Last week, I achieved a Parliamentary milestone when I presented my first bill to the House of Commons.
The Electrical Safety (Online Sales) Bill seeks to apply electrical safety regulations to goods advertised for sale on online marketplaces, as well as requiring online marketplaces to remove electrical products from their websites within 24 hours of them being reported as unsafe.
Increasingly, we’ve turned to online shopping and to ‘click and collect’ services as a means of buying the things we either want or need. While there are clear assurances that come from buying from a trusted local business or a recognised name on the High Street, it’s often much harder to trace the origin and standards of products that might be being supplied overseas from less well-known vendors who choose to sell through Amazon or the like.
Most Parliamentary Bills which don’t originate from within Government seldom if ever make it into legislation. Nevertheless, this provides an opportunity to highlight what is widely considered a growing problem of poor quality electrical goods being sold online; which, despite the claims made for them, may not meet UK product standards when it comes to electrical and fire safety.
Last week’s UK Budget was a let-down in a number of respects from my perspective. In my last column, I highlighted one measure in particular – making permanent the £20 uplift in Universal Credit payments – which could have had a particularly positive impact on economically vulnerable families.
Although the effective six-month extension to this uplift is welcome in as far as it goes, it falls some way short of doing “whatever it takes” in order to help people get through the present circumstances. Similarly, while the extension of furlough and the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme are of course welcome, a cliff-edge cut-off date at which the Chancellor is threatening to pull the plug still remains.
Circumstances have forced the Chancellor to extend the lifespan of these schemes before, so it’s unclear who he thinks he might be impressing by setting deadlines with all the uncertainty which results. Although the Chancellor is clearly not short of public relations advice from his team of political advisers, he would be better served by scrapping the cut-off dates entirely and committing instead to doing “whatever it takes, for so long as is necessary.”
Nowhere is that approach needed more than in the North East energy sector right now. In answer to a parliamentary question from me on December 14 last year, the then Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Alok Sharma, confirmed that the UK Government intended to complete the negotiations and publish the detail of a North Sea ‘Transition Deal’ by the end of the first quarter of this year.
There can be no just and economically secure transition to ‘net zero’ without the skills and expertise of the North East’s oil and gas sector. With April and ‘quarter two’ fast approaching, along with my colleagues, I’ll be looking behind the inevitable gloss of any announcement to try to make sure that the industry is supported as it needs to be, both now and for the longer term.