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.