Time for a Unitary Authority
There’s been a media flurry this week with the idea of Lewes and Eastbourne becoming a unitary authority; something I have been advocating for a while now. My rationale is quite simple, the political leadership from East Sussex County Council has been lamentable. This can be seen by their abject failure to develop income-generating programmes to compensate for the cuts in their funding from central government. Which has, as we all know, led to appalling cuts across the board in front-line services. ESCC has even been publicly named as one of the county councils who are at risk of failing. Not a good look frankly. Meanwhile our own council, Eastbourne, which faced the same cuts proportionally as County Hall, saw it coming and began to develop alternative income streams six or seven years ago. Meaning that tough as it is, there have been no cuts locally to front-line services. And I am not making a party-political point here as Eastbourne is now working successfully in partnership with Lewes District, showing them how to match our own expertise with income programmes, and of course Lewes is a Conservative-lead council. Furthermore, when you have a Labour MP, Tory MP and me as the Liberal, all broadly agreeing about Eastbourne and Lewes becoming a unitary authority, perhaps it’s time for County Hall to pay attention?
Losing Trust in Government
A letter came out this week which I think is symptomatic of one of the challenges this government faces. Many people, whatever their political stripe, simply do not trust what they are being told. And I can understand why when the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA), criticises both the Education Department and specific ministers with their continuous misuse of statistics. For instance, the education minister, Nick Gibb, had said that as a sign of the government’s education prowess; in an international comparison of the reading ability of nine year olds, England had leapt up the rankings last year from 19th out of 50 countries to eighth. UKSA in a letter to the minister said this was incorrect as “Figures published last year show the increase from 10th place in 2011 to eighth place in 2016.” In fact the earlier significant progress in reading had taken place under the previous government! Another claim made by the current Secretary of State, Damien Hinds, that all schools would have a cash increase in funding was deemed an exaggeration by UKSA. These aren’t unimportant criticisms my friends. In a rapidly changing world with numerous fake news outlets available, not just in social media and the internet, it’s really important governments shouldn’t brazenly mislead the public. If they do, and continue to do so it, will be very hard for ‘any’ government to win public trust and that is not a healthy place for a democracy to be.
Tourism and the Economy
I chaired a meeting in Westminster this week with hospitality representatives from across the UK, as well as Eastbourne. It was very instructive and having two senior Tory MPs (Oliver Letwin and Sir Michael Fallon) also in attendance was useful as I am sure they will take back to their colleagues in government the concerns people brought to the table. It was good also to see the Eastbourne Hospitality Association represented so expertly by their chairman, Steve Jordan.
There was a mass protest outside Parliament on Wednesday by women from across the country campaigning against the pension changes. I met with them and addressed the crowd. I reminded all that the Parliamentary ombudsman is conducting an enquiry into the steps taken by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to communicate effectively with those women who are affected. It’s essential pressure is put on the government to publicly agree to implement whatever the findings are as, currently, they’re not binding on HMG. I reminded the crowd Sir Vince Cable has publicly stated that the Lib Dems will urge the government to implement whatever the conclusions are, but it is essential they continue to lobby Labour MPs across the country to persuade the official opposition do the same. If they make this commitment it will be much harder for the government to resist.
Ocklynge School visits Parliament
I was also delighted this week to welcome 125 youngsters from Ocklynge School up to Parliament. To show them the Mother of Parliaments and, hopefully, demonstrate that they too can aspire to be an MP, or certainly not be intimidated about expressing their own views. And the kids were quite remarkable. All 100 plus of them. Smart questions and even smarter behaviour. I was very impressed.
The weather was not kind to us last weekend for the Eastbourne Bonfire procession - in fact I got so wet my hearing aid stopped working! However it was another tremendous event with numerous other Bonfire groups from around the county joining us, along with thousands of residents braving the weather to either take part or come along to watch. As usual for me it was a pleasure to march in the procession and to be amongst old friends. Many thanks to all those hardworking volunteers who week in week out make these events happen. Our Eastbourne community stepping up to serve, yet again.
That’s it folks. Have a great weekend and I hope to see you around town.