Do me a favour

Not really in blogging mood tonight. Been reading tributes to Deasy on this website, and not looking forward to having to switch into by-election campaign mode very soon.

Have also just heard on Points West that a constituent of mine has been committed to stand trial at the Old Bailey in September on charges under the Terrorism Act; he’s an 18 year old lad, who’d been studying sport at the City Academy. I know him, I met him again on Friday, and I have to weigh up what is and isn’t appropriate for me to say in public before I speak out, but… let’s just say I’m not happy

Anyway, she sighed…. Musings on the role of a constituency MP (Pt. 1) It seems to me that a large part of what I do could be described as ‘making sure people aren’t fobbed off’. To give a couple of examples…

A woman has been writing to me rather a lot about the lake in St George’s Park, complaining that discarded fishing lines cause injuries to ducks. Bristol City Council replied: not a problem, only been one incident, basically, she doesn’t like fishing and is making a big fuss about nothing. It could have ended there, but I spent a day with the RSPCA last week. (Very interesting, I should blog about it). I took the opportunity to ask about the lake – and was told that, yes, it’s a huge problem, they make 100 visits or so each year, ducks get injured, birds are trapped in lines caught up in the trees on the island. They take a boat out on the lake every now and again, and every few feet or so in the water they pull up loads of line. Eastville is even worse. But they don’t bother reporting it to the Council anymore. So it’s my job to convince the Council this is a problem, and what’s more: it’s their problem.

Another recent case. A constituent made an application to the Borders and Immigration Agency (don’t need details but basically he wanted to travel abroad). He could have applied by post, which would have taken up to 14 weeks, or could pay a premium fee to get a same-day service. He went for the latter. That was February. His application is still ‘being considered’. We made enquiries and were referred to a website which says there’s no guarantee that the same-day service actually means it will be dealt with in one day, and they don’t refund premium rate fees if it isn’t. To use one of my favourite phrases: ‘not good enough’. He’s missed his holiday, it’s cost him money, they’ve messed him around – and they still won’t say how long it will take to deal with it. Again, my job to tell them that they can’t really treat people like this, and that they need to get their act together.

I could cite numerous other examples. Quite often we start from the premise that we probably can’t do anything about it, but ought at least to try: only to find that a letter from an MP has a miraculous effect and bureaucrats start admitting that things might perhaps be their fault, or that people might just be entitled to compensation, or that something is a lot more urgent than they originally thought. Sometimes we have to go backwards and forwards rather a lot, making the same points over and over again until we get an answer – or the answer we want. (And sometimes we have to accept that the constituent isn’t always right.) What I have learned though, during my 3 years in this job, is always to question what I’m being told when I get an official response. Are we – me and the constituent – being told the truth, or are we being fobbed off? Far too often it’s the latter.

P.S. Note to the ducks who kept me awake for hours last night, in what seemed to be a (very) prolonged courting ritual. See – I’m on your side. Any chance you could shut up?

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