January 2023: News from local MP Darren Jones

Our brilliant nurses and midwives deserve to have their voices heard

Firstly, my family and I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year! It is a privilege to represent my home area as your Member of Parliament, and I will continue to work hard as your voice in Parliament and your champion in Bristol with whatever challenges and opportunities 2023 brings.

Starting with those challenges, as I’m sure you’re aware, nurses at Southmead Hospital joined their colleagues around the country in taking strike action in December. I fully support the right for workers to be able to go on strike for fair working conditions. For our nurses in particular, though, these strikes were about more than pay: when I talk to nurses, midwives and doctors, they tell me that they increasingly feel like they can’t safely look after their patients with current staffing shortages.

Later this month, I will be meeting with North Bristol NHS Trust as concerns have been raised to me by the Royal College of Midwives and the Joint Union Office about its provision of maternity services. On a national level, the trade unions have been trying to talk to Ministers in Westminster about staffing problems within the NHS for a long time, but the Government refuses to engage with them. These frontline workers do not go on strike lightly. They want to serve the public and this is their last resort to make the case for the Government to get a grip of the problems facing the NHS.

Sadly, these problems are not going to be quick to turn around or easy to fix, but we do need Ministers to sit at the table and to start negotiating with the trade unions.

And let’s not forget that we’re in this position because of 12 years of economic failure by the Government, leading to a weak economy to pay for our essential public services.

At the end of the year, First Bus cut hundreds of services across Bristol, with about a hundred of these affecting travel across Bristol North West – including vital services for people going to Southmead Hospital. Since bus service provision and reliability were already in a terrible state, this news came as a heavy blow. I know how badly the lack of reliable public transportation is affecting constituents, so this is a high-priority area for me in the coming months.

The first stop on this journey is to meet with Doug Claringbold, the Managing Director of First Bus in the West of England, on the 20th January. I will be recording this meeting to share with constituents as you deserve answers on why the company is failing to deliver a reliable service – and trust me that I will press him to answer my questions.

Whilst it’s not a public service, easy and secure access to bank accounts is an absolute necessity. Most people these days prefer to do online banking, but for customers who don’t have easy access to the internet, or for anyone simply doesn’t feel comfortable in dealing with their finances online, local high street banks still serve a great purpose. With this in mind, I was saddened to receive a letter from the Chief Executive of HSBC UK informing me that the HSBC branch in Westbury-on-Trym will close on 1st August 2023.

I have been assured that HSBC will write to all its customers with further information and they will also run community pop-up events ahead of the closure. I am also pleased to learn that all HSBC UK personal current account customers can access their bank accounts at Post Office branches for cash withdrawals. This point is particularly important, with nearly a quarter of free-to-use ATMs around the country removed in the past four years.

Recently, I supported a cross-party amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill, brought forward by the Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh, calling for the Treasury to guarantee a minimum level of provision for free-of-charge access to personal current accounts. We have a duty to protect those reliant on cash – we’re not quite ready for a cashless society yet.

Ending on some better news, I am delighted that my nomination for Bristol North West Foodbank to be a recipient of a grant offered by National Grid’s Community Matters Fund was successful. The Foodbank received £2,000 to support its important work in December and January. I visited the charity in mid-December on one of the coldest days of the year, and it’s truly heart-breaking to know there are families in my constituency who are struggling to have hot meals every day. With the cost-of living crisis, more people are relying on foodbanks than ever before – including nurses(!), to circle back to where I started – so please donate whatever you can.

As always, if you need my help or have a question, you can get in touch with me on e-mail at darren.jones.mp@parliament.uk, by calling my office on 0117 959 6545 or by writing to me at the House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA.