The level of human suffering in Gaza and across much of the region is now so appalling as almost to defy words. To live in Gaza, Syria, Iraq or Libya today is to endure the most nightmarish conditions. I was thoroughly dismayed that today’s truce between Hamas and Israel collapsed. Aid to Gaza has been Wycombe people’s first concern, so we asked advice from DFiD. From the Gov.UK website on 30 July: The UK is stepping up its humanitarian response to the Gaza crisis […]

A number of constituents have contacted me about possible closure of the Maiden Over pub. I have been talking to councillors about what can be done in this situation:

“I have taken an interest in the closure of pubs and the decline of the pub trade along with other MPs. Part of the problem is a change in drinking habits. Many more people now wish to drink at home or with friends, buying alcohol from supermarkets to do this. This has led to a long term decline in alcoholic beverage sales on licensed premises.

The government has responded to worries expressed by some publicans in tied houses about the terms of their contracts and the behaviour of the owning companies that lease the premises to them, as some have claimed the terms or enforcement of their leases impedes running a profitable business.

As a result the government has decided to set up a Statutory Code of Conduct regulating the tied trade, with an Adjudicator to deal with disputes between publicans and pub owners. This was announced following consultation on 3 June 2014, and the necessary clauses included in the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill (Section 4) presented to the House on June 25th. This does not of course help with disputes between landlords and pub owners prior to the new law, which will continue to be covered by the existing laws of contract and fair trading.

The more relevant national legislation for the Maiden Over case is the 1995 Town and Country Planning General Permitted Development Order 1995. The then Conservative government wished to increase the flexibility for High Streets and other locations for people to switch a property from one use to another. The idea behind the Order is you can switch uses within one of the General Uses classes in the Order without needing a fresh planning permission.

Class A includes both pubs and shops, so it is usually possible to convert a pub into a shop or a shop into a pub or restaurant without needing planning permission. This is a generally desirable freedom, especially given the decline of some High Streets and the need for innovation to keep them alive. However, we recognised at the time that issues like pub closures could create special hard cases. We therefore included in the Order the provision allowing a Council to make an Article 4 Direction where there is a need to “protect local amenity or the wellbeing of an area”. Labour left this legislation unamended during its period in office.

On 7 January 2013 when the issue of pub closures was raised in the Commons Mr Boles as Planning Minister said that Article 4 Directions could be used by Councils to require a planning application and a Council decision where someone wants to convert a pub to a shop. He also drew attention to the fact that the pub needs to be a potentially viable business.

I am happy with the cross party decision to leave these local matters to the local Council Planning Authority. CAMRA have run campaigns around the country to save particular pubs and to invoke Article 4. Wokingham Council should examine the position of the Maiden Over carefully.

If they conclude someone could run a profitable pub business there because there is enough potential trade, and conclude that the pub is an important part of the local amenity, then they can use Article 4 if they wish. It is always wise for a public body to consult its lawyers when thinking of doing so. My email is by way of general guidance but I am not a qualified lawyer offering legal advice.”

The Government should learn from their other public sector contracts. In 2012, G4S had a £284m contract to provide 10,400 staff for Olympic events but couldn’t supply enough personnel, leaving 4,700 members of the armed forces to stand in. Jeremy Hunt, Culture Secretary, said it had made him "think again" about the default use of private contractors.

 

In 2013, Serco and G4S found to have charged taxpayer too much for monitoring criminals in a contract dating back to 2005. Serco were willing to allow forensic but G4S refused. Serco agreed to repay £68.5m. Government rejected £24m offer from G4S.

 

Capita won £50m contract to run Individual Learning Accounts programme, which collapsed in 2001 amid mounting allegations of fraud among learning providers and concern over costs that went £93m over budget. In 2013, Ministry of Justice’s handling of a £42m annual contract for court interpreting services stalled from outset after being awarded to a small Oldham-based company which was bought by Capita before the contract began in 2012. There were 6,417 complaints recorded by Capita (an average of 25 per working day) and 608 trials in Magistrates Courts and 34 Crown Court trials were ineffective as a result of interpreters not being available.

 

In 2013, Atos broke a pledges that helped it win £184m disability assessment contract. Atos “contractually agreed” with 22 sub-contractors for them to provide a network of 750 assessment sites, this has fallen to just 8 sub-contractors since contract was signed. More than 600,000 appeals lodged against Atos judgments since assessments began, costing taxpayers £60m a year. In 4 out of 10 cases the original decisions are overtuTo fight Britain’s privatisation dogma, Labour should look to the US military

 

To fight Britain’s privatisation dogma, Labour should look to the US military

State-owned enterprises can be successful, as some unlikely global examples prove
By  in The Guardian, Thursday 31 July 2014 18.23 BST
 
A Honeywell computer under the control of Michael Caine In the 1967 film Billion Dollar Brain. It was used to connect to the Arpanet – developed by the US military as a precursor of the internet.. Photograph: Snap/Rex Features

Since Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979 the UK has led the world in privatisation. The Conservative government sold off state-owned enterprises throughout the 1980s and the 1990s – electricity, oil, gas, rail, airline, airports, telecommunications, water, steel, coal, you name it. In the worldwide fever for selling off state assets that gripped those decades, the rest of the world looked up to Britain as the guiding example.

Privatisation was halted under Labour. However, the belief in the superiority of the private sector was such that, when it brought the rail infrastructure back under state control in 2002 following a series of rail disasters, Labour made sure it did not take the form of re-nationalisation – at least in legal terms. Network Rail, the owner and operator of the rail infrastructure, was set up as a private company, although on a not-for-profit basis and without shareholders.

When the coalition came to power in 2010, it resumed the privatisation drive with gusto. It privatised Royal Mail – the “crown jewels” that even Thatcher balked at selling. However, in recent months the tide has started to turn, albeit slowly.

Even while planning to sell off almost every remaining state-owned enterprise, from plasma supply to helicopter search and rescue, the coalition has had to make an embarrassing climbdown over its plan to privatise student loans. More importantly, in the past few months the Royal Mail sell-off has been fiercely criticised. Moya Greene, its chief executive, has questioned the viability of its universal service obligation. Abandoning this would mean that customers who live in less accessible or sparsely populated – and thus less profitable – areas wouldn’t get their letters delivered, or would have to pay more for them: the end of the postal service as we know it.

In the meantime, the Labour party has made the lack of competition and the suspected collusion in the privatised energy industry a key issue in its promise to “fix broken markets”, and has caught voters’ attention by announcing its intention to partially reverse rail privatisation. Although its fear of being branded anti-business has prevented it from proposing outright renationalisation of the railways – despite the support for such a move from most of the electorate – it has declared that if it wins the 2015 general election it will “reverse the presumption against the public sector”, and let state operators bid for rail franchises.

However, if it is really to overturn the privatisation dogma, Labour should do more than reverse the presumption against the public sector: it should tell people that the public sector is often more efficient than the private sector.

Even while there are many examples of inefficient state enterprises from all over the world, including the UK, there have been many successful such businesses throughout the history of capitalism. In the early days of their industrialisation, 19th-century Germany and Japan set up state-run “model factories” in order to kickstart new industries such as steel and shipbuilding, which the private sector considered too risky to invest in. For half a century after the second world war, several European countries used state businesses to develop technologically advanced industries: France is the best-known example, with household names like Thomson (now Thales), Alcatel, Renault and Saint-Gobain. Austria, Finland and Norway also had technologically dynamic state-run enterprises.

The most dramatic example, however, is Singapore. The country is usually known for its free trade policy and welcoming attitude towards foreign investments, but it has the most heavily state-owned economy, except for some oil states. State-owned enterprises produce 22% of Singapore’s national output, operating in a whole range of industries – not just the “usual suspects” of airline, telecommunications and electricity, but also semiconductors, engineering and shipping; and its housing and development board supplies 85% of the country’s homes. Taiwan, another east Asian “miracle” economy, also has a very large state-run sector, accounting for 16% of national output.

Posco, the state-owned steel company in my native South Korea, was initially set up against World Bank advice but is now one of the biggest steel companies in the world. (It was privatised in 2001, but for political reasons rather than poor performance.) In Brazil, Embraer – the third largest civilian aircraft manufacturer in the world – was initially developed under state control; and the country’s state-owned oil company, Petrobras, is the world leader in deep-sea drilling.

Arguably the most successful state enterprise in human history, however, is the United States military, which has almost single-handedly established the modern information economy. The development of the computer was initially funded by the US army; the country’s navy financed the research that created the semiconductor; and the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency developed the Arpanet, the precursor of the internet.

When people realise that the history of capitalism is full of highly successful state enterprises, the rush for ever more privatisation can be halted. If the Labour party puts forward this case, it will not only gain popularity in the run-up to next year’s general election – it would also be doing something of lasting benefit for Britain.

  Chloe Smith, Member of Parliament for Norwich North, is offering her support to constituent, Lyn Hatch, a Royal British Legion Community Fundraiser, who on Monday 4th August, will be...

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More details of Government pension reforms were made public last week by Lib Dem Pensions Minister Steve Webb.  The major change announced will be that savers are to receive free […]
with Viv Bird, chief executive of Booktrust The BookTrust and I are encouraging parents and carers of young children in Haslingden and Hyndburn to read regularly to their children. Reading to children is fun and it gives them a better start in life by helping their language, wellbeing, confidence and concentration. All the evidence is that the more
I shall be there - and we are welcoming the band of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, members of the Northumberland Theatre Company, and various military charities. The Abbey Choir are singing. I am really pleased that so many key local community organsations are also involved. This event has been really well organised.
It is very important that we remember those who gave their lives and the changes the war brought upon us as a country. It is sobering to think that so many of our local men from 16 upwards went away to the war never to return. We are indeed very fortunate not to face such a conflict today, nothwithstanding all the problems that we see around us.    
The school summer holidays are now underway, but just before the end of term Swindon received some excellent news about an increase in spending on our children’s education.  The Government announced that schools in some of the least fairly funded…

It's quite something when Gordon Brown's former spin doctor, Damian McBride, attacks you as a Labour party leader for being ..... well ... a bit .... pointless.

After years of coveting the top in 10 Downing Street, Gordo was infamous for not really knowing what to do with it. Having finally prised Tony Blair out the door, Brown muttered something about values. Grinned foolishly on youtube. Wandered around Suffolk on his summer holidays pretending to enjoy it. And then lost the subsequent election.

No one really seemed to know what a Gordon Brown premiership was for, least of all himself.

Miliband's policies by contrast are a "great, steaming pile of fudge", says McBride.

Worse, the coterie that surrounds him are "dysfunctional". Perhaps that means that when they throw Nokia's at one another the way Gordo was alleged to have done, they keep missing?

It's not just McBride who doesn't think Ed Miliband is up for it. According to this rather amusing website, www.JustNotUpToIt.com , dozens of Labour party members across the country are starting to ask what Ed Miliband is for.

"This is all just Westminster bubble silly season stuff" various left leaning pundits will say. "Its childish and puts people off politics" they will sternly inform us. "Time to focus on the real issues"

I'm not so sure. I have just spent the past week going from door to door in one of the more Labour leaning wards in my part of Essex. If there was one constant that keeps coming up its doubts about Ed Miliband from once Labour leaning voters.

No. I wasn't able to tell them what Ed's about either.

When James was first elected he fought a tough campaign to secure a Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) here on Teesside.  The LEP is a body which supports economic growth and local businesses.  Initially the old Tyneside based Regional Development Agency was to be replaced with a single LEP for the North East.  In the past this meant money was often sent further north and our needs neglected, what has happened Teesside Airport being a clear example of the results!  This time, thanks to James’ hardwork and support from across the area, we secured our own local body.The Evening Gazette and others backed James’ campaign and Conservative Ministers agreed.  Since then our LEP has been hard at work supporting Regional Growth Fund bids, which have brought over £100m, and working up a “City Deal” scheme.

The City Deal gives decision-making powers to local partnerships and will result in £28m of investment.  David Cameron visited Tetley’s in Eagleslciffe with James in December to announce that it was going ahead, now the official signing has taken place.

Greg Clark, Minister for Cities, presents City Deal

Greg Clark, Minister for Cities, presents City Deal

The plans will create 3,500 jobs and help to secure the skills base we need for the future.  They include proposals for an innovative waste heat network which will see heat from heavy industry used to power nearby homes and businesses.  Local firms will also get access to a new business hub offering advice and support.

Helping the economy to create the jobs we need for the future is one of James’ key priorities as our local MP.  Back when he campaigned for our LEP in 2010/11 we could not have predicted just how significant and successful it would be.  With so many millions of pounds brought to Teesside, the return of steelmaking to Redcar (which closed under Labour) and the new Hitachi train factory in Aycliffe there are real grounds for optimism.  We need local MPs who deliver for our community, not just talking a good game but making a difference.  James does not just turn up at election time but works hard on our behalf all year round.  Regardless of politics, we can all celebrate the benefits this investment will bring.

I was taken aback when my local paper, the express and star ran a story about a banker style bonus for Dr Anthony Marsh.

The story was also picked up by a number of national newspapers.

In what I thought amounted to a rebuke to the express and star, the spin doctors at the West Midlands Ambulance Trust issues a statement on their web site claiming Dr Marsh was saving the two trusts money by doing the job of two chief executives:

“For the combined work his salary has been increased by £50,000, saving the taxpayer approximately £130,000 on the cost of having a substantive chief executive in each ambulance trust.”

When I read the hubristic rebuttal from the trust I raised an eye brow but thought the matter closed, even though my curiosity was aroused by the Conservative MP Therese Coffey, who on Twitter, displayed great admiration for Dr Marsh.

Then, this week, I received a number of phone calls to my office making specific allegations about operations at the ambulance trust. I am duty bound to follow them up in slower time.

Later in the week, a copy of a letter arrived in my office, sent anonymously.

Unless I am the victim of a very elaborate hoax, it seems to suggest that there was extreme concern voiced by members of the Trust board back in 2013, when Dr Marsh was appointed. I say “appointed” but if this letter is right, it seems to suggest that someone in authority (I assume Dr Flory CBE) felt that Dr Marsh was the only human being on planet earth suitable to take on the onerous task of running an ambulance service. In so doing, Dr Marsh got the job, and the £50K pay rise.

What does this all mean? I don’t yet know. But I will find out.

Immediate questions spring to mind:

1. What minister authorised this and where is the paper trail?
2. Why were the concerns of Dr Geoffrey Harris OBE that the manner of the appointment was “wholly unacceptable, undermining behaviour that is entirely inconsistent with what we would consider normal business practice, courtesy and respect for others.” ignored?
3. Who, exactly, approved the £50K uplift and what do the Treasury say about it?
4. What does Jeremy Hunt say about it for that matter?
5. Dr Marsh seems to have appointed a deputy/assistant at the East of England Trust, presumably to help cover when he is on his two days a week in the West Midlands. Have I got this right and if so, how much is the person paid?
6. How was Dr Marsh’s deputy/assistant appointed and were references taken up?

These questions will do for now. There will be more.

Here’s the text of the letter that arrived at my Westminster office. It certainly looks genuine but as I say, it might not be. If I’m the victim of a hoax then I sincerely apologise for leading people on a wild goose chase. I’ve talked to several people with inside knowledge of the Trust though, my team have talked to others as well. Given the information we have received, I don’t think it unreasonable to publish.

28th November 2013
Mr D Flory CBE
Chief Executive
NHS Trust Development Authority
Southside
Victoria Street
London
SW1E 6QT

At our meeting on Monday afternoon, 25th November, you made it clear to me that the East of England Ambulance Service (EEAST) should not proceed with its planned recruitment of a CEO on the basis of open competition and, further, that the TDA would like the Trust to consider the appointment of CEO from another ambulance Trust on a shared basis.

The reason, you said, was that the TDA, based on our previous campaign plus experience with the East Midlands Ambulance Trust and the North West, was not confident that any campaign would identify a candidate of the right calibre. In your view, there were simply very few, if any, suitable candidates available. Moreover, a joint appointment would optimise the value of an experienced leader who would have the confidence of politicians and the wider NHS.

As agreed, I discussed this proposed approach with my Non-Executive Directors prior to our Board meeting yesterday, 27th November. I also made a low-key statement at the Board in public, on the lines we agreed, that the recruitment process had need paused to allow further options to be developed and considered. I needed to make this statement as my written report to the Board, drafted and published before our meeting on Monday afternoon, recorded that the recruitment process was moving ahead with an indication of the timetable.

I have to report that my Non-Executive colleagues were both dismayed and extremely disappointed. Your approach, they feel, does nothing to address the key factors that the Trust needs in place to succeed. Furthermore, and most important, your approach appears to take no account of the risk to service delivery and to patients that it would entail, especially as we move into winter and the period of greatest demand on the Trust and greatest risk to patients.

Rather the reverse: leadership capacity has consistently been identified as a key need for the Trust. I and my colleagues cannot see how a severe reduction in senior management capacity would do anything other than re-open and worsen this leadership deficit and risk seriously destabilising the organisation. Specifically, we cannot see how any CEO, no matter how competent and experienced, working on a part-time basis could commit sufficient time and focus to EEAST to address the organisation’s leadership, management and developmental needs comprehensively and effectively. This deficiency is, we believe, substantially amplified by the widespread and diverse geography of both this and neighbouring ambulance Trusts and the absence of any natural synergies in terms of patient flows, resource utilisation or proximate geography.

Since my appointment, the Trust has made substantial progress in diagnosing the underlying problems affecting performance which have built up over a number of years. We now have a clear understanding of the way forward and of what is required to deliver a sustainable, high performing organisation. The Trust has not received a warning notice from the CQC, nor is the Trust in serious financial difficulty. This make it even more difficult to understand the rationale for the TDA’s proposed approach.

I and my Non-Executive Directors are clear that the transformation the Trust needs cannot be successfully led by a CEO working on a part-time basis, potentially applying traditional ambulance service solutions. We believe that other ambulance services in England, to a varying degree, will be facing similar performance challenges based on the current ambulance delivery model. Moreover, we believe that the level of engagement, whether externally with politicians, the public and our commissioners or internally with our staff, requires the attention and energy of a full-time CEO and an effective, committed Board.

I am disappointed that, however unwittingly, the approach the TDA has taken to develop this proposal, through discussion with the CEOs of other organisations, has resurrect historic issues which relate to the management of the legacy Trusts which preceded EEAST. We are anecdotally informed that senior staff within the Trust who were linked to these legacy bodies, appear to have been aware that these discussions were taking place in advance of out meeting last Monday. It is also unfortunate that the existing ambulance CEOs you have approached all have historic connections with those legacy services. In addition, the Trust Board has been made aware that some of our senior staff have already had discussions with your candidates in the context of those pre-existing relationships. You will understand that I and my colleagues find this approach by others to staff wholly unacceptable, undermining behaviour that is entirely inconsistent with what we would consider normal business practice, courtesy and respect for others.

You will be aware that a key challenge for this Trust has need the negative impact of a cultural divide remaining from the pre-merger services. This has manifested itself in cronyism and a resistance to collaborative behaviour, often amongst senior managers. It has also set the scene for a general lack of transparency around pay and promotions resulting in some over graded senior jobs and promotions linked to favouritism rather than ability. The Trust Board is working hard to rectify this.

With your assistance, we have made significant strides in appointing what I consider to be a group of Non-Executive Directors of high calibre who are already having a positive impact on the Trust. Following what I considered a wholly constructive meeting with Dale Bywater, I had agreed a clear plan for recruiting to all of our executive leadership positions, in order to complete the reconstitution of the Board. However, I would stress that our current executive directors are working effectively as a cohesive team, complementing the non-executives. It is important to build upon this, not undermine it.

There is still much work to do in transforming this Trust. However, during my tenure, we are beginning to see improvements which include:

• A reduction of back up delays
• A reduction in handover delays at hospitals
• A reduction in long waits
• Sustained improvement in achieving our green targets
• A reductions in complaint and corresponding increase in confidence
• A reduction in sickness absence
• Three months of positive financial monthly run-rate with a year-end surplus forecast
• A reinvestment plan approved by the board, yesterday

That said, I and my Non-Executive Directors fully recognise the critical importance of consolidating the progress the Trust has made over recent months and of nor losing the positive momentum now in place.

I am aware that the TDA is concerned about the Trust’s performance and wishes to be instrumental in its transformation. However, I and my Non-Executives believe that the TDA can best do this is by continuing strong support for the Board and the executive team to deliver the transformation required. Support for the implementation of the Clinical Capacity Review received by the Trust Board yesterday would be particularly valuable. The TDA may be well-placed to facilitate the necessary financial support, including transitional relief for one-off transformation costs, to kick-start the change programme.

In addition, the TDA could help the Trust to improve the confidence of our stakeholders by being seen to be actively supporting the Trust Board. It is an unfortunate reality that negative media coverage has had a material impact on our ability to attract the quality of CEO that we need. This has also been one of the primary reasons why we have lost paramedic applicants.

I now believe that I have a strong team of non-executives coming into place and a Trust Board that, with time and resources, will be able to lead the Trust to the futures that we all desire, delivering a safe, high quality and sustainable service to patients.

To this end, I and my non-executive colleagues would welcome the opportunity for a constructive dialogue with the TDA on how best we can continue, together, to put in place the key factors that the Trust needs to succeed.

Yours sincerely

Dr Geoffrey Harris OBE JP
Interim Chair of Trust

Supporting more people of all ages and all backgrounds was the theme of my keynote speech at the Aquatics Centre, Queen Elizabeth Park today, where I launched a Labour Party consultation document More Sport for All. Along with Dennis Hone and colleagues from the London Legacy Development Corporation and Clive Efford MP, Shadow Minister for Sport and Kevin Brennan MP, Shadow Minister for Schools I visited the Park. We toured the Aquatic Centre and Peter Bundy of GLL showed us how school, community and elite swim side by side. After my speech, an audience of those working in sport...
On 18 October 2014, Ida Horner of Let Them Help Themselves Out of Poverty is coordinating a fund-raising ball at St Andrews Church in Walton, as part of their efforts to support the local community in Ruhanga, Uganda.
 
In particular, they are now focused on raising money for a separate girls' toilet and shower block at the local school (pictured below), so they can enjoy basic sanitation with some dignity. It's a great initiative, so please support it if you feel able. For more details on the charity and what it's trying to achieve, click here.
 

Well – it’s been quite a stunning week.

Last Saturday we (Department of International Development) held a Youth for Change event on Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and Child Early and Forced marriage (CEFM). Young people came and took over DFID for the day.

And then on Tuesday – we had the Girl Summit 2014 – which brought leaders, activists and campaigners from all over the world to unite in the fight against FGM and CEFM.

At the Youth for Change event – which I hope you read about in the papers – there was an amazing program ranging from mentoring sessions for young people to TedX talks! At the end of the day – the Youth Advisory Panel (who had been instrumental in designing the day) did a wonderful performance demonstrating how life is now for many girls across the world – and how it can change!

Mentoring young people at Youth for Change

And you will notice in the photos – that there are quite a few boys involved. This is all of our business and men and boys have a role and responsibility. And it was fantastic at the end of the day when Nick Clegg and I sat and talked with the Youth Panel to hear boys talking about these issues openly – no embarassment and no hesitation. The world really can change – and it is young people who are the agents of change.

TedX - empowering girls voices

The Girl Summit 2014 itself – saw the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Secretaries of State for Home Office and DFID all take to the plenary stage to demonstrate the commitment of the UK government to eradicating FGM and CEFM within a generation – and I hope that message rang out loud and clear across the country – and indeed the whole world.

I am particularly proud of the announcement Nick Clegg championed and made on the day – that all frontline professionals working in the public sector will have compulsory training on FGM. This has been such a missing link on tackling FGM in our country. Tippy toeing around cultural eggshells inhibited addressing this issue for far too long – and even now – it is a sensitive issue – and frontline workers (teachers, health workers, police and social workers) need to feel confident so that they can intervene to detect a child at risk at the earliest stage – and hopefully prevent FGM from taking place. This now will happen.

Freida Pinto and the gang!

There were speeches and dancing. There were panels and questions. There were round tables and spotlight sessions. But of all who took part – my special praise goes to those brave girls and women campaigners – who have been cut and who have spoken out to break the silence so that girls in the future will not go through what they went through.

It is these girls’ and women’s life stories and life efforts that were the catalyst for FGM and CEFM now being top of the political agenda.

To all the girls and women – who educated me and made me take this on as a mission – I thank and salute you.

 

Next week marks the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and this Sunday I will be attending a memorial service in Redruth to recognise the sacrifices made by all those who came from the town. There will be many other commemorative events during the course of this year and Remembrance Sunday will have particular poignancy.

The period during the First World War was the bleakest period in European history. The scale of killing was horrific. Technology had advanced to make this perhaps the first "industrial war" with the use of chemical weapons, machine guns and powerful artillery but battleground tactics had not evolved to deal with the new realities that modern warfare had brought and there was perhaps a different attitude to human life.

Britain's Generals are often singled out for criticism although, to be fair, they did try to find new approaches to end the war earlier, from the ill-fated landings at Gallipoli to the invention of a primitive tank. Nevertheless, the scale of sacrifice is apparent through the names listed on memorial stones up and down the land and the war touched every community and virtually every family. I take one of my Christian names from Charles Botterell, my Great Grandfather who fought in the war and suffered ill health as a result of his shrapnel wounds.

It was hoped in the immediate aftermath that it would be the war to end all wars so that at least the huge sacrifice would have achieved something lasting. We know now that it wasn't. However, so traumatic was the war that it changed society forever. Huge social changes followed. The anachronistic class structure started to fall apart, women got the vote and society became more equal. The pain of the war drove political changes too with the advent of communism and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia while at home the Labour Party replaced the Liberal Party as the main opposition party.

I have always argued that after any painful conflict, we are in danger of learning the wrong lessons so that the agony of one conflict leads us to make different mistakes which cause a new conflict. That was as true then as it is now. After the Great War there was an entirely understandable resistance to war or spending on military hardware. As a result, Britain was ill prepared to deal with Hitler and he interpreted the strong reluctance for war among Britain's political class as weakness.

But next week, we should quietly remember the extraordinary bravery and the tremendous burden carried by a generation of young men a hundred years ago and the loved ones who grieved their loss.


Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey takes a further step forward in progressing a pedestrianisation scheme for Farnham 

Following the recent victory in his referendum on pedestrianisation, Jeremy Hunt, MP for South West Surrey has ensured that momentum is   not lost by securing the involvement of leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge in finding a viable pedestrian-friendly plan for Farnham.

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Frank pressed the Chancellor to make this move following the initial announcement in March

It has been a difficult period for Medway Maritime Hospital after being placed into special measures in the wake of the investigation by Professor Sir Bruce Keogh. There is no doubt that this has been a stressful time for everyone involved with the running of our hospital. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to thank all of the staff who have worked tirelessly in the face of strong criticism to help bring about the small but significant improvements which we have seen to date. In order to ensure that hospital staff and management continue to deliver the necessary changes and improvements which we need it is important that our whole community shows Medway hospital and its staff that they have our support. They need to know that they are valued, and that the wider community believe in them.

Let’s show them that we do!

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr Jeremy Hunt):

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about hospitals in special measures, and the next steps for rolling out a new inspection regime in the social care sector.

The chief inspector continues to have strong concerns about Medway NHS Foundation Trust—an organisation with long-standing difficulties, care failures and high mortality rates going back to 2005. He recognises some progress, including the recruitment of 113 nurses, but has concerns about the sustainability of those improvements.

Andy Burnham (Leigh) (Lab):

Let me turn to the special measures regime. We welcome the improvements at some of the 11 hospitals and pay tribute to the staff, but it is a concern that four are showing only limited signs of improvement. One trust, Medway, has barely shown any, but how can that be after a year in special measures? Does it not raise questions about whether the regime is providing enough support to improve? A CQC inspection published last week found a catalogue of concerns at Medway—patients on trolleys overnight without appropriate nursing assessment, medication given without appropriate identification of patients, and insufficient nursing levels with an over-reliance on agency staff. The Secretary of State claims that all the problems are long-standing ones, but the CQC found that happening right now. The trust has been in special measures for one year. How can there have been no improvement, what is he doing to help Medway to improve, and given its worrying lack of progress, will he report back to the House at the first opportunity?

Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con):

Mortality rates at Medway are not as elevated as they were in 2005, but does the Secretary of State believe that the astonishingly well paid interim managers have made any sustainable improvements, and will he expand on how University Hospitals Birmingham will help us to drive improvements at Medway?

Mr Hunt:

To be frank with my hon. Friend, the situation at Medway is still troubling. It has made some improvements to maternity services and has about 100 more nurses, and the dementia unit has made progress, but we have not had the stability of management and leadership that will be necessary to sustain improvement. It always takes a very long time to make such improvements. We will therefore work hard to do that. I hope that the partnership with UHB will be a part of that change, because Julie Moore is one of the best chief executives we have in the NHS. I will work closely with my hon. Friend, because I know he takes a great interest, to ensure that we get the lasting changes we need at Medway.

I thought it was worthwhile putting a post on my blog that looks at the votes relating to this particular bill (during some of which votes I have rebelled and during others of which I have not). Firstly there is a statutory instrument: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2009/859/schedule/made This is The Data Retention (EC Directive) Regulations 2009 No. 859 under this SI phone companies

This week the Department for Culture, Media and Sport published information about its #LightsOut campaign. The campaign is about encouraging people to turn off their lights for an hour between 10pm and 11pm on Monday 4 August in recognition of the 100 year anniversary of the First World War. I understand that many local authorities, national organisations and landmarks are planning to take part in the initiative. According to the DCMS press release, #LightsOut has been inspired by Sir Edward Grey’s famous remark on the eve of the outbreak of the War “the lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not seem them lit again in our lifetime.” Support for the campaign can also be demonstrated by signing up to the DCMS Thunderclap which is an online platform which will send an automatic message of support to people via Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr at 10am on 4 August. With its 100 year anniversary, it is extremely important that we remember the First World War and those that sacrificed so much fighting in it. I encourage my constituents to take part in the campaign and sign up to the Thunderclap.


I was delighted to support Bedfordshire’s bid for funding from the South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership for investment in, among other things in the area, dualling the remaining parts of the A421 between Milton Keynes and Bedford. Such ...
Glyn Davies: I am grateful to be called to speak on an issue that is of great personal interest. As well as being the Member of Parliament for the Welsh seat of Montgomeryshire, I served for eight years representing Mid and West Wales as a regional Member of the National Assembly for Wales. My dominant interests since becoming a Member of Parliament have been Welsh politics, the Welsh economy, Welsh public services and, indeed, the relationship between Cardiff Bay and Westminster as they deal with the devolution process, which will continue for many more years to come. The nature of constitutional process is that one does not reach an end stage.


Unlike the Shadow Secretary of State, I do not think this a dry debate at all. Debates about the constitution tend not to jokey or light hearted. But as someone who is deeply embedded in Welsh politics, I find a debate about a Bill concerning the future governance of my nation hugely interesting.


I declare my enthusiastic support for the Wales Bill. It is a significant step forward in the devolution process, even if there are aspects with which I do not agree. In this disagreements I may be in a small minority, but I should refer to them alongside my general support for the Bill, putting my opinions on the record for the benefit of anyone in my constituency and indeed the rest of Wales who might want to know what they are.

I have listened to most of the debate; I missed some of it owing to other meetings. My general impression is that Labour’s position in particular is thoroughly confused. Clearly, Members on this side of the House are pleased that Labour will be supporting the Wales Bill—that is a positive move—but the contributions of many Labour Members suggest that they just do not accept the principle of financial accountability underlying the devolution of income tax raising to the National Assembly for Wales. Some of their language has sounded more as though they oppose the Bill than being in support of it.


The Plaid Cymru contributions have been ‘churlish’—that is the word that I will use. During this Parliament it was a Conservative Secretary of State who introduced, with very great determination, the Bill that created law-making powers in Wales. I do not believe that it would have been introduced if it had not been a Conservative Secretary of State; I think that a Labour Secretary of State would probably have chickened out. It was a Conservative Secretary of State who established the Silk commission, which has done very good work. Like several other Members, I commend it for its work. It is a Conservative Secretary of State who has introduced this Bill. I perfectly accept that it does not go as far as Plaid Cymru Members may want—one would not expect that—and, indeed, there are differing views on the detail of the Bill across all parties, but nobody can disagree that granting tax-raising powers to the National Assembly for Wales, and the borrowing powers that go with them, is anything but a huge constitutional step forward. On that basis, it might have been at least fair of Plaid Cymru to congratulate the Conservative party on taking us down the road, not as far as it would want, but certainly in a positive direction.


Mr Llwyd: The hon. Gentleman said that he had been in and out of the debate, and I accept that—so have I. My colleagues were generous about various parts of the Bill, but nevertheless there are parts about which we are concerned, and that is the nature of politics. Do not call us churlish because we find fault in some way with the Bill. That is just politics, is it not?


Glyn Davies: I thank my hon. Friend for that. He has been a friend for a long time. It is reassuring that he has decided to intervene and say how supportive he is of what the Conservative Government have delivered in the past few years. I shall read today’s debate in Hansard to pick out all those individual bits that he speaks so enthusiastically about.

There are several elements to the Wales Bill, the most important one by a long way being the tax raising powers and the commensurate borrowing powers that go with them. There will be continuing debate about this matter. It may well feature in the manifestos of the various parties leading up to the next general election, and I believe it will be revisited in the next Parliament. That is naturally the way of things with constitutional issues when. There will be a next step in this process, and I look forward to being a part of it after the next general election.


Another issue that is causing a lot of excitement is the removal of the ban on dual candidacy. Labour today is describing this change as political gerrymandering. If there has been any political intent to gerrymander, it was on the part of the Labour party when it introduced the ban. No independent body in Wales, including the Electoral Commission, thinks that it is any way partisan to scrap the ban on dual candidacy. It was brought in by the Labour Government in this place with the support of Labour in Cardiff, with the view that it would benefit the Labour party in Wales, and it is truly ironic that it did not. The Opposition should welcome what is a right and proper constitutional change being brought in by this Government.


Personally, I am not in favour of a referendum. In general, I do not like them. Political parties should tell the people what they intend to do and if the people vote for them at a general election they can carry it out without a referendum. I accept that I am in a minority in relation to a referendum on tax-raising powers in Wales. The Silk commission recommended one and there was a referendum in Scotland before tax raising powers were introducing. On this specific issue, I will have to sneak back into my box rather quietly.

I am also not in favour of introducing a five-year term between Assembly elections. Again I might be in a minority. I generally think that four-year terms are right for Parliaments. We have a five-year term here at Westminster, and I realise that there is a lot of support for a five-year term for the National Assembly. Again, that involves another little box that I will have to crawl into.


But let us not forget what the Bill will do if, as I hope it will, it receives its Third Reading today. This Westminster Parliament is granting to the National Assembly for Wales the power to raise taxes, including a significant proportion of income tax — delivering financial accountability. In future a Welsh Government will be accountable to the people whom they represent. There is further to go, but this is an important principle. A Bill put forward by a Conservative Secretary of State is making a significant contribution to the process of devolution in Wales.


A cross-party group of us has written to the Mayor, Metrobus, and the leader of South Gloucs council calling for a substantial rethink on the Metrobus project. Here it is.

From Kerry McCarthy MP, Charlotte Leslie MP, and Councillors Daniella Radice, Lesley Alexander, Estella Tincknell, Gill Kirk, Claire Hiscott, Bill Payne, Wayne Harvey, Rob Telford, Tim Malnick, Gus Hoyt, Charlie Bolton

We the undersigned call on you to reconsider elements of the Hengrove-Northern Fringe metrobus project.

We believe that low carbon efficient public transport AND local, accessible food and places to grow it, are both a vital part of the future to Bristol’s position as both a sustainable city and the ‘Green capital of Europe’.

We support any action that can be taken to ensure that Bristol and South Gloucester local authorities find innovative and collaborative solutions to transportation and congestion challenges, without compromising the excellent and valuable work that is producing food from some of our best land.

As such, we call on you to devise and implement alternative public transport solutions which will NOT result in the loss of ANY Grade 1 agricultural land along the M32 corridor, specifically at Stapleton allotments, Feed Bristol, Sims Hill, or on any former market-garden sites. Any proposed transport solution should look first at brown field sites, and should resolve rather than cause  congestion in the local area. It should not compromise the use of high quality agricultural land by important and effective charities, community groups and local people, for the benefit of all. We note the proposed changes you suggested at cabinet on 1st July but need to be convinced that these make any meaningful difference to the land affected.

We are also concerned about the proposal to run a section of the new road across Stoke Park. This historic piece of landscape is valuable not only as the ‘green lungs’ for North Bristol but also because it contains ancient woodland, rich meadows full of rare species and a number of heritage buildings.

We believe the loss of such land is utterly incompatible with Bristol’s ambitions to be a Green Capital, and we urge you to think again.


In politics you get very used to promises and pledges; there's always a lot of talk and if something goes wrong, the emergency response is often to have yet another meeting or 'write a report '. It always reminds me of a certain scene in The Life of Brian ( fans will know which one I mean). Recently the national papers exposed not just my thighs in a picture of me in my old work outfit of a red swimming cozzy, but the fact I used to work on Cornish beaches as a surf life guard. In that line of work, talk cannot replace Action. So it is especially good to see actual physical action happening in re-opening the Lamplighters Pub. In a welcome break from paperwork, Cllr Wayne Harvey and I rolled up our sleeves and got busy in renovating the pub. Still a long way to go, but great to see Kathie and Dominic Gundry-White actually getting something done and bringing our pub back to life! 

Today I helped start work on the new bridge that will unlock the bend in the River Avon earmarked for Bristol’s new arena. As Communities Minister I also announced £6million for further works and site acquisitions in the Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone.

Many blokes think it would be fun to drive a bulldozer or crane, well today I got in the cab of a huge excavator, ready to dig out the foundations for the new bridge opposite Temple Meads station. Tempting as it was to pull a lever and cover assembled journalists with mud, I let the professional digger driver make the actual hole.  But I’m delighted that work has at last started on this huge site. Seven years ago I took to the airwaves to criticise the South West Regional Development Agency (a Labour govt quango) for pulling the plug on arena plans. The Coalition government is funding the new bridge to the tune of £11.5million. It will be unlike any other bridge over the Avon or the the harbour. It will be Bristol’s first Garden Bridge, tree lined and with places to sit. As well as space for motor vehicles it will have provision for pedestrians and cyclists.

Once the Mayor secures an operator for the Arena work will start on the “island” itself. But the arena will occupy just over a third of the site.  There will also be other businesses and hundreds of new homes.

As well as supervising the digging of a big hole, I also announced an additional £6m government support for the Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone.  This was part of £23m of funds from my department announced today for four enterprise zones. The Bristol money will help unlock further land and buildings for development in the Cattle Market area of the zone, which will become the new centre of Bristol’s burgeoning creative and media industries.

So two sets of good news for Bristol and further evidence that the Coalition Government is investing in building a stronger economy for Bristol and the country.

 

 


I've got a little bit of catching up to do on recent questions I've asked in Parliament.  Hold fire for a summary.  This time the topics up for discussion are housing, policing and the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Firstly - I put in a call for a debate in Parliament in Government time on the increasingly desperate housing situation.  Homelessness is on the increase; home ownership is in decline; and, due to a drop in affordable house building, the private rented sector is growing.  We need the Government to own up to the realities of the situation and take action.  But they won't even have a debate about it in Parliament.

Secondly - Figures from the Mayor of London's office reveal that the number of police officers in the capital is down by 16% (or 3,000 officers).  I wanted to know what action the Government was taking to ensure that they put more bobbies on the beat on our streets.  The Minister dodged the question by talking about levels of crime instead...!

And thirdly - I asked the new Treasury Minister her thoughts on extending the Office for Budget Responsibility's remit to include auditing the manifestos of all the main political parties.  Despite the chair of the OBR, the Conservative chair of the Treasury Select Committee and even the Chief Secretary to the Treasury speaking favourably of the change, the Government isn't so keen.  Maybe they'll catch on?

And now, if you kept reading that is, you're up to date!

First published by The Observer Parliament talks ceaselessly of “the next generation”. But, in Cumbria, where I’m an MP, voluntary activity and politics are generally driven by people over the age of 55. Every village seems to have a retired engineer attempting to build a community fibre-optic cable network and baffling the most confident civil servant […]

The post Our culture excludes the old when they have so much to contribute appeared first on Rory Stewart.

Royal Mail is doing everything possible to continue to deliver the mail to the affected areas, but access is no longer possible to some addresses. We understand that this must be a very difficult time for affected customers.

Royal Mail is doing everything possible to continue to deliver the mail to the affected areas, but access is no longer possible to some addresses.  We understand that this must be a very difficult time for affected customers.  With immediate effect and until further notice, we will waive the charge for new 3 month Redirections requested by customers in flood affected areas.  If any of your constituents fall into this category, the following  details o

read more


Today (22 January) the coalition government's controversial 'Lobbying Bill' returns to the House of Commons after it has been debated and amended in the House of Lords. The government has been forced to make concessions in response to the strength and breadth of opposition. It is nevertheless likely that the Government will seek to overturn at least some of the amendments made in the House of Lords which have gone some way to improve this ill-considered Bill.

It has already had to drop its proposals to cut the total that charities are allowed to spend on campaigning in the run-up to a general election and concede that the election period is specified as the period from the day after the referendum here in Scotland rather than a full 12 months.

These changes are welcome but they simply make a bad bill slightly better. So far, the Government has refused to accept other amendments such as the one excluding background staff costs from the spending limits and requiring lobbying of special advisers to be included on the statutory register.

I was pleased to see that both of these were passed in the House of Lords despite the Government’s opposition and I and my Labour colleagues will be voting to keep these two Amendments in the Bill if the Government seeks to overturn them.

Charities are already forbidden to campaign in a partisan way by existing legislation on the way they operate and as a spokesperson for the Electoral Reform Society Scotland has pointed out, it is hard to see the problem that this Bill is seeking to solve.

          There are many other things wrong with the Bill. It would have been even better if the
          government had dropped it entirely and rethought its proposals after proper consultation
          with charities, NGOs, and trade unions, but the Commons does at least have the chance
          to make it a little better today.

One of the welcome features of the new expenses system is that constituents can see all expenses claims online here, including everything from claims for rent on the constituency office, office phone bills or standard class rail tickets to Wesminster.

In addition, the subject of MPs' accommodation arrangements in London continues to be the focus of some attention, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to provide an update on my own arrangements.

When first elected in 1997 I rented a room for a short period but it quickly became apparent that in the longer-term it would be cheaper to have a mortgage and claim the interest.  Over the years I have stayed overnight and claimed mortgage interest on a bedsit or one-bedroom flat in Westminster. 

Under the rules of the scheme, I would be entitled to retain any profit made from increases in the value of such property prior to the 2010 General Election.  But I have made it clear that in my view the purpose of the scheme is simply to give MPs somewhere to live whilst in London and not to provide a profit.   I have therefore said for some years that when I no longer owned a property in Westminster I would return any profit to the taxpayer.  I am now making arrangements to do this.

In October this year I sold my London flat and am now renting (and ceased claiming for mortgage interest in July).    I estimate that I made a profit, net of capital gains tax and legal fees etc. of around £22,000 through increases in the value of the properties on which I have claimed.  I have therefore written to IPSA confirming that I wish to return this sum and asking for details of how I can return this amount to the taxpayer.
Shadow Fisheries Minister Tom Harris has welcomed a campaign by representatives of the smaller fishing industry to win a fairer share of UK fishing quotas.

Speaking on the day that Greenpeace and NUTFA (the New Under Ten Fishermen’s Association) launched their Manifesto For Fair Fisheries, Tom called on the government to take the lead in supporting small fishing communities. He said the case had now been made for a “radical overhaul” of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK.

Smaller “inland” fishing vessels make up three quarters of the UK’s fishing fleet and employ nearly two thirds of all full-time workers. But they are restricted from catching more than four per cent of the UK fishing quota, with 96 per cent being allocated to the larger industrial fleet.
 
Tom added: “Labour wants reform that tackles vested interests and rewards those who fish more sustainably and selectively, with less impact on the environment. It is unacceptable that fleets representing the smaller, sustainable end of the industry, and which employ nearly two thirds of full-time workers, should have to survive on just four per cent of the UK fishing quota.
 
“The Government should be taking a lead in supporting our small fishing communities that are the lifeblood of many coastal areas.

“The case has now been made for a radical overhaul of the way fishing quotas are allocated within the UK. The Government needs to issue a definitive list of who exactly owns the rights to UK quota, and begin urgent talks on significantly increasing the percentage quota allocated to the Under Ten fleet.”



Yesterday, the Prime Minister launched the Government’s Challenge on Dementia – a new initiative to tackle one of Britain’s most serious health concerns. As Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Dementia, I believe that our approach to dementia care in Britain is unsustainable, with the figure of 800,000 people who currently live in the UK projected to rise to 1 million within a decade and 1.7 million by 2051.

Aside from the obvious human tragedy of the condition, which affects one in three people over the age of 65, there are serious financial consequences of dementia. Through increased healthcare costs and other expenses, the condition costs the economy £23bn, compared to £12bn for cancer and £8bn for heart disease which, per patient, means that a single dementia patient will cost the economy £27,000 – four times higher than a cancer patient and five times higher than someone with heart disease.

Despite this, research into the condition receives significantly less funding than research into other diseases. The Government’s announcement that it will double dementia research funding to £66m by 2015 is therefore extremely welcome and represents not only a fantastic opportunity for greater research into the cause, cure, care and prevention of dementia, but a greater recognition from Government that this is an issue that must be addressed.

The Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday was timely as APPG is investigating how to improve the rate of dementia diagnosis. The Group has heard from a range of people involved in the condition, including clinicians, social workers, those with the condition and those working to support them. The Government’s additional commitment to funding an additional £54m to help increase early diagnoses of the condition represents a fundamental appreciation of the importance that early identification of the disease plays in transforming dementia care.

There are important benefits to diagnosing dementia as early as possible and early diagnosis is key to living well with the condition. It means that GPs can work together with patients from an early stage to help plan their care and start treatment to slow down the progression of the disease. This can help to lower the risk of dementia-related accidents and complications, reducing both the probability that a patient will need to go into residential care as well as the overall cost of dementia to the health service.

Despite this, only between thirty and forty percent of those with dementia are diagnosed, with huge variations in diagnosis rates not just across the UK but within counties themselves. In Medway, for example, 44% of those with dementia are diagnosed compared to just 38% in West Kent. Additionally, only five to ten percent of diagnoses are made at an early stage of dementia, meaning that many of the benefits of its early identification are lost.

Some of the evidence that the Group heard suggests that a huge barrier to people coming forward for assessment is that stigma associated with dementia and it is essential that the media plays a role in helping to change the perception of those with the condition. The image of people with dementia on television is one of invalidity and ineptitude while it is often the case that a patient diagnosed early enough can live independently and with a high quality of life for many years. As with many medical conditions in the past, changing the image of dementia in the media to show it in a more realistic light is essential in getting people to visit their GP if they have concerns.

It is also therefore essential that clinicians are appropriately trained in recognising the symptoms of dementia and knowing which services are available to refer patients to. Amazingly, a quarter of GPs say that they do not receive enough training on dementia and it is therefore unsurprising that so many people with dementia slip through the net and get misdiagnosed with other conditions such as depression.

However, we cannot just rely on patients going to see the GP to get diagnosed because they are concerned about symptoms; professionals across a range of fields must work to actively recognise symptoms of dementia when interacting with older people. One of the doctors giving evidence to the Group pointed out that if a patient went into a hospital for an unrelated medical condition, it would be inconceivable for health care professional to notice potential symptoms of cancer and not follow it up, but that is not the case if they spot some early symptoms of dementia. It is only through this kind of proactive approach that we will significantly increase the rate of diagnosis.

While I look forward to the Group’s publication of the report in the summer, it is clear that we must take action to raise awareness about how important early diagnosis is and remove the stigma that stops people going for assessments while ensuring that all our healthcare professionals are properly trained to spot the early signs of dementia. The Prime Minister’s challenge to tackle dementia and improve both diagnoses and care for the condition is extremely welcome and, I hope, represents the turning point in the fight to end the unsustainable dementia status quo.

There are many groups and charities in Kent which can provide support for those with dementia and their carers. For more information, contact my office on 020 7219 2828.
I recently organised a meeting with a number of local residents about the upkeep and maintenance of Kew Bridge Railway Station. I met with representatives from Strand on the Green Association, St George's, Kew Green, The Kew Bridge Society, Express Tavern, West Thames River Group, a disability interest group, Friends of Stile Hall Gardens, Brentford Community Council and Network Rail.
Prior to the meeting, I had already been in touch with Network Rail, to strongly urge them to deal with some of the key issues around the station. Network Rail confirmed at the meeting that, as a result of my request, they had immediate plans in place now to paint the station, address the rodent problem, board up unused windows and clear graffiti They had also requested additional litter bins from Hounslow Council. At the meeting, St George's highlighted the work they had been doing too to clear up graffiti in the local area.
I am very pleased that Network Rail responded so well and are giving Kew Bridge Station a 'facelift,' which will help local residents. It will make the station seem cleaner and safer and I welcome their efforts to improve it for passengers. As a group, we are also in discussion regarding the future of the station building at Kew Bridge. As it is a Listed Building, it is obviously of architectural importance. It would be excellent if it could be restored to its former glory and put to good use.
The group is going to meet again within the next month to review progress and discuss next steps.
Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke, has welcomed the Localism Bill published by the Government on 13 December. The Bill will give individuals, groups, and their local councils a much greater say in decisions affecting their local communities.

 

Maria said: “This new legislation will make a real difference to how local matters are decided. The Community Rights measures, for example, will give new rights to local community and voluntary groups to protect, improve and even run important frontline services that might otherwise close down, such as local shops, pubs and libraries,.”

 

Maria added: “This Bill offers great opportunities for Basingstoke. Among other things, it will radically reform the planning system so that local people have a greater say and influence over what Basingstoke looks like in the future. Giving local people the opportunity to shape the development of the communities in which they live is something that I have long campaigned for, and I am delighted to see it being enshrined in law.

 

“The Borough Council’s current consultation on the number of new homes needed in Basingstoke is part of this process of taking local people’s views into consideration in developing a vision for the future. I would urge all residents to let the Council have their views on this before the end of the consultation on 14 January.”

 

Starting with a Bang

The long parliamentary recess has started - weeks without time being spent in the weekly grindingly boring train ride to London and back. Mind you its a hectic pace back at Southport but you can control your agenda better.

Yesterday I found a little time for light exercise the odd game of table tennis and a workout with heavy weights.
I've done the latter all my adult life and it has a slight addictive quality. If you don't do it for a while you actually feel muscle cramps only relieved by putting the old system under pressure.
Constraints of time often mean I forego all the warm ups and warm downs etc. So there I was on Tuesday doing a few front squats in excess of 300lb. I finished, replacing the barbell on the shoulder-high squat stand or so I thought. The stand was not aligned right .It tilted sideways as I released the weight and as the weight crashed to the floor the stand was pulled rapidly down by it pausing on its way to hit the stooping me on the head and catching me on the hand.
If you wanted to dramatise it , it might be compared to being hit on the head by a 20 stone man with an iron bar from a short distance. I thought I'd better take a break. We've had enough by- elections recently
When the family saw me with a lump as though a tennis ball had been buried in my scalp I was advised to pop into A&E. So clutching a plastic bag filled with ice cubes to my temple and bleeding from my finger I was run there and tested by some very nice jolly staff who established so far as we could tell that there was no skull or brain damage.At any rate I could still recall who the Prime Minister and reigning monarch was. I left a wiser man with a determination to avoid photo opportunities for a few days.
Desperate to prove they are doing something about the rising toll of deaths from guns and knives the government have resorted to the old idea of an "amnesty." This will enable a few aging war veterans who collected a "souvenir" and some farmers who forgot to renew their shotgun licenses to hand over guns that would never have been used for any kind of crime. Some of the younger "wannabe" gansters may also find that their weapons, usually replicas, are handed in by angry mothers.

This will be enough for the amnesty to achieve its real objective - photos of a smiling Minister in front of an impressive looking array of guns claiming that the government have "taken action".

But make no mistake the serious criminals will continue to roam the streets without any fear of being stopped and searched, (human rights) and knowing that even if by some chance they are found in poossession of a gun or knife the sentence will be minimal.

The toll of death will continue to rise.

Sign the petition for equal blood donor rules here

It's Brighton and Hove's annual Pride weekend and this year I wanted to draw attention to the campaign to end the unequal rules for gay men giving blood. 

I've also linked here to my wider work on LGBTiQ equality here and you can view my video Pride message here.


 

Pride is a thing of beauty. It sees our city transformed into full and glorious Technicolor: bursting with creativity and flair.

But it’s beautiful too for what it stands – freedom, and unity.

Pride is enormous fun.

It’s also enormously important. It’s an opportunity to say - loud and clear - that LGBTiQ rights matter. That LGBTiQ rights are human rights. To demand equality and the freedom to live.

I am incredibly proud to be an MP for a city that is known for being one of the most celebrated and progressive LGBTiQ cities not just in the country, but in the world.

And we have a great deal to celebrate this Pride.

We stood up for the freedom to marry – and now, at long last, we have that freedom.

But other freedoms still elude us.

I’m proud to stand up for an end to the discriminatory restrictions on gay men donating blood.

Not that long ago the rules were improved, but it’s still the case that gay men are discriminated against. There’s no longer a blanket ban but you are not allowed to give blood if you’ve been sexually active in the last 12 months.

That restriction doesn’t apply if you are straight.

So if you are a monogamous gay man in a stable long term relationship, you face tighter restrictions than a straight man or woman who may have had unprotected sex with multiple partners.

That’s not freedom to live.

And it’s also preventing gay men from giving others the freedom to live.

It’s a fight I’ve taken to Parliament and I’ll continue to fight on your behalf, to ensure the increased supplies of safe blood our health service so urgently needs.

The current rules are not backed by the scientific evidence, which supports a six month window before donating blood after a possible risk - for all donors regardless of sexual orientation - on the basis that tests for HIV and Hepatitis C can detect infection within that time.

So this Pride, I hope you’ll join me in calling for a ban on discrimination not on gay men giving blood...

You can:

  • I’ll be tabling a new Early Day Motion in the autumn calling for full equality in blood donation and abolishing the 12 month deferral rule; this will help add to pressure to close one of the last remaining state sanctioned discriminatory policies affecting sexual orientation in the UK.
  • In December 2010 I co-sponsored a parliamentary motion urging Ministers to end the lifetime ban on gay men giving blood. The 2011 12-month compromise, while still discriminatory, was a step in the right direction after many years of inaction under the previous Labour Government.  Leading Labour politicians Ed Miliband and Ed Balls admitted they didn’t do enough:  while Labour's shadow health secretary Andy Burnham wants the ban to stay in place.

If you are participating in Pride have a safe and fun weekend.