Sadly the budget cuts just keep rolling in from East Sussex County Council, and they’re now planning severe reductions to our music services.
The absolutely brilliant East Sussex Music Service (ESMS) are celebrating their 84th year; they deliver music lessons to around 7,000 children in schools across the county per annum and 1000 children, aged between four and 18, attend area music centres each week. Despite this success, the county council have announced plans are being made to close the music instrumental service by 2019. This will result in the loss of valued music provision for many and destroy a service which has introduced thousands of Eastbourne children to music over the decades. I believe such proposals are unnecessary, wrong and shortsighted. I’ve also been told that staff believe savings can be made. We need County Hall to pause, listen to the people they serve and go back to the music staff to ask them how the funding circle can be squared. Please join me in opposing this cut by signing the online petition here: tinyurl.com/EsmPetition18
I met with local volunteers and staff from the well known and respected national charity Guide Dogs for the Blind recently. They introduced me to the three key ways of travel that blind and visually impaired people use - guiding by a volunteer, the long white cane and a guide dog. Having lost my own sight for a period of six months in my mid twenties due to cataracts, I had some experience of the first two but I have never used a guide dog before. And tricky it was at first! With a guide dog it’s like suddenly being in a Ferrari so being led by Dinah, the guide dog, was initially unsettling because she was walking at normal speed and if you cannot see where you’re going (I was wearing a blindfold) that feels a tad speedy. However with the intense (six weeks) training which Guide Dogs provide, their blind customers soon become adept. We are also lucky with the outstanding Eastbourne Blind Society, which provides a lot of support to visually impaired residents. Me and Dinah the lovely guide dog? If I could have got away with it I’d have spirited her home in my pocket.
I had a busy few days in the Chamber this week, pressing a defence minister on what services the MOD provide to veterans who have fallen on hard times, the business and trade minister on the government’s role in ensuring its major contractors pay their sub-contractors on time, leading for the Lib Dems on the financial guidance and claims bill and speaking in a debate about transport infrastructure in the South East. A subject we all know well locally because of the town’s dubious experiences over the years with Southern Rail, and the ubiquitous A27! It was a mixed bag of results. The defence minister provided some welcome clarity for veterans who may be struggling in civvy street but the business minister ducked my question on prompt payments, which is disappointing. I had asked him to ensure the government would not allow Capita and other major companies who did so much government work to do what its been discovered that Carillion so disgracefully did. In other words not pay their suppliers for 120 days and sometimes even longer. The minister dodged the question somewhat so I will be keeping on this issue. For small and medium sized businesses not being paid for months on end is simply unfair. On the finance bill, a more positive session. The government has taken on board a number of proposals from us and Labour which will, I believe, improve consumer protection. Then onto a Westminster Hall debate about a new(ish) body called Transport for the South East. This debate was secured by my Bexhill and Battle colleague Huw Merriman MP and in it we all pressed the minister from the Transport Department to ensure adequate infrastructure resources were allocated to our area. I also asked him directly about plans for duelling the A27, and he confirmed they’re would be an announcement soon.
I had the pleasure of joining Eastbourne woman Lauren Backler this week at the culmination of her long journey. Her mum died a few years ago through bowel cancer and Lauren discovered that if she had lived in Scotland, the cancer would most likely have been identified early enough as they screen people from 50 onwards, whilst here in England it’s at 60. Mrs Backler passed away in her mid-fifties. Since then Lauren has been petitioning the Department of Health to bring down the age for screening here as well, and in the process she has collected over 400,000 signatures. This week she presented them to the DoH in Whitehall. Along with the bowel cancer charity who have been working alongside Lauren, I also presented Early Day Motion 617, which I’d placed in Parliament and has received the support of 77 MPs from across all the political parties. From the discussions I have had with health ministers. Well done Lauren. It’s been a privilege to support you over this important, life-saving initiative.
That’s it folks. Have a good weekend and I hope to see you around town.