There are times, for all of us, when we think to ourselves that it may have been more productive to have just stayed in bed!
I was thinking that in Parliament on Monday when Chris Grayling MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, was being used for football practice, figuratively speaking, and was kicked around the Chamber by players from all sides as he defended his utterly shambolic oversight of the new timetable chaos. What made it so different this time was that MPs from all sides lined up to lambast him and the rail timetable fiasco. Including the former Minister for Defence Sit Michael Fallon and Nicolas Soames. Neither of whom are anything but loyal Conservatives. They were also joined by a dozen or so of their own colleagues so I think the end may be nigh for Mr Grayling. He started his ministerial statement a little earlier than we had anticipated so by the time I got to the Chamber he’d just sat down but I asked another MP to sum up for me what he’d said: he obliged pithily with “Its all a complete shambles - but none of it is my fault.” The House was not impressed frankly. It is clear action needs to be taken quickly to address the more absurd changes to the timetable, which many of you have notified me about. So over the last few days I’ve been busy to try and resolve this for Eastbourne. Already had meetings with the Rail Minister, Jo Johnson, Southern Rail/GTR and Network Rail. All have promised to get back to me with steps they will be taking to improve our local situation. I’ll keep up the pressure.
I’m always been very keen to encourage our schoolchildren to visit Parliament as believe the earlier they see and understand what democracy is about and how it functions, the more that they understand it’s purpose is to serve them! So it was good to welcome and meet the children from Motcombe School to Westminster. I know Motcombe well as have visited a gazillion times over the years; great kids, great staff equals a great school. I also had the opportunity to wish a very special birthday congratulations to young lad called Tom, who that very day had just reached the mighty age of seven years old.
Another trip to Westminster this week was by an excellent local company called Welbeing. A telecare business founded years ago as Eastbourne Lifeline. It’s grown from strength to strength and is now one of the largest businesses of its type in the UK. Still mainly based in Eastbourne, it supports adult social services all around the country. A first class company whose objective is to support older people in retaining independent lives for longer, and importantly, in their own home. A pleasure to welcome chief executive Steve Smith and his team to Parliament.
The sensitive issue of abortion in Northern Ireland also came up this week. Labour MP Stella Creasy applied and won something called a SO24 debate. This is a legislative tool which, if granted by the Speaker, allows an issue to be debated, albeit not voted on. There were a number of outstanding contributions including from Stella herself. It was also obvious there was cross-party support for Northern Ireland to re-address current legislation on abortion. Even Tory Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, tweeted her support afterwards: “Message from NI Secretary of State today: NI should take that responsibility. Message from the House of Commons: if you don’t, we will #trustwomen”. Mordaunt clearly believes the DUP should not be allowed to block change. It was also reported the following day that Theresa May supports reform.
Talking of the PM I visited No 10 Downing Street this week to hand over a petition asking the government to clarify the rules around county councils providing transport for disabled children over 16. You may remember a year of so ago a local woman, Leanna Forse, who was a teacher, had been put into an invidious situation by East Sussex County Council, when they refused to pay the transport costs for her disabled son Billy to stay at school after he turned 16 years. This despite the government changing the law so that everyone now has to either be in education or training up to the age of 18. The problem is that they didn’t change the statutory regulations for councils to provide the transport for severely disabled children. It was discretionary. Some councils do this, such as West Sussex, whilst others don’t. East Sussex being one of them. Tragically it lead to Leanna having to give up her job as a teacher so that she could take Billy to school. I joined Leanna, her son Billy, and the charity supporting them, Contact, to deliver a petition to Theresa May at No 10 Downing Street this week. I sincerely hope the PM listens and does the right thing.
Finally, next week, June 11 to 17, is Carers Week, an awareness raising initiative that’s important to me as a Trustee of the excellent local charity, Care for the Carers. You can meet staff from the charity and other organisations during Carers Week at the Arndale Centre on Thursday June 14, outside River Island. There’s a host of other activities going on through seven days, including a Carer Awareness Training session on Tuesday June 12 at Eastbourne DGH, 9.30am – 12pm. Visit www.cftc.org.uk
That’s it folks. Have a good weekend and I hope to see you around town.