It’s been an exceptionally busy few weeks since my last newsletter, both in parliament and Eastbourne. The coalition government is certainly giving the lie to the stereotype that coalitions can’t make the tough decisions!
Today’s tuition fees vote
Over the weeks, I refused to declare which way I intended to vote. I wanted to be in a position to lobby government and help to ensure that this bill would give grants to support less well off students to go to University. My honest view is that Vince Cable, the Secretary of State, has come up with a pretty fair and progressive proposal: no one will pay fees upfront; the lowest 25% of graduate earners will pay less than they do at the moment; no one will start repaying anything until they are earning over £21,000 per year - up from the current £15,000per year; The rich will contribute more than those on middle and low incomes and there will be more generous grants available to students from low income families.
However despite this, I have now voted against the bill. In other circumstances I would vote for the increase, as part of the wider policy which benefits those from poorer backgrounds. I made a promise to the people of Eastbourne though, and for me, the promises I have made to my constituents will always come first.
Eastbourne’s English Language Schools
As readers of my newsletter and the Eastbourne Herald will know, I have been working hard to protect our English Language School industry in Eastbourne from some rather inept rule changes being pushed through by the Home Office. I was hoping to have these problems sorted by Christmas but it appears this may take a little longer but I’ll keep up the pressure. Consequently, at a recent debate where the Home Secretary Theresa May was making a statement to the House, I requested an urgent meeting with her so we could resolve the outstanding issues. She has agreed and it will take place next week. In the meantime I have already had another discussion with the Immigration Minister Damian Green MP, so the Department is aware that I am determined not to let go of this until it is resolved to the satisfaction of our language schools in Eastbourne, and across the South Coast. I and the sector are utterly committed to doing all we can to stop the bogus colleges and students, but the current legislation is also damaging to those long term English Language Schools which perform a vital service to our own and the national economy. Within Eastbourne alone there are many hundreds of host families and college employees who rely on their being a vibrant English Language School sector and it must be protected.
More local jobs for Eastbourne and Willingdon
I was looking forward to updating you on the next action of the MP’s Commission – the Procurement Conference – where all the local public sector senior managers were to attend a meeting in Eastbourne with representatives from local business to find ways of making sure that more contracts are given to our own companies and traders. The response has been tremendous with every single public sector body represented. However, sadly at the last minute the snow defeated us. The conference has now been postponed until early January. In the meantime an enterprise subgroup of the MP’s Commission has been set up and had its first meeting with key businesses from across town, chaired by Derek Godfrey MD of Ellis Builders, who is also on the board of the local Chamber of Commerce. I attended their first meeting to set the objectives, and am confident that they will come up with some really good ideas over the next few months which will all play a valuable role in my core objective - transforming the economy of Eastbourne.
Eastbourne’s Christmas Lights
For the last few months one of the issues locally that I’ve been putting a lot of focus on is to ensure that Eastbourne town centre and shopping areas have a decent Christmas lights display and event programme through December. When times are difficult it is particularly important that confidence and morale is kept high. A really good Xmas effort in Eastbourne will be good for trade, good for the town and will demonstrate just how determined we are to face the economic future with confidence. I’ve spoken to many of the larger traders and independents in the town centre and their commitment to raise their game this Christmas has been tremendous. I also appreciate that Eastbourne Borough Council are rolling up their sleeves as well. Their town centre manager has been a real dynamo in working with me and the shops to ensure a good December. In other parts of town, such as Brassy Parade, Hampden Park, I was pleased to cut the ribbon for a new supermarket and also cajole the traders into stumping up money for Christmas lights in the parade. It has been tough over the last few years for all of the independent traders in this part of town, ever since Somerfield vacated the premises, and it lay empty. So I was really pleased to see how determined they are to turn the corner, particularly now that the empty premises has a proper supermarket again. I would urge all of you to help me help Eastbourne by spending as much of your Christmas money as possible within our town.
Kings Drive and Chatsworth Estate
It was very disappointing that the independent planning inspectorate from Bristol decided to overturn the council’s objections to the development at Kings Drive. Local residents, community groups, the council and all the political parties were united in their opposition to the proposed development so close to Eastbourne Park. Since then I have written to the Secretary of State Eric Pickles MP as well as had a personal meeting with the Duke of Devonshire. I made it very clear to the Duke that while the town has a great appreciation of his family’s long term connection with Eastbourne, we were all united against the idea of the Chatsworth Estate selling this land for a building development. I asked that despite the inspectorate granting permission, the Chatsworth Estate Trustees consider carefully what their decision would be about progressing with the building works. We will find out over the next few weeks what their decision is. I will not give up the fight.
This year’s memorial at the Cenotaph was particularly memorable; it was my first as your MP and laying the wreath in recognition of all those men and women who had laid down their lives for our country over the years, was for me an extremely moving and evocative moment. My own grandfather fought on the Somme, an uncle in Malaya and a cousin in the first Iraq war. Many other local residents also share similar family experiences. Seeing all the representatives from the veterans groups, the Regimental Standard Bearers and the substantial crowd despite the teeming rain, leaves me with a powerful memory. I was also struck by how every year the numbers of young people and families attending the memorial services grows ever more. A sobering yet uplifting experience which will always remain with me.
Daylight Saving Bill
For many years now there has been a growing campaign for the UK to have a year round summertime, GMT+1. Last week a Private Members Bill was tabled and debated in the House over this issue. It would make a considerable difference in Eastbourne and other seaside coastal resorts if such a change were to be implemented as the likely increase of tourism revenue would be quite substantial. Furthermore it is likely to make many older people feel safer in the evening during the winter months if they were to choose to go out shopping later on. The resistance in the past from some Scottish MPs is not as universal as it was, so hopefully this self evidently rational change is coming a step closer. Unfortunately I did not get called to speak in the debate – there is always an element of pot luck in these things – but I made sure that I voted in the Aye lobby. The Bill was passed at this stage and now goes into committee. I’ll keep my eye on it.
BBC South East shadowing me in Parliament and Eastbourne
A few weeks ago I spent a couple of days being followed around Parliament and in the constituency by BBC South East who were filming a sort of “two days in the life of..!” Constraints of time means it could only provide a snapshot of the life of an MP, but if you’d like to have a look then please click on the link below.
MPs Christmas Charity
My Christmas Charity for this year is to be Eastbourne’s Salvation Army in Seaside. They do a really superb job all year round but at Christmas it must be particularly grim for those people who are either without accommodation or on their own. The Army’s new drop-in centre provides a much needed venue over this period, providing warmth, a welcome and food. Every penny we raise will go directly to the Eastbourne Salvation Army. If you would like to make a donation to my Christmas Charity please make your cheque out to ‘Eastbourne MP’s Commission’ and send it to the Chief Executive’s Office, Eastbourne Town Hall, Grove Road, Eastbourne, BN21 4UG. Thank you.
Work and Pensions Select Committee
We have taken considerable evidence in the last few sessions of the Select Committee from organisations and the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) on a range of proposed changes, from Housing Benefit to the new Back to Work Programme. With regards to the first, I’ve been lobbying hard for it to become easier for housing benefit to be paid directly to the private landlord. I think this will make it easier for landlords to absorb the necessary reductions in our burgeoning Housing Benefit bill, which will ultimately benefit tenants. I was delighted to hear last week that these sensible changes will be brought in for a trial period of up to three years in the forthcoming White Paper. Another area of innovation became clear when the DWP gave evidence to the Committee. We all know that it would be very difficult to get people back into work if they’ve been on benefit for many years, and we heard from the Department that the new funding agreement for those companies, who will be tasked to help people back into the job market, recognises this explicitly. Firstly, the fee for successfully securing employment for someone will be considerably higher for those people who are hard to get back to work, compared to those who are closer to the jobs market. Furthermore, payments to the specialist providers will necessitate them putting in a robust mentoring structure to support these individuals in their new job for up to 2 years. It makes a change for the government to approach these difficult issues, which have defied successive adminisrations for over 30 years, rationally!
Constituency Surgeries – go retail
It was always an objective of mine were I to be elected as your MP to take my constituency surgeries across town on a regular basis rather than just expect people to come to my office on Seaside Road. I’m pleased to say that since my last e-newsletter that objective has now been achieved, and is part of my regular routine. So far surgeries have been held in Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, Brassy Parade, the Town Centre and the Langney shopping parade. If you would like to make an appointment to see me at any one of my surgeries then please call my office on 733 730.
Let’s hope we have a little less snow over the next few weeks!
All the best,