Small businesses are the backbone of our local and national economy. As the Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington, one of my priorities is to promote the value of investing in our local area and to ensure that businesses are able to operate in an environment which lends itself to growth and prosperity.
Since 2010, unemployment in Warwick and Leamington has fallen by 74%, a significant achievement and one that local businesses can take pride in. We are home to a highly skilled workforce, strong infrastructure and links to world class academic institutions. In short, our area is a great place to do business.
For all their success, businesses face ongoing challenges and I am always keen to make the voice of businesses heard with government. In April, the threshold for 100% business rate relief will rise to £12,000, with the current level at £6,000. However, I recognise that we must continue to listen to business to address any issues hindering growth.
As such, I have this week written to the Warwick Chamber of Trade, the Leamington Chamber, the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and Leamington Business Improvement District (BID) to canvass opinion on the upcoming business rate changes and in particular on the revaluation process. Furthermore, I would be very keen to hear from businesses across Warwick and Leamington on any challenges they are facing. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Once I have gathered responses from the various organisations, I will be writing to the Chancellor.
In writing to local member groups, I reaffirmed my commitment to working with them to continue to strengthen our local economy. We have made great progress in recent years but have tremendous potential that we must ensure is realised.
Last week I visited India, a country I was keen to see again after visiting with the International Development Select Committee in 2012. The invitation was from VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) and its purpose was to better understand their work, meet volunteers, hear about their experiences, build relationships and provide an assessment of their current programmes.
It is strange how some countries affect you more than others. I suppose it might have something to do with my father having been born in India – a natural link, or fond memories of people and places from my previous visit. I was genuinely excited to go and to be driven through Delhi late at night through slow-moving and chaotic traffic, patiently moving forward; you know you are in a different world. Struck by the warmth of welcome, genuine friendliness and natural curiosity of everyone you meet, it is a magnificent place, steeped in tradition and complexity with a strong heart. It was great to be back.
VSO is a well-established NGO with a reputation as one of the world's leading development charities working through volunteers, with a presence in over 30 countries. In India, their themes for development are securing livelihoods, promoting youth engagement, inclusive education and participation and governance. Underpinning all of this is an ambition to create more opportunities, whether that be through promoting entrepreneurship, greater use of resources or improving and extending the education system. For example, India is seeing a decline of child enrolment and retention in schools and VSO is rightly structuring programmes to reverse that trend. Similarly, the infant mortality rate is 57 per 1000 and as India's prosperity is on the rise, it is critical that these issues are addressed.
After a briefing in Delhi I took a domestic flight to Vadodara where I met with representatives of the MS University and the Faculty of Social Work, which has a specific focus on volunteering. I saw first-hand some of the teams in action and heard about a range of projects that the young volunteers were working on. There was clearly a huge amount of passion for the change they are a part of, making a very real and sustainable difference to people's lives and the communities in which they work.
The VSO volunteers were seriously impressive, with confidence, strong communication skills and a commitment to 'giving something back'. The organisation is well structured with a clear strategy and direction. They see a growing appetite for volunteering, not least in collaboration with UK programmes such as the International Citizen Service, which will initially see 150 UK volunteers paired with Indian counterparts. I was particularly pleased to meet the British High Commissioner, who was enthusiastic about VSO and keen to re-establish links.
If Delhi is representative of India as a whole, there is much to be positive about. Growth is almost tangible and developing lasting, positive relationships between the UK and India, particularly through young people, can only be beneficial. Building on existing successes is important, aided by our historic cultural links. India will develop rapidly, its population is already at 1.3 billion and will continue to expand exponentially. For the Indian economy and society to develop in a way that benefits the whole country, it is important to promote social mobility, improve health services and foster an environment in which business and commerce can flourish.
I wholeheartedly support our commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI on international development, but our efforts to make a significant difference are enhanced through the work of voluntary organisations. I pay tribute to VSO for all that they do and thank them for the chance to support their work. Volunteers are so often unsung heroes, but I am grateful for the opportunity to promote their invaluable contribution.
India is a wonderful country; vibrant, challenging and dynamic. I hope to visit again and see the long term impact that organisations such as VSO have made, but in the meantime, I would like to thank my hosts for their hospitality and professionalism. I am sure we will keep in touch!
As readers may be aware, in the last Parliament I introduced a Private Member's Bill which subsequently became law; namely the Social Value Act. The legislation came into force in 2013 and places a duty on public sector commissioners to consider social, economic and environmental benefits when procuring services against purely financial concerns. Last week, I was pleased to hear that the Government intends to conduct a second review into how the Act is working and how we can spread its benefits more widely.
Evidence suggests that around 75% of public authorities are now integrating social value into their processes, but there is much more to do to increase awareness further and transform the way we commission and design services. One point that I will be asking the inquiry to consider is to extend the legislation to include procurement of goods. For example, North Lincolnshire Council (NLC) became signatories to the Charter for Sustainable British Steel, which promotes the use of quality British Steel in construction projects, in November 2015. This led to the establishment of a framework for construction works in the local area which included provision for social value outcomes. The first project that saw NLC fulfil their commitments to this construction framework was the £5.6m Axholme North Sports Centre.
The last review, led by Lord Young, took place in 2015 and it recognised "inconsistent practice" across the UK. As well as strengthening the Social Value Act, clear guidance needs to be made available to public sector commissioners across the country. The benefits of incorporating social value into procurement are enormous and I look forward to working with the Government through the upcoming review.
This week, I look forward to speaking to the Youth Parliament candidates at the election results evening, as well as welcoming a group of students to Westminster as part of the ParliaMentors scheme. I have always been a keen advocate of encouraging young people to become interested and involved in politics and these initiatives make a real difference.
Firstly, I congratulate all those that will be elected as Members of the Warwickshire Youth Parliament. Having spoken in the past to many of those involved in the scheme, I know how such a role can instil confidence in young people and allow them to raise issues of importance to our younger generation. Whether it's access to work experience or raising the Living Wage, I am pleased that there is a mechanism to engage directly with MPs and councillors.
The ParliaMentors programme is run by the Three Faiths Forum and involves university students from a variety of backgrounds being mentored by MPs to achieve social change through long-term projects. Each student has put together a plan of action to have a positive impact on their communities and I am very pleased that we have a regular schedule of meetings.
Since 2007, over 300 people have graduated from the ParliaMentors scheme and the wide alumni network continues to engage in communities across the country.
For more information on the programme, please see www.3ff.org.uk.
Many constituents have written to me over the past few days on President Trump's Executive Order regarding immigration and I would like to take this opportunity to set out my views on the matter. The Executive Order puts in place a ban on travel to the U.S. from seven nations for 90 days.
On Monday, I wrote to the Prime Minister to raise my concerns regarding this policy. It is right that we work closely with the U.S. to promote international peace and security, but I believe this to be a hugely retrograde step.
I was pleased to hear of the Government's actions over the weekend to protect the interests of UK nationals with dual citizenship. Furthermore, the Government is clear in its opposition to the Executive Order.
In many of the emails I have received from constituents, many put it to me that further action should be taken and that President Trump's planned state visit to the UK should be cancelled. On this point, I find it difficult to support such a visit while any discriminatory immigration policy is in place in the United States. We must be able to speak openly and frankly to our American counterparts, not least when we disagree; a point expressed in my letter to the Prime Minister.
I recognise that our alliance with the United States continues to be of great significance and should be protected. However, it is right that we condemn unacceptable policies such as these.
If any constituents would like to read a copy of my letter to the Prime Minister, please email email@example.com.
On Wednesday, I met with representatives of Age UK Warwickshire to discuss some of the challenges facing our older generation. With advances in health care and better quality of life in the modern day, people are living longer than ever before, placing greater demands on our public services and the social care system.
26% of the Warwickshire population is above the age of 60 and this figure continues to rise. It is all the more important to consider how we support the older people, whether through healthcare, providing suitable homes or promoting various activities and other opportunities to engage with the community.
Of course, we must identify the challenges before addressing them. Our provision of suitable housing is vital, not least due to the number of falls increasing by 25%. Our action on dementia must be cross-party on a national level and across various organisations locally, particularly as we have seen an 18% rise in the condition in Warwickshire.
Age UK helps older people live happier and healthier lives, offering help and advice where necessary. Their dedicated volunteers are a huge credit to the organisation and our community would be the poorer without them. I am keen that our network of healthcare services and voluntary organisations are working together as effectively as possible in the interests of local people. In the meeting on Wednesday, I reaffirmed my commitment to their objectives.
We must work hard to ensure that no older person has to suffer from loneliness or long-term conditions without the necessary support. I wholeheartedly support Age UK for their invaluable contribution to our community.
In this section you can read my articles in the local press relating to my work - both in Westminster and in the constituency. Please get in touch with any comments you would like to make.