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.