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Ministers shirk responsibility to deliver for Armed Forces in once-in-a-Parliament legislation

A cross-party group of MPs has raised concerns that government Ministers are outsourcing their responsibility for serving personnel and veterans in a report published today.

The Armed Forces Bill is set to make local authorities and other public bodies legally responsible for delivering the promises in the Armed Forces Covenant. But services provided by central government functions – including the Ministry of Defence – are currently exempt.

Service charities have raised concerns that long-standing problems for service communities will not be covered by the legislation in practice, including service accommodation, social care and visa fees for commonwealth troops.

General Sir John McColl, Chief Executive of Cobseo, said: “There is a moral requirement for Government to comply with the Covenant. That is fine as long as it works, but in some cases it absolutely does not work.”

General Sir John raised the ongoing plight of commonwealth veterans, who are forced to pay eye-watering fees to remain in the country they have served. The Royal British Legion estimates that up to 300 people per year are affected.

The Royal British Legion’s Laura Pett said: “The fact that only certain aspects of housing, healthcare and education—namely, those that are not the responsibility of the Secretary of State—are also omitted is further cause for concern.”

The National Audit Office has found that thousands of armed forces personnel were living in sub-standard accommodation.

The Defence Infrastructure Organisation conceding that “too many” were affected by problems with heating and hot water in evidence to the Committee.

At present the Bill would do nothing to address this crucial issue, which 26% of tri-service personnel say increases their likelihood of leaving service.

The Defence Secretary mysteriously vetoed the Committee’s planned virtual visit to service accommodation at the last moment.

Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan MP said:

“This government is missing a once-in-a-Parliament opportunity to make real improvements to the lives of service personnel, veterans and their families.

“The Armed Forces Covenant should represent a binding commitment to service communities. They will see straight through this government’s attempt to outsource responsibility for delivering it.

“In a year where our armed forces have stepped up to support frontline efforts to tackle the Coronavirus as well as their ongoing commitments abroad, it simply isn’t good enough.

“Ministers should listen to the concerns raised in this report and strengthen the Bill when it returns to the Commons and deliver on their repeated promises of support for our forces”.  

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Shadow Defence Minister: Armed Forces Bill risks reinforcing “postcode lottery” on services for veterans

Stephen Morgan MP urged Ministers to hear service charity concerns that the Armed Forces Bill will reinforce the “postcode lottery” veterans face when accessing services.

Speaking in the House of Commons following the publication of a cross-party report, Mr Morgan said the Bill’s narrow focus on housing, healthcare and education, risked creating a “two-tier” Covenant and a race to the bottom on standards in those areas left out.

In practice, this means many long-standing problems facing armed forces, veterans and their families will remain unaddressed. Social care, pensions, employment and immigration are among the long list of areas witnesses told the Committee will not be covered by this once-in-a-Parliament piece of legislation.

The Confederation of Service Charities Chair General Sir John McColl specifically highlighted the eyewatering visa fees that Commonwealth veterans face as an instance where the government’s current “moral requirement” to comply with the Covenant “absolutely does not work”.

The government has also not included the Lyons Review recommendation that civilian courts should have full jurisdiction over murder, rape and serious sexual offences committed in the UK. In evidence to the Committee, Judge Lyons said he was “surprised” to find the most serious cases being tried in the service justice system and argued that this had not been Parliament’s original intent.

Stephen Morgan MP, Shadow Armed Forces Minister and Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, commented:

“The government must listen to concerns raised by MPs of all parties and service charities that this Bill will not address long-standing issues for service communities.  

“Following input from across the sector and service communities themselves, government must now listen to the recommendations outlined in our report today.

“Labour will continue speaking up for our Armed Forces, veterans and their families, and ensure that the promises in the Covenant are delivered for all of the nation’s service personnel.”

Mr Morgan has been leading the Official Opposition’s response to the Armed Forces Bill during its passage through Parliament.

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Local MP backs national campaign to ‘Shop Kind’ as Portsmouth Co-op signs up

Stephen Morgan MP has given his support to the national campaign to ‘Shop Kind’, as local co-operative stores sign up.

The campaign aims to build positivity and encourage kindness to both shopworkers and consumers in stores.

Southern Co-op, which operates The Co-operative Food stores, as well as funeral and coffee services across the south, is working with some of the UK’s biggest retailers, the Home Office and independent charity Crimestoppers who have launched a new and timely campaign urging the public to ShopKind after the reopening of more stores and shops across the country.

Abuse and violence towards shopworkers is a bigger problem than many people might think, with at least 400 shopworkers abused every day.

The campaign is backed by the Home Office and supported by major high street retailer as well as the nation’s independent shopkeepers, and the shopworkers Union Usdaw.

The Association of Convenience Stores’ 2021 Crime Report, published last month, shows that over the past year there have been over 1.2million incidents of verbal abuse, and around 40,000 incidents of violence against people working in convenience stores. Of these, more than a quarter involved a weapon, such as a knife, hammer, axe, or syringe.

Two-thirds of retailers (65%) had experienced Covid-related threats, with the most common causes of abuse being: reminding customers to wear face coverings, reminding customers of social distancing measures and queueing outside stores.

Backing the campaign city MP Stephen Morgan and Fratton resident Nikki Coles visited the Coop on New Road, Fratton.

Stephen Morgan, Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, said:

“As restrictions slowly begin to ease and shops reopen, it is really important we are mindful of those key workers who have helped keep us going over the past year.

“The abuse they have received is completely unacceptable, particularly at a time when we should be thanking them for their sacrifices.

This behaviour cannot continue and as we gradually unpick the economy, we should use this as an opportunity to end such behaviour.

It is why I fully support the national ‘Shop Kind’ campaign.”

Nikki Coles, Labour’s candidate for Fratton, added:

“No one in Fratton or across our city should have to face violence and abuse just for doing their job, and nothing is more important to us than the safety and wellbeing of shopworkers who work tirelessly within communities – they deserve thanks, not abuse, threats and violence.

They also deserve for the law to better protect them as they go about their daily working lives”.

Portsmouth Labour representatives have previously backed Usdaw’s ‘Respect for Shopworkers Week’, last November, following a visit to a local Co-op supermarket in Portsmouth.

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Stephen Morgan MP opens new community pop-up shop open in Landport

Stephen Morgan MP opened the Landport Larder today, where residents can now purchase food for a fraction of the cost of supermarkets thanks to a new community pop-up shop.

For just £3.50 a week, people can select 10 items from a selection of tins, chilled items, and fresh fruit and veg. This would cost an average of £15 from the supermarket.

The larder has been set up by Enable Ability at Landport Community Centre, with support from Abri, one of the south of England’s largest housing providers.

The Landport Larder will be open Tuesdays, from 10am – 1pm at Landport Community Centre.

Customers will need to bring a bag to take items home in and will need to wear a mask while in the centre.

The Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, said:

“It’s great to see initiatives like the Landport Larder offer much needed support to our communities.

While we know that the pandemic has hit us all hard, it has also brought communities together, supporting each other and coming up with new, creative ways to help others.

I hope we see more initiatives like this to create a positive legacy for what has been a hard time for us all.”

Paula Windebank, Community Development Officer at Abri, added:

“We’re proud to support the Landport Larder and help our community access fresh, healthy, affordable food.

It’s part of our five-year £15m investment to create thriving communities and empower lives, making sure we’re delivering change where it’s needed most.”

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Portsmouth MP welcomes new commission to rebuild Britain’s high streets and revitalise town centres

Stephen Morgan MP has thrown his support behind Labour’s new independent Commission ‘Rebuilding Our High Streets’, launched by the Shadow Chancellor today. The commission will seek to bring together experts from businesses in retail, leisure and hospitality, as well as representatives of the trade union, local government cooperative and social enterprise sectors.

The announcement comes as new figures reveal that over the last decade high streets across the UK have lost:

  • 9,775 shops
  • 5,785 pubs
  • 7,400 bank branches
  • 1,195 libraries

Meanwhile, the South East has lost 1080 shops, 945 pubs and 120 libraries over the same period.

The Commission will meet regularly over the course of the next six months to offer independent advice to the Party on issues such as:

  • How the high streets of the 2020s and beyond can be supported to thrive, as great places where people can shop, socialise, meet, work and live.
  • Bringing empty commercial properties back into use for existing and new businesses.
  • Levelling the playing field between bricks and mortar businesses and online firms.
  • Promoting entrepreneurship and innovation in our high streets, reflecting the needs of local communities.

The UK’s high streets have been hit by unprecedented challenges throughout the pandemic and face more threats in the coming year. These include government changes to planning rules in August, which will allow shops to be converted into low quality flats over the heads of local communities, and the staged return of business rates, with firms liable to pay full rates again in April next year.

The Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, said,

“This year has brought unprecedented challenges to businesses and organisations across the country that depend on the local high street, none more so than here in Portsmouth.

“Labour is determined to deliver a brighter future for our high streets as part of our mission to make Britain the best place to grow up and grow old in, which is why I’m proud to support the Rebuilding Our High Streets Commission.

“Our vision is not one harking back to one of the past, but finding ways to make our town centres places we can be proud of and where communities can come together. This Commission will offer independent advice to Labour on how we achieve that.”

Mr Morgan has had regular meetings with local businesses and organisations linked to Portsmouth’s high streets throughout the pandemic, working on their behalf to get the support they need.

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Portsmouth MP urges young people to vote early to ‘ensure their voices are heard’

Stephen Morgan MP has urged the young people of Portsmouth to vote early to make sure they have their say in the forthcoming local elections on Thursday 6 May.

It comes as new analysis from Labour has shown that less than 10 percent of young people have registered for a postal vote, compared to more than a quarter of those over 65, with four days to left until the deadline to register to vote by post in England.

With less than half of 18-25-year-olds voting at the 2019 General Election, turnout among young people is expected to be historically low at the May elections amid the pandemic.

Mr Morgan has said that young people must be at the heart of Britain’s recovery from this crisis, with successive Conservative governments weakening Britain’s foundations and robbing too many young people of the opportunities they deserve.

Labour warns that Government inaction on postal voting threatens UK democracy and public health and is calling for councils to receive dedicated Government support for postal vote sign up efforts ahead of the deadline for postal vote registration in England on 20 April.

With those aged 18 and older due to be vaccinated by 31 July in England, many young people are unlikely to be vaccinated by election day.

The Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, said:

“After the devastating year they’ve had, young people must have their voices heard in this election.

“Young people have played a central role in our city’s response to this crisis, with many volunteering to support the most vulnerable in our community and fighting as key workers on the front line to protect our families. The Tories continue to treat young people as an afterthought in this crisis – these are they key workers of the future.

“Young people are not expected to be vaccinated ahead of the May polls, which makes postal vote sign-up critical. “

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Shadow Armed Forces Minister helps force vote on government’s ‘broken promise’ to Armed Forces

Shadow Armed Forces Minister Stephen Morgan MP challenged the government in the House of Commons today for breaking its promise to not cut troop numbers, which was confirmed in the Defence Command Paper published last month.

The Portsmouth MP was speaking at the despatch box in the opposition day debate in Parliament today before a vote on the government’s decision to renege on its commitment to the Armed Forces.

The Integrated Review and Defence Command Paper confirmed that the Army will be further reduced to just 72,500 by 2025, smaller than at any time since the 1700s.

It has also been reported in The Times, but omitted in the Defence Command Paper, that the Royal Marines are set to lose 400 posts, from 6,500 to 6,100.

Meanwhile, the RAF is also expected to lose 300 personnel by 2025, with full-time personnel currently at 1,850.

It comes as 45,000 personnel have been cut since 2010.

The Shadow Defence Minister and Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, Stephen Morgan, commented:

“The government’s track record speaks for itself: a decade of decline for personnel numbers and investment in defence; a strategic defence plan that does not clearly match capabilities to current and future threats; broken promises to our Armed Forces.

“The defence of the realm is the first priority of any government, but this one is playing fast and loose with our country’s strategic security plans and its commitments on defence spending.

“Labour is determined to ensure our country can protect itself properly, now and in the future, which is why the Official Opposition is forcing a vote in Parliament today on this important issue.”

Mr Morgan last month labelled the plans to cut personnel numbers by 10,000 a ‘mistake’, following the Defence Command Paper’s publication.

He also suggested government was taking a ‘significant gamble’ on defence capabilities, after the publication of the government’s Integrated Review, which was also published in March.

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Portsmouth MP welcomes back ‘Boxing for the Brain’ initiative to support mental health

Stephen Morgan MP has welcomed back local initiative ‘Boxing for the Brain’, a network that aims to support mental health in the community, as its partner boxing gym opened its doors for the first time today, post-lockdown.

Based at local boxing gym ‘Heart of Portsmouth Boxing Academy’, the initiative offers drop-in support sessions, talks on mental health and a range of courses to offer something for everyone.

It comes as the city MP supported the boxing gym’s recent application for £10,000 of community funding for improvements to its existing facilities and planned expansion to create a better environment to support its community outreach sessions.

Stephen Morgan, Member of Parliament for Portsmouth South, who visited the boxing gym to learn more about its work today, commented:

“Boxing for the Brain is a fantastic programme that provides support to all those in the community who may be struggling with their mental health.

“It is really important that as restrictions slowly begin to ease that we recognise the importance of how our physical fitness goes hand-in-hand with our mental fitness too, as I know from my postbag the impact the latest lockdown has had on many people’s mental health.”

“Investing in projects like these is critical to supporting the wellbeing of our local community and will play a critical role in our city’s overall recovery from this pandemic.”

Mr Morgan met with the founder of Boxing for the Brain in Parliament early last year to offer his support.

Since then he has visited the project at Fort Cumberland before the first lockdown last March, met with those involved since and is supporting the project by being an ambassador.

For more information about the project visit www.boxingforthebrain.co.uk

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Stephen Morgan MP backs Southsea businessman Kevin Watkins’ sail across the Atlantic

City MP Stephen Morgan has thrown his weight behind local businessman Kevin Watkins’ efforts to row 3,000 miles across the Atlantic to raise funds for Action Medical Research’s Born Too Soon campaign.

The charity aims to highlight the impact premature birth has on babies and their families and to help fund research that can save lives.

Kevin Watkins, who runs Southsea Cycles along Albert Road, has enlisted the support of Stephen Morgan MP and local campaigner Charlotte Gerada to promote the proposed gruelling event for charity and inspire the city’s communities to learn more.

Bringing the 28-foot boat to his neighbour on Albert Road, Southsea, Kevin showed the Portsmouth South MP the equipment which will get the team across the Atlantic, starting in the Canary Islands and finishing in the Caribbean.

After meeting the ‘Elijah Star’ crew and learning more about the adventure, Stephen Morgan MP said:

“I am delighted to support Kevin and his crew as they raise money to power research to prevent premature birth.

“As a local businessman and former Royal Navy Marine Engineer, Kevin’s efforts are rooted in our Portsmouth community.

“With ten per cent of all births being premature, I would encourage everyone to consider donating so we can combat the biggest killer of children under five.

“I look forward to working together to inspire local communities, attract donations and raise awareness for this fantastic cause before the crew set off in December next year.”

To find out more visit https://elijahstar.com. The City MP has vowed to help the crew by taking the message to local schools.

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Portsmouth MP responds to the passing of Prince Philip

Responding to the death of His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Stephen Morgan MP, said:

“I know the people of Portsmouth will join me in paying tribute to the dedication and devotion given to our country by Prince Philip, which is rightly admired at home and abroad.

“In the heart and home of the Royal Navy we are grateful for his distinguished service during the Second World War and we recognise his enduring commitment to Her Majesty The Queen and their royal duties, which embodied the spirit of British public service.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Her Majesty, the Royal Family and communities across our country as we pay our respects to the contribution Prince Philip made to Britain”.