I started this week with a focus on local education, beginning with a visit to Ratton School. Meeting the head, being given an update on their plans along with a quick look-around.
It really is a great school, and despite the financial challenges our schools across the piece are facing we are blessed locally. And Ratton is a case in point. I flagged to the head, Mr Knox-Macaulay, that I’d be delighted to welcome a group of his students to Parliament. To give them an opportunity to see and understand our Mother of Parliaments, something I want as many of our young people locally as possible to see. It’s their Parliament after all. My second visit of the morning was to meet and speak with the public uniform students group at Sussex Downs. To discuss what being an MP is about and politics more generally. The questions came thick and fast and were genuinely challenging and insightful. I’ve always been rather nonplussed at the media stereotype of young people not being interested in politics ‘these days’ as that’s not my experience at all. They may, generally speaking, be uninterested in Party politics but on the issues of the day they’re engaged, curious and have no problems with expressing an opinion. It was good to meet the students. They are at the start of their possible careers dedicated to serving the public either in the armed services, police, firefighters or paramedics, so the privilege was all mine.
Carillion Liquidation: I asked a question in the Chamber on Monday “how many profit warnings does a company have to make before this government decides not to award them a significant contract?” A not unreasonable question you might think when you consider that the government awarded Carillion over £1bn in contracts ‘after’ two profit warnings, a CEO effectively bring sacked (on full pay for 12 months of £650,000), and a collapsing share price? Yet a number of huge contracts were still awarded. This is a serious lapse of judgment and Westminster is well aware the government have made some shocking calls over this. As the Lib Dem pensions spokesman I also tabled an Early Day Motion (786), raising concerns on behalf of Carillon’s thousands of pensioners, as the company has a £600m gap in its pension liabilities. A bad business all round.
One of the campaigns I was heavily involved in when last your MP was to try and persuade the Department of Health to introduce hearing screening for everyone on reaching pension age. The reason for this is very simple; over 50 per cent of people have what’s called age-onset deafness by the time they’re in their mid sixties but most do nothing about it until their mid 70’s. By then the hearing has got much worse, ones acuity is lower so many people find it a real challenge to cope for the first time with hearing aids at the older age, and subsequently often give up trying which leads to greater isolation. I’m sure you can fill in the loneliness blanks from here! The theory is if we can catch people earlier, they are more likely to get more out of the aids. I was well on the way to persuading the Department of Health to run a pilot when the 2015 election intervened and I lost my seat. Politics is often that if a key driver of a campaign disappears from the scene the momentum can be lost. So I was pleased to support the charity Action on Hearing Loss, which is launching a new, more general hearing screening campaign. I cannot stress highly enough to readers of the Herald that the sooner one accepts their hearing isn’t what it used to be, gets it checked out and if necessary, a shiny new hearing aid from the NHS, the better. Age-onset hearing loss really is one of those things that the longer you leave dealing with it, the harder it becomes.
I also attended a reception for Open Doors this week, to hear some pretty harrowing tales of how Christians are facing either violent or non-violent persecution in many countries around the world. See their link here: https://www.opendoorsuk.org/persecution/countries/ I supported the issue in a debate a few months ago and was moved by the testimony of the young woman who bravely came to tell her story to a packed room in Parliament. I should flag that two of the countries identified by Open Doors as offering ‘extreme levels of persecution’ to indigenous Christians are Pakistan and India; both allies of the UK. This is simply wrong and I will be writing to the Foreign Office to ask what steps they are taking to raise what is a basic human-rights issue, to peacefully practise your faith, with each of those respective governments. We mustn’t allow such appalling behaviour to be swept under the carpet.
Last but not least, I was down to quiz the transport minister directly in the Chamber on Thursday. My question was why did his department omit to even mention the A27 and its possible dualling between Lewes and Eastbourne in their recent National Road strategy document. This despite an active campaign from many of us locally for years. His answer was mostly around the promised minor adjustments rather than the dualling myself, the borough council and the chamber of commerce have been calling for. He did let slip the department is awaiting a report from the county council so I will be pushing them hard to emphasise just how strong the business case is to our town for the dualling to become a reality. Watch this space because I will not stop keeping the pressure up on Highways England to fix this shocking road once and for all.
That’s all folks. Hope you have a good weekend and I look forward to seeing you around town.