Monday, 27 September 2010

The World’s Largest Coffee Morning

Attending the world’s largest coffee morning, in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support, seems to be an absolute must for a local MP. Reading the Macmillan twitter page, hosted by their parliamentary team, it looks like a huge number of MPs went along to support the initiative and rightly so. The World’s Biggest Coffee Morning started in 1991 and has raised over £60m for Macmillan in that time.

So for this year’s event, I went for coffee at the Village Hotel in Aylesford where it was phenomenally busy. There were cake stores galore plus activity stalls, creative arts for sale and a tombola. There were loads of little children there and I couldn’t really work out why until I was told Peppa Pig was expected to attend too! In one week, I have been photographed with men dressed up as elephants, lions, a water butt and a drink of water (don’t ask) I drank my coffee, chatted to some folk and then escaped before Miss Peppa arrived!

Every Little Helps!

On Friday, I presented 3 local schools with a box of goodies gifted to them by Larkfield’s Tescos, as part of the Tescos for Schools and Clubs initiative. I joined the store manager, who is a week into his new role at Larkfield, at giving out the boxes but sadly didn’t get to open them with the pupils so still don’t know what is in them!

Speaking to the teachers accompanying them the school voucher programme run by Tescos and other supermarkets has become invaluable and has helped provide equipment that they would not have normally been able to afford. I think the schools vouchers programmes are an excellent initiative which not only get children involved and interested in the weekly shop but helps build good links between the supermarkets and their local communities.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Upstaged by Tiny the Elephant

Going along to the grand opening of Tiny Town, a new (and brilliant) indoor play arena in Larkfield, was clearly never going to be an event where all was required was to turn up, smile at the camera and make a swift exit. Any plans of grandeur I may have had (which thankfully I didn’t) would soon have gone out the window when I was greeted by a 6ft blue elephant called Tiny (naturally). Plus I was simply too excited!! The place is amazing and as children ran around in excitement, climbing up, jumping down and sliding along things my neighbour and I both wished that there were centres like this when we were 5.
I have heard about these play centres from my sister who with 3 children seems to spend a significant amount of time at children’s parties in one or another around mid-Kent, but I had never been inside one personally. Well Tiny Town is worth a visit. Not only are the facilities amazing (including the two 3G five a side football pitches for older children and private hire) but there is free wi-fi and healthy refreshments. I spoke at length to the owner (once he had taken off his Tiny suit!) and it has taken him over 3 years to open. He did it because he went to another centre and was appalled at what was available for his own children and how expensive it was to use. He has poured his heart and his money (as have his extended family) into this and I really wish him well – it is a fantastic place and I am sure that not only will it become hugely valuable to the children of Larkfield and surrounding areas but that it will be a huge success.

(Me and my neighbour enjoying the fun…and the kids quite liked it too!)

Dear Jim…

Did you know that DHL, the global leader in the logistics industry, has its South East distribution centre here in Aylesford? Until yesterday, nor did I! I met with managers and staff at the Quarry Wood unit yesterday lunch time and had my eyes well and truly opened to the company which I thought simply delivered parcels in yellow vans! I am pleased to say that the Maidstone centre seems to be doing well and is positive about its overall economic performance for the year, which is good news for all local employees and for the company’s regional customers.

However I must confess that as I went on the tour and saw the big boxes on the conveyor belt ready to be labelled, caged and sent here, there and everywhere, I remembered that when I was little I wrote to Jim’ll Fix It asking to be a parcel. Sadly he never replied and I was heartbroken to see someone else do it in a Royal Mail van. I also never got to drive a train…or meet Shakin Stevens…

Celebrating our volunteers

Yesterday I met a lady who has been a volunteer in Medway for 40 years! What a star and an inspiration. She was one of the many people who volunteer at Hands Rochester Volunteer Bureau providing a valuable transportation and befriending service across Chatham and Rochester. I met some “befrienders” and listened to the stories about their friends (I much prefer saying that than clients). Their dedication and commitment to their voluntary work is amazing and, sadly, much required. I really enjoyed meeting them and I shall be writing on Monday to Medway Council and Lloyds TSB Foundation to thank them for enabling the Bureau to function as well as it does thanks to their funding.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Standing up for Equitable Life victims in Chatham & Aylesford

I managed to speak in the debate on Equitable Life yesterday. It was a feisty debate and although many MPs were pleased that after 10 years of inaction, the Coalition Government has made much progress on the issue, there are still real concerns about the levels of compensation. My contribution in the debate focused on the 470 Equitable Life victims in Chatham & Aylesford and the real loss that they’ve suffered due to institutional and regulatory failure. You can read my contribution and the debate in full HERE.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Maidstone Hospital Maternity Services

Today, Maidstone MP Helen Grant secured an important debate in Parliament on the future of maternity services at Maidstone Hospital. I was grateful that she allowed me some time during her debate (an MP doesn’t have to) to put forward some of the concerns shared by local residents in Chatham & Aylesford. I was able to make it clear to the Minister that not only does this effect residents who live within just a few miles of Maidstone Hospital but that it will also impact on services at the Medway Maritime. The KM report of the debate is HERE and the full record of what was said in Parliament, plus the Minister’s response, can be found HERE.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Bogus Charity Collectors

I am sure that many people were as shocked as me after the recent report by BBC South East exposed bogus charity clothing collectors operating in Chatham and other parts of Kent and Medway. On this occasion they were doing so under the guise of Breakthrough Breast Cancer but other charities have been victims in the past. The recent flyer for Breakthrough Breast Cancer looks perfectly normal – it uses corporate branding, there is no dodgy spelling, it has a registered charity number and outlines the contribution from each bag to charity. The only problem is, the leaflet is fake, and the only way someone would know that is if they rang the number on the flyer. If I am totally honest, I would have been duped by the flyer.

However the impact of these bogus collections on genuine charities is immense. Not only does it mean people become more sceptical about donating clothes in collection bags, but it deprives them of much needed funds. I have tabled some written parliamentary questions on this matter including how much it does cost charities each year, but the estimate banded around on the Internet is that it is somewhere in the region of £5 – 14m per year. This is shocking but not as much as perceived lack of interest from enforcement agencies. Because it appears to be such a small crime, it is not a police priority. However given its cost, the organised nature of the crime and the fact that many clothes are being exported for cash, I would say it is very serious indeed.

It was for that reason that I tabled the following motion in Parliament:

“That this House condemns the activities of fraudulent charity clothing bag collectors who abuse the goodwill of those who donate clothes for good causes; recognises that this organised crime is becoming a nationwide issue; expresses concern that these activities undermine the valuable work of genuine charities, depriving them of millions of pounds worth of donations per annum; and calls on the Government to ensure that local police authorities tackle the criminal gangs responsible and facilitate the strict enforcement of the House to House Collections Act 1939 and punishment of those found in breach of the Act”.

I hope to secure a debate in the next few weeks to raise this issue with a Minister direct but I will not rest until this issue is being taken seriously by the authorities and people can donate to charity collections safe in the knowledge that it is genuine.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A quick catch up

It was over a month since I last blogged so I thought I’d quickly recap on some of the things I have been up to.
Just before I took some time off I went to see the amazing group of volunteers on the Medway SOS Bus. The Bus provides an excellent service to those who may have found that their good night out in the pubs and clubs has not quite gone to plan and are unwell, injured or simply feeling vulnerable and need some advice or help to get home. I was really impressed with the team on board, some of whom travel from as far as Ashford to help, and they clearly provide an essential service that can not only reduce the need for blue light services but can also prevent people needing to go to A&E. I had left before things hotted up but I understand that night they had 20 plus people needing their help.

My last engagement before the break was to attend the opening of the new Aylesford Football Pavilion with Ron “Chopper” Harris. What a great man and what an excellent new football club house. As someone who travels around the County with my girls team, I can say categorically it is by far the best facility I have seen in Kent.

I then took a two week staycation at home in Aylesford and my partner David and I caught up with friends, family, house administration and DIY – it was not our ideal holiday but it needed to be done!

Once back, the priority was to go through the post and emails that had accumulated in my absence. Thankfully my wonderful staff had dealt with most casework in my absence but there were a mountain of reports and papers to read when I returned to my desk in Westminster. Luckily I managed to get through them quite quickly before returning to the constituency for more meetings and an extra surgery.

One absolutely fascinating meeting I had was with a charity that is about to be entirely based in Aylesford called Computers4Africa. In this global age of technology where we can’t move for things that bleep, that instant communication with people all over the world is a requirement not a luxury, and that new year 7s are told to have a laptop as required by their new secondary school, it is difficult to appreciate that our old desktop PCs are so enthusiastically received by many in Africa. Computers4Africa clean data from old PCs and send them to countries, such as Tanzania, where they are given to schools and communities to use. The best story I heard was that they were being donated to schools where people were being trained to become ICT teachers so they themselves then learn how to build a computer before going on to teach what they’ve learned. That is sustainability in action! Whilst I only had a preliminary meeting with the charity and am very much looking forward to seeing their warehouse where they clean the computers of data and prepare them for shipment. If anyone has a PC they would like to donate, their details are on their website and I know it will be gratefully received.

So now we are back in Parliament for two weeks before the Conference Season. Yesterday’s debate on the Alternative Vote was certainly a feisty affair and although I voted in favour of the Bill at second reading, I have severe reservations about the date of the referendum (hence why signed the Early Day Motion). There were 74 people down to speak in yesterday’s debate and not all got called. It will be interesting to see what happens at Committee Stage, where each clause gets discussed (in theory anyway), and how many people get a chance to speak in those debates.

A new dawn!

I have celebrated the honour of being put on the list of Top MP blogs by changing the layout of my blog! The new template design provided by Blogger is amazingly easy to use and despite temptation I shall refrain from playing with it too often. I shall also try to do the Total Politics award justice by updating it on a more regular basis!