Monday, 27 December 2010

Honouring my pledge

During the election campaign I signed up to the Clean Campaign Pledge part of which was a promise to regularly publish my expenses online. I aim to do this monthly on my website and have now uploaded all my expenses to the end of November, which can be found HERE.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Tuning in to Radio Caroline…on Medium Wave?

Last week I tabled a parliamentary motion calling on Ofcom to release a Medium Wave frequency for Radio Caroline to use in the South East. The station is by far one of the most well known radio stations in the world, is a cornerstone of British radio history, has had 2 current MPs DJ on it, and unbelievably will celebrate its 50th birthday in 2014. However it has been denied an opportunity to secure a MW frequency so that listeners can enjoy the station in transit, rather than via the internet or through Sky TV. With unused frequencies on license to France and the North East, there is a perfect opportunity for Ofcom to release a platform so that loyal listeners, and many many have been in touch since I tabled the EDM, will be able to carry on enjoying Caroline’s music through their radios.

More information about Radio Caroline’s campaign can be found HERE.

UPDATE: Richard Bacon MP just asked Ofcom during a Select Committee hearing if they will speak to the French broadcasting equivalent about releasing a frequency. They agreed to do so. Watch this space.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

My first 3 months of expenses

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority today published the expenses of all MPs for the first 3 months after the election. Mine can be found on my website HERE. The first 3 months are front loaded with office start up costs and, rather than wait for IPSA’s timetable, I will next week publish all my expenses to date which will show a more accurate update of what taxpayers money has been spent on.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Abandoned Vehicles in the Snow

Earlier this year, I wrote about vehicles that were abandoned on and around Bluebell Hill being towed and pounded in Sheppey, with owners asked to fork out £150 plus a daily £20 in order to have them released. With the snow again causing local chaos, the police issued a warning to motorists that abandoned cars would again be towed.

It was with that in mind that I wrote to the Chief Constable asking for some common sense when taking cars away. Whilst of course cars left in a dangerous place should be removed, all vehicle owners should be contacted in advance (unlike last year) and if possible a local pound should be used. Given that Sheppey is prone to getting cut off in adverse weather conditions, and there is no local public transport direct to the Island, it is totally inconvenient for motorists to be able to reclaim their vehicles.
Hopefully the police will learn the lessons from January and apply a more common sense approach to abandoned vehicles. In the meantime, take care on those roads.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Outcome of Holborough Lakes public meeting

Last night I chaired a public meeting for residents of Holborough Lakes with the Manging Director of Berkeley Homes, the development company behind the estate. Interestingly, the vast majority of people I’ve spoken to who live on the estate love their property and are very happy with the building spec. Unfortunately their frustration has always been around parking problems borne out of Prescott’s ludicrous planning requirements. As the development has continued the developers have amended their plans but residents who bought in the first two phases continue to suffer from lack of parking space.

The key issues raised during the evening included the prohibition of commercial vans parking on the estate, the use of and charging for visitor spaces, plans to increase the number of parking areas, speeding through the estate and the improvement of play areas.
Berkeley Homes came to the meeting having listened to complaints raised by me and residents direct and had some proposals for discussion. Some were received well, others will be reconsidered further, plus there were some very good new proposals put forward by residents during the meeting which will also be taken back and discussed further. All in all I thought the meeting was extremely constructive and whilst the concerns of residents are not yet dealt with, there has at least now been some dialogue and indeed a bit of progress.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Chatham MP celebrates HMS Chatham’s visit to Chatham

It was a real privilege this evening to sit on a top table at the Civic Reception held in honour of HMS Chatham’s visit to Chatham Maritime. I felt a real sense of pride in those I talked to this evening about their time on board a ship that is the latest in a long line of those to carry Chatham’s name, and their sense of duty to Queen and Country is palpable. I was on a table with two women, both Able Seaman, and two Officers and the team work and family spirit of those who serve on board was evident, whilst still showing utter respect for rank. They were a credit to the Navy; polite, witty, intelligent, fascinating and utterly impartial in their political commentary.

As MPs we get offered an opportunity to learn more about the military by joining a scheme which allows us to serve time with which ever force we choose. I opted out this year, but having spent the evening with such nice but totally dedicated service men and women, I am seriously going to consider assigning myself to the Navy next year – I now want to know and learn more and witness the team and family at work.

Meeting Mid Kent College students

On Friday I went to meet this year’s public services students at Mid Kent College. I’ve been on a number of occasions before and always enjoy talking to the gathered 17 and 18 year olds – they are like a mini-focus group. Once they’ve asked one or two of the prepared questions they very quickly go off script and end up providing an interesting insight into the issues that they care about. This time was no different and benefits, immigration and the cost of car insurance were the issues we spent most time talking about. We had shorter but still interesting chats about tuition fees, employment opportunities, EMA and the future of Chatham but the extensive discussion on welfare reform really gave me confidence that there was a genuine understanding why change is required. I look forward to going back next term to hear what the next group think about the key matters of the day but in the meantime I am in no doubt that the excellent students I met on Friday are going on to great things.

Friday, 29 October 2010

wear it pink day

Today I joined Breast Cancer Care and millions of people across the UK in supporting wear it pink day. Over one million people supported the event to help improve survival rates for the one in nine people who experience breast cancer during their lifetime. Every year, 45,000 new cases of breast cancer, in both men and women, are detected each year. If by supporting the wear it pink day, I can help raise awareness of breast cancer then hopefully we can together support sufferers and their families, as well as contribute to vital research into prevention and cure.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Meeting Evelyn (aged 7)

I was very pleased to welcome young Evelyn from Luton to Westminster yesterday after she wrote me a very sweet letter asking to come and visit. Evelyn has just received her “pen licence” at school and her neat handwritten letter showed why. She said her school “took part in an election, so the children would know how important it is to vote” and that she was “very excited to see where all the big decisions are made”. It was nice to meet Evelyn and her parents and to hear that local primary schools are engaging pupils in politics…and teaching children to write so neatly!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Southeastern Train Fares

Yesterday I co-signed an Early Day Motion on Southeastern Train Fares. It can be viewed HERE. I think it is important to note that the last Labour Government agreed a formula with Southeastern Trains which allowed increases of RPI + 3% until 2011, whereas other operators only have RPI + 1%.

Colleagues from the South East have met with the rail minister Theresa Villiers to firstly, make it clear how unfair this formula is and secondly, to propose a cap on fare rises for Southeastern so that in the future it is no greater than other franchises, so for example, if as reported, those on +1 rise by three percentage points, then Southeastern should only rise by a further +1 percentage point, equalising all operating companies to plus 4%. The Labour Government’s differential formula for Southeastern has placed an unfair financial burden on the South East. Now that the Coalition is also setting out Labour’s economic mess, we need to ensure that the commuters are not further penalised by disproportionate fare increases.

I also intend to write to the Minister and ask her to consider changing the formula from RPI to CPI, which would bring train fares down nearly £100 for an annual (non HS1) travel card.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

The EU Draft Budget: Value for the British Taxpayer?

Having met a great many constituents on the doorstep over the past four years, I am acutely aware that the issue of the European Union is an emotive one. So many might be shocked if they read the Draft Budget as proposed by the European Commission for the forthcoming year. I should add at this point that before anyone tries to paint me as an anti-European, I am not. I am certainly not a Better Off Out campaigner but I do think we need to bring back some of our sovereignty – ie I subscribe to the old mantra of in Europe but not run by Europe.

So at 5:30pm this afternoon, the Draft EU Budget came before Parliament for its rightful scrutiny. Each member state of the EU, including the UK, contribute collectively to a EU Budget which is then spent on a variety of initiatives across Europe. So, in a time when money is tight and essential spending reviews taking place in our country, you could expect every taxpayer’s pound spent and hoping to be spent by the EU to be questioned thoroughly. Perhaps more so given that despite every country across Europe suffering from a harsh economic climate and announcing spending cuts, the European Commission have proposed an eye watering increase in their 2011 budget by 5.8%, set to cost the UK a further £1.9 billion in their net contributions to the budget.

To put this figure into perspective. The UK payed in £6.4 billion in net contributions to the EU Budget last year. A £1.9 billion increase would leave the UK paying a whopping £8.3 billion in the coming year. This towers over any budget cuts made by departments this year.

It seems to me, as I am sure it does to you, that when the Government is making the tough but necessary spending decisions in trying to put our public finance back in order, the thought of contributing more to the EU Budget is unquestionably wrong. However, as we know, value for money was not an ethos adhered to by the previous Government who kindly signed the country up to an agreement seeing the UK’s contributions increasing year on year, forecast to reach £10.3 billion in 2014/15.

In the small print of this particular Draft EU Budget, you will also discover that the EU deems it necessary to factor in a £296 million increase in their own administrative costs. Why should the British taxpayer be asked to tighten their belts as the Government is admirably driving down costs and eliminating waste, only to loosen them again to fund higher administration costs in the EU? This is a question I put to Parliament during the debate.

What the debate essentially boils down to, from my perspective at least, is a basic value for money argument. So I ask the following questions: Does this increase of £1.9 billion represent value for money for the British taxpayer? Does it represent value for money for the people of Chatham & Aylesford? Is this the best use of the country’s finances? I certainly don’t think so and nor did the Labour Party this evening as they didn’t even turn up to support their own negotiated Budget. Every backbench Labour MP who spoke did so against the increase in spending, for the same reasons as outlined above.

Now our very able Minister Justine Greening will head for Brussels to try and ensure that the 2011 EU budget is held at cash levels equivalent to the 2010 budget and to reject the European Parliament’s proposals to increase the budget; she does so with the full support of Parliament.

The full debate including my contribution can be found HERE.

My debate secures a new Government roundtable on bogus charity collections

Today I held my first debate in Westminster Hall on the subject of bogus charity bag collections where I called for the government and relevant authorities to address this unscrupulous and growing crime.

I have felt particularly strongly about this issue since hearing about a spate of incidences across Chatham, leading me to seek time for a debate in Parliament where it was my hope to at least highlight to the Minister that this issue is getting out of control and needs some tough action from the top. My speech centred on the complexity of outdated legislation allowing bogus charity collectors to continue to defraud genuine donations to charities, without fear of repercussion. I also felt I needed to highlight the half-hearted approach of the majority of authorities in bringing the criminals to justice.

The Minister’s response was encouraging and it now seems as though there may finally be some meaningful progress in tackling the issue. He agreed with me that beginning with a review of the Charities Act 2006, the main legislative document relating to charities, is essential to providing the legal base on which the thieves can be prosecuted. He also confirmed that in light of this debate, he would be writing to the Ministry of Justice asking what degree of deterrence was in place and whether there is any scope to impose harsher punishments for those found guilty. In addition he will also be writing to the Association of Chief Police Officers asking why this criminal activity, worth £14 million a year to charity, is seemingly not a police priority.

However, whilst I welcome the Minister’s interventions, if we are to combat bogus charity collections and restore trust in charity donations, we will need firm commitments from the Government and an acceptance that this is a serious and far-reaching crime, not just warm words of support.

The Minister during his reply also offered me a place at a “Government roundtable” which will be responsible for co-ordinating the progress in combating bogus charity collections. It is my intention to accept his offer where I will ensure that the Government delivers on restoring trust, punishing those found guilty and improving the legislation.

The transcript of the debate can be found HERE.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Safer Chatham Train Station

Yesterday, I went to Chatham Railway Station to present a Department for Transport and a British Transport Police award to staff for creating a safer and cleaner train station. In order to receive this award, the station must meet strict security criteria including reducing crime rates at the station, all staff are trained with conflict management skills, and that there is good station maintenance including CCTV, lighting, graffiti removal within 24 hours and secure fencing and boundaries.

I agreed to present this award because having stood outside Chatham train station during the election I met some of the staff who not only cleared up our election leaflets that people dropped without bothering to put them in the station bins but also saw them deal with some pretty hostile behaviour from members of the public. I was impressed by their attitude and their commitment to the local environment which they are responsible for.

However I am slightly bemused to see that my recognition of the hard work the low paid staff do to make sure that the Chatham train user is safe, has been interpreted as an endorsement of Southeastern! I fail to see how saying well done to the two transport police officers who stop a woman getting mugged or the man who follows smokers around with a dustpan and brush is any kind of acceptance of the pending fare increase or striking train drivers? As it happens the former is something that has been raised with Southeastern in person by both me, Mark Reckless and Rehman Chishti and Mark has organised a further meeting next week with the Rail Minister Theresa Villiers to discuss the impact of punitive fare increases.

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!

Friday, 6 August 2010

Good News for the Bishop of Rochester Academy

Having returned home after being in meetings all day, I was delighted to learn that Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, has given the go-ahead for Building Schools for the Future (BSF) funding for the Bishop of Rochester Academy (BoRA).

The Academy was formed after the merger of Chatham South and Medway Community College and is due to open in September. BSF funding had been applied for in order to build a brand new single site school replacing the dilapidated buildings on the MCC site, but it had been announced that the capital allocation was under review.

This has understandably caused some uncertainty among parents, teachers and pupils but now that it has been announced that the Government will reward capital funds, we can draw a line in the sand and get on with the plans to build a new first class facility which will help improve the learning environment, teaching standards and results.

Friday, 30 July 2010

The best thing about being an MP…

I have always said that one of the reasons I wanted to be an MP was to be able to help people who were so desperate that they didn’t know who else to turn to. The amount of casework since I arrived has been more than I expected and although I have not been able to solve all the problems I have had a number of successes. This week alone I have had three letters of genuine thanks which has been great but today I got a thank you that brought a little lump to my throat!

It happened during my visit at the first ever Luton Summer Camp (organised by some excellent volunteers and supported by Christ Church and Councillor Bhutia) and having watched some dances by the children I stayed talking to some parents and carers. A lady carrying a young lad came over and after I asked him if he had fun, his mum said “what did you want to say to Tracey”. He said “thank you” and I, thinking he meant thank you for coming, said “your welcome”. But his mum asked him what for and he said “thank you for helping me get my wheelchair”. Immediately I knew who he was for I have been helping his mum for the last 6 weeks or so fight to speed up what had thus far been a prolonged process for him to get a wheelchair. Although for some ridiculous reason it can’t be picked up for another 3 weeks, the fact is that it is now at the Medway Maritime with his name tag on it.

It annoys me that for something so simple the process was so difficult and that it therefore required the young boy’s mother to come to me in absolute despair and frustration. It might not sound like a big deal. Indeed readers might not think that given the macro issues the area/nation/world faces sorting out a wheelchair is a huge victory. But when I think that my letter helped speed up a process that will in some small way change a mother/son’s life, then I can keep on smiling safe in the knowledge that today I experienced the best thing about being an MP.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Transport Secretary says no to Boris Island

Following representation from Medway Council and constituents, I recently wrote to Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport, asking him to clarify Government policy on the Thames Estuary Airport, as proposed by London Mayor Boris Johnson. I have now received his reply, which says:

“I can confirm that the Government has no plans to build any new airports in the region. Our aviation policies are firmly focussed on improving existing airports – making our airports better, not bigger”

So there it is then – an unequivocal no to Boris Island. Hopefully we can now end all future speculation on whether an airport will be built in the Thames Estuary because it won’t be under this Government.

Monday, 26 July 2010

President of Medway RSPCA

I was delighted to attend the Medway RSPCA open day in Walderslade on Saturday and was equally pleased to have been asked to be their new President. I am a massive animal lover, although I must confess I don’t like to hold any animal without fur and with more than four legs! I was grateful therefore that I was merely asked to pose with a 10 week old bunny rabbit…albeit in its cage and much to the amusement of my researcher!

Crouch meets Crouch

Today, the All Party Communications Group met to discuss Ofcom’s recent ruling forcing Sky to allow other pay TV providers to offer Sky Sports 1 & 2 to customers. The event, sponsored by BT, included a discussion between Martin Keown, the former Arsenal & England player, and Spurs striker Peter Crouch.

Peter discussed the recent World Cup, Spurs’ forthcoming premiership, as well as investment in the grassroots, development for academies of talent, football finance and the number of English players and managers.

It is often said that footballers are out of touch with what the fans think so it was good to hear two football giants talking about these issues in person and not differing too much from what the man in the pub says week after week.

HMS Cavalier needs your vote

Am pleased to see that Chatham’s very own HMS Cavalier is in the final of the National Lottery Awards. HMS Cavalier is competing against two other projects in the Best Education category for the chance to win the national award and a £2000 prize and needs everyone to vote if it is going to win. The competition closes on 13th August and the finalist will appear on the BBC’s prime time show on 4th September called “National Lottery Big 7”.

There is more information about HMS Cavalier in this very interesting article HERE and you can vote for HMS Cavalier either on 0844 686 1038 or online HERE

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Medway Council’s budget – the minister’s response

We get four bags of post per day in the House of Commons and the letter re Medway Council’s budget cuts arrived in the last one today. I really do understand the position the Ministry is in with the need to make savings in order to reduce the extraordinary deficit clocked up by the Labour Government but, as I said to the Minister in person, I am disappointed about the decision re the PSA grant. My duty now is to work with the Council’s leaders to try and ensure that the impact on residents in Chatham is minimal and that investment in some of the poorest parts of Medway continues.

(If this doesn’t enlarge when you click on it please let me know)

Medway Council funding

Over the weekend I blogged about Medway Council’s budget cuts. I spoke to the Minister as scheduled on Monday and am expecting a letter in response shortly, which rather than paraphrase here now I will post in full when received. I will say however that I remain disappointed!

Photographers’ Liberties

Earlier this week, the Home Secretary made a statement in the House of Commons that she intended to review the previous Government’s counter-terrorism legislation. The legislation has been misused on a number of occasions including during the Labour Party conference to stop a heckler and when trying to recoup money lost in Icelandic banks. But locally it had also been used in the arrest of a local photographer as noted previously on this blog HERE. I got the opportunity to ask the Home Secretary about this particular case and the exchange was as follows:

Tracey Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) (Con): Under the previous Government, a photographer from Medway was arrested in Chatham high street under section 44 stop-and-search powers, and he and fellow photographers from Medway will welcome today’s announcement from the Home Secretary. Will she assure the House that any future revision of anti-terror legislation will strike the right balance between protecting the public and safeguarding the rights of individuals?

Mrs May: I am happy to give that assurance to my hon. Friend. She may have noticed that in my statement I specifically said that we would look at the issue of photographers and stop-and-search powers. It is one issue that has been brought home forcibly to me. I have had Constituency cases of people who have been stopped under those powers and been concerned about it, and I have received a number of representations from Members of this House, and indeed of another
place, about those problems.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

A select photo montage of recent activities

I met with citizenship pupils at Aylesford Sports College, and Sylvia from African People’s Advocacy.

Had a good meeting with new Chief Executive of RBLI – some good challenging issues for me to take back to Westminster.

Really enjoyed talking to the Mid Kent College public services students for the forth year running. Also had a tour of the new campus – v impressive.

14 year old Mark joined me on a week’s work experience, which included him coming to Gillingham FC with me to hear about their community work.

I loved this cockerel! Funniest thing I’ve seen was watching the French team mascot parade around the KM’s mini-world cup hi-fiving other teams.

I opened the Blue Bell Hill village fete and was presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers, shortly before Cllr Homewood won a much coveted coconut!

Visited the RSPCA in Walderslade. Yes there is real fear in my eyes. No I did not unfold my arms in order to touch the lizard!

Medway Council budget cuts

One of the issues I have picked up over the past couple of weeks is the cut in Medway Council’s PSA reward grant. Although the revenue grant reduction was one of the smallest in the Country, the cut in the PSA reward was an unwelcome development. This will indeed have an impact on specific projects, not least because it had already been budgeted for, and I have therefore written to the Secretary of State on behalf of Medway Council. I am scheduled to speak to a Minister about it tomorrow and will update my blog when I have any further information.

Returning competition to our schools

The Government recently announced that it was going to introduce an Olympic-style sports competition to our schools, following a successful pilot project here in Kent. This will not only help return competitive sports to our schools, ridding our classrooms of the “everyone’s a winner” culture, but it will also increase participation in activities (and yes I do mean more than just traditional field sports).

I was invited on to Politics Show South East to talk about the poor participation rates in Kent and Medway but, and I know there will be huge sighs of disappointment, it is no longer available on iplayer! The point of the piece was that a report was published recently showing the levels of participation in 3 hours of PE and out of hours sport per week amongst year 7-11 pupils. The national average is 50% and yet Kent and Medway were below average, and sadly Medway is the lowest in the country with 26%. Your Medway carried the story HERE.

The curriculum is under huge pressure and I sympathise enormously with schools trying to fit everything in but I would like to see a slimming down of the curriculum, concentrating on core subjects, so that inter and intra-school competitions can return into state schools. The Government’s school sports competition helps, as does local initiatives such as the mini-world cup, and Kent County Council’s School Games which the Government’s competition is modelled on. I also think that support for grassroot programmes is essential and as I said on the TV, this shouldn’t just mean football, rugby and cricket. Activities such as dance and gymnastics have become more popular recently, partly thanks to the success of troupes on talent shows, and they deserve as much support as football.

Of course with money being tight, there will be a reliance on volunteers and already the Government has made it clear it will support the army of coaches, managers, trainers and others required to help improve participation. Whatever happens though, policymakers locally and nationally must remember that sport is about more than just having fun, it provides good discipline, improves communication and teamwork skills and is proven to help concentration levels. A healthy body does indeed equal a healthy mind and if we are to improve academic standards then a good dose of sporting activity will certainly help.

For the record – Thames Estuary Airport

Yet again the proposal for a Thames Estuary Airport seems to have gathered local interest. This follows the establishment of an All Party Group in favour of the proposal by Essex MP Bernard Jenkin. North Kent MPs were asked to join the group. I and others declined, making it clear that we were firmly against the proposal and that we supported Medway and Kent County Council’s opposition to the Airport.

Following a letter from Medway Council Leader Rodney Chambers, I wrote to the Transport Secretary Philip Hammond seeking an assurance that he would, as David Cameron did before the Election, rule out any proposal to build an Airport in the Thames Estuary. Not only is it an environmentally mad proposal but during these tough economic times when difficult decisions are being made to cut programmes, it would be financially bonkers. I will post the reply on my blog when received.

Time is flying by

It has been well over 2 weeks since I last updated this blog and sadly there is no good excuse as to why not – no technological problems, no illnesses, no family engagements; quite simply I just seem to run out of time every day! Which is a shame really because I’ve done a number of things over the past few weeks that ordinarily deserve an immediate blog post. To make up for it I will post a series of articles after this on some key local issues and instead use this to give a general update.

The first thing to say is I now have a fully staffed, fully operational office in Westminster and I thank anyone who may have waited longer than usual for a response for their patience. We have also moved in the constituency and instead of being based in Gillingham I now have an office in Lordswood, Chatham. I will update my website with the contact details asap. Two out of 3 members of my staff are from the constituency which is an added bonus for me and those who need to contact me.

I have joined various All Party Groups including those on alcohol misuse, drug and alcohol harm reduction, mental health, carers and dementia. Groups like these produce invaluable cross-party reports on policy and can help contribute to the debate on issues that often fall within wider department portfolios, thus are forgotten or rank lower than the big picture/headline policy areas. I am also carrying on my interest in insurance and am secretary to the Insurance & Financial Services Group. Plus I have joined the football group and the football club group – the former talks about football policy such as bringing in technology, supporting grassroots etc and the latter is about actually playing (unless you are girl and the game is refereed by an FA qualified ref and then one is not allowed to play – ahem and grrrr).

I am meeting some really interesting groups, businesses and people in the constituency on Thursday evenings, Fridays and Saturdays and am continuously learning about new issues, best practice and future challenges. I have enjoyed opening fetes and summer festivals and there are still two more to come before the end of July. My surgeries are fully booked almost two weeks before and having decided to do a rota for venues (two in Chatham, one in Aylesford and one in Snodland) we’re about to finish our first full 8-week cycle, just demonstrating how quickly time has gone by.

I shall try to set aside more time to update this blog during the week and now things are settling down I really have no further excuse not to!

ps – I forgot to say, I didn’t stand for election to a Select Committee, wanting instead to concentrate my time on other things, but I would like to congratulate Rochester MP Mark Reckless for his election and commiserate with Reh Chishti who unfortunately didn’t get elected.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Some thoughts on the Budget

The Times Leader’s opening paragraph sums up yesterday’s Budget statement really well. It says:

“We have the measure of this Government now. In only seven weeks, George Osborne has put together an emergency Budget that has restored some clarity and sanity to Britain’s finances. This was not a Budget of unavoidable cuts and inevitable tax rises. It was much better than that, and bolder. Mr Osborne has made some fundamental choices on tax and spending that were daring, but also sensitive to many of those who will feel the pain. There was not flicker of ideological fervour for cuts of which Labour has been warning; only a sense of regret and realism, coupled with an apparent desire to tell the bad news straight, rather than hiding it in footnotes”.

It is spot on.

Yesterday, the Chancellor delivered a Budget statement in recognition of the mess that Labour left this country in. The state of the UK economy was a key factor in the constituency during the Election and everyone I met on the doorstep knew that whoever formed the Government would be faced with tough decisions. Labour left behind one of the largest budget deficits in Europe. Thanks to their incompetence, we are now are borrowing one pound for every four we spend. If we fail to deal with the deficit the consequences would be severe – and it is the poorest who would suffer the most. We only have to look at Greece to see what happens to countries that don’t live within their means – more businesses going bust and higher unemployment.

The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives have come together to tackle the debt crisis facing our country. The Government has taken the tough decisions that the Governor of the Bank of England and the G20 called for and that Labour ducked. But let’s be clear about some of Labour’s political rhetoric around some of these key announcements. Leaked documents following the 2008 Pre-Budget Report showed that the last Labour government were going to raise VAT to 20%. Their attack on yesterday’s announcement is therefore rather hollow. However it is important to note that it will be the wealthiest fifth of families who will pay on average over £500 a year in additional VAT, while the fifth of families on the lowest incomes will pay around a third of that. VAT will still be below the average rate in Europe.

Fairness underpins this Government’s budget. The Government will ensure that every part of society makes a contribution to deficit reduction while protecting the most vulnerable, including children and pensioners. The emergency budget sets out measures to refocus the tax and benefit framework. It also includes action to reward those who work hard and save responsibly. The Chancellor announced support for low and middle-income earners by increasing the personal allowance of £1,000. This will take 880,000 of the lowest income tax payers out of the tax and benefit 23 million taxpayers by up to £170 per year. In the South East over 3 million basic rate taxpayers will gain by up to £170 from this measure.

He also announced a triple lock on the state pension so it rises annually by the higher of earnings, prices or 2.5% from April 2011 – this will benefit 11 million pensioners, 1.6 million of which live in the South East.

Much criticism has also been levied at the announcement on benefits reform. Many people I met were appalled at the abuse of the benefits system and argued for reform. Much of what was announced yesterday will focus the benefits system to help those who need it most. I will however pledge here and now that I will call for an assurance that the medical assessment will consider those who suffer a mental illness, which is often a hidden disability and requires support.

There were of course many more announcements in the Budget yesterday all of which can be found on the Treasury website. But in summary the emergency budget sets out clearly how we will pay for the bills of the past and it also starts planning for the future. It shows how the Government will carry out Britain’s unavoidable deficit reduction plan in a way that strengthens and unites the country. It will along with everyone else in the UK affect constituents of Chatham & Aylesford but it will also help put this country back on track for economic recovery. The short term pain will provide for long term gain.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Supporting Medway’s 21,000 Carers

Encouraged by a recent meeting with ITV’s This Morning celebrity GP, Dr Chris Steele, I visited the Medway Carers Centre yesterday in support of Carers Week (14-20 June) to celebrate the contribution made by people across Medway who provide unpaid care for someone who is ill, frail or disabled.

There are a shocking 21,000 carers across Medway, many of whom are children, who sacrifice much of their own lives to look after others and are unable to do the little things that most of us take for granted. A trip to the cinema or even a full night’s sleep are luxuries for thousands of people across Chatham & Aylesford and we more often than not forget this.

Visiting the centre yesterday was an important initiation for me on this issue and I felt very humble afterwards. I popped into a caring with confidence class that the Centre runs and instead of just saying hi briefly, we ended up having an impromptu Q&A session. This was followed by a more formal meeting with carers and volunteers at the Centre. Both parts of the visit raised some very good points about policy changes or improvements and I look forward to taking them up with the relevant ministers.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Minister supports Aylesford’s Royal British Legion Industries

In response to an oral question during Work & Pensions Questions yesterday, the disabilities minister Maria Miller paid tribute to the work of Royal British Legion Industries in helping disabled people find work. She said it was “vital” to have organisations like the RBLI “on-the-ground” supporting disabled people and that they would play a role in the Work Programme being prepared by the Employment Minister.

Having been around RBLI and seen first hand the excellent work they do, I was keen to support them in the Commons. The full exchange can be found HERE.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

My Maiden Speech

I made my Maiden Speech today in the debate on poverty. The first speech you make in the Commons is different to any other in that precedent determines you talk about your constituency, you pay tribute to your predecessor, and reading your speech is forgiven (from now on it is not!). However I wanted to talk about the issue of poverty as well as it is an important element of the challenges we face locally and nationally. The full text of my speech can be found HERE.

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The whirlwind continues…

It has been a while since I last blogged but the whirlwind introduction to Parliament has continued. I still don’t have an office in the Palace of Westminster but these things take time to work out, and I am beginning to enjoy working with colleagues in our “common room” of hot desks; we are sharing our experiences of working out how to do certain things such as tabling questions or dealing with specific areas of casework. I spent some time in the Chamber last week just to watch, listen and learn and I also signed my first Early Day Motion which supports Carers’ Week – a group of people who are the epitome of unsung heroes and who I have come to really admire over the past four years. The postbag continues to grow day by day, most of which comes from external organisations who are blanket communicating with MPs regardless of their constituency or political interests, but is on the whole largely under control.

On Friday I was pleased to be back in the constituency and the day started early on with a meeting in West Malling with our local PC and PCSOs. It was a great opportunity to share our concerns and talk about ways of working together to protect and improve our local community and I look forward to doing the same in a couple of weeks time at the Medway end of the constituency. After a private lunch, I went to County Hall to meet with the Ditton Youth project to support their submission for funds from KCC to help with the renovation of the cedar rooms for a new youth club. Having met the youngsters a couple of weeks ago, it was good to see them still full of energy and enthusiasm.

Saturday was a quieter day. I spent most of the day doing paperwork before heading over to the Love Music, Hate Racism festival in Medway. I wanted to support the event after witnessing a small increase in the BNP vote at the General Election and it was great to hear from the Hope Not Hate group who so successfully helped fight off the BNP in Barking. As I departed the festival was gearing up for 3 days of live music, all in a good cause.

Friends and loved ones kept me away from my laptop on Sunday which enabled me to rest, relax and catch my breath a bit. One of the things I have noticed in the first couple of weeks in Parliament is that I haven’t really had time to read a newspaper so it was nice to sit down and catch up with news and comment – that time passed quickly and it was soon time to get back to the emails.

Today the House wasn’t sitting so I had a bonus day in the constituency. I took the opportunity to look at a potential office, do a home visit, meet with local councillors, lunch with the Chief Executive and Operations Director of MHS, go through the post with my researcher and finally attend the launch of an art exhibition in the Brook Theatre by youngsters in care alongside the Mayor and local artist Billy Childish. Tomorrow, it is back to the House of Commons for the first Prime Minister Question Time since the General Election…so no end to the whirlwind just yet!

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Supporting the Ditton Youth Project

On Thursday evening I attended a meeting with members of the Ditton youth project and the adult Committee to support them in their attempt to convert the Ceder Rooms at Ditton Community Centre into a venue for a regular Youth Club. Aylesford Councillor Dave Smith attended the meeting with me bringing with him some advice for the Committee having gone through the same process with Aylesford’s very successful Youth Club.

The project plan is sound and exciting, will provide all youth organisations in the area with excellent accommodation and the youngsters are working hard as a team to put together funding bids. I am very much on board and will be supporting them every step of the way.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

A very proud manager

I am this afternoon one very proud football manager. At Cobdown Park, Ditton, Meridian Girls U12s won the Tina Marshall Cup Final in extra time, having been 2 nil down to Gravesham Girls after just 10 minutes. Instead of giving up, they fought hard for every ball and went into half time only 2-1 down having clawed back a goal.

What followed was a very exciting second half which saw us equalise twice, forcing extra time after the game finished 3-3. There were 7 minutes each way and penalties would follow if it was still a draw. Meridian’s Under 10s earlier won their Final on penalties and I didn’t fancy trying to pick 5 girls to take spot kicks (although I had in my mind anyway). Thankfully we didn’t need to go down that route after we scored another goal in each half and the game ended 5-3 to Meridian.

Gravesham played very well and have always been one of the nicest teams to play against; as a club they share our own club’s values of you play cleanly and fairly and accept the outcome graciously. All girls shook hands and it was acknowledged in the presentation to have been the best game of the day so far.

After a poor first 10 minutes, Meridian Girls played well and never gave up fighting. It is for that reason that I am most proud of them, not that they won a shiny trophy. They worked hard for their medals and as they left being spoilt rotten with sweets and ice cream by overjoyed parents, I am sure they will still be smiling for some time yet.

An extraordinary first week

It has been an extraordinary first week in the job.

On Monday I headed up to London to resign from Aviva. It was sad to leave a company I joined the day after the 2005 General Election and I have learned a lot working across all parts of the business. I am in no doubt my experience in the City and for a major plc will help me as I navigate my way through my new role. As I left the City to get on the tube to Westminster it was still unclear what was going to happen politically and it was difficult to give my curious now-ex colleagues much of a steer. When I arrived in Westminster I met up with Andy Percy, the MP for Brigg & Goole, and Gary Johnson, the MP for Dartford. We ended up doing our induction together which started in one room with the collection of passes, the allocation of a locker and ended up full circular with laptops and blackberries. Part of the induction included a tour and as we were taken into the chamber our blackberries started buzzing and it was then that we realised something significant was happening on the outside; Gordon Brown had announced he was going to step down as Labour Leader so that coalition talks between the Liberals and Labour could begin. The tour ended in the Members Tea Room where our guide left us in the safe hands of colleagues before our first ever 1922 Committee meeting. Journalists were gathering outside the Committee room with Whips guarding the door letting folks in. Walking into that oak panelled room for the first time was amazing. The sun was streaming through the windows from the Thames and the buzz in the room was phenomenal. The Chief Whip and the Leader of the Conservative Party entered and everyone cheered. I was at the back so had to stand on a bench to see and it was clear that even David Cameron was overwhelmed by the sight of 300+ Conservative MPs standing in front of him. After 30 minutes or so we filed out and that was that. What was needed to be said was said, the meeting was done, and it was time to go home.

Tuesday was supposed to be a full day of induction. There was a schedule set out in advance which given what was happening outside was probably never going to survive. But it was well planned and a 150 new Tory MPs sat and listened whilst we were given advice on employing staff, casework, legislative procedures etc. This is all new and the authorities and the party managers should be congratulated for setting it up. Previous new MPs have arrived and made to sink or swim. With such a large intake from this election it was never going to be possible to leave everyone to get on with it so we sat and listened intently. David Cameron popped by to say hello and as he walked in to the room he congratulated me on my win in Chatham & Aylesford – little did I know that the next time I would see him, he would be Prime Minister! And so the day continued until it became clear again that something was happening; without an office most of us were relying on others or Twitter to keep us updated and it was from there that we learned that Gordon Brown was going to see the Queen. Some of us found an office to watch the TV in and that is where we stayed until David Cameron stood on the steps of Downing Street with Samatha and made his speech. Two or so hours later he was standing in front of the 1922 Committee receiving a standing ovation from the Parliamentary Conservative Party. The Prime Minister outlined the “deal”, received another warm ovation and he (and we) headed off home at gone 10.30pm.
(taken by John Glen MP)

The Wednesday induction started with a cross-party session in the Chamber. Following the events of the night before there was much excitement as Conservative and Lib Dem MPs took their places on the Government side of the Chamber. Those who came in late were being sent to the Opposition benches because it was the only place there was any space left! We had some excellent advice and information from the Clerks, the Serjeant at Arms, and the then Leaders of the House from the 3 main parties. The number of times I have seen others squished up on those green benches watching them make speeches or ask questions, it was fabulous to take my seat and look at the empty Speakers Chair knowing that in a few weeks time I will be on my feet doing the same. After the session we had a 2010 intake photograph which was in itself rather special – there are so many people – before heading back to our own party inductions. I managed to leave around 4pm and made it back in time for pre-Cup Final football coaching. The rest of the week has been spent on constituency work, thank you letters, and setting up my surgeries.

I know every week is not going to be like last week but with the Speaker’s Election and swearing in happening this coming week, and the Queen’s Speech taking place the following week it might at least take a little while longer before things settle down!

Friday, 14 May 2010

My first constituency engagement

After a week in Parliament, I attended my first engagement in the Constituency yesterday and I was pleased to support the official launch of the new art installation at Snodland train station. The art had been done by local students from Holmesdale College and installed by Southeastern and the Medway Valley Line Partnership. The artists were congratulated by the many people who attended the launch and rightly so – their work cheers up the station and I am sure will be well appreciated by local rail users.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Photos from the thank you party

At lunch time today I hosted a thank you party for those who helped during the Election campaign. The date was set before we knew the result and would have happened regardless of the outcome but it was great that it turned into a celebration and spirits were high! There were many people who were unable to make today due to prior commitments but they were thanked in absentia. Tomorrow I head up to London to resign from my job and then on to Parliament…

(am in there somewhere)

(my nephew was very impressed with the cake)

(and my mum joined in the fun too)