. 'When there has been a mistake, a letter goes out,' he added. 'It makes it clear social security law does not allow us to require repayment. Of course, if people want to we'll be pleased. But nobody will be forced to pay the money back. Tory welfare reform spokesman David Ruffley, who exposed the fiasco, accused the Department of Work and Pensions of a Uturn and demanded to know how much it will cost to send the letters, which he said would 'unnerve' pensioners. 'Ministers don't know if they are coming or going,' he added. 'British pensioners won't have much confidence in them after this shambles.' Overpayments of pension credit have trebled over the last three years from Pounds 40million to Pounds 130million.

Ministers to waive excess pension payments to poor
The Times, 11 March 2023
MINISTERS are preparing to write off almost all the £ 130 million paid in error to some of the poorest pensioners. They made clear last night that in most cases they would not be pursuing overpayments. The Times has learnt that fewer than one hundred letters have been sent to pensioners informing them that they have received too much. Sources say that many of this small number of letters tell the pensioners that even though an overpayment has been made, there will be no effort to reclaim the cash, either because it would cause hardship, or because it was a result of clerical error. In such circumstances the Government is obliged by law to forgo the cash. Figures obtained by the Conservatives this week showed that overpayment on means-tested pension credit and income support had trebled in the past three years to £ 130 million last year. The benefits are intended to boost the incomes of the least well-off pensioners. Those with a small occupational pension are entitled to the pension credit, while the poorest households get income support. Ministers feared a repeat of the scandal over tax credits were they to attempt to recover the money. There has been criticism of the aggressive "automatic clawback" by Revenue & Customs of overpayment from low-paid households. David Ruffley, the Conservative welfare spokesman, said that ministers had put out confusing messages on the overpayment of pensions and were "all over the shop - how can pensioners have any faith in what they say after this fiasco?" Next week Gordon Brown will face calls to compensate thousands who have lost occupational pensions. Ann Abraham, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, will report on whether the Government misled workers over the safety of final-salary schemes. As many as 85,000 people have lost their savings. The compensation bill could exceed £ 5 billion. The Chancellor and John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, are expected to challenge the report. About 15,000 of those who lost their final salary pensions are eligible for compensation under the Government's £ 400 million Financial Assistance Scheme. Officials have confirmed that, so far, only 15 people had received a payment.

Government paid £ 130m too much through pension errors
The Times, 11 March 2023
THE Government tried to retrieve pensions overpayments from fewer than 100 people last year, it emerged yesterday, amid a row over whether ministers planned to claw back £ 130 million of mispaid pensions. David Ruffley, the Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, raised concerns that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) planned to force pensioners to return means-tested benefits paid as a result of the DWP's error. Mr Ruffley said that overpayments had trebled since pension credits were introduced in October 2003. However, Pensions Reform Minister Stephen Timms said pensioners would not be forced to pay back any overpaid credits. "When there's a mistake, a letter goes out," he said. "It makes it clear that social security law does not allow us to require repayment." Pensions credits were designed to ensure that state benefits targeted the poorest pensioners. Forty-six per cent of pensioners are eligible for the £ 109-a-week payment. The DWP said that the overpayments were made as a result of "official error" such as incorrect information being put into the department's computers or payments continuing after a pensioner died. A spokeswoman said that the DWP attempted to retrieve money from fewer than 100 people last year, all of whom received "significant overpayments". "We're not in the business of taking money from pensioners," she said. She said that the decision by Revenue & Customs to demand the return of overpaid tax credits was because of a "different departmental approach". Revenue & Customs has overpaid £ 1.9 billion in tax credits to poor and middle-income families. Experts have raised concerns that the Government's emphasis on means-testing is deterring workers from saving.

Elderly must repay pounds 130m in pension credit fiasco
Th e Daily Telegraph, 10 March 2023
TENS of thousands of elderly people who receive money through pension credits face having to pay part of it back to the Treasury because of overpayment blunders. The Department for Work and Pensions admitted yesterday that it would attempt to claw back cash from some of the country's poorest pensioners after official figures showed overpayments had more than tripled from pounds 40 million in 2001/2 to pounds 130 million last year. David Ruffley, the Conservative spokesman on welfare reform, accused ministers of gross mismanagement and predicted a repeat of last year's fiasco over tax credits, which saw the Government attempt to reclaim part of a total pounds 2 billion overpayment. "Pensioners face the prospect of being rung up by the Department for Work and Pensions asking for its money back,'' he said. Help the Aged described the move as "heartless''. A spokesman said that many pensioners would now be so worried they had been overpaid that they would cut back on essentials including heating. "Twenty per cent of pensioners are living below the poverty line,'' said Mervyn Kohler, Help the Aged's spokesman. "To go chasing some of those individuals strikes me as mean. "One of the problems with the pension credit is that the calculation of what you are entitled to is so complex that for an ordinary member of the public to know what they are being paid is right or not is impossible.'' Elizabeth Blackman, a representative for the National Pensioners Convention in the East Midlands, said: "Can they explain how it would be obvious to the average pensioner that they had been overpaid? "The problem with pension credit is pensioners are not claiming it because it's too complex so how the heck are they to realise when they've been overpaid? "The Government has been sending out reminders to people that they may be eligible to claim but this will put people off claiming.'' A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions insisted that no pensioner who had received overpayments as a result of a Government error would be required to pay money back - unless the mistakes had been "very obvious''. "If, for instance, someone had received two payments in the same week then there would be a case for repaying it,'' said the spokesman. "But this would be done sensitively. If it would cause hardship there would be no requirement to pay back the entire lump sum immediately.'' Pension credit, which is received by 3.3 million people, is a lynchpin of Gordon Brown's strategy for lifting pensioners out of poverty. The intention is to provide older people with a minimum level of income. But there have been many teething problems since it was introduced in 2003. The figures published by the Work and Pensions department show that there was overpayment in 2004/05 amounting to 2.1 per cent of total pension credit payments. Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said that it was "outrageous'' that people who had struggled with bureaucracy and endless complex forms to extract their pension credit were now being hunted down by the Government and were being asked to repay the money. James Plaskitt, the minister for benefits, said that despite the problems, pension credit was helping many pensioners out of poverty. The systems for delivering the correct sums to the right pensioners were also improving. "Pension credit continues to deliver more money to the poorest pensioners with over three million getting more money as a direct result.'' Last year Tony Blair apologised for the "hardship and distress'' suffered by poor families as a result of mis-management of the separate tax credit system run by the Treasury. In addition to pounds 2 billion of overpayments some 713,000 people were found to have been underpaid pounds 500 million. The problems were blamed in large part on malfunctioning IT systems.

165,000 pensioners could be told to hand back cash
Daily Mail, 10 March 2023
THOUSANDS of pensioners may face the misery of having to hand back money to the Government in a new scandal of overpaid benefits, it was predicted last night. Figures show that overpayments of Labour's flagship pension credit have trebled in the last three years. As many as one in 50 of those who qualify for the top-up around 165,000 could have been given too much money. The Tories warned that many could expect demands to return the money, given the Government's record of clawing back overpaid benefits. Tory welfare spokesman David Ruffley, who uncovered the figures through Parliamentary questions, said: 'Pension credit overpayment has trebled in the last three years from Pounds 40million in 2001-2002, to Pounds 50million in 2002-2003, Pounds 100million in 2003-2004 and now Pounds 130million in 2004-2005. 'This is 2.1 per cent of pension credit payments. Many elderly claimants potentially face a clawback of overpaid money.' The Department for Work and Pensions insisted no attempt would be made to recoup overpaid benefits except in the most obvious cases, in which recipients should have realised they were being paid far too much. A spokesman added: 'We understand that people are on low incomes and we would always ask for the money to be paid back sensitively. Generally, we wouldn't ask for money back when it's our fault and it's not obvious.' But Mr Ruffley said the Government's own accounting rules meant repayment could be waived only if it would cause serious hardship, which 'must not be confused with inconvenience'. He added: 'This Government has got form when it comes to clawing back overpayments. Ministerial incompetence brought us the shambles of tax credit overpayments. 'Ministers are running the pension credit system incompetently. The Government needs to explain why overpayments have trebled and needs to give reassurances to affected pensioners that they will not be harassed and treated insensitively by Government officials.' Campaigners have called on ministers to write off all the debts, saying many elderly people would struggle to pay the money back. Mervyn Kohler, of Help the Aged, said: 'It is not their fault the Government is not doing its sums properly. It's a Byzantine system. I don't believe anybody would have the slightest idea whether they were being overpaid or underpaid. 'To chase anyone for recovery of this money when it's the Government's mistake would be a bit on the heartless side.' Pension credits were introduced by Chancellor Gordon Brown to help those on the lowest incomes. The row over the payments follows chaos in Labour's tax credits system, introduced in 2003 to help low earners. In 2004, around one third of the six million households eligible for tax credits received overpayments. The Revenue's attempts to claw back the money at least Pounds 2billion caused some serious hardship. Pensions minister James Plaskitt said: 'Pension credit continues to deliver more money to the poorest pensioners, with more than three million getting more money as a direct result. 'A number of initiatives have been introduced to focus on error. The checking regime is more rigorous.' COMPANIES could be banned from forcing workers to retire at 65, the Government said yesterday. Retirement ages could be scrapped under proposals revealed as part of a crackdown on age discrimination. The Department of Trade and Industry said a review would be held in five years to consider whether to 'abolish retirement ages'. However, from October, if approved by Parliament, rules forbidding a retirement age of less than 65 will apply. Those wanting to work beyond 65 will have the right to ask to stay on. But companies will only be legally obliged to 'consider' the application and will have the right to refuse it. Trade Secretary Alan Johnson described it as 'not work till you drop but choose when you stop'. But business leaders said a ' cutoff point' was essential. Susan Anderson, a director at the CBI, said: 'Employers need to have the right to say: "Now is the time for you to go with dignity".' Without a retirement age, companies would be forced to sack workers if they insisted on keeping their jobs, but were no longer up to the task.

Millions lose out on their pensions
The Express, 10 March 2023
MILLIONS of hard-pressed pensioners face having their income slashed because of a catalogue of blunders by the Government. New figures obtained by the Daily Express last night show that the cost of mistakes in Pension Credit has more than trebled over the last three years. More than GBP 130million has been paid out in error. Now many of those who depend on the cash as a vital lifeline could be forced to pay money back, even though the mistakes are not their fault. Some households could lose as much as GBP 30 a week as Whitehall officials attempt to recoup the overpayments from next month. More than two million pensioners are already failing to claim the cash because of the baffling complexity of the system, which includes 40 pages of claim forms and explanatory notes. And figures show that many are struggling with the freephone Pension Credit helpline, with up to 3,600 calls abandoned every month as claimants are placed on hold by a computer answering system. The fresh blow for pensioners comes on top of soaring bills for council tax, gas and electricity. Tory MP David Ruffley, the Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, said: "These new figures prove that ministers are running the Pension Credit system incompetently. "Many people over 60 face the prospect of being rung up by the Department for Work and Pensions asking for its money back. "The Government needs to explain why overpayments have trebled and give reassurances to affected pensioners that they will not be harassed and treated insensitively by Government officials." Mr Ruffley, who uncovered the overpayments scandal in a written parliamentary answer, added: "Many elderly claimants potentially face the cash being snatched back. This Government has got form when it comes to clawing back overpayments. Ministerial incompetence brought us the shambles of tax credit overpayments." Pension Credit was introduced by Labour to guarantee people aged over 60 a minimum income. Under the system, single old folk are entitled to have their weekly income topped up to GBP 109.45, while couples should get GBP 167.05. The benefit provides desperately needed extra cash on top of the basic state pension, currently GBP 82.05 for a single person and GBP 131.20 for a couple. The personal details needed to process the claims are so complicated, however, that more than 1.8million people eligible for Pension Credit do not bother applying. Many complain that the forms are intrusive, requiring an astonishing level of detail. Under Government rules, forced repayments may be waived if it would cause hardship. But the rules add: "Hardship must not be confused with inconvenience." Paul Bates, of Help The Aged, said last night: "The figures show in the starkest possible terms that the Government is failing in its efforts to improve take-up of Pension Credit among some of the most vulnerable people in the country." Age Concern said: "Many older people miss out because they don't realise that they are entitled to extra cash, don't know how to claim, find the process too intimidating and lengthy or feel there is a stigma attached." And Neil DuncanJordan, of the Pensioners Convention, said: "Pensioners feel the system is intrusive and they don't like dealing with officials. Complexity puts people off." Whitehall officials yesterday admitted to "teething problems" with Pension Credit, which was introduced three years ago. But Benefits Minister James Plaskitt said: "A number of initiatives have been introduced to focus on error. "The checking regime is more rigorous. These figures refer to a period before these measures were introduced." Protests over the low level of state pension are planned next week, which has been dubbed Pensions Action Week.

Handouts scandal hits OAPs
The Sun, 10 March 2023
HARD-UP old people face having their weekly handouts slashed because of chaos in the pension credit system. Hundreds of thousands may have to hand back cash after being given too much. New figures reveal overpayments trebled in three years to a staggering £ 130million last year. The shambles has echoes of the tax credits fiasco which left families to survive on charity food parcels. Shadow welfare minister David Ruffley said: "Ministers are running the pension credit system incompetently. "Many pensioners have to survive on low incomes and even a small repayment can devastate their budgets. "Now they face the prospect of being rung up and asked for the money back. "The Government needs to reassure pensioners they will not be treated insensitively." Nearly 2.5million people pick up the means-tested credits which boose basic state pensions from about £ 80 to £ 109.45 a week, or £ 167.05 for couples. Campaigners fear some pensioners confused by the complicated 34-page claim forms will be penalised. Help the Aged's Mervyn Kohler said: "It is a bit rich for the Government to start demanding money back."

Elderly may have to repay credits
The Times, 10 March 2023
THOUSANDS of elderly people may have to pay back part of their pension credit after officials gave out millions of pounds extra by mistake. The level of overpayments of the means-tested pension credit and income support for pensioners has risen threefold in just four years, from £ 40 million in 2001-02 to £ 130 million in 2004-05. The Department for Work and Pensions attempted to reassure pensioners last night that they would not be plunged into penury if they have been overpaid. The DWP said that it would not attempt to reclaim the cash if this would cause hardship. The rules state that repayment can be waived "if it would cause hardship -but hardship must not be confused with inconvenience". A spokesman also admitted that part of the rise in overpayments was due to "a transition period" when new staff were being trained. If it was proved that the overpayment was due to official error, the money could not be clawed back. However, if the overpayment was due to a pensioner filling out the form incorrectly, the Government had the right to ask for its money back. Treasury efforts to reclaim tax credits have led to outrage as poor families were plunged into debt and hardship by unexpected demands for the return of long spent money. The Treasury may have to write off millions of pounds of taxpayers' money. David Ruffley, the Conservative welfare spokesman, said that the figures showed that ministers were running the pension credit system "incompetently". He said: "This Government has got form when it comes to clawing back overpayments. Ministerial incompetence brought us the shambles of tax credit overpayments. "These new figures showing a trebling of overpayments prove that Ministers are running the Pension Credit system incompetently." However, the Government said that pensioners were clearly benefiting from the system. "Pension Credit continues to deliver more money to the poorest pensioners with over three million getting more money as a direct result," said James Plaskitt, the Benefits Minister. "These figures refer to a period before these measures were introduced and during a time of massive change." Employers will be banned from forcing workers to retire before 65 as part of age discrimination laws announced by the Government yesterday. Older workers will also be able to ask if they can stay on beyond the age of 65, and will get protection from unfair dismissal and redundancy.

Crossroads is open, but work goes on
Bury Free Press, 6 March 2023
It's official - the A14 Rookery Crossroads scheme is now open. The £12 million project has seen major roadworks along 1.5 miles of road at Rougham for the past 17 months. But the work is not yet completely finished, much to the dismay of one business which has seen its turnover slashed because of the work in front of its driveway. The massive safety project, which has created a two-level junction and underpass, was carried out by Mowlem Plc for the Highways Agency with the road remaining open throughout. About 35,000 vehicles use that stretch of the A14 everyday, with 6,000 heavy goods vehicles travelling along the busy arterial road. While there have been traffic tailbacks and delays, the new road has been welcomed by villagers and workmen have been praised. The work was due to be completed two months ago and parts of the A14 on the eastern end of the project will still have restrictions until final work is completed. Kelvin Harbutt, who runs Rougham Hall Nurseries, said he would only be happy when all the work around his business was complete. Mr Harbutt said: "We have lost 50 per cent of our business because of all the road works and it is going to be a struggle to recover some custom. "I will be pleased when it is all finally finished, but I just wish the stretch of A14 around me was completed on time." Sara Mildmay-White, who represents Rougham on St Edmundsbury Borough Council, welcomed the scheme. "On balance, we have a wonderful scheme much sooner than anybody else in the area. We have a good, safe scheme and the workers have been particularly helpful in the village putting up a newsletter on progress in the Post Office. They have been cheery and co-operative." David Ruffley MP, who has been lobbying for the work since 1997, said: "This is important not only for road safety but also for future development." Kelly-Jo Logan, of the Highways Agency, said: "We will try to keep any remaining disruption to minimum, as we have done from the very start of the scheme." Factfile Some 46 sq metres of new surface was laid on the road. 1,530 trees were removed to make way for the scheme and 19,000 specimens were replanted. 30 bat boxes were installed. 2,000 metres of new central reservation was put in. On the bridge desk of Sow Lane, 366 cubic metres of concrete was laid in one continuous pour.

Anger as grant cuts hit disability service
Bury Free Press, 1 March 2023
A service for people with learning and physical disabilities faces an uncertain future because funding has been withdrawn by a cash- strapped council. Wood N Stuff, on Station Hill, Bury St Edmunds, helps up to 40 people a day regain their confidence and learn skills through woodwork and computer sessions. The co-operative lost one member of staff and cash has been axed for funding members' sessions after Suffolk County Council, which has a £24 mllion budget shortfall, reduced its grant. John Morley, general manager, said: "The worst case scenario is our services will shrink big time. "We are like a big family here and it was heart-breaking to let someone go and tell people they can't come here as often as they like. "It is rewarding to see people regain their self-esteem and take joy from making things and it is sad members will lose something positive in their lives." The council gives £43 a day for each member going to the workshop, which sells the goods made there. As well as people with learning and physical problems, work experience pupils and the probation service use the centre. RAF veteran Cyril Salisbury, 87, of Thurston, was shocked to find out he may lose one of his days at Wood N Stuff. Mr Salisbury, who flew bombers in World War Two, said: "If you sit at home looking at four walls all day you end up depressed. I have lived my life but I am very worried for all the youngsters here who may lose out. "They are a wonderful bunch of people here and it has helped improve my alertness." Steve Lummis, 49, of Stanton has lost a day. He said: "The people who made this stupid decision must come from another planet." David Ruffley, MP for Bury, has demanded answers from council bosses about the cut in Wood N Stuff's funding. A council spokeswoman said: "We constantly review the care we provide. All those currently using Wood N Stuff will continue to do so. "In some cases, the number of visits will reduce. Any changes will be agreed with the individual receiving care before changes are made."

Mast scheme sparks anger
Bury Free Press, 1 March 2023
Planners are tomorrow expected to give the go-ahead to a phone mast on top of the BT building in Whiting Street, despite angry protests from nearby residents. Vodafone has applied to put up three aerials on the building and St Edmundsbury Borough Council's development control committee is being recommended by officers to give approval at tomorrow's meeting. More than 30 letters of objection have been sent to the council, while ward councillor Paul Farmer has received a petition signed by 70 residents. "This issue has come back like a bad penny, but it never fails to unite local people," said Cllr Farmer. "I am surprised and disappointed by this recommendation, as I am sure local residents will be." He said previous applications, in 2000 and 2003, had been refused by the council and dismissed by an inspector on appeal. Concerns by residents include fears that granting permission will discourage redevelopment of the building. The proposal would also create a precedent for further telecommunication equipment to be installed and it would also spoil the skyline. Other sites examined for the antennae were the cathedral tower, Bury Town Football Club, Greene King brewery, the St Edmundsbury Borough Council offices and properties in the town centre, including the former JobCentre. Vodafone wants to install the masts as part of its UK network to improve mobile phone coverage for the town centre and points out the installation conforms to safety guidelines. Bury MP David Ruffley said: "This recommendation shows absolutely no regard for the wishes of local residents and the serious concerns local councillors and I have expressed."

Anger and disbelief at cemetery 'desecration'
Bury Free Press, 24 February 2023
An outpouring of anger and disbelief has followed a council's decision to disturb graves at a town cemetery. St Edmundsbury Borough Council has been criticised after slapping dozens of notices on headstones which were judged to have 'failed' health and safety tests. The controversial move, which involved placing a large mechanical device on the stones, causing many to collapse, left relatives fuming. And in the two weeks since, more people have come forward to express their horror at what they believe to be 'bureaucracy gone mad'. Russell Baxter, whose mother and father are both buried at the Bury St Edmunds cemetery, labelled the move 'disgusting and indefensible'. "My sister rang to ask me if I had seen the Bury Free Press, so I visited the cemetery and found the stone had been broken and a stake stuck to it," said the Chevington man. "I was really upset and shocked. I cannot imagine how a pensioner would feel if they found their partner's grave had been desecrated - it's just crazy. "The idea this has been done on health and safety grounds is ridiculous - the council is entering the realms of fantasy and I find their approach indefensible." Relatives, who have been told the scheme is part of a nationwide initiative, are now facing a bill of up to £200 per grave to have the stones made safe. Brenda Hudson, of Bury, was incensed. "When I visited the grave at Christmas it was in perfect order," she said. "Suddenly, it is unsafe - I call this vandalism and bureaucracy gone mad." David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, added his voice to the outcry, urging the borough council to issue an apology. "I completely understand the hurt and distress this has caused," he said. "Everything should be done to safeguard the resting place of relatives' loved ones." But Cllr Paul Farmer, ward member, defended the move. "While I sympathise with relatives, I do believe the council had no alternative. "There have been serious accidents and even deaths involving headstones and the public would rightly complain if the council sat back and did nothing." Why the council did it The leader of St Edmundsbury Borough Council has defended the authority's position over its handling of the issue. "When I first became aware of the concerns, I called for an immediate review to check we were doing everything right and in the most sensitive manner," said Cllr John Griffiths. "I have already been reassured we are going about this process, which I appreciate is distressing for the families concerned, properly." Cllr Griffiths said the council had been advised it could be prosecuted in the event of any accident. "We cannot simply ignore health and safety issues, but we do listen and we do want to make sure we take into account people's feelings," he added.

Two million questions
EADT, by Lisa Cleverdon, 17 March 2023
DELAYS to the completion of a long-awaited road improvement project have cost taxpayers £2million, it has emerged. Politicians are demanding urgent answers from highways bosses about the cost of the A14 Rookery Crossroads scheme, at Rougham, near Bury St Edmunds, which officially opened recently. The scheme was budgeted to cost £10m, but a six-month delay in finishing, caused by unforeseen highways work not included in the original contract, meant the total cost of the project ran to £12m. Last night, Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley demanded answers over the delays and “spiralling costs” of the scheme, which has provided improved and safer access to and from the A14. “The opening of the Rookery Crossroads was a very welcome day. However, taxpayers have every right to question the delays to the project and the spiralling costs that resulted,” he said. “These improvements were vital to road safety but when a project is completed six months late and well over budget, questions have to be asked of those in charge.” In a letter to Archie Robertson, chief executive of the Highways Agency, Mr Ruffley also asked for assurances over the “better management” of any future road safety improvements along the A14. “I have asked that everything will be done to ensure future projects on our county's main trunk road, such as proposed improvements to the Haughley bends, will be better managed and arrive on time, and at their projected cost,” he said. The Rookery Crossroads, which was unveiled on Friday, included the straightening of the busy carriageway, improved slip roads and the addition of an underpass allowing cars to bypass the main road. But extra work, including unexpected repairs to the existing A14, the excavation of hard material and drainage work, meant the project did not run to its original schedule. St Edmundsbury Borough Councillor Sara Mildmay-White, ward member for Rougham, said someone had to be held accountable for the delays. “It is taxpayers' money at the end of the day so we should have an explanation as to why this has happened,” she said. “The Highways Agency must deal with projects like this on a daily basis and should be clued-up. “Local residents are thrilled with the fact the work is finally complete, and there is no doubt that it looks good. “But an investigation needs to take place and lessons need to be learned so the same thing doesn't happen again with future projects.” Minor resurfacing work at the east end of the Rookery Crossroads scheme is due to be completed later this month. A Highways Agency spokeswoman said: “The delay in completion and additional work identified during construction has increased the scheme costs. However, this will be limited by invoking penalty clauses on the contractor. “The Agency will be analysing the final cost closely to see why this overrun has occurred and what lessons can be learned for the future.”

'Illogical' smoking ban gets a mixed reaction
Bury Free Press, 17 February 2023
Smokers were this week given the cold shoulder by a massive Parliamentary vote in favour of a total ban on smoking in public - and the move was welcomed by many in west Suffolk. However, West Suffolk MP Richard Spring and Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley voted against the legislation, which outlaws smoking in private clubs, bars and restaurants. Landlord at the Rose and Crown, in Bury St Edmunds, Tony Fayers, also had reservations and said he believed the ban should have covered lunchtime food service only. "Then we could go back to being a good, traditional pub, smoke and all," he said. Mr Fayers said this week that smokers were still welcome and he was making arrangements for a heated yard area once the ban comes into effect. Mr Spring said: "It seems illogical to me. If people want to belong to a private club and smoke in that private club and make arrangements for segregated areas, they should be allowed to do so. "Smoking is not illegal. This is intrusion which is a step too far. "More people will now smoke in their homes and who knows what the impact of that will be," he added. Mildenhall Social Club said it would have been satisfied with a partial ban. "Most of our customers are smokers and, as such, do not welcome the ban," said Silva Manels, stewardess licensee of the club. "I've already had customers tell me that they would rather stay at home where they can drink and smoke. But a lot of people are happy with this decision." Mrs Manels said she expected the club committee to introduce a ban next year. The Angel Hotel, in Bury, has been a non-smoking venue since January and said it did not see any significant change in business as a result. The ban is to be imposed on all enclosed public areas, excluding care homes, hospitals, prisons and hotel bedrooms. Any venue found to be in breach of the ban would be liable to to a fine of up to £2,500. West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury, is already a non smoking zone. The Strategic Health Authority for Norfolk Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and cancer charities have also backed the move. What you think... Martin Baylis, 34, Landlord of the Nutshell Pub, Bury. "I am worried that the ban might affect business, but if it is a blanket ban it will affect everyone else as well. "At least people will be able to breathe properly, because it can get very smoky in here in winter because it is too cold to go outside." Stephanie Drake, 44, Norwich"A ban would stop me going into my local pub because I do enjoy a drink and a cigarette. "Food should be served separately, outside an area where people can smoke and drink." Daryl Fuller, 31, Bury "I have just stopped smoking and I am looking forward to the ban, because it is hard at the moment to go into a pub and smell cigarettes and have a drink and not smoke." Mary Caine, 54, Bury Market stallholder "It should be down to the individual businesses to make a decision. "Some people who smoke don't mind working in a smoky atmosphere. Something like this can't be imposed in order to make more people give up - they have to be willing to give up in the first place." John Sheppard, 63, Bury "We are going to find everybody smoking in the streets and there will be so many fag ends lying around. "We should go back to the old days in pubs where you used to have a public bar, a snug and a smoking bar." Lisa Evans, 20, Barmaid in The Grapes Pub, Bury "The Grapes is mainly a drinkers' pub and more than 90 per cent of our customers are smokers. I lived in Italy for seven months and it's no smoking over there and people just deal with it. It's weird to come back to a smoke-filled pub. Smoking and drinking go hand-in-hand, it's what people do and what they're used to."

Chancellor accused of 'mandarinism' in MPC
The Times, 15 February 2023
GORDON BROWN came under renewed fire yesterday from MPs on the Commons Treasury Committee over claims of secrecy and a lack of consultation or transparency surrounding the appointment of members of the Bank of England's interest rate setting committee. In a report giving the committee's backing for the Chancellor's nomination of Sir John Gieve as the Bank's new Deputy Governor, it sounded a note of concern that, as the former Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, he is the second top civil servant to be installed on the Monetary Policy Committee. "We express full confidence in the work of the MPC, whilst noting that both Deputy Governors... were formerly civil servants," the report said. In July 2003 Rachel Lomax became the Bank's other Deputy Governor, having previously served as Permanent Secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions, and as a one-time Treasury official. The MPs' report came after Michael Fallon, Conservative MP for Sevenoaks and the committee's most senior Opposition member, accused the Chancellor of turning the MPC into "a kind of retirement home for Treasury mandarins". Yesterday Mr Fallon returned to the attack. "The Bank and the MPC have to be independent and these senior appointments should be advertised and recruited openly, rather than left in the Chancellor's gift," he said. He said there should be concern that there was no senior City or banking figure on the MPC. Susan Kramer, a Liberal Democrat member of the committee, said: "The Chancellor should widen the talent pool from which these appointments are made, otherwise the Treasury is creating barriers for other people of ability." David Ruffley, Tory MP for Bury St Edmunds and a committee member and former Treasury adviser, accused Mr Brown of imposing an appointments process that "smacks of institutionalised mandarinism".

Incapacity benefit skivers who dodge check-ups by a doctor;
The Sunday Express, 5 February 2023
MOST people claiming they are too sick to work are handed cash without undergoing a proper medical examination. They can get GBP 57-a-week incapacity benefit simply by completing the necessary paperwork - even though they could be lying about their condition. Two-thirds of last year's 340,000 new claimants were able to get the handout without seeing a Department of Work and Pensions medical examining practitioner. And only 40 per cent of the 1.5 million who have been claiming Incapacity Benefit for more than five years since Labour came to power in 1997 have undergone a proper medical assessment. The rest were dealt with purely through the forms they had filled in, with assessors relying on the own accounts of their poor health and the factual detail on diagnosis and treatment provided by GPs. The scandal has been blamed on cost-cutting measures and attempts to speed up the throughput of claimants, who can claim a higher rate of GBP 76.45 after being on the benefit for a year. The Government has pledged to cut the 2.7 million invalidity claimants by a million but critics say the plans fail to tackle the vital issue of medical assessments. Last night Dr John Canning, a British Medical Association expert on Incapacity Benefit, warned: "The system is open to abuse by people who could be working. "In the majority of cases there should be a proper face-to-face assessment by an examining medical practitioner. "I suspect this doesn't happen due to the cost of the examinations and the need to push people through the system quickly." Dr Peter Holden, who spent 11 years as a medical examiner for the Department of Work and Pensions, is in no doubt that loopholes are regularly exploited. He said: "Far too often, far too many people are conning the system. It's a huge financial loss to the taxpayer. "There are some real Laurence Oliviers out there who can give a fantastic performance of suffering from back pain. But the only way of really providing proper evidence is by commissioning body scans which examiners are prohibited from doing because of costs." The medical assessments that do take place are currently carried out by Atos Origin under a GBP 500 million contract with the DWP. But doctors working for Atos say they are expected to examine and write a full report on each claimant in just over half an hour, even though experts recommend at least an hour is needed for a thorough examination. And Shadow Welfare Reform Minister David Ruffley has now revealed there is a shortage of doctors to carry out the examinations. Mr Ruffley said last night: "It is pathetically inadequate that there are only 176 full-time doctors who are employed to do this work. We need good quality medical examinations by doctors who can help the recipient get the necessary help to get them back to work." The system is also a minefield for GPs dealing with patients who claim they are unfit for work. Dr Rosemary Leonard, who writes for the Sunday Express S magazine, said most sick notes are for ailments which genuinely require time off, such as major surgery, pneumonia or bereavement. She also revealed that a surprising number of conscientious patients want to go to work against their doctor's advice, and refuse sick notes. But she explained: "The problem - not only for doctors, but also for the Government trying to reduce the benefits bill - is people with rather vague complaints such as stress and back pain. "Most back pain is caused by strained muscles and ligaments, and despite modern technology there is no test that can show a medic exactly what is going on. "I just have to rely on patients' judgement as to how much pain they are in. And the same goes for headaches, anxiety, mild depression, period pains the list goes on and on. "Most requests are completely genuine, but every doctor knows there are quite a few which aren't, but how on Earth are we to judge?" And Dr Leonard said trying to take a tough line can cause a nightmare for a conscientious family doctor. She described how a GP friend of hers suffered when she took action over a patient who said he was suffering such bad sciatica he could hardly walk. She explained: "He said he couldn't get to work and he hobbled dramatically into the surgery every time he came in for his sick note, which he needed to claim sick pay. "Then one day when she was out on her visits, the doctor saw the patient running into a pub. A few days later she again saw him - walking quite normally into the betting shop. "Several of the surgery reception staff also confirmed he was regularly seen walking or running around the area without difficulty. But suggesting to him when he next hobbled to the surgery that he might do some light work did not go down well. "She found herself on the receiving end of a formal complaint to the General Medical Council for being unsympathetic, and not acting in his best interests. "It took two years for the GMC to throw out the case, during which she had to spend hours with a solicitor dealing with the case. She lost weight and suffered endless sleepless nights of worry." Dr Leonard added: "Get it wrong, and you could send someone with anxiety and stress over the edge, into the depths of despair, and quite rightly, end up with a nasty letter saying how unsympathetic you are. It is no wonder that doctors err on the side of caution. "And then there are those who are stuck in the benefits trap, who would like to get back to work, but can't find anything to do." Last night the DWP insisted the scrutiny of application forms was "no less rigorous" than a medical examination. A spokeswoman said: "The DWP calls people in for examination when the evidence supplied by the claimant and GP is insufficient to complete the claim."

Cheat with a handicap . . .but only on golf course
The Sunday Express, 5 February 2023
THESE are the first shocking pictures of two of Britain's most shameful scroungers. David Graham and Elaine Dack both claimed to be disabled and unable to walk more than a few yards without severe pain. But both cheats were convicted of benefit fraud after their lies were exposed by investigators. Graham, a 58-year-old Rochdale man, pocketed thousands of pounds in disability benefits after claiming that he was virtually unable to walk and required daily care to wash and feed himself. But investigators discovered that his only handicap was a golf handicap. They filmed Graham playing twice a week and in these exclusive pictures he can clearly be seen walking and swinging his club without any difficulty. In the second case, Dack, a 43-yearold Preston woman, was able to get a free Land Rover from the Benefits Agency after she claimed a knee injury prevented her from walking. Yet investigators from the Department for Work and Pensions secretly filmed her working as a building labourer, carrying sacks of cement and pushing a wheelbarrow filled with bricks. Both cases will be highlighted in an investigation into the widespread problem of benefit fraud to be shown on Tonight With Trevor McDonald on Monday. Last night shadow welfare minister David Ruffley said: "Every instance of proven fraud is taking money out of the pockets of genuine claimants - and the hardworking taxpayer. "The only way we're going to get people out of benefit dependency and back into work - which many of them want - is to have a properly resourced medical service. "Only if we have structured medical examinations can we diagnose people's illnesses and help them. Without that, too many people are going to be stuck in the poverty trap." Tonight With Trevor McDonald will be shown on ITV1 at 8pm tomorrow.

Drive to cut benefit claimants 'fatally flawed'
The Daily Telegraph, 4 February 2023
TONY Blair's drive to cut the number of incapacity benefit claimants was condemned as "fatally flawed'' yesterday after it emerged that there were only about 170 full-time doctors to examine hundreds of thousands of new claimants each year. The Conservatives seized on the figures, revealed in a parliamentary answer, to claim that the Government did not have the resources to deliver on its shake-up of incapacity benefit, which has 2.7 million claimants and costs pounds 12 billion a year. David Ruffley, the shadow minister for welfare reform, said: "The Government's plans are fatally flawed. How are people going to get better and get the medical help they need? A total of 176 full-time doctors really is inadequate.'' The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said that as well as 176 full-time doctors used last year, there were also 92 part-time and 1,380 "sessional'' doctors called in at particular times. "We have enough doctors,'' it said. In a fanfare of publicity last week, the Government unveiled plans for a huge welfare shake-up, designed to get one million people off incapacity benefit. The Prime Minister issued a "work is good for you'' message and indicated that existing claimants who were not severely ill or disabled would have to take part in work-related interviews, or face losing benefits. A Green Paper hinted that GPs who signed fewer long-term sicknotes could get bonuses. In order to get incapacity benefit, people on long-term sick leave have to pass a Personal Capability Assessment. This starts in the local GP's surgery but is then monitored by doctors, employed by the contractor Atos Origin but who work for the DWP. In practice, though, just over one in three applicants are called in by DWP doctors for examinations, with the other applications simply checked on paper. A DWP spokesman said that while most of the personal capacity assessment checks were done on paper, there were enough doctors for the overall workload. If it emerged that more resources were needed, the contract with Atos Origin covered that. The spokesman said it was "inaccurate'' to suggest that many people were not examined face-to-face because of a lack of resources.

Junkies' handout scandal
The Sun, 3 February 2023
THE number of junkies and drunks claiming sickness benefits has DOUBLED under Labour, official figures reveal. Between 1997 and 2005 those on handouts due to drug addiction soared from 21,900 to 48,300 and claims based on alcohol rose from 27,100 to 48,000. The devastating figures come after the Government downgraded cannabis and opened the doors to 24-hour boozing. Yesterday shadow welfare reform minister David Ruffley said: "The Government's failure to fight rising alcohol and drug misuse is pushing more vulnerable people to benefits dependency." Government figures also show the number on sickness handouts for more than five years has risen 20-fold since 1997. It has leapt from 68,000 when Labour came to power to 1.5million last year. Incapacity benefit costs taxpayers £ 12.5billion a year. Tony Blair has pledged to shave one million off the 2.8million claimants. Last night work minister Margaret Hodge said: "These figures illustrate why we made absolutely clear that we will overhaul the current system that consigns people to a lifetime on benefits."

Number on sickness benefit has risen 20 times under Labour
The Daily Mail, 2 February 2023
THE number of people receiving sickness handouts for more than five years has risen 20-fold since Labour came to power, it has emerged. In May 1997 , 68 , 000 claimants had been in receipt of incapacity benefit for five years or more. By May last year, the figure had soared to almost 1.5million. The statistics, disclosed in a written Parliamentary answer by Work and Pensions Minister Anne McGuire, cast fresh doubts over Labour's proposed crackdown on Britain's sicknote culture. From 2008, new claimants risk losing some of their payments if they refuse to take part in back-to-work schemes. But shadow minister for welfare reform David Ruffley who uncovered the figures said it was clear urgent action was needed to tackle the huge numbers already claiming the benefits long-term. He said those claiming for more than a year had less than a one-in-five chance of ever returning to work. 'The Government has been pretending that progress has been made recently in reducing incapacity benefit claims,' said Mr Ruffley. 'But these figures defy any suggestion that Ministers have got a grip on the situation.' The total number on incapacity benefit is around 2.8million or seven per cent of the working age population compared to just 720,000 in 1979. Labour argues that the largest increase in claims came under the last Conservative government. Overall, the number of claimants has remained fairly constant since Labour came to power in 1997. But while the number of shorter-term claimants has fallen, long-term recipients have rocketed. The figures show that 1.8million people had been claiming incapacity benefits for between two to five years in 1997. Some in this group will have moved into the five-year plus category in the meantime, accounting for some of the rise. But Mr Ruffley said the fact that the number of claimants on benefits for more than five years had soared from 68,000 in 1997 to 1.46million last year showed that Labour had turned its back on the problem. He said: 'Labour have had almost nine years to tackle incapacity benefit, rather than leaving people trapped in dependency where many do not want to be.' The Government has admitted little is being done to prevent people moving onto incapacity benefit in the first place, with claimants receiving handouts before satisfying key medical tests. A key criticism is that people get more money if they keep on claiming. The initial Pounds 57.65 a week rises to Pounds 68.20 after 29 weeks and Pounds 76.45 after a year. In some deprived parts of Britain, one in four people of working age is now claiming. The total number citing mental illness, such as stress or depression, has risen to 40 per cent of the total, compared to less than a quarter in 1997. Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton is planning to strip out the perverse incentives to keep claiming from 2008 and Mr Blair is aiming to get a million people on sickness benefits back into work within the next decade. But opposition MPs have complained that the focus will be on reducing the number of new people signing up, rather than reducing the huge number of long-term claimants. A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: 'Almost 60 per cent of people who started to receive incapacity benefits in 2004 left within a year. 'However, for the remaining 40 per cent who do not return to work quickly, the prognosis is bleak. 'Only 22 per cent of claimants already claiming for a year will leave within the next year and 29 per cent of them will still be receiving benefits after another eight years. 'This is the result of a system that, rather than helping people with health conditions back into work, simply allowed them to remain on benefits with little or no intervention.

Crackdown? The 2.7m on welfare won't lose a penny
The Daily Mail, 25 January 2023
TONY Blair unveiled his long-awaited crackdown on Britain's sicknote culture yesterday with plans to get a million on benefits back to work. From 2008, new incapacity benefit claimants risk losing part of their handouts if they refuse to take part in back-to-work schemes. Ministers will also seek to persuade one million older people and 300,000 single parents to return to employment. But last night the blueprint, finally published after repeated delays, was branded a 'damp squib'. The proposals for welfare reform made it clear that 2.7million existing incapacity benefit claimants are unlikely to lose a penny of their handouts. And what had been a firm pledge from the Prime Minister to get a million back into work over the next decade was downgraded to an 'aspiration'. Instead, the focus will be on reducing the number of new people signing up. In a separate move, unemployed over-50s will be required to take up 'jobseeking support' for the first time. Single parents will be expected to attend more work-focused interviews, but will receive Pounds 20 a week extra in benefit for doing so. The Conservatives immediately accused the Prime Minister of backing away from radical welfare reform in the face of a threatened rebellion from Labour MPs. Critics also pointed out that more than 800,000 existing incapacity benefit claimants are over 55 meaning they will hit retirement age and stop claiming anyway before the Government's tenyear deadline. When in opposition, Mr Blair promised to cut the welfare burden, telling the Labour conference in 1996: 'Judge me upon it, the buck stops with me.' But yesterday's 'new deal for welfare' made a series of startling admissions about the state of the incapacity benefit system almost nine years after Labour came to power. The Government admitted little was being done to prevent people moving on to the benefit in the first place, claimants are receiving handouts before satisfying key medical tests and there are ' perverse' incentives for people to keep claiming rather than going back to work. Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton, unveiling the Green Paper on welfare reform, said incapacity benefit would be renamed Employment and Support Allowance from 2008. But the proposals make clear: 'Existing claimants will remain on their existing benefits.' The Department for Work and Pensions intends to work 'more proactively' with existing claimants, and will 'encourage' them to volunteer for help to return to work. Blind people will no longer be automatically exempt from being assessed on their capability to work. Other measures will include employment advisers being stationed in GPs' surgeries, aimed at encouraging more people to work rather than go on benefits. Mr Hutton told MPs several billion pounds could be saved from the annual Pounds 12.5billion bill for sickness benefits. But there was no sign of more radical measures floated by Downing Street, including more means-testing of incapacity benefit and a time limit on how long people can claim. Tory welfare reform spokesman David Ruffley said: 'This has turned into a damp squib. 'It's going to take over a decade to work and existing claimants won't be going on to the new renamed benefit.' 'They look like they will be stuck in dependency, where many of them don't want to be.' The Campaign Group of Socialist MPs, representing 30 Labour backbenchers, warned it would oppose any moves to force incapacity claimants to work. The Government spends Pounds 31million a year printing advice leaflets on claiming benefits that are too complicated for most people to understand, according to the spending watchdog, the National Audit Office. WHO CLAIMS? THE record 2.7million working age people who get incapacity benefit has risen from just 720,000 in 1979. In some of the poorest parts of the country, one in four working age people is on incapacity benefit. Nearly 40 per cent of claimants have 'mental and behavioural' problems typically stress or depression. One perverse aspect of incapacity benefit is that you get more money if you keep on claiming. The initial Pounds 57.65 a week rises to Pounds 68.20 after 29 weeks and Pounds 76.45 after a year. THE NEW DEAL THE new Employment and Support Allowance will be a flat-rate benefit. Claimants will get it only by agreeing to 'work-related interviews' and a back-to-work 'action plan'. Those who refuse could lose around Pounds 11 a week, rising to Pounds 22 for a second refusal. They will not receive the allowance until they have had a full medical and passed a 'personal capability assessment.' Those with 'severe' health problems and disabilities will get the benefit at a higher rate without strings. Claimants will stay on their current benefits but be 'encouraged' to 'volunteer' for advice. SINGLE PARENTS ALL single parents whose youngest child is over 11 and has started secondary school will be expected to go to a ' work-focused' interview every three months. If they do they will get an extra Pounds 20 a week. If they do not go, they will not get extra cash but their income support payments will remain untouched. Single parents with younger children and who have been on benefits for at least a year will have to go to interviews once every six months. An extra one million workers over 50 should return to work.

Sick payout bid 'doomed'
The Sun, 25 January 2023
A DRIVE to slash Britain's sick pay handouts by £ 7billion a year is doomed, critics warned last night. Welfare supremo John Hutton confessed that incapacity benefit would be cut ONLY if people did not try to get jobs. The Work and Pensions Secretary, right, told MPs: "Existing claimants will remain on existing benefits." Labour's target was to take one million people off the incapacity benefit list - currently running at 2.7million. It was swelled by a staggering 661,000 new people last year. A third of those cited problems such as stress and depression. The problem is worst in South East England. Shadow welfare minister David Ruffley said: "These plans do not go far enough. The Government does not have the political will or competence to deliver these proposals, just doing what it thinks it can get by its own backbenchers." Mr Hutton said existing claimants would have to attend interviews to agree "an action plan to take steps to return to work". Labour MPs have been hostile to plans to tackle welfare bills and may yet scupper the plans.

MPs to call on Brown to review his 'golden rule'
The Times, 23 January 2023
A labour-dominated Commons committee is to rebuke Gordon Brown this week by calling for a review of the fiscal rule that underpins his economic strategy. The Treasury Select Committee will report that the operation of the Chancellor's "golden rule" should be reviewed because since the general election the Treasury twice has extended the economic cycle over which the rule runs, The Times has learnt. The move reflects growing cross-party unease in Westminster at the flexibility of the fiscal rules and is in line with the widespread view in the City that the framework on which Mr Brown bases them has been discredited. The veiled attack on the Chancellor is understood to have been agreed last week and will be contained in the committee's report on the Pre-Budget Report on Wednesday. It was at a Treasury Select Committee hearing in July that Mr Brown first announced that the economic cycle began not in 1999 but in 1997. The adjustment dramatically improved his chances of meeting his golden rule -that the current budget must be in balance or surplus over the economic cycle -because it added two years of surpluses to the calculation. Committee members att-acked the move. Susan Kramer, the Liberal Democrat, accused the Government of "marking its own exam papers". In December's Pre-Budget Report, Mr Brown again extended the cycle, adding three years to its original estimated end, which was March this year. The Treasury's view is now that the economic cycle will last twelve years, not seven as estimated as recently as last March. Last month committee members across the political divide weighed into the Chancellor. Andy Love, a Labour member, suggested that Mr Brown consider what options he had to improve the fiscal framework. He asked: "Are you worried at all that changes in the economic cycle might cast doubt on the credibility?" David Ruffley, a Conservative, accused Mr Brown of "fudging and fiddling the figures" and urged him to follow the National Audit Office's recommendation that the Treasury revise its processes by compiling an assessment of external observers' views of the economic cycle. Michael Fallon, also a Conservative, accused Mr Brown of having been over-optimistic on each of his five most recent budget projections. The golden rule has been widely seen in the City as in need of reform since Mervyn King, the Governor of the Bank of England, attacked it last August. Mr King said that the extension of the economic cycle did not change the underlying fiscal position, adding: "We don't like this sort of fixed dating. I am not even sure whether it makes sense to think about the cycle as a well-defined phenomenon."

Payouts upheaval rocks pensioners
Sunday Express, 22 January 2023
MILLIONS of pensioners' finances will be left in disarray because of further changes in the way the state pension is paid, campaigners warn. The Government has just announced plans to axe the Post Office Card Account - used by 2.3million pensioners to collect their weekly benefits - within four years. Critics claim the move will cause more confusion and upheaval for vulnerable elderly people who have struggled to understand the new system after the much-loved pension book w as scrapped last April. Many have had problems getting to grips with using a bank card and four-digit personal identification number (Pin) to w ithdraw their cash. On occasions, the Department for Work and Pensions has failed to transfer state pension payments into their accounts on time, leaving them without cash. There are also fears the decision to drop the Card A ccount will mean thousands of post offices will be forced to close. "We are concerned about the effect this move will have on the more vulnerable, for whom claiming benefits is already a highly convoluted process, " said Tory welfare reform spokesman David Ruffley. "We now need clarification from the Government on what it intends to do to ensure benefit recipients continue to receive a decent service at their Post Office." Neil Duncan Jordan of pressure group the National Pensioners Convention said: "Our worry is that the Government will not put in place an alternative to the Post Office account when it disappears in 2010. People who have a Post Office account will need to use the cheque-based system or open a bank or building society account. "Our concern is that the Government will not want 2.5million people using cheques and this will also put this method of payment in jeopardy." Gordon Lishman, Age Concern's Director-General, said: "These accounts were set up so benefits, pensions and tax credits could be paid directly into the Post Office. "This made it much easier for older people not holding bank accounts to receive their cash securely and without the fear of becoming overdrawn or paying extra charges." Anna Pearson of Help the Aged said: "A lot of people, particularly those with dementia or sight problems, may never be able to cope with having a bank account or using a card with a Pin number. "However, the Post Office account isn't particularly great. All it allows people to do is withdraw their pension from a cash machine in the post office. You can't use it to set up direct debits to pay bills, or use it in shops. "We hope the Government will look at alternative arrangements to allow people to take advantage of better deals, such as those available from energy suppliers for customers who pay by direct debit." Duncan-Jordan urged those concerned about how they will receive their pension when the Post Office account is stopped to ask for form P6167 at their post office. It allows people to request their pension is paid by cheque.

Blair urged to rescue Post Office contract for benefit payments
Financial Times, 20 January 2006,
Royal Mail is lobbying the government to reverse a decision to end a Pounds 1bn contract for the payment of benefits through post offices. Subpostmasters have asked Tony Blair to intervene personally to overturn the move by the Department for Work and Pensions, which they warn would "inevitably accelerate the decline" of the post office network, closing thousands of branches. The government was yesterday forced on to the defensive over its move to end funding for Post Office card accounts, used to pay pensions and benefits to more than 4m people, when the contract ends in 2010. Alan Johnson, the trade and industry secretary, told MPs there needed to be "discussions between DWP and the Post Office to see how the situation will emerge post-2010". The government is understood to be looking at a range of options. The National Federation of SubPostmasters has written to the prime minister attacking the DWP's "devastating" decision, which it warned would have "disastrous consequences for the post office network". Colin Baker, the federation's general secretary, also criticised other departments for "effectively driving people away from post offices" by promoting a new online service for car tax discs and developing an alternative network for passport applications. "All this leads to strong doubts over the government's commitment to the post office network," Mr Baker warned Mr Blair in his letter. Ministers defended the contract decision, saying it had always been clear the subsidised account was an interim arrangement to ease the transition from benefits and pensions being paid over the post office counter to payments direct to bank and building society accounts. James Plaskitt, a DWP minister, told BBC radio's PM programme that the contract "did not have a life beyond 2010. It is actually an expensive way for the DWP to pay out benefits. It costs a pound for us to put an amount in a post office card account as opposed to a penny to put it into a bank account". But the government will have to reconcile this drive to cut the DWP's costs with its publicly stated commitment to support the post office network, particularly in rural areas. Royal Mail, the state-owned postal operator that operates the post office network, refused to comment. But executives are understood to be in talks with ministers in a bid to reverse the DWP's move, which they fear could double the Pounds 110m losses sustained by Post Office Limited in its last financial year. The subpostmasters' anger and sense of betrayal over the government's decision on the contract stems partly from a deep-seated insecurity about its long-term future. The network has suffered a body blow, as Mr Baker put it, in recent years from the government's decision to allow benefits to be paid directly into bank and building society accounts, as well as over the post office counter. Fewer than a quarter of pensioners and benefits claimants now use the post office network, which has lost much of the Pounds 400m income it used to gain from the government as a result. Allan Leighton, Royal Mail's chairman, has said the government needs to provide a "long-term funding resolution" for the Post Office. In particular, ministers have yet to make a decision on what - if any - support will replace the existing Pounds 150m-a-year subsidy for the rural post office network when it ends in 2008. Without such support, significant closures are likely. In the past two years, about 2,500 post offices have shut, leaving 14,500. DWP officials stressed that people would still be able to receive their payments at post offices after 2010, provided they opened bank accounts. But such assurances were not enough to stave off attacks from Tory MPs. David Ruffley, shadow minister for welfare reform, said: "We are concerned about the effect this move will have on the more vulnerable, for whom claiming benefits is already a highly convoluted process." "We're now seeing real concern about the future of this network . . . Does he (Mr Johnson) not understand that small post offices are the absolute core of their local communities and if they go then a very valuable part of the local community goes as well?" The trade and industry secretary said 3,000 rural post offices had closed between 1979 and 1997, the period of the last Conservative government. "What we've tried to do is get a grip of this problem . . . to allow the transition from the old days when it was the only place you could buy a stamp and collect your pension to the current 21st century." In the Commons, Charles Hendry, Conservative MP for Wealden, warned Mr Johnson of the likely impact on the rural post office network and small towns and villages.

NHS is 'out of control'
Bury Free Press, 18 January 2023
The growing NHS cash crisis in Suffolk came under the spotlight when churchgoers quizzed MPs on the future of healthcare. Bury MP David Ruffley and West Suffolk MP Richard Spring shared a platform before more than 40 people, including representatives of the Salvation Army and health workers, at Christchurch, Moreton Hall, in Bury St Edmunds, on Friday. Opening the meeting, Mr Spring praised frontline care staff as 'wonderful and caring staff whose jobs are under threat'. "They simply do not deserve to live under this cloud of uncertainty," he said. He blamed the Government's funding system for the crisis, which has left primary care trusts and hospitals facing massive cutbacks in order to get out of debt, including the loss of 50 beds at West Suffolk Hospital, in Bury, and threatened closure of community hospitals in Sudbury and Newmarket. He then attacked bureaucracy in the NHS as 'out of control'. "There are now more people running the NHS in this country than there are hospital beds," he said. Mr Spring also urged those present to start a letter-writing campaign. He said: "We cannot have the decimation of the NHS in our county. "We are all in this together and if we come together, who knows? We may stop some of these ridiculous proposals, which are undermining the fabric of our communities." David Ruffley spoke to those present of his own first-hand experience of healthcare in the county, when he spent a week in West Suffolk Hospital after suffering kidney problems. He said it was essential that health secretary Patricia Hewitt gave trusts more time to get out of debt, rather than making sweeping cuts to services in order to resolve the cash crisis more quickly. "If she allows us more time, cuts will be fewer. If she insists on us balancing the books, the cuts will be savage," said Mr Ruffley. The Rev Jonathan Ford, of Christchurch, who called the meeting on behalf of the clergy, said health bosses were not invited to the meeting to give people the opportunity to speak freely on issues concerning them. "It was a listening exercise and a chance to put the issue on the agenda," he added.

Villagers 'in disbelief' after plan is approved
Bury Free Press, 17 January 2023
Villagers have spoken of their disbelief after a council approved a number of new homes on a site identified as a flood risk. Under the plans, three two-storey houses will be built near Church Green Lane, in Wattisfield, despite a raft of objections from local residents. Almost 60 people signed a petition opposing the project, pointing to a history of flooding and a dangerous access point to the site. But councillors ignored these pleas when they gave the scheme the green light last Monday - much to the annoyance of those leading the protest. Speaking after the decision, resident Ann Telford said: "We have tried to fight this decision all the way and we simply cannot believe what the council has done. "This site is renowned as a flood risk - nine out of 19 insurers told me they were not even prepared to offer a quote - so how can it be considered a sustainable site?" Along with the loss of 15 trees, residents also raised concerns over access to the site, which is via an old track that it is claimed is not wide enough for two cars to pass. "The footpath is used by children, dog-walkers and villagers as a popular cut-through, yet these plans could see up to another 12 cars using it," said Mrs Telford. "And access from the site is on a blind corner, which is an accident waiting to happen. "It just seems as though the whole scheme has been decided upon on a nod and a wink." Wattisfield Parish Council, the Ramblers Association, Environment Agency and David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, all objected to the plans. But councillors on Mid Suffolk District Council's northern area planning committee approved the plans, despite refusing a similar scheme in September last year. Speaking at the meeting, Cllr Alec Russell said: "I am not at all happy with this application - very little has changed from the plans we turned down and the flood risk will not go away." However, members were unable to take the issue of flooding into account as outline planning permission for the site had already been granted in 2003, before the flood risk was known.

Death figures make for sober reading
Bury Free Press, 3 January 2024
Drink related deaths in St Edmundsbury have more than doubled in the past eight years according to Government statistics. The House of Common figures, uncovered by Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket MP David Ruffley, make for sober reading as many of us prepare to celebrate the New Year. "This is a worrying trend and one we need to make every effort to reverse," said Mr Ruffley. The borough recorded 14 alcohol-related deaths in 2004, its highest in eight years and the highest for that year of any of the Suffolk boroughs. That compared to six alcohol-related deaths in St Edmundsbury in 1997. Ipswich, meanwhile, has actually seen a decrease - it recorded seven alcohol-related deaths in 2004 - down 36 per cent over the eight year period. Now Mr Ruffley has written to Mike Stonard, chief executive of the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT), asking what his trust is doing to combat alcoholism and the 'disturbing increase' in the borough's alcohol-related deaths. The PCT's director of public health, Dr Peter Bradley, said it was already working to combat alcoholism and the effects of alcohol abuse and added: "Alcoholism is a major problem facing society but it is one that cannot be effectively tackled by the National Heath Service working in isolation which is why, for example, we are already working with schools and local authorities. "In addition, Suffolk West PCT is currently developing a healthy eating and healthy drinking policy, which will be complete by the spring, and we are also working to reduce the number of accidents in our area, some of which are caused by alcohol." Meanwhile, St Edmundsbury will be hoping the figures which fluctuate from year to year in each authority, will show a better picture for 2005. More than 90 drivers face spending the next year banned from the roads after failing roadside breath tests so far this December. A total of 93 gave positive readings when stopped by police, including 15 who had been involved in accidents which caused injury.

Health trusts short-changed - claim
Bury Free Press, 28 December 2023
Shocking new figures reveal Suffolk's Primary Care Trusts have been underfunded by a staggering £397 million over five years, it is claimed. Worst hit is the Suffolk West PCT, which is set to suffer a £236.8 million shortfall between 2003 and 2008, while the Central Suffolk PCT has been underfunded by £96.4 million. "We have been short-changed and it is simply unacceptable," said MP David Ruffley. "The Government doesn't have the faintest idea about the health pressures in our county." But while the Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket MP described the funding shortfall as a 'bad situation', he said it had been made 'incomparably' worse by bad financial management. Mr Ruffley also called for the Strategic Health Authority to be scrapped, saying it should have prevented the PCTs from spiralling into massive debt. "The SHA should have the dignity to fall on its sword and put the money into front-line services," said Mr Ruffley. Figures showing the shortfall in funding in Suffolk have have been compiled by Alan Wilcox, from Needham Market. He requested funding levels for all PCTs in England from the Department of Health under the Freedom of Information Act. From the figures for the financial years 2003/04 to 2007/08, he has calculated that every Suffolk PCT, with the exception of Waveney, is suffering a huge shortfall when compared to the national average. In this year alone he says the Suffolk West PCT will suffer a £47.4 million shortfall, while Central Suffolk has been underfunded by £19.4 million. "This is going to cause lasting damage to Suffolk and the people are going to suffer for it," said Mr Wilcox. A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "The PCTs in Suffolk receive less funding per person than the national average because their average level of need is lower." But she said Mr Wilcox's way of calculating a shortfall and the £397 million he had arrived at were 'totally incorrect'. "At the end of 2007/08, all the PCTs will be within 2.3 per cent of their target share of resources," she added.

Labour's U-turn on welfare reform
Daily Mail, by Benedict Brogan, 28 December 2023
DRACONIAN measures for tackling the soaring cost of sickness benefit have been dumped by Downing Street in a desperate attempt to buy off rebel Labour MPs. The Government signalled its latest policy Uturn yesterday just weeks after denying that a retreat was being planned. Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton confirmed he will use the delayed Green Paper, due at the end of next month, to set out a revised plan for cutting spending on the Pounds 12billion-a-year incapacity benefit system. Proposals for means-testing the benefit and setting strict time limits for how long it can be paid out have been jettisoned. Instead, future claimants will have their benefits paid only if they agree to accept Government help to find a job. Existing claimants will be unaffected. Other suggestions championed by Downing Street such as replacing payments with vouchers and stripping GPs of their responsibility for 'signing off' those claiming to be unfit to work are also expected to be shelved. Mr Hutton used a coordinated briefing to Laboursupporting newspapers to set out what will be seen as a watered-down version of Mr Blair's welfare policy. The Government's retreat on social security reform will reinforce those who say Mr Blair's authority is ebbing away. But it will delight Labour MPs who will find it easier to back the less contentious changes proposed in the legislation. In a major concession to MPs, benefits for the 2.7million existing claimants will not be cut, nor will they be required to submit to meanstesting to assess their needs. Incapacity benefit is paid out initially at Pounds 57.65 a week, rising to Pounds 68.20 after six months and Pounds 76.45 after a year. Under the reforms planned by Mr Hutton, who inherited the portfolio from David Blunkett in October, the graduated scale will be scrapped for new claimants and replaced by a higher flat rate. In September, the Prime Minister said he wanted to push through 'radical' changes to the way the Government pays out cash to people who are deemed too ill to work, aimed at reducing the number by one million. But in the wake of his firstever Commons defeat over the Terror Bill last month, Labour whips have told Tony Blair they cannot deliver victory. The Prime Minister conceded last week he was fighting 'on all fronts' against Labour MPs determined to thwart his plans on schools, primary health care, nuclear policy, smoking and welfare. And he faces public opposition from his most senior ministers, with both John Prescott and Gordon Brown making public their unhappiness with the way he is running his third and last term in office. Mr Blair wants to end the abuse of the sickness benefit system which has seen the numbers claiming soar over the past 30 years despite improvements in health care. He is particularly anxious to tackle the problem of people diagnosed with bad backs and stress as catchall reasons for staying unemployed. Critics say unscrupulous GPs have pushed people onto incapacity benefit because it pays more than the Jobseekers' Allowance intended for those looking for work. Whereas incapacity benefit can be paid out indefinitely, Jobseekers' Allowance pays Pounds 56.20 a week and runs out after six months. Mr Blair is also desperate to avoid having to rely on Tory support in the Commons to get contentious legislation past Labour rebels. David Cameron has yet to say how his party will respond. Last night, Shadow Minister for Welfare Reform, David Ruffley, said: 'It's clear that Mr Hutton is preparing a major climbdown on what was supposed to be a flagship thirdterm policy in order to buy off Labour MPs.'

Cash crisis may force GPs' surgery to close for month
Daily Telegraph, By David Sapsted, 21 December 2023
rural GPs' surgery says it will have to close for a month because of a funding crisis at a local NHS trust. The threatened closure would mean that the six doctors at the surgery in Combs Ford, near Stowmarket, Suffolk, would only treat their 9,000 patients in "life-threatening emergencies". Patients have been warned that the surgery will close during March if the East Suffolk Primary Care Trust, which is facing a deficit of almost £50 million, goes ahead with a plan to defer the March payment to 247 GPs until April, when there will be an injection of fresh cash at the start of the 2006-07 financial year. Last month, the same trust prompted a storm of protest with a plan to save money by refusing to provide hip and knee replacements to obese patients. Now, to the dismay of the GPs' patients, the surgery closure scheme has been revealed in a monthly newsletter from Dr Jackie Muir, one of the partners in the Combs Ford practice. "I am sure you are all aware of the financial difficulties which the NHS is currently functioning under," she writes. "Our local PCT is overspent by a large amount of money and we are aware that this affects patients in many ways, some of which include the long wait for out-patient appointments, investigations and operations. "In order to try and minimise this overspend in the current financial year, our PCT are threatening to defer payments to GPs from March until April. This would mean that money which we should receive on March 1, 2006, to pay our staff, running costs and ourselves, will not arrive until early April. "I am writing this notice to inform you that, if we are not paid in March, then the surgery will be forced to close, except for life-threatening emergencies. "We will publish information about what to do in an emergency nearer the time. Please be assured that we have no intention of causing any harm or suffering to any of our patients. We hope that you will support us in our protest against the continuing under-funding of the NHS." David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said that the threatened closure was "positive proof that we are now facing a full-on crisis in Suffolk". He added: "The Health Secretary, Patricia Hewitt, is talking about hit squads going into Suffolk to sort out the financial mess that causes threats to surgeries like that at Combs Ford. But it is all a little too late. The crisis has been raging for two years and the financial controls have been a complete and utter joke." Beryl Myers-Hewitt, a patient at the surgery and a Stowmarket town councillor, said: "The surgery has a lot of elderly patients and it appears that they are being held to ransom to make a point. "People will find it difficult to get treatment at other surgeries in the area because they have their own patients to deal with. Even if they did find somewhere else to go, a lot of elderly people would be stuck if they did not have the transport to get there or could not afford the taxi fares." A spokesman for the trust, an amalgamation of the Ipswich, Suffolk Coastal and Central Suffolk trusts, said that no final decision had been made on deferring GPs' payments. The three trusts, which have a combined budget of £380 million, are running at a deficit this year of £47.9 million. Dr Ron Donnelly, a GP in Sudbury and chairman of the Suffolk branch of the British Medical Association, said: "I don't think the surgery is overreacting. If anything, it is evidence of the financial mess the PCTs have got themselves into. I can see why some GPs rightly feel that if they are not going to be paid then they cannot work."

Return of the `East Anglia mafia'
EADT, by Graham Dines, 14 December 2023
CONSERVATIVE leader David Cameron has completed his team of shadow spokesmen, promoting a number of East Anglian MPs to key roles as the party overhauls its policies in an effort to win the next General Election. The big winner is David Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds since 1997, who becomes number two in the works and pensions team headed by Shadow Secretary of State Philip Hammond. Mr Cameron has made it clear that he wants to lead a “compassionate Conservative” party and welfare reform is seen as an integral part of this philosophy. Mr Ruffley, who served as Treasury whip in Michael Howard's term as opposition leader, said: “We need policies which help those most in need without damaging the incentive to work. “The Government wants to take an axe to certain benefits, but this will lead to real hardship. My task is to identify reforms which will deliver money to those who need it.” Another member of the opposition works and pensions team will be Anne McIntosh, MP for the Vale of York, who was Euro MP for Essex North East between 1989-94 and Essex North and Suffolk South 1994-99. Following last week's announcement that Essex North MP Bernard Jenkin is to be a Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party in charge of candidates' selection, Mr Cameron has appointed Eric Pickles (MP for Brentwood and Ongar) as another Deputy Chairman in addition to his role as Shadow Local Government Minister. Mr Pickles, a former Leader of Bradford City Council in West Yorkshire, who will be in charge of the Tory strategy for local government elections, said he looked forward to “developing the policies and campaigns which will lead to the Conservative Party being elected to form the next Government.” Chelmsford West MP Simon Burns moves from junior health spokesman to the Whips office, where he will oversee the work of the junior whips. Mark Francois, whose Rayleigh constituency covers part of the borough of Chelmsford, stays in the health team. Although Richard Spring, MP for Suffolk West, leaves the shadow team, he is expected in the New Year to be appointed to a senior position at Conservative Central Office where he will take the leading role in the Tory Party's liaison with financial and City institutions. Jim Paice, MP for Cambridgeshire South-East, remains Shadow Minister for Agriculture. Mr Paice, 56, a former Suffolk farmer, was a member of Suffolk Coastal district council from 1976 until 1987 and its Chairman in 1982-3 and held various junior ministerial appointments in John Major's government. Mid Norfolk MP Keith Simpson remains a foreign affairs spokesman. Last week, Mr Cameron appointed Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer, former Secretary of State for the Environment, to his policy commission on the environment. South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo leaves the Tory front bench at his own request.

Waiting in shadows
EADT, Editorial, 14 December 2023
John Major’s Cabinet was dubbed the “East Anglia Mafia” because MPs from the region formed the backbone of his administration. Nearly nine years on, and the new Tory leader David Cameron has once again looked east to pick a clutch of youthful MPs for his shadow administration. During the Labour landslide years when the Conservatives were swept out of office, East Anglia was one of the few areas of the UK consistently to elect Conservatives to Parliament and they have been rewarded by some of the top jobs in the Cameron team. There’s a long way to go before the Tories can even begin to think of forming a government but if and when that day arrives – and the Tories at least look as if they are electable – East Anglia’s Conservatives will be well placed to again enjoy influence at Westminster.

New MPs join the front bench
Daily Telegraph, by George Jones, 14 December 2023
DAVID Cameron signalled yesterday that he wanted to adopt a more moderate approach to immigration by appointing Damian Green, a leading moderniser, as the party's spokesman on the issue. At the last general election the Conservatives highlighted "controlled immigration'' as one of their six key election manifesto pledges. But the new Tory leader believes the emphasis on immigration helped to reinforce the impression that the party was harsh and negative. A spokesman for Mr Cameron said immigration was a "sensitive issue'' on which it was important to get "the right tone''. Mr Green, MP for Ashford, was a leading member of the campaign team around David Davis, the defeated candidate in the leadership election. He is a leading moderniser on the Left of the party, who served in Iain Duncan Smith's shadow cabinet. He was dropped as shadow transport secretary by Michael Howard in a 2004 reshuffle, which shifted the front-bench team to the Right. Mr Green was seen as a potential long-shot challenger for the leadership after Mr Howard announced he was stepping down. In 47 middle-ranking and junior appointments to the front-bench team announced yesterday, Mr Cameron sought to promote members of the "thirtysomething'' new intake of Conservative MPs. Michael Gove, 38, was named as the party's housing spokesman. A former journalist, he won the safe Tory seat of Surrey Heath in May. Within weeks he was working at the heart of Mr Cameron's campaign for the Conservative leadership, coaching him in how to deal with the media. Mark Harper, 35, (Forest of Dean) becomes a defence spokesman, Jeremy Hunt, 37, (Surrey SW) spokesman for disabled people, and Tobias Ellwood, 39, (Bournemouth E) becomes a whip. Andrew Mackay, the MP for Bracknell, and another of Mr Davis's backers, has been appointed as senior parliamentary and political adviser to Mr Cameron, charged with detecting potential political pitfalls. Newcomers to the shadow ministerial team include the former whip David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds), who gained a reputation as a tenacious inquisitor of Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, on the cross-party Commons Treasury select committee. He becomes a work and pensions spokesman. Another former whip, Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford), returns to the shadow ministerial team as small business spokesman. Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) becomes a transport spokesman and Maria Miller (Basingstoke), elected to Parliament for the first time in May, becomes an education spokesman. Patrick Mercer continues as spokesman on homeland security and Ann McIntosh becomes a spokesman on work and pensions. Mr Cameron held his first shadow cabinet meeting in Birmingham yesterday as a signal of his intention to "connect with the whole country''. Today, he will go to the City of London to deliver his first speech on the economy. Joan Blaney, the director of Birmingham's Community Education and Training Academy, which helps people in disadvantaged communities find jobs, briefed the Tories on social action issues. Speaking afterwards, Mr Cameron said: "We only revive the Conservative Party in the inner cities if we show we have the best ideas for urban revival and regeneration.''

'Don't blame me, it's your fault'
The Times, Gary Duncan, 9 December 2023
'One factor is the quite sharp rise in the ratio of taxes to household disposable income...It's not surprising that households spent less' Mervyn King, November 16. GORDON BROWN hit back at the Bank of England's Governor over his recent assertion that much of the blame for this year's consumer-driven downturn in the economy was because of a rising tax burden (Gary Duncan writes). The Chancellor insisted to MPs yesterday that far from higher tax bills being behind the consumer slowdown, the driving force must have come from the Bank's own increases in interest rates in the past year. In November the Governor, Mervyn King, said that a rising tax take along with higher costs for "boring items" such as utility bills had taken money from people's pockets and left them less to spend. "One factor is the quite sharp rise in the ratio of taxes to household disposable income," Mr King said. "That ratio has gone up by almost two percentage points in the past two years (and) has contributed to the sharp slowing in real household disposable incomes in the second half of 2004. It's not surprising, therefore, that with that slowing, households spent less." But after the Treasury's most senior economic official dismissed that analysis on Wednesday, the Chancellor said that Mr King should rethink his assessment. Mr Brown told the Commons Treasury Select Committee: "I actually think the Governor, on reflection, would probably talk about the rise in interest rates. I do not think anybody should be in any doubt that four rises in interest rates (last year) was bound to be the major factor in affecting consumer demand in the economy." The comments came as Mr Brown defended his forecasting record after he was forced this week to downgrade his prediction for this year's economic growth from 3-to-3.5 per cent to only 1.75 per cent. The Chancellor rejected demands from Conservative committee members for an apology for the error. He said that as well as higher rates, which had been needed to slow house prices rises, the economy also had to weather soaring oil prices. "I do say that one has got to look at all the factors here," Mr Brown said. "In any other decade these two factors coming together would have brought the British economy into recession." In heated exchanges with David Ruffley, a Tory committee member, the Chancellor rejected accusations that his decision to extend further the economic cycle used to measure his "golden rule" had "fudged" the true state of the public finances. Mr Ruffley said: "If you stuck to the original dates, you would have broken the golden rule. It is not an economic cycle, it is a spin cycle." Mr Brown said that his decision had been found to be "reasonable" by the National Audit Office. "The idea that this is anything other than an objective examination of the evidence seems to me to be perverse," he added. Mr Brown also rejected Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs' calls for an independent body to scrutinise his fiscal plans. "I do not think anybody should be in any doubt that four rises in interest rates was bound to be the major factor in affecting consumer demand" - Gordon Brown, December 8.

The Chancellor's "Spin cycle"
The Times, 9 December 2023
'It is not an economic cycle, it is a spin cycle'- David Ruffley, the Tory MP, attacks Gordon Brown for his second change this year in the dating of the economic cycle

Don't blame me, Brown tells MPs, it's the Bank
The Guardian, by Larry Elliot, 9 December 2023
Gordon Brown put himself at odds with the governor of the Bank of England yesterday when he rejected Mervyn King's assessment that higher taxes under Labour were to blame for the slowdown in the economy this year. The chancellor refused to accept the governor's comments last month that the rising tax burden had led to a retrenchment in consumer spending and a weakening of the economy overall. Instead, Mr Brown told the Treasury select committee that more costly energy and interest rate increases by the Bank had been the main causes for the Treasury's halving of its growth forecast for the economy this year in Monday's pre-budget report. Asked by the Conservative MP Damian Green whether he agreed with Mr King's assessment that the two-point rise in tax as a share of disposable income had played a part in reducing the economy's rate of expansion from 3.5% to 1.75%, Mr Brown said: "In retrospect, I think the governor would have talked about interest rates. They are bound to have an effect on consumer spending and the housing market." On the day the Bank kept the cost of borrowing at 4.5%, for the fourth month running, the chancellor said that as a result of the independence granted to the Bank interest rates had been raised ahead of an election for the first time in Britain's recent history. The impact of higher rates had been compounded by smaller-than-expected rises in wages, he told MPs. Yesterday's interest rate decision from the Bank came as little surprise to industry or the City. Both the Trades Union Congress and the British Chambers of Commerce warned of the dangers of delaying a cut in the rate but the Engineering Employers' Federation said the Bank's caution was justified given the current economic uncertainty. The Institute of Directors said the Bank had been neither "Santa nor Scrooge" but added that it expected the next move in rates to be down. The chancellor told the Treasury select committee that growth would pick up next year and that criticism of his failure to get his growth forecast right was unjustified. Britain had been affected by twin shocks, he said: the tripling of the oil price since 2003 and the action taken to puncture inflation in the housing market following three years when price increases had averaged 15%. The Conservative MP David Ruffley accused Mr Brown of "fudging" the figures so that his key golden rule would be met and called for an independent body to scrutinise fiscal decisions. Mr Ruffley said that, contrary to Mr Brown's assertions in the summer, the Treasury's "golden rule" would have been broken had the chancellor not extended the length of the economic cycle. Under the golden rule, the government must balance its day-to-day spending with tax receipts over the course of an economic cycle, borrowing only to invest in infrastructure projects. Mr Brown extended the length of the cycle from seven to nine years in the summer, and to 12 years in the pre-budget report. Mr Ruffley told him: "If you stuck to the original dates, you would have broken the golden rule." And referring to comments by the Institute for Fiscal Studies this week, which said the "economic cycle" was more like a "stretch limo", Mr Ruffley said: "It is not an economic cycle, it is a spin cycle." But Mr Brown hit back and pointed out that the National Audit Office scrutinised the cycle and said the change had been "reasonable". He added that lower growth this year meant that the economic cycle would take longer to end. Rejecting the idea of an independent committee being set up, the chancellor said: "You do not hand over the responsibility for tax and spending to a body that would not be answerable to parliament. It is the government that is responsible for fiscal policy and I don't see much sense in handing over the decision to another body. It is one of the great principles of our democracy that only the House of Commons can pass taxes on to the people."

Brown blames slowdown on rate rises
The Independent, by Philip Thornton, 9 December 2023
Gordon Brown put himself at loggerheads with the governor of the Bank of England yesterday, blaming hikes in interest rates for the slowdown in consumer spending. Mervyn King, the governor, said last month the rising tax burden was a key reason, along with rising utility bills, as to why households were spending less. Challenged on this by Conservative MPs on the Treasury Select Committee, Mr Brown said he believed that 'in retrospect the governor would have talked about interest rates'. He said it was significant that rates rose four times in the run-up to a general election, which he said was the first time it had happened in living memory. 'That was bound to be the major factor in affecting consumer spending,' he said. 'I don't think anybody should be in any doubt that four interest- rate rises was bound to be the major factor in affecting consumer demand in the economy.' Damian Green, a Tory member of the committee, said the Treasury was using tax rises as 'old-fashioned demand management'. Mr Brown said rate rises were needed to slow the housing market from a peak in annual inflation of 20 per cent. 'We had to cool down the housing market and consumer demand in the economy,' he said. Mr King said last month there had been a 'quite sharp rise' of 2 percentage points in the ratio of taxes to household disposable income in the past couple of years. 'In the second half of 2004, disposable incomes were lower in nominal terms than a year earlier, so it was hardly surprising that households had less to spend,' he said. The Bank's Monetary Policy Committee yesterday left the base rate at 4.5 per cent, as widely expected by analysts and business leaders. There was no statement with the decision and the City was left divided over whether there would be a rate cut in the New Year. Royal Bank of Scotland said it expected a cut in early 2006. 'We continue to view the risks as skewed to the downside,' said Ross Walker, its UK economist. 'Growth remains below trend and there is little prospect of a rapid acceleration.' But Chris Iggo, a senior strategist at AXA Investment Managers, said: 'Rates will be left at this level for some time as evidence emerges that consumer spending is recovering on the back of a stronger housing market.' The Bank is forecasting a rebound in growth next year to 2.5 per cent and over 3 per cent in the following years, although most in the City think those are too optimistic. However the Chancellor used the Bank's figures to defend the growth and public finance forecasts in his pre-Budget report against accusations of 'over optimism' by the Conservatives. David Ruffley, the Tory MP, accused Mr Brown of using a 'spin cycle' when he changed the timing of the economic cycle used to determine his golden rule. He said the Treasury was 'running scared' of organisation such as the Institute for Fiscal Studies that had called for an independent body to date the start and end of the cycle. But Mr Brown said that would take away responsibility for fiscal policy from the House of Commons and run counter to the 'whole history of parliamentary democracy'. The Chancellor played down the threat of tax increases, saying he would meet his self-imposed fiscal rules, which limit borrowing to the amount needed for public investment over the economic cycle, by maintaining 'tough fiscal discipline'. Mr Brown also triggered fresh speculation he wants to reopen the deal between the Government and civil service unions that would allow current public employees to retire at 60. He told MPs: 'There was a framework agreement and that is now part of sector by sector negotiations.'

Public sector unions threaten to strike over retirement age
The Times, by Gary Duncan, 9 December 2023
UNIONS renewed threats of strike action last night after Gordon Brown fuelled speculation that ministers will try to unpick a deal to preserve millions of public sector workers' right to retire at 60. In his latest swipe at the deal struck with unions by Alan Johnson, the Trade and Industry Secretary, Mr Brown said this was a "framework" agreement and all issues were still open. "The negotiations on this are not completed. There are sector-by-sector negotiations ...I think it is possible that all things will be looked at in the sector-by-sector negiotations," he told the Commons Treasury Committee. Pressed by Opposition MPs, the Chancellor refused to answer directly whether these further talks meant that some of the 3.5 million affected state employees may end up having to work beyond 60. But he stuck by his stance that the talks were decisive as he was pressed by David Ruffley, a Conservative committee member, about a Trade and Industry Department press notice which spelt out in small print that these further negotiations could water down Mr Johnson's framework deal. The statement said public sector staff would "have the right to suffer no detriment in terms of their normal retirement age...unless individual or collective agreements within sector specific negotiations are reached". Unions reacted angrily and said strikes were in prospect if the Government reneged on the deal. In the summer unions threatened a national strike bigger than the 1926 General Strike unless ministers honoured pledges not to raise the retirement age.

MP blasts Prescott over 999 mergers
Bury Free Press, 21 October 2023
A Suffolk MP has accused Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott of flouting public opinion by pressing for the merging of emergency services in the region. It comes as police chiefs met to discuss possible options for the future of the six East Anglian forces, one of which is to combine them into one 'super force'. Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said: "Despite county- wide opposition from many local politicians, John Prescott is moving ahead with expensive and unwanted plans to deprive the people of Suffolk of their contact with emergency services. "Mr Prescott has no proper mandate to do this. He is openly flouting public opinion and this is more evidence of regionalisation by stealth. "There is a dangerous anti-democratic as well as anti-local element to this." The heads of the six police services which will be affected – Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire – met last week to come up with options for taking the plans forward. There are two options other than the 'super force'. They involve either splitting the region into north and south or east and west, each force covering three counties. Suffolk Chief Constable Alastair McWhirter said: "We are only at the start of the process to discover the shape of policing in this region in the future. "However, all the forces and authorities are united on one thing – using this opportunity to ensure the people of this region continue to receive the best possible policing service." Force bosses must put forward their preferred option to the Home Office by December 23. Plans for the regionalisation of other emergency services are more advanced. The Suffolk fire control room in Ipswich is due to be axed and replaced by a regional centre covering all six counties. However Fire Brigades' Union secretary for East Anglia, Graham Noakes, said campaigners would fight to get the decision reversed in Parliament. He said: "It is purely a financially driven decision and will do nothing to improve emergency services – in fact, it will put lives at risk." It is also proposed to combine the East Anglian Ambulance Trust, which serves Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, with the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Ambulance Trust and Essex Ambulance Trust. A Department of Health consultation into the plans is due to start in the next few weeks.

Regional Government 'by the back door'
East Anglian Daily Times, 19 October 2023
PLANS to merge Suffolk's emergency services with those in other counties could lead to an East of England government being formed “by the back door”, it has been claimed. Two Suffolk MPs have raised the alarm over the forthcoming shake-up of the county's fire, police and ambulance services, saying it could spell the demise of local democracy. They warned last night that power could soon ebb away from the county, district and borough councils - and they fear it could pave the way for a regional assembly in the east. John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, claimed: “It's part of their (the Government's) intention. Once they have established the amalgamated police, fire and ambulance services they will start pressing for regionalisation of everything and change in local government. Suffolk County Council is a historic and valuable entity to lose. “I think they will push ahead with this as soon as they dare. That is why we have to start fighting now.” Mr Gummer predicted the Government would amalgamate the emergency services in Suffolk with those in other counties and then claim “there is no democratic control over these services and you have to have a regional assembly”. In deputy prime minister John Prescott's 2002 white paper, he outlined a vision of beefed-up regional assemblies. In Suffolk, it was believed that these would signal the end of county councils. In their place would be new authorities covering larger areas than the existing districts and boroughs - which would form part of a regional assembly. Such an organisation would have more powers than the existing East of England Regional Assembly. Mr Gummer claimed the move towards amalgamated emergency services had been prompted by the Government's dramatic defeat in the referendum for a regional north-eastern assembly. He said: “It is all part of the same thing. I feel very strongly about this. The people in Suffolk do not want to lose local Suffolk services, they do not want regionalisation and the Government is forcing it upon them.” David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said of the changes in emergency services: “This is John Prescott and new Labour's regionalisation by stealth. It's imposing regionalisation and big Quango government by the back door. “I see an endless ebbing away of the authority and power in the county councils and district councils. “There will be a transferring of powers that those councils rightly hold: a transferring, step-by-step, to regional bureaucrats. It is fundamentally an attack on local democracy. “It will be the death of local elected councils and that's a disgrace. Suffolk will suffer as a result.” Under the proposals for the county's emergency services, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is intending to axe the fire control room in Ipswich, replacing it with a centre covering six counties. Suffolk police, in one of three options being looked at in the county, could be amalgamated into a regional force also covering Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire and Norfolk. The East Anglian Ambulance NHS Trust could also become part of a regional service covering the same six counties. Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: “I think we feel very strongly that we should not have any regionalisation of local government. “The district councils and Suffolk County Council know what's best for Suffolk. Many councillors were born and bred in Suffolk and understand the county. I do not think we want to lose that. “Other regions have had the chance to vote on this and they have kicked it out, and over the grandstand. “The Government is trying to do this through the back door.” Chris Mole, Labour MP for Ipswich, said he expected regional assemblies to be “on the horizon” in 10 years time. “A lot of consideration is being given to bringing a number of emergency services together because there are clearly benefits of scale and resilience issues that can be addressed through regionalisation. “Some of the strategic planning functions are already being carried out along with things like regional development. “The more things that are happening at regional level the more questions have to be asked about democratic deficiency and direct accountability. At some stage that has to be resolved by having an elected assembly or having different elected accountability for these functions.” But Mr Mole said a regional tier of Government would impact on the existing tiers - the district or borough councils and the county council. He said: “I think that the Government believes that people will not accept another layer of Government without some changes below. If you are going to have a directly elected assembly then you would not have the two tiers beneath.” But he also confirmed that Sir Peter Gershon's review of public sector efficiency - which determined that every local authority would be expected to make 2.5% savings by 2007/8 - was also “driving the case for unitary local Government”. But Mr Mole said he would not speculate on the format that would take. A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister said: “In terms of the next step on regional assemblies, following the north-eastern referendum the Government accepted that and it is not pushing ahead with elected regional assemblies. “It was a decisive vote in the north-east and we have taken stock of that and have no plans to hold a referendum in other parts in the county.”

Priced out of the market
Bury Free Press, 4 October 2023
First-time buyers in Suffolk are still being priced out of a stretched housing market, according to a council boss. The news comes after recent figures showed house prices in Bury St Edmunds have increased by more over the last five years than in the UK as a whole. Home-buyers are having to pay £190,000 for an average property in Bury, representing a 93 per cent rise over the last five years – eight per cent higher than the rest of the country. It means the average mortgage is now almost nine times the average wage, forcing first-time buyers out of the market and creating extra demand for affordable housing. Mike Dawson, corporate director for community at St Edmundsbury Borough Council, admitted it was a tough time to be buying a house. "Even though the market has slowed in recent months, prices are still going up and it's making it very difficult for first-time buyers to get a hold on the market," he said. "This, in turn, is putting extra pressure on the provision of affordable housing as people are slipping off the bottom of the ladder and looking for cheaper alternatives. "We have had one of the biggest affordable housing programmes in the region, but the pressure on us to ensure we have the capacity to meet demand is immense." Mr Dawson said one way of securing more affordable housing was by providing shared equity schemes – where people buy only part of the home. This is something that has won the backing of David Ruffley, MP for Bury and Stowmarket, who called for more such schemes across the county. "Rising house prices are good news for existing homeowners, but my concern is for those who cannot get on the property ladder," he said. "That is why I want the borough council and the Government to push ahead with shared equity schemes to help first-time buyers. "It's a practical solution to a local problem."

MP goes back to school
Bury Free Press, October 2005
MP David Ruffley has visited Abbots Green Community Primary School on Moreton Hall. Mr Ruffley, who was given a tour of the new school by head Alex Bedford said: "I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit this pioneering new school and was able to see first hand the impact of the cutting edge technology on classrooms and pupils. "The exciting educational innovations at Abbots Green include interactive whiteboards in every classroom, a plasma television communications system and The Den – a room for children with learning difficulties, with music, projected displays and light shows. "These state of the art facilities will make a real difference to the way children are educated and lessons are conducted," he added. "Abbots Green goes well beyond just providing extra school places – it is a completely new approach. This school is child centred. It is not a one-size fits all approach. And it does give parents another type of education to choose for their child if they wish." Mr Ruffley added: "Importantly, in this day and age, Abbots Green is also eco-friendly. "It is able to vastly reduce the amount of mains water it uses by recycling rainwater. "By the time I visited, the school had used a massive 6,000 litres of rainwater. This is a colossal saving. There are also solar panels to provide power and, quite incredibly, a plant-covered roof to aid insulation. "This new school is not just unique to Bury St Edmunds, it is one of the first of its kind in the country. "Abbots Green is a remarkable asset to the local community. Its environmentally friendly ethos and the vision of Alex Bedford have created what I imagine will become the model for many schools in the 21st century. "This school is inclusive and is not bogged down by catchment areas. Children come from as far as Mildenhall to learn here. Abbots Green offers parents a real choice about the type of education their child receives." Abbots Green is becoming an asset to the wider community, as well. A number of local groups have already begun hiring out the facilities on offer and during the closure of the Theatre Royal, in Bury, for restoration, Abbots Green will be one of the venues used for their productions. "School buildings can provide a wonderful resource for people of all ages. It is pleasing that Abbots Green is setting the example that when the school day is over there is no reason at all why everyone – young and old – should not benefit from their facilities," added Mr Ruffley. "I am sure all local residents will join me in welcoming Abbots Green to Moreton Hall. I look forward to returning in the near future to see how the school is progressing."

Health secretary issues blunt warning
East Anglian Daily Times, 30 September 2023
HEALTH Secretary Patricia Hewitt has warned NHS managers in Suffolk that ministers are prepared intervene and hold them to account for the financial crisis which has led to the planned closure of community hospitals in the county. Talking exclusively to the EADT at the Labour Party conference in Brighton, Ms Hewitt stopped short of criticising individual hospital and ward closures but said she would be demanding "tangible" answers from health service chiefs if they say they cannot deliver significant improvements to the NHS after a massive cash Government injection over the past two years. Primary care and hospital trusts are more than £70million in the red and Ms Hewitt is demanding to know how they have allowed this debt to build up. Denying that Suffolk was under-funded compared to the rest of England, the Secretary of State said: "Let's make a few things clear. Suffolk health trusts are similar to those in any other county in that they have had the highest level of growth in funding in the history of the NHS. For example, Suffolk East PCT will receive £187.6m in 2006/7 and £209.3m. "This actually represents a cash increase of over £40m or 24.5% over two years. Suffolk health services are far better funded than ever before." She warned: "If the local NHS Trusts can't deliver significant long-term improvements in Suffolk, then ministers will step in and take action to hold local trust managers to account." In a thinly disguised criticism of Tory MPs, she said the crisis was too serious to be turned into a political ping-pong match. She catalogued improvements in the county's health care - Ipswich Hospital's £26m Garrett Anderson Centre will provide a new accident and emergency department, a critical care centre, operating theatres and beds. And James Paget Hospital in Gorleston has a new unit housing a day case ward, outpatient and minor operating suite including a theatre for eye surgery. She added: "I do appreciate that people are rightly worried when they hear from trusts that they lack money or are considering reorganising services. "I therefore visited Ipswich Hospital back in May to listen and learn from staff and patients and I, and local Labour MPs, are keen to hear from residents if they have concerns. "If with this massive new funding local health chiefs can't bring about service improvements which benefit residents across Suffolk then we will hold them to account." Among the casualties of the funding crisis are the Bartlett Hospital in Felixstowe, Hartismere Hospital in Eye, Walnuttree and St Leonard's Hospitals in Sudbury. Beds are to be removed from the Ipswich and West Suffolk acute hospitals, services reorganised in Aldeburgh, Felixstowe, Newmarket, and mental health centres closed in Ipswich, Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds. In an attempt to reduce costs in the county, the Strategic Health Authority demanded the reorganisation of the county's five primary care trusts into just one PCT. Last night health chiefs defended their organisations against the criticism from Mrs Hewitt. Carole Taylor-Brown, chief executive of the Suffolk East PCTs, said: “The new leadership team across Suffolk East have been entirely open about the scale of our financial challenge and what we are doing to get back on track and to stop spending more money than we've got. “Our detailed plans are published, and cover a wide range of changes. We are making sound progress, which is carefully monitored by the Board. We are working closely with the Strategic Health Authority, who are being supportive to us.” Suffolk West PCT chief executive Mike Stonard said the authority had made “significant” progress toward a financial recovery particularly when it came to prescribing and reducing management costs. He added: “The PCT is on track to deliver the £7.1million savings this year as part of the recovery plan.” A spokesperson for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority said: “It is the responsibility of the local PCT and hospital boards to achieve financial balance and modernise healthcare services. There are significant problems in Suffolk and the SHA has worked with the PCTs and trusts to understand the size and scale of the problem.” Meanwhile MPs from across the region were critical of the health secretary and her proposals. Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said: “I'm afraid that Mrs Hewitt does not know her own figures. Suffolk West PCT receives £1,156 per person per year while the national average is £1,388. “In other words she doesn't know what she's talking about. It would have been nice if she had done her homework because I find what she says outrageous.” Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer said: “What Mrs Hewitt doesn't reveal is that although funding has increased she now expects us to do a lot more extra things with that money, none of which have been funded properly. “Add to this the fact that the cost of living has gone up as well and it is simply not true that we have more money than ever before. It's a typical trick used by bureaucrats. “That is why Suffolk has just 90p to fund 100p of health care provision and why in the future it will be as low as 80p as we fight against these huge debts.” Suffolk South MP Tim Yeo said: “The consequences of all the financial difficulties faced in Suffolk are being felt by the patients, who are seeing their much loved and valuable community services closed and reorganised because of the crippling debts of the primary care trusts. He agreed there had been “poor management decisions” which had led to consultation documents that were full of flaws. “The Department of Health appoints the trust chairmen and members and therefore if the Secretary of State believes there is a major problem in the county, she should be holding them to account and demand to know what was going on.”

Police chief's pledge over merger plans
Bury Free Press, 26 September 2023
Suffolk's Chief Constable has pledged to maintain local policing and fight for Suffolk's fair share of finance as the county faces being amalgamated with neighbouring forces. After a meeting with the Home Secretary, Alistair McWhirter said he and the Suffolk Police Authority had three months to decide upon a preferred combination for a strategic force. The HMI report, Closing the Gap, published on Friday, recommended that the 43 forces in the UK should be streamlined, with each force having a minium of 4,500 officers – Suffolk has 1,300, Norfolk 1,500 and Cambridgeshire 1,450. Mr McWhirter said Bury St Edmunds would continue to be policed from a basic command unit in the western area as happens now. "Nothing would change," he said. It would be the back-up services and administration that would be most affected. A combined three-counties force would be similar to that in Northumbria and would cost less. He said he would want to see any savings invested into the front line. "I want to ensure that Suffolk gets its fair share. The difficulty with merging is that money could be pushed to where it is most needed and if Suffolk is the safest county we may not see that money," he said. A combined force of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire would be preferable to a 'monolithic' force which also included Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Essex – this would be 'too far from the people'. Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley has attacked the possible merger and written to Home Secretary Charles Clarke. "Under these proposals we are set to lose our own local police force and chief to be instead replaced by a regional force with one chief constable serving a population of nearly 2.2 million," he said. "We don't need a regional quango – look at how tax credits and the CSA have operated. Large IT systems don't work."

People power secures a pedestrian crossing
Bury Free Press, 20 Septmeber 2005
Persistence and people power have paid off to create a safer pedestrian route across a Bury St Edmunds ring road. Years of campaigning by residents and politicians have resulted in a toucan crossing between roundabouts at Southgate Green and Cullum Road. The busy road separates the Nowton estate from the town centre. Yvonne Arratoon lives at Southgate Green and first approached Paul Farmer, before he was a borough councillor, three years ago, and Southgate Green Action Group gained the backing of David Ruffley MP for the same cause. Mrs Arratoon, who has to cross the road to get to the bus stop, said: "It was horrendous. I've seen mothers with pushchairs and schoolchildren trying to get across. Nobody stops for you, so I thought this was the only thing to do." She and her neighbour, Tina Mann, collected 425 signatures and, together with Cllr Farmer, pursued the matter. Mr Farmer said: "We have an excellent result and I am proud to have supported the petitioners in gaining a significant achievement for the area." David Ruffley said that a pedestrian crossing was clearly needed at the busy site, as it was part of the Bury ring road and carried a high volume of traffic.

MPs condemn terrorist attacks
by Jonathan Barnes, East Anglian Daily Times, 8 July 2023
POLITICIANS from across the region were united last night in their condemnation of the terrorist attacks on London. The MPs, many of whom were in the capital when the explosions happened, spoke of their horror at the atrocities and determination to stand firm against the threat of terrorism. Tim Yeo, Conservative MP for South Suffolk, said: “This is a terrible shock to everybody and an appalling atrocity, particularly as it aimed at completely innocent people, with the longer-term aim of trying to undermine the morale of the general public. “I'm particularly concerned as so many people from Suffolk travel to London for work, using the Underground and Liverpool Street station every day. “In due course, lessons will have to be learned and procedures will have to be tightened up, but my immediate reaction is deep sympathy for those people injured and the families of those who have lost their lives.” Simon Burns, Conservative MP for Chelmsford West, added: “I am absolutely appalled by the depravity of the crime against innocent human beings. “It is callous and beyond comprehension and I know that the Government will do everything in their power to seek out and bring to justice the perpetrators of this outrage.” Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester, said: “Any attack on our capital city is an attack on the whole country and we must make sure that those who wish to destroy our democratic way of life do not succeed. “This will create unity of purpose amongst all democratic people in this country.” Chris Mole, the Labour MP for Ipswich, said he was “horrified” by the terrorist attacks and added: “Clearly, we need to respond by rejecting the motives of those behind this attack, which has been designed to undermine our whole way of life.” John Gummer, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, praised the resilient response of the public to the attack. “You have to say that we mustn't allow the terrorists to win and we have to get on with our ordinary lives in the way we would normally do,” he said. “The response has been very positive and the whole of London has continued to do its job - it has been very impressive.” David Ruffley, Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, added: “There is no cause or religion that can possibly justify atrocities like this. “These murderers should be hunted down and I give my 100% backing to the Prime Minister in doing everything we can to bring these killers to justice. “On a personal level, I was driving through the East End about half an hour before the explosions and I'm grateful to be back in Bury. It's a reminder of how safe and sound we are in Suffolk and the quality of life we have.” Meanwhile, the Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich called for a “spirit of calm” after the terrorist attacks. The Rt Rev Richard Lewis said the events across the capital had “shocked the world”. He added: “Our thoughts and prayers are with all who have suffered injury or loss, and also with the members of the police and emergency services who are dealing with the situation. “In the face of these devastating incidents there has been a remarkable patience and calm in the capital and this is a tribute to the way the emergency is being handled and to all those involved.” Bishop Richard continued: “I hope and pray that the spirit of calm will continue and that people will be united in recognising that these were indiscriminate attacks on people regardless of age, faith or race. “The faith communities in this county will continue to stand and work together for the well-being of all and I pray that we shall continue to keep to that vision in spite of attempts to undermine it.”

Higher council tax bills warning
by Graham Dines, East Anglian Daily Times, 29 June 2023
HOUSEHOLDERS have been warned they are facing the prospect of increased council tax rises and a cut in services if the Government cracks down on spending. Ministers have pledged to cap any council that threatens to step out of line, imposing a limit on any rise in spending next year. But there is unlikely to be a repeat of this year's one-off grant to councils, which enabled high-spending authorities like Essex and Suffolk County Councils to levy increases below 3%. Jeremy Pembroke, leader of the new Conservative administration on Suffolk County Council, believed it would not get the generous settlement for 2006-7 that was handed out this year to authorities as a “pre-General Election bribe”. He added: “Councils were given an extra payment by the Chancellor - it was £3million for Suffolk - but all that way was a Government attempt to buy off voters. There will be no such cash this year. “I am determined that Suffolk will do everything it can to keep the council tax rise as low as possible. The council is mindful that the people of this county voted for low tax last May. “However, Suffolk is a shire county and I realise the Government won't do us any favours. That's why we are looking at all aspects of council spending, including increased co-operation with district authorities to avoid duplication.” Lord Hanningfield, leader of Essex County Council and a Conservative frontbench spokesman on local government in the House of Lords, said: “I do not think the Government has any time for councils and it is determined to cut down on spending. “Essex, like other councils, is looking at how it spends its money and is implementing efficiency savings of 2%. However, the prospect for council tax next year is bleak - don't expect any favours from Whitehall.” Tim Passmore, who serves on the ruling executive on Mid Suffolk District Council, one of England's smallest and most rural local authorities, said it feared the outcome of this year's settlement. Although the council - which has restructured its services, leading to redundancies - received an above-inflation 4.5% increase in its funding for the current financial year, Mr Passmore warned. “We are expected to meet more and more Government targets without the necessary extra cash. “Mid Suffolk has been through painful times. There has been an effect on staff morale and motivation through the cut in the Government's cash allocation to the authority.” Graham Butland, leader of Braintree District Council, described this year's settlement as “quite reasonable,” but warned the future did not look good. “As there will not be much money coming into local government, we are already looking at how we will be able to make significant savings so council tax remains within allowable limits,” he added. “We want to be a low-tax council. Our increase was 3.9% this year and we would like to do less, but we will need to do a lot of work in order to achieve that.” Reg Hartles, chairman of campaign group Protest Against Council Tax Suffolk, said householders had not forgotten the 18.5% rise in the Suffolk County Council share of council tax of three years ago. “The Government must surely remember the uproar all over the country from swingeing increases,” he added. “We will be writing to the county council seeking an assurance that it will be keeping spending under control and that any increase in tax will be an absolute minimum.” Rises in council tax could be even steeper in following years because of the revaluation of properties, which could propel homes into higher tax bands after improvements such as extensions and extra bedrooms and bathrooms have been taken into account. David Ruffley, Bury St Edmunds MP, warned that bills would rise by £250 because of the “rigged council tax” revaluation. He added: “I fear that families who have saved and invested in their home will face soaring bills without any improvements in their local services.”

D-Day for health service cuts
Benedict O'Connor, East Anglian Daily Times, 29 June 2023
A FURTHER 229 health workers will learn whether the axe is due to fall on their jobs today, in addition to the 220 already bracing themselves for redundancy. The spiralling £42.5million debt crisis facing health services in west Suffolk is top of the agenda at two crunch meetings today, where the loss of up to 449 jobs, 103 hospital beds and two surgical theatres will be discussed. The East Anglian Daily Times has already revealed the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust's plans to shut the Walnuttree Hospital, Sudbury, and close beds at Newmarket Hospital. But agenda papers for today's trust board meeting in Bury St Edmunds revealed the extent of the toll on employment caused by the crisis. According to the trust papers, the loss of all 32 hospital beds in Sudbury and 16 hospital beds in Newmarket will mean a potential 229 job losses in both towns. A trust spokeswoman said these were intended to be split among full and part-time positions and it hoped to redeploy as many staff as possible, while some job losses would be down to “natural wastage.” She added: “These are very difficult times for our staff and our patients and the board will carefully consider them. These are only recommendations and the board has the final decision.” The majority of the £42.5m debt - which accounts for last year's overspend and this year's forecast overspend - is split almost equally between the West Suffolk Hospitals Trust and the Suffolk West Primary Care Trust, with an estimated £1.4m of savings to be made from the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust. At the West Suffolk Hospitals Trust board meeting, also held in Bury St Edmunds today, members are due to debate the proposed axe of 220 jobs, 55 hospital beds and two surgical theatres at West Suffolk Hospital, Bury St Edmunds. But agenda papers showed that the overnight accident and emergency services at West Suffolk Hospital, which had been cited by chief executive Chris Bown as a likely victim of the cuts, look to have won a reprieve as removing them was judged unlikely to save money. All three west Suffolk MPs - Tim Yeo, David Ruffley and Richard Spring - have expressed their disgust at the situation and Mr Yeo called for the resignation of Mr Bown, who told the EADT he had no intention of standing down. On the eve of the crisis meetings, a consultant has come forward in Mr Bown's defence, claiming to represent the views of other senior medical staff. Dr John Urquhart, consultant anaesthetist and chairman of West Suffolk Hospital's medical staff committee, said: “We feel that when Chris Bown took over the post of chief executive just 10 months ago, these financial problems already existed and that he should be given a fair chance to sort them out. “In common with all other groups in the trust, senior medical staff at the West Suffolk Hospital are already involved in changing our working patterns to support the trust's plans. “However we would not support any measure that would cause irreversible damage to the trust or an irretrievable diminution of service to the community. “Our support would have been withdrawn immediately if closure of accident and emergency at night, for example, had remained in the financial recovery plan.”

MPs hold crisis talks over hospital's debts
Bury Free Press, 27 June 2023
MRSA levels in West Suffolk Hospital are on the rise, placing it in 136th place out of 173 health trusts nationally. The news comes as MPs and health chiefs hold emergency talks in the face of a financial crisis which could see patient services cut. Richard Spring, MP for West Suffolk, met Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority's (SHA) chief executive at the House of Commons on Wednesday. He is also due to meet the chief executive and chairman of Bury St Edmunds' acute hospital today to discuss its massive £7.4 million debt. Mr Spring said: "I am shocked at just how appalling the situation has become. "I really could not be more deeply concerned about this crisis, which is having a serious knock-on effect on my constituents." He added: "We have never seen cuts before in provision of service but now it seems inevitable we will. "My meeting with the SHA produced a promise from the new chief executive to control the debts and I sincerely hope he does." Levels of the drug-resistant superbug MRSA – methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus – in the West Suffolk Hospital rose by 16.2 per cent in April 2004 to March 2005 compared with the previous year. With 43 reported cases of MRSA bactaraemia in the same period, the levels per 1,000 bed days were 0.21, compared with 37 cases at a rate of 0.18 in April 2003 to March 2004. The survey for the Department of Health showed that nationally the rates of infection had dropped by 6.1 per cent in 2004/2005. MP David Ruffley said both the financial crisis and the MRSA increase could be firmly laid at the door of management. "You would not run a whelk stall like this. The Primary Care Trust has been giving Richard Spring and myself fantasy football figures and, as far as the MRSA goes, I would simply say it is not good enough." A spokeswoman for the hospital said that a breakdown of quarterly reports on bactaraemia levels showed a downward trend. She added the figures did not distinguish between patients who had acquired MRSA at the hospital and those who took it in from other hospitals, nursing homes and the community.

Hospital axes 200 staff amid cash crisis
East Anglain Daily Times, 25 June 2023
AROUND 220 hospital staff are due to lose their jobs, 10% of beds cut and two surgical theatres will close as health bosses try and reduce a Suffolk hospital's spiralling £7.4 million debts. South Suffolk MP Tim Yeo yesterday called for the resignation of West Suffolk Hospital chief executive Chris Bown and Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said the hospital and primary care trust boards "could not run a whelk stand". And West Suffolk MP Richard Spring has called for an urgent meeting with health minister Patricia Hewitt to demand a solution to the mounting crisis. As the extent of the financial emergency facing West Suffolk health services unfolds, the West Suffolk Hospital has announced cuts to rein in its finances. The Suffolk West Primary Care Trust (PCT) has also confirmed its plans to close the Walnuttree Hospital and shut all beds at Newmarket Hospital. At the West Suffolk yesterday, Mr Bown confirmed the proposals include the closure of two of the hospital's nine operating theatres and the loss of 55 of the 550 beds, while 220 of the estimated 1,100 hospital employees will lose their jobs. Announcing the proposed cuts, he said: "This is going to be a very difficult year for staff but it is important that we meet the challenges head on. "We are facing a period of significant transformation for the West Suffolk Hospital, which we will have to go through to achieve financial stability. "Only then will we be able to plan and develop with certainty, quality health care for the people of west Suffolk." As he did so, Mr Yeo led the calls for his resignation and the accountability of other board members and said: "I think Chris Bown should certainly resign as he is the one who gave all the assurances about Walnuttree and the new Sudbury hospital and he was in charge of the organisation that pursued the aim of foundation status. "The higher managers at the PCT must surely now resign for allowing the debts to spiral out-of-control like this. It is just totally unacceptable." However Mr Bown categorically denied he would resign, and said: "I think Tim Yeo is a little bit confused about which organisation is responsible for managing Sudbury Hospital. It's not clear why he's calling for my resignation." He also denied allegations from Mr Yeo, Mr Spring and Mr Ruffley that the hospital's failed bid for foundation status contributed towards its financial downfall. Mr Ruffley claimed: "They have been off on this wild goose chase for foundation status, instead of concentrating on the real issue of managing their finances and improving patient care. "This has been coming for three years, and for three years, I and the other MPs have held as many meetings as possible to try and resolve the matter, and each time we have been told it will be alright and each time it hasn't been. The boards have fallen asleep at the wheel, they couldn't run a whelk stall." Mr Bown said: "First of all, any costs associated with the foundation status application are funded centrally by the Department of Health, no patient funding is used for the bid. "Secondly the application process started a year before I arrived and it was certainly seen as something that would improve local health services. If we had achieved foundation status, the financial deficit we are now facing, although disappointing, would have been far less." Mr Bown said the bid process had actually galvanised the hospital management into working more efficiently and said £4.5 million worth of savings were made during the process, although he conceded the debts in the forthcoming year could rise to £10 million. Mr Spring was informed of the proposed cuts yesterday morning at a meeting with Mr Bown, shortly before hospital staff were informed. Speaking immediately after the meeting he warned the situation may get worse and said: "We are in for a terrible, terrible time, for the health workers and the people of Suffolk, and I am requesting an urgent meeting with Patricia Hewitt where I will be demanding action." The full detail of the proposed cuts is due to be discussed at a meeting of the West Suffolk Hospital board on Wednesday. No one from Unison was available for comment yesterday.

Going forward with hope - by David Ruffley MP
Bury Free Press, 22 June 2023
Moreton Hall is a desirable place to live. It attracts families from all over the country and has already developed a real community feel and spirit. Every time I visit, it is a pleasure. Can it be even better as we go forward? Yes, it can. Over the last few years new facilities have sprung up. A new church – Christ Church Moreton Hall – under the fine leadership of the Rev Jonathan Ford; excellent retail outlets, the community centre and there is more to come. The new school, an enlarged nursery school and a new youth centre will all help to create a greater sense of togetherness in the area. I am pleased to have had the opportunity to campaign alongside so many enthusiastic local people working tirelessly to make Moreton Hall a better place to live. I saw that at first hand when Tesco originally said they would simply close the post office at Lawson's Parade. Moreton Hall residents rose as one and got me involved. Together we put together a plan to move the post office to the community centre – and to get Tesco to pay for it! It was people power at work. Moreton Hall should be proud of itself. But there are other huge challenges for Moreton Hall. Congestion on the A14 at the eastern interchange is getting beyond a joke – and not just at peak times. I raised this at a meeting I held with the chairman of the East of England Development Agency (EEDA) and I am lobbying both Suffolk County Council and the Highways Agency to get them to look at ways of reducing the congestion at the A14 interchanges in Bury. If this means road widening then we must look seriously at this option. EEDA exists to promote economic and transport development within the region and the Moreton Hall area must get more constructive help from them. I want to see the young in Moreton Hall grow into adulthood having the chance to get high quality jobs in our town instead of having to commute. So I want to attract young, growing and high-tech businesses. In getting EEDA to come to Bury, to see and hear for themselves what we have to offer, I hope we can create a spirit of optimism for a prosperous future. Transport projects take time to get moving. It has taken two decades to get the death trap Rookery Crossroads made safer with a new flyover. This will undoubtedly benefit Moreton Hall residents. Another solution, in my view, is a new park and ride scheme to relieve pressure on the interchanges. It could help to reduce the number of cars going in and out of the town. Some are talking of a new southern bypass – this also needs looking into properly. Better local bus services are important for those living on Moreton Hall and we must continue seeking improvements. I am pleased with the recently signed Quality Bus Partnership that puts in place an agreement on much needed improvements in bus services between the borough council, the county council and First Buses. I am continuing to chair regular meetings with all those involved to ensure these promised improvements are delivered. I know from the amount of time I have spent on Moreton Hall what a great place it is to live and work. I want to do everything in my power to make certain that it has an even better environment, facilities and transport in the future. Moreton Hall, I know, will face that future with confidence.

Talks held on club's future
Bury Free Press, 10 June 2023
Talks on the future of Stowmarket Town Football Club will be held today in a bid to resolve a 10-year legal wrangle. For the last decade, the Greens Meadow club has been unable to develop its ground because it does not own the land. With part of the site owned by Mid Suffolk District Council and another part by the Stowmarket Church Charity, the club has been left in limbo. It now hopes renewed talks between the three groups will bring a resolution to an issue that has put the club's very future in doubt. Club secretary Colin Davies said: "We'd like a resolution as quickly as possible as the discussions have been going on for many years. "It's incredibly frustrating. As a club we cannot do more – we have tried our level best to encourage the two to come up with a proposal. "I am not putting blame on anyone but we have been left in the middle of it all and it's important it's resolved so the club can move forward." The long-running dispute stems from the Stowmarket Church Charity indicating it may wish to sell the land for development. Mid Suffolk District Council is keen to prevent the club from having to move but its hands may be tied if the church decides to sell. With the club's lease in doubt, its board has been unable to apply for any Government grants to help it upgrade it facilities. "Things cannot just continue in this limbo," added Mr Davies. "It all comes down to money at the end of the day but we need a resolution." Today's meeting will be attended by club, council and church trust officials, as well as Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket MP David Ruffley. "I'm keen to regain some momentum," said Mr Ruffley. "I fully support the club in its desire to build facilities fit for the 21st century."

Council Services Scandal
Jonathan Barnes, East Anglian Daily Times, 9 June, 2005
STAFF working on a major scheme to improve access to council services in Suffolk have warned of a "full-scale rebellion" against the project. Suffolk County Council has joined forces with Mid Suffolk District Council and communications giant BT to pioneer the Customer Services Direct (CSD) project, which aims to give customers easy access to council services, such as paying bills and reporting problems. But a group of county council staff have contacted the EADT to complain that the scheme has "thrown the organisation into turmoil" and is proving to be an "expensive disaster". The £300million, 10-year partnership – providing telephone, face-to-face and web-based services – was set up with the hope of bringing other district and borough councils on board. But, nearly two years after the scheme was first unveiled, no other councils have signed up to CSD – with one insisting yesterday it had "no interest" in the project. Last night, one of the county's MPs pledged to write to the chief executives of Suffolk County Council and Mid Suffolk District Council to ensure the project was providing value for money. Bosses behind the CSD scheme have defended the project, claiming it is improving customer service at no extra cost to council taxpayers. The money is being found through efficiency savings on existing budgets. The council staff, who asked not to be named, complained about the progress of the project and said some staff were unhappy at being seconded to the CSD scheme. They also raised concerns about the costs of high-level appointments, consultants' fees and adapting software for CSD use. About 300 staff are thought to have been seconded to the CSD project. "In reality this project is throwing the organisation into turmoil, with a devastating effect on the authority," they said "We envisage a full-scale rebellion in the forthcoming months, with many employees reviewing their options. "We believe that this situation is being likely to develop into an expensive disaster." The EADT has raised a number of concerns about the CSD project with the county council. Last night, David Ruffley, the Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds, said he would be looking into the matter. "I will be writing to the chief executives of the county and district councils to have their assessment of what is going on and ask them how much money has been saved by these new services," he added. "There is no point having glossy new initiatives if they are not value for money. If this is a costly mistake, then council taxpayers will want to know." CSD opened its first call centre, in Stowmarket, in November, and bosses said it had been "a great success". They said nearly 14,000 people had visited the centre, and it had taken 21,500 telephone calls. New centres are due to open in Needham Market and Eye this year. Jeremy Pembroke, leader of Suffolk County Council, said: "CSD is already bringing benefits to the people of Suffolk. "It is improving access to customer service and providing the level of service people expect. "We aim to develop the partnership to deliver more efficiencies in the future to benefit Suffolk's taxpayers." Roger Saunders, leader of Mid Suffolk District Council, said: "This unique partnership puts the customer first. "It strengthens the public service ethos by providing the technology, systems and training to deliver the right services to the right place at the right time. It is the right way forward." But other district and borough councils failed to offer support for the scheme yesterday, many saying they were in the process of undertaking their own customer service reviews. Waveney District Council said it was "not interested" in the scheme while Suffolk Coastal District Council added it was not in a relationship with the CSD partners. "We have not made a decision about which delivery route we are going to go down. There's no impending commitment to sign up." Babergh District Council said it was looking into a "range of options" to improve customers services and St Edmundsbury Borough Council said it would consider partnerships with the county council and other districts in its own review. Forest Heath District Council said the CSD project was "not something we are currently discussing" while Ipswich Borough Council is pushing ahead with its own customer service centre, earmarked for the Town Hall. A spokesman said it was also looking at possible joint initiatives with other local authorities.

David Ruffley retains Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket seat
Bury Free Press, 6 May 2023
David Ruffley was triumphant last night as he increased his majority in the Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket seat. Mr Ruffley - who was run close in 2001 by Labour - yesterday polled 24,332 to secure the seat once again for the Conservatives. Labour's David Monaghan came in second with 14,402 votes - again a similar position to the 2001 General Election. Conservative leader Michael Howard conceded defeat to Labour's Tony Blair - albeit with a reduced majority - but Mr Ruffley swept back to power locally. For the Liberal Democrats, David Chappell polled 10,423 while the Green Party;s Graham Manning secured 1,603 votes. UKIP's John Howlett trumped that with 1,859 votes.

Looking to the future
Bury Free Press, 4 February 2023
A special meeting is to be held to forge a way forward for businesses in Bury St Edmunds. Town bosses are due to meet Richard Ellis, chairman of the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), and David Ruffley MP to find out how to increase the town's economic output. Mr Ruffley wants EEDA to focus more support on the Bury area of the Cambridge to Ipswich business corridor and called the meeting, later this month, to discuss what Bury could gain from EEDA's support. Mr Ellis will spend half a day in the town, meeting Deborah Cadman, chief executive of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, and Chrissy Harrod, chairman of Bury's chamber of commerce. Mrs Harrod said: "We are really excited David has set this up. It is very important for businesses to be able to meet Mr Ellis and put their questions to him." She said chamber members were keen to ask what plans EEDA had for Bury and what kind of investments it could make in the town and its road infrastructure. Members will also be able to put forward any ideas they have for the growth of the town. "It is a very positive step forward. There should be some very passionate views expressed," said Mrs Harrod. Mr Ruffley said EEDA existed to promote economic development in the region and he wanted to ensure the Bury area gained constructive help from it. "Bury is a thriving community but we have to look to the future and attract inward investment," he said. "We must do all we can to attract young, growing and high-tech businesses. "By getting EEDA to come to Bury to see and hear what we have to offer and our vision for the future, I want to ensure that Bury is kept in the forefront of their minds and not put on the back burner." The meeting is on February 25.

Buses fares hike shocks passengers
Bury Free Press, 15 February 2023
Buses in Bury St Edmunds are worse than ever and costing more, say passengers – just a week after bus chiefs said services would improve. This week, bus users were told some ticket prices had gone up by nearly 25 per cent and, according to one count by a town councillor, at least 130 buses had been late since last October. First Eastern Counties said it had reduced the daily ticket price but politicians working to improve the buses said it was 'giving with one hand and taking with the other'. Lorna Allen, who catches the 81 bus to work in Bury, said: "The bus didn't turn up and people had to wait 30 minutes in the cold to catch the next service. "What is really annoying is this keeps happening and you never know when the next bus will come along or why your bus is late." Another passenger, Sharon Bradley, said she had been shocked to find fares had gone up. "We got on the bus and were told the 10-journey fare had gone from £6 to £7.50. "Many people didn't have enough money so had to buy a day ticket – there was no advertising on the buses or the bus stop to warn us of the rise." Bury town councillor Alan Turner, who has fought hard to improve bus services around the town's estates, said: "In a way, I am not surprised. "The bus company has said they will improve things but I think I will believe it when I see it." He added he kept detailed information on which buses were late or had not turned up at all. "The numbers are really amazing – it's ridiculous really and things need to improve." He says more than 130 buses have been late since October last year and several buses have not turned up at all – excuses given to Mr Turner range from broken down buses to driver illness. The news comes one week after a meeting between Cllr Turner, MP David Ruffley and First bosses ended with a four-year agreement being signed to improve services. Mr Ruffley said: "I am shocked to here some fares have gone up. The company said they would reduce the daily fare to attract more users. "However, if they have raised other prices and are effectively giving with one hand and taking away with another, that is not acceptable." Labour's Dave Monaghan held talks about Bury's problems with Transport Secretary Alastair Darling on Wednesday. Mr Monaghan said: "I'm glad the Transport Secretary took the time to hear the plight of Bury bus passengers and agreed enough was enough." Tom Oxley, spokesperson for First, confirmed some prices had gone up but added a day ticket in Bury has gone down from £2.60 to £2. He added flyers telling people of the rise had been distributed and the rises were due to increasing international oil prices. Cliff Hussey, operations manager for First, said: "We have been keeping a close eye on reliability at Bury St Edmunds. With regards to services most recently, there have not been major problems but there have been some – we know this impacts on passengers and we apologise for that."

Heat rises at fire station
Bury Free Press, 19 January 2023
Tempers looked set to flare between firefighters and their management last night, at a meeting over the pro-posed loss of 12 posts at Bury St Edmunds. Firefighters are angry at Suffolk Fire Service's plans to axe jobs and reassign a full time turntable ladder crew from the Bury fire station. Management say the move will increase safety with a drive for more retained firefighters, more cover for rural areas and an increase in community fire education. But Bury firefighters fear community safety initiatives will be jeopardised – as will lives. Firefighters were due to put their views to management at a meeting at the Bury station last night. Matt Hassey, chairman of the Bury branch of the Fire Brigades Union, said: "The fire service is aiming to cut down the number of fire deaths but without these 12 posts we are no longer going to be able to offer community fire safety. "The proposals are open to public consultation but we don't know how they are planning to run the station – so how on earth are the public supposed to form a view." MP David Ruffley, who met the firefighters on Friday, said: "Bury is a growing town. These measures are ridiculous – they border on insanity. "By losing these 12 posts they will be putting lives at risk and that is completely unacceptable to me." Town mayor Cllr Frank Warby said: "The town is growing fast and they are talking about reducing fire cover which seems a bit daft. "It shows a lack of respect for the firefighters themselves. Cutbacks to safety are not cutbacks at all – they are just dangerous." But one member of the Suffolk Fire Service management, who asked not to be named, said: "There's not a great deal of community fire safety being done at the moment. "What we want to do is get more retained staff involved in community safety."

Meeting called on the buses
Bury Free Press, 13 December 2023
A meeting has been planned to discuss the state of Bury St Edmunds' town centre bus service – but residents will have to walk home as buses stop at 6.30pm. Organised by the town council, which has been inundated with complaints about First's services since a change in routes, the meeting will let Bury residents speak face-to-face with the company's boss and council figures. It is timed to fit around MPs and councillors' working hours, starting at 6.30pm, but this has only highlighted the lack of evening buses. The last bus from Bury to Mildenhall Road Estate and the hospital runs at 6.26pm and the last bus to Moreton Hall is at 5.46pm Town council clerk Linda Sherer said: "We have had so many complaints from the town's residents and from workers here that we felt we had to hold a meeting to let people have their say with those responsible present." She said First boss John Pope had been invited, as well as MP David Ruffley, Town Mayor Frank Warby, county, borough and town councillors. Mr Pope said he would attend but he was not happy about the timing of the meeting as people would have trouble getting home. He also said that the full fleet of low-floored buses, some of which had been off the road due to mechanical failure, should be back on Bury streets soon but could not say when they would all be operating. Cllr Alan Turner, who will also be at the meeting, has been swamped with letters complaining about the buses. He said he would be helping residents from Mildenhall Road Estate home from the meeting with the help of the residents' association but added the absence of late buses was a problem, affecting hospital visits. Cllr Turner said: "You can now get up to the hospital at a decent time but you cannot get home." Complaints sent to the traffic commissioner are currently being monitored and if they reach a specified level, officers will be sent to check on buses. If they are still unsatisfactory – more than one minute early or five minutes late – a report will be sent to the commissioner and the operator. If the operator does not improve, the commissioner can cut-back buses licensed to the operator or close them down. The meeting will be held at the Corn Exchange between 6.30pm and 8pm on Friday, October 1.

Bus saga: is end in sight?
Bury Free Press, 10 November 2023
The long-running Bury St Edmunds bus service saga could soon be resolved, according to MP David Ruffley. The service, operated by First Eastern Buses, was described as 'absolutely appalling' by a Bury town councillor earlier this year, after buses were either late or failed to turn up. The issue was highlighted by angry bus passengers in March, after customers claimed First was failing to provide a reliable and regular service. And in October, a public meeting – where passengers made their feelings clear – was held about the issue. Mr Ruffley said he was sure the problems would be ironed out after a meeting with David Kaye, national operations director for First. The Bury and Stowmarket MP said he was hopeful a fresh agreement and targets – including that 99 per cent of buses complete their runs and 85 per cent of buses running into Bury town centre arrive at their destination within two minutes of the advertised time – would be made to ensure the service improved. "On the Buses was a 1970s comedy, but for the last year, trying to use buses in Bury has been far from a joke and not a laughing matter," said Mr Ruffley. "I want to see that an agreement is put in place by the end of the year to establish targets and to ensure the resources are there from Suffolk County Council and St Edmundsbury Borough Council so targets can be met. "I want what the people of Bury want – better services, more services and more convenient routes. "I appreciate the co-operation we are now getting from First and I will continue to work closely, both with them and the borough and county councils." Tom Oxley, spokesman for First, said: "The acting managing director will immediately review the list of complaints Mr Ruffley has passed to us. "We will sit down again in December to formalise the agreement."

Empty - but not the rhetoric
Graham Dines, East Anglian daily Times, 20 September 2023
SURROUNDED by row upon row of empty green benches, Bury St Edmunds Conservative MP David Ruffley last Thursday gamely battled through a speech in the Commons denouncing planning laws in relations to travellers' sites. What a ridiculous image it looked on television. Mr Ruffley, who had been granted an adjournment debate by the Speaker, got to his feet at 5.32pm, when most MPs had cleared off for a long week-end – indeed around 650 of the 659 were absent from the chamber to debate what, after all, is a issue of vital concern to many areas of Britain. Coming the day after protestors had invaded a sparsely attended session devoted to hunting and coursing – which are supposed to be the most pressing issues facing MPs – it's easy to see why the public holds Parliament and politicians in such low esteem. While not every MP should, or even could, attend every waking hour in the Commons chamber, television pictures of debates taking place in an empty room cause the average citizen to shake their heads in disbelief. That aside, Mr Ruffley was pleased with the Government and Labour MPs for taking seriously his constituents' concerns over the sensitive subject of the travellers camp in Elmswell and Woolpit. "There was genuine support for the difficulties being encountered."

Victory as Post Office opens
Bury Free Press, 6 September 2023
A POST office, saved after months of wrangling, re-opened in its new home on Wednesday. MP David Ruffley carried out the official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Moreton Hall Post Office. It was forced to relocate to the estate's commmunity centre after Tesco refused to retain the service having taken over the One Stop shop. The supermarket giant is currently transforming the shop, in Lawson Place, into a Tesco Express store. Residents on the Bury St Edmunds estate were angered after discovering plans to axe the service in favour of an in-store bakery. Residents, councillors and Mr Ruffley met with Tesco representatives earlier this year to voice their anger. After several more meetings, Tesco finally agreed to fully fund the post office's relocation. Wednesday was a time for celebration, as councillors and representatives from Tesco and the Post Office attended the opening. It was a double celebration for chairman of the Morton Hall Community Associaton Cllr Terry Buckle, who was also celebrating his birthday. He said it had been a long and hard fight to keep a post office on the estate. "Once I get my teeth into something, I won't let it go," said Cllr Buckle. "I'm very, very pleased that we have kept a post office on Moreton Hall. It's been a lifesaver for the whole of the estate." Alan Lusher, retail sales manager of the Post Office, said it had been a major achievement. "I am very pleased with the outcome," said Mr Lusher. "The future of the post office now depends on the community. We've done everything we can to set up a good post office with a good postmaster." Mr Ruffley said he was delighted that the campaign had been successful. "The large turnout of residents at the public meeting I called and chaired in February shows just what a popular community facility the post office is," he said.

Residents concerned after travellers set up camp
Bury Free Press, 6 August 2023
RESIDENTS have been voicing their concerns after a group of travellers chose to set up home near Woolpit. The newly-established encampment is on land in Norton Road, between Elmswell and Woolpit. At present, there are 10 caravans on the site, but it is believed more are expected. A tarmacadam access road was completed on Monday and fencing has been raised to divide the land into individual plots. Building work is also under way to create concrete blocks for the caravans to sit on and sewage pipes are being laid. But villagers are concerned about whether planning laws are being enforced and about the legality of the encampment. One Woolpit resident, who did not wish to be named, said: "We just don't know what is happening yet. If they were just to live there and get on with things that would be okay. But we're all a bit concerned about more security being required – it's a big worry to us." Another resident, who also wished to remain anonymous, said it was unacceptable and hoped to see the travellers moved on as soon as possible. MP David Ruffley said he had written to Roger Saunders, Mid Suffolk District Council leader, to raise the concerns of villagers in Woolpit, Elmswell and Tostock. "This is a huge issue and I have received dozens of letters from villagers who are extremely concerned. The villagers I have spoken to believe it is illegal and they do not want it there," he said. On Wednesday, Mr Ruffley met Mid Suffolk district councillor Sara Michell to discuss the possible breach of planning laws. "I cannot find it acceptable that people can breach planning laws. We can't have one law for travellers and one law for residents," Mr Ruffley said. A spokeswoman from Mid Suffolk District Council said it was trying to identify who owned the land – but it was believed the travellers could own it. A statement from Mid Suffolk District Council said: "Initial investigations show that works have been carried out on the land. These works may breach planning law as they have not been granted the necessary planning permission. The council is working to establish the ownership of the land and identify who is responsible for the development to date. Once this is clear, it can be determined if the apparently unlawful development becomes actionable." Environmental health officers confirmed no public health issues were apparent at present, with no direct impact on neighbours or other landowners. No-one at the site was available for comment yesterday.

Ruffley tops constituents league table
Graham Dines, East Anglian Daily Times, 24 August 2023
CONSERVATIVE MPs have topped the regional league table for the speed in responding to constituents' inquiries through the website faxyourmp.com. David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) and Gillian Shephard (Norfolk South-West) received a 100% rating, closely followed by fellow Tories Simon Burns (Chelmsford West) and Sir Teddy Taylor (Rochford and Southend East) on 97%. Top placed Labour MP on the list was Ipswich's Chris Mole in joint 12th position, while Colchester Liberal Democrat Bob Russell managed joint 26th. Bottom was Suffolk Coastal John Gummer, who scored just 13%.

Widow wins battle for medical kit
Bury Free Press, 28 June 2023
A WOMAN who has battled to ensure all commercial flights carry life-saving equipment after her husband died on an easyJet flight looks to have finally got her wish. Mary Tingle, of Bennett Avenue, Elmswell, began her campaign earlier this year after 61-year-old Peter suffered a fatal heart attack while returning from Athens in March. Mrs Tingle met with easyJet bosses last week to discuss the possibility of getting more medical equipment on to all their flights. Mrs Tingle said: "They said they would be looking seriously at the recommendations. I am just glad I've been able to do something. "I know it's not going to change things for me, but if it saves the lives of other people then it will have been worth it." David Ruffley MP took up the campaign for extra medical equip-ment on flights after Mr Tingle died. Mr Ruffley said he had received a firm assurance from the Department for Transport that plans were being put into place to ensure all commercial aircraft carry additional emergency medical equipment.

Anger over ward closure plan
Bury Free Press, 4 June 2023
THE closure of a hospital ward, which cares for elderly patients, has sparked an outcry from a leading MP. Health bosses at West Suffolk Hospital agreed last Friday to phase out the 33-bed G6 ward over the next three months. They claim there is no longer a need to have so many beds and want to move towards a more community-led care system. But the decision has been greeted with bemusement by MP David Ruffley, who has questioned the sense behind the move. A study two years ago showed Suffolk as having the sixth worst figure in the country for bed-blocking. And Mr Ruffley, who is the MP for Bury and Stowmarket, has warned that the move to close so many beds could end in disaster. "I thought the idea of ploughing so much money and resources into the NHS was to increase capacity, not reduce it," he said. "We want to know that there is the care and provision – and enough of it – to look after the elderly and infirm in our community. "It appears to me that the hospital is tackling the problem from the wrong angle – you don't solve bed-blocking by cutting beds. "I am not accusing the hospital of being stupid, but it does seem to be a case of simple arithmetic and I fear it could end in disaster." The proposal to close the ward was put forward after several reviews identified the hospital as having too many patients in rehabilitation beds. It is now expected that G6 will be gradually phased out and its services re-located to the Integrated Care Unit in G8. A hospital spokesman said the new approach would see more patients treated at home or in care homes. "The advantage for the patient is that they will not get stuck in a bed and institutionalised for a long period of time," he said. "The system for treating delayed transfers of care is now coping a lot better and will mean more people can be treated outside the hospital. "This will mean they can be cared for at home or in community settings while allowing them to have the independence they deserve."

Angry commuters seal rail victory
Bury Free Press, 21 May 2023
COMMUTERS from the Bury St Edmunds area no longer face being stranded in Stowmarket after winning their battle with rail firm One. Problems arose when One Anglia released its contingency plans for when engineering works are carried out on the Ipswich Tunnel, which will close for six to eight weeks from July. Bury, Thurston and Elmswell commuters travelling back from London faced adding an extra two hours on their journey time – or having to pay an extra £80 per month to travel via Cambridge. A bus service transporting rail travellers from Manningtree was scheduled to arrive in Stowmarket at 6.30pm – 20 minutes after the train to Bury has gone, leaving weary travellers waiting till 8.15pm for the next service. Commuter Club members like Tina Stiff, from Bury, who already pays £330 per month to travel daily to London, were told that their tickets weren't valid for the Cambridge line and would have to pay a further £80 to travel home via Cambridge. This meant rather than getting home at 6.50pm, as she does now and could still do travelling via Cambridge, Mrs Stiff faced the prospect of arriving back in Bury at 9pm. Mrs Stiff, of Park Road, wrote a letter, signed by nine other disgruntled passengers, and sent it to One's customer relations department, the Rail Passengers' Committee, rail regulator Tom Winsor and MP David Ruffley. Mr Ruffley also wrote to One's managing director and the firm changed its mind, deciding to allow Commuter Club members to travel via Cambridge. "We will arrange for tickets to be valid for travel to and from London Liverpool Street on services via Cambridge during the tunnel closure period," said Peter Meades, public relations manager at One. He added a letter would be sent to all Commuter Club members within the next week to inform them of the arrangements. Mr Ruffley said: "This is a victory for common sense. It is amazing that it took so much pressure from me as the MP and Mrs Stiff and others to do the sensible thing." Mrs Stiff, a publication and IT manager, had given up hope of One changing its mind and had cancelled her direct debit payments to the Commuter Club. After hearing she will be able to use the ticket to travel home via Cambridge, she said: "It is great news – absolutely brilliant. "I am pleased with this end result. This was all that I was asking for."

FURY AS Axe falls on school bus
Bury free Press, 7 May 2023
CHILDREN'S lives will be put at risk by a decision to withdraw a bus service from Onehouse to Stowmarket, it has been claimed. Parents and parish councillors have blasted the decision by Suffolk County Council and First Eastern Counties. Suffolk County Council has cancelled its contract with First Eastern and the bus company has said that, without the council subsidy, the service was losing money and it was due to be withdrawn at the end of the month. Now, parents who paid for their children to be taken to school will either have to drive them to Stowmarket or their children will have to walk. Mother-of-three Carolyn Schleich, of Northfield Road, Onehouse, is appealing against the council decision on the grounds that the route to Stowmarket is unsafe for her 12-year-old daughter to walk. "Half a mile of the road is unpaved – there is a dangerous bend and a whole mile that is unlit. We don't have a safe footpath from here to Stowmarket. "It is an unsafe route and eventually a child is going to be injured – it might not be my child but somebody's child will be hurt on that road," she said. In November, her 17-year-old daughter narrowly avoided a serious accident by jumping out of the way of a car into a verge – and she was still clipped by its wing mirror. Mrs Schleich said there were other parts of the road where there was no verge or anywhere for pedestrians to move out of the way of traffic. "It is an accident waiting to happen and I'm just surprised nobody has been badly injured there before," she said. Arlene Cruickshank, chairman of Onehouse Parish Council, said: "We are very disappointed at being treated like this. The children's safety is being compromised. "It is a very dangerous road. When the village primary school was shut 30 to 40 years ago, there was a promise made that the children would all be able to get a bus to school." She said two children had been in collision with vehicles but thankfully neither was seriously injured. MP David Ruffley, who is campaigning to keep the service, said: "Children should be encouraged to walk where it is safe to do so but this road is simply not suitable. I urge the county council to look at this again." Roger Collins, deputy head at Stowmarket Middle School, said: "The children have used the service for many years and it has been a reliable service. It is a rural area and the children rely on the buses for their transport." No-one from Suffolk County Council was available to comment.

Villagers 'no' to 600 new homes
Bury Free Press, 29 March 2023
ONEHOUSE villagers have stepped up their campaign against 600 houses being built on fields near their homes. Parish council chairman Cllr Arlene Cruickshanks and MP David Ruffley are to hand over a petition today to Mid Suffolk District Council leader Roger Saunders. The 200-signature petition was launched after a public meeting in November. Cllr Cruickshanks said the petition was part of an ongoing campaign. "We are objecting to a large part of our village being taken over. We are opposed to the change of use of land near Onehouse from agricultural to housing. It would change the village and area completely," she said. Cllr Cruickshanks said she was pleased with the response to the petition from villagers. "We have not got the educational or medical facilities, never mind the retail facilities necessary for such a scheme. It would take away the identity of our village," she said. Although only land bids at this stage, Cllr Cruickshanks said the parish council and residents were determined to stop a large-scale development close to the village. "We are going to fight this to the end. People come to live in Onehouse because of its rural location. They want to to live in the country," she said. Mrs Cruickshanks and Mr Ruffley are handing over the petition at 3pm at the Mid Suffolk District Council offices in Needham Market. "I hope the district councillors will be able to see from the petition the strength of feeling in the village," added Cllr Cruickshanks. The petition's wording shows opposition to the bids to change the use of land at Chilton Leys Farm, Forest Road, and land between Union Road and Finborough Road. "We consider that the provision of upwards of 600 houses on this area would be detrimental both to this rural community and to the environment surrounding the village of Onehouse," it states. Council leader Roger Saunders said the council would take note of the petition. "Planning is a statutory duty of the council. This is something that has not yet happened. It would be inappropriate to make a comment or promise about the future," he said.

Post office victory
Bury Free Press, 12 March 2023
MORETON Hall estate, in Bury St Edmunds, is set to get a new post office – thanks to people power. Town MP David Ruffley met Tesco bosses on Wednesday and they pledged to fund a post office somewhere on the estate. The firm initially insisted on going ahead with closure – despite concerns of local people. Although the post office in the One Stop shop will still be axed in favour of a bakery, Tesco has said it will pay to fully kit out a new post office, possibly in the Moreton Hall Community Centre if it is viable. Tesco, which has bought 800 One Stop shops and Dillons stores, wants to close the post office and install a bakery – even though residents of Moreton Hall have raised strong objections. Mr Ruffley spent around two hours with Ian Crick, the senior retail strategist at Tesco's HQ, demanding that Tesco help to keep a post office on the estate. It was just last month that David North, government affairs director for Tesco, attended a public meeting to answer residents' questions about Tesco's plans. Mr North was met with more than 100 angry residents, all furious at the news they were going to lose their post office. The meeting, called and chaired by Mr Ruffley, gave residents the chance to put their questions to the senior Tesco boss. Mr Ruffley said: "They made me a promise that they would foot the bill and fund in full a relocation of the post office anywhere in the Moreton Hall area. "Tesco did not consult with the residents (of their plans) in the first place, nor did they notify the council or local MP. They made the decision on their own. "I demanded they came to the public meeting to see just how high the feelings of residents were. Tesco do not usually attend public meetings, because they don't want to open themselves up to any criticism. I can tell you that Mr North was very taken aback with the strength of support." Mr Ruffley said it was only towards the end of the meeting on Wednesday that he managed to get Tesco to pledge their support to maintaining a post office. "I told them that I would not give up," said Mr Ruffley. "I said I would continue to keep knocking on their door and calling them to keep the pressure on until they saw sense. "Tesco have seen the pressure put upon them by myself, local politicians and residents – no stone has been left unturned. I think the public meeting was the key, by the strength of support that was shown. This is a victory for people power." Mr Ruffley said he told bosses of the supermarket giant that when St Edmundsbury Borough Council surveyed the residents of the estate in 1996, more than 95 per cent said they wanted a post office. "My preferred solution would be for the post office to stay in the shop," said Mr Ruffley. "But while the decision to remove the post office from the shop is set in stone, Tesco will cough up if the move is viable – so that is a result." Mr North told the Bury Free Press: "I think we are optimistic at the moment, but it's not yet a done deal. "We will be waiving the goodwill charge to the outgoing subpost-master and I can confirm we would be happy to pay the costs, within reason, to relocate the post office to the community centre if it is viable. "We are awaiting confirmation from the post office to find out if it is a runner. "The residents are very lucky to have such an active and constructive MP who supports them in such issues."

A14 could become a car park, warns MP
Bury Free Press, 24 February 2023
BURY St Edmunds is in danger of becoming gridlocked as it struggles to cope with the increasing demands on its roads. Last week, the Bury Free Press revealed how the number of future housing projects are being scaled down due to the town's limited infrastructure. Now, Bury and Stowmarket MP David Ruffley has raised fears that the road network around the A14 could grind to a complete standstill. "Anyone who tries to drive into town during peak times via the Moreton Hall or central interchanges knows what a nightmare it is," he said. "With the number of new homes we are talking about over the next 12 years, it's only going to get worse unless something is done now. "The interchanges will simply become a car park and people might as well just put their handbrakes on because they won't be able to go anywhere." Mr Ruffley was speaking after the Highways Agency raised its own concerns about the impact of housing developments on the town. In a letter to Mr Ruffley, the agency's chief executive Archie Robertson said there was a real chance that Bury's expansion could affect the A14. "The agency has concerns that developments that result in increased use of these roundabouts will add to the existing congestion," he wrote. "This may result in traffic queuing on the A14, which, as you will appreciate, would be unacceptable from a highway safety point of view." A report commissioned by the agency looked at five possible housing sites within Bury and the effect they would have on the A14. Of the five, three of the sites – those at Rougham Road, Moreton Hall and the Howard Estate – were all found to impact heavily on the interchanges. With 4,000 more homes needed in the borough by 2016, there is a need to balance any new development against their environmental impact. However, Mr Ruffley claimed the report had paid no attention to a string of other developments that were likely to bring traffic into the town. "Land near Station Hill, the Cattle Market and the new cinema have all been earmarked for development over the next few years," said Mr Ruffley. "All these will be pulling more people into Bury. But how are they going to get into the town if they are queuing back up the A14?"

MP calls for support for CCTV campaign
Bury Free Press, 27 January 2023
RESIDENTS of Moreton Hall have been urged by David Ruffley MP to back plans for CCTV on the Bury St Edmunds estate. A spate of incidents last year raised concerns among people who want St Edmundsbury Borough Council to look at the possibilty of installing CCTV. Past incidents have included eggs being thrown at buses, while £30,000 of new playground equipment in Heldhaw Road was set on fire. One of the most serious incidents happened in November last year, when two rival gangs clashed outside the One Stop shop. But two local councillors claim there are not significant problems on the estate. Mr Ruffley, MP for Bury and Stowmarket, visited residents with a petition to gain support for CCTV at the Lawsons Place community area, shopping precinct, Moreton Hall Community Centre and Christ Church. Petitions have also been posted to residents and placed in the One Stop shop, Moreton Hall pub and Mount Farm Children's Day Nursery. "By the support that has been lent today, especially by traders and businesses, it seems there is a problem, otherwise why would there be support for this petition," said Mr Ruffley. "The whole point of this is to test the public demand – I think people are concerned. There have been a number of reports in the press about anti-social behaviour on Moreton Hall and I hope we will be able to get the council to look at our views. Let us see if people power can win through – I think it will." But last week, Cllr Frank Warby, who represents Moreton Hall, said there was not a crime problem. And Cllr Terry Buckle, who also represents Moreton Hall, claimed Mr Ruffley had 'blown the situation out of all propotion'. "There is not a problem on Moreton Hall," said Cllr Buckle. "Myself and Frank Warby have been dealing with the situation for some time now in the proper manner. We did have problems with kids coming from different estates, but the police have been involved and that has all been sorted now. "Mr Ruffley is devaluing the work myself and Cllr Warby have carried out. What Mr Ruffley needs to do is come up to the estate and meet these kids. I support the petition for CCTV to act as a deterrent, but there isn't a problem whatsoever." The Rev Jonathan Ford, of Christ Church, said the church was often targeted by youths who congregatedoutside the One Stop shop at night. "Since 2000, we have had to replace several windows in the north side of the church at £70 a pane," he said. "We regularly get eggs and milkshake thrown at the walls. There are about 2,000 children on Moreton Hall but it's just a small element who are causing the trouble."

He is 'grey suit' man,
East Anglian Daily Times, December 2003
David Ruffley has become officially a man in a grey suit. The 41-year-old MP for Bury St Edmunds has been elected to the Committee of the influential 1922 Committee, the backbench group to which all Conservatives in the House belong. With the elevation to Michael Howard's team of Sir Nicholas Soames and John Bercow, the 1922 had to fill vacancies among its officers and Mr Ruffley - a key ally of possible future leader David Davis - was asked to stand. The Committee used to play a pivotal role in the election of Tory leaders - its name harks back to the great MPs' coup of October 23, 2023 at the Carlton Club when the tories broke ranks with their post-war coalition Liberal Party allies, became an independent party in the Commons once more, sacked leader Austen Chamberlain, and propelled Andrew Bonar Law to the leadership and into 10 Downing Street. Law won the General Election, defeating the liberals who were never to hold office again as the Labour Party emerged to become the alternative to the Conservatives for the rest of the 20th Century. In these days of great Tory democracy, where the paid-up members are supposed to have the final say in who becomes leader, the 1922 is more of a sounding board for expressions of exasperation among MPs about the leader. The men in grey suits can still kill a leader, as Iain Duncan Smith found out to his cost just a few weeks ago. He never had the chance to appeal to the membership at large - the MPs decided to get rid of him and that was that.

Santa Brown and the Five Wise Men
Ann Treneman, The Times Parliamentary Sketch, 19 December 2023
The Chancellor received the very best Christmas present that he could imagine yesterday: the chance to talk about the economy for three entire hours. He started at 9.30am at the Commons Treasury Committee and then moved on to the harder stuff in the Chamber itself. He created an atmosphere of wild abandon and debauchery wherever he went, parading himself in fiscal drag and bragging boisterously about the output gap. Gordon Brown brought five of his wisest men in to the Select Committee meeting which took place in the Thatcher Room. They were all dressed in dark suits and looked, sitting in a row, so serious that it was almost funny. Each brought a huge amount of papers to show how important they were. Mr Brown's stack was beyond War and Peace levels. And they all were flaunting their specially signed copies of the Pre-Budget Report, which has been an instant bestseller this Christmas. Mr Brown buried committee members under a tsunami of figures. He became particularly overexcited on the subject of debt, which is a trifling £10 billion above the forecast made in April. "The rise in numbers is completely explicable," he boomed.
Very few people can follow the Chancellor into these flurries. Tory MP David Ruffley, who looks and acts like an extremely clever boy, can. Mr Brown does not like this one bit. Yesterday Mr Ruffley asked a perfectly reasonable question about why more people are slipping into the higher tax bracket. When, for instance, would a teacher have to pay higher-rate tax? Mr Brown hated this question. He had a flurry. Mr Ruffley persisted. Mr Brown resisted. We were in a Jeremy Paxman tussle for some time, with flurries reaching blizzard levels. Finally Mr Brown boomed: "Mr Ruffley, your case is collapsing!" Mr Ruffley by now living up to his name, sniped back: "You don't know anything about public sector pay!" Mr Brown's jaw muscles were working overtime and only relaxed when he was asked a nice soothing question about the New Deal and he could return to talking about his lovely fairytale.

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail Parliamentary Sketch, 19 December 2023
EARLY yesterday, a violent assault occurred in Westminster's Portcullis House. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, was bitten hard in the groin by an Opposition MP. The attacker would not let go for several minutes. He may have left several front teeth embedded in the Chancellorial thigh. Police were looking for small, bespectacled David Ruffley (Con, Bury St Edmunds) - to congratulate the lad. For Mr Ruffley, our valiant attacker, claimed that unless Mr Brown relaxes his revenue-grab the average copper will be paying top-rate tax in two years. The same will apply to NHS matrons, said Mr Ruffley. Ditto middle-ranking teachers. Top-rate tax. Forty per cent Freddies, all of them. Ouch. Mr Brown was appearing at the Treasury Select committee to discuss his pre-Budget report. He and his officials sat at a long table, six pale blokes in dark suits. Back to that Select Committee, and Mr Ruffley's horizontal lunge through the air at Mr Brown's soft parts. What a marvel Mr Ruffley is. Wild-eyed. Incredible brave. Mr Brown and his sidekick Ed Balls had been waffling for an hour, papering the room with statistics. We had heard at length about world trade growth, the output gap, tweakings of the national accounts and various appendices, footnotes and sub-pars in the multi-page, glossy pre-Budget brochure. The committee's members tried to look intrigued. Not all of them pulled it off. John Mann (Lab, Bassetlaw) clutched his jaw. Angela Eagle (Lab, Wallasey), in one of her bulletproof tweed jackets, blinked. Beard (Lab, Bexleyheath) was a puddle of benign inactivity. Robert Walter (Con, N Dorset), who combs his hair as far down his brow as possible, asked a few yarny questions. Mr Brown reclined, folded his arms, and spouted long answers full of numbers. Then came Mr Ruffley's turn. Bang! It was as though a small, sharp-fanged canine had been shot out of a cannon in the direction of Mr Brown's vitals. In went the gnashers, immediate and sharp. In a voice angular with contempt, Mr Ruffley asked hard, fast, loud questions about top-rate tax brackets, and about policemen, matrons and teachers. Mr Brown grunted resentfully. Mr Ruffley shouted. John McFall, the committee's genial chairman, tried half-heartedly to intervene. Mr Ruffley simply ignored him. Mr Brown, to his critic: 'Your case is collapsing.' Mr Ruffley: 'No it isn't. You're making it up as usual.' Mr McFall: 'Hold on! Hold on!' Mr Ruffley: 'How much does a sergeant get paid?' Mr Brown: 'Er.' Mr Ruffley: 'He doesn't know anything about public sector pay. Taxing them through the teeth! Condemned by his own figures!' Now the two men were yelling at the same time, Mr Brown seething, Mr Ruffley holding on for dear life. Marvellous stuff. Oyster-opening as a spectator sport. Give that Tory a medal and a new set of falsies. Oh, and Happy Christmas.

How Brown will put 3m more in the top tax band
Paul Eastham, Daily Mail, 16 December 2023
GORDON BROWN aims to double the number of workers paying the top rate of income tax to a record six million, it emerged yesterday. The Chancellor's scheme designed to fill the black hole in his spending plans will see many more key workers such as senior nurses, teachers and police officers being forced to pay 40 per cent tax on their earnings over the next five years. They will be sucked in by Mr Brown's deliberate failure to adjust tax bands to match the increase in wages. The higher-rate threshold which is now 30,500 has been steadily falling behind wage inflation, meaning over a million more Britons currently pay higher-rate tax than in 1997.
Pressed by Tory committee member David Ruffley, Institute of Fiscal Studies director Robert Chote said one of the key questions over the Pre-Budget statement was how Mr Brown could balance his books over the next five years on what he called 'unchanged policies'. He said it was highly significant that the Treasury had failed to tell anyone what it expected to happen to workers' earnings over that period. If they go up by an average 2 per cent slightly less than normal 'then that would see the number of people paying higher rate tax roughly double over the next five years'. This, he said, had serious implications for pay packets.More and more middle-income workers are being brought into the top rate tax net. When Tony Blair entered Downing Street, a worker had to earn 161 per cent of the average wage to start paying top rate. That has fallen to 143 per cent and Mr Chote warned that it will come down further. 'If you have five years of real earnings growth at 2 per cent, you are probably down to 129 per cent,' he said. 'That would increase the number of people paying higher rate tax from about three million at the moment to around six million.' He told MPs: 'So I think we need to be a little careful about what we think of as unchanged policies. Mr Ruffley expressed outrage at Mr Brown's sleight of hand, saying: 'Buried away in his Pre-Budget literature is the terrible truth, that middle England is having to face yet more stealth taxes. 'Why doesn't he (Mr Brown) just come clean and admit he is going to have to raise taxes to fill the holes in his fiddled figures and dodgy documents?'

Make land available - or forget it, says MP
Bury Free Press, 6 October 2023
BURY St Edmunds' attempt to cash in on the Cambridge expansion should be sidelined until land is made available, says MP David Ruffley. The Bury and Stowmarket MP feels there has been a lack of progress in the town's attempt to capitalise on the A14 high-tech corridor between Cambridge and Ipswich. And he says that Bury's attempts to lure high-tech business, will continue to be overlooked simply because it has no land to offer. St Edmundsbury Borough Council's Local Plan proposes an extension to the existing Suffolk Business Park, and business land near Westley, among other sites – but the earliest that will happen is 2006. Mr Ruffley said: "I started this two years ago. There has been a lot of talking but no movement. We want high quality jobs so that highly skilled graduates don't feel they need to quit our town to find work. "The reality is we don't have the land – we cannot go round to the entrepreneurs and say come to Bury unless we can offer them land to move on to and expand. "Until we get a proper understanding of what land is available, we might as well forget it. People will get bored by the lack of delivery on this." Nick Martin, the council's economic development officer said it is not just about attracting businesses from the expansion, but helping to encourage the development of knowledge-based businesses within the town. "David Ruffley is right to raise concerns. At the end of the day we need to start delivering but it won't happen overnight and we need to continue to raise our town's profile and create interest," Mr Martin said. "I think in about five years time we will see a a critical change, for the better. I think people are discovering what a fantastic place Bury is to live in – and once the land is there, they will think, why should I commute when I can start my own business here. "We have philosophised, cogitated, and talked about this 1,000 times over – now we must move on to the next stage and start to deliver." On Wednesday, Suffolk Development Agency's (SDA) board was due to discuss an independent report, which suggests ways forward. John Williams, chief executive at the SDA: "The report looks at the whole of the A14 corridor from Cambridge to Colchester, talking about what needs to be done to make the concept a reality. "With regard to the Bury area, it says we need to develop business incubators for new companies in Bury and Stowmarket, as well as promoting business network events." One such network event took place last Wednesday when West Suffolk College played host to more than 350 delegates from some 250 high-tech businesses across Suffolk, Norfolk Cambridgeshire, Essex, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire.

Ruffley warns of doctor crisis
Bury Free Press, 28 July 2023
LOOMING crisis in the number of doctors' surgeries in Bury St Edmunds and Thurston has so far failed to spark public interest. Public meetings at Thurston and Moreton Hall Community Centre were greeted with public apathy – but MP David Ruffley has called for another meeting, arguing he feels many people are not aware of the crisis or the options currently being considered. Now the public has been given another chance to have their say at two more meetings. The trust already had one more public meeting scheduled for September 3, ahead of the date of the final decision due on September 17 And last Wednesday, the trust decided, in light of the low turnout at recent meetings, that another public meeting should also be scheduled – at a date and venue yet to be agreed upon. A spokesman on behalf of the trust said: "We had hoped for more people. We are of course grateful to the Bury Free Press for promoting the meeting." David Ruffley, Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket MP, said: "We are not at crisis point at the moment but we could be in just three years' time and that is what I worry about and have sleepless nights about. "The attendance to both meetings was derisory and exceedingly disappointing. I believe the trust did their best to publicise them but I refuse to believe the public is not interested in this. "If you just look at the Bury surgeries such as the Swan and Mount Farm – the pressure in Bury is going to grow because of the growing community. "People ought to know that in three years' time they, their relatives and friends are not going to be able to regsiter with a doctor because the surgeries will be full. "Few people are aware of the crisis or of the options and that is why I have written to the primary care trust asking that there should be another public meeting." The Suffolk West Primary Care Trust admits it has known since December that it needs new or extended GP services to provide for an anticipated 7,404 new patients that will be living in the area by 2016. There are a number of options on the table. These include a new surgery in Bury – probably an extension of or branch of existing practice in town – or a branch surgery in Thurston.

MP takes a look at the young side of life . . .
Bury Free Press, 4 March 2023
POLITICS took a decidedly young twist last Monday when MP David Ruffley welcomed 16-year-old Andrew Crawford to the House of Commons. Andrew, who lives in Bury St Edmunds and is a student at County Upper School, in Bury, was elected a Member of the Youth Parliament for the Bury St Edmunds area in recent Suffolk elections. His duties include liaising with borough and county councillors and attending council meetings to support action to meet young people's needs. Andrew went along to the Commons with his deputy, Marcus Broughton. Mr Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, said: "The Youth Parliament gives young people a genuine opportunity to get involved in politics and promote a youth agenda. "Young people's views are important and politicians at Westminster should take note of what they have to say."

He Went for Brown like a Chipmunk at a Bag of Nuts
Quentin Letts, Daily Mail Parliamentary Stetch, 28 February 2023
Another Thursday with our old friends the Treasury Select Committee. Yesterday? A packed house! Gordon Brown was the star turn. Mr Brown, in the role of bank manager, was there to assure us that everything was under control. Or at least I think so. He uses such bafflingly complex language that it is hard to tell if he has even said 'good morning'. The committee's two tough guy Tories, David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) and Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) were determined to disbelieve him. Throughout Mr Brown's jargon-packed preamble they struck a variety of sceptical poses. Mr Ruffley snorted. Mr Fallon laughed. Mr Ruffley crossed his arms and studied the dial of his wristwatch. Mr Fallon rubbed his flattish face, jiggled a knee and exchanged a sardonic whisper with Ruffers. Mr Brown did not quite say so, but one sensed he was irked. He and Mr Ruffley, in particular, have a brisk disregard for one another. Within minutes young Ruffley was going for Mr Brown like a chipmunk at a bag of nuts. Those of us who, as I say, normally go along to these Thursday mornings for a gentle snooze suddenly found ourselves with something very different. Nigel Beard (Lab, Bexleyheath & Crayford), sitting in his customary puddle-plop of benign inaction, gawped like a missionary watching his first hot porn film. Mr Fallon attacked Mr Brown for trying to bypass the rest of the Government. 'You gonna make your five-tests studies available to other ministers?' C'mon, big boy. Let's hear ya! Mr Brown, grumpily: 'Cabinet will examine the assessments.' Mr Brown's sidekick Ed Balls gave a slow nod. Mr Fallon: 'Will they be circulated in 10 Downing Street?' Mr Brown, glowering: 'That's a matter for the internal machinery of Government.' Over to Mr Ruffley, who had been psyching himself up by rocking to and fro in his chair. He suddenly flew across the room, sinking his gnashers into Gordon's relationship with Tony Blair. 'Will the Cabinet be able to overrule any recommendation you make on the Euro?' Mr Brown, with great suspicion: 'Of course.' Mr Ruffley: 'Supposing the PM takes a different view. He IS the First Lord of the Treasury, even though you think you are.' The committee's genial chairman John McFall (Lab, Dumbarton) tried to separate the two men. They ignored him and went on shouting. Amid all the hollering, something quite interesting was said. Mr Brown conceded that if the five tests produce a 'No' to the Euro he will announce only then whether another set of tests will be held. In other words, he might yet turn round and say, in June, that the Euro is off for good.

When All Else Fails, Why Not Try a Little Loyalty?
William Rees-Mogg, The Times, 24 February 2023
The other plausible future leaders belong to the next generation, and to the target of a Conservative victory in 2009. No one who leads in the election of 2005 is likely still to be leader four years later. There is a surprisingly good choice of able Conservatives for the election after next. The leader could be Theresa May. In 2009 she will be only 53; she has come well out of this imbroglio, not of her making. It could be the gifted intellectual Oliver Letwin, who will also be 53; William Hague himself, a resilient man and an excellent speaker, will be only 48. It could be Bernard Jenkin or John Whittingdale, who will be 50; Liam Fox, 48; David Ruffley, 47; Tim Collins or Boris Johnson, 45; Andrew Rosindell or David Cameron, 43; or George Osborne, whom some think the ablest of them all; he will still be a mere babe of 38. Most of these are still little-known names, but the Conservatives actually have a lot of parliamentary talent, which Duncan Smith has helped to encourage. The problem of the Conservative Party is not lack of talent.

City Watchdog ‘asleep on job’ over split trusts
Paul Armstrong, Evening Standard, 14 November 2023
CHIEF City watchdog Sir Howard Davies was today accused of being asleep on the job, misleading the Treasury Select Committee of MPs and indulging in cover-ups over the split capital trusts fiasco. Sir Howard, who battled to keep his cool during the 21/2-hour mauling by the Select Committee, was attacked over the Financial Services Authority's failure to issue earlier warnings about the huge risks associated with the trusts, which have cost investors billions of pounds. Tory MP David Ruffley said Guernsey's chief financial regulator, Peter Moffatt, had warned the FSA of the dangers posed by split trusts in discussions held in January last year and repeated his concerns in a letter to the FSA three months later. "The Guernsey regulator felt the need to flag this up in April after the discussions with the FSA," Ruffley told Sir Howard. "Why does he feel the need to do it? Why is he wasting his time if you had it sorted out?" Davies replied that the FSA's research at the time had found no evidence to support claims of a "magic circle" of fund managers who invested in each others' split trusts as a way of propping up their share prices. "Further developments have caused us to have a different view about those allegations," he added. Ruffley retorted: "That's fine and dandy but that's much later. I'm talking about April 2001 and the fact that Moffatt feels it necessary to tell the FSA about the risks is really significant." Davies conceded that this was significant but denied Ruffley's suggestion that the Guernsey regulator had "got it right" before he did. "We looked at what risk warnings had been included in prospectuses and whether they had identified opportunities for gearing in the splits and also for cross-investment," he said. "We concluded they had done so but we should be making sure they were as clear as possible in the future." Ruffley, a former City executive, said it seemed to him that the FSA had failed to regulate the split trust industry. "You were just giving regulatory approval to pyramid selling," he suggested. But Davies replied: "That is an extraordinary definition of my responsibilities." Ruffley said the "poor, old, little Guernsey regulator" had proved lighter and more nimble than the FSA. However, Sir Howard said he refused to discuss other regulators. Conservative MP Michael Fallon told Davies: "You were asleep on the job." The watchdog replied: "I don't think so." The head of the FSA's financial institutions division, John Tiner, was also accused of misleading the committee last month, when he denied Moffatt had ever written such a letter to the FSA. But Tiner rejected this, saying he was not aware of the letter's existence when he was last giving evidence to the committee.

Taxes to go up? Brown still refuses to answer
Paul Eastham, Daily Mail, 19 July 2023
GORDON Brown again repeatedly refused yesterday to rule out big tax rises to help pay for Labour's GBP 93billion spending spree. For the second time in three days, the Chancellor turned down the chance to reject future increases when he faced an unusually severe grilling by a powerful group of MPs. On Tuesday he had dodged the same question on BBC Radio Four's Today show. Pressed four times by presenter James Naughtie to admit that taxes may have to rise to fund his ambitious Comprehensive Spending Review, he sidestepped the chance to make a clear declaration. Yesterday, as one Opposition MP called him 'Gambling Gordon' for relying on optimistic economic forecasts, the Treasury Select Committee demanded a pledge that he would not squeeze the middle classes again. Despite the heated questioning on the controversial spending plans announced on Monday, the Chancellor refused several times to rule out fresh tax increases. Instead he merely explained that the Treasury had published figures showing how much he intended to raise and spend in the largest sustained increase in public spending since the mid-1970s. Mr Brown even touted the prospect of spending more in New Labour's attempt to improve healthcare, education, transport and policing. The MPs' attack came after the respected Institute for Fiscal Studies warned of a 'black hole' of at least GBP 7billion in the Chancellor's plans. Tory David Ruffley said: 'Middle Britain, which is sick and tired of your addiction to taxes, needs an answer: are you going to raise taxes?' Mr Brown responded by insisting he had set out in his April Budget how his spending plans would be funded. 'We have shown how our expenditure can be costed to 2006,' he said. 'That is more than any previous government has done to show how their spending is costed over the long term.' Later, Mr Ruffley said: ' Gordon Brown repeatedly refused to rule out more spending and tax increases before the next election. 'This should set alarm bells ringing in the sitting rooms of Middle England. He is addicted to taxation and the middle classes are going to get hammered.' He said they were already smarting from the GBP 8billion a year tax rise imposed by Mr Brown in his April Budget when he raised National Insurance on all earnings.

MPs take time out to reflect on a year
Bury Free Press, 6 June 2023
TWELVE months after successfully winning re-election to their Parliamentary seats, the region's MPs have been reviewing their work. David Ruffley, Richard Spring, Gillian Shephard and Tim Yeo were all returned to their seats as Conservative MPs last June, and have spoken this week about their agendas. Michael Lord, who was also returned to his seat, was unavailable for comment this week. Mr Spring, who represents the West Suffolk constituency, said the last 12 months had been the busiest in his 10-year political career. "Both David Ruffley and myself have been very anxious about the whole health problem in Suffolk," he said. "Deficits have been caused by the extraordinary inability of the county council to sort out this terrible bed blocking problem. This has been a huge cause of concern for us, and I have raised it twice with the Prime Minister in the Commons." Mr Spring added that problems with growing bureaucracy in schools and tackling local highways issues remained high on his agenda. "One specific issue has been to get a firm commitment on the A11 at Tuddenham, and that has been resolved, as we have managed to get the junction sorted out," he said. Mr Ruffley, MP for Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket, said that his main areas of concern had been the health service, law and order and capitalising on Cambridge's success to attract investment. "Had we not been campaigning for extra money and keeping the pressure on to have figures delivered to us on a weekly basis, then we probably would not have got any progress on bed blocking at all," he said. "And we cannot just rest on our laurels concerning the future of Bury. The town has got great things going for it, but we need to keep the young people here." Mr Ruffley added that he had begun campaigning for a new doctor's surgery in Thurston, as well as meeting with Suffolk's chief constable to redress the balance concerning allocation of police funds. Mrs Shephard, MP for South-West Norfolk, said that her last 12 months had been spent pushing for a change in the law following the Lauren Wright tragedy. "I called a debate on the case, and am now in the process of trying to get the law changed," she said. "A bill is in the House of Lords at present, and I think it will be successful, if not this time, then in the autumn." Mrs Shephard added that rural issues had also dominated much of her recent workload. "Issues of rural transport and access to services continue to be a source of anxiety to people," she said. "For the remainder of my time in Parliament, I will continue to support the work of the Education Action Zone, and visit the town most weeks." When elected last June, Tim Yeo said that he wanted to tackle issues of dirty hospitals, crowded classrooms and poor transport. He said that progress has been made in getting a new hospital for Sudbury to replace the Walnut Tree Hospital, a campaign that he will continue to back, but admitted that transport and classrooms were still no better. He also said he was aware of the problem of fear of crime and was opposed to courts passing lenient sentences and prisoners being released early to tackle prison overcrowding.

Tax 'black hole' denied by Brown The Budget
Benedict Brogan, Daily Telegraph, 25 April 2023
THE Chancellor denied last night that there was a "black hole" in his spending plans that will force him to put up taxes again by GBP 7 billion, but admitted he had avoided making a commitment on National Insurance rises before the election. Gordon Brown spent more than two hours fielding questions from MPs on the all-party Treasury select committee, who pressed him on the long-term implications of his Budget for taxpayers. He was accused of failing to provide details of how he would pay for the final year of the five-year spending plan for the NHS that he unveiled last week, which will double spending on health to more than GBP 100 billion annually. In a strained exchange with David Ruffley, the Tory MP for Bury St Edmunds, Mr Brown refused four times to offer a guarantee that taxes would not have to rise again to pay for the NHS. He claimed that no Chancellor made tax announcements between Budgets. Mr Ruffley said that there was no indication in the Red Book, the document detailing Budget measures and Treasury plans, of how GBP 7 billion in spending in 2006-7 would be paid for. He cited the conclusions of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which said Mr Brown had made no provision for the spending and would have to raise the money somewhere.. Mr Brown insisted the IFS was wrong. "The spending is covered by the forecasts we have produced," he told MPs, but later conceded that the detail of how it will be covered would not be provided until autumn's Pre-Budget Report.

MP's bid for extra hospice cash
Bury Free Press, 9 April 2023
LONG-running plea to the Government for extra cash for independent hospices such as St Nicholas' in Bury St Edmunds was strengthened this week in the House of Commons. David Ruffley MP has signed an Early Day Motion in the Commons calling on the Government to urgently increase funding for hospices. He said: "I believe this Commons motion that I have signed today is crucial because, frankly, the Government has not given hospices like St Nicholas' their fair share of the £50 million national cancer plan money. "It was very disappointing that Yvette Cooper, the Minister responsible for hospices, has not responded at all to my lobbying asking where the £50 million has gone. As Bob Jones, at St Nicholas', has told me, it has certainly not gone to St Nicholas'." The Early Day Motion asks that the Government fund the medical and nursing costs of hospices and that funding is increased each year in line with the NHS. "This Early Day Motion will re-launch pressure on Ms Cooper to do right by our fine hospice movement, of which St Nicholas' is a stunningly successful example," added Mr Ruffley. This latest plea for hospice funding follows letters written by Mr Ruffley and Richard Spring MP last month to the Secretary of State for Health Alan Milburn calling for urgent funding. The state contribution for independent charitable hospices has fallen from 35 per cent to 28 per cent since 1997. Bob Jones, chief executive of St Nicholas' Hospice, said last month that there was no impending cash crisis, but that the hospice depended on donations and the support of the community to keep afloat.

MP's New attack on Bed-Blocking figures
Bury Free Press, 7 March 2023
A Conservative MP has accused Suffolk County Council of going for a 'short-term fix' in an attempt to reduce the county's bed-blocking crisis. But county councillors deny the allegation and say they are doing all they can to bring down the number of delayed discharges from hospitals. Bury St Edmunds and Stowmarket MP David Ruffley launched a scathing attack on the authority as it announced the problem was on the mend. This week, the council reported that the number of delayed discharges from the county's acute hospitals so-called bed-blocking had fallen to 53 at the end of last month. But that statement has been met with scepticism by Mr Ruffley, who pointed to a recent study which showed Suffolk as having the sixth worst figure in the country for the number of blocked hospital beds. "There is absolutely no reason why Suffolk should have such appalling figures," raged Mr Ruffley, who also raised the issue in the House of Commons last week. "All they are doing at the moment is floating patients out to the non-acute hospitals so it looks like they are reducing the number of blocked beds. "I have no confidence that even if they do hit their target they will not keep it that low it is just a short-term fix." The council has until March 31 to reduce the number of delayed discharges in Suffolk's acute hospitals to 63. But Mr Ruffley said this was not a true indication of the real problem. He claimed the total number of blocked beds at all the hospitals in the county was currently 171. The council has set itself an internal target of reducing that number to 129 by the end of the month. Should it fail to hit that, Mr Ruffley said he would carry out his promise to call for the resignation of Cllr Terry Green, the council's portfolio holder for adult care and health. But Cllr Green denied that the reduction in the number of bed-blockers was a result of a 'short-term fix' and said he would not be quitting. "We are doing everything we can to bring the figure down," he said. "But the allegation is completely untrue and I will definitely not be resigning." And fellow councillor David Rowe said the latest decrease in blocked beds was a 'major success'. Bed-blocking occurs when a person is well enough to be discharged from hospital but there are not enough nursing home beds or sufficient care services to enable them to return home.

The House Magazine
George Jones, Political Editor of the Daily Telegraph
Backbenchers seeking to make a name for themselves face a difficult choice. To become a junior spokesman - which can limit their opportunities to speak out- or to try their hand on one of the select committees. Two MPs who had considerable success as parliamentary watchdogs were David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) and Andrew Tyrie (Chichester). Mr Ruffley proved a constant irritation to Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, on the Treasury Select Committee. Mr Brown is a political equivalent of a steam roller. He fires out statistics, rarely answers questions directly and seeks to flatten his critics. Mr Ruffley stood his ground, demanding answers and forcing Mr Brown onto the defensive over so-called "stealth taxes".

Recognition for a Top Tory
Graham Dines, East Anglian Daily Times, 18 December 2023
It's not very often that Members of Parliament earn rare reviews from the media, so Tory David Ruffley must be feeling justifiably proud of himself after his recent performances in the Treasury Select Committee. The committee looks into the workings of the Chancellor and his Whitehall mandarins, and twice a year Gordon Brown has to face a grilling from the cross-party backbenchers appointed to serve on this most prestigious of all scrutiny bodies at Westminster. Mr Ruffley, who has been Conservative MP for Bury St Edmunds since 1997, is a prominent member of the committee and a tenacious seeker after the truth. Last week, the Chancellor had to answer questions on how he was going to find the extra cash promised for the National Health Service. If income tax was not going to rise and the Chancellor was prepared to rule out VAT increases on such things as fuel, where was the money to be found asked Mr Ruffley. It’s fairly obvious to anyone that it’s not coming from increases on such things as fuel, where was the money to be found asked Mr Ruffley. It’s fairly obvious to anyone that it’s coming from increases in National Insurance contributions, and although the Budget is not due until March, Mr Ruffley got the Chancellor to more or less admit the truth. And this gives a beleaguered Tory Party, which is failing to make any headway against Tony Blair, the chance to defend Middle England. It’s those on £30,000 and above who will fell the full force of a hike in NI, and it is these earners who are sustaining Labour in office. Mr Ruffley’s tour de force in the committee received accolade after accolade from Parliamentary sketch writers last week. He has turned down three opportunities to serve as an opposition spokesman, favouring instead to make his mark as a Treasury watchdog. It seems a wise choice and Mr Ruffley’s pugnaciousness ought to earn him a nomination at least for backbencher of the year in the annual Parliamentarian awards.



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