Weather permitting, we are planning a protest outside Milton Grange this coming Saturday against East Sussex County Council’s proposal to close both Milton Grange and Firwood House.
If you are able to please join me in making County Hall wholly aware just how important these two key dementia respite and rehabilitation services are to Eastbourne and beyond. We’re gathering from 1.45pm, Saturday March 3 outside Milton Grange, which is halfway up Milton Road in Old Town. I will draft a letter demanding that East Sussex County Council listen to residents’ views and keep both these high quality homes open, with follow-on sheets for everybody at the protest to personally sign. These will then be sent off to the two local, senior Eastbourne county councillors concerned - Cllrs David Elkin and Colin Belsey - asking that they use their considerable influence at county hall to persuade their Conservative colleagues not to close either of these vital services.
One of my favourite global charities which I have supported pretty much from its inception many years ago is Fairtrade. You’ll all know the concept - it’s about us in the West paying a fair price for commodities from the Third World, as well as more money going back to the original small producer. It’s a simple idea which has taken off enormously over the last 20 years or so, and over the last two weeks they’ve been celebrating Fairtrade Fortnight. To launch it there was an event in Parliament which I was delighted to support. Locally we also have a strong Eastbourne Fairtrade presence which is always around to show support not just for Fairtrade but the local community. A good cause doing good!
A key aspect of being an MP is knowing how to use our unique access to power productively. I was able to practice this on behalf of Eastbourne in Whitehall this week where a meeting that I had secured with a minister from the Ministry of Justice, produced a commitment to deliver on a past promise to provide alternative provision locally since the closure of the courts in Eastbourne. I was not happy when our courts were closed so now that I’m re-elected it was a good opportunity to ensure the government delivered on their promise which they were ever so slightly kicking into the long grass. Being unreasonable on behalf of our town has never been a barrier for me.
I’ve also been leading for the Lib Dems in the Commons over an important if not widely known piece of legislation called the Financial Guidance and Claims Bill, introduced by the government a few months ago. This is a good example of how legislation works in this country, going through various phases in both the Commons and the Lords, then into Committee/Report Stage where the detail is given further scrutiny before finally coming back to the Commons. In the process the opposition parties try to add amendments which the government usually vote down. This Bill though has been unusual it that there’s been near universal determination by all the opposition to strengthen the law against financial and claims-management cold-calling. These are often from highly dubious companies who call vulnerable people to persuade them to invest part of their pension or savings into yet another harebrained scheme. Sadly many thousands of people have been conned by these calls so it’s not just a niche issue. One of my Lib Dem colleagues in the Lords, John Sharkey, had done a lot of the heavy lifting and secured a majority vote against the government to attach certain amendment to the Bill. Though originally they tried to vote down the amends, it appeared after they lost that the government were prepared to accept them. Then only recently we have heard in the Report Stage they’re again trying to, in our and others’ view, water it down which is disappointing. Meeting this week with Sharkey in Westminster I am planning to push-back when the Bill comes back to the Commons on Monday March 12, and to at least ensure that cold-calling is regulated by the new Financial Guidance Authority, as our view is that it’s the only body that will have the real teeth to properly act against these suspect cold-calling outfits. Good government is all about getting the detail right.
It was an enormous pleasure earlier this week to be at the formal opening of Eastbourne’s new radiography department in the DGH. It’s been a long haul getting there (10 years) but with two machines already seeing around 50 patients a day it will, I know, prove a game changer for cancer sufferers locally. I pay tribute to the many people who made this happen, not least our very own brilliant Friends of Eastbourne Hospital who raised so much of the money. Thank you all.
That’s it folks. Have a great weekend, stay warm, and I hope to see you around town.