Peterborough MP and Labour leader in bitter spat following universal credit plea
A call for the Government to abandon its plans to reduce universal credit payments has triggered a bitter spat between the MP for Peterborough and the leader of the city council’s Labour group.
Paul Bristow and Cllr Shaz Nawaz have both made strong accusations against the other after the latter wrote to the Conservative MP telling him that he should “back the city and stand up for local people”.
Universal credit was raised by £20 a week during the pandemic but is set to revert back to its previous total from September - a decision re-affirmed by the Government earlier this week.
Cllr Nawaz, who represents Park ward, told Mr Bristow that his 2,580 majority is “overshadowed” by the 19,081 people in his constituency claiming the benefit - and even suggested that a failure to act on the issue could cost him his seat at the next election.
And in his letter to the MP which was also sent to the Peterborough Telegraph, he wrote: “Families across Peterborough have spent the past year worried for their jobs and their family’s financial security. If the Government pushes ahead with this cut it would be devastating for millions already struggling to get by, leave unemployment support at a 30-year low in the midst of a jobs crisis and threaten our economic recovery.
“After everything the country has been through the Government could give millions of families the certainty they need today by doing the right thing. For the families relying on this money, for our economy and in the national interest, I implore you to cancel this cut.”
In his response, which he has shared with the PT and made public on social media, Mr Bristow highlighted that the uplift was a “temporary measure” and that claimants had also received a one-off £500 payment.
He said: “These pandemic measures have cost tens of billions. The costs can only be met by national borrowing and, ultimately, taxation and ordinary taxpayers.”
This was then followed by a direct attack on Cllr Nawaz, who is an accountant, in which Mr Bristow made reference to Mr Nawaz’s work advising clients on tax and added: “When your time is not being diverted by tax loopholes, or by your sideline as a property developer, perhaps in your additional role as a private landlord you could offer to reduce your tenants’ rent by £20 a week?”
“If you spent less time helping people to avoid tax, and more time paying it, the country might have the scope to increase benefits.”
Cllr Nawaz told the PT he is bound by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England & Wales’ Code of Ethics and professional conduct in relation to taxation.
He added: “I have a duty to give sound tax advice otherwise I would be negligent in the eyes of a client and not performing my duties in line with the standards set by ICAEW.
“I fully support reforms towards a fairer and more transparent tax system. I have openly supported this as a councillor and will continue to do so.
“My role is to help clients understand the tax rules and apply them in the spirit of the law.
“There is a big difference between outright tax avoidance and advising SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) on how to be more tax efficient with the tax rules set by Parliament, ensuring that they not only survive through challenging times but also grow and create jobs, contribute to the economy and build new homes among many other things.
“I believe everyone must operate within the spirit of the law and as a professional accountant I will always uphold that belief.”
Cllr Nawaz has also written back to Mr Bristow, saying he was “disappointed in the dismissive tone” of the MP’s letter to his “valid concerns”.
He then accused Mr Bristow of voting against “providing for the proper funding of public services after a decade of Conservative austerity nor for robust action to tackle real tax avoidance and tax evasion”.