As I am sure you are aware, the Prime Minister announced on Tuesday her intention to hold a General Election on 8th June. This was confirmed yesterday with the passing of a motion by the House of Commons for the election to be held. I voted in favour of that motion and will be seeking re-adoption as the Conservative Party candidate for Warwick and Leamington.
I supported the call for an early election as the scale of change that the country now faces means it is right that the British people have their say in who governs the country.
For nearly seven years it has been a tremendous honour and privilege to represent this most wonderful constituency. Together we have made good progress with unemployment falling, businesses investing, impressive schools and colleges and a local hospital of which we can be very proud. The list goes on...
The economy has gone from strength to strength and there is much to be optimistic about, not least through the Government's Industrial Strategy which I have been closely involved with. Building on what has been achieved and approaching the Brexit negotiations with strong leadership must be the priority.
I am immensely proud to have served our local area and if I am given the opportunity to continue to do so, I will redouble my efforts to represent the residents of Warwick and Leamington both locally and nationally to the best of my ability.
As ever, I aim to be as accessible as possible and if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
It was a great thrill to take part in the Regency Run on Sunday, not least to take in the magnificent views of Leamington from the top of Newbold Comyn and raise money for the 'No More Floor' campaign. More than 2,000 runners took part, supporting charities, local community projects and other good causes. Since its creation 13 years ago the event has raised more than £250,000 and as its popularity grows year on year, it's great to see such community spirit among those taking part. I look forward to the Two Castles Run in June which I am sure will also have the same enthusiastic support!
As the weather improves and the evenings get lighter we can anticipate a packed schedule of events in the coming months across the constituency. These will range from food and drink festivals, the Folk Festival, which is a particular favourite and is fast becoming one of the most highly regarded of its type national events, attracting people from all over the country and abroad, and the creativity on display at Art in the Park, amongst others. A big thank you must go to all the volunteers - the organisers and marshals – without their support these events would not take place.
These festivals play an important role, bringing together friends and family and fostering community pride. They increase in number and get larger and better each year which is surely a proud testament to the ever growing vitality of our area.
We are fortunate to live in a place that attracts and supports such a variety of sporting, gastronomic and cultural activity and by celebrating local talent and business these events promote health and wellbeing, attracting visitors and help to boost our local economy.
Last Wednesday I co-hosted a 'Policy Lab' with King's College Policy Institute on Industrial Strategy. The Policy Lab brought together a range of leading individuals in the fields of industry, academia and policy. The Policy Institute aims to form a link between academics and policy-makers, ensuring that the formulation of government policy is supported by an evidence base and can ultimately achieve its aims.
I have taken a deep interest in the Government's Industrial Strategy, having first spoken of the need for such an approach last year during the Queen's Speech debate. Through my membership of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, I have also heard evidence from a wide range of stakeholders on how the policy should be shaped. The findings from the Policy Lab will be fed into the Government's consultation and I look forward to continuing to work with industry representatives to ensure that the strategy provides the necessary framework for our economy to grow.
In the afternoon, I returned to Westminster to vote and it was at this point that the day took such a horrific turn. The events shocked Parliament and the country, but the sense of solidarity both on the day and since shows how deep our reserves and capacity are of strength through unity. It serves as a reminder of the incredible courage and bravery shown by our emergency services. I particularly pay tribute to PC Keith Palmer, tragically killed while on duty, but also my deepest sympathy is with the family and friends of those that lost their lives on that terrible day.
The House sat again at 9.30am the following morning.
As I write on Tuesday, I hope to 'catch the Speaker's eye' and speak in the Budget debate. While I plan to raise a number of issues, one of the most pressing points included in my speech is the imminent revaluation of business rates. In recent weeks, I have canvassed opinion from local businesses on the upcoming changes and will continue to work with business groups to support those that are the most affected.
I thank all those that have got in touch with me to highlight individual cases and I would be pleased to hear from any other local enterprises on the matter. I will be raising local examples in the House of Commons and will urge the Government to keep this issue under review. £435m has been made available through the Budget to be directed towards those seeing the most significant rises but I am keen to ensure the success of small businesses remains a priority. As such, I have written to the Chancellor and would be happy to share a copy of that letter with local businesses if they would like to receive a copy. Please do get in touch if that is the case.
Elsewhere in the Budget, I welcomed the introduction of T-Levels, aimed at putting technical education on a similar footing to the A-Level system. I have long been of the opinion that parity of respect across all types of education is important. Addressing the skills gap and allowing businesses to recruit the very best talent requires our education system to provide a range of quality courses. I am very hopeful that T-Levels will go some way in achieving that goal.
Warwickshire College is a good example of an institution providing first-class courses in a range of subject areas. Building on this foundation and replicating its success across the country can bring a wide range of benefits. I thank the College for the invitation to join its Graduation Ceremony last week and was pleased to congratulate all those that have recently completed an apprenticeship. I wish them all the very best with their future careers.
This week, as part of my role as Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Video Games, I chaired a meeting that brought together MPs, representatives of the games industry and civil servants to discuss the implications of leaving the EU and what constitutes a positive outcome from the negotiations in securing long-term prosperity for the sector.
My involvement in the APPG stems from the strong presence of video games companies in our constituency, making up one of the biggest clusters outside of London. Supporting the sector is therefore a priority for me, with a large number of local residents employed in local games companies which contribute an enormous amount to the local economy.
The event was hosted alongside trade association, Ukie, which has produced a new report on the priorities for the sector as we prepare to leave the EU. The report, State of Play, notes the wide range of requirements for games companies to flourish, from attracting skills and talent to continuing to receive funding. At the APPG meeting, we discussed the merits of the document and heard from senior civil servants who will play a role in setting negotiating objectives.
The UK video games industry is the 6th largest in the world and Brexit will have a significant impact on our international economic relations. We must embrace the opportunities available to us and aim to increase our share of the global market. Much of our work in support of the sector can also tie into the Government's Industrial Strategy, particularly in investing in Research & Development and a strong skills base.
We must provide certainty to the video games sector and the wider economy that the UK will remain an excellent place to do business. Warwick and Leamington is a prime example of that.
It has been a very busy start to the week as I travelled to Edinburgh with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee, before contributing to a range of Parliamentary debates on Tuesday in Westminster.
The trip to Edinburgh encompassed a wide range of issues relating to the work of the BEIS Select Committee. We met with representatives of the Green Investment Bank in order to discuss its performance and future as well as the Scottish Government to discuss the energy sector, energy innovation and Brexit. On Sunday evening, we met with the Scottish Whisky Association, representing a significant sector for the UK economy, to hear its priorities as the Government negotiates our exit from the EU. The trip was insightful and productive in terms of the Committee's work.
In Parliament on Tuesday, I started the morning by contributing to a debate on Intellectual Property, highlighting the importance of protecting businesses operating in sectors such as the creative industries. I therefore welcomed the inclusion of Intellectual Property in the Government's Industrial Strategy. I also succeeded in the ballot for Treasury questions and was asked the Minister about government plans to support our regional economy, with particular reference to the automotive sector. If we are to embrace the shift to electric vehicles, it is imperative that we provide the necessary infrastructure.
Later in the day, I spoke in a debate on the Government's Productivity Plan. Improving productivity in the UK economy is important if we are to realise our potential in terms of economic growth. Our productivity in the Midlands is lower than the European average and I welcomed the opportunity for MPs to debate how best to reverse that trend.
If you would like to read my speeches in the House of Commons, please visit the 'In Parliament' section.
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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
Last week, I secured a debate alongside Stephen Twigg MP on the crisis in Yemen and was pleased to see a number of colleagues make informative and powerful speeches on what is an issue of huge significance to the international community.
The humanitarian crisis in Yemen is at a critical stage, with 3.1 million people having been displaced and sources of food and water being restricted. The number of civilians that have been killed as a consequence of the conflict stands at over 4,000, with over 7,000 wounded. Maintaining a spotlight on the conflict is vital, with the Minister in his place in the House of Commons to hear the strength of feeling on all sides of the Chamber.
Following the Committees on Arms Export Controls inquiry last year that I chaired into the sale of UK arms to Saudi Arabia, I particularly stressed during my speech the need to suspend arms exports to the country, pending the results of an independent UN-led investigation into potential breaches of international humanitarian law (IHL). There have been reports from a number of organisations, including NGOs and legal experts, which suggest IHL has been broken.
The UK must maintain its reputation as an example to the world in terms of our arms export licensing regime. Saudi Arabia is an important ally in the Middle East and our relationship must remain strong, but we must also challenge its actions when issues of such serious concern arise. This underpins the conclusions of the joint report of the Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Select Committees following our inquiry last year.
To read my speech, please visit my page on hansard.parliament.uk.
As many local residents know, the Hatton Locks are a flight of 21 locks on the Grand Union Canal, which date back to the start of the Industrial Revolution, and are a timeless example of how our canal heritage has evolved over the years. The flight is nearly 2 miles long and rises 45 metres. Once these locks were a feat of modern engineering that competed with roads and railways as a transport system for industry and trade.
Recently I had the pleasure of visiting the locks with Richard Parry, Chief Executive, and Dean Davies, Direct Services Manager, from the Canal and River Trust (CRT) to see the repair work carried out by the Trust during the winter. Annually, 170 jobs are undertaken nationally on our locks and canals to ensure they continue to function safely. Work included the refitting and repairing of gates, chamber masonry and lock ladder replacement. Richard explained the huge logistical considerations involved, for example for Lock 30 a long-arm crane was needed to lift the gates into place once finished. Also it can be a challenge prioritising the restoration work that is required to keep the canals running.
However, due to the continued investment in the waterways over their 200 years history, the Hatton Locks remain a thriving and treasured resource for leisure and recreation offering opportunities for cycling, fishing, walking and of course narrowboating. The old wharf and maintenance yard have been converted into offices and a heritage skills training centre, with the old stable block which housed canal horses, now a popular café.
The passion and enthusiasm of Richard and Dean was fantastic to see. It was clear that this dedication of those involved in the CRT is invaluable to maintaining the canals as a piece of living history, for which locally, we can be very proud.
If you haven't had the opportunity to visit this stunning example of our local heritage and well worth a visit in 2017!
I hope all readers had an enjoyable and relaxing Christmas and, like me, are looking forward to the year ahead. 2016 was extremely busy, both in the constituency and in Westminster, and I very much look forward to the upcoming challenges over the next twelve months.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those working in our emergency and care services, our servicemen and women stationed abroad, and those involved in international aid and charity work, such as Cord, for their tireless and vital contribution during the festive period. Their dedication and commitment is incredible and I am very grateful for all they do.
It has been a wonderful few weeks in Warwick and Leamington, starting with the Victorian evening in Warwick in November, right through to various church services and carol concerts. The Christmas lights in our towns always create a great atmosphere and I thank local businesses for their part in these impressive displays.
My work as a Member of Parliament has covered a wide range of issues in the past year. Whether it be inviting the Schools Minister to a roundtable discussion at Campion School or supporting the community in Norton Lindsey in their purchase of the New Inn, I look forward to helping wherever I can and to champion the best of our area. A particular highlight was to visit the sites which will became home to Vitsoe and Tata Technologies, both important additions to our local economy.
Ongoing Westminster work includes a number of projects with Warwick and Leamington always at the front of my mind. I continue to hold meetings with academia, industry representatives and Government officials to complement the development of an Industrial Strategy. As Chair of a number of All-Party Groups, I pursue reforms on a cross-party basis on behalf of vital sectors including manufacturing and charity groups.
Warwick and Leamington continues to be a great place to live and work and it is a real privilege to represent the area in Parliament. May I wish all readers all the very best for 2017!
On Saturday, I joined the Leamington Street Pastors in welcoming similar groups from across the country to a National Training Day. The Leamington Street Pastors group was set up three years ago and I continue to support its excellent work in helping vulnerable people on our streets. The event on Saturday formed part of a new initiative, with additional training provided for members to become Response Pastors.
Response Pastors are a specialism of the Street Pastor project and will provide assistance to people who may have been affected emotionally by a major incident, whether a national tragedy such as the death of Jo Cox MP, or a natural disaster. Leamington will be home to the first Midlands-based response unit and I was pleased to join the group at the weekend. The sense of solidarity and compassion runs through much of the work of voluntary organisations locally and the Street Pastors exemplify this.
I commend the Ascension Trust and the CSW Resilience Team, via Warwick District Council, for their work in establishing this project and ensuring that it quickly achieves its objective of providing support for those experiencing traumatic incidents. I particularly pay tribute to Julie Blake for her dedication and commitment.
Aside from our local authorities working to protect the vulnerable, voluntary groups play an important role in the community and I would encourage local residents to get involved. For more information, please visit http://streetpastors.org/locations/leamington-spa.
Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) takes place every Wednesday at midday when the house is sitting. PMQs forms a crucial part of British political life and culture. As many readers will be aware the House of Commons chamber becomes particularly impassioned during PMQs. Consequently, the drama that ensues during these sessions means that tickets for the public gallery are in popular demand. However, while discussions can get heated, PMQs still provides a useful opportunity to raise issues of importance with the Prime Minister.
Every week I apply to enter the ballot, also known as 'the shuffle', to submit a question to put to the Prime Minister. Last week I was lucky enough to secure a question. Then I had to decide which topic I wanted to put to the Prime Minister!
Oral questions to the Prime Minister are made up of an 'Engagement' question followed by a supplementary question which can be on any topical subject. Due to my involvement in the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) Select Committee, and our current inquiry into the Government's Industrial Strategy policy, I chose this as the focus for my question.
After several drafts I settled on asking how the strengths of Warwick and Leamington could be replicated elsewhere in the country. I followed this with a request for an update from the Prime Minister on the Government's progress in developing the Industrial Strategy Policy.
We are lucky in Warwick and Leamington to have great schools, colleges and two highly respected universities on our doorstep. Our central location makes our area an ideal environment for business to grow, with household names such as National Grid, Volvo, Aga Rangemaster and Dennis Eagle, with JLR based nearby. In addition to this, Warwickshire is a global player as the home of 40 Gaming Companies, making it the third largest video games cluster after London and Dundee. We can be proud of our strong local economy, skilled work force and low unemployment.
However, despite the successes in Warwick and Leamington, more needs to be done to forge links between education and business to equip our workforce with the necessary skills. This was highlighted to me and the BEIS committee during our visit to the Manufacturing and Technology Centre in Ansty. Investing in skills will need to be at the heart of this strategy in order to aid growth in innovation and productivity in the long-term.
If you would like to read my oral question and the Prime Minister's answer it is published on Hansard and is available via the following link: https://goo.gl/akGoHx
Last week I was pleased to join a packed audience to watch a performance by the Side by Side Theatre Company in Leamington. The group includes people with and without learning disabilities and is an excellent example of the positive impact that can be brought about through an inclusive and fun approach.
Side by Side has been in existence since 1988 and in 1999 the founder, Sue Teers, was awarded an MBE for her inspirational work. Sadly, Sue passed away in 2006 but the theatre company is going from strength to strength and I am delighted that it was presented with a well-deserved Queen's Award for Voluntary Service in recent years. Side by Side is now made up of 84 people, with a focus on whatever people want to and can contribute to the performance.
The annual production was very lively and everyone enthusiastically joined in, from comedy to Shakespeare to a talent contest, which I was pleased to see resulted in all the participants winning! I was hugely impressed by the variety and it was clear to see that all who took part had a thoroughly enjoyable time. Please keep up the good work!
Supporting people with learning disabilities is of huge importance and I am pleased to support charities and the volunteering sector in my wider work. Locally, we are home to an abundance of fantastic organisations and through my role as Co-Chair of the All-Party Group for Charities and Volunteering I am able to better understand the challenges faced by the sector.
For more information on Side by Side, please visit www.sidebysidetheatre.co.uk.
My submission to the Boundary Commission is copied below. You can view the proposals and have your say at www.bce2018.org.uk
Notwithstanding the long history of the Warwick and Leamington constituency, established in 1885, there are a number of reasons that point to the draft proposals being illogical.
Warwick and Leamington has for many years held a real sense of community and identity and the towns work in tandem in so many ways. As the MP, I work with local authorities, public services, businesses and charities that operate in the local area and in doing so am acutely aware of the close cooperation of these organisations across Warwick and Leamington. It is important that the connection between these two towns is not fractured.
The local economies of Warwick and Leamington are interconnected, particularly considering the sectors represented in our area. We are renowned for being home to world-class tech companies, we have a thriving video games sector and the towns include large manufacturers. To isolate each town to the periphery of separate constituencies would be to the detriment of the local economy.
On the contrary, for the towns to continue in the same constituency, we will be able to better promote our successes and encourage greater support from government to serve the best interests of local business. Breaking up the towns will damage the ability of local representatives to do so.
The reduction in the number of constituencies in the UK should be done in a way that best reflects settlements and it is clear that the towns of Warwick and Leamington are closely affiliated, and indeed physically connected. Geographically, the Boundary Commission proposals simply do not make sense and they work against the objectives set by the organisation itself at the start of this process.
Maintaining towns as the focal point of a constituency is an ambition worth pursuing. In the Boundary Commission's initial proposals, Warwick and Stratford-on-Avon would make up separate settlements on the edges of a new constituency. This would hamper efforts by a Member of Parliament to focus on local needs, with differing priorities between the two towns. Similarly, the proposed Kenilworth and Leamington constituency would suffer from the same problem. In my view, Warwick and Leamington as a focal point of the current constituency, with rural areas surrounding the towns, is far more naturally identifiable and relates to an MP's work.
The Boundary Commission notes a priority to consider local government wards and this is significant in considering changes in our area. With Warwick District Council and Stratford District Council, it is clearly more efficient and effective for local authorities to work as closely as possible with one particular MP, rather than working across constituency boundaries. This empowers local democracy and is more desirable in the interests of local residents. The Boundary Commission proposal would work against this aim.
Aside from these practical considerations, throughout my time living in the local area, and even more so through my role as the Member of Parliament, it has been clear that the communities of Warwick and Leamington are very closely aligned and are as one. The ultimate responsibility for an MP is to represent their constituents in Parliament. The work of an MP in doing so, and in addressing the constituency priorities, is significantly strengthened when the boundaries are shaped to reflect traditional community links.
This week I was pleased to host a discussion in Parliament alongside First Utility, the Warwick based energy supplier. First Utility have experienced exponential growth in recent years, contributing significantly to our local economy. At the event, a number of MPs and organisations such as Age UK and Citizens Advice Bureau discussed how more people can be encouraged to reduce their energy bills by switching provider.
The inquiry found that 70% of customers of the largest six companies are on a Standard Variable Tariff (SVT): the default rate that consumers fall into if they do not make a proactive choice to move to another tariff. It has been found that those on the SVT are being charged by up to 20% more than customers on the best tariffs. Furthermore, the amount these customers are being overcharged has doubled in the last two years to around £300.
Particularly as we approach the winter months, it is vital that people have access to the best tariffs and it was encouraging to hear of the support around the table to tackle the issue. Last week, during Business of the House questions, I asked the Leader of the House for a debate on competition in the energy market. He responded: "...the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy wants to do more. He is particularly anxious to ensure that customers are not penalised for loyalty, and that energy companies treat all their customers fairly, not just those who switch between suppliers."
With the Select Committee on which I sit incorporating energy policy into its remit, I look forward to continuing to scrutinise government policy on this issue and would encourage local residents to look into their energy tariffs to secure the best deal possible. If readers would like any advice or guidance, please visit www.ofgem.gov.uk.
I was delighted to meet with children and teachers of Ferncumbe Primary School in the Parliamentary Education Centre on Monday, including a Q&A session. It is always a pleasure to welcome school groups to Westminster and it was particularly encouraging to see the children so engaged with the history and processes of Parliament.
The trip coincided with Parliament Week, with various events taking place as part of an annual festival to foster closer engagement between the public and Parliament, empowering people to become involved. From educational activities around the suffragette movement to discussion groups on particular areas of policy, there are a wide range of initiatives nationwide.
From September 2015 to August 2016, I hosted 170 visitors from five local schools while 106 students also took part in the Education Visits programme. Each year, I encourage all schools to integrate a visit to Parliament in their plans as I believe it is an extremely valuable and memorable experience.
Our schools are performing well locally and this is a credit to our dedicated workforce of teachers. In Westminster, education policy is a complex and vital area of government work and I continue to prioritise visiting our schools and colleges when I am in the constituency.
I understand Ferncumbe is also taking part in a 'gunpowder, treason and plot' project and I was pleased to explain that I had recently seen Guy Fawkes' lantern in Parliament – believed to be the first time it had revisited the Palace of Westminster since the night itself 411 years ago!
I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the teachers who organised the event, a great deal of responsibility and additional work, but to see the children's enthusiasm, I hope they felt it was most worthwhile.
This morning (Tuesday), I sat on the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee as part of our Industrial Strategy inquiry. We heard from a number of organisations, including Innovate UK, University College London, Coventry University, the Campaign for Science and Engineering, Chartered Accountants for England and Wales and Balfour Beatty.
One particular point that I was keen to raise during the evidence session was the need for the government's Industrial Strategy to start in primary schools, ensuring that we secure the necessary flow of skills for our businesses to flourish. As the government shapes its strategy, we have a real opportunity to set a framework in which British business can be at the forefront of global markets.
Warwick and Leamington is a strong example of an ecosystem which benefits our students and business alike in developing talent. Our schools and colleges are performing well, not least Shrubland Street Primary School and I was delighted to open the new 'Phiz Lab' this time last year. Phiz Labs have been established by the Ogden Trust to promote the teaching and learning of physics.
Incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) into our education system is vital if we are to embrace the opportunities ahead, particularly in the advanced manufacturing sector. Investment in Research and Development is also key so that we have access to the very latest technologies.
I continue to work with the government on its Industrial Strategy and maintain a focus on how the policy can benefit our local economy.
This Sunday, I look forward to attending the Diwali lights switch on in Leamington, organised by the British Asian Business & Professionals Association (BABPA). Celebrating Diwali and all that is associated with the festival is a highlight in the calendar and it is always wonderful to see so many from the community take part.
In Warwick and Leamington, we have a rich sense of diversity, culture and inclusiveness. This is an aspect of our constituency that I am always incredibly proud of and the turnout for the Diwali celebrations is indicative of these characteristics.
Diwali, or the Festival of Lights, encompasses ideas that we can all draw from, irrespective of our religion. The festival coincides with the Hindu New Year, signifying new beginnings. It also points towards the triumph of good over evil and light over darkness. Diwali affords the opportunity to reflect on such ideas and how they translate into our own lives.
I pay tribute to BABPA for their continued work in our local area. The organisation has been in existence since 1992 with aims to make a significant contribution to Warwick District and for the Asian community to receive greater recognition for their role. From business forums and social events to offering advice to young people, the group's broad range of activities is to be commended.
More broadly, the weeks ahead provide a wonderful atmosphere in our towns throughout the festive season. I was pleased to hear the news that the Warwick Chamber of Trade secured a grant from National Grid for Christmas lights, ensuring that the decorations are brighter and better than ever!
To reflect change of the Government Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to include Energy, the Select Committee now includes this in its remit of scrutinising Government policy.
The UK is taking a leading role in tackling climate change and is working towards reducing emissions by 80 % by 2050. This is being aided by the Government's Energy Act which is working towards decarbonising our energy sector. This involves the closing of all coal-fired power stations by 2025, with restrictions being placed on coal-fired stations by 2023. Cleaner fuels - nuclear and gas - are at the heart of the Government's new energy infrastructure. Offshore wind will also be supported, as part of a wider drive to secure low-carbon, affordable electricity supply.
The UK's commitment to play our part in the international effort to tackle climate change was demonstrated by our part in the 2015 Paris Agreement. This culminated in a global deal signed by 195 countries, including the world's largest emitters, to commit to acting together to reduce emissions and to hold each other equally accountable. The UK has already begun its domestic procedures to enable ratification of the Paris agreement, and this process will be completed by the end of the year.
As we approach the winter months, it is vital that we focus on competition in the energy market. 15 years since privatisation, 70% of customers of the six largest UK energy companies remain trapped on the most expensive tariffs. On 22nd November I shall be hosting an event in Parliament to assist the discussions between the Government and the energy sector on how we can encourage greater switching between providers which can help to lower energy bills.
The Government has acknowledged the need for innovation with regards to the way we heat our homes in order to reduce the cost for consumers and for the UK to meet its carbon targets. Major energy companies in Warwick and Leamington, including First Utility, National Grid and Baxi will be key in driving this transformation. Not only will this contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it has the potential to bring economic growth to our area.
Last Saturday I was pleased to be invited to speak at the 'Protecting Our Community' conference St Peter's Conference Centre, Leamington Spa. I was joined by Chief Constable, Martin Jelley, the Chief Crown Prosecutor West Midlands, Grace Ononiwu OBE and Dr John Linnane, Director of Public Health. This important event raised awareness of current issues and concerns, including community collaboration.
For a safe and prosperous community, we must champion the importance of community cohesion, celebrate diversity and ensure that local authorities work effectively with each other as well as with local residents. As an MP, I prioritise strengthening such relationships, working closely with an array of organisations, and our local community is seen very much as a beacon of openness and mutual respect. Our range of festivals are invaluable in showcasing the very best of different cultures in our area. Nonetheless hate crime requires our serious consideration and I will continue to liaise with community groups and the police to ensure that we do not see such unacceptable behaviour locally.
The event on Saturday clearly demonstrates how many organisations are there to support, assist and provide such a strong level of expertise in a variety of areas. I pay tribute to the many voluntary organisations which play their part in helping some of the most vulnerable in our community, working together not only to protect our own community, but also providing a vital services throughout the local area.
This week the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Waterways held its AGM where I was delighted to have been elected the new Chair. I am a member of a number of APPGs including social enterprise, video games and charities and volunteering, which are useful mechanisms to raise awareness of the needs of particular sectors. The Waterways APPG was set up in 2012 and considers matters relating to the system of 'navigable rivers and canals, estuaries and lakes in the UK'.
I have taken over the position of Chair from Richard Benyon MP who, as a previous Waterways Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, was central in bringing about changes that helped to establish the Canal & River Trust (CRT). The CRT is a charity and in their brief existence have developed new funding streams, recruited volunteers and formed relationships with other Waterways organisations.
In the role I hope to focus on the economic, environmental and historic importance of these waterways, in addition to the role inland waterways play as places of recreation.
Warwick and Leamington is home to a section of the Grand Union Canal which provided a direct route from Birmingham to London. Our local canals continue to play an important role in the wider canal network, including the Hatton Locks. I welcome the recent investment for the maintenance and preservation of this flight of 21 locks, and I hope the APPG will play a part in ensuring that waterways are well preserved and supported for future generations.
This morning (Wednesday), I was interviewed on Radio 4's Today programme in relation to the Government's Industrial Strategy. Due to my role on the soon to be named Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, and my Co-Chairmanship of the All-Party Manufacturing Group, I take a great interest in this area of policy and was pleased to join the discussion.
I have long been calling for the implementation of an Industrial Strategy; an overarching policy that includes a range of strands in support of British business. From encouraging the uptake of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects in schools and increasing apprenticeship opportunities, to improving infrastructure and supporting manufacturers in boosting their exports, an Industrial Strategy enables a coherent approach across government departments.
During the Prime Minister's speech to the Conservative Party Conference, I was pleased to hear her clear determination to identify the industries that are of strategic value to our economy and supporting and promoting them through various methods, whether through fiscal frameworks, skills and training or research and development.
Here in Warwick and Leamington, we are home to major manufacturers and have a proud tradition in this respect. This morning, I was delighted to join Vitsoe along with other community representatives at their new home, on the site of the old Ford Foundry. The closure of the Foundry in 2007 was deeply concerning but it is excellent news for Leamington that a new factory is to be built, seeing Vitsoe's global operations expand in the process.
Furthermore, I look forward to visiting the site of the new European Headquarters for Tata Technologies in Leamington tomorrow. With such companies relocating to our area, it is clear that we remain a great place to do business and I will continue to promote the benefits of relocating to or investing in Warwick and Leamington, whether that be due to our skills, communication links or other opportunities that our area offers.
It is a great pleasure to congratulate the Chief Executive of the South Warwickshire NHS Foundation Trust, Glen Burley, on recently achieving the milestone of ten years in the post. I have worked with Glen for many years and have seen first-hand the positive impact he has had on our local health services.
Healthcare locally is performing well, not least at Warwick Hospital which has been further strengthened with the building of a new orthopaedic ward recently. Supporting the NHS and all of the staff that work so hard to the benefit of all of us is of huge importance and Glen has been a great influence on the continual improvement locally.
In the most recent annual report published in May, it was reported that the Foundation Trust performed over 12,000 elective operations, treated 1602 patients for trauma services and directly helped over 63,800 patients through community services in the previous twelve months. The culture of an attention to detail and a determination to strengthen the quality of care is clear to see and this is made all the more impressive considering the rise in the number of patients than the previous year.
As Glen cites in his piece in the annual report, the staff surveys consistently show incredibly high results. This not only reflects the fact that the Foundation Trust is an excellent employer, but that all involved recognise the standard of care that we can all be proud of.
The Foundation Trust serves a population of over half a million people and with rising demands it is a great achievement to consistently perform at the highest level. Glen has been instrumental in that success and I wish him well as he continues in the role.
As Chair of the Committee on Arms Export Controls (CAEC), I have in recent months led the inquiry into the conflict in Yemen and the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia. The report, published last week, included recommendations to government as a joint document between the Business, Innovation and Skills and International Development Select Committees.
The ongoing violence and tensions in Yemen are deeply troubling and it was a major factor in CAEC being reinstated earlier this year, with many MPs highlighting the need for the committee to scrutinise the sale of UK arms. In March, we announced details of the first inquiry to be undertaken and have since taken evidence from NGOs and Ministers with regards to the conflict.
Following this evidence, last week our report was released and alongside colleagues, I called for the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia to cease until an independent, UN-led investigation is carried out to investigate potential infringements of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). The UK has a proud tradition of being staunch defenders of IHL and it is right that this encompasses all cases, irrespective of important strategic relations.
While I absolutely appreciate the need to maintain close ties to strategic allies, any cases of arms originating from the UK being implicated in the conflict in Yemen are to be condemned and as such, I see an independent investigation as imperative.
If you would like to read more on the report, search for either of the Select Committees mentioned above at www.parliament.uk.
As Chair of the All-Party Group on Social Enterprise, I hosted an event alongside Social Enterprise UK on Monday to raise awareness of the significant contribution that social enterprises make to our communities and to our economy, as well as the upcoming Social Saturday initiative.
It is very encouraging to hear about social enterprises that have set up from scratch and have expanded rapidly, at the same time creating wider benefits such as helping people into work. The event on Monday included a presentation from Harry Specters, a social enterprise selling chocolate that employs people with autism. Harry Specters has experienced three digit growth in successive years and is a fine example of what can be achieved.
Social Saturday is an excellent initiative that will this year take place on 15th October. It provides an opportunity for social enterprises to raise awareness of their work and for consumers to support their efforts in reinvesting profits for social or environmental benefits. I would encourage readers to visit www.socialsaturday.org.uk.
Also this week, I joined a panel of speakers at the launch of the new 'Social Value Maturity Index', which seeks to provide a framework for commissioners to exploit the benefits afforded to them through the Social Value Act.
Since introducing the legislation as a Private Member's Bill, I have worked closely with a number of organisations to ensure that it is working in the way originally intended. While positive examples of social value can be found across the UK, there is still more work to do in raising awareness and improving understanding of the Act. In the coming weeks, I will be calling on the Government to commission a fresh review of the Act and to consider extending it to widen its scope.
A crucial aspect of parliamentary procedure is the role of select committees and as a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, I have seen first-hand the positive impact that can be made. The Committee recently scrutinised the working practices of Sports Direct, culminating in hearing evidence from owner Mike Ashley.
Subsequently, the company has recognised the need to address matters of concern within its operations and the Committee's report has been significant in shining a light on the need for reforms. This week, the company has committed to including a workers' representative on the board which will go some way in addressing the wide-ranging issues of concern.
Comprehensive analysis of a particular area of policy is of significant benefit and the changes that have been brought about through select committee reports already in this Parliament are notable. With the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, we have embarked on no fewer than 14 inquiries on a broad range of issues, meeting weekly to scrutinise government policy and to promote best practice for businesses.
As Chair of the Committee on Arms Export Controls, made up of representatives of four select committees, I am engaged in ongoing work alongside colleagues looking into the sale of UK-manufactured arms worldwide. Such inquiries naturally involve sensitivities and matters of immense importance and it is therefore a vital part of the democratic system.
For more information on the work of select committees, please visit www.parliament.uk/about/how/committees/select
This is the last week of the summer recess and I have held a number of meetings in preparation for the return of Parliament. From better understanding the priorities for local charities to meeting with those in the manufacturing sector regarding the Government's Industrial Strategy, my engagements have encompassed a wide range of issues.
On a sad note, I would firstly like to pay tribute to Marion Haywood, whose funeral I attended on Tuesday. Marion worked for so many years as a town and county councillor and was twice the Mayor of Warwick. She was a very positive example of public service.
Supporting local charities has always been a priority for me. My election as Co-Chair of the Charities and Volunteering All-Party Group has increased my understanding of the demands on the sector and the ways in which we need to support its work. I will be meeting with Age UK this week, a model of an organisation making a real difference. I look forward to meeting the new CEO, Jane Davies.
I have also recently been working with the Pubs Advisory Service to assist with new legislation, which aims to protect the best interests of publicans. Pubs are so often hubs of communities and I am again meeting with stakeholders to ensure the Pubs Code is working as originally intended.
Looking ahead, I have also been preparing for a busy period in Westminster. Along with colleagues on the Arms Export Controls Committee, which I chair, a report on the conflict in Yemen will be published as soon as possible, making recommendations to government. Next week also affords the opportunity to speak in the Chamber on Industry 4.0, a term referring technological advances that are reshaping industry. I will be calling on the Government to embrace the huge potential and will promote Warwick and Leamington's local economy. Finally, I have submitted questions to a number of government departments in the hope that I am successful in the ballots and will be called by the Speaker next week.
With A and AS level results being published last week, I wish all local students the very best, whatever their next steps may be. Nationally, the proportion of students achieving A*- E grades was 98.1%, an impressive achievement which reflects the hard work of students and teachers alike across the country.
GCSE results are to be issued tomorrow (Thursday) and I hope that all those locally attained the grades that they were hoping for.
In Warwick and Leamington I have seen first-hand the quality and breadth of education. Across primary schools, secondary schools and colleges, there is much to be proud of and an important aspect of my role as MP is to liaise closely with these institutions to better understand and support our local education system. Whether it's securing financial support, helping to develop links with other organisations, or challenging Government where I believe policies would not have a positive impact, working with our education leaders is a priority for me.
As Treasurer of the All-Party Group on Apprenticeships, I am particularly keen to raise awareness of the value of apprenticeships. The number of people choosing such an option in the UK is increasing, with record numbers in the last Parliament and 3,470 of these being in Warwick and Leamington. Following the publication of exam results, I hope that many young people will be successful in embarking on such a route.
I must take this opportunity to praise the fantastic triumphs of Team GB in Rio which have been a joy to watch. I am sure that many young people have been inspired by the successes; the future looks very bright for British sport. I am now looking forward to the imminent Paralympics and hope that the team can continue the record of success.
The Summer Recess provides an opportunity to spend a greater amount of time in Warwick and Leamington and in recent weeks I have met with a wide range of businesses and organisations, as well as holding my weekly surgeries. Our local area is of course home to a number of fantastic festivals, whether it's the Folk Festival, the Mela or Warwickshire Pride, which is taking place this weekend. There is an enormous amount to become involved with locally.
Promoting our local economy, the success of our local businesses and the ways in which their prosperity can be furthered are important priorities for me, particularly due to my membership of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee. I have discussed these issues with local enterprises, not least due to the vote to leave the European Union and the implications this brings. As this issue progresses and negotiations develop, I will be working hard to ensure that our best interests locally are protected.
Local projects also form a large proportion of my work. A number of issues are ongoing locally, from assisting a manufacturing firm in setting up locally to assisting in fundraising for important local causes. I am always eager to do what I can to support projects that will make a difference to local people.
Elsewhere, I was pleased to meet with the new Divisional Director of Warwick Castle, Nick Blofeld, to hear of his plans for the castle. It is an important contributor to local life and our tourism trade and I look forward to continuing to work with the team in the months and years ahead.
I am fully supportive of legislation that has recently been implemented to protect pubs, particularly in giving them greater independence from pub companies. Here in Warwick and Leamington, we are home to so many great pubs that are part of the fabric of our community, as well as being popular with tourists. It is essential that their best interests are considered and that the general decline in pubs across the country is reversed.
As a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, I recently sat on the Committee's meeting in which we scrutinised the legislation, taking evidence from pub companies, landlords and the Pubs Advisory Service. What is clear is that while the ability of pub companies to thrive, to create jobs, and to support pubs must be a primary consideration, landlords must be able to run a successful business.
The legislation introduces a number of measures, most notably a market rent only option. This allows a tenant to rent the property free-of-tie, removing restrictions on where products can be purchased from. Introducing this flexibility into the system will have a positive impact for pubs and I have recently supported a local establishment in scoping out their options under the new arrangements.
A new Pubs Code Adjudicator has also been established, and they will have powers to resolve individual disputes and to investigate breaches of the Pubs Code. It is welcome that independent oversight has been introduced to ensure that the legislation works as the Government intends.
Last Friday, I hosted a meeting with a number of local organisations including representatives from local community centres, to discuss the opportunities available for 'Community Shares'. It allowed Big Society Capital, which encourages such investment in the UK, and local community leaders to hold a very positive and informative discussion, including around sources of finance for projects that can make a real difference.
One example, 'Community Shares' refers to withdrawable share capital; whereby people invest in a particular project, whether it be saving a local pub or financing renewable energy schemes. This form of crowdfunding has seen almost 100,000 people investing over £100m to support 350 community businesses in the UK since 2009. The initiatives strengthen and empower community links and I am fully supportive of efforts to do so.
It was particularly welcome that Cllr Moira Ann-Grainger, Portfolio Holder for Health & Community Protection at Warwick District Council, joined the meeting and seeks to assist in spreading this information to a wider audience. Our local charitable sector is one of which we can all be proud and as Co-Chair of the All-Party Group on Charities and Volunteering in Parliament, I am particularly keen to see it grow.
I also continue to promote the Social Value Act, which I authored in the previous Parliament, as a way in which we can create social benefits in procurement processes. Since its inception, the legislation has made a difference to many communities across the country, but there is a great deal of work that can still be done and I regularly engage with government and business to raise awareness of the benefits.
If any readers are looking to source funding for a charity or social enterprise, the following website has been endorsed by Big Society Capital: goodfinance.org.uk.
I was delighted to be invited to host a policy dinner by the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) on Tuesday evening, with the specific objective of bringing together a number of representatives from businesses and organisations to discuss the Midlands Engine initiative, which is of huge importance to our area.
Guests included the Chairs of the Midlands Engine and the West Midlands Combined Authority, the SME Board member from the Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, academics and business leaders, providing the opportunity to identify synergies across the region. The discussion was positive, with a consensus that the best possible outcome for our area can be achieved. Collaboration across sectors through to local and national government will be vital.
The MTC is a fine example of the innovation and expertise that is so strong locally and as part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult it provides manufacturing system solutions and develops new technologies alongside industry and academia.
The setting was appropriate to discuss the steps needed to ensure the Midlands is at the forefront of reshaping our economy. I see enormous potential for both our region, including the resurgence of the manufacturing sector, and the wider UK to see a manufacturing renaissance and in the process, boost exports and reduce the skills gap.
In the most recent departmental questions to Sajid Javid, the then Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, I pressed the Minister to build on the £250 million Midlands Engine Investment Fund. The response was encouraging and I will continue to do what I can to ensure that our potential is realised.
On Monday, I was pleased to welcome a delegation from Tata Technologies at the Pump Rooms to discuss the imminent move of their European Headquarters to Leamington. The state-of-the-art premises are due to be open in April 2017 and to have their operations based in our local area adds yet another dimension to our thriving local economy.
The meeting, held alongside Alan Heap, representing the locally based company Purple Monster, provided an opportunity for us to welcome the decision of Tata Technologies to relocate to Leamington and to develop their links with the community. We have so much to offer and it is therefore with pride that I introduce the local area to newcomers.
Whether it is manufacturers, energy companies, legal services or businesses in the tech sector, we are home to a highly skilled workforce. Close links to the University of Warwick through the large student population residing locally also furthers our capability. For Tata Technologies to invest in a new headquarters here, it speaks volumes of our reputation as a place to do business.
Tata Technologies are leaders in the engineering services sector, boosting our manufacturing interests in the UK. My role as Co-Chair of the All-Party Manufacturing Group entails strong links to the sector and I am therefore encouraged by our local manufacturing interests being expanded.
The meeting proved extremely productive and I very much look forward to the offices being operational, with around 500 employees proposed at the site.
Today (Wednesday), I sat in the chamber of the House of Commons to hear David Cameron's final Prime Minister's Questions. Having heard him in his first appearance as Prime Minister in 2010, this was a poignant occasion, and he responded to questions with good humour and grace. I wish him and his family all the best for the future.
For the Queen to ask a new Prime Minister to form a government is always an historic event. Having just watched Theresa May on the television speaking outside Number 10 for the first time, there is a sense of the significance of change.
David Cameron can leave Downing Street safe in the knowledge that he has left the country in a better shape than when he was elected to office. He leaves behind a stronger economy, more people in work than ever before, falling crime rates and an increase in the number of apprenticeships. However, there is more work to be done.
I am a great believer in 'One Nation' government, and Theresa May will continue that work. The new Prime Minister spoke about improving the life chances of people across the country, the unity of the United Kingdom and leading a government that works for everyone and I wish her every success in achieving these aims.
Warwick and Leamington is always paramount in my thoughts and actions. Together we have achieved a great deal, but there is more progress to be made and I will continue to champion the best interests of my constituents.
Parliament is a hectic place and is particularly fast-moving with recent activity. The EU referendum result has demanded a sense of stability, and although disappointed with the result, I continue to work for the best interests of Warwick and Leamington.
Last Monday, I attended the Prime Minister's statement in the House of Commons on the referendum result and its implications. I asked the Prime Minister for assurance that we will work to achieve the best possible outcome for the UK in light of the decision that has been made. Following the statement, it was a pleasure to welcome Kids Run Free, a local charity promoting health and wellbeing in children, to meet with the Sports Minister in Whitehall.
On Tuesday, I attended departmental questions to Ministers at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and specifically pressed the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, on the need to turn the Midlands Engine initiative from concept into reality. The positive response received was welcome and I hope to continue to encourage support into our regional economy. During the afternoon, I caught up on constituents' correspondence, met with charity representatives keen to progress new ideas in the voluntary sector, and then hosted the fifth anniversary reception for the High Value Manufacturing Catapult; an invaluable initiative boosting our advanced manufacturing capability.
On Wednesday, I chaired a meeting of the Committee on Arms Export Controls, which heard evidence relating to our new inquiry into the Arms Trade Treaty. In the afternoon, I was part of the Sub-Committee meeting of the Business, Innovation and Skills and Education Select Committees, in which we took evidence relating to apprenticeships.
Thursday 30th June saw Theresa May's leadership campaign launch, and I was pleased to attend to support the person I believe best suited to lead the nation at this time. Following that, I spoke at a 'Growth, Innovation and Leadership' Symposium on the digital economy in Central London.
On returning to the constituency, I held a number of meetings on Friday and was particularly pleased to join All Saints Junior School to discuss life as an MP and international development issues, not least the 'Send my Friend to School' campaign.
On Saturday morning, I attended a moving service commemorating the Battle of the Somme at the War Memorial in Leamington. Finally, on a more light-hearted note, I joined the Warwick Rocks 'Chilli Fest' to judge the competition and also attended the carnival at Whitnash Fun Day on Sunday. I would like to thanks the volunteers who organise these events that make our community life so vibrant!
I campaigned for the continued membership of the European Union and I share the same disappointment as many local residents who have contacted me about the result in the last few days. I would like to pay tribute to the representatives from other parties who put politics to one side and worked together in a positive way towards a shared goal. It was remarkable that in the West Midlands, Warwick District, with a 58.8% vote, was the only one to remain.
It is now of the utmost importance that we focus on creating stability but I am confident that the issue of leaving the European Union will receive extensive scrutiny and debate in Parliament, of which I will play a role; not least through my membership of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee and my commitment to manufacturing.
Warwick and Leamington is unique in its makeup in terms of the local economy. We are home to creative industries, to a thriving technology sector and to manufacturing companies both large and small. The local area will continue to be my priority as events unfold and working together we will continue to prosper through our sense of community, our energy and our dynamism; something of which I believe we can be very proud.
It was a pleasure to be invited to speak to the Leamington Business Forum last Friday morning at Warwickshire College, with representatives of businesses, Warwick University and the College present. In opening, I explained that I had been at the referendum count the night before and that I was disappointed by the result. However, I noted that Warwick District voted by 58.8% in favour of remaining in the European Union.
During my speech, I discussed 'Silicon Spa' and the manufacturing sector, the roles of these sectors in our local economy and the potential they have in contributing to our economic prosperity. Despite the significant news that morning, I am committed to supporting what we have achieved together, not least in terms of employment.
The significance of manufacturing, technology and innovation to both our local and national economy continues unabated. In our local area we have a proud tradition of manufacturing and I will continue to champion the sector in Westminster. Industry is vital to the success of the country and I hope it will play an increasingly important role, not least in rebalancing our economy. One key aspect of our future success is the need for skills and it was fitting that I could pay tribute to the role of apprenticeships with the event taking place at Warwickshire College.
The Midlands Engine initiative is welcome and I raised this on Friday morning to the Forum, as well as during Business, Innovation and Skills Questions in the House of Commons on Tuesday. In his response, Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, specifically praised the work of the Leamington Business Forum (who he has met in Westminster) and reconfirmed his commitment to turning the Midlands Engine from concept into reality.
We must build on the confidence that is established and promote exciting prospects ahead for these, and other sectors, whether tourism, retail or SMEs in general. Our local economy has performed well in recent years and I will work tirelessly in playing my part to ensure this trend continues.
Politics can motivate and inspire people. If we have learned anything from the referendum on Scottish independence, it is that many people, especially the young, take an incredibly active interest in our democracy and I have been encouraged in recent years to see the way in which current issues have moved people to engage; typified by the referendum over Britain's membership of the European Union.
I hope that we can build on this momentum to inspire more people to actively participate and therefore strengthen our democracy. Increasing involvement makes our democracy stronger, firstly because the better informed people are the more able they are to hold the Government to account. In addition, increased participation gives politicians increased legitimacy to make changes, knowing that we have been elected on a significant turnout.
Since I was first elected, I have worked with many MPs and representatives of organisations in Westminster who have a real desire to make a difference. I find Parliament to be a place of hard working and dedicated individuals who work across party lines to achieve the best results for their constituents.
For example, Select Committees are bodies by which MPs from different parties come together to scrutinise the Government. As a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, I work with Labour and Independent MPs to question individuals such as Mike Ashley, owner of Sports Direct on working practices. I was also pleased to recently welcome the Scottish National Party MP, Chris Law, as a fellow Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Video Games. These working relationships operate across Parliament and support our democracy.
At the General Election in 2015, voter turnout in Warwick and Leamington was 70.7%, higher than the UK average of 66.1%. This represents a gradual increase in voter participation since 2001, however it is easy to forget that as recently as the 1970s and 1980s that it was common for 80% of those able to vote to do so. So, today, whether you have decided to Remain, or Leave, please exercise your right to vote in the referendum
It has been clear in discussions with local residents, in Parliament and through the media in recent weeks that our membership of the EU is in the balance. I urge everyone eligible to exercise their right to vote in the referendum; our collective decision will have a profound impact on the future of our country.
As your MP, I have been invited by the Courier to set out my views. I have been clear throughout this debate that retaining our membership of the EU is the right course of action, not least in terms of economic prosperity, security and international influence.
In economic terms, my membership of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee and my roles as Co-Chair of the Manufacturing and Video Games All-Party Groups facilitate discussions with a wide range of business representatives. It has struck me that the overwhelming opinion amongst the drivers of our economy is that a vote to leave would have a detrimental impact on their success. Furthermore, the Treasury, IMF, World Bank, World Trade Organisation and the Governor of the Bank for England are clear in their agreement.
Globally, there are significant challenges that we face, whether it be unstable international markets, the existence of terrorist organisations or climate change. We must not relinquish our influence by leaving our seat at the table of the European Union – the world's largest supranational organisation and one that wields a great deal of power on the world stage. Now is a time to work within the EU to address these challenges, not turn away from them.
Most importantly, I consider our local area in this debate. From Jaguar Land Rover to IBM, from manufacturing to the technology sector, our major institutions back membership and this reflects the benefits that are brought about by our relationship with the EU. The risks associated with 'Leave' are too great and I am therefore voting to remain.
Over the weekend a number of excellent events took place across the constituency with a particular focus on sport. On Saturday, the Kids Run Free initiative was held in the Pump Room Gardens, while the Two Castles Run set off from Warwick Castle on Sunday in its traditional way. Promoting active lifestyles is, of course, a most worthwhile cause.
I had the pleasure of meeting two retired GB athletes who were also supporting Kids Run Free's 'Festival of Sport' – Owusu Dako and Peter Frazier. The day included a children's Marathon Challenge, with each participant receiving a medal for taking part. Encouraging people from a young age to appreciate the value of health and fitness is very valuable and I am pleased to support where I can.
In this respect, I look forward to welcoming the CEO of Kids Run Free, Martine Verweij, and a Trustee, Peter Goodfellow, to Westminster in the coming weeks to raise the profile of the organisation with the Sports Minister.
On Saturday, I also visited Aylesford School to watch an Ultimate Frisbee training session of the U17 GB squad. The sport is gaining in popularity and I wish the team well.
The Two Castles Run was, as ever, very well subscribed with 4,500 runners. The wide range of local events held on an annual basis such as the Two Castles is testament to our community spirit, but also highlights the efforts of local organisations in staging such successful occasions. Next year is my 50th year, and I am committing to taking part in both the Regency and Two Castles runs!
Tomorrow (Thursday), I look forward to watching the Aviva Women's Tour pass through Warwick, which sees the world's best female cyclists participate. With events and festivals taking place through the summer, there is a great deal to look forward to.
Last week, I attended a meeting of the South Warwickshire Citizens' Academy at the Justice Centre in Leamington; a programme run by our local police. This excellent initiative allows local residents to better understand the workings of Warwickshire Police and the day-to-day challenges that they face. I greatly respect the dedication and commitment of all those working for, and who partner, our police and I am pleased to lend my support.
The ten week course includes presentations on a wide range of issues, from recording crimes, forensic investigation and the use of firearms to the role of Safer Neighbourhood Teams in protecting the public. On completing the course, participants are formally recognised as doing so with a ceremony and it is hoped that the knowledge and experiences they acquire can be passed on to others in the community.
Crime rates locally have fallen since 2010, reflecting the excellent work of Warwickshire Police in making our streets safer. Strong links between the public and the police, as well as with other relevant authorities, is important if we are to continue this positive trend of a reduction in crime and so projects such as the Citizens' Academy play an important role. A key aspect of the Academy is to provide an opportunity for discussion around the perceptions of the police and their functions.
The South Warwickshire Citizens' Academy has proved rewarding and informative for the participants as many continue to support Warwickshire Police in a number of ways, including joining the Special Constabulary or volunteering for the Safer Neighbourhood Teams.
For more information, please visit www.warwickshire.police.uk/academies.
The Collegiate Church of St Mary is one of Warwick's most famous landmarks. It attracts thousands of visitors every year and was founded by the Earl of Warwick, Roger de Newburgh in 1123. The Beauchamp Chapel is one of the most historic of its kind in the county, built in the fifteenth Century by another Earl of Warwick, Richard Beauchamp.
I cannot think of better surroundings therefore to see a performance of Playbox's imaginative reinvention of William Shakespeare's Henry VI in which Richard de Beauchamp, the 13th Earl of Warwick features so prominently, not least as the church would have witnessed some of the events and been attended by some of the characters.
Last week, I was delighted to be able to enjoy Playbox's performance of the Wars of the Roses as part of the celebration to mark Shakespeare's 400th anniversary. 'Games and Thrones' took place with the audience on either side of the aisle, where we were able to even better appreciate the play. The cast put on a modern twist to the story, with lighting, electric sound, music and dance to tell the drama of a bitterly divided family. I congratulate Playbox for so vividly bringing the history to life.
Whilst watching at St Mary's, I could not help but be reminded of the remarkable history of Warwick and to recall the Earl's role in making the town of Warwick part of the nation's collective narrative. Playbox took their audience back in time and I congratulate the organisers and the performers on a very inspiring evening.
This year Playbox Theatre is celebrating 30 years performing arts. They provide the opportunity for young people to explore their acting, musical and artistic talents and their performances are, without exception, outstanding.
For further details, please visit their website: http://www.playboxtheatre.com/playbox/Home.html
Wednesday saw the State Opening of Parliament, including the Queen's Speech which outlined the Government's legislative programme for the forthcoming Parliamentary session. The great traditions of our Parliament are on display to the world and whilst the pomp and ceremony of the occasion is symbolically important, the content of the speech and the wide range of Bills that will be taken forward is what the day is about.
Various proposals have been put forward, from support for the digital economy to electric vehicles, and from business rates to adoption. This promises to be a busy Parliamentary session, not least in terms of legislation.
One particular area of interest is the Government's ambition for a 'Northern Powerhouse' and it is in this context that I continue to support a similar notion of a 'Midlands Engine'. Through my role as Co-Chair of the Manufacturing All-Party Group, as a Member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, and very conscious of the importance of the sector to our area, I am passionate in my support for manufacturing. I believe our region can be instrumental in leading the 'March of the Makers', as first referred to by the Chancellor in 2011.
The House of Commons will debate the Queen's Speech for a number of days, and I hope to make my contribution on the essential role that manufacturing will continue to play in rebalancing our economy.
This was the Queen's 63rd address to Parliament and her words can be found on the www.gov.uk website. As these Bills pass through Parliament, I would welcome the thoughts of local residents on their detail. Please email email@example.com if you would like to get in touch.
Warwick Racecourse is nationally recognised as one of the best in the country and on Saturday I joined a packed crowd at the 'Proudly Warwick Twilight Meeting', with a number of races staged as part of an evening celebrating our local area. The Racecourse is enjoyed by many local residents as has been the case for centuries.
Horse racing in Warwick dates back to 1694, with locals aiming to attract revenue after the Great Fire of that year. The first official race at the Racecourse was held in 1707, and it is also documented as the first course to include jumps on its programme, establishing the sport as we know it today. Part of the Jockey Club since 1967, the largest organisation of leading racecourses, Warwick continues to feature on the national fixture list.
Of course, the Racecourse's illustrious history is no anomaly in the town. From the castle and the canals to the Lord Leycester Hospital and St. Mary's Church, we have a rich heritage to take pride in. In 2014, I spoke in the House of Commons to mark the 1100th anniversary of Warwick and it was a great honour to do so.
Warwick Racecourse continues to evolve and is now solely a jumps course, offering a range of race meetings for everyone, whether it be a family fun day or a New Year's Eve event. It is important to recognise its contribution to our local economy and community, and I hope that it continues to play a leading role in what the town has to offer; a piece of the jigsaw that makes the town such an attractive tourist destination.
I recently met with the new General Manager of the Racecourse, Andre Klein, and was encouraged to hear of future plans to maintain Warwick as a leading national course. For more information on upcoming events, visit warwick.thejockeyclub.co.uk.
Select Committees play an important role in Parliament; scrutinising Government policy and conducting inquiries into matters of importance in their relevant subject area. Last week, I sat on four evidence sessions that covered a range of issues, including the conflict in Yemen Arabia and the challenges being faced by the British steel industry.
The Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, of which I am a member, is currently running a number of inquiries and the first of the committee's meetings last week formed part of the review into exports and the role of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI). We heard from Lord Price, newly appointed Minister of State for Trade and Investment. Our analysis has focussed on the policies necessary to meet the Government's target to see 100,000 more companies exporting by 2020.
The second meeting of the committee involved a number of witnesses, including the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, to provide their insight into the steel crisis. Our manufacturing sector is of the utmost importance and the committee examined the current situation and the actions that the Government has taken.
On Wednesday afternoon, I chaired the final evidence session of the inquiry into the sale of arms to Saudi Arabia and the conflict in Yemen, through the Committee on Arms Export Controls. The second part of the meeting was particularly of note, with Ministers from all four relevant Government departments in attendance. Tobias Ellwood, Anna Soubry, Philip Dunne and Desmond Swayne responded to questions as to the Government's approach to arms sales.
Finally, the Education, Skills and the Economy Committee (a collaboration between the Business and Education Select Committees) also met. The final session of the inquiry into careers advice, information and guidance took evidence from Nick Boles and Sam Gyimah, Government Ministers overseeing related issues.
Each committee meeting contributes to final recommendations to the Government, and for more information on Select Committee reports, please visit www.parliament.uk.
I recently visited Leamington Vineyard Learning Centre to better understand the work they do in supporting children that have been permanently excluded from school and for 'school refusers'. Every child should have access to an excellent education and in cases where a child has struggled at a particular school, it is right that there is a system in place to provide them with a route to qualifications.
With this in mind, I applied for Education Questions in the House of Commons on Monday on this issue, and while I was not called by the Speaker, I received a response from the Department for Education detailing its recognition of the need to arrange suitable education for pupils that are permanently excluded. The Minister also outlined proposals to strengthen the accountability of schools when such a decision is made to exclude a pupil.
The Vineyard Learning Centre seeks to help students return to school as quickly as possible, offering one on one tuition and considering a wide range of factors that may have led to a child reaching a situation where they are unable to attend school. As well as full time staff, a number of volunteers work at the Centre and their diligent contributions have proved invaluable in helping local children receive the support they need.
Mathematics and English are pinpointed as central to a pupil's learning and the Centre's programme prioritises these subjects to ensure that children are given a solid foundation on which to build their study.
From central government to local authorities and down to individual school level, we must foster a system whereby every child is able to develop their skills and knowledge so that they are able to fulfil their potential, including 'school refusers' and those that have been excluded. While I know that the Government acknowledges the importance of this, it is right that we pay tribute to organisations such as the Vineyard Centre that make such a difference. I thank Brian Nash, the Centre's Director, and his team for my visit.
On 23rd April, we mark the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare and the events taking place across the country in the coming months are indicative of his work being deeply embedded in our national identity. Warwickshire is known as 'Shakespeare's County' and his legacy lives on; in our heritage, culture and even our economy.
Britain was last year named top of the international list in terms of 'soft power', the ability of a country to "get others to want the outcomes that it wants". We owe this to our rich cultural influence worldwide, which the works of Shakespeare have made a significant contribution to. Whether it be productions of Romeo and Juliet in Kosovo, Macbeth in the favelas of Rio or Hamlet on a world tour, Shakespeare is a global inspiration.
In our local area we have a real sense of community, built not least upon our extensive shared history. This anniversary will not only be an opportunity to celebrate the timelessness of his work, but to also showcase our remarkable area through the number of tourists who I hope will visit our historic buildings, our markets, our festivals, and the parks and gardens that we all enjoy.
The most telling aspect of Shakespeare's popularity is the universal nature of his work. Clearly, much has changed in 400 years, yet the Bard's reputation has not faded and the celebrations this year reflect this.
On Thursday 21st April, the Queen will turn 90. I would like to wish her my best wishes for this very special occasion.
Last week, I received my polling card for the forthcoming Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC) election on 5th May. I hope that all those that are eligible to vote use that opportunity to ensure that our local policing priorities are guided by an individual backed by a strong mandate. The work of a PCC is significant in supporting our excellent police force.
Police & Crime Commissioners were introduced in 2012, with 41 across the country elected to represent the priorities of local residents relating to policing. The purpose of the PCC is to ensure that the needs of communities are met, while they also appoint Chief Constables and set force budgets.
The Home Affairs Select Committee highlighted in their 2014 report that individual PCCs are providing greater clarity of leadership for policing in their areas, and are increasingly recognised for the strategic direction they are providing. It is in this context that I must pay tribute to Ron Ball, the outgoing PCC for Warwickshire, and thank him for his work over the past four years.
The crime rate locally has fallen since 2010 – a mark of the tremendous work of our local Police. Of course, we should redouble efforts to tackle crime and the new PCC for Warwickshire has an important responsibility to ensure that the positive trend continues.
In the 2012 PCC elections, we saw a low turnout. The role of a PCC brings with it significant implications for local policing and I would encourage every local resident to exercise their right to vote on 5th May. To find out where your polling station is, please visit www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.
With Parliament in recess for two weeks I have had an opportunity to spend a greater deal of time in Warwick and Leamington and have met with many local residents and organisations. From discussing issues of importance to older people with Age UK to liaising with an officer of Warwick District Council to look at ways to promote our local video games sector, the current recess has involved a wide range of considerations.
Last week, I visited the Alzheimer's Care Home in Warwick to better understand the work that its dedicated staff undertake. Clearly, we should do all we can to provide support to those in the community that must live with dementia. On a related note, I recently attended an Alzheimer's Society Parliamentary Reception, and while progress is being made in terms of Government research funding, we must press on with our agenda of tackling this debilitating condition.
I also met with local Age UK representatives last week to discuss the wider challenges affecting older people in our community. I was pleased to hear of the charity's continued invaluable contribution and look forward to continuing to work with them.
The high number of voluntary organisations locally is a mark of the community spirit and cohesion that is such a feature of society in Warwick and Leamington. Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action (WCAVA) have for a number of years supported such groups across the county, not least in terms of training, and in recent days I met with Chief Executive, Paul Tolley, to hear about their plans moving forward.
Elsewhere, I met with the local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, the Ups and Downs Charity which supports children with Down's Syndrome, and of course continued to correspond with local residents that got in touch.
Last week I joined the local branch of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) at an event to raise the profile of the increasing risk of cybercrime. Here in Warwick and Leamington, whilst our local economy is moving forward and we are home to a diverse range of businesses, we must remain vigilant to the very real threat to the success of small and medium-sized enterprises.
There is a sense that some business owners are unaware of the increase in cybercrime, often due to the view that they are not large enough for these criminals to be interested in their organisation. This is simply not the case. FSB research shows that last year, 71% of small businesses experienced a security breach, up from 60% in the previous year. The average cost of the worst breach is between £65,000 and £115,000.
The National Cyber Security Programme is seeing £1.9 billion invested into addressing cybercrime and businesses need to match this with an increased level of awareness. I spoke at the FSB event about the need to collaborate with the local police force and other agencies I welcomed the approach taken by Ron Ball, the Police & Crime Commissioner (PCC), who has this issue firmly on his agenda. The FSB has been calling for cybercrime to be at the heart of local policing plans and I look forward to seeing progress being made on this important issue.
The internet is such a part of all our lives and cybercrime is therefore a risk to us all. As one of the most advanced digital economies in the world, with 12.5% of our economy now online, we benefit enormously from technology. However, I would urge all businesses to identify weaknesses in their systems and to report any security breaches; this is an under-reported crime.
For further information, please visit www.fsb.org.uk.
On Tuesday I spoke in the Budget debate in favour of a number of measures in support of small business. Our local economy has moved in a positive direction since 2010, not least in terms of employment, and I welcomed the opportunity to raise awareness of our achievements, from a surge in the number of successful small businesses to an increased profile for our video games sector. In other Parliamentary business, the HS2 Bill saw its Third Reading in the Commons and I continued my opposition to the project by voting against the legislation.
During the Budget debate, I raised the issue of reforms to small business rates which will make a huge difference, with rises in thresholds meaning 600,000 firms nationally will pay no business rates at all. I also welcomed the announcement of the Midlands Engine Investment Fund which will see £250 million directed towards small businesses in our region.
Of course, it is right that we scrutinise every policy announced in the Budget. Last Friday, I wrote to the Chancellor outlining my concerns about proposed reductions in Personal Independence Payments for people with disabilities. In my letter, I wrote: "we have a responsibility to support people with a disability and I would press the Government to rethink this proposal on an urgent basis". I welcome the decision by the Government to listen to the concerns of myself and others. If you would be interested to read my letter, please visit my website at www.chriswhitemp.com.
Similarly, with HS2, I oppose the legislation. I believe that the significant amount of investment required could be better directed at current infrastructure and as such I voted against the Government's Bill.
Finally, on Wednesday I chaired the first evidence session of the Yemen inquiry launched by the Committee on Arms Export Controls.
My letter can also be read on facebook here: www.facebook.com/chriswhitewarwickleamington
This week is National Apprenticeship Week, an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of providing opportunities for young people across the country. It also allows us to reflect on the excellent opportunities available locally.
On Monday I visited Warwickshire College to meet apprentices and learn about their roles and experiences. There have been 3,450 apprenticeship starts in Warwick and Leamington since 2010 and the College has played a vital role in delivering this. I look forward to seeing more young people take advantage of the apprenticeship opportunities that will prepare them for their future.
In Warwick and Leamington we are also fortunate to have a wide range of organisations that encourage aspiration in our young people to pursue their talents. Last weekend I attended the Warwickshire Gang Show (WAGS), organised by Warwickshire County Scout Council. This was a variety show with a cast of 140 people aged 6-25. The performance comprised of many fun, serious and dramatic acts including singing and dancing and I was very impressed by the talent and enthusiasm of the cast.
In addition to this, last Friday I attended the 'Big Sing' at the Arts Centre at Warwick University, which involved 11 schools presenting to family, friends and supporters. The Gala Concert showcased the newly formed Coventry and Warwickshire Youth Orchestra. I had the opportunity to enjoy performances such as the Warwickshire County Girls Choir performing 'Living in a Holy City' and Warwickshire County Male Voices performing 'Benedictus'. I commend all the talented young people involved in what was a very enjoyable evening. Organisations such as these build confidence in young people to fulfil their potential and I hope we give them as much encouragement as possible.
Throughout National Apprenticeship Week we should not only remember the importance of preparing young people for the work place, but also in encouraging young people to find their passion and discover new interests.
In Parliament I engage in a wide range of issues and on Tuesday this was no different, from sitting on a Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee evidence session on the Digital Economy to attending the Spinal Injuries Association's Parliamentary Reception – an opportunity to discuss the provision of care for those with such injuries in our community. I was also able to invite a student from Myton School to Parliament as part of International Women's Day and attend an event in the evening promoting women in engineering.
The Select Committee inquiry into the Digital Economy is looking at various factors contributing to the success of the sector and the challenges in the years to come. The session yesterday centred on the video games sector and included on the panel was Philip Oliver, CEO of Radiant Worlds in Leamington. As Chair of the All-Party Group on Video Games, this is a significant area of interest to me and I will continue to work with local companies to promote their contribution to the economy.
On a related note, I met with the Taiwanese Ambassador alongside an officer from Warwick District Council to discuss that particular emerging market and the possibility of collaborative working. Exports are of course vital to any economy and so I hope that such conversations are the start of businesses, particularly in Warwick and Leamington, expanding in international markets.
The business in the House of Commons included the Report Stage of the Enterprise Bill, legislation that I voted in favour of due to its support for small businesses, its reduction of regulatory burdens and it's strengthening of apprenticeships.
Elsewhere, my regular work of responding to constituents' correspondence and speaking to local residents on matters of interest rounded off a fulfilling day!
On Thursday 10th March, the third annual Jobs & Careers Fair at Leamington Town Hall will take place. This is an opportunity to bring together employers, from a wide range of industries, services and job seekers, or anyone who is looking for a change in their career.
People of all ages are encouraged to attend, but I hope it will be especially useful for young people who are still deciding what they want to do when they finish their secondary education. I know that choosing a career can be a daunting prospect and it is important that the decision is taken with as much practical advice and information as possible.
A wide range of employers and careers services including household names such as Jaguar Land Rover, Sainsbury's, Tesco, IBM and Premiere Inn to volunteering organisations and local services such as Warwickshire College and Job Centre Plus have been invited to attend.
Careers advice workshops will be held throughout the day. These workshops offer practical hands-on advice, this includes 'CV Writing Skills' and 'Interview Techniques' presented by Plus One Personnel, amongst others.
Warwick and Leamington was one of the highest performing constituencies in the country for jobs growth over the last five years. The number of JSA claimants is now just 0.9% of our working population and we have seen an 11% increase in the number of enterprises since 2014.
Clearly there is more work to be done to make sure that everybody in Warwick and Leamington has the practical advice and the access to training necessary to find work. I hope that this Jobs & Careers Fair will contribute to providing that opportunity.
I will be posting information on my Facebook page and on my website closer to the time. If you would like further information, or would like to be involved in the day, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Saturday I will be volunteering in support of the 'Clean for the Queen' campaign. This is a national event to help clear Britain of litter in time for Her Majesty the Queen's 90th birthday in June. I am pleased that there will be a number of local such events around the constituency.
Across Britain, hundreds of volunteer organisations, local councils, businesses and schools will come together to collect as much litter as possible. I know that residents throughout Warwick and Leamington often organise litter picks and I look forward to a great community wide initiative.
Under The Environmental Protection Act 1990, littering is a crime with a maximum fine of £2,500. Those individuals who litter don't just spoil the image of our neighbourhoods but it is also a health hazard, causing the spread of disease and puts our wildlife in danger.
One such 'Clean for the Queen' event will take place on Saturday 5 March. Volunteers will be meeting at Hatton Village Hall at 10.00am for refreshments beforehand generously provided by the Women's Institute. Black bags and litter pickers are provided so volunteers simply need to bring gloves.
Anyone wanting to take part can register their interest at www.cleanforthequeen.co.uk.
The EU referendum will be a historic decision and not one that will be made in the House of Commons but by all of us eligible to vote.
As your representative in Parliament, I feel it is appropriate to share with you my thoughts on Britain's membership of the European Union.
This debate inspires a great deal of passion and I respect the views on both sides of the argument. The world has changed significantly since the last referendum on Europe was held in 1975, not least in terms of trade and security.
I will be voting for the UK to remain a member of the EU. I cannot in all conscience support the alternative; to leave and the uncertainty that would bring.
Let me give one example of where we are: the number of unemployed claimants in Warwick and Leamington has fallen by 80% since 2010. To leave at this time risks a reversal of progress made both locally and nationally.
I know what the world looks like now, I know what the negotiation has achieved, but I do not know what the UK will look like outside the EU. For that reason, at a time of global economic uncertainty, I will be voting to remain.
Last week I was pleased to be elected as Co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Charities and Volunteering. The group provides a forum for discussing issues affecting the voluntary and community sector. Membership comprises of parliamentarians from all parties with an interest or experience in these areas.
As many readers will be aware, I initiated the Social Value Act as a Private Members Bill in 2010 to open up more public sector contracts to smaller businesses, social enterprises and voluntary organisations.
The purpose of the Act is to ensure that local authorities and other commissioners procure services with maximum social benefit for the communities they serve. I have been encouraged by the positive approach taken by many local authorities who have included the Act into their procurement policies.
The British Council, as part of their social enterprise program in India, recently hosted Sri T.B Jayachandra, Minister for Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Higher Education for the State Government of Karnataka. I had the opportunity to meet with the Minister to discuss the Social Value Act and I am delighted that the Minister now has ambitions to implement similar legislation in India.
The UK has over 70,000 registered social enterprises, which contribute £18.5 billion annually to the UK economy. The British Council have conducted research on how the Indian Government can encourage growth of this sector in their own country and I look forward to seeing how other nations can work together to develop legislation related to the Act. I will also be interested to see how the Act informs India's legislation, not least at a local level.
If you would like to contact me about this or any other issue please email me at email@example.com or to keep up to date with my activities, subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on Facebook.
Last week I was pleased to be elected as Co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Civil Society and Volunteering. The group provides a forum for discussing issues affecting the voluntary and community sector. Membership comprises of parliamentarians from all parties with an interest or experience in these areas.
As many readers will be aware, I initiated the Social Value Act as a Private Members Bill in 2010 to open up more public sector contracts to smaller businesses, social enterprises and voluntary organisations.
The purpose of the Act is to ensure that local authorities and other commissioners procure services with maximum social benefit for the communities they serve. I have been encouraged by the positive approach taken by many local authorities who have included the Act into their procurement policies.
The British Council, as part of their social enterprise program in India, recently hosted Sri T.B Jayachandra, Minister for Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Higher Education for the State Government of Karnataka. I had the opportunity to meet with the Minister to discuss the Social Value Act and I am delighted that the Minister now has ambitions to implement similar legislation in India.
The UK has over 70,000 registered social enterprises, which contribute £18.5 billion annually to the UK economy. The British Council have conducted research on how the Indian Government can encourage growth of this sector in their own country and I look forward to seeing how other nations can work together to develop legislation related to the Act. I will also be interested to see how the Act informs India's legislation, not least at a local level.
If you would like to contact me about this or any other issue please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or to keep up to date with my activities, subscribe to my newsletter or follow me on Facebook.
This week I have, on two occasions, met with colleagues and sector leaders to discuss the importance and value of apprenticeships. I sat on the Committee on Education, Skills and the Economy as well as chairing a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Apprenticeships.
The Committee questioned Nick Boles MP, the Minister with oversight of the Government's policies to support the wider provision and uptake of apprenticeship schemes. The amalgamation of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, on which I also sit, and the Education Select Committee saw scrutiny of the Government approach and I was encouraged by the Minister's determination to reach the target figure of 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020.
It is right that we raise awareness of the value of apprenticeships as an alternative to higher education. In Warwick and Leamington, we have seen 3,450 apprenticeship starts in the last five years, and while this is extremely welcome in giving young people a route into work, we can do more in this regard.
The meeting of the APPG on Apprenticeships saw a wide range of industry representatives come together to discuss the challenges facing employers in delivering high quality apprenticeships.
Locally, Warwickshire College is doing a tremendous job in training students in a variety of professions and I again pay tribute to the College for their work in this area. Their efforts will go a long way towards closing the skills gap, which is particularly important due to our association with the manufacturing and technology sectors.
Last week, I joined the first meeting of the Creative Quarter Forum held at North Hall, Spencer's Yard, in Leamington – an excellent new initiative to bring together an array of individuals and organisations to share thoughts and opinions on the proposed plans for a Creative Quarter.
The idea behind the Forum is to bring together various stakeholders with a shared interest and vision for such a quarter. A positive discussion around the possibilities of developing specific sites or buildings through the community demonstrates the collective spirit of our local area.
Locally, we are home to very creative and talented individuals and sectors. Of course, it is only right that local residents have a strong input and influence in the proposals and I was pleased that around 50 people were able to attend the meeting. I hope that we are able to continue to formulate ideas in the months ahead.
The potential of the Creative Quarter is enormous and I was pleased to see representatives from the District, Town and County Councils as well as the Leamington Business Forum and I would like to thank Alan Heap from Purple Monster for bringing everyone together. Our local area's reputation for creativity and innovation is something to celebrate and I am fully behind the aims of the Forum, not least in encouraging a widespread enthusiasm and participation in the arts.
I look forward to hearing the views from local residents to see how this initiative could take shape. Do please email me if you would like to share your ideas at email@example.com.
As Co-Chair of the All-Party Manufacturing Group (APMG), I was delighted to have the opportunity this week to speak at a conference in the Digital Catapult Centre in Euston to discuss Industry 4.0 and the crucial importance of innovation in manufacturing.
Industry 4.0 refers to a fourth Industrial Revolution embracing new technologies and realising what they can do for the sector. We have a hub of businesses in Warwick & Leamington which use and develop the potential of technology and an established base of high quality manufacturing, so I am encouraged by what can be achieved.
Industry 4.0 calls for a digitally skilled workforce and with our incredible local schools and Warwickshire College our young people are well placed for the jobs of the future. Continued collaborative working between educational institutions and local businesses is the way to ensure we stay ahead.
I am passionate about British manufacturing: the quality of our goods, the story behind our products, the processes we use. With the APMG, I am keen to continue to explore how technology can enhance these strong foundations without losing any part of what makes us unique. The Midlands has a leading role to play in the success of UK manufacturing to ensure that we remain global players.
We have incredible talent in our area in manufacturing and in technology. Recognising the opportunities that lie ahead is an important step.
I would like to begin by paying tribute to our emergency services who have worked tirelessly over Christmas. I recognise their dedication and commitment, not just during this particularly busy period, but all year round.
For me, now is a time to reflect on the twelve months that have passed and the year ahead. 2015 was a notable year, both locally and in Westminster.
To give one example of the progress made locally, in the final unemployment statistics of the year, Warwick and Leamington was ranked 592nd out of 650 constituencies (the higher the ranking, the lower the unemployment). In 2010 the ranking was 414th. Our local economy has grown steadily, and although I know there is still more to be done, I thank employers and employees alike for their tremendous work.
The spirit and sense of community is as strong as ever, seen at our wonderful festivals and events to the charities that work so hard for so many worthwhile causes.
I had the opportunity to visit many local schools and the two college centres. I have been inspired by the young people I have met; their confidence, their achievements and their potential.
I continue to work hard in Parliament to promote, support and assist all that Warwick and Leamington and its residents have to offer, not least in our manufacturing and rapidly expanding technology sectors.
It was an incredible honour to be re-elected in May and I look forward to working harder than ever to represent your readers to the best of my ability. I wish everyone a happy and healthy 2016!
It has been a busy time for social value and the social enterprise sector over recent weeks. I have been pleased to see the increased focus placed on social value by the Cabinet Office and across government departments, have asked questions in the House to draw attention to new initiatives in the sector and have hosted an event for the All Party Group on Social Enterprise.
The Public Services (Social Value) Act which I authored and introduced into Parliament requires all public bodies in England and Wales, including local authorities, to consider how the services they commission and procure might improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area. The legislation also aims to make it easier for Voluntary, Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) sector companies to bid for contracts to deliver public services.
Many local authorities have embraced the idea of social value enthusiastically and there are some fantastic examples of where social value is being implemented across the country.
To recognise the achievements of these organisations and local councils, this week I will be helping to judge the Cabinet Office's Social Value Awards, a new initiative which which celebrates good practice in commissioning and providing social value. The winners will be announced at the Social Value Summit in February 2016.
I was also delighted this week to host in Parliament various social enterprises whose work focuses on improving the lives of armed forces veterans and their families. The roundtable was an opportunity for a policy discussion with these groups about the issues associated with providing services to military veterans. It was a positive event and I thank all those involved.
All in all, it is an exciting time for social value and the social enterprise sector and I look forward to continuing to pursue the agenda in the new year.
Last week, I met with British Blind Sport (BBS), whose headquarters are based in Leamington. BBS have recently celebrated their 40th anniversary which is a fantastic milestone and one which I would like to congratulate them on.
There are almost two million people in the UK living with sight loss, including approximately 360,000 people who are registered as blind or partially sighted and who have severe and irreversible sight loss. According to BBS, nearly half of blind and partially sighted people feel 'moderately' or 'completely' cut off from people and things around them.
BBS supports blind and vision impaired people to participate in sport and physical activity. The importance of this in the lives of blind and partially sighted people should not be underestimated. Not only does it improve health and wellbeing, but it provides a sociable and fun environment for all involved.
To build on the success and lasting effect of the Paralympic Games in 2012, we must continue to encourage people to participate in sport at all levels. I am pleased that the Government is developing a new sport strategy to ensure that participation levels continue to grow.
In Warwick and Leamington, we are fortunate to have many wonderful local organisations, from international development charities to community groups.
British Blind Sport is one such example which contributes to the essential community spirit of the area and I commend them again for their work. To find out more about BBS, see http://www.britishblindsport.org.uk/
I was delighted to visit Shrubland Street Primary School last Friday to open its new Science block and to see its dedicated 'Phiz Lab' in action. Phiz Labs have been established by the Ogden Trust, whose mission it is to encourage and promote the teaching and learning of physics.
The Ogden Trust identified that there were very few primary schools with a dedicated science classroom and have created the Phiz Lab to address this need. There are now seven Phiz Labs which have been established across the country, with the aim of promoting and encouraging children's interest in science and enabling them to have a properly equipped classroom in which to learn and experiment.
At the same time, the labs provide a valuable learning resource for teachers. The Ogden Trust conducts Continuing Professional Development courses for primary science teachers to increase their knowledge and confidence.
It was a privilege to see the children's delight and enthusiasm in their scientific experiments. Initiatives like the Phiz Labs are just what we need to encourage young people, particularly girls, to take up and enjoy the study of science and mathematics.
A recent Accenture study found that 60 per cent of 12 year old girls in the UK and Ireland believe that science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects are too difficult to learn. This is not as it should be and I commend the Ogden Trust and schools like Shrubland who are tackling this problem head on.
To find out more about Phiz Labs, see http://www.ogdentrust.com/primary-science/phiz-labs
On Saturday, I was delighted to be invited to open the TEDx event, held in the Royal Spa Centre. As you may know, these events are part of the wider TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) movement, which has the aim of promoting "ideas worth sharing." TED Talks have been given by many people internationally, including Bill Gates and Jamie Oliver. TEDx events are independently organised by communities who want to create a TED-like event in their area.
The theme for the event was "Courageous Creations" and the broad range of speakers and presenters was testament to the creativity and diversity of our region. The audience heard from speakers including the director of a crowd-funded British moon expedition, a martial artist, a composer, an author, gymnasts and musicians.
In my introduction, I spoke about the innovation of our democracy, but also about the creativity of local people and how we can justifiably celebrate the achievements of our community.
In Parliament this week, I launched a report from the organisation Million +, about the need for investment in and promotion of the creative industries and the benefit this can have for the economy.
The Creative Futures report highlighted the need for creative subjects and technology to be promoted in schools, colleges and universities. Progress has already been made in this area: last year, it was encouraging to see computing put onto the school curriculum for the first time. Inspiring children to become involved in these subject areas is absolutely vital if we are to see the creative industries grow in the coming years.
The report was a reminder of the need to continue to focus on and support the creative industries through well targeted investment and policy framework. TEDx encouraged me to think that creativity is alive and well in our community. I look forward to its continued success and hopefully as an annual event on the local calendar.
It is with great sadness that I write this week's Westminster Diary after the horrific events in Paris last Friday that shook the world, and the regret is even more acute having written following the tragedy that took place in the same city only ten months ago. The brutality of the violence is impossible to comprehend and my thoughts are with the family and friends of those that lost their lives.
The outpouring of genuine emotion in the wake of the attacks is indicative of international solidarity and condemnation.
It is clear that there are no limits this evil organisation will go to in attacking our values and way of life. Of course, we must take a measured approach in our response but the perpetrators of this most recent atrocity must know that there will be a response. Our sense of freedom and democracy will not be weakened and are built on too strong a foundation.
I pay tribute to our intelligence services which are doing an incredible job in highlighting and dealing with potential threats. I would also like to take this opportunity to praise the emergency services in Paris on Friday whose heroism cannot be understated.
Once again, I send my deepest condolences to the families and friends of those who died in Paris, as well as the loved ones of the victims of attacks in Beirut and on the Russian aircraft brought down in Egypt. These innocent people will not be forgotten.
On Tuesday, it was a pleasure to be part of the first Westminster Games Day, hosted by trade association UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE). I chaired two seminars with industry leaders, MPs and Lords, and hosted a lunchtime video games showcase as part of the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Video Games. This is a vital sector for our local economy and I am pleased to have the opportunity to raise awareness of the rapidly growing industry in Parliament.
I have been delighted to see local games companies increasingly thrive in recent years and we are now home to developers creating world class products. Whether it be the new Guitar Hero game being produced by Leamington business FreeStyle Games, local company Pixel Toys being involved with the launch of the new iPhone, or incubator space at Arch Creatives making a huge difference in allowing our local talent to flourish, we have much to be proud of in Warwick and Leamington.
As Chair of the All-Party Group for Video Games, I work closely with trade associations and the industry to ensure that the UK games sector fulfils its potential. While our creative industries are growing and making a significant contribution to the economy, our games sector is the sixth largest globally. I hope that in the coming years we are able to take a greater share of the lucrative international market.
During the first seminar, we discussed the important area of skills and the necessity of securing a continuous flow of talent into the video games industry. To compete on an international scale, we need to be nurturing talent in the UK and it was encouraging to see computing added to the school curriculum last year, not least for primary school children, where this will make the most difference.
I will continue to play my part in supporting the sector and commend our local companies for their world class products.
This year, I liaised with local organisations, businesses, and the Courier to seek support in setting up a charitable resource, the 'Love Leamington Fund'. As promised, the rise in my salary has been dedicated to the fund and I am delighted that with generous donations from a variety of organisations, it now stands at around £10,000.
I must thank Wright Hassall for its donation to kick-start the initiative in January, as well as the £1,000 added at the recent Leamington Business Awards evening.
I hope that the fund will continue to grow with donations from local businesses and others so that this can become a permanent charitable resource for the town. The scope is fairly wide, but I hope that it may include applications from community groups who require small grants to cover the cost of items such as room hire for events, computers and sports equipment.
A board of trustees is in the process of being established, which will assess applications and issue grants and the fund will be administered by the Heart of England Community Foundation. I will have no say as to where grants are allocated.
I look forward to seeing what difference can be made locally and would encourage donations. Please do not hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to be involved or contact the Heart of England Community Foundation for an application form on email@example.com.
This month, the Leamington Business Forum celebrated its second anniversary. I would like to congratulate Jonathan Smith and his team on their hard work and for making the initiative such a success. The forum brings together local businesses to help forge relationships, strengthen the network of the local business community, and update members on developments in the local economy.
I have been privileged to attend and speak to the forum on a number of occasions over the past two years and was delighted to support the recent anniversary event at National Grid with Mike Wright, Executive Director of Jaguar Land Rover, alongside others.
Local business is a strong community in Warwick and Leamington and organisations such as the business forum and the chambers of trade and commerce support and encourage collaboration between our businesses.
Through my role on the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee, I am passionate about supporting businesses across all sectors and am encouraged by the review into business rates conducted by the Government. The review is set to report back as part of the Budget in 2016 and more information can be found by searching for 'business rates review' on www.gov.uk. In addition, plans recently announced to allow local authorities to set business rates will I hope be beneficial in furthering the potential of our local economy.
I look forward to continuing to do what I can to support local businesses and, once again, would like to congratulate the Leamington Business Forum on its significant milestone.
On Sunday, I took part in the Twilight Walk around Warwick to raise funds for the Brain Tumour Charity. Improving our research into brain tumours is vitally important to ensure that we diminish the impact of this tragic condition, while the charity also works with the families of those affected. It was particularly moving to hear from individuals whose loved ones have passed away as a result of a brain tumour, and who greatly value this campaign.
The scale of the support on show for the walk demonstrated the incredible spirit amongst local residents and those from further afield who wanted to make a difference. It was also good to see former international rugby player Lewis Moody speak at the start of the event to raise the profile of the charity.
Whilst the walk took in many of the historic landmarks around Warwick, there was still an important message to be heard.
The Brain Tumour Charity estimates that 5000 people lose their lives to a brain tumour every year, with 25 people being diagnosed every day. It is clearly a great challenge to reduce these figures to zero, but the work of the Brain Tumour Charity and other related organisations will go a long way to improve survival rates, such as through identifying the genes related to the disease and improving diagnosis.
I pay tribute to all involved with the Twilight Walk and would encourage people to support this important cause. For more information about the work of the charity, please visit www.thebraintumourcharity.org.
The current Parliamentary recess has provided me with an opportunity to meet with more local residents and organisations than when the House is sitting, and I have been able to attend various events as well as welcoming the Japanese Rugby World Cup squad to Warwick last week.
It is a great honour for the town to welcome the Japanese team, who are training at Warwick School and who have already visited the town, meeting local people. I must also pay tribute to their remarkable win against South Africa in their first fixture.
Last week, I joined their visit to Warwick Castle and it is always with great pride that Warwick welcomes visitors, with so much to offer. Our tourist trade is incredibly important and I know how hard local organisations work to ensure that Warwick is seen at its best. In Warwick District, 3.1 million trips a year generate more than £220 million and over 4,850 jobs for the industry, outlining the role tourism plays to the local economy.
I have also visited St. Mary's Immaculate Primary School and Myton School to hear of their progress, as well as seeing the completed new engineering centre at Trident College; an extremely welcome boost for apprentices and manufacturing locally. In addition, I met with the Chief Executive of Warwick Hospital on Monday, and was particularly pleased to see the impressive progress of the new Orthopaedic Ward, further extending the capabilities of our local health services.
As well as meeting various local businesses, I also spoke at the UK Trade & Investment event in Leamington with gaming companies to discuss expanding our exports. This is an important goal for small enterprises to pursue and something I will continue to promote in my roles as Member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Video Games.
This Thursday, I will be speaking at the UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) AGM at the NEC. UKIE is the trade body that represents and promotes the wider games and interactive entertainment industry. In Warwick and Leamington, we are recognised as being in the top three in the country in terms of the significance of this sector, not least in terms of employment and our region is continuing to grow in its importance as a cluster.
In one of my roles in Westminster, I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Video Games. This is a cross party group of MPs which develops policy ideas aimed to support the creative industries and inform government policy. At the UKIE AGM, I will be talking about the growing importance of technology in our economy and how this industry can support our economy both locally and nationally.
A similar focus will be taken by the Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Select Committee, of which I am a member, when it launches its inquiry into the digital economy and how Government can best support growth in modern and innovative sectors. I believe it is vital that the Government places a high priority on technology and I look forward to making a contribution to this work.
With so many businesses from the creative and digital sectors based in our local area, I would be very grateful for any suggestions or questions those involved in the industry may like to raise in relation to the inquiry. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Figures published by the House of Commons Library on Wednesday show that unemployment continues to fall in Warwick and Leamington; from over 2,000 Jobseekers' Allowance claimants in 2010 to 456 this month. The strengthening of our local economy and specifically the growth of businesses, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, has been the foundation for this significant fall in the number of claimants.
As a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee and a strong advocate of doing all we can to support local businesses wherever possible, I am pleased with the progress made but believe that we can do more. I hope that in the months and years ahead, businesses and relevant local organisations, such as the Leamington Business Forum which I spoke at last week, are able to work together towards an ambition of full employment. A telling statistic to highlight our progress is the constituency rankings. In 2010, Warwick and Leamington was 414th out of 650. This month, we are ranked 576th (650th being the lowest unemployment).
An important part of reducing unemployment is providing opportunities for young people. Youth unemployment in Warwick and Leamington has fallen by 85% since 2010, a phenomenal achievement and a tribute to not only businesses, but our local education system too. I maintain strong links to institutions such as Warwickshire College, which delivers a wide range of courses and provides students with the skills and knowledge to enter the workforce.
Looking forward, I hope that we are able to build on links between our schools and colleges and the business world. I would be interested to hear from local businesses and others about what more they feel can be done to support more young people into work.
I have been greatly distressed to have witnessed through the media the ongoing refugee crisis. In my view, our country has a moral obligation to assist those in need, particularly the most vulnerable people fleeing persecution, as we have done in the past. I have received a large number of letters and emails from constituents about this issue and this, to me, highlights our compassion as a community and a nation.
This ongoing tragedy has complex roots which require long term solutions. However, I strongly believe that the current situation warrants an immediate response. I believe we should lead by example and provide sanctuary to as many refugees as possible. Along with other European countries, we must share the responsibility of helping these desperate people. And last week, I wrote to the Prime Minister to outline my concerns as above.
The Prime Minister informed the House of Commons on Monday that Britain will take up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the course of this Parliament, an important step forward and a sign of the scale of the problem we face. A huge humanitarian effort is underway, with over £1 billion now having being pledged by the UK to assist refugees.
The Government must continue to address what I believe to be one of our greatest challenges for many years. Providing sanctuary to those fleeing persecution is an obligation we must fulfil.
On Wednesday 9 September, Queen Elizabeth II will become the longest serving monarch in British history, overtaking Queen Victoria's record of 63 years, 216 days. I believe it is important to acknowledge this milestone and to pay tribute to the lifetime of duty and service the Queen has provided throughout her reign.
The Palace has announced that the Queen will mark the day in a characteristically low key manner, carrying out one of the hundreds of engagements she undertakes every year.
Throughout her reign, the Queen has been a model of dedication to duty. This year she opened Parliament as she has done every year but two since she acceded to the throne in 1952. Over her sixty three year reign, the Queen has met 12 Prime Ministers, has undertaken more than 250 official overseas visits, to more than 100 different countries, and has given Royal Assent to more than 3,500 Acts of Parliament.
The Queen is patron of over six hundred charities and organisations, many of which she has been associated with for more than six decades. Her Majesty is respected across the world and certainly drew crowds when she visited Leamington most recently to open the Justice Centre, in 2011.
I would like to take this opportunity to add my thanks and congratulations to Her Majesty for her tremendous contribution to public life and service to our country.
Over the weekend I was delighted to have the opportunity to visit St Mary's Allotments and to meet members of the organising committee who are responsible for administering and maintaining the site itself and the use of the allotments.
St Mary's Allotments have a fascinating history and date back to the late 19th century, when the Association was first established and when the first of many prizes were won by members at local horticultural shows.
The site now has some 400 plots which are worked on enthusiastically by many local residents. Gardening is a labour of love for many people and it has important benefits, from enhancing physical and mental health and wellbeing, to promoting an understanding of how our fruit and vegetables are grown.
St Mary's Allotments are part of our wider horticultural tradition in Warwick and Leamington. We are very fortunate to have many wonderful parks and gardens in our area, and many of these have been recognised through national schemes and competitions such as Heart of England in Bloom, not to mention the fabulous entry to the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. This is testament to the hard work and dedication of many local gardeners.
I was very interested to hear that the St Mary's Allotment Association has recently registered the allotments as 'a site of community value.' There is no doubt in my mind after my visit that it certainly falls into this category. The Association welcomes new members and I would encourage anyone with an interest to visit their website: www.stmarysallotments.org.uk
To celebrate the Rugby World Cup taking place in England later this year, the famous Webb Ellis Cup has been touring the country. It was fabulous to see it at Warwick School as part of its 100 day tour before the competition commences on 18th September.
It is with great pride that we can anticipate the tournament being staged in England, the first time since 1991, as I am sure that it will be a tremendous success. Our capacity to organise excellent international sporting events was demonstrated through the 2012 Olympics and I hope that the Rugby World Cup will similarly capture the nation's imagination.
While most of the attention will be on the tournament itself, initiatives such as the Trophy Tour serve to add to the build-up to the competition and to promote the value of the sport to our country. Inspiring young people to become involved is something we must continue to do as much as possible both locally and nationally. Joining sports clubs has so many benefits alongside improving fitness, from health to making friends.
Warwick School will also play host to the Japanese team during the World Cup and I know that all associated with the school are very proud. The school itself has a strong record in terms of rugby, not least due to recent performances in nationwide competitions.
I pay tribute to all of the volunteers involved in helping to make the World Cup a success in the coming weeks. Let's hope that the trophy stays in England!
I am very much looking forward to visiting the Mela Festival in the Pump Room Gardens this Sunday for what is always an enjoyable occasion. The Festival incorporates a diverse range of music and dance performances and highlights the rich cultural life of our local community.
The event is an opportunity to celebrate the value the Sikh community brings to Warwick and Leamington, and this year marks its 21st anniversary. The show of talent on display is testament to what we have to offer locally and it is something that we can all be very proud of. There will also be a range of stalls in the Pump Room Gardens for visitors to enjoy the best of different cultures.
I pay tribute to all of the volunteers involved with putting on the Mela Festival and I would encourage local residents to visit, with the event running from midday to 6pm.
The array of festivals across the local area at this time of year is always something to celebrate. In two weeks the Food and Film Festival will take place in Warwick and I am delighted that Warwick Rocks have been able to put on this event again following its previous success.
I was pleased recently to visit the Manufacturing Technology Centre (MTC) at Anstey Park, Coventry and to learn of the significant progress that the organisation has made over the last few years. It represents one of the biggest public sector investments in manufacturing recently and operates on a 12,000 square metre site. As a sector-leading institution the Centre is an important asset in our region.
The MTC is an impressive initiative, bringing together industry professionals, academics and engineers. New technologies, such as Additive Manufacturing, are developed on a large scale and the facility is part of the High Value Manufacturing (HMV) Catapult, the purpose of which is to encourage growth in the manufacturing sector.
As Co-Chair of the All Party Manufacturing Group (APMG) in Westminster, I recognise the significant contribution that manufacturing plays to our economy both locally and nationally. Bringing manufacturing back to the UK is something I am fully supportive of and have advocated through my role.
One of the most impressive aspects of my visit was to see the new apprenticeship block which will be operational over the next month. This, alongside the new Engineering Centre at Warwickshire Trident College which will also open shortly, are just two examples of the contribution our area makes to skills and manufacturing. I look forward to visiting both organisations again to hear how students are progressing in these state-of-the-art facilities.
Summer recess begins this week, providing an opportunity to reflect on what has been a very busy first few weeks of the new Parliament, as well as looking forward to spending more time out and about in Warwick and Leamington. Promoting its strengths and engaging with the local community is my priority and I have looked forward to continuing this in the new term.
I was pleased to be elected to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee which will enable me to scrutinise Government policy and encourage further development of our economy both locally and nationally. The growth of businesses and the fall in unemployment in Warwick and Leamington since 2010 has been impressive but I know that more can be done.
It is also a privilege to have been appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to two Home Office Ministers – John Hayes and Mike Penning. The Ministers oversee vital policy areas such as national security and policing and I will support their work in my new role.
Elsewhere in Westminster I have held a number of meetings with a wide range of organisations to discuss Government policy moving forward. Developing a greater understanding of critical issues is an important part of my work and I have met with representatives of Cancer Research UK, the Anthony Nolan Trust, Blue Cross, Inland Waterways, Shelter, the Trussell Trust and the National Citizen Service amongst others.
I am very much looking forward to spending more time in the constituency in the coming weeks, allowing me to meet more local residents and organisations as well as enjoying the vast array of festivals and events which take place over the summer.
This weekend I will be joining the Nightlight team on Friday, running a stand at the Brunswick Healthy Living Centre Summer Open Day, as well as opening the Heart of England Mencap Fundraising Fair. I also hope to see many of your readers at the Folk Festival, always a hugely enjoyable event.
This week, I received in the post a delivery of artwork from students at Trinity School and attended an assembly at All Saints Primary as part of the important Send My Friends to School campaign.
The idea behind the campaign is to remind Members of Parliament about the commitment made in the Millennium Development Goals to have education for all by 2015.
All children should have the opportunity to receive a good quality education. So, it is a great disappointment that approximately 58 million children around the world still do not have the opportunity to attend primary school – something we take for granted. Over half of these children live in countries which are affected by conflict.
I believe that investing in education is vital: it provides children with the best route out of poverty, giving them the power to improve their own lives and the lives of others in their community. As a Government, we must ensure that the best policies are in place to do all we can to enhance the futures of those in developing countries.
The UK has pledged up to £300 million to the Global Partnership for Education over the next four years. The government also supports actions to achieve all the Millennium Development Goals and we are doing all that we can to support the process to push for global efforts to eradicate poverty as well as working with the other donors and recipient governments to ensure a wider effort.
I will be forwarding the artwork I received to the Prime Minister for his response to the campaign which I will share with the schools. I thank the students for presenting their work to me and commend their commitment to this important cause.
Today, the Chancellor delivered the first Budget of this Parliament. This was a wide ranging statement, covering measures from jobs and apprenticeships, to defence and national security.
Firstly, a measure I took particular interest in was the announcement that a National Living Wage would be introduced for employees over the age of 25. I have long campaigned for the wider uptake of the Living Wage both in the public and private sector, and this policy will mean that those currently on the minimum wage will see their pay rise by more than a third over the next five years. Also, the introduction of an apprentice levy on large firms will fund three million more quality apprenticeships.
In addition, there were provisions relating to the manufacturing sector – one of the most important in the rebalancing of our economy. Through my work as Co-Chair of the All-Party Group on Manufacturing, I have been able to see first hand its welcome resurgence. I was pleased with today's announcement that the Annual Investment Allowance will increase to £200,000, enabling companies to invest in new plant and machinery. The announcement that corporation tax will be cut once again – to 18% - is also positive news, and will be of great benefit to large and small businesses alike.
I look forward to serving on the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee to do what I can to support businesses at both a local and national level.
Our economy in Warwick and Leamington has made progress in recent years. Businesses have expanded and the level of unemployment has fallen steadily. Since 2010, we have seen a 74% reduction in unemployment and I hope to see this trend continue.
It was with a feeling of great horror and sadness that I learnt of the terror attack in Tunisia on Friday. Many innocent lives were lost and my thoughts are with the families and friends of the victims.
The first response in such a shocking attack must be to provide support to the families of those that were killed. I know that the Government is doing all it can to provide assistance, with expert teams being deployed in Sousse and through agencies working in the UK. The Home Secretary and Tobias Ellwood, Minister at the Foreign Office, also visited the area early this week to ensure that we are helping all involved as much as possible.
I echo the Prime Minister's comments in his determination to stand united against the threat from radical extremism. On Friday two other vicious attacks occurred, one in France and one in Kuwait, and it is clear that we need a coordinated response across continents to combat this evil. I will support the Government's ongoing work to tackle what is clearly a significant threat to our national security, both at home and abroad.
We need to address the root cause of this problem through preventing extremism from developing in the first place. It is extremely concerning that such views have spread and I am fully behind the Government's counter-terrorism strategy. Just this week, a statutory duty has been placed on public bodies such as schools and councils to identify and address the causes of radicalisation.
Defeating radical ideologies and the organisations that are spreading such hatred is a complex and difficult task that will not be straightforward, but it is one that we must prioritise.
I send my deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives.
In Warwick and Leamington, we are fortunate to have many fantastic sporting clubs and local organisations which encourage community participation in physical activity. I am proud to be involved with groups such as Kids Run Free and I recently enjoyed taking part in the Two Castles Run.
Of particular interest at this time of year, with Wimbledon beginning next week, is tennis. We have a strong connection with the game as the Leamington Tennis Club, founded in 1872, is officially recognised as the world's first lawn tennis club. In Parliament last week, I attended the first meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Tennis, where we discussed opportunities to promote the sport more widely, especially amongst young people.
The Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has an initiative called the Great British Tennis Weekend, which I am looking forward to supporting. These are mass participation events, aimed at getting people to try tennis for the first time or those returning to the game. These events offer free coaching, free play and opportunities to try out activities such as mini tennis for children and cardio tennis for adults.
There are two local such weekends taking place on Sunday 2nd August at Warwick Tennis Club and the University of Warwick Tennis Club. I look forward to supporting this initiative and also doing what I can in Westminster, and locally, to promote increased participation in sport.
For more information about the Great British Tennis Weekend, see http://www3.lta.org.uk/clubs-schools/Promotional-Events/
On Monday I met with the Chief Executive of the Trussell Trust, an organisation synonymous with food banks and engaging in tremendous work across the country to support the most vulnerable. While I pay tribute to their contribution in tackling poverty, it was also an opportunity to reflect on the complex causes involved and how they can be addressed.
The organisation runs a network across the UK to provide emergency supplies to those in crisis. For any individual to find themselves in such a situation is deeply concerning.
I learnt about plans for the organisation to expand their services with the 'More Than Food' initiative. Those seeking support from food banks will be able to use other services under the umbrella of 'life skills training', not least helping people gain the skills they need to get back into work.
In addition, the Trussell Trust runs various social enterprises, from charity shops and recycling centres to mental health programmes. These projects have a positive impact on communities, but also raise funds for over 80% of the Trussell Trust's core costs.
Through my role in the last Parliament on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Poverty I worked with a number of organisations to both raise awareness of the causes of poverty, but to also promote campaigns such as the wider uptake of the Living Wage. I welcome the fact that there are now over 1500 accredited Living Wage employers across the country including businesses and organisations locally such as Alsters Kelley and the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs (WAYC).
In Warwick and Leamington we are home to a wide range of voluntary organisations that support those in need and we can be very proud of our rich community spirit. However, I know that more needs to be done and this is a priority for me as an MP.
This Wednesday was National Vocational Qualifications Day. To mark the event, a debate was held in Westminster Hall. I took the opportunity to speak to highlight the importance of vocational education and the contribution it makes to our economy.
I also took the opportunity to highlight the fantastic work of our own Warwickshire College, which has the highest enrollments amongst 16-18 students and one of the highest success rates of all large general Further Education colleges.
We have a skills shortage in the country, especially in areas such as engineering and technology, and promoting vocational education is one of the ways we can address this problem. Encouraging students from a young age to be aware of the options that are available to them in terms of practical qualifications is part of the solution.
There are great benefits of vocational education, and apprenticeships, both for businesses and for the individual. According to Government research, businesses who take on an apprentice have increased productivity and average earnings for apprentices are higher and prospects for further education and employment are increased. At Warwickshire College this is particularly the case - the number of its students who progress directly into higher education in Agriculture is 95%, in Construction is 94%, and in Computing and IT is 99%, to name but a few.
Above all, I believe we need to raise the profile of vocational education across the country. We need to ensure that vocational qualifications have parity of esteem with academic qualifications. This week's debate was one way in which we can do this. To find out more about national Vocational Qualifications Day, see http://www.vqday.org.uk/.
This week we celebrate National Volunteers' Week and with such a diverse range of charities and voluntary organisations across Warwick and Leamington it provides an opportunity to pay tribute to everyone who gives up their time and gets involved. The contribution that this makes to our local area underpins the strength of our community spirit and culture.
According to the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), Warwick and Leamington is home to 326 charities, employing 1595 staff and involving over 3708 volunteers. The number of volunteers is testament to the positive attitude of local residents in supporting a wide spectrum of worthwhile causes and organisations, and I am always inspired by the dedication and commitment that is so evident.
I have been fortunate enough to be involved with a number of organisations in recent years, from the Friends of Warwick Station and Myton Hospice, to the Leamington Street Pastors and CORD UK, amongst others. While each organisation is dedicated to a particular cause, the significant role that volunteers play across each of our local groups is difficult to overestimate.
Next week, I am looking forward to joining the Guide Dogs Parliamentary Reception. I have long been a supporter of the local Training School, and will continue to promote their work both locally and nationally.
Whether you provide legal advice, accountancy, or HR expertise, or just help with events such as 'Britain in Bloom', thank you for all that you do.
For more information, please visit volunteersweek.org.
Today, Her Majesty the Queen addressed both the House of Commons and House of Lords in what is known as the Queen's Speech, outlining the Government's forthcoming legislation.
The ceremony surrounding the Queen's Speech is always impressive, beginning with Black Rod knocking on the door of the House of Commons to summon MPs to hear the Speech, having had the doors shut in front of him to signify the independence of the Commons. The event is a testament to our deep traditions, but also forward-looking and starts the debate as to the Government's priorities. Today was no different with a programme of 26 Government Bills put forward across a wide range of policy areas.
So, behind the occasion is the substance on how challenges will be met, from increasing the provision of free childcare and helping to achieve full employment, to constitutional matters such as the referendum on our membership of the European Union and how decisions affecting England and Wales are made. All these matters require attention, time on the floor of the House, and reasoned debate.
As to the contents of the speech, I welcome your readers' views and comments, not least because Warwick and Leamington and its residents continue to be my priority.
To read the speech, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/queens-speech-2015.
This week in the House of Commons, each Member of Parliament will swear an oath of allegiance or make a solemn affirmation in order to formally take their seat. This traditional procedure is a reminder of the duties and responsibilities the role carries, and I am truly honoured to be representing the constituency of Warwick and Leamington in Parliament over the years ahead.
The wording of the oath dates back to 1868, and an MP is unable to take part in debates or vote before swearing an allegiance to the Crown. Members of both the Commons and the Lords are required to do so. The oath takes the form of: "I, Chris White, swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors, according to law. So help me God." I will swear the oath on a copy of the King James Bible.
Such occasions highlight the solemnity of the occasion – a recognition of the significance of public service, one which I take profoundly seriously.
The 'swearing in' marks the next step in the formalisation of the new Parliamentary session, following the election of the Speaker. The Queen's Speech takes place on Wednesday and I hope to have the opportunity to speak in the debate that follows.
It is both an honour and a privilege to be re-elected to serve again as the Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington. After a long campaign period, I would firstly like to pay tribute to each of the other party's candidates and wish them well for the future.
To every local resident, irrespective of the way you voted, I would like to say that I will continue to work hard for our area and will always put Warwick and Leamington first. The sense of responsibility in representing this constituency is as strong as ever, and I am excited about continuing the progress we have made in so many ways over recent years.
Whether it is our diverse network of charities and voluntary groups, the growing number of businesses large and small, or our public services, I will do all I can to support our community.
Whilst we have much to be proud of, I know that there is a lot more to do to ensure Warwick and Leamington becomes an even better place to live and work. My pledge to you is that I will work tirelessly to help make this happen.
As ever, I am keen to hear from local residents and will continue to be as accessible as possible. If there is any issue you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
I am proud to live in one of the most vibrant and dynamic constituencies in the country. We have a unique identity based on our strong sense of community, diversity and heritage. It has been a tremendous honour to represent Warwick and Leamington in Parliament since 2010, during which time we have seen a great deal of positive change.
As a former employee of MG Rover I am passionate about manufacturing, and as the co-chair of the All-Party Group on Manufacturing, I have worked hard to promote this vital sector. I am particularly pleased to have introduced Vitsœ, the furniture manufacturer, to this constituency and am delighted they are planning to relocate their production to the site of the old Ford Foundry.
I am also the chair of the All-Party Group on Video Games, and have campaigned effectively for tax relief which will significantly benefit many local companies, in what is now often referred to as Silicon Spa.
I play an active role in our community, including as a Patron of Myton School and the international development charity Cord, as a trustee of Motionhouse and the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs (WAYC). I helped start the Leamington Street Pastors scheme and the Friends of Warwick Station Group. Earlier this year I launched the Love Leamington Fund.
Warwick and Leamington is home to nationally recognised events, from the Folk Festival in Warwick to the Food Festival in Leamington. I am grateful to the businesses through which I have helped to identify valuable funding to support many charities and other organisations, which improve our quality of life and attract so many visitors to our towns.
Our hospital is amongst the best in the country, a new orthopaedic ward is being built and the Rehabilitation Unit has a national reputation for excellence.
Our local economy is growing and unemployment is falling. There has been a dramatic fall of 74% in the number of people claiming Jobseekers' Allowance (JSA), which is a measure of unemployment. Even more impressive is the reduction in the number of young people claiming JSA – a fall of 79%. I pay tribute to our local businesses for the work they have done in having the confidence to take on new employees. Equally noteworthy is the number of new apprenticeships – some 2,710 have been started in the past five years. I praise our schools and colleges for the commitment they have given to providing our young people with the skills they need.
I introduced the Social Value Act into Parliament. This legislation makes Government contracts more accessible to social enterprises, charities and small businesses.
I have organised, together with partners such as Warwick District Council and Warwickshire College, two successful Jobs Fairs, bringing employers and jobseekers together. Similarly, we organised another event, 'Living Well in Later Life', which displayed a wide range of opportunities for older people.
I led a debate on the Living Wage in Parliament, and called for a rise in the Minimum Wage. As a member of the International Development Select Committee, I have seen and supported programmes that help some of the most vulnerable in the world.
I have challenged local and national government where necessary, whether voting against HS2 or against military intervention in Syria. I have always put my constituency and constituents first.
I meet regularly with a host of organisations, health services, schools and colleges, local business and charities, and listen to their concerns and provide support wherever possible.
Arguably, the most important part of my job is holding constituency surgeries, where I do my utmost to help constituents with various issues. When we are able to find a solution, this is without doubt the most rewarding part of my job.
Last week I visited the new development at the Trident Centre at Warwickshire College. This will open in August and will be home to 285 advanced and 253 higher apprentices. This building, and the students who will use its facilities, will be symbolic of how far we have come in terms of the recognition of our area as a national hub for manufacturing and its key role in rebalancing our economy. And that is something of which we can all be proud.
Together, we have made a great deal of progress. I know there is more work to be done, but there is so much about which we can be positive and optimistic. I would ask you to consider giving me your support on May 7th, so we can continue that work.
This week I am delighted to be attending a fundraising event for Round Oak School on Friday. The school engages in invaluable work in supporting those with special educational needs. I am pleased to have an opportunity to promote its important work.
In Westminster, I joined the Alzheimer's Society Parliament Day on Tuesday and paid tribute to the work of the organisation in raising awareness of what more needs to be done to address this issue. I will continue to support efforts to improve the care of those whose lives are significantly impacted upon by this debilitating condition.
I am also hosting the Leamington Video Games Summit alongside the trade association UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE). The event will bring together local firms and representatives from Warwickshire College, Coventry & Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership, Warwick District Council and Warwickshire County Council to celebrate and promote the growth of this sector in our area.
My role in working on the National Citizen Service (NCS) also continues, meeting the local Programme Manager to discuss a wider uptake in Warwick and Leamington. The scheme aims to equip young people with a range of life skills. I am keen to encourage more people to become involved in such worthwhile initiatives and it is a pleasure to be Chair of the All-Party Group on the NCS in Westminster.
As I write my last Observer article this side of the dissolution of Parliament, I would like to thank you for reading my articles over the last five years and for your feedback.
On Sunday, the world marked International Women's Day (IWD). The day has been observed since the early 1900s but in recent years it has gained momentum and is an official holiday in many countries. Worldwide, there are events and activities to mark this important occasion.
As my colleague Maria Miller MP said in the opening remarks of last week's debate in the House of Commons, this debate is "one of the rare parliamentary moments in our calendar when, across the Chamber, there is more that unites us than divides us."
We have also established an annual celebration of IWD in Parliament, by encouraging MPs to invite a sixth form girl from a school in their constituency to spend a day in Parliament. I am pleased to say I am participating in this initiative again this year and am delighted to welcome a local student to Westminster for the day.
In 2015, there are more women in work than ever before as well as more women-led businesses. 20 per cent of small and medium sized enterprises are either run by women or by a team that is over 50% women. Women are also strongly represented in the social enterprise sector. The gender pay gap is now the lowest on record and it is important acknowledge the milestone that women under 40 working full-time now earn more than men.
However, there is still more that can be done to break down barriers and improve the lives of women; reducing the cost of childcare, increasing flexible working, and introducing shared parental leave. Importantly, women's rights are being promoted overseas as well as in the UK.
I am delighted to support IWD and encourage everyone this week to reflect on this important annual event.
On Sunday, I was delighted to be invited to address the congregation of St. Mary's Church in Warwick at Evensong on the link between politics and religion. The Lent lecture series has for many years provided a range of fascinating themes to reflect on, and I was pleased to be asked to speak on such a topical issue.
Politics and religion have always been intertwined and there are many examples of political campaigns drawing on religious values, such as the campaign to end slavery, or the religiously inspired American civil rights movement. In the House of Commons, each sitting day starts with Prayers; a reminder of the ties between Church and state in this country. The recent open letter from Church of England Bishops outlining their hopes for the political landscape beyond the election demonstrated a desire to continue to engage with the process.
Church and political leaders each have their role to play in society. As a Member of Parliament, I see my role in assisting constituents as the most important part of my job. Reflecting on this during my Lent Address, I see clear parallels between my work and that of local Church leaders. Indeed, each year I join a meeting with representatives of a number of churches across Warwick and Leamington to discuss current issues.
Despite the overlap of politics and religion, each are clearly unique and I recognise that there is often need for debate. Discussing matters of controversy is sometimes difficult, but I will always listen to the views of others and respect strongly held beliefs.
I would like to thank Dr. Vaughan Roberts, Vicar of St. Mary's for his kind invitation to speak to the congregation. For anyone wishing to hear my address, it is available at www.stmaryswarwick.org.uk.
The National Citizen Service (NCS) is an excellent initiative for young people to acquire new skills outside the classroom environment. The programme runs during school holidays and provides an opportunity for those between 15 and 17 years old to meet new people and engage in a number of activities.
I was delighted to join the local NCS group at the SYDNI Centre last week for its showcase event as part of 'Get Involved' week. In my role as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on NCS, I have heard many positive stories of the programme, but it was especially encouraging to see the work of the local group and how engaged the young adults were. From social projects working alongside community groups to intense outdoor activities, NCS builds trust and confidence in our younger people.
NCS has cross-party support in Westminster which is particularly positive. Providing a service to bring people together so that they can develop their personal and social skills is to be commended. To date, over 130,000 people have taken part and I will continue to support efforts to promote the wider uptake of the scheme.
On 3rd March, I am pleased to be attending an event hosted by the NCS Trust with a number of Head Teachers from across the country. Despite NCS taking place during holiday periods it is important to maintain a link with schools, and I look forward to hearing about the progress that has been made in encouraging people to take part while discussing what more can be done to improve uptake.
Over 90% of those who have taken part have recommended NCS. For more information on the initiative and to register, please visit www.ncsyes.co.uk.
Last Sunday, I was delighted to visit the Open Day at Hatton Locks to hear about the work of the Canal & River Trust. It is important that our historic waterways are preserved, and the recent investment into Lock 34 at Hatton is extremely welcome. I was also extremely impressed to see the huge number of volunteers that support our canals.
As part of the event, a lock chamber was drained giving visitors the opportunity to explore the intricacies of the system. Learning more about the history of the locks and of the work of the Canal & River Trust both locally and nationally provided for a fascinating afternoon.
The famous flight of locks at Hatton opened in 1799 and has been a vital transport link for trade. Over time, the locks have been developed to increase capacity, with a sequence of 21 in existence today. Around 33,000 boats and ten million towpath visitors use canals and rivers each year, giving an indication of the need to maintain the network.
£22,000 is being spent on Lock 34 alone for essential repairs, with timberwork being replaced on the gates. Ensuring that the work is completed in time for the summer season is essential, as the local tourism industry is reliant on sound infrastructure.
I would like to thank Chief Executive Richard Parry and Ian Darby of the Trust for their knowledge, and to the organisation more widely for their continued support of the local and national waterways network. After responsibility was transferred to the Trust in 2012, it has done a tremendous job in keeping the canals open and safe. I would highly recommend a visit to the locks and was pleased to see so many people enjoying the Open Day on Sunday.
On Thursday 5th March, this year's Jobs & Careers Fair will take place at Leamington Town Hall - bringing together a range of local businesses and organisations to offer advice and training to local residents. The day will also be an excellent opportunity for those looking for work to find out more about job vacancies.
Following the success of the event last year, I am pleased to join local organisations such as the Leamington Business Forum, Brunswick Healthy Living Centre, Warwickshire College, the Job Centre and representatives from Warwick District Council in planning the event.
On the day, advisers will be on-hand to offer free advice on interview techniques and developing a CV, while information on apprenticeships will also be available. Previous experience shows that bringing together employers and potential recruits is extremely beneficial.
Supporting our local economy is a priority for me. The progress made in Warwick and Leamington since 2010 is one of the best in the country in terms of unemployment, with the number of JSA claimants falling by 75%. Furthermore, the number of unemployed youth claimants has decreased by 79% in the same period.
These figures are a credit to businesses locally. Across a wide range of sectors, Warwick and Leamington is punching above its weight. From the video games industry to manufacturing, we are seeing a resurgence and we can be very proud of the growth of local business.
Of course, more needs to be done, and I hope that the upcoming Jobs Fair will provide those looking for work with helpful assistance in pursuing employment opportunities. Workshops will be running throughout the day, with the event taking place between 10am and 3pm. For more information, please email email@example.com.
I was recently appointed to be Vice-Chair of the Board of Policy Connect, an independent think-tank which focuses on UK public policy. Barry Sheerman, a Labour MP, is the Chairman and we also work closely as Co-Chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Manufacturing. As a member of the Board of Policy Connect for a number of years, I have seen first-hand the importance of high quality research in creating debate and discussion on a number of national issues.
Policy Connect was formed in 1995, and covers a number of different topic areas including energy, education, health and manufacturing. The organisation produces a wide range of papers and reports to improve the exchange of knowledge between Parliament and sector experts.
Policy Connect acts as the Secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group, which brings together MPs on a cross-party basis to discuss matters of importance to those in the manufacturing sector. Supporting such a vital industry both locally and nationally is a priority for me, especially as we are now seeing a renaissance in UK manufacturing. Over the past two years alone, the re-shoring of production added £600 million to the UK economy and created approximately 10,000 new jobs.
I recently launched the APMG's Manufacturing Manifesto – drawing from analysis into the necessary steps that are needed to secure the growth of the sector. While significant progress has been made since 2010, there are a number of ways in which we can become more prominent internationally.
From my wider role on the Board, I know of the importance of the link between industry representatives and Parliament. Ensuring that this remains strong and that policy works in the best interests of a particular sector, whether it be employees or businesses as a whole, is key. For more information on the work of the organisation, please visit www.policyconnect.org.uk.
In the past week I have participated in two hustings events where I have had the opportunity to discuss with, and answer questions from, local residents on a range of topics, with representatives from the other political parties.
Last Friday, I was delighted to join the Warwick and Leamington Societies for their traditional pre-election 'Any Questions' event, with many issues being raised – from the local to the international.
On Monday, it was a pleasure to speak to students, including a number of apprentices from Jaguar Land Rover, at the Warwickshire College Trident Centre, on three important topics – the economy, further education and immigration.
I strongly believe in doing all I can to encourage young people to exercise their democratic right and hope that everyone who lives in Warwick and Leamington will take the opportunity to register to vote. I was also pleased to note the new development at the Trident Centre, to be opened later this year, that will provide even greater capacity for new apprentices.
A number of similar hustings events will take place over the coming months. Next week, I look forward to attending North Leamington School, which will host a question and answer session with students.
For more information on when hustings will take place, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, if there are any other issues you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact me
This year marks a number of important anniversaries; events that have paved the way for democracy, and the death of a man who is often cited as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, leader in our country's history.
Churchill was a towering figure, whose strength of character led Britain in its 'Darkest Hour'. Our former Prime Minister passed away 50 years ago this week, but his legacy lives on.
Aside from all he represented in the Second World War, it is easy to overlook other achievements in his astonishing life. Reading of his brilliance and unbelievable bravery brings a realisation of just how much he did for our country over many decades. He famously said that "it was the nation ... that had the lion's heart. I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar". It is hard to fathom Britain's place in the world, and its history, without his influence.
This week also marks 750 years since the Simon de Montfort Parliament of 1265. This was the first time that alongside the existing barons, representatives of counties and towns were invited to discuss national issues. This new representation of the people arguably set the tone for the foundation of our democracy today. 2015 also marks the 800th anniversary of the signing of the Magna Carta.
As an outstanding parliamentarian with a great interest in history, these events and their importance would have been known well by Churchill. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953, for "his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values". His exceptional talents warrant the place he holds in our history.
Last week saw the horrifying terror attacks in Paris. I send my sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims, in what were acts of extreme brutality and cowardice against utterly innocent people. Watching the events unfold on the news was extremely distressing and reminded me of watching the attacks of 9/11, in silence and in horror. Acts such as these can never be justified.
The public display of support has been enormous. The magazine Charlie Hebdo is receiving unprecedented demand, and the solidarity of the international community shows the strength of character that is needed to defeat extremism. The protests across France, and indeed here in the UK, were very moving, and are a testament to the strength of feeling, the shock, and sadness that the event has caused.
One of the founding principles of our democracy is freedom of speech, and I have the utmost respect for how the French people have responded. The freedom of the press is a vital part of any democratic state, and I support the decision this week for the magazine to print the material it wished. We pride ourselves on this and many other freedoms, and stand with France in maintaining them. Acts such as this will not deter us from upholding our values, in fact, they confirm them.
The seventeen people who lost their lives will not be forgotten, including the brave and courageous police officers involved. Finally, I pay tribute to journalists everywhere, in conflict zones, but also in our cities and towns; the world would be a poorer place without them.
I hope all your readers had a wonderful Christmas and had the opportunity to stop, however briefly, and enjoy this special time.
Firstly, I would like to pay tribute to all those in our emergency services who have worked tirelessly throughout the year, for their dedication and commitment, but especially for their work at this particularly busy period.
For me, the beginning of each new year is a good time to reflect on the previous twelve months. 2014 in Warwick and Leamington was certainly one to remember. A year of important local and national milestones, including Warwick's 1100th anniversary, and an opportunity to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War; the role our community played and the sacrifices it made.
Once again, our strong, dynamic community spirit was demonstrated to the full, and I would like to thank all the volunteers and organisations that made these events possible.
This year will be as busy as the last, with charities, businesses and countless other agencies working together to support our towns and villages with their plans, aspirations, and challenges. I look forward to meeting with the huge array of organisations which make up the fabric of our community, sharing ideas and supporting where I can.
Locally, we have a great deal to be proud of. From our hospitals to our schools and colleges, our health workers and our teachers - I am always impressed by the number of people who come together to help Warwick and Leamington continue to be such a unique place to live and work. And a special thanks to the hundreds of 'unsung' heroes, who give up so much of their own time supporting, with so much passion, many wonderful causes: work that I hope they will continue in this as in every year.
May I wish your paper and all its readers a Happy New Year!
This week, the Leader of the House, William Hague, announced the Government's proposals in relation to the "English Votes for English Laws" question, which, in recent months, has risen higher up the political agenda.
Following the Scottish referendum, the Prime Minister committed to a review of the UK's constitutional arrangements. The aim was to ensure that a balanced settlement can be achieved which is fair to people in all four countries.
In the House of Commons on Tuesday, the former Foreign Secretary outlined four potential options for a future settlement. They are: 1) Excluding Scottish MPs from having any say over English and Welsh bills; 2) Allowing English MPs to have more of a role in the early readings of bills before allowing all Members to vote on the final stages; 3) Allowing English MPs the power of veto over certain legislation; and 4) Establishing a grand committee of English MPs, with the right to veto legislation applying only England.
The Government has taken an important step forward. As both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House have said, "just as the people of Scotland will have more power over their affairs, so it follows that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland must have a bigger say over theirs."
As with any major constitutional development, any change should not be made lightly and it is important that time is allowed for extensive debate and opportunity is given for all sides of the issue to be heard.
The Government will be seeking feedback on these options and will then make an announcement in the New Year of a decision to support one, or a combination, of these options. I look forward to the debate which will inevitably allow a fairer constitutional settlement for our country.
This week, I chaired a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Video Games where we discussed the significant role that the sector plays in the economy, and how we can best support the growth of this important industry. Warwick and Leamington is home to a range of companies at the forefront of this growth, employing around 1200 people and showing a solid grounding for this success to continue into the future.
I was delighted to be joined by representatives of trade associations UKIE and TIGA, as well as individuals working within the industry, to discuss the challenges that face domestic video games firms competing on a global scale. The Government ambassador to the creative industries, Ian Livingstone, also provided an excellent insight into how action since 2010 has improved the ability of producers to expand, including the Video Games Tax Relief, as well as highlighting what more can be done for the sector to realise its potential.
From visits to local studios to discussions with employees of global brands, I have understood that a different approach could breed a tremendous amount of benefit for the UK. Improving access to finance and a cultural change to put video games on the same footing as the film and music industries are part of this different approach. Furthermore, inspiring young people to pursue a career in an ever-expanding sector should be the focus to ensure that this potential is realised.
Through my work on the APPG, it is clear that our local area possesses an array of qualities that attract innovative and creative businesses.
We can be extremely proud of the progress that has been made by local companies in recent years, and it is a priority for me to continue to promote the value this brings to the local and national economy.
As a Member of Parliament, I regularly engage with companies at the forefront of their industry to work towards strengthening our local and national economy. This week, I met with Jaguar Land Rover, a firm employing tens of thousands of people across the UK, including many in Warwick and Leamington.
Manufacturing is a vital cog in the wheel of our economy. A great deal of progress has been made in recent years, with a resurgence of production in the UK. However, we can go much further in supporting this growth, and this is something I will continue to push for in my role as an MP.
Investment in research and development (R&D) is key - driving the ability of the sector to compete globally. If the UK is able to increase R&D investment, there can be an even brighter future ahead for manufacturing in Britain.
Another important element is the number of those with the necessary skill set, and there is a strong case to significantly increase the number of high quality engineering places in further and higher education. Our universities and colleges work tremendously hard to produce individuals with outstanding talent in their field; extending this to ensure that the manufacturing industry has the sufficient number of skilled employees would be a necessary and positive step.
The extremely valuable work of firms such as Jaguar Land Rover in inspiring young people to pursue a career in engineering deserves much credit. 328,000 children participated in their 'Inspiring Tomorrow's Engineers' programme last year. As Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Manufacturing, supporting such initiatives and the success of the sector more generally is a priority for me. I will continue to promote the value of manufacturing to our economy, and look forward to seeing the recent progress continue.
Tomorrow (Thursday 26th November), I will be speaking at the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Annual Regional Conference at the Warwick Manufacturing Group, specifically about my role as an MP in supporting manufacturing, small business and the Social Value Act.
The FSB works hard to promote the growth of small businesses, and we have seen our local economy strengthen over recent years thanks to a record number of start-ups and significant progress made by existing firms in our area. I look forward to highlighting this success, and I will continue to work with the FSB to see how best we can ensure this trend continues.
As Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group, I take every opportunity at to promote this vital sector, particularly with our region proud to be at its forefront. The parliamentary group has run a number of campaigns, including the recently launched initiative Exported by Britain, seeking to raise awareness of the range of world-class products we export.
Our local area is developing a strong reputation for creativity, and for the diversity and quality of our products, whether cookers, cars or video games. Warwick and Leamington is a thriving centre for this creativity.
The Annual Conference is an excellent occasion to reflect on the importance of small businesses, but I recognise the need to continue the hard work. Not least, on Saturday 6th December I will be supporting Small Business Saturday and paying tribute to these businesses, which give Warwick and Leamington such a strong identity. As the campaign suggests, buy local!
A number of events have been taking place in Westminster to celebrate Parliament Week; an annual initiative aimed at promoting a wider awareness of the democratic process, with a particular focus on young people. As a Member of Parliament, encouraging a greater understanding of the relevance of the political process is an important part of my role.
As part of the campaign, I was delighted to visit Warwickshire College on Monday to talk to students about my work as an MP, and take part in a question and answer session which covered a range of topics, from human nature to the monarchy. From national to local issues, I was pleased to be involved in a stimulating discussion, and would like to thank all those who attended.
It was also a pleasure to recently meet up again with Hazeem Arif, a Leamington resident and a Member of the Youth Parliament (MYP). Hearing from a young member of our community, who is so passionate about politics, is further evidence of the value of initiatives such as Parliament Week. Hazeem was one of only a handful of MYPs who were given the opportunity to speak in the House of Commons on Friday, and I pay tribute to him for his enthusiasm and confidence. I hope that campaigns such as this will help to inspire other young people to ensure that their voice is heard.
For more information on ways to become involved in politics, or to express your views, please do not hesitate to contact me on email@example.com.
This week is Trustees' Week; an annual campaign to raise awareness and showcase the dedicated work of trustees locally and nationally. Encouraging people to become involved with the valuable work of voluntary organisations is a significant part of this week's initiative, and it is always worthwhile to recognise those that give up their time to make our community what it is. Without trustees, our charities could not function.
I have seen first-hand the contribution of many such organisations in Warwick and Leamington, with around 330 registered in our local area making a positive impact. Supporting, visiting and hearing about a wide range of projects across the constituency is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Charities are part of the fabric of our society, and it is a credit to the hard work of the individuals that lead them.
Trustees are central to the success of charitable groups, ensuring that the financial position remains sustainable, that the organisation is well run, and that set objectives are met. Behind every charity are those directing its business and driving the organisation forward. This week provides us with an opportunity to reflect on their tremendous commitment.
Trustees' Week is spearheaded by a partner group including the Charity Commission, Institute of Fundraising and National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO), and is attracting increasing support, now in its fifth year. Charities across the country have arranged activities and events to promote the campaign. More information can be found at www.trusteesweek.org.uk.
I pay tribute to all those local residents engaging in vital work all year round, and am always grateful to hear of new projects in our community.
Last week, I voted for amendments to the Recall of MPs Bill that would have strengthened the proposed Government legislation to ensure that elected representatives are more accountable to their constituents. I voted for the amendments, because I did not feel that the proposals as they stood went far enough in giving the public the right to recall their Member of Parliament in the event of serious wrongdoing.
The amendments, tabled by Zac Goldsmith MP, were designed to put the decision-making process in the hands of the electorate rather than Parliament. The changes would have meant that 5% of constituents could sign a 'notice of intent to recall', followed by 20% signing a 'recall petition', triggering a referendum to decide whether a by-election should be held.
Restoring trust in politicians is vital in rebuilding public confidence in the democratic process. While evidence from other countries with a recall function suggests that by-elections would be rare, it is important that we integrate such a competence into our own political system.
Voter turnout in recent years indicates a declining interest in the political process. I am a strong advocate of implementing measures to turn this around, and believe that a genuine recall mechanism would be a step in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the amendments were rejected despite 166 MPs supporting them. I hope that this considerable backing will contribute to the debate around the recall of MPs. While the Government Bill is a positive move, I would like to see it made stronger in the future.
On Monday night, the Bill was passed without further amendments. It will now move to the Report stage, the date of which will be announced soon.
The contribution of small businesses to our local economy cannot be underestimated, and the promotion of their work is a significant part of my role as MP for Warwick and Leamington. Good progress has been made, with the growth of small businesses in the constituency being reflected in the record number of start-ups this year and a sharp fall in unemployment since 2010. The local economy has turned a corner, and continuing this progress is vital.
On 1 December, together with the Leamington Business Forum, I will be hosting the 'South Warwickshire at Parliament' event with Nadhim Zahawi MP, welcoming a range of local businesses and organisations to meet with Ministers and other interested parties to promote their valuable input to our area. The level of support for the event is a credit to the Forum, who work so hard to engage with local firms.
In November, I am looking forward to speaking at the Annual Regional Conference of the Federation of Small Businesses, which is an important opportunity to reflect on recent activity, and I look forward to meeting with representatives from a wide range of sectors.
As a member of the Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Bill Committee, I know of the Government's efforts to cut red tape and to support small and medium-sized enterprises. Improving access to finance is a positive step, and I welcome the extension of the doubling of business rate reliefs.
The impact of Small Business Saturday last year, taking place on the first weekend of December and now becoming an annual event, is a prime example of what can be achieved to support and promote small businesses.
For more information on the above events, or my involvement in the Small Business Bill Committee, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the beginning of the new parliamentary session, I have been part of a committee of 19 Members of Parliament scrutinising the Small Business, Enterprise & Employment Bill; legislation which aims to support small and medium sized enterprises by cutting red tape and improving access to finance.
The Bill is an important step in building on the improving economy. I am a strong advocate of the success of local businesses, and have always made this sector one of my priorities in Warwick and Leamington. Our strengthening local economy is testament to the dedication and hard work of so many firms in our constituency.
The Small Business Bill includes a number of measures to build on this progress, and is based around the Government's commitment to make the UK a more attractive place to start, finance, and grow a business. A key part of the legislation tackles late payments to businesses, which too often hamper their growth. Access to finance is also being made simpler so that entrepreneurs have the best chance of setting up their business. In addition, a new Statutory Pubs Code will address the imbalance of power between pub owning companies and their tied tenants.
Reforms will also stop the abuse of zero hour contracts by firms- removing 'exclusivity clauses' which tie an employee to one company. While unemployment has been falling locally and nationally, these measures will help in securing more jobs across the constituency.
I would be grateful for the opportunity to discuss the Bill in more depth with local residents. Please write to me at email@example.com to let me know your views.
This week I applied to the Backbench Business Committee, the committee that decides which debates proposed by backbenchers will take place in Parliament, for a debate on the Living Wage. I hope this will take place during Living Wage Week between 2nd and 8th November. I am a strong advocate of highlighting the importance of the Living Wage, and the purpose of this debate will be to encourage other Members of Parliament to speak on this issue in relation to their own constituencies and to help persuade organisations across the country to recognise and accept its principles for the benefit of their employees.
I have already received cross-party support for the debate, and I am now awaiting the committee's response as to its timing. The debate will demonstrate the benefits to employers in paying their employees a wage that can have so many positive outcomes; outcomes which outweigh the perceived costs.
Nearly 1000 employers from a variety of sectors have taken up voluntary accreditation with the Living Wage Foundation, and it is important to continue this momentum. I hope this debate will ensure others join this growing number.
The new Living Wage rates will be announced during Living Wage Week and I hope that raising the profile of this initiative is an important milestone in its wider uptake.
As part of Guide Dogs Week 2014, I will be visiting our local training centre on Friday to celebrate its incredible contribution to our community. The 'Civic Day' is an important opportunity to raise awareness of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, and to praise their incredibly valuable work.
I have long been a supporter of the Association, and have seen first-hand the fabulous dedication of staff and volunteers at the training centre in Leamington. The annual Guide Dogs Week enables the charity to highlight the significance of their role both locally and nationally, and to promote fundraising. The
thousands of guide dogs working across the country are unsung heroes, providing assistance in the mobility and safety of blind or partially sighted people.
The lifetime cost of a guide dog is £50,000, highlighting the importance of supporting the group financially. The benefits they provide are immeasurable, and I am delighted to endorse one of our most respected charities.
The local Guide Dogs team also joined the 'Living Well in Later Life' event last week, and it was a pleasure to learn more about the training programmes and the vital work of volunteers. Whether it be walking a puppy, caring for the dogs, or fundraising, there are so many aspects of the 18 month programme that volunteers can become involved in. It is now a familiar sight in Warwick and Leamington to see these wonderful dogs being trained and gaining confidence on our streets.
I hope that local residents will continue to support this fantastic organisation. For more information, please visit www.guidedogs.org.uk.
On Monday evening, Warwick University Students' Union, alongside the local Police and representatives from Warwick District Council staged an important event for the community. I was pleased to attend 'Your Town, Your Choice', which highlighted the risks involved with different aspects of nightlife, and it was great to see so many students engage positively with local organisations.
A number of activities took place on Spencer Street to promote a safer neighbourhood. These were informative and sent out a powerful message, including advice on getting home safely and a driving simulator to show how much your judgement is impaired whilst under the influence of alcohol. The general theme of responsible drinking is a vital message to continue to promote, and events such as this are a very effective way to achieve this.
Educating people on the dangers of excessive drinking is important in terms of creating a safer community, but also important to the individuals involved. As part of the campaign, the Police also increased the number of officers on the streets at the weekend, and provided information at a mobile station alongside other emergency services.
I would like to pay tribute to all those involved with the initiative, as well as the work of our front-line services generally, in their dedicated work all year round in our local area.
Whilst I recognise that Warwick and Leamington has a thriving night-time economy, I hope that events such as this will encourage responsible behaviour, which must be to the benefit of everyone.
Last week, voters in Scotland made a clear decision to remain part of the United Kingdom. I am delighted at this result as I believe our four countries are stronger and better together.
The referendum and its result have also led to a more general discussion and debate over the constitutional arrangements of the UK. As the Prime Minister said, a vital part of moving forward "will be a balanced settlement – fair to people in Scotland and importantly to everyone in England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well."
Any discussion about these matters should be broad ranging and comprehensive. As well as reviewing Scotland's current devolutionary arrangement, I believe that the question of English votes for English laws must be settled as well as the devolutionary settlements for Wales and Northern Ireland.
Above all, the settlement needs to be fair and balanced, providing a level playing field for all countries and people.
Constitutional change should not occur without due consideration but nor should it be shied away from simply because things have always been a certain way. This could also apply to our own local authority structure.
Over recent months, there have been suggestions put forward that we should consider moving to a unitary authority structure, similar to many other parts of the country. There should be consideration of the merits or otherwise of these proposals. For example, a positive step might be that our town and parish councils could have more power and a greater say in how our services are delivered.
As with national constitutional change, any modification should not be made lightly and nor should it occur without extensive debate and opportunities for all sides of the issue to be heard.
Ultimately, the decision needs to reflect the best interests and serve the needs of our community and I welcome the opportunity for this debate and consultation to take place.
On Thursday 2nd October, I will join Warwickshire College, Warwick District Council, Age UK Warwickshire and others in hosting the 'Living Well in Later Life' event, aiming to bring together a number of local organisations to offer support and guidance for those approaching, or in retirement. The day will provide an excellent opportunity for local residents to learn more about part-time employment opportunities, charity work, new hobbies and interests, health and fitness, access to technology and new courses to study. Taking place at Warwickshire College, the day is free for all to attend.
Enjoying a fulfilling retirement is important, and becoming involved with local projects can be an excellent way of achieving this. A range of voluntary groups from Warwick and Leamington will be present to highlight their incredible contribution to the local area, including Age UK Warwickshire, Guide Dogs, the Leamington Street Pastors and Brunswick Healthy Living Centre.
Advice on health, housing, finance and mobility will be on offer to ensure that all services across the constituency are promoted. In addition, free hair and beauty treatments will be available from the college's award-winning salon, and courtesy bus services will run from Warwick, Leamington and Whitnash town centres.
I am very much looking forward to what will be a useful and informative day for all involved, and would like to thank Warwickshire College and Warwick District Council for their assistance in putting the event together, as well as all the organisations that will join us on the day.
For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 01926 315888.
It was an incredible sight to see thousands of people enjoying this year's Leamington Food & Drink Festival, with organisers calling it the best yet and an impressive range of products from over 150 exhibitors.
The organisers of the festival, the Leamington Business Improvement District (BID), has spoken of its pride in the success of the day. The two day event is growing year on year, with the number of visitors and the range of stalls increasing. Local businesses large and small demonstrated what the town has to offer, and there was something for all the family, from a kids cookery school to a barbecue masterclass. It was also a great pleasure to be on the judging panel for the cookery competition- a very close call!
I congratulate the BID for their work, and know of their efforts to ensure that the weekend was a success. The not for profit organisation has been running since 2008, and I pay tribute to those involved for all that they do locally, with services and projects such as the Lantern Parade to promote the town and to improve trade. The group represents around 500 Leamington businesses.
With the success of the Leamington BID, it may also be the right time to revisit a similar opportunity in Warwick. I would be keen to hear the views of traders and other interested parties, and can be contacted on email@example.com.
For more information about the Leamington Business Improvement District, please visit www.bidleamington.com.
Last Friday, I attended an evening reception to say farewell to Brian Wakley, Chief Executive of Cord, who is moving on after nearly 10 years in his post.
Cord is an international development charity that was founded in Leamington in 1967 and supports those suffering from the horrors of conflict across the world. It has a strong record of delivery through its programmes and I am proud and honoured to be a Patron. The group works with local and national institutions in Burundi, Chad, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to ensure that the best support is given to those in need, and that peace-building is promoted wherever possible.
I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Brian and his leadership in extending the organisation's work and reach, including his submission to an International Development Select Committee inquiry. Over the years, Cord has gone from strength to strength, having being involved in developing countries and making a real difference for refugees and the peace-making process. I visited Chad with Cord to see for myself the importance of their work, and to better understand the scale of the task in supporting conflict-damaged regions.
I wish Brian all the best for the future, and I look forward to supporting the new Chief Executive, Mark Simmons, and the continued contribution that Cord makes.
For more information, please see http://www.cord.org.uk.
Next week will see Parliament return from recess, during which I have worked hard to meet as many local residents as possible. Returning to Westminster enables me to represent the views of constituents at a national level, whilst at the same time I will continue to spend as much time as I can in our community, and look forward to meeting many more organisations and local businesses to champion their work.
Manufacturing is a particular area of policy that I have maintained a strong interest in, and as Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group I have welcomed the growth in production in recent years, particularly in our region. In September, I will visit the Manufacturing Technology Centre to continue to show my support for the role of this sector in our economy.
This year is also a significant milestone for the town of Warwick, and I would like to praise all involved with the events celebrating the town's 1100th anniversary. These continue with a thanksgiving service, taking place on 21st September at St Mary's Church to reflect on the magnificent history of our County Town.
Looking further afield, next month sees the outcome of the referendum on Scottish independence. I am a strong advocate of maintaining a United Kingdom of all four nations, as I believe that we are stronger and more prosperous together.
I will continue to play my role in the scrutiny of legislation, to ensure that the best interests of Warwick and Leamington is served. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me on any local, national or international issue. I am always grateful to have the opportunity to discuss these matters with local residents.
Parliamentary recess is an important time for any Member of Parliament. I have taken the opportunity to become involved in a number of new projects, as well as meeting as many local residents as possible to better understand what matters most in our community.
Knocking on doors and listening to the concerns and viewpoints of constituents is one of the most rewarding parts of my job. Whether a street-level problem, or an international matter, it is important that I am able to address the issue as best as possible and represent Warwick and Leamington in Westminster. This has always been a top priority for me, and the current recess has enabled me to do even more in the local area.
I have also been able to attend a wide range of events, from the nationally acclaimed Warwick Folk Festival, to special ceremonies to mark the continued progress of local organisations. Opening the new facilities at Myton Hospice was an opportunity to recognise the incredible contribution that its staff and volunteers make. A commemoration for the centenary of the First World War in the Royal Priors was a moving occasion, and allowed us to reflect on the role our community played. I was also able to be present at the Mela Festival on Sunday- an important event celebrating the rich and diverse culture within our area.
Before I return to Westminster, I will continue to work hard in the community and to become involved with as many local organisations as possible. If you would like to raise any issues with me, I am always grateful to discuss them and to assist to the best of my ability. May I wish your readers all the best for the rest of the summer.
On Tuesday, International Youth Day was reflected on with a particular focus on those suffering from mental health conditions. Supporting disadvantaged children is an extremely important part of today's society, and I know that a number of voluntary organisations continue to work hard to help them. I welcome the progress made in raising awareness of this issue in recent years, but recognise the need to do more.
The United Nations initiative has been running since 1999, and provides an annual opportunity to consider an aspect of the challenges some of our younger generation has to face. This year, mental health is the topic of discussion. In Britain, one in ten children aged between five and sixteen have diagnosable mental health problems, and we must continue to work hard to provide an effective system in which they are supported.
Nurturing the most vulnerable is an issue of immense significance, as these young people can too easily drop out of the system of support and struggle to receive the treatment they need. Local organisations have worked tirelessly, and I recently nominated the Warwickshire Rethink Mental Illness service for a national award for their contribution to public health.
It is important to help those with mental disabilities into work. I have had the opportunity to visit Round Oak School in Warwick, an establishment providing an excellent tailored education for the needs of its students. Representatives from the
specialist school have highlighted the difficulties that their students have in finding employment, however the recent Working Together conference held in June and hosted by National Grid, shone a ray of light towards a more positive approach, allowing the young people to showcase their talent.
Such occasions are an important step in the right direction, and I hope that other businesses will support similar initiatives.
As Warwick University students receive their degree classifications this summer, it is worth reflecting on the value that the University brings to our local economy. Our community benefits both financially and culturally through the work of the university- one of the most highly respected in the country.
Since being founded almost fifty years ago, Warwick University has placed the local area at the heart of its interests, and has contributed in a number of ways. The institution has helped to add £84m a year to Leamington's economy, creating 1852 jobs. Many students live in the town, and the average annual economic impact of each student to Leamington's economy is £13,075.
In addition, schemes have been set up to support the community, such as Warwick Volunteers, which aims to boost the confidence and aspirations of young children, forging links with nearby schools. Last year alone, 23 different projects will have run in partnership with 11 different schools. There are always new opportunities for the university and the local community to work closer together.
Local businesses have seen a strong surge of growth in recent years, and the record number of company formations in 2014 can in part be attributed to the efforts of Warwick University graduates with excellent skills and entrepreneurial spirit.
I would like to wish all local students the best of luck with their results and their futures.
Like so many local residents, I thoroughly enjoyed the Warwick Folk Festival at the weekend, and was impressed to see the number of people visiting the town from across the country. This year's array of talent marked the 35th annual festival.
Since its launch in 1979, the festival has become one of the most highly regarded folk celebrations in the country, with thousands of visitors returning each year. A wide range of music and dance performances happen across the town, from stage sets to impromptu pieces in public houses. It was great to see the variety of the displays, and I would like to praise all who performed.
It was also a pleasure to see the thriving Smith Street Party, with a wide range of stalls and a fantastic community spirit on show. The atmosphere across the town on Folk Festival weekend is always fabulous, and Warwick can be proud of the continued success of the event.
While the festival celebrates its 35th anniversary, Warwick is in its 1100th year. The number of different activities appealing to all audiences that are happening throughout the year are a fitting tribute to the great culture and heritage of the town.
I would like to congratulate all those involved in the running of the event, and look forward to many more wonderful community occasions taking place in Warwick this year.
On Tuesday this week, the UK government and UNICEF hosted the first international Girl Summit in London. The aim of the Summit was to coordinate a national and international response in order to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage (CFEM), within a generation.
Last Saturday, there was a pre-event, Youth for Change, hosted by the Department for International Development. This was developed by young people for young people to provide a forum in which to discuss issues associated with girls' rights and female leadership. The day involved a programme of interactive debates, discussions and meetings.
The ambition for the event was to create a "ripple effect" where young people can learn about and advocate for these important issues and, in turn, help kick-start a national and global youth movement on girls' rights.
I have always been impressed with the level of youth engagement around international development issues, such as during my recent visit to All Saints School for a Question and Answer session. I was also pleased to have the opportunity to nominate two local students to attend Youth For Change.
Last weekend I also received a letter from local residents setting out their aims to ensure the Girl Summit made a commitment to end FGM and CFEM.
Local people, whatever their age, should be commended for their passion and dedication in support of these issues. The Government's determination to end these abhorrent practices is welcome and I hope that the effect of the Girl Summit will be to bring these issues to the forefront of national debate and go some way towards creating the change we urgently need to make.
This week, I am planning to speak in the House of Commons in support of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill. This Bill, announced in the Queen's Speech, will make important changes which will support small businesses and local enterprise across the country, and in Warwick and Leamington. The Bill will help improve small businesses access to finance, cut down red-tape and create greater transparency. Businesses will have new opportunities to innovate, compete and grow.
Small businesses and local enterprises are the backbone of our economy. In 2014, confidence amongst small businesses in general is growing and they are increasingly looking to take on more staff and expand their operations.
In Warwick and Leamington, small businesses have been able to create jobs which has helped to reduce the number of Job Seekers Allowance claimants by 60 per cent since April 2010. Small businesses help our local economy to thrive and have helped our region to flourish in recent years particularly with the growth of the creative industry sector.
The Small Business Bill will also help to protect employees by increasing the penalties for employers not paying their staff the National Minimum Wage. I am also very pleased to see that the government is encouraging business to pay their employees the Living Wage, a campaign I have long supported.
I regularly meet with local businesses and would like to pay tribute to their hard work and dedication. I am confident that the measures introduced in this Bill will be extremely helpful for small businesses in Warwick and Leamington and across the country.
Last Thursday evening I attended the Playbox Theatre's new performance, 'The Shadow Roads', written by Toby Quash. This was part of the commemorations on the centenary of World War I, an important and pivotal event in our history. With the event being acted by children of all ages, the incredible talent of Warwick's younger generation was on show, and it was an excellent opportunity to understand the significance of events that took place 100 years ago.
During 1914 to 1918 as many as 250,000 young boys were illegally enlisted to serve their country, due to being below the legal age of enlistment. 'The Shadow Roads' is a play showing a journey into the mind of a young soldier who was facing the same ordeal as many other individuals at the time. The performance documents the lives of these underage soldiers, and is a performance that is both moving and informative. The actors showed their excellence on the stage to help us remember the great endeavours and suffering of our soldiers. It was an inspiration to see young people getting involved in an event of such historical significance.
The Playbox Theatre for the past 25 years has worked for and with young people, providing them with the opportunity to showcase their skills. Throughout its history they have created a number of special original pieces.
There are a number of upcoming events to mark the centenary of the First World War in the community. The Spa Centre in Leamington will host 'District Remembers' on 31st October, providing an important opportunity to reflect on the sacrifices made a century ago.
Creative Industries Week is an opportunity to reflect on the contribution of local firms in this growing sector, and to realise the exciting potential that Warwick and Leamington has in being at the forefront of a booming industry.
The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has launched this initiative to highlight the tremendous progress of creative industries across the country, including television, film, production and video games development.
Our local area is home to around 1200 jobs in video game studios alone, and is a real hub of the sector nationally. Recently, I welcomed Culture Secretary, Sajid Javid to local business Radiant Worlds to highlight such success. There is much excitement around the potential in the sector, and I know that local firms will show great determination in fulfilling it.
Over the last three years in the UK, employment within the creative industries has grown at five times the rate of the wider UK economy. The industry also generates £8 million per hour in Britain, and is going from strength to strength. In the West Midlands, the number of jobs grew by more than 20% between 2011 and 2013.
I have seen first-hand the creativity and talent that we possess in Warwick and Leamington, and believe it to be a real asset to the local economy. Recently, I met with the team from Arch Creatives, a not-for profit organisation that runs a 'co-working' space for game developers and is located in Leamington; yet another example of the creative spirit and innovation based in our area.
For more information on Creative Industries Week and the growing success of the sector, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-creative-industries-powerhouse-continues-to-grow.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting a local Cub camp and seeing them take part in a variety of activities. The scouting organisation provides children aged 6 – 8 (Beavers), 8 – 10 (Cubs), 10 – 14 (Scouts) and then 14 – 18 (Explorer Scouts), with the ability to take part in countless events whilst at the same time providing a positive educational and social experience.
When we think of scouts, we typically picture youths taking part in "bob-a-job" week. However, upon meeting with the group at Hatton it became clear that there is so much more on offer than this.
They also for example: build rafts, learn to construct fires safely from what little resources they can find on the ground, help bag-pack for various charities and take part in orienteering, hikes and camps.
All these activities help to prepare these young people for the future by providing them with skills such as teamwork and problem solving that they will use in later life.
The Scouts are a national institution which we should take great pride in. The organisation is fun and educational and is one way in which children and teenagers can learn new skills and experience the benefits of participating in their community.
I would also like to pay tribute to the many volunteers who give up their evenings and weekends to ensure the scouting organisation continues to thrive and grow.
As part of this week marking a year until the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, it is worth reflecting on the important values embedded in our culture. King John signed the document in 1215, laying the foundations for the liberties we enjoy today.
The charter was the first time limits were placed on the monarch, promoting limited authority and an improvement in democracy. Despite being widely criticised at the time by key figures such as Pope Innocent III, the Magna Carta gained momentum over a number of centuries as a bedrock of justice and liberties.
Labelled one of Britain's greatest exports of all time, the charter proclaimed certain liberties that make up our society today. A key component was a recognition that no free man could be punished except through the law of the land.
Next year also coincides with the 750th anniversary of the Simon de Montfort parliament. Simon de Montfort was the rebel leader in the lead up to the Battle of Lewes in 1265, demanding reform of the system and regular parliaments. While he was killed and his men lost the Battle of Lewes, his legacy further cemented moves to limit the powers of the monarchy. By the 14th century, parliaments were an indispensable feature of English government.
Over the coming twelve months, these historic events will be celebrated in a number of ways, with proposals to hold a series of public lectures, a festival in Parliament Square, and an address from MPs to the Queen. The Prime Minister has also encouraged schools to raise the profile of the Magna Carta; a linchpin of Western democracy. Our tremendous heritage and culture can be reflected on with much pride.
On Saturday I was delighted to attend the first AGM of the Leamington Street Pastors; an inspirational group whose purpose is to assist those in need, out in town, late at night. Individuals from a number of Christian churches across Leamington collectively volunteer to create a safer environment for our community, and they can be very proud of what they have achieved over the year.
Their dedication and commitment in supporting others is extremely admirable, particularly as they do their work between 11pm and 4am, whatever the weather.
They provide a listening ear and some useful items to keep people safe; in their first year of operation, they distributed roughly 400 flip-flops and even more bottles of water. At least 1200 glass bottles were safely removed from harm's way.
Their Coordinator explained the support that many organisations have shown for the initiative, including Warwick District Council and Warwickshire Police. The value that they add to the community cannot be underestimated. They undoubtedly contribute enormously to the safety and well-being of those out late at night, some of whom are in a vulnerable condition.
I would like to praise all those involved with the organisation, and to all in our area who give up their time to make such an important contribution to the community, including NightLight, who serve warm drinks to those on their way home.
For anyone who might be interested in volunteering, or just looking for more information, please visit leamingtonspa.streetpastors.org.uk.
Congratulations to the Street Pastors on their first successful year!
This week marks the 30th anniversary of National Volunteers' Week, and provides an opportunity to reflect on the work of the huge number of volunteers in our community and pay tribute to their vital contribution to society. Hundreds of events are taking place across the country as charities, schools, hospitals and other organisations use Volunteers' Week to thank the people that do and give so much.
In Warwick and Leamington there are over 270 voluntary organisations, each relying on the energy, dedication and commitment of their volunteers. I have had the pleasure of meeting many of these groups that support the fabric of our society, and am always impressed by their selflessness and enthusiasm. From school governors to charity trustees, Warwick Volunteers (students from the University of Warwick) to the Street Pastors, there are many unsung heroes who deserve praise.
Across the UK, 15 million people are estimated to volunteer every month, and the Office for National Statistics has calculated the value of this at £23.9bn. These staggering figures show the significance of volunteering, and they are a wonderful reflection on each person who gives their time to support others.
On Tuesday I visited the British Heart Foundation shop in Regent Street, Leamington Spa, to hear about their tremendous work in raising funds for such a worthwhile cause. They are always in search of new volunteers, and if any reader in interested, the local BHF shop can be contacted on 01926 831317.
Many of the services that we rely on simply would not continue without the contribution of volunteers. Once again I would like to pay tribute to the many diverse charities across Warwick and Leamington and the people who make them the force they are.
For more information on National Volunteers' Week, please see volunteersweek.org.
This week sees the UK electing Members to the European Parliament for the next five years and I believe that it is important that local residents exercise their right to vote. While I recognise that our membership of the European Union is a topic of passionate debate, this election is a further step in deciding our country's relationship with Europe.
The European Parliament is the only directly elected institution in the European Union; an institution that plays a big part in our lives. The traditionally low turnout indicates apathy in these elections – people often wonder, how will my vote make a difference? However, your vote will contribute to deciding who will have a say over what will be in the best interests of our region and our country in Europe.
The UK will elect 73 Members to the European Parliament, one of the biggest and most powerful legislatures in the world.
Throughout history, men and women have fought for our democracy, to give us not only the right not to vote but also to allow us to have our say in the democratic process.
The European debate is one that grips British politics today and the outcome of this debate will shape our relationship with our neighbours in Europe for years to come. For that reason, the elections this week are an important milestone in that relationship.
If you are reading this on Thursday, I would urge you to exercise your right at the ballot box. Whether you support the current European model, whether you believe we should leave Europe or whether you believe in change in Europe, this is your chance to take part in the debate.
Yesterday in Parliament I attended the launch of a report, Generation Citizen, produced by Demos and the National Citizen Service (NCS) Trust. The report presents the first detailed look at the final cohort of Generation Y (all those born between 1981 and 1994). The final group of this generation are now aged 14 to 17 and the report aims to provide an insight into their characteristics.
Members of Generation Y are often stereotyped as disinterested, selfish and disconnected from politics and civic society. However, the Generation Citizen study reveals that this perception could not be more wrong. Teenagers and teachers who were surveyed believed that too often the media paint an unflattering, but in my view false, portrait of teenagers.
The report suggests that young people are seizing on the potential offered to them by social enterprises, social media and volunteering. The Generation Citizen report calls for a new narrative about today's young people – one which focuses on their enthusiasm and levels of participation in public life.
As the MP for Warwick and Leamington, I know from first hand how positive this generation is and how confident we can be of their future and, consequently, ours. The report can be found at http://www.demos.co.uk/publications/generationcitizen.
Last week I visited Warwick University to listen to the inaugural International Development Annual Public Lecture, delivered by Justine Greening MP. The event was an opportunity for the Secretary of State for International Development to outline the issues surrounding gender inequality throughout the world, and the action being taken by the government to address them.
As a member of the International Development Select Committee, I have a deep interest in the issues that were discussed. From disparities in education opportunities between girls and boys, to the high rates of violence that women are subjected
to across the world, the Secretary of State made clear that a lot more needs to be done.
Quite simply, we need to change the way girls are treated and perceived, the way they are defined and limited by their families and communities from the moment they are born. Staggeringly, across the world 31 million girls of primary school age have never been to school for a single day.
The Department for International Development will support 9 million children at primary level, at least half of whom are girls, and 2 million children at secondary level by 2015. In addition, DfID's Girls' Education Challenge programme has been instrumental in allowing some of the poorest girls to access an education.
I was grateful to hear the Secretary of State's lecture, and I praise the work of the government in tackling issues that do not belong in society anywhere in the world.
Such events are useful in stimulating the debate about how best to resolve such problems, and I am pleased that Warwick University was able to host this important discussion.
This week, I was pleased to be invited to co-sponsor a Parliamentary Bill on the National Planning Policy Framework, seeking greater community involvement in planning policy. In this Bill, Greg Mulholland, MP for Leeds North West advocates a more consultative process with local residents; an important step in providing communities with more influence over the future development of their area.
The Second Reading for the National Planning Policy Framework (Community Involvement) Bill is set for 6th June. However, unfortunately as with so much in the parliamentary process, the likelihood of this Bill being heard on the floor of the House is slim, but it is the intention behind it which is so important.
The Bill proposes to revise the current National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), with a focus on enabling a genuine process of community involvement in any major planning decisions that are to be made. The involvement of local residents into such decision-making procedures is vital.
In my view, the proposed legislation can be significant in starting the debate over how to positively amend the current system. Whilst acknowledging that more homes are needed, large development sites should not be imposed on residents without a more balanced decision-making process.
With planning proposals currently being put forward locally, I have heard many representations from residents about their wish to voice their opinion. With this in mind, alongside the value that this new legislation can bring, I am pleased to support the principles behind the Bill.
As part of this year's celebrations to mark the founding of Warwick 1100 years ago, I was delighted to attend the St. George's Day event on Saturday and be part of this special occasion for the town.
The town is steeped in history, dating back to AD914 when the Anglo-Saxon Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, established one of her new Burghs on the banks of the River Avon, the beginning of the town now known as Warwick. This was a defensive stronghold against the Danes who had invaded during that time and were occupying land further north.
In 1001, the settlement was named Waerinc Wicum and was made the county town of the new shire of Warwickshire. Within a relatively small area there are many buildings of historic interest, including the Lord Leycester Hospital dating back to 1126, and St. Mary's Church, which required restoration work following the Great Fire of 1694. Some areas survived the fire, such as the timber-framed buildings around Thomas Oken's house. Oken's contribution to the town is celebrated annually, as he left his estate to help fund new projects in Warwick after his death in 1573.
The bell ringers at St. Mary's Church and a grand procession led by St. George on horseback marked the start of the celebrations, which were well supported by local residents and visitors alike- a big thank you to everyone who took part in organising the event.
Upcoming highlights to mark this historic anniversary include 'Love your Local Market Week', and British artist Alex Hartley will transform the Market Hall Museum and the Market Square to celebrate Warwickshire's heritage and culture. On 20th May, a special race meeting will take place at Warwick Racecourse.
I hope readers will have the opportunity to visit Warwick and enjoy the numerous events which have been planned - to find out more, please visit warwick1100yrs.co.uk.
One of the causes I promote in Parliament is the importance of the manufacturing sector to the UK economy.
Last week, I hosted a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Manufacturing Group on the effect of automation on the manufacturing industry. It is often assumed that automation leads to job losses but, as recent studies have suggested, this is far from true. Automation can, in fact, increase competitiveness and employment in UK manufacturing.
I also attended an event last week hosted by the ERA Foundation, an organisation which supports investment in engineering, raises the profile of UK engineering and promotes within government the importance of engineering and productive industry. The event was held to launch a report which aims to improve the awareness, perception and understanding of engineering in
the UK – I am always keen to promote the profession and to encourage young people to consider a career in engineering.
From a broader perspective, economic growth and development makes it possible for there to be a positive outlook for UK manufacturing. This week, I am also pleased to note that unemployment figures are continuing their downward trend. Nationally, unemployment has fallen to 6.9% and in Warwick and Leamington, the number of JSA claimants has fallen by 54%
since May 2010.
Over the Parliamentary recess, I have been visiting a range of local businesses and organisations and have been holding my regular surgeries. This is the most important part of my work as the Member of Parliament and if you would like to arrange a meeting then please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01926 315 888.
May I also take this opportunity to wish you a very Happy Easter!
Last Friday, the Home Secretary, Theresa May visited Leamington to meet with the local Safer Neighbourhood Police Team.
A real difference is being made to cutting crime through a greater collaboration between Warwick District Council, health providers and the Police working together with the local community.
The meeting was an important opportunity for the Home Secretary to meet our local Police team and have an in depth conversation on policing in Leamington. The entire team, including Officers and Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) work together to make our community safe and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the magnificent job they do.
Crime in the Warwickshire Police area has continued to fall since 2010, and is also below the national average. Figures of reported crime have been reduced by 10% since 2010. This is encouraging progress in the fight against crime in our local community.
As the recent State of Policing Report highlighted, crime prevention costs much less to society than crime investigation and the
imposition of sanctions. In line with this philosophy, our local police are admirably fulfilling their responsibilities to prevent crime.
The total number of crimes in Warwickshire is at an all time low. There are now more than a third fewer crimes per day than there were in 2006/7.
While there is always more work to be done to lower crime rates, it is important to acknowledge the significant efforts of our police force who have made this possible.
In the Budget the Chancellor committed to relieving the VAT on aviation fuel to Air Ambulance services, providing much-needed support. This welcome measure will significantly benefit the vital service provided to our community.
The news will be a boost for Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance service, which does a fantastic job in our local area. In 2012, together with the Derbyshire, Leicestershire & Rutland Air Ambulance service they completed 1800 rescue missions. With an average of just 9 minutes taken to reach a scene, the work the Air Ambulance service does to support our community cannot be underestimated.
The announcement comes at the end of a two year campaign by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Air Ambulances and the Association of Air Ambulances, both of which lobbied hard to achieve this result. I would like to congratulate all those involved in their endeavours, and I am sure that the measures announced by Mr Osborne will improve what is already an essential service.
Air Ambulances will today treat 70 patients; they are funded by 19 charities across the UK who can now each receive a VAT rebate worth £325,000 over the next five years.
I am delighted that the Government has recognised the importance of this service, and the Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance service can be very proud of the work they do in saving lives.
For more information about the Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance service, please visit www.wnaa.co.uk.
Last week's Budget, delivered by the Chancellor on Wednesday, detailed the steps the government is taking to reduce the deficit and provide for a sustainable economic future. It contained several welcome measures, not least including changes to the pension system which will give people much greater control over their pensions as well as increasing the tax free limit for ISAs to £15,000.
The Chancellor also announced steps to encourage investment and export. In my role as the Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Manufacturing, I am very aware of the need to promote a re-shoring of manufacturing (shifting production back to the UK) and to encourage the export of British-made goods.
Manufacturing is vital to the UK's recovery and to a balanced economy, and the cost of energy has a big impact on manufacturing businesses. The government has committed to providing support for these businesses of up to £6 billion to reduce energy costs.
The Chancellor also announced that UK Export Finance will double its business lending scheme to £3 billion and will cut lending rates by a third. This is the lowest level permitted by international agreements and will help to make UK Export Finance the most competitive in Europe.
Reducing operating costs and providing affordable finance options are some of the important ways in which the government can ensure the UK continues to be a hub for manufacturing and is able to compete on the world stage.
Our region has a proud tradition of manufacturing and I am particularly pleased that the measures announced in the Budget will assist businesses both locally and in the wider economy.
Last Friday I was delighted to be invited to join a panel for a 'Question Time' event held at Myton School, as part of the Association of School and College Leaders' (ASCL) 'Great Education Debate'. The ASCL launched this initiative to encourage a consensus amongst policy makers, education professionals, parents and employers about the future of education in England.
I was grateful for the opportunity to join the debate, centred on the purpose of education in the 21st century. I would like to thank Myton School for hosting this event, but I would particularly like to thank the students for their contribution to a stimulating and worthwhile discussion on education.
The day before the debate, the Minister of State for Schools made an announcement regarding the implementation of the government's fairer and less complex school funding system, which is based on the needs of pupils. In this redistribution, Warwickshire schools received a further £13 million, which equates to an increase of £188 per pupil.
Though adequate financial provision is essential, funding is not the only basis on which a good school system is built. As
the Secretary of State has said, 'more important than money is attitude - ambition, expectation - an ethos of excellence.'
As the Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington I have, through my regular visits to local schools and colleges, seen first hand that they more than demonstrate this ethos. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of students, teachers and parents.
Our schools and colleges also prepare our young people for their future careers. It has been heartening to note the continued
fall in youth unemployment in Warwick and Leamington, from 4.1 per cent in May 2010, to 2 per cent in February 2014.
This is going in the right direction but there will never be room for complacency.
For more information about the Great Education Debate, please visit www.greateducationdebate.org.uk.
I am delighted that Dennis Eagle, a local company, has been awarded an £8.5 million grant under the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain Initiative to create a range of low emission and fuel efficient vehicles for waste collection. This is fantastic for the local economy and is a welcome addition to the success of businesses in our area.
Dennis Eagle has manufactured precision-made vehicles in the Midlands since 1907. This new project is expected to create 52 jobs and safeguard another 32 across the supply chain. The grant was announced by the Secretary
of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, who also set out Government
efforts to support reshoring.
Reshoring is an excellent way of benefitting the local and national economy; bringing jobs and production back to the UK. As
Co-Chair of the APPG on Manufacturing, I have seen increasing evidence of the trend in a growing manufacturing sector, with production returning to the UK. This is extremely encouraging for the future of the UK economy.
The purpose of the Advanced Manufacturing Supply Chain is to provide funding for research and development, skills training, and capital investment to help UK supply chains achieve world-class standards and encourage major new suppliers to locate in the UK. There is significant potential for manufacturing to grow, and the Midlands is often at the forefront of such progress. Under the initiative, nine schemes including Dennis Eagle will receive a total of £129m. The nine projects will directly create 1369 jobs and safeguard a further 2525.
When I raised the issue in the House of Commons last week, the Leader of the House, Andrew Lansley MP joined me in congratulating Dennis Eagle. He added, "Those looking to increase manufacturing and supply manufacturing jobs no longer need to go abroad to be competitive, and that makes an enormous difference."
While I am extremely proud to have raised the news in Parliament, I recognise that there is no room for complacency. I will continue to work very hard to champion businesses in our local area, and look forward to hearing of future successes.
This Tuesday, Leamington Town Hall hosted a Jobs Fair and I was most impressed to see the number of local employers who supported the event and the hundreds of potential new recruits who visited on the day. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who helped to organise the Fair.
Employers were able to advertise vacancies and a variety of seminars were held to provide advice to job seekers including on how to develop their CV and hints and tips for finding work.
In particular, as this event coincided with National Apprenticeship Week (NAW), it was a great opportunity to promote apprenticeships, and many were keen to find out more.
The government is placing great emphasis on the expansion of apprenticeships. There are many different routes to finding
work and an apprenticeship should be seen as an attractive option for school leavers, with great prospects for a future career.
We have some fantastic companies and organisations in Warwick and Leamington which offer apprenticeships and many of those were represented at the event. It is important to note that it is not just large companies which provide these opportunities; small businesses are just as active in providing apprenticeships. Indeed, at the national level, more than half of apprentices are working in SMEs.
The Jobs Fair is one way in which we can help to promote local businesses and showcase the opportunities they have to offer for job seekers. I hope we will make it an annual event on our local community's calendar.
With Parliament on recess last week, I took the opportunity to visit the Leamington Night Shelter at Radford Rd Methodist and URC Church and take my turn joining the team at Nightlight at All Saints' Church. Both these wonderful organisations have served our community for a number of years, providing support from a bed for the night, a hot drink, or a listening ear.
These initiatives rely on a number of dedicated volunteers who do an amazing job. With the large student community in Leamington, National Student Volunteering Week, which is taking place this week, is a good time at which to reflect on the importance of volunteering in our community.
It is often wrongly assumed that volunteering is not something young people do. However, my experience of volunteering is that there is no such thing as a "typical" volunteer. A wide cross section of the community, across all age groups, offers up their time and service to various worthwhile causes.
Student Volunteering Week aims to raise awareness of the level of student volunteering. Research from the National Union of Students shows that nearly a third of students offer a significant amount of their spare time to volunteering. The week also aims to encourage more students to consider opportunities to volunteer locally.
I know many of our local students volunteer and I would like to express my gratitude for their energy and enthusiasm in supporting important causes throughout our community.
For more information about National Student Volunteering Week, visit studentvolunteeringweek.org.uk
This year, the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs (WAYC) celebrates its 60th anniversary. To commemorate this milestone, WAYC is launching their 'Give 60' campaign, which encourages local people to volunteer up to 60 hours over the year to help a young person, support a local youth group, or donate £60.
I am delighted to be one of the first volunteers in the Give 60 programme and will be taking part in their mentoring scheme. WAYC has always supported our local young people and, in particular over recent years, has been offering assistance and guidance to young people struggling to find work. Over the past three years, their efforts have helped to support forty
young people into employment.
By setting up a network of mentors, WAYC hopes to assist more young people in their search for a job. People from all walks of life, from different backgrounds and with different professional experience are encouraged to be part of the WAYC network
I was particularly pleased to be joined on my induction session by Richard Machin, former Head of All Saints Junior School, Warwick and now Head of Finham Primary in Coventry.
Mentors can help young people in a variety of ways, including through practical guidance with CV development, assistance with identifying possible career opportunities and providing tips and hints for job interviews. Mentors can also offer moral
support and guidance and can encourage perseverance in spite of difficulties or rejection.
Initiatives like WAYC's mentoring programme can help to equip young people between the ages of 15 and 22 who are not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs), with the necessary skills to enter the workforce.
WAYC is holding ongoing training sessions for anyone interested in supporting the programme by becoming a mentor.
If you would like to find out more or book onto a training course, please call Lee Atkins on 01926 450156 or email email@example.com.
The 31st January marked the first anniversary of the introduction of the Social Value Act. There have been a number of events to mark the occasion and it is an appropriate time to reflect on the implementation of the Act and, in particular, what has been achieved to date.
I have been delighted over the past twelve months to hear from local authorities who have taken a proactive approach to embedding social value into their commissioning process. That is, they are committed to viewing positively their obligation to consider what additional benefits can be accrued when awarding contracts.
For example, in one housing repairs contract, companies competing for tender offered extra value in their proposals by providing energy efficiency advice and DIY skills workshops for residents as well as offering work experience to the long term unemployed.
These are the sorts of benefits which can enhance public service provision and which the Social Value Act encourages local authorities to support.
I am very proud of the progress the Act has made so far in helping to bring about a change in the way commissioning takes place. That is not to say that there are not some challenges ahead to ensure that more local organisations and service providers are aware of the importance of social value and the positive impact it can have.
I hope that in another year's time, there will be many more examples of the additional social, economic and environmental benefits which have resulted from the understanding and adoption of the Act and how it can make a very real difference to our communities.
On Sunday I met with the father of Conrad Lewis. His son was a paratrooper who lost his life in Afghanistan nearly three years ago. I heard his moving and powerful story and am honoured to support the campaign 'Soldier On' in memory of him, which aims to raise awareness of the heartbreak of losing a loved one in the Armed Forces and providing funds for fantastic causes.
The memory Conrad has left behind is a very fond one, and the campaign is a fitting appreciation of his dedication and commitment to his job, his friends and his family. The support already received has been overwhelming, but there is a lot more we can do to help in their efforts to support this extremely worthwhile cause.
To mark the anniversary singer-songwriter Andrew James has produced a single in conjunction with local band 'Big Secret Sound' called 'Soldier On'. Chris Onslow wrote the lyrics, and I was grateful to hear his motivation for supporting the campaign. The single will be launched on the 9th February. Proceeds from sales will go to the charity '353', a group that helps members of the military family. The number refers to the fact that Conrad was the 353rd soldier to have tragically lost his life in action in Afghanistan. If 7500 copies are sold, the single is likely to reach the UK Top 40- a magnificent achievement by all involved and a great platform to raise awareness of the campaign and the charity.
The importance of the ongoing work by 353 cannot be underestimated, giving well-needed support to so many. In addition, they will be contributing to a number of organisations, including the Paracharity, the Parachute Regiment Afghanistan Trust, Nowzad Dogs and Troop Aid. I believe it is so important to support this and similar initiatives, and raise awareness of the great work they do. I have been touched by the campaign and am very proud to be involved.
Last week I was delighted to be invited to open the Older People in Action event 'New Year, New You!' held at Leamington's Town Hall. The day was a great opportunity for people in our community to get involved in a range of activities to promote both physical and mental wellbeing, and it was good to see how popular the initiative appeared to be.
Older People in Action (OPA) is a charity that works with and for older people and the agencies that support them. Their aim is to encourage learning, health and wellbeing in Warwick District to ensure people are given the right information and feel part of the community. To support this agenda, OPA holds information sessions, consultations and campaigns on a variety of issues.
The 'drop-in' event was designed to encourage people to take up a new activity or hobby and to meet new people. One of the purposes of the event was to combat the very real problem of loneliness, an initiative I was pleased to support. I hope that
many will be inspired by the event and will get involved in any of the activities that were available. We saw a wide range of organisations attend, from the Leamington Embroiderers Guild to Zumba Gold. There were also displays put on by model railway enthusiasts, and the Sydni Centre's Art Group, all contributing to a successful day.
Anyone is welcome to join the organisation Older People in Action. Membership is free and your level of involvement is entirely up to you. Please call Sarah, OPA, on 01926 477512 if you would like further information.
This week in Parliament I highlighted a recent report from the Warwickshire Observatory which showed that the number of young people not in Education, Employment or Training (NEETs) in Warwick had decreased significantly over the last three years. In fact, numbers have decreased by almost half from 4.6 per cent in 2010 to 2.8 per cent in 2013. In Warwickshire as a whole, the NEETs figures have steadily declined over the past six years from 6.7 per cent in 2006 to 3.6 per cent in 2012.
I wanted to acknowledge these results whilst also drawing attention to the fact that there is much more work which needs to be done if we are to improve the lives of young people in our community. Youth unemployment has a negative impact on the economy, not to mention on the young people themselves.
In last week's Autumn statement, the Chancellor announced some important measures aimed at decreasing youth unemployment, including abolishing the jobs tax for people under the age of 21. Not having to pay national insurance contributions for this age group will reduce the cost of employing a young person by between £500 and £1000, depending on their salary.
Increasing funding for Jobcentre Plus to provide assistance to 16 and 17 year olds to find an apprenticeship or a traineeship is another crucial development. I have long been an advocate for more apprenticeships and the practical benefits they offer young people entering work.
We should be pleased that these figures are improving in our region but we must also continue to work hard to ensure that businesses are able to employ and train our young people which will be of benefit both to our community and our economy
as a whole.
This weekend is the launch of the UK's first Small Business Saturday. The initiative started in America where it is now an established annual event. In 2012, $5.5 billion in sales were generated on this single day!
Small Business Saturday is a fantastic opportunity for small businesses to promote themselves
and generate trade.
The national campaign is intended to highlight the nearly five million small businesses in the UK, which between them provide employment for over 14 million people.
In our community, there are a large number of these businesses which all contribute to our local economic prosperity. It is important to show support for these traders and this weekend is the perfect opportunity to do so.
Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, they produce wonderful goods and services, employ a large
number of people and play their part in the community by investing in the local area and have high levels of social, economic and environmental responsibility.
This Friday morning, I will be joining Brian Dormer, the Federation of Small Businesses' Warwickshire & Leamington Branch Chairman, on a 'Keep Trade Local' shopping trip in Leamington. We will be spending time in various shops and encouraging people to buy locally and support the fantastic range of businesses that Leamington has to offer.
This Saturday is likely to be a very busy day for retailers as one of the key shopping days before Christmas. It's a great chance to promote local businesses in Warwick and Leamington and offer a boost to the high street.
I look forward to seeing many of you this Friday and hope everyone gets behind our businesses and shops locally on
Saturday December 7.
This week is Export Week and it is a good time to highlight the positive effects on British industry that exporting can have.
The UK Trade and Investment's Export Week www.exportweek.ukti.gov.uk/full/ is an important initiative set up to encourage businesses to establish an export arm or to expand their existing activities.
Many local companies already export their products and have reaped the benefits from doing so. Research has found that companies which export are more productive and achieve stronger financial results than their non-exporting counterparts. The success of several companies in our community are examples of this trend, not least AGA Rangemaster who are sending products this week to Marya - a new customer in Russia – and who expect to be despatching cookers to China before the end of the year.
There is still more to be done however, and we must build on our proud industrial heritage by encouraging more businesses to export their goods. Manufacturing accounts for nearly 15 per cent of the gross value added for the West Midlands economy, above the national average. Given that manufactured goods make up 75 per cent of all UK exports, our region is well placed to make the most of export opportunities.
Encouraging companies to expand their exports will have a strong impact not only on their business, but on the whole British economy.
As co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Group on Manufacturing, I will continue to advocate for greater emphasis on policies which support manufacturing. Investment in skills and the creation of more apprenticeships are just some of the initiatives we can put in place to ensure our local community continues to build on its great industrial tradition.
Last week saw a number of events take place to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of St Patrick's Irish Club in Leamington.
The club was started by several Irish families who had migrated to England, in order to provide a place for them to keep their culture and heritage alive in their new home. The Club continues to carry out this mission through a range of activities for local residents from Irish Dance classes to traditional music and Irish plays.
I was privileged to be part of those celebrations including taking part in the closing Parade last Sunday which was a fine tribute to mark this Golden Jubilee.
The success of the Club has been a result of to the dedication and commitment of many local residents who have worked hard to keep it going – particularly during difficult times such as after the flooding in 1998 which badly damaged the club's facilities. I would like to publically give them my thanks, in particular to Chairman Brian Thurlow, and I hope that their work will be an inspiration to new generations of residents and to other parts of our community.
Our area is a diverse place but we all share a desire to make it a great place to live. Organisations like St Patrick's Club are part of that rich fabric and enable those moving into our community to make new friends and find ways to contribute to local life.
As the Member of Parliament I have been proud to support these organisations both locally and in Westminster. I am confident that St Patrick's will continue to go from strength to strength and as a new member of the Club I look forward to taking part in many events and celebrations to come.
I was deeply disappointed to learn of Warwick District Council's decision to renew the sexual entertainment licence for Shades' in Old Town this week. I have been following this issue closely and I have been in communication with local residents and Councillors who have stated their opposition to me.
I understand that Warwick District Council must follow the proper processes in awarding licences, but I believe that this decision does raise questions about local accountability. Ultimately, local residents must feel that they can influence the decisions made on their behalf both through the ballot box and through their own representations.
In this case both local Councillors representing the community and residents, in the form of over three hundred objections, sought to influence the process but yet they were unable to get the decision that they believe was in the interests of their area.
As Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington I have always sought to ensure that the voices of local people are heard on local issues that concern them, for example during the ongoing discussions around the Local Plan.
However we can only encourage local democratic participation if people feel that making their views known will make a difference. Unfortunately, this decision will only erode confidence in local democracy and I think that is what makes it so disappointing.
I will continue to do what I can to support residents in making their views known, whether that is in locally or nationally, but I hope that Warwick District Council will look closely at this decision and review how we can make the process more open and accountable.
Not supporting the Government on the 'Syria' vote was one of the hardest decisions I have made since becoming an MP. Since that opposition I have continued to monitor the situation and I believe that there are encouraging signs from the Assad regime that their chemical weapons will be destroyed – something that may encourage further diplomatic progress.
Britain should never stand on the sidelines during a crisis such as this. We live in an interdependent world where events that happen in one region can have significant impacts on the lives of everyone. The ongoing civil war in Syria is deeply damaging for the Middle East and this has repercussions for Britain.
However we must consider every option which is available to us. Diplomacy between the United States and Russia has now enabled some progress to take place, to start removing dangerous weapons from the country and easing regional tensions.
Britain has one of the most effective diplomatic services in the world - we have a role to play in these discussions; putting pressure on the Syrian Government to follow through with its commitments and get all sides to discuss the way towards peace.
We must also support Syrian refugees who are suffering from the consequences of the civil war. The UK has now donated more than £500m to help those that have been displaced and ensure that they receive the humanitarian services that they need – I believe that this is the right thing to do.
Although Britain has not engaged in military action in Syria we should not turn our back on this appalling situation. I will continue to support diplomatic measures that can bring an end to the violence in that country and begin the process of creating a political solution to this terrible civil war.
Party conference season has now ended with the Conservative Party's conference in Manchester finishing this week. I am keen to get on with tackling the issues that affect our community, especially supporting businesses in creating new jobs.
As I write this I have just watched the Prime Minister's speech from my constituency office in Leamington. I believe that he is right to say that we should look to the future with confidence. This is particularly true in our constituency where we have seen the number of people claiming benefits fall and a record number of new companies formed in Leamington this year.
But we cannot be complacent and we must continue to focus on dealing with the challenges that we face ahead.
At this conference I spoke at a number of events that looked at these issues from the cost of living and reducing poverty to improving our public services.
I believe that we can tackle these issues only if we come together as communities and tap into the talents of all. Across our area, we are fortunate to have many dedicated people who are prepared to help their fellow residents – as last weekend's Citizen of the Year Awards showed.
The Conservative Party is best when it delivers policies that enable people to make their contribution, whether it is starting a business, volunteering for a community group or providing for their family. I feel that this year's conference reflected that and I am confident that we can create new opportunities for everyone.
But I am glad to be back home, and I am looking forward to working with residents on how we can practically improve our community and make it an even better place to live.
On Saturday an appalling terrorist attack took place in Kenya which took the lives of nearly 70 people including three British nationals and two former residents of Leamington. Like all readers, my thoughts go out to those that have lost loved ones and those who have had friends or family injured during this despicable attack.
Although it is over 10 years since the September 11th attacks and over 8 years since July 7th bombings, the threat of terrorism remains and we must be vigilant both at home and abroad. Kenya is an example of the fluidity of international terrorist groups and how all countries need to work together to tackle this threat which is aimed not just at the West but the whole world.
The Prime Minister has rightly promised Kenya the expertise and support of the UK's armed forces in tackling the direct security threat posed by terrorists in Nairobi. But we must also continue to work with allies and partners across Africa and the Middle East to ensure that countries have the resources to identify and remove terrorists within their own borders.
One of the best ways that we can reduce the threat of global terrorism is through our international development programmes. As a Member of the International Development Committee I have seen first-hand the fantastic work that Britain is doing to help vulnerable communities have the sanitation that they need; provide the education that children and young people require and develop their economies.
Countries with low levels of development and where opportunities are few are breeding grounds for terrorism. If we can help to get these countries working for their people, especially for their young people, then we can make it difficult for extremists to spread their message of hate and reduce their ability to recruit.
Combating international terrorism will be a long process, but we do not have the option to sit back. As events in Kenya have shown, we must meet this challenge head on and I believe that Britain has a role to play in working with others to ensure that our world becomes a safer place.
Last Saturday I took part in the Saltisford Canal Trust Fun Weekend which saw a variety of different canal boats, craft stalls and demonstrations take place giving families a fun day out and educating people about the canal and its unique place in our community's history.
During the 18th and 19th centuries canals were vital communication networks for our country and helped power the industrial revolution. The Grand Union Canal was one of the most important canals in the country connecting the Midlands with the Thames and ensuring that goods could flow from the region to the rest of the world.
The Saltisford Canal Arm is the last surviving branch of that canal and is an important reminder of our industrial and commercial heritage. The work of the Trust in opening the canal up to the public and supporting the wonderful waterside gardens which are open to the public was one of the reasons why Warwick was able to win its Heart of England In Bloom Gold Award.
The Saltisford Canal Trust is a small charity which was set up over 25 years ago to restore the canal and ensure that it is open to the public. It has been supported by many dedicated local residents who have volunteered hundreds of hours to improve the Visitors Centre and to maintain the gardens.
Their contribution is crucial to the maintenance of the Canal and I would like to thank all of those who have given up their time to make the Fun Day possible and keeping the Canal and gardens in excellent condition. I am confident that with their support we can continue to maintain this important legacy of our past so that generations are able to come and appreciate its beauty as a piece of industrial engineering.
Last weekend I had the privilege to watch Warwick-based young people's theatre, Playbox, perform a special production of Wonderia in the Palace of Westminster. The performance was fantastic and the cast received a great reception from delegates who had come from all over the world for a conference being held by the Speaker of the House.
Playbox Theatre is a perfect example of the vibrant culture that we have in our local community. Although the contribution of the arts is often difficult to quantify, I know from speaking to young people who have been involved in Playbox and in other groups locally that they have benefited tremendously from the opportunity to learn new skills, make friends and gain experiences.
Playbox has been the work of two dedicated directors, Mary King and Stewart McGill, who have developed a theatre which is recognised across the UK as one of the leaders in its field. Their work helps to improve the quality of life for young people and gives them skills which will benefit them throughout their lives.
It is important that we recognise the contribution that Playbox and other arts and cultural organisations make to our local area and the interest that it draws into Warwick and Leamington. In order for our community to thrive we need to have a variety of things: a strong local economy; lively town centres and high streets; good local schools and hospitals but also a diverse cultural life.
We are fortunate to have a range of cultural events taking place every year including modern dance, music and plays. However if we want to keep our community as a cultural hub, then we need to involve young people at the earliest age possible.
From visiting our local schools I know that they all take this cultural education seriously and with local organisations such as Playbox, I am confident that our area will go from strength to strength. I hope that local residents will continue to support local culture and will take the chance to attend any of Playbox's excellent productions.
Last weekend saw the first LGBT Pride event in Warwickshire's history at the Pump Room Gardens and I was proud to be invited to open the event which was brought together many hundreds of local residents.
We have seen a great deal of progress in society on the issue of LGBT rights over the past fifty years and Pride events have been played a critical role in changing social attitudes and empowering LGBT communities. We should take the opportunity to celebrate the diversity in our community and this event was a perfect example of the values which make ours such a great place to live.
I love our area because it is such a welcoming environment to everyone who comes to live or visit. For this reason, I believe that our community was the perfect place to have the first Pride event in our county and as local Member of Parliament I was privileged to be able to speak on the day and show my support.
The credit for this event and its success must go to Daniel Browne and the team of volunteers who supported him in organising and managing it. We must never underestimate the amount of effort and time that is put in to making these events happen although I hope that Daniel and his team will be heartened by the enthusiastic response of local residents who attended.
As the end of summer draws near, we can look back on an excellent series of festivals and events in our community. And I hope that after this weekend we can look forward to adding another event into our already sizeable calendar of celebrations!
Chris White MP Statement on Syria:
"Like everyone I was deeply shocked and appalled by the images that were reported from Syria. I abhor the use of chemical weapons and I do not support the Assad regime's continuing use of violence. Despite those views, however, I did not believe that the interests of Britain or the Syrian people would be served by military intervention.
Syria is in the midst of a bloody civil war and punitive missile strikes are unlikely to either prevent the further use of chemical weapons or improve the situation on the ground. The only long term solution for this crisis is political and diplomatic. Britain has a role to play in helping all sides to get around the table and chart a peaceful transition, a role that would not have been made any easier through missile strikes.
Voting against your party is never easy, particularly when it is in Government, but I have a duty to represent the views of the residents of Warwick and Leamington – who are overwhelmingly against military intervention – and to consider the best interests of the country. I believe that I acted in this manner last night and I hope that we can now look forward to assessing what diplomatic effort Britain can make to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people."
Last Sunday saw the end of the hugely successful Warwick Rocks Festival of Food and Film – which has brought thousands of people into the centre of Warwick to visit a range of street stalls with a huge variety of food from all over the world and opened up our town so that people can watch great films such as Gladiator, Some Like it Hot, and Top Gun in the Market Place, the Castle and other local venues.
I would like to begin by paying tribute to the Warwick Rocks team that has created this festival and the many volunteers, businesses and local organisations who have contributed and made such a great showcase of Warwick.
People often ask me what I think is special about our community, and festivals such as this, for me, display all the things that make our area a great place to live.
The Food and Film Festival was driven by local residents who care passionately about our area and wanted to do something that would support the local economy as well as give people a great time. It also drew volunteers and businesses together to put on a series of events which have given a fantastic impression of our town to thousands of visitors.
This public spiritedness and care is what makes Warwick and Leamington such a great place to be a part of. We should never take for granted the countless hours of thought and preparation that go into creating the festivals and events which take place across our towns every year and which give us all a chance to come together, enjoy ourselves and celebrate our neighbourhood.
As the local Member of Parliament it has been my privilege to support these events over the years and as a resident, I only wish I could attend more. We are all rightly proud of our area, and this Festival has given us another reason to feel just that bit prouder.
Last week's jobs figures brought positive news for Warwick and Leamington and are part of a long downward trend in unemployment in our constituency.
July saw the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance in Warwick and Leamington fall by 34 from June to 1,204. This is the eleventh consecutive fall in the number of claimants in our area, a fall by nearly 40% since April 2010.
There was also good news in terms of youth unemployment which also fell slightly. Since 2010 the number of young people aged under 24 claiming Jobseeker's Allowance has fallen by 46%, and has been continually falling since the start of this year.
All of this has seen our constituency continue to rise up the rankings for highest levels of economically active people. In April 2010, Warwick and Leamington was ranked 414th out of 650 constituencies, now it is ranked 527th – the higher the ranking, the lower the level of unemployment.
While this news is welcome, we must not forget the many people in our community who are still looking for work, particularly young people who have just left school, college or university. We are fortunate to have great educational institutions in our area such as Warwickshire College as well as Coventry and Warwick universities – these are working hard with employers to ensure that students have the skills they need to find work and build careers.
We also need to do more to support those who have been out of work, especially those who have not found employment in over a year, and for that reason I support any initiative which seeks to give long term support for those who have struggled to find work.
The credit for this reduction in unemployment however, has to go to the local businesses in Warwick and Leamington who are working hard to expand and take on new employees. I am confident that we will see further progress and I will continue to do what I can to support local businesses so they can continue to grow and create jobs.
Last Monday marked International Youth Day which saw countries across the world celebrate the contribution of young people and consider how we can improve their lives, particularly in the developing world.
I believe that it is important for us to recognise the work young people do whether that is by volunteering in local projects, developing new ideas to help improve our communities or their educational achievements.
Encouraging engagement is crucial and as Member of Parliament, I have sought to do what I can to help younger residents feel involved in our community by visiting local schools and providing work experience in my offices in Leamington and Westminster.
On top of my work as an MP, I am also a trustee of the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs (WAYC) which delivers a range of inspirational projects and assists volunteers who run 140 youth clubs across our region. As a Trustee I have seen how significant an impact good projects can have on the prospects of those who participate, and we are fortunate to have organisations like WAYC providing support in our area.
At the end of the last Parliamentary session I was delighted to be elected as the new Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the National Citizen Service and Volunteering. The National Citizen Service (NCS) is a fantastic opportunity for young people in our area to develop new skills and take part in a "rite of passage" which will stay with them for the rest of their lives. The NCS will be offering 30,000 places this year and the ambition is to offer 90,000 places in 2014, making it one of the largest youth programmes in the world.
I believe that NCS has great potential and alongside existing youth projects, I hope that we can continue to offer the chance to develop and learn. Our young people are the key to our future, and it is right to take the time every year to recognise their important contribution to society.
The formal consultation period on the Local Plan has now ended and I have received hundreds of emails, letters and telephone calls from residents who wish to object to the current proposals.
It is important that local people make their views known about the future development of our area and I would like to thank all those that have participated in the consultation and ensured that a wide range of opinions will be considered.
Although this consultation has closed, this does not mean that local people do not have the right to continue to express their views. In a democratic society, local people should be able to raise their concerns at any time and I would urge residents who have not had the opportunity to take part in the formal consultation to still contact Warwick District Council with their views.
To help residents register their objections, I created a petition on my website which called for Warwick District Council to reconsider the Local Plan and work with local Town Councils and Parish Councils to create a consensus on the future of planning in our community. At the time of writing, in just over one week, over 1,300 residents have already signed this petition. I hope that this will remind Warwick District Council that local concerns about the Plan will not go away merely because the consultation has finished.
I will continue to make the views of local people known to Warwick District Council. I believe that it is my duty as Member of Parliament to support residents in this way and I am sure we will have further discussions on the Plan in months ahead.
You can sign my petition here
I wrote to Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, about the Local Plan before the end of the last Parliamentary session and I received this response from the Minister for Planning, Nick Boles MP, on the 30th July.
I believe that residents should have be able to read this response and I have put a link to the letter below:
Chris White MP
Some residents have asked about the response that I received from Cllr Doody regarding my letter to him raising concerns about the Local Plan.
I have now put a copy of the response online which you can read by clicking the link below:
Chris White MP
This week we have witnessed an historic occasion with the birth of a son to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. My heartfelt congratulations go out to their Royal Highnesses and I am sure that they will make caring and loving parents.
The past few years have been very positive for our country. The Duke and Duchess' wedding, the Diamond Jubilee, the Olympic Games, the recent sporting successes such as the British & Irish Lions, tennis and cycling and now the Royal Birth have enabled us to celebrate our nation's rich heritage.
It may seem peculiar in our modern age for millions of people in Britain and across the Commonwealth to still be interested in the birth of one boy, but I think that it shows the appreciation and support that exists for the Monarchy. The Queen and her predecessors have provided rallying points for our country during times of crisis and removed politics from the duties of the Head of State.
This newly born Prince will ensure the continuity of that system, potentially until the end of this century, and allow us to look forward with confidence to a bright future for this ancient institution.
I remember during Her Majesty's last visit to our community, to open the Warwickshire Justice Centre, the considerable excitement there was surrounding her arrival and the good will that her visit generated. I am confident that when this future King has the chance to visit in decades to come, he will receive a similarly warm welcome.
The country will watch with interest to see this baby grow and mature into our future Monarch, but for now, we should take the time as a community to celebrate this event.
I was delighted to start the week by visiting All Saints Junior School in Warwick who have received an International Schools Award from the British Council. The Award is for those schools that successfully integrate international issues and concerns into the learning of their pupils.
We live in an increasingly globalised world and issues which take place on the far side of the globe can have an impact on everyday lives from food prices to climate change. It is important that children and young people in our community understand this and are able to appreciate the impact that this interconnectedness will have on their future.
I took part in a Question and Answer session with the children and I could tell from the high quality of the questions they asked they care passionately about the challenges that others face in poorer parts of the world. One of the issues that concerned them most was provision of education in developing countries such as Sierra Leone which has a strong link with Warwick District.
As a Member of the International Development Committee I have seen firsthand how poor education can hold back the most struggling communities, crushing aspiration and preventing economic growth which is essential in creating better jobs and improved quality of life.
UKAid, the British development programme, aims to help 9 million children receive primary education and 2 million children secondary school education, building 60,000 new classrooms to help achieve this. But we also need to ensure that girls benefit from better education and reduce gender inequality in developing countries.
I am proud of the work that the UK is doing internationally on this and other issues, and after taking part in the All Saints School assembly, I am confident that the UK will continue to make an important contribution for generations to come.
Last week I voted in favour of the EU Referendum Bill which was passed unanimously by the House of Commons, 304 votes in favour with none voting against. I believe that this Bill is an important step forward in the debate about our country's future relationship with the European Union and I support the principle that the public must have the final say on this issue.
All sides recognise that the European Union needs to be reformed and I believe that the Prime Minister is right to seek to renegotiate our relationship with the EU, not only for the benefit of Britain but also for other EU member states. There are benefits to being a member of the EU, but increasingly those are being countered by negatives such as excessive regulation, growing waste and political paralysis. Unless we can change the structure of the EU, I believe we would be right to seriously consider our position within it.
As someone who has passed a Private Member's Bill through Parliament I know how hard the process is. There are many obstacles and the opposition of just a handful of members can prevent its passage. We need to build a consensus and I believe that other parties must recognise the need to put a referendum into law so that people feel confident that they will have their say.
Whilst it is important that we consider the future of the European Union this must not be at the exclusion of other pressing issues and I hope that we get this Bill passed quickly so that we can continue with efforts to create jobs and growth in our economy – something I know residents believe are priorities for our community and our country.
Last week I voted against the Government's High Speed Rail (Preparation) Bill. This Bill would provide the Department for Transport the authority to spend money preparing for High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) in advance of a further hybrid bill which will outline the proposed route and the final details of the line.
I believe that HS2 is unnecessary and will not benefit Warwick and Leamington. Moreover, it has the potential to waste billions of pounds of public money at a time when we need to generate maximum value out of every penny we spend. An indication of this was the Secretary of State for Transport's announcement last week that the cost of HS2 would rise by an additional £8 billion above the previously quoted price.
Even before the line has been built the Government will be spending over £400m by 2014-15 in preparation of the line. This is despite the Permanent Secretary for the Department for Transport accepting this week that the business case for HS2 was based on a survey that was over ten years old, before the advent of smartphones and Wifi access on our train network.
We need to invest in our rail infrastructure, something I know firsthand as someone who regularly commutes to London, like thousands of other local residents. I know how important a fast and reliable train service is, but I do not believe HS2 is the investment we need. There are many upgrades that we could make to existing networks through lengthening platforms, improving rolling stock, more efficient planning and we should also invest in other parts of our communications network.
I will continue to campaign against HS2 and I hope that the Government will reconsider its position as this Bill goes through Parliament.
On Sunday I was pleased be invited to speak at the Leamington & Warwick Branch of the Royal Air Force Association's lunch to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the RAFA and the 70th Anniversary of the famous "Dambuster" Raid.
As we approach Armed Forces Day on the 29th June, I believe that it is important for us to remember the work of our Armed Services and the sacrifices that they have made in order to keep us safe. The Royal Air Force Association is an organisation that helps support thousands of former personnel who have served our country and provide them with a chance to meet with former friends and comrades as well as give advice and support to those that need it.
Becoming a member of the RAF or Army or Navy is very different to many other careers and requires unique character and skill. Although technology may change, it is these traits that make our Armed Forces the best in the world demonstrated by the heroism of those brave men who took part in the Dambuster's raid.
I was grateful to have the opportunity to pay my tribute but we need to make sure that we do not forget their contribution to the country. This is particularly true of the upcoming anniversary of the First World War, which will see events taking place across the country.
Though the Great War itself may have departed from living memory, we must ensure that we remember this conflict and those that gave their lives. I am confident that our community will be tremendously supportive, but that would not be possible without organisations such as RAFA and other Armed Forces charities and associations.
I am proud of our community's association with the Armed Forces but it is a covenant that we must renew with every generation.
Today I wrote an open letter to Cllr Doody regarding the Local Plan. You can read the letter below:
Dear Cllr Doody,
I am writing to you regarding the proposed Local Plan for Warwick District.
I have received numerous representations from constituents over the past few months about the Local Plan and the overwhelming majority of them have been negative. Residents are concerned about a number of issues related to the Local Plan, but I believe that they can be broken down into four main areas: fairness; infrastructure; democratic control and numbers.
While I appreciate the efforts that WDC has made to protect Green Belt land in the north of the district, there is significant concern about the proportion of homes which are being built on the edges of Warwick, Leamington and Whitnash.
I believe that all residents understand that the need for new homes may result in new housing being proposed in their area, but I know that residents to the south of our towns are concerned about the proportion of homes that are being proposed around them.
According to the consultation document around 70% of all development will take place on the edge of Warwick, Leamington & Whitnash. Moreover, it is generally accepted that if additional housing is required, this will also take place in these areas. This places an unacceptable burden upon residents in these communities and leads residents to question whether these proposals are fair.
Any sustainable Local Plan must propose an equitable division of new homes to be built, and I believe that this Local Plan does not propose such a division.
The allocation of the new homes has further raised concerns about infrastructure. The recent problems that have taken place with regards to the High Street/Jury Street roadworks has already undermined public confidence in the ability of local authorities to deliver infrastructure improvements. The allocation of such a large amount of new developments south of Warwick, Leamington and Whitnash has led to concerns as to whether their local infrastructure will be able to cope.
I share these concerns with local residents and I believe that the number of homes proposed alongside the concentrated nature of the developments would put an intolerable strain on local infrastructure even when taking into account the proposed upgrades. Moreover, it is likely that the upgrades in themselves would be a considerable inconvenience for local residents and could have an impact on the local economy.
Another issue which has been raised consistently with me by local residents is democratic control over the Local Plan.
I appreciate that WDC is currently undertaking a consultation; however, many residents are concerned that their voices will not be heard and I would like an assurance that the Local Plan may be significantly altered if local residents make clear their opposition to the current proposals.
While I understand that developing a Local Plan is a long and difficult process, ultimately the final say should rest with local residents and no Local Plan should be put into effect which does not have the approval of the vast majority of local residents.
The most overwhelming concern that has been expressed to me, however, is that of the overall number of developments that are proposed in this Local Plan.
The Local Plan at present seeks to build over 12,000 homes over the next 16 years, on top of the nearly 6,000 dwellings that have been completed between 2001/2 and 2010/11. This would increase the number of dwellings by around 20% over the next two decades.
The Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment complied by WDC has indicated that the total capacity of the District is around 13,385 dwellings over the years between 2014-2029 – yet this Local Plan would use up 91.8% of total capacity. This would leave very little room for future expansions and would mean future development would most likely have to come at the expense of the local environment.
This is not sustainable in the long term, and I believe that WDC needs to consider the reasons behind increased pressure on local housing. According to the Local Development Framework, Annual Monitoring Report 2011, ""the majority of this [housing] growth has
resulted from people moving into the District from other areas, notably the urban areas of Coventry and Birmingham." It goes on to say that "[a] key factor behind this trend has been the particularly high level of house building that has taken place within the District during that period."
It seems clear that the reason why there is additional pressure for local homes is the influx of residents moving out of the cities of Coventry and Birmingham to live in Warwick District. The more homes that are built, the more residents are likely to move out from these cities into the area, putting more pressure on the local community as these new residents will have families that will eventually need to have new homes built for them so that they can continue to live in the area.
Large scale development, therefore, is unlikely to solve the housing issue locally; rather it will exacerbate a suburban trend from Birmingham and Coventry.
The Council needs to act now in order to bring down development to a sustainable level and a smaller number of proposed developments will enable this trend to be reduced and ensure that we can both create new homes locally and preserve our local environment.
Residents whom I have received representations from would generally like to see a significant reduction in the number of homes that are proposed. A reduction would also help to alleviate concerns about the proportion of homes being built south of Leamington, the impact on local infrastructure and democratic control.
We need a Local Plan which can balance both the need for affordable homes for local residents and their families alongside environmental sustainability. This is a difficult balance, but we should not accept any Plan which is not able to achieve this.
Warwick District is a wonderful place to live, and we need a Local Plan which maintains the quality of life which residents currently enjoy.
I would, therefore, urge you and your colleagues to reconsider your proposals and look again at the number of developments, their location, the impact on local infrastructure whilst respecting the views of local residents.
I am confident that by working with local residents a Local Plan can be created that achieves the best outcome for our community.
I look forward to your response.
Chris White MP
Last weekend I was pleased to attend the Leamington Peace Festival and to visit many of the fantastic stalls that were there. The Peace Festival has been a part of our community for many years and is a great opportunity for local residents to come together and experience a range of different stalls, food, music and campaigns and to find out more information about important global issues.
It is a tribute to the interest that local residents take in the world around them that the Peace Festival remains such a success. It is easy to simply switch off the television news when it turns to the rest of world, but events happening thousands of miles away impact our daily lives in many ways – from the price of food on our tables to the environment all around us.
At the Festival I met with campaigners from Mid-Warwickshire Amnesty International Group who were manning a stall. They raised the issue of women's rights in Afghanistan and as a Member of the International Development Committee I know how important this issue is for the future development of the country.
A stable country is only possible when women are an equal part of an inclusive community. I know that this is an issue which many residents expressed their interest in during the Festival and I will be continuing to look closely at this issue through my work with the Committee.
Our area is a great place to live, not least because of the rich diversity, that exists and the Peace Festival is one of the many events which bind our community together. We should be proud of the Festival and I would also like to give my deepest thanks for those that organised it and took part.
This week is Carers Week and I would like to take the opportunity to thank all careers for the work that they do in caring for some of the most vulnerable people in our community, and I was pleased that the Prime Minister recognised this contribution in the House of Commons.
On Monday I was pleased to be invited to support at an event organised by Guideposts Trust – a charity which provides direct services for carers of people with dementia; recovering form mental health issues or learning disabilities.
Carers are unsung heroes in our society, often giving up large parts of their life in order to look after others, usually close relatives. As well as being a significant physical challenge, it can also be an emotional one and it is important that we provide support and respite for those that take on caring responsibilities.
While a great deal of focus goes on those that need care, often those that provide care are not taken into consideration and we are fortunate to have organisations like Guideposts Trust ensuring that the voices of carers are heard as well.
We also need to do more to provide information to carers about the services that are available to them. Often carers can feel alone, and we need to do everything we can to help combat those feelings of isolation.
Without the efforts of our carers, the costs whether physical, emotional or financial, of looking after vulnerable people would be considerably higher and additional pressure would be put on public services. We cannot afford to ignore this issue and I will continue to do what I can to support carers in our community both locally and in Westminster.
As this week is Volunteers Week, I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to those members of our community who are doing fantastic work by volunteering for a range of community groups. We are fortunate to be home to many charities and it is right that we take the time each year to thank volunteers who give up their time for many good causes.
I feel the number of volunteering groups and community centres in Leamington and Warwick shows the warmth of our local area and since becoming Member of Parliament it is something I have greatly admired. For example, the Leamington and Warwick Cancer Research UK fundraising group has raised the most money in the Midlands. It has managed to raise a fantastic £65,000 in the year running up to April 2013, and this is just one of many examples of the generosity shown by local people.
I am also pleased to learn that The Gap Community Centre, which is based in Warwick, has been awarded the Queen's Award for Voluntary Service 2013. They run a huge amount of events and activities to support a wide range of people, including The Gap Youth and after attending the AGM recently, I know that they will be continuing to work hard to support local residents.
It is important that the people who run these organisations and volunteer in them are acknowledged and recognised for the valuable work they do in supporting the community and I will continue to do what I can to support and promote their activities. If you run or know of any similar organisations and would like to talk to me about them, then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Palace of Westminster, where Parliament is based, is not only an important building as the seat of our democracy but it is also a place of great historical significance. Although the fire in 1834 destroyed the original medieval palace, with the exception of Westminster Hall, the Victorian reconstruction is one of the most recognisable buildings in the world.
Hundreds of thousands of people come to Parliament every year to see the history at firsthand and witness the traditions that still play an essential role in the workings of the House of Commons and House of Lords. Many visitors are children and students who are taken on tours by the Parliamentary Tour Guides. Some 400 local residents have visited Westminster this year already, on trips arranged by my office.
Like many other Members of Parliament, one of the things that most inspired me to become involved in politics was learning about British history and the many great figures that have influenced our national life. So I think it is invaluable to show people, particularly youngsters, where leaders such as Winston Churchill spoke or William Pitt debated - bringing these great politicians to life, and help inspire them to take a greater interest in politics.
As many readers have probably seen on television or in the papers, there has been discussion about moving Parliament out of the Palace of Westminster in order to renovate a site which has been in almost continuous use for nearly 1,000 years. However I hope that we are able to find ways to keep Parliament in the Palace for as long as possible. Not only so that people have the opportunity to see it for themselves; but also because the Palace creates a special atmosphere which encourages everyone to remember the sacrifices that have been made to preserve our democratic way of life.
If any resident would like to find out more about having a tour around the Palace of Westminster, they can email me at email@example.com and I can send more information.
Tonight (Tuesday) I will be voting in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill which will enable same sex couples to legally obtain a civil marriage.
I know that this issue is one that stimulates powerful views both in favour and against, but I believe that is right that, certainly as far as civil marriage is concerned, all individuals should be treated equally and have the same access to civil institutions. More fundamentally I believe that two people, regardless of whether they are of the same sex, who love each other and wish to make a commitment within the institution of civil marriage, should be able to do so.
While I believe that all people should be given equal access to civil institutions such as marriage, I also believe that people should retain the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression. If I believed that this legislation would force religious organisations against their will to perform same sex marriages I would not have voted in favour of it. If I believed that this Bill would discriminate against people with deeply held personal views on this subject I would not have voted in favour of it.
However this legislation will not infringe upon the civil liberties of those who do not agree with same sex marriage. Ministers and legal advice from the Government has been clear that these freedoms will be protected and individuals who not be discriminated against because of their beliefs.
Given these protections I believe that it is right for the House of Commons to pass this Bill and I hope that this will enable civil marriage to remain relevant and important within our society for generations to come. But perhaps more importantly, I hope that this will give thousands of same sex couples the chance to marry.
Political discussion this week has been dominated by debate about our future relationship with the European Union and this evening (Wednesday) I will vote in favour of an amendment to the Queen's Speech which 'expresses regret' that an EU referendum bill was not included in the Government's programme for this year.
I understand for many people in our community, and around the country, that there is a desire to have a say on our future with Europe. For that reason the Prime Minister took the decision to renegotiate the UK's membership of the European Union and to hold a referendum on the outcomes of that renegotiation.
There is an understandable wish for legislation that will ensure such a referendum will take place. I believe that it would not be right to have an immediate referendum on the EU, before we have renegotiated, because it would not give people a real choice between a reformed EU or leaving the organisation altogether.
That being said, I believe that putting onto statute a commitment to hold a referendum on the EU in 2017, once there has been a chance for talks on a reformed UK membership, will help to give the public confidence that their views are being taken into account and ensure that this issue will not be ignored.
The Conservative Party has made clear its position that it will be campaigning in the next general election on the promise of delivering a referendum on this issue and that is a stance that I fully support. The Liberal Democrats and Labour Party have not yet made clear their position.
I hope that all sides will recognise the need for a fundamental reform of our relationship with the European Union and will support putting a commitment to hold a referendum into law so that we guarantee that people will have their say on this very important issue.
Last week the people of Warwick and Leamington voted in the Warwickshire County Council elections. Although the turnout was low, I am grateful to everyone who voted, for whatever party they felt best represented their views. I would also like to take this opportunity to congratulate both returning and new County Councillors and thank those who lost their seats for their work on behalf of local residents.
Elections are important not only because we elect people to represent residents at a local level but because they also provide a chance for people to send a message to local and national politicians. It is important for councillors, Members of Parliament and Governments to listen to the concerns that people have expressed.
The past few years have been difficult for our country and many household budgets have been under pressure. We need to re-double our efforts to help people with the cost of living and ensure that we are creating jobs so that people can better support themselves and their families. I believe that we need to maintain a strong focus on these areas so that we can help to improve everyone's quality of life.
I also hope that the elections will encourage the new County Council to listen carefully to the views of local residents on a range of issues and will take a collaborative approach, working with them and community organisations to develop solutions and taking on board their views when making policy decisions.
One of the positive aspects of elections is that they give local authorities a chance to refresh themselves and look again at some recent decisions. So I hope that the new Cabinet will look carefully at issues like the proposed changes to the Integrated Disability Service and reconsider.
I will continue to ensure that the voice of local residents is heard by all our local authorities and in Westminster, and I look forward to working with the new councillors representing residents in Warwick and Leamington and I hope we can work together on behalf of our community.
This week I was pleased to take Secretary of State for the Environment, Owen Paterson, to visit Action21 – a local charity which supports sustainable living in our local community. The Minister was impressed by the innovation and enthusiasm behind the work that Action21 does and I believe that Action21 shows the importance of developing local responses to environmental challenges.
Action21 is perhaps most famous for its Re-Useful Centre where people can come to buy a range of products from bikes to kitchen appliances – products that have been repaired so that they can be used again. Every year households throw away or dispose of goods that with a little care and repair can be put to good use again. In bringing these products back to use, not only can we reduce the amount going to landfill but we can also provide low cost products to local people and help with the cost of living.
Community organisations like Action21 are part of the reason why Warwick and Leamington is such an attractive place for energy and low carbon businesses to base themselves. Before the last election, I organised an Energy Forum which brought together local businesses, education providers and community groups to discuss how we can strengthen our areas reputation as a green energy hub.
Next week, I'll be hosting another meeting of the forum in order to discuss how we can develop our area in the future and, especially, ensure that we create new jobs in the sector for our young people. If you are a local business or community organisation and would like to be involved in this energy forum, then please get in contact with my office at firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the things that makes our area a great place to live is the number of independent retailers that we have. Across Warwick and Leamington these shops bring a unique character to our high streets and community, attracting visitors and creating jobs. I am proud to represent a constituency which so many fantastic local businesses.
Tomorrow (Wednesday), I will join the owners of Warwick Books, outside Downing Street to present a petition to the Prime Minister calling on Amazon UK to pay its fair share of corporation tax. Last year, Amazon made £3.3 billion in sales in the UK but yet is not registered to pay corporation tax in the UK. While I respect the contribution that Amazon has made to our economy in other ways, I believe that every business operating and making a profit in the UK should pay their fair share of corporation tax.
Many independent retailers are under pressure in the present financial climate, and we need to ensure that there is a level playing field for all businesses, large or small, in the UK. This is not just an issue about Amazon but a range of multi-national companies which are gaining access to the UK by arranging their tax affairs in order to avoid making a contribution to the public finances. This leaves smaller businesses having to take on a larger burden, preventing fair competition and eventually forcing some out of business altogether.
The Government has already promised to raise this issue at an international level during the next G8 summit in Northern Ireland. But we need to do more. Thanks to the efforts of Frances and Keith, we are already ensuring that this issue remains at the top of the agenda in Westminster.
This week I voted against the Government in support of an amendment put forward by the House of Lords – the amendment would have enabled local authorities to opt-out of the proposed reform of rules for permitted development.
The change to the rules on permitted development would have allowed people to build conservatories and other extensions of up to eight metres for a detached house and up to six metres for a semi-detached house without planning permission.
I believe that people should be able to make changes and additions to their homes, and I know that for many homeowners adding a conservatory or extension is a long held aspiration. However, while people should have the opportunity to improve their homes this has to be carried out in a way which does not affect other residents and which does not damage the character of the area that they live in.
In some parts of the country these reforms may be beneficial, but in other parts communities may want to retain planning control. For that reason, I believe that local planning authorities, such as Warwick District, should be given the opportunity to opt-out of the proposals at least for the short term, while they consult with their communities and make a formal decision.
The Government is rightly seeking to make changes to regulations which can benefit our economy and in general I support any proposals that aim to create jobs and support growth. But we need to do so in a way which is sensitive to the particular circumstances of communities across the country and I believe that this reform did not take this principle into account.
The Communities and Local Government Secretary, Eric Pickles MP, said in response to the debate that he would work with MPs to find a compromise to this issue and new proposals are due to put before Parliament shortly. I hope that he will take on board the legitimate desire of local communities to retain control over planning in their area.
This week has marked the passing of one of the most defining figures in British politics. Baroness Thatcher was a controversial politician and the impact of her policies are still passionately debated, as we have seen in the media just this week. However, whether you loved her or loathed her, she has been one of the most significant Prime Ministers since the Second World War.
Like many of people of my generation the debate around Baroness Thatcher's politics dominated my formative years, and as such I admired her as a conviction politician. Her period in office has left an enduring legacy which continues to this day.
Her time as Prime Minister was one of the most eventful in recent years. In my view, her most significant achievement was to work with Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev to end the Cold War, making not only Britain but the world a safer place – a world which was unrecognizable from the time she took office.
Despite the undoubted controversy around her policies, it is right to recognise her historic achievement as our first female Prime Minister. She rose through the ranks during a time when men dominated political life.
Yesterday I learnt that Parliament was to be recalled to mark the end of her life and her funeral will be attended by heads of state and senior politicians from around the world. Whatever the reader's perception of Margaret Thatcher this is a time to reflect on the way that this country changed under her leadership.
My thoughts, and I am sure the thoughts of readers, will be with Baroness Thatcher's family during this very difficult time.
One subject has dominated the news agenda this week: welfare. April will see a number of changes taking place such as a new cap on benefits and the first pilot of the new Universal Credit. This has led to a great deal of focus nationally on the future of our welfare system.
I strongly believe in the principles that led to the creation of the welfare state. I believe that there should be a safety net for those that have fallen upon hard times and that we should help the most vulnerable in our society. However there is a balance that needs to be struck between having a safety net that helps get people back on their feet and empowers them to take back control of their lives, and a net which holds people back and traps them into a life of welfare dependency – an issue I raised in my Maiden Speech in Parliament.
The Government's reforms have been targeted at striking this balance so that there are incentives for people to find work and ensure that we better target help to those that need it the most. The benefits cap will, for example, make our system fairer so that no one can receive more in benefits than the average household income. The Universal Credit system will support people back into work by enabling people to keep more of their income as they reduce their dependence on benefits. These are necessary reforms so that we create the best possible system and reduce the overall cost of welfare.
That being said, we need to ensure that we protect the most vulnerable during these difficult times and for that reason I have made clear my opposition to Warwickshire County Council's decision to reduce funding for the Integrated Disability Service which supports disabled children in our community.
We need to be creative in finding savings so that we can maintain important services like the IDS. But I also believe that we can have a welfare system which supports those that need it most, costs less and helps people back into work – this requires change, but if we make the right choices now, we will see the benefits in the long term.
Easter is fast approaching and as Parliament prepares to break for a recess, I have been working to try and promote some of the causes that I have campaigned on since the General Election.
Last week, we held the first preparatory meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group's Inquiry into the UK's industrial culture. This Inquiry will bring together MPs, academics, manufacturers and policy experts together to find out what is the culture within the UK's manufacturing sector and whether that culture is holding back job creation and growth. The Inquiry will produce a report later this year and I hope will produce recommendations for businesses and for Government on how we can improve our performance and ensure that Britain remains a hub of manufacturing in the 21st Century.
This week, on the last day of the session, I hosted a meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Enterprise on the future of social investment. I am a passionate supporter of social enterprises, charities and community organisations which work to help some of the most vulnerable people in our society. However, if they are going to thrive in the years ahead, they need access to funding and social investment is a way for banks, pension funds and private individuals to use their money for the good of everyone.
In the recent Budget, the Chancellor announced a review into a social investment tax relief to encourage more people to use their money this way, after a long campaign by myself and organisations both within Parliament and outside. In this meeting we discussed the future of social enterprise and social investment and a look the future of how we can fund innovative projects across our country.
Over the recess I am looking forward to visiting a range of local businesses and community groups and holding my regular surgeries - the most important part of my work as a Member of Parliament. If you would like to meet with me or would like me to visit your organisation, then please get in touch at email@example.com or on 01926315888.
In the meantime, may I wish everyone a Happy Easter!
Since being elected one of my commitments has been to ensure I engage with our younger residents. They are the future of our community and I believe that it is important that we listen to and understand their views and aspirations.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to regularly visit our local schools and on Monday morning, before taking the train to London, I had the chance to visit Trinity in Leamington. I met with students who showed me around the facilities and had a meeting with Headteacher where we discussed some of the school's priorities.
We are particularly fortunate in our community to have a number of excellent local secondary schools, and it is important that we give them every support so that they can continue to provide the best possible start in life for our young people.
I saw this support from the local community in person last Friday, when I had the pleasure to attend the Myton School Festival of Arts. This festival saw students perform a wide programme of events covering Drama, Art, Music and Dance. The festival was well attended by parents and local residents and was a demonstration of the support that the local community gives to our schools and from speaking to students, I know the positive difference events like this can make to their lives. This I hope will become one of Myton's annual traditions, showcasing some of the exceptional work of our talented young people.
My first activity in the House of Commons was to meet with the Warwickshire Youth Forum which saw young people from across the county come to Westminster for a tour of Parliament and then take part in a question and answer session on local and national issues. I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the forum – I believe it is vital that we get young people engaged in the political process, so that they feel they can make a positive difference and help to shape the future of our community.
Last Sunday I had the privilege of hearing children from our community sing in the Royal Albert Hall as part of the Armonico Consort Gala Concert, an event which brought together children from across the country who have participated in the Armonico Consort Academy – an interactive education programme in which 100,000 young people have taken part.
The children were clearly thrilled to be given the opportunity to sing in our national home of music and a venue which is a testament to our country's musical heritage and I was proud to see so many local children performing excellently on the big stage.
Over the past few years we have seen a variety of television programmes, such as The Choir on the BBC, and the success of groups such as the 'Military Wives' which notably sung last year in the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Concert.
I believe that this is due to the sense of community spirit that choirs bring and the opportunity they give for people from all walks of life to come together with a shared purpose. We are fortunate in our area to have many excellent choirs, with the Warwickshire Boys Choir reaching the Grand Final of Choir of the Year in 2010, and they add a wonderful cultural variety to our community.
Choirs are also important for our young people, giving them a chance to make new friends and to gain confidence which can make a big impact on their future personal development. Armonico Consort's Academy and Concerts which have brought together schools from across the country are an example of the positive difference that access to music can give to our young people and I hope we will see many more initiatives like this.
I am confident that we will see choirs in Warwickshire continue to go from strength to strength and I look forward to attending many more excellent concerts alongside residents in the seasons ahead.
Next week is National Apprenticeship Week and is a chance for us to recognise the importance of apprenticeships and celebrate the achievements of those that have taken part in or have completed an apprenticeship.
Unfortunately, apprenticeships had been neglected by governments of all parties, but since the election we have seen a rapid expansion of the programme. The number of apprenticeships has increased 86% since 2010 with 520,600 people starting them last year – with 131,160 starts in Engineering and Manufacturing since the beginning of this Parliament.
Apprenticeships play a vital role in helping to prepare people, particularly young people, for careers in a range of sectors and providing the practical skills that our businesses need. As co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group I have recognised the need, from speaking with businesses, to offer apprenticeships and promote this pathway to young people.
We are fortunate to have Warwickshire College in our local area, which provides excellent apprenticeships and works with local businesses to ensure that people develop the right skills to gain employment. I have also been supporting the Coventry and Warwickshire City Deal which plans to develop our local skills base by getting more people to take this route to work in manufacturing and engineering.
I believe that our area has great potential to be an engine for growth not only regionally but nationally in a range of sectors, from video games to high tech manufacturing. But in order to realise this potential, we need to invest in skills.
I will continue to champion apprenticeships in Parliament and ensure that they are given the importance they deserve in our education system. However, I hope that this week employers across our area will consider the benefits of hiring apprentices and the potential they have to provide value not only for their business, but for the wider community.
If you are a business and would like more information on hiring an apprentice, then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week Warwick Hospital will pay off the last instalment of the working capital loan it took up in March 2007 to improve services and turn around the performance of Warwick Hospital – a loan which was advocated in an important campaign by the Observer newspaper.
The turnaround in the Hospital's fortune has been dramatic since then. Under a strong leadership team, led by Chief Executive Glen Burley and with the support and dedication of all the staff, Warwick Hospital was rated as the most improved hospital by CHKS in 2012. It is now one of the top 40 hospitals in England and the 4th most recommended NHS acute hospital in the UK.
Having a good local hospital is something that we all want. It reassures us that if our loved ones are ill, that they can get the best treatment possible and I am proud that our community has come together to support Warwick Hospital and the developments that have taken place.
The reason for Warwick Hospital's success has been the recognition that financial stability is not the end goal – improving care for patients is the central objective. The paying off of debt is welcome news, but the real story is the improvement in quality for patients. This has been driven by improvements in services through the development of the Aylesford Cancer Unit, modern theatres and facilities, creating new wards and brining in new equipment.
In the long term it is improving care that will lead keep our hospital in good financial health and we have seen all too recently, the dangers that emerge when hospitals chase targets rather than focusing on patients.
We can never rest on our laurels and I know that the staff and management of Warwick Hospital see this as only the beginning to even better services, and I will continue to support those improvements in any way that I can. That being said, I know that all readers will join me in congratulating Warwick Hospital and thank the nurses, doctors, other health workers, management and volunteers for the work they have done, and continue to do, in helping our community.
Over the past few years, Leamington has witnessed the rapid growth of a sector which is likely to play a significant role in the global economy in the decades ahead: video games. Leamington is already home to many excellent businesses that are developing a range of innovative and creative products which are helping our area to establish a reputation as one of the hubs of the UK industry.
Since the beginning of the year I have held an increasing number of meetings with local games companies and I also hosted a visit by the Minister for Creative Industries to Leamington, or "Silicon Spa" as it is becoming known in the business, to see some of our local developers and apprentices at first hand. Following on from this, I will be speaking this evening at a gaming event hosted by TIGA (The Independent Game Developers Association), an organisation which represents many video games companies in our area, to continue to raise the profile of this sector.
This is all part of a growing interest in the work of the video games industry and the potential that it holds for our local economy. These businesses already employ hundreds of people locally, many of them in highly paid and skilled positions, building on our strong further and higher education institutions like Warwickshire College and Warwick University. And I believe that we can, and should, ensure that we keep this potential at the core of our planning for the years ahead.
I believe this sector will play an increasingly important role in the British economy as we seek to build on our country's long history of design and cultural innovation. Alongside colleagues in Parliament, I pushed for the Government to introduce a Video Games Tax Relief, to help our local businesses compete with competitors in countries like Canada and France, which will be coming into effect this year. But we need to do more if we are going to create jobs for the future.
I will be continuing to work with local businesses to see how we can remove obstacles to growth, attract new investment, ensure that our young people have the right skills to get jobs and enable these companies to contribute to our local economy. But I am confident that by working together we can strengthen our reputation as a centre of excellence.
This week I was re-appointed co-Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG) alongside my Labour colleague, Barry Sheerman MP. Over the past two years, I have worked hard with Barry and others, to raise the profile of manufacturing in Westminster and I am pleased that other members of the group have saw fit to re-appoint me for a second time.
The AMPG achieved a number of successes last year, most notably securing changing the Annual Investment Allowance in the Autumn Statement last December, which will see businesses allowed to invest up to £250,000 over the next two years tax free. I believe that this will support manufacturers, particularly our small and medium sized businesses, at a time when they need to invest to stay competitive.
We also sought to encourage a better understanding of manufacturing our regions, and I was pleased to host a visit to the Warwick Manufacturing Group, based at Warwick University last June. The visit was well attended and I believe we need to do more to ensure that policy makers consider the needs of our regions, rather than just focusing on the South East and London.
I believe that manufacturing has the potential to be an engine of growth for the British economy, and with our proud manufacturing heritage I believe that our community and our region can be at the heart of that revival. However in order to achieve this we need to continue to lobby Government to consider the needs of manufacturers and this will remain the Group's central objective.
To achieve this, the APMG will be focusing on a number of policy areas in the year ahead to support manufacturers including the support given to our exporters and how we can ensure that the next generation have the skills they need to get jobs in manufacturing. We will also be undertaking our first Parliamentary Inquiry to examine the culture of UK manufacturing and to see where we can improve.
Rebalancing our economy away from a dependence on financial services and debt will take time, but we don't have the luxury of choosing not to change. I will continue to campaign for a strong and diverse manufacturing sector and I hope that we can make progress towards this over the months and years ahead.
Our country has been on a journey towards a more equal and tolerant society for many generations and this week marked another step forward. We have come a long way since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967 and the fear that used to dominate the lives of tens of thousands of people.
The introduction of civil partnerships in 2004 showed that our country was ready to move forward into a new century with equal treatment for people regardless of sexuality and so I was proud to vote in favour of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill which confirms our society's determination to establish equal rights.
I appreciate that there are many people who have opposed these changes and I respect their views. However I have been motivated by a simple principle in making my decision. I believe that all citizens should have equal access to civil institutions. We are all equal before the law and this change will ensure that this is true of the legal institution of marriage.
But alongside equality, we also need to respect the views of those that do not believe in same sex marriage. I know that many are concerned that this change will affect churches and other religions or lead to prosecutions of those who do not believe in same sex marriage.
I would not have voted for a Bill, which I believed would have eliminated freedom of religion or freedom of conscience. The 'quadruple lock' which the Government has introduced will ensure that no church or religious organisation is compelled to perform same sex marriage. Moreover, the Government has given assurances that under existing legislation no citizen or public sector worker should fear prosecution for their religious beliefs.
This week was another chapter in Britain's long history of social change - I am proud that Parliament has adapted to these changing views and the need for equality in civil life. There is still a long way to go in tackling discrimination and inequality, but we should not underestimate the big step forward we have taken and the progress we have made so far.
January has been a particularly cold month and like many readers, I know for many residents this brings concerns about the cost of energy bills. Everyone should be able to afford to heat their home and energy poverty remains one of the biggest challenges that we face.
Last autumn, the Government introduced new Energy Company Obligations (ECOs) which will see the 'Big Six' energy companies provide support worth around £1.3 billion to low income and vulnerable households to heat their homes through new heating and insulation measures.
But we need to do more and for that reason, I support this month's launch of the Green Deal. The Green Deal is a radical proposal which will enable households to access finance for energy saving improvements to their homes, with some or all of the cost of these improvements paid for through savings in their bills. This will enable many households, who might otherwise not be able to afford improvements, to make their homes more energy efficient.
While the price of energy is important in determining energy bills, the best way to reduce costs in the long term is to improve the way we use our energy. Better insulated homes with more energy efficient heating systems will reduce demand, reducing prices and benefiting households across the country.
The Government has put in place a range of safeguards for households to ensure that they get the right deal for them and an Ombudsman service has been created to deal with any concerns about the scheme. If you would like to find out more, you can visit online: https://www.gov.uk/green-deal-energy-saving-measures or you can call the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234 for further details.
I hope that in the years ahead, through measures such as the Green Deal, we can reduce fuel poverty and ensure that households worry less about energy bills. These policies will take time to make an impact, but it is right that we start now.
This week the Prime Minister made a significant speech in London, laying out his commitment to hold a referendum on the European Union after a renegotiation of the UK's membership. This will take place in the first half of the next Parliament.
I believe that this is the right thing to do for a number of reasons. Firstly, I believe that it is right that people have a say on the future of the EU and are able to make a choice about the relationship they want to have. It is important to give people that choice and that we do not have decisions made about our country's future without the fullest consultation – which is what a referendum will provide.
Secondly, I believe that we need to recognise that the EU has changed a great deal since we joined the European Economic Community in 1973. The past few decades have seen a direction towards an ever closer Union with deeper political integration. We need, therefore, to have a serious but cordial conversation on the future structure of the EU, so that Britain can enjoy the advantages of the single market whilst maintaining a more flexible relationship with other member states.
Thirdly, we need to recognise that Europe is in a global race. Countries such as China, India and Brazil are catching up with Western economies and we need to make sure that Europe is able to respond and rise to the challenges these competitors and markets present. I meet with businesses regularly and while I know many appreciate the access to the single market, they find the regulation and red tape from Brussels frustrating. We need to reform Europe to make it fit for the 21st Century, and Britain has the potential to lead this debate for the benefit not just of our country but for all member states.
I believe that we need to reform the EU, so that it supports the UK's national interest and secures a future of peace and prosperity for our continent. I hope that in the years ahead we can have a constructive debate about Britain's status in the EU and I am pleased that the Prime Minister had made clear that this country will have its say on that debate.
At the start of the New Year and during the cold winter months, people across the country are already planning their holidays. Last year around 10 million people decided to take short breaks or holidays in the UK rather than going abroad and this year is likely to see a similar number.
Tourism is an important part of our local economy and we are fortunate to have a range of fantastic venues from the Castle to the Pump Room Gardens. However if we are to attract even more people to visit Warwick and Leamington for short breaks, and support local retailers, restaurants and pubs we need to fully utilise all our attractions.
An excellent example of this is Warwick Racecourse. Racing in Warwick goes back to end of the 17th Century, when the sport was introduced to help the town recover from the devastating effects of the fire. The first race at the course was held in 1707 and Warwick remains is still one of the country's top racecourses. With many race days falling on weekends and bank holidays and being uniquely located so close to the heart of our town, the Racecourse could play a role in attracting more visitors to our town – with the next meeting taking place on the 24th January.
We need to continue to build a strong brand for our area, playing on all of our strengths to attract families and of course serve the needs of local residents. We can to offer a great day out with a range of activities which appeal to all age groups.
If our attractions and local businesses work together to build packages that can reach out to new visitors, I believe that tourism can offer great potential for jobs. Our community is a wonderful place to live, we should make 2013 the year to share that knowledge with as many people as possible.
There has been coverage this week on the Coalition Government's Mid-Term Review and this has made me think about the work that that I have done in the last twelve months.
During my campaign I outlined a number of priorities for our community: creating jobs, supporting local services and championing community projects.
2012 was a very busy year and apart from hosting 33 surgeries and assisting 654 residents; I have responded to over 5,000 pieces of correspondence; made over 200 visits to schools; charities, businesses and local organisations; spoken in 14 parliamentary debates; asked 13 oral questions and put down 59 written questions; visited Afghanistan and Pakistan with the International Development Committee and communicated with residents through a range of media from Twitter to our excellent local papers such as the Courier and Observer.
Since the election, I have met regularly with local businesses and their representatives and hosted a business roundtable with the CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland about how we can get our local economy creating more jobs. In Warwick and Leamington the number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance has fallen from 2,002 in April 2010 to 1,424 – a fall of 29%. I was delighted to be asked to open the new First Utility HQ and visit the new Rolls Royce Energy Division – a sign of how our area is open for business. Though there is always much more work to be done, I believe that our area is heading in the right direction.
I have also been supportive of a number of local initiatives such as Warwick Town School Olympics, the Student Road Safety Awards, the Street Pastors project and Leamington Old Town's Portas Pilot Bid. In the months ahead I hope to help other initiatives such as the gardening project at Warwick Station and I believe our community should be proud of the efforts being made by local residents.
I want to achieve as much as possible for our constituency and I will continuing to do everything I can as the Member of Parliament to stand up for local residents, whether that is by promoting important local sectors such as the video games industry; working with the local authorities and holding them to account where necessary or by opposing Government proposals like High Speed Rail 2. However, I believe that we are making progress and that, although times are still difficult, we can look forward with optimism to the years ahead.
2012 has been a year of celebration. Two of my strongest memories will be our community's celebrations of the Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Torch being carried through Warwick and Leamington. On a personal level, I will always remember 2012 as the year when my Private Member's Bill – the Public Services (Social Value) Act 2012 – passed through Parliament after over a year and a half of campaigning.
We also have a number of other things to be proud of in our community, most notably the Leamington Old Town's successful bid one of the Government's Portas Pilots and the securing of £10,000 by the Warwick Town Centre Team for supporting local business.
As the local Member of Parliament, however, I know that 2012 has been a challenging for many in our community and so I will be continuing to work hard in 2013 to support local residents.
One of our highest priorities must be continuing to create jobs. Since April 2010 we have seen the number of Jobseekers Allowance claimants fall from 2,002 to 1,424 in November 2012. This is a fall of nearly 30% in two and a half years, but we need to do more to create jobs – particularly for our young people.
I have been working hard with local businesses, colleges, schools and local authorities to see what we can do to make sure our area open for business. Early next year I will be hosting a visit from the Minister for Creative Industries, Ed Vaizey MP, to local video games developers to see how we can build on Leamington's reputation as a centre of excellence for the sector and in March 2013, I will be hosting with HSBC a seminar for local businesses on the various finance options available to them and how they can secure growth.
Our community has a great potential and I will be working hard to realise it in 2013. I hope that all readers have had a happy Christmas and I wish all residents best wishes for the New Year.
Christmas is the time of the year when we come together in one of our many splendid churches to worship, to join in carol concerts or just to meet our friends.
One of our community's most magnificent churches is the Church of St. Mary in Warwick. The Church has a history going back nearly nine hundred years and after the Great Fire of Warwick in 1694, it was rebuilt. It has a wonderful architectural history and is part of the distinctive character of the town.
However the Church now requires significant repairs and the Beauchamp Chapel, an important piece of our local heritage, needs to be restored. This project will cost nearly £2.5 million and over £160,000 has already been given or pledged. The Church is seeking to bid for funding from a variety of sources, but they are also seeking to raise money from the local community.
The Vicar, the Revd Dr Vaughan Roberts has been leading the campaign to raise local funding and I have been happy to support this project. As Warwick and Leamington continues to develop as a tourist destination, we need to do as much as possible to preserve the jewels of our towns.
At Christmas we come together as a community, but it is places like the Church of St Mary that provide the space for us to celebrate. Our community would be poorer without these buildings and I hope that together we can preserve this important part of our heritage. If you would like to support this campaign, please email Felicity Bostock at email@example.com
On Monday, I hosted a delegation from the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce and Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) in Westminster to discuss, amongst other local issues, industrial policy.
As co-Chair of Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group, I have been working with politicians from all political parties to build a consensus around the future of our country's economy. I believe that the Government needs to create a comprehensive industrial policy, outlining how it will support businesses to create jobs and growth.
Coventry and Warwickshire have a great manufacturing heritage, but we also have a great future ahead of us. Our meeting received presentations from businesses in the area which are growing from strength to strength and saw information from the LEP about its plans to help encourage greater investment into our community.
As part of the meeting, we had a brief question and answer session with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable MP, about the government's priorities and problems facing local businesses, particularly apprenticeships.
Chambers of Commerce play a vital role in providing a voice for businesses, informing them of the policies that the Government has implemented such as changes to capital allowances and spreading good practice. As the local Member of Parliament, I have tried to support these organisations and others like them in our community as best I can.
It is only by working together with local businesses and their representatives that we can create the right environment for growth in our economy and I look forward to hosting further events in the years ahead.
Last weekend I had the privilege of attending the Leamington and Warwick Sea Cadets Royal Naval Dinner in Leamington. It was an excellent occasion and we should be proud to be home to local organisations like the Sea Cadets which give a range of opportunities for young people in our community.
Although Warwick and Leamington is not close to the sea, the Royal Navy sources its recruits from across the county and it relies on organisations like the Sea Cadets to provide young people with information about careers in navy. However the Sea Cadets is about so much more than that. Like Scouts and Army Cadets, the Sea Cadets help to provide a fully rounded experience for young people, giving them skills in team building and leadership which are useful for whatever career choices they make.
Thanks to the work of the team behind the Sea Cadets and its former chair, Avril James, the organisation has grown from strength to strength in our local area. It is the tireless work of people like Avril, who has chaired the organisation for 5 years, which helps to make our area a place which is rich in activities for young people.
I was also proud to present 'The Burgee' to the group which recognises the work that the Sea Cadets have done and the high standards of support they give to their members. Over the past four years, the number of Sea Cadets has increased six fold and I hope that more young people will consider joining the organisation and others like it.
It is important that young people have access to a variety of such groups and as the Member of Parliament I have been keen to support such activities which provide a wide range of opportunities and for young people. If you run or know of any similar organisations and would like to talk to me about it, then please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The UK is home to some of the largest supermarket companies in the world and their size helps to give customers access to a wide range of products. However because of the size of the "big four" retailers - who between them account for 85% of the total grocery market –suppliers, particularly farmers, have often raised concerns about unfair practices.
Warwickshire is home to many excellent local farmers who produce high quality products that are in demand in the UK and around the world. But these farms, and the employment that they support, will only be able to thrive in the long term if they are able to get a fair price for the products that they are producing. The previous Government introduced a Code of Conduct for major retailers, but this code has often not been effectively enforced and this has led to an increasing number of disputes between farmers and retailers.
For that reason, I am pleased that the Government is bringing in a new Groceries Code Adjudicator, an office which will ensure that the deals made between suppliers and supermarkets are fairly enforced and ensuring that farmers are treated properly. The Adjudicator will also be empowered to independently arbitrate disagreements between suppliers and retailers as well as to 'name and shame' those supermarkets which do not act fairly and which breach their agreements.
This is a small change, but it could make a big difference to farmers across the country and also ensure that for many generations to come, people can access home-grown and locally produced goods. I will be supporting this Bill so that it can be swiftly put in place and we can begin to give more assistance to our rural communities and local agriculture.
Last Sunday thousands of people across our community took part in services of Remembrance. As the local Member of Parliament, I am always proud to see so many residents coming together to pay their respects to our brave servicemen and women, who have given the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country and to pay tribute to those currently serving at home and abroad.
2012 has been an incredibly special year for Britain with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games in London. However without the courage and dedication of those that gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars, we would not have the freedoms to celebrate these events. Moreover, it was thanks to the efforts of our security services and our Armed Forces that both of these events were so successful and showed Britain at its best.
After visiting Afghanistan earlier this year, I was hugely impressed by the professionalism of our Armed Forces. While most media attention focuses on the fighting in that region, it is the work on the ground supporting communities, providing security for markets and everyday life and giving a sense of safety to Afghans which has the long term impact and it is to the credit of our service personnel that they take this role just as seriously as their combat duties.
It is important that every year we have an opportunity give our thanks for the efforts that our Armed Forces make. It is a privilege as the Member of Parliament to see our community out in such numbers on these occasions and I look forward to continuing to support such events in the years to come.
Next Tuesday will mark the festival of Diwali – one of the most important festivals in the Hindu calendar and like many towns across the country, Leamington will be hosting to some fantastic celebrations – one of which I was pleased to be able to attend last Sunday at the Spa Centre.
We are rightly proud of our multi-ethnic heritage in Leamington and I believe that we should be proud of our reputation as a place where everyone feels welcome. Diwali is, however, very much a festival for the community. It celebrates the victory of good over evil, light over darkness and hope over despair. Diwali is an opportunity to come together and to celebrate the innate goodness of the individual.
As the local Member of Parliament, I have been privileged to attend many community festivals and celebrations over the past two years and I am always struck by the sense of community spirit that is displayed at these events.
Increasingly, I believe, people are recognising the importance that these events hold. Not only do they provide great entertainment but they also enable us feel part of a community which we care for and in which we can play an active part.
Diwali recognises the importance of community and tries to bring people together – to inspire others and ourselves, combating the cynicism that often seems a hallmark of modern society.
I hope that many residents will take the opportunity to take part in the celebrations that the Asian Business and Professionals Association are putting on this Saturday at the Royal Spa and I look forward to seeing some readers there!
On the 15th November, Warwickshire will have the opportunity to vote for its first Police and Crime Commissioner.
This is a new role which the Government has created to help make our police force more democratically accountable to local people. As the local Member of Parliament, I have the privilege of meeting with police officers regularly and I admire the work they do to keep our community safe. I know that local residents also appreciate the courage and dedication of our police officers.
Since April this year crime fallen has fallen by nearly 10% – for this alone we must pay tribute to the exceptional work of Warwickshire Police Force.
However, at present, the feelings of local people about crime and policing are conveyed through the Warwickshire Police Authority. None of the individuals of the police authority have been directly elected by the public to represent them on these issues and there is relatively little public knowledge of this organisation. I believe that this means that the concerns of local people are often not fully understood and this can create a division between the priorities of local people and the priorities that the police are given by the Police Authority.
A directly elected Police and Crime Commissioner, accountable to the public every four years and with the mandate to draft a policing plan for our local community, based on their priorities will, I believe, make policing even more responsive to the concerns of residents. The police will also have the ability to work with and communicate through one individual, who can be a focal point for information about matters relating to policing and crime helping the public to be better informed.
I believe higher levels of accountability will help to make policing in Warwickshire even better and support the police in the fantastic work that they do.
I hope that residents will take part in this vote so that they can express their views on the priorities for policing in our area and make sure that we focus resources on the issues that most concern local people.
Last week I was proud to join with other MPs from across Warwickshire to challenge the Government's decision to disband the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The Regiment has a special place in our community. We all respect and admire the dedication and courage of our service personnel who risk their lives across the world to help keep us safe.
This is a particularly poignant time of year to be considering this issue, as Remembrance Sunday fast approaches and we reflect on all those that have served and fallen in the service of our country. The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers played its part in every major conflict that Britain has been involved in since the Glorious Revolution. Their sacrifice is part of the fabric of our community and it makes Remembrance Sunday a particularly important time.
On Saturday, I will be attending the launch of the British Legion's Poppy Appeal 2012 in the Royal Priors in Leamington. Every year local volunteers, veterans, service personnel and cadets raise hundreds of thousands of pounds for the fantastic work of the Legion. Last year, the Poppy Appeal raised £40m to support current and retired service personnel – breaking all previous records.
The Legion not only provides support for those that have been injured in the line of duty and their families, but is also helping those that have left the Armed Forces to adapt to civilian life. This range of assistance ensures that people get the right kind of support and reaches out to those that are sometimes too difficult to reach through normal channels. It an institution that we are rightly proud of and which shows the respect that we have for those that serve on our behalf.
As an area with many charities and voluntary organisations, I know at first hand the generosity of residents and I am confident that this year will be no exception. So I look forward to seeing many of you around the Royal Priors on Saturday and I hope that you'll spare the time to buy a Poppy!
This week Parliament will be debating a serious issue: the future of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers; and I will be making the case for keeping the Battalion.
I am tremendously proud of the service that our Regiment has given over hundreds of years and continues to give in some of the most dangerous parts of the world; this is a feeling I know that is shared throughout our community. As the ceremonial heart of Warwickshire, I believe that our area has a particularly special connection with the Regiment and I remember the many hundreds of people who came out on the streets to cheer our service personnel as they marched through Warwick town centre in November 2010.
The Government has to make difficult choices and I understand that our Armed Forces have to share some of the burden of reducing our deficit. However I do not agree with the Government's decision to disband the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers is the right one.
The 2nd Battalion is one of the best recruited units in the British Army at present and is recruiting from parts of the country where the population is growing strongly such as Warwickshire. Moreover, there is a danger that by removing the 2nd Battalion and creating a single battalion regiment, that we put the long term sustainability of the Regiment at risk.
I believe that one of the strengths of our Armed Force is the Regimental connection and the pride which service personnel feel in representing and protecting their community. Removing the 2nd Battalion could weaken that connection and reduce the opportunity for people in our area to serve their country.
So I have written to the Prime Minister about this issue and I have been working with colleagues from all parties to campaign to save the 2nd Battalion. In the months ahead I will keep on pushing the Ministry of Defence to look again at this issue and to represent the views of local residents who want to keep our Regiment as strong as possible.
The Regiment is an important part of our local identity and I want to make sure that this continues for many more generations to come.
Next week the Conservative Party will be holding its annual conference in Birmingham, an event which will be attended by MPs, Conservative Party members and organisations from across the country.
Party conferences are an important opportunity for parties to discuss their priorities, to debate the future and to communicate new ideas. I will be using this party conference to highlight some of the challenges that we face in our community and to champion some of the causes that I have been campaigning on over the past two years.
On Monday morning, I'll be speaking with the Minister for Civil Society about how we can increase social investment hosted by the New Statesman magazine. As someone who is a passionate supporter of our local charities and social enterprises, I believe that we need to do as much as possible to support investment in civil society and I hope that this event can help raise awareness of this issue.
Building on this theme of supporting community organisations, I will also be talking about the positive impact that my Social Value Act can make on communities at two events, one hosted by ResPublica, the other by the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations. At both, I will be banging the drum for more socially aware procurement and trying to encourage local authorities and public bodies across the country to take on board the principles of the Act.
As Vice-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, I will also be taking part in two events on this subject hosted by the Centre for Social Justice and the think-tank Demos. I believe that the Government needs to do more to reduce poverty and to work with local communities to develop solutions which help people get back into employment.
On top of these events, I will be meeting with a range of organisations from some of our local employers such as Fujitsu to charities and trade unions. With many major businesses attending the conference, I will also be promoting the benefits of investing in Warwick and Leamington and showing that our area is open for business.
Throughout conference, I will be standing up for the priorities of local residents and I hope that I will be able to use this time to promote our area.
This week the Business Secretary announced that the Government would be setting up a new state-backed business bank. This bank will receive £1 billion of state investment and will also be partly funded by private sector banks. The aim of the bank will be to boost lending to small businesses so that they can invest and grow.
I believe that a state backed business bank is an excellent idea and it is something that I have been advocating for a long time. One of the most consistent messages that I have heard from small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) is that they are having trouble getting credit from high street banks.
This is not because businesses are not ready for credit or are not worthy of credit. There seems to be a cultural problem with our banks which means that they do not fully appreciate the challenges that SMEs face and so they either will not lend or offer loans at uncompetitive rates.
When this kind of market failure occurs, it is the Government that has to step in and ensure that we keep our economy moving forwards. Through schemes such as Project Merlin and now, Funding for Lending, the Government and the Bank of England have worked together to make the financial system work better for our businesses. However more direct intervention is now necessary and a state-backed business bank is a positive step forward.
Creating a state-backed business bank will send a message not only to traditional high street banks that the Government is serious about supporting SMEs, but it will also ensure that there is an example for the rest of the sector. In many ways, its role can be seen as similar to the BBC – raising standards and quality across the financial system.
If this initiative is successful, the Government should seek to place more capital into the bank. Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our economy, and I know how important it is that they have access to the right services and financing.
I am pleased that the Government has listened to those of us who have advocated more intervention, but we should not be complacent. We need to do as much as possible to support businesses and I hope that this initiative will make a serious difference.
As the Member of Parliament I am always keen to support community groups and local residents taking the initiative in tackling issues that affect our local area. I believe that when local people and organisations take control, then we can generate solutions that take account of the needs of the community.
So last week I was pleased to attend a meeting between churches in Leamington and the Ascension Trust, local authorities and the police to discuss a new scheme to help improve public safety and tackle anti-social behaviour.
The "Street Pastors" project was started in Brixton in 2003 and now covers towns and cities across the UK and the world. The project involves members of local churches undergoing training so that they can voluntarily patrol the streets at night. They provide help for people in practical ways and are separate from the police, so that they can gain the trust of those they are trying to help. The idea is that they can provide a reassuring presence to residents whilst at the same time reducing the number of incidents that affect our community.
The Street Pastors concept has already been successful in reducing crime in many parts of the country and has helped to provide rapid response to serious accidents. Now local churches want to help to bring the scheme to Leamington and to engage with local people to become "Street Pastors".
I believe that this scheme has tremendous potential to give residents an opportunity to support our community and also to make our streets safer. I hope that through partnership with the local authority, Warwickshire Police Force and local businesses, we will see Street Pastors on our streets and I will be providing any help that I can to get this moving.
This week has seen a renewed debate about the role Government can play in creating a stronger economy with more jobs and greater fairness. I know that this one of the key concerns for residents and as co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG), I have been trying to encourage the Government to do more and to set out a clear plan for growth.
I believe that one of the best ways that we can make our economy more sustainable is to support British manufacturers. Our area has a proud heritage of making things and is still home to many world beating companies which employ hundreds of local residents. We need to do more to help these businesses grow, so that we can move away from overdependence on financial services and the South East of England.
I have met with the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, previously and alongside other MPs called on him to start drawing up a long term strategic vision for our economy – so I was glad to see him say earlier this week that he would be doing exactly just that.
However a strategy for the British economy cannot be one man's vision, it must be shared by everyone and so I have helped author a paper with the APMG which has outlined what a modern industrial strategy should look like, how we should create it and when we need it by. You can find the paper on my website.
I also chaired a meeting of parliamentarians this week about the future of manufacturing and rapidly changing technologies that are driving businesses forward. Britain needs to be a forefront of innovation if we are to sell better products at home and around the world. Another discussion that I took part in this week was about the future of the UK's manufacturing supply chains to see how we can support companies to get through the present difficult economic conditions and how we can generate greater resilience.
I will continue to champion our manufacturers and the skilled jobs that they can create for our local economy and for the country as a whole. I hope that the Government will work with backbenchers from all sides of the House to ensure that we build a consensus that can last and give businesses the confidence to invest.
The news this week has been dominated by the Cabinet reshuffle, the first major reshuffle since the General Election - I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate my constituency neighbour, Jeremy Wright MP, for his new role at the Ministry of Justice.
However, a lot of the work of the House does not always get the attention it deserves, despite having a direct impact on our communities.
One of the first things that we have had to discuss since coming back is a new Bill to help small charities to claim Gift Aid for cash donations of under £20. Since coming to Parliament, I have been determined to do whatever I can to support the fantastic array of community organisations and charities that operate in our area. This measure, which could see charities claim up to £1250 in support from the Government per year, could bring significant benefits to groups on the ground.
I spoke in the debate and made clear that while I supported the Bill, I had a number of concerns about some of the details within it. I want to make sure that as many organisations and charities can benefit from the scheme as possible and so I have called on the government to loosen the eligibility requirements. I also asked the government to look again at the Bill to ensure that the proposals do not merely support those organisations that are already good at claiming Gift Aid but is fair for charities that might not have a history of claiming Gift Aid.
Fortunately, there was wide cross-party agreement about the need to support this scheme and for all sides to work together to make sure that the best possible Bill is put on the statute book.
I also attended the first meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group Advisory Board – a group which I co-chair and which seeks to encourage the growth of manufacturing in Britain. I am committed to championing manufacturing businesses and to ensuring that the government does everything it can to support industry to produce sustainable jobs and growth. This board, made up of experts from a range of backgrounds, will help the group to formulate new ideas and to think about how we can improve the UK's competitiveness.
Although reshuffles make headlines, it is vital that all parties continue to work together to focus on the issues that really matter to people – creating better communities, creating more jobs and improving people's quality of life. In this short session before the Conference Recess, I will be focusing on what we can do to achieve these outcomes and I look forward to working with the new government team.
The summer recess is almost over and next week, MPs will be returning to Westminster. I am always keen to spend as much time in the constituency as possible, and recess is an excellent opportunity for me to meet with residents and to visit local businesses, charities and public services.
I also had the chance this summer to organise a conference on tackling poverty in Warwick and Leamington, an issue which I am passionate about. The conference brought together community organisations and the local authority and I hope to host something similar next year.
Over the past few weeks, I have tried to get out onto the streets and visit residents at home as much as possible. I know that most people do not have the time to book an appointment or write an email, and recess gives me a chance to knock on doors and get the views of residents on a range of issues. I appreciate feedback from residents which enables me to represent our area as best as I can.
However, I was elected to serve our community in Parliament and I am looking forward to a busy session before party conferences begin. The first week will see us debating bills to help small charities and to approve the eurozone's new European Stability Mechanism. We will also be debating motions relating to immigration and community hospitals. This is on top of regular question times for Ministers, including the Prime Minister.
I will also be attending meetings of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group, which I co-chair and brings together parliamentarians, businesses, industry representatives and experts to discuss how we can improve the state of manufacturing in Britain. There is a great deal of focus at the moment on the need to secure growth for the UK economy, and I hope that the manufacturing group will contribute to that debate over the months ahead.
I will still be hosting my regular surgeries during this session and visiting local organisations, so if you would like to get in touch with me to book an appointment, to suggest a visit or raise any concerns, please feel free to email me on email@example.com
Last week saw students across the constituency receive their A-Level results and I wanted to take this opportunity to congratulate students, teachers and parents for all their hard work, dedication and support over what is always an anxious time. For a number of local schools, this year's results saw previous records broken and we should be proud to live in an area where schools are seeking to provide an outstanding education.
I believe that these results demonstrate the efforts made to achieve the best education possible for our young people and prove in stark contrast to some comments made recently in the media about our country being "lazy". It is tempting to believe that in order to secure growth and jobs that we all need to just work harder, but if anything it is this kind of thinking that it guilty of being lazy.
The real way to make our economy grow and to support job creation is to improve the skills of our workforce, to make sure that the right infrastructure is in place and that we have a financial system which is supporting British businesses. The effort that our young people, their families and schools have put into securing these A-Level results shows that our community is trying to do exactly that.
Since I came to live in the area, nearly ten years ago, I have been impressed with the drive and dynamism in our local community from the local business trying to secure new orders, to the hospitals and schools trying to deliver better services or local people giving up their time to make our area an even better place to live.
As the local MP, I have sought to take that spirit to Parliament. I believe that if government gives local people the tools they need, that together we can make our communities stronger and more prosperous – a message I will continue to deliver in Westminster.
Finally, may I take this opportunity, to wish all our students whatever their results, a successful future.
On Tuesday I was pleased to be invited to speak at a meeting of the Rotary Club of Royal Leamington Spa. The Rotary movement has been in existence for over a hundred years and has over 34,000 clubs across the world. These clubs bring together business owners and professional leaders from across our communities, who work together to find ways to encourage high ethical standards in business and to spread goodwill throughout the world.
Ever year Rotary Clubs donate tens of millions of pounds to a range of charitable projects, from trying to eradicate Polio in the developing world to providing scholarships for young people to study abroad.
We are fortunate in Warwick and Leamington to be home to many excellent charities and voluntary organisations which see local people coming together to help improve our area, however the Rotary Club is unique in that is seeks to encourage the business community to be responsible and to contribute.
Since the financial crisis there has been increasing suspicion of businesses, particularly our largest companies. However the best way that this can be combated is through business leaders coming together and seeking to promote the public good. The Rotary Club provides an opportunity for the business community to restore public trust and to improve the quality of life of millions around the world.
In my experience, local business owners and professionals understand the importance of giving something back to the community and recognise the need to show this commitment.
One of most rewarding parts of my job is being able to meet with organisations like the Rotary Club and to thank them for the work that they are doing. Over the summer, I hope to have a chance to speak with more organisations like the Rotary Club and if you would like to let me know about your group's meetings and activities, then please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
This is my latest article on my concerns over the proposed Local Plan for Warwick District:
Over the past few weeks I have received hundreds of emails, letters and telephone calls from local residents who are concerned about the proposed Local Plan. This plan will put forward the structure of future development in our area for the next eighteen years and is incredibly important.
I have read carefully the proposed Local Plan and after thinking about the challenges that we face locally and the desire of local residents, I have written to Warwick District Council with my deep concerns about the plan.
I believe that any Local Plan needs to meet three requirements.
Firstly, it needs to protect the greenbelt so that we do not damage our local environment and we prevent urban sprawl. Secondly, we need to keep any building on greenfield land to an absolute minimum in order to protect the character of many of our villages and countryside. Thirdly, we need to focus development on providing affordable housing and growth for our local economy.
I do not believe that in its present form the Local Plan meets these requirements and I have asked for Warwick District Council to look again at the plan and to come back with new proposals which ensure that we meet these three objectives.
I believe that if we stick to these three principles, that we can also significantly reduce the number of homes that will need to be built.
I also raised concerns about the timing of the consultation process. In the middle of a summer which has seen the Diamond Jubilee and wonderful British success at the Olympics in London, I do not believe that the Local Plan has been at the forefront of people's minds. However the decisions that are being made in the Local Plan will decide the future of our area for decades to come and should not be rushed without a full public debate.
For these reasons, I have asked the local authority to extend the consultation period to the end of September. This would give more time for local people to read the proposals and give their views. It will also ensure that we get a better outcome and create greater public confidence in the decision making process.
Over the months ahead I will continue to raise the concerns of local residents and ensure that they get their say, so that we can try and get the best outcome for the future of our community.
When I made my first speech to Parliament in June 2010, I raised the issue of poverty and specifically how we could help reduce in work poverty and the focus that needed to be given to help the most vulnerable in our society.
One of the first groups that I joined on becoming a Member of Parliament was the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty – which brings together MPs from all different parties to discuss how we can reduce poverty.
This year, in order to raise awareness of the issues that we face I decided to take part in an exchange with the Labour Member of Parliament for Stretford and Urmston and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, Kate Green MP, which would see us both visit projects in each other's constituencies and to see the work that is being done to reduce poverty in different parts of the country.
I visited Kate's constituency in Manchester in February and this week, Kate has been visiting a variety of organisations in Warwick and Leamington. As part of her visit, I have arranged a conference in Leamington to bring together some of the many organisations that to seek to tackle poverty in our community so that we can better understand the challenges we face and see whether we can all find ways to work together.
The conference was a great success and was well attended by a variety of different charities and voluntary organisations as well as the local authority. I hope that we can continue to keep a dialogue going on this important issue and to ensure that we continue to raise awareness about the work that is taking place.
Poverty is not something that can be eliminated overnight and requires all levels of government, business and local community organisations to work together to help those that most need support and to give people the opportunities they need. I will continue to raise this issue in Westminster over the years ahead, and with the help of colleagues like Kate, I hope that we can make progress.
This week marks the beginning of the Olympics, the biggest sporting event to have occurred in the UK in a generation. While rightly the majority of the focus has been on the sport that is to come, the Olympics offer an opportunity for businesses across the country to showcase the work they do, when the eyes of the world are watching.
We are fortunate in Warwick and Leamington to many excellent companies and this has been supported by our recent success at the Queen's Awards for Enterprise. Out of the eight winners in the West Midlands, three came from our area. DCA Design International Ltd was given an award in the International Trade category for consistently increasing exports and Square Box Systems Ltd and Baxi Heating UK Ltd were given awards for innovation.
These awards should give confidence to all businesses in the local area that we can succeed and can compete globally to achieve success. I hope that many companies will use the Olympics as a chance to spread awareness about the quality and variety of the products that we make.
The Government has rightly sought to get maximum benefit out of public investment in the Olympics and is hosting an investment event for 4,000 business leaders and politicians from around the world to generate an extra £1 billion of investment. It is hoped that in time the Olympics will generate an extra £13 billion of investment for British businesses.
However this will only happen if our businesses are proactive and confident enough to make the most of the publicity and attention that the Olympics is generating. The success of local businesses at the Queen's Awards shows that we should have nothing to fear from the challenge of exporting and creating new world beating products.
While like many I will be hoping for a great sporting legacy for Britain from the Olympics, I will also be hoping that we can generate a great economic legacy from this unique occasion.
As I write this article, the House of Commons is about to rise for the Summer recess, and I can concentrate on a full schedule of events in the constituency, away from the hectic life of Parliamentary Business. From visiting St Patrick's Primary School before the end of the academic year, to meeting with the Leamington Chamber of Trade, to an update from Severn Trent, and speaking at the Leamington Rotary Club, the next few weeks will give me a welcome opportunity to catch up with local businesses, charities and a wide variety of other organisations.
I am fortunate to be a part of a vibrant community which has already celebrated the Queen's Jubilee and the Olympic Torch, which brought thousands of cheering well-wishers onto the streets. Last weekend, Warwick hosted the annual Thai Festival and the Dell put on live music. Next week will be the hugely enjoyable Folk Festival in Warwick. And the Olympics are only days away.
I often return to the theme of community and how much this spirit is alive and well in our area - with festivals and performances taking place throughout the year. Not only is this an enviable place to live and work, but Warwick and Leamington hosts a vast array of events for all to enjoy and in which to participate.
We become used to these events occurring around us, often for good and important causes, but also just for fun. However, a great deal of planning takes place behind the scenes to make these such a success, and I would like to pay tribute to the often unsung heroes who give up their time to make our community such a special place.
I also like to spend the Summer canvassing, because I think it is a vital part of an MP's job to listen to people's views and concerns on the doorstep - so I look forward to meeting as many of the Observer's readers as possible. In the meantime, let's hope for some sunshine!
This week the subject of reform of the House of Lords has dominated political debate. I know that this is an issue which is not at the top of most people's agenda for the country – and I must admit, I would rather be focusing on other more important issues such as creating jobs. However, the Government put a Bill before the House of Commons which meant that I, as a Member of Parliament, was obliged to consider it. I decided to vote against the reforms.
It is my belief that in a democracy Parliament and the Government should be accountable. As a Member of Parliament, I am accountable to the electorate every four to five years at the ballot box and the Government is accountable to Parliament every time it votes. I understand that there are concerns about unelected Peers being involved in Government and I know that many believe that elections are the only way to make them accountable.
However, my vote reflects that I do not believe that the current Bill before the House of Commons will achieve such accountability. Under the current proposals, the House of Lords will not be directly accountable to the public but will mostly be accountable to their parties through a list system. Moreover, with one fifteen year term the public will not be able to vote out these individuals if they do not adequately represent them and they will act knowing that they never have to face the public again.
These changes also risk removing what we already have – a second chamber which is home to many individuals of great experience. Eminent lawyers, constitutional experts, businessmen, doctors, scientists, generals and leaders in their field from all walks of life have their place in the current House of Lords. Moreover, many of the party appointments are also experts and distinguished people rather than just merely party supporters and I do not believe that we could attract the same calibre of person if the second chamber was elected as these reforms propose.
It is not an easy thing to vote against your party but it is my view that it was the right thing to do. I know that not everyone will agree with my decision, however I do not think that these proposals for reform are the right ones and I hope that this will not distract Westminster from focusing on the real issues that concern the public, most importantly, the economy.
This week I was invited to attend an event in Westminster to celebrate the awarding of a regional Person Teaching Award to local teacher, Jonathan Targett of Myton School.
Jonathan has worked for over thirty years teaching Science and PE as well as being a head of year. Aside from teaching, Jonathan has also led a range of extra-curricular activities such as organising a fun walk for 3000 students and establishing links to a disadvantaged school in Africa. His award for a lifetime's service in education is one which is fully deserved and I was proud to be able to congratulate him in person.
Teaching our young people is one of the most important jobs that anyone can do and from my experience earlier this year of teaching a lesson in Campion School, I know how demanding the role can be. Teaching is a vocation and requires a range of qualities not least the ability to inspire young people.
I never cease to be impressed by the dedication and commitment that teachers in our community have and of which Jonathan is an example. We are fortunate to have teachers which are prepared to go the extra mile to encourage their students to achieve. On my many visits to local schools over the past two years, I have seen the range of activities and support that staff have put on for students to help them to get the most out of their education.
I know that local parents appreciate the hard work that goes into educating our young people and the support that parents give to teachers and local schools is a key factor in their success. However as we prepare for the summer holidays, I believe this is a good time for the entire community to thank our teachers for the work that they have done.
I hope that in the years ahead our local teachers will get more of the recognition they deserve and that I'll have the opportunity to congratulate more exemplary teachers like Jonathan on their achievements.
Last weekend I was delighted to be asked say a few words at the opening of the Guide Dog Fun Day, hosted by Guide Dogs UK at Victoria Park in Leamington. Previously, I had attended a gathering in Parliament with other MPs and campaigners to raise the profile of dog attacks that have taken place against guide dogs.
Guide dogs are unsung heroes, providing mobility and support to thousands of blind and partially sighted people. The independence that they provide can significantly increase the quality of life of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
Fortunately, there are an incredible number of people who dedicate their work and their free time to fundraising, caring for and training new guide dogs.
The success of this organisation depends on the compassion of our communities. Guide Dogs UK receives no government funding and exists solely on donations, training 780 guide dogs every year. At a cost of £50,000 to train a guide dog throughout its working life, this high level of support may appear costly, however the benefits are immeasurable.
The charity's work focuses on empowering people locally and throughout the UK. Hundreds of blind and partially sighted adults and children are supported by over 350 local fundraising groups across the country, including the Leamington Spa and Warwick Fundraising Group. Anyone can work with their local community to help improve another's standard of living in an effective way.
In addition to dedicating time supporting the partially sighted through practical assistance, donations also help to fund important research and education programs. Guide Dogs UK research follows issues such as dog attacks the seriousness of which, at a level of up to eight attacks per month, cannot be understated.
The Fun Day was a great family day out as well as a means to highlight an important issue. I hope residents will continue to support the exceptional work of this organisation.
Last month I visited Afghanistan with the International Development Select Committee of the House of Commons, a cross party committee I have served on for two years. The purpose of this committee is to scrutinize the way that public money is being spent - how effectively our aid is being delivered in sometimes very difficult circumstances and make recommendations through detailed inquires.
I believe it is important for Members to spend time looking at issues on the ground to gain a fuller understanding of the challenges that we face - a discussion in a committee room is no substitute, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, the focus of one of the largest military and development operations undertaken in modern times.
Over the course of the visit I was constantly impressed with the professionalism of our Armed Forces that are stationed there. Our community, like so many others, has been touched by their bravery and too often, the sacrifices they and their families have made. I was profoundly grateful for the opportunity to listen to what they had to say and give my thanks for the extraordinary work that they continue to do.
While we often think of our soldiers in terms of their combat role, I was also able to see the important work that they do in building community relations and transferring skills. I met with former Mujahedeen fighters, the very same people who had in the past fought against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, who were now working together with our troops on various infrastructure projects. Work to win hearts and minds is an essential part of Britain's role, towards a long term and peaceful solution - requiring patience, tolerance and understanding from all parties.
Last year, UK Aid spent over £150 million towards helping communities across Afghanistan to develop - I had the opportunity to meet with Ministers from the Afghan Government and with officials from Department for International Development to discuss where the money was being targeted.
There has been significant progress in the country since 2001, when less than 1m children attended school and nearly none of these were girls. Now over 5m are able to go to school, of which a third are girls. Around 85% of the population have access to a healthcare facility, compared with only 10% in 2002. Work to tackle the illegal drug trade is ongoing, along with the building of new roads and other utilities. Life has significantly improved, as a direct result of the British Army and DFID, amongst others. The Afghans I spoke to recognized this significant level of support and commitment.
There are still however, significant concerns about safety, something of which I was acutely aware, having been required to wear body armour each time we left the compound in both Kabul and Lashkar Gah. But, the Taliban has been put on the back foot. Swathes of country once uninhabitable because of violence, have been made secure. As always, development activity is fundamental to security. If communities have access to schools, roads, hospitals, water and sanitation, there is less opportunity for the Taliban to take hold.
This is why it is so important for our aid effort to continue, even after our Forces leave.
I am grateful to have had this opportunity and to be able to see Afghanistan through a different perspective. It is an extraordinary country which has struggled through history, and its people very tough and very proud. I wish it a far more positive future than its past.
And finally, I cannot praise our soldiers highly enough for what they do there on a daily basis and what they have achieved.
This weekend will see the annual Leamington Peace Festival take place in the Pump Room Gardens.
As someone who has attended the Peace Festival in previous years, I know how important the event is for our local community. It is a great opportunity to bring people together with over 120 stalls representing charities, religious organisations, activists, pressure groups, fair traders and craftspeople, performances representing a range of cultures and foods from all over the world.
The Festival shows not only the wonderful diversity of our area but also the willingness of local people to explore some of the biggest global issues such as international development, climate change and human rights.
It is often said that most people do not care about politics and even less so about international politics. However the Leamington Peace Festival is an occasion where this view is proved wrong. Since becoming Member of Parliament and also as a Member of the International Development Committee I have been surprised by the level of interest and passion that local people have about the world and about how we can create a more peaceful, understanding and tolerant planet. I believe this recognises the importance that world events play in shaping our local communities and that all of us can make a difference.
The Festival is a wonderful opportunity for people to listen to a wide variety of music, to taste some excellent food and see the skills of some very talented craftspeople – all within a relaxing, inclusive and peaceful environment.
The Festival has been running for nearly thirty years and I am confident that it will continue to run for many more years to come thanks to the dedication and hard work of local people who put so much effort into making the event a success. I encourage everyone who has a chance to visit the Pump Room Gardens this weekend to be part of the Festival and I look forward to seeing many local residents there on Saturday.
Last Friday, I met with local members of the Federation of Small Business at the Trident Centre in Warwickshire College to discuss some of the issues that are being faced by our small businesses.
Small and medium sized businesses make up 99% of all enterprises in the UK and employ around 14m people. They are at the core of our local economy and in order to promote growth and jobs we need to support these businesses as best we can.
The past few weeks has seen some positive news reported for Warwick and Leamington, with Leamington seeing a record number of new businesses being created in the first three months of the year and the number of people on out of work benefits falling last month.
However if we want to see a continued improvement, then we need to do as much as possible to support businesses so that they can expand and take on new staff.
We can do that in a number of ways.
One of the most important ways that the Government can help is by making it easier for small businesses to get access to credit. The Government's agreement with the major banks aims to increase lending to small firms by 15% to £76 billion this year and a Business Growth Fund worth £2.5 billion has been set up to back established and growing businesses.
We also need to ensure that businesses have access to the skills that they need. We are fortunate in our area to have great educational institutions like Warwickshire College and Warwick University nearby. However we also need to support small businesses to train existing staff and ensure that they are able to keep their companies competitive.
I am grateful that Federation of Small Business members took the time to let me know their views on these issues and others affecting their companies, and I will continue to do what I can to support changes that will make it easier for people to start a business, run a business and grow a business over the years ahead.
There has been growing concern in recent weeks about the state of the High Speed Rail 2 (HS2) project.
Last month Steve Gooding, Director General of the Domestic Group at the Department for Transport, stated that HS2 had been put on "amber/red" alert by the Major Projects Authority – a body which oversees all large-scale projects that are funded and delivered by central government.
This means that "the successful delivery of the project is in doubt, with major risks or issues apparent in a number of key areas [and urgent] action is needed to ensure that these are addressed and whether resolution is feasible".
I have called on the Government to publish this report by the Major Projects Authority so that we can all see what these risks are, but I also think we also need a pause to reflect on the merits of the scheme as a whole.
If even before a single metre of track has been laid on the ground, there is a significant risk that the project may fail, then we need to have a serious discussion whether we should be committing over £32 billion of public money into it.
During a time of national stringency, we need to get maximum value for money out of every penny that is being spent by government. Already the proposed benefits per pound spent on HS2 has been halved from £2.40 when it was originally announced to £1.20. Clearly there is confusion, even within supporters of the scheme, as to what the benefits will be and the only way that we can resolve this is with a full, independent review into HS2 - both the costs and the benefits.
So I will be continuing to put pressure on the Government to deliver all the facts on HS2 so that we can make an informed decision in the best interests of our communities in the months ahead. Now is the time for Ministers to pause and reflect before we commit taxpayer's money, and ensure we make the right choice.
This week, on Tuesday, I witnessed one of the oldest traditions in Western parliamentary governance, the prorogation of Parliament, when Black Rod came into the House of Commons chamber to inform members that an announcement would be made on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen in the House of Lords – I duly went along with my colleagues to hear the address.
Prorogation marks the end of a legislative session and wipes the slate clean for the next legislative session of Parliament. While some Public Bills (laws proposed by government ministers) can be carried over if there is agreement, the end of a legislative session usually brings proposed laws to a halt.
When travelling from a constituency such as Warwick and Leamington used to take days rather than hours, prorogation gave Members of Parliament a chance to go back to their constituencies after many months spent away and ensured that the House of Lords would not be able to initiate or debate new laws while the House of Commons was being elected.
Prorogation has sometimes been controversial. Kings and Queens would often use this procedure to keep Parliament from sitting for months and arguing against some of their policies. As there isn't an election upcoming, this prorogation will only last a week until we return for the State Opening of Parliament by Her Majesty the Queen.
One of the formalities of prorogation is the reading of an announcement on behalf of the Queen, and which is read in the House of Lords, that seeks to sum up what has happened in this legislative session and the major legislation that has been passed. Monarchs used to make these speeches in person – famously Charles I sought to use his prorogation speech to try to cancel all future meetings of Parliament – however the last Monarch to do so was Queen Victoria.
These traditions, I believe, are an important reminder of the ancient history of our parliamentary democracy. We should be proud of that history and the ability of our political system to accommodate both the rituals of our past and the need to adapt itself to the circumstances of the present.
For now, I look forward to Parliament's return next week and the Queen's Speech which will outline the Government's agenda for the next twelve months.
I believe that as the local Member of Parliament, it is important that I make myself as available as possible to our young people, who are not only affected by decisions that are made today but will also be the political participants of the future.
At the start of the week, I was invited to St Peter's Primary School in Leamington. After attending the morning assembly and talking about St George's Day, I was invited to each of the classrooms for a question and answer session with pupils. Despite their age, the children showed a keen interest in the work of an MP and asked some interesting and often tough questions.
On Tuesday, I met with politics students from North Leamington School and Aston University in the Palace of Westminster after they had had a tour, to answer their questions.
Since being elected, I have helped arrange tours for many of our local primary and secondary schools from across the constituency because it is important that we open up as much of our democratic process as possible so that we inspire our young people and enable them to see how our Parliament functions.
The students asked questions on a wide variety of topics from reform of the House of Lords to international aid. Not only did they bring fresh perspectives on these issues but they also showed a high level of personal knowledge and passion and are a credit to the quality of teaching.
I believe we need to do whatever we can to encourage our young people to engage and participate in our politics and I hope to continue to do what I can as the local Member of Parliament to help.
If you would like to arrange a tour or a question and answer session for your school, please contact me on email@example.com
On Saturday 21st of April, I met with The Leamington & District Branch of Parkinson's for them to show their support towards the branch's work.
The Leamington & District Branch were at The Royal Priors Shopping Centre from 9am till 5pm, handing out Parkinson's literature and raising awareness of the work Parkinson's UK does.
On Sunday 20th of May, Parkinson's UK West Midlands are holding an information day at The Heart of England Conference Centre, Meriden Road Fillongley, Warwickshire CV7 8DX. From 2pm-4pm.
You will have the opportunity to learn more about Parkinson's, speak to our specialist staff, meet our local groups and take part in a number of workshops including relaxation, singing, research and Nintendo Wii.
There's no need to book, however workshop places are limited and will be at specific times.
If you are interested in attending any one of them, please call 0844 225 3460.
The Leamington & District Branch meet on the second Thursday of each month from 2:00- 4:00 pm at The Sydni Centre, Marloes Walk, Syndeham.
For more information please contact branch chairman Peter Jackson on 01926 864 234, or alternatively email Ramilla Patel at RPatel@parkinsons.org.uk
One of the biggest challenges facing our country is how we create more jobs. Economic growth is important but unless we are creating work, particularly for our young people, the benefits of growth will not be felt on the ground.
Warwick and Leamington this week saw some good news though with employment figures for March showing a fall in the number of people claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) of 153 compared with March 2011. This means that 3.3% of all people in the constituency, aged between 16-64 years old looking for work, are claiming JSA compared with nearly 7% across the rest of the West Midlands.
Youth employment is also lower locally. The proportion of 18-24 year olds claiming JSA is 4% in Warwick and Leamington compared with 10% in the rest of the West Midlands and over 8% nationally.
Every person out of work is a tragedy and we must never become complacent. But we should be confident that we have the potential to bring down unemployment further in our area.
I believe that this rise in the number of jobs is down to some of the advantages that we have which mean that we are well placed for future growth.
We are home to many headquarters of household names such as Calor Gas and National Grid built on our excellent communication networks. We have access to great educational resources such as Warwickshire College and are located near two world class universities - Warwick and Coventry. We also have a rich heritage, particularly in manufacturing, which gives us a recognisable brand.
This is all within a welcoming, diverse and vibrant community which makes ours a wonderful place to live in.
However we need to do as much as possible to help get jobs flowing into our community.
I often meet with local businesses, keep a dialogue open with the largest employers in our area and take the opportunity to speak to our educational institutions regularly.
We need to make sure that we have the right national policies in place. This means putting our public finances on a sustainable footing, to give people the support they need to get back into work in addition to boosting the number of apprenticeships and delivering a work experience programme.
Progress has been made but I will continue to lobby hard for more action to be taken so that we create as many jobs as possible locally in the years ahead.
As usual, I am writing my Westminster Diary from my office in Westminster, while responding to correspondence from local residents.
However since the start of the month, the House of Commons has been in recess, a break in the parliamentary calendar which acts as a check on Government business stemming the flood of legislation, but its purpose is also to give Members of Parliament the chance to spend more time in their constituencies.
I always welcome the chance to be back at home - I have welcomed the opportunity to meet and discuss relevant issues with over twenty different organisations and local residents including local businesses, local schools, council officers and local charities across the patch.
I have also been pleased to attend a number of local events such as the Citizen of the Year Awards at Leamington Town Hall, which are one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
The most important role of a local MP is to listen to the views of local people, to understand their concerns and opinions and to see if anything can be done to help our community become even better and stronger.
There is often debate about reducing the length of parliamentary recesses so that MPs spend more time in Westminster. I think it is right that we always look at this issue to ensure that Parliament sits for as much time as is necessary to get its business done and to hold the Executive to account.
However there is a balance to be struck. In order to get a better feel for local issues and local concerns, MPs need to be physically present in their communities.
I believe that one of the great strengths of our parliamentary system is the connection between MPs and the places they represent. Fortunately, I am able to get back to the constituency generally on a Thursday evening, but being able to spend time continuously in the community is an opportunity to keep that bond strong and I hope that this will continue to be part of our parliamentary tradition for many years to come.
Since being elected as the local Member of Parliament, I have done what I can help to promote the work of charitable and voluntary sectors in Westminster and to put forward measures that might help them.
This was the main reason why I put forward my Private Member's Bill on changing public service contracts so that social, environment and economic benefits (social value) is considered when tendering our services, not just financial cost – helping charities and voluntary organisations to win more contracts.
However in recent weeks there has been some concern about one measure in the Budget which could have unforeseen negative consequences for our charities – a cap on unlimited income tax reliefs.
At present if you give to charity, you might be able to claim some tax back as an individual. Under the Budget, however, the amount that you can claim back would be limited to 25% of your income if you claim back over £50,000.
While I agree with the sentiments of this move, in order to ensure that those that earn the most share more of the burden of deficit reduction, we should not put people off donating to charity. In an already tough environment for our charities, we should be doing everything we can to encourage philanthropy – large and small.
For that reason I have written to the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke MP, to ask him to exempt charitable donations from the cap.
This would be a small change, which would not cost a lot for the Government but could make a big difference for charities and voluntary organisations that are seeking to access higher levels of private donations.
In countries such as the United States, there are many examples of wealthy philanthropists donating large amounts to charity – for example Bill Gates and Warren Buffet.
We need to create a similar culture of giving in this country and incentives such as tax relief are important way to creating that culture and embedding it across society.
So I will be working with charitable organisations and other parliamentarians to encourage the Government to support charities and exempt them from the cap.
Last year, I spoke in a debate in the House of Commons about town centres and stated my view that we needed to do more to support these 'hubs' of our communities. This year, I have been massively impressed by the energy created by the townspeople of Warwick to become one of the 'Portas Pilots'.
This scheme will see the Government investing around £1m across twelve town centres around the country together with the chance to receive advice from the retail expert, Mary Portas.
Becoming a Portas Pilot will give Warwick the opportunity to promote the great shops, cultural activities and amenities available in the town and allow for Warwick to be one of the first to put into practice the some of the recommendations that Mary Portas outlined in her report.
Warwick is our county town and alongside Leamington, it deserves to be one of the premier locations in the country for people to do business, to shop, to visit and relax. Demographically, geographically and economically, we live in the heart of England and being a Portas Pilot will ensure that we have a chance to display what makes our community such a special place.
The campaign to be a Portas Pilot has received massive support from local businesses to the Town Mayor, with a range of fresh ideas flooding in.
Many local people and businesses have also taken the decision to put some of their own money forward in order to support and show their confidence in the campaign. Thousands of pounds have already been pledged and this match funding could be an important factor in deciding whether Warwick becomes a Portas Pilot.
It is good and important to see the entire town coming together to work on this project and I will be continuing to do what I can to support the campaign.
If you would like to find out more or would like to help, then please visit http://www.warwicktweetup.co.uk/ or go on Twitter and type #warwickportaspilot
Here is my latest article for the Courier on the Budget that was announced this week.
This week the Chancellor gave his third budget since the Coalition Government entered office.
Two things in particular caught my eye. The first thing was the Government's decision to raise the personal tax allowance from £8,105 to £9,205 – an increase of £1,100. This will help working families across the country and lift 74,000 people in the West Midlands out of income tax altogether. If you include the increases that have already taken place, the number of people who no longer pay tax rises to over 175,000.
I believe that this is the right thing to do, at a time when many families are facing higher costs we should be doing everything we can to make life easier. Most basic rate taxpayers will now be £220 better off in cash terms by the end of the year as a consequence of this change.
By the end of the Parliament, the Government is on course to increase the personal allowance to £10,000 which will give more money back to low and middle income families, create additional incentives for people to take up employment and help drive up consumer confidence.
The other important announcement was the decision to consult on creating tax relief for the video games industry. This has been an area in which I have campaigned on with other MPs for two years. The video games industry employs hundreds of people in the constituency, many of them young people, and has the potential to grow significantly in the years ahead.
Research shows that Video Games Tax Relief could generate and safeguard over 4,500 jobs and contribute nearly £300m to our economy. I am pleased to see that the Chancellor has listened to the arguments put forward by myself and others that we should be supporting this industry and ensuring that the UK remains a world leader.
Helping to ease the pressure on family budgets and supporting growth in our economy to create jobs are the two most important things that we can do.
These are difficult times and any budget would have to make tough choices, but I believe that this Budget will help keep the country on the path to growth.
There has been a great deal of discussion recently about the Government's Work Experience programme which is offering young people aged between 16-24 the chance to receive up to eight weeks work experience.
This morning I spoke in a debate in Parliament where we discussed the merits of work experience and the merits of the scheme.
I believe that work experience is a good thing. In my office, I have had around sixteen young people ranging from pupils studying for their GCSEs at local schools to students at Warwick University. Some of these placements have been for a few days; others have lasted a few weeks.
Most who have taken up my offer were interested to learn a bit more about the work that I do as a MP but were also keen to have the opportunity to learn some of the skills that they might need in the work place.
We all need to start somewhere and giving young people the chance to get a taste of working life and to develop good working habits is something that we should actively encourage.
Of course, it is important that we ensure that work experience placements are helping young people. Companies that do decide to offer experience need to make sure that they are giving participants the opportunity to learn new skills, to develop an understanding of the sector they are in and about how they can go on to get future employment.
It is important that this is where we focus our attention, not on being distracted by discussions about whether work experience is right or wrong.
At a time when we are trying to get as many young people back into work as possible, we need to use every tool available to help achieve that goal. Work experience is just one tool that we can use, but it is an important one and I hope that as many employers as possible will take part in the scheme.
If you are a local business and want to take part, then visit http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/work-experience-guide.pdf to find out how you can get involved.
I have just come out of the House of Commons where I listened to the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition propose the 'humble address' to Her Majesty the Queen, congratulating her on her Diamond Jubilee.
Like nearly four million other people, I have been personally honoured to meet the Queen when she came to Leamington to open the new Justice Centre. I was struck by the warmth and kindness of Her Majesty, as someone who deeply cares about our community and the thousands of others that make up our nation.
We are fortunate, in Her Majesty, to have the living embodiment of the values that our country holds dear: duty, strength of character and compassion.
She is also a reminder of the history of our country, both its glory and some of its darkest days such as the Second World War. She provides inspiration, a record of the fact that no matter how tough the challenge might seem, that if we come together, we can meet it and overcome it.
As our world becomes smaller and we become more dependent on each other internationally, the Queen is a bridge between continents. From Canada to India and the islands of the Pacific, the Queen as Head of the Commonwealth, enables us to retain our links with some of the most important regions in the world. She has also been an excellent representative and someone who has earned the respect of many world leaders and institutions.
Our country has changed a great deal over the past sixty years but the monarchy has remained an important piece of the fabric of the nation and in that, Her Majesty has created a great legacy. She has made the monarchy more open to society, better at communicating with it's subjects and relevant to future generations.
I hope that she will continue to reign over us for many years to come, but I think it is important for us in this Diamond Jubilee year to remember the great service she has already given and to thank her for her dedication – without which we would, as a country, be the poorer.
This week my Private Member's Bill passed through Parliament, over a year and a half since I introduced it in the House of Commons back in the summer of 2010.
Seeking to create any new law is a difficult and complex process, but it is particularly difficult for a backbench MP, and even more difficult for a backbench Member of Parliament who has only just been elected. Some MPs go through their entire careers without having the chance of getting a Bill put forward, and even fewer see their Bill become law.
It has been a steep learning curve and a humbling one, but I am delighted that the Bill has will now be put on the statute book.
Although it has taken a great deal of work and a fantastic level of support from the sector to get to this stage, I believe it has passed primarily because it is a 'good' idea.
The Bill asks public bodies (for example local councils, NHS trusts and police authorities) to consider how they might use public service contracts to improve the economic, social and environmental well-being of the area that they serve - our community.
This will hopefully give more voluntary groups, charities and social enterprises a chance to provide the services that we use. Moreover, by considering value in the fullest way possible (not just in a financial sense) I believe that we can deliver better services.
This is common sense and for that reason, the Bill received support from all the main political parties, something that greatly helped it become law.
However now that it has passed, I will be continuing to work with a wide range of national organisations to ensure that we are able to implement the Bill across our country and bring in the culture change it seeks to create.
When I was running as a candidate one of my commitments was to support greater community involvement. I am pleased to say that with this Bill I have acted in the spirit of that pledge, and I hope this change will benefit communities such as ours, for many years to come.
Here is my article I recently put into Works Management, about the need to support manufacturing growth in the regions.
The first seminar of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group this year was on Manufacturing Growth in the Regions.
As a West Midlands MP, I am often concerned that too much economic policy is focused on London and the South East and not enough consideration is given to the support needed by the rest of the country – so I was glad that we have started 2012 by focusing on regional growth. This will then be followed up by individual sessions on some of the regions, including the West Midlands and Yorkshire and the Humber.
One of the biggest barriers to growth in the regions, I believe, is that of perceptions. We often forget that, although London has always had a special place in the British economy, the Industrial Revolution was mainly driven forward in the regions, in cities such as Birmingham and Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle, Glasgow and Belfast.
Our regions are not lost causes, nor is helping them an attempt to swim against the tide of economic development. The rich history of our regions shows that if we get the right conditions and right support in place, that they can compete globally and they can succeed.
There has been some welcome progress on support for the regions through the new Regional Growth Fund – which has already given allocations to around 176 bidders, leveraged £7.5 billion in private sector funding and supported around 300,000 jobs – and the development of new Local Enterprise Partnerships to better tailor the support that businesses receive at a local level.
However more always needs to be done and this is particularly important for manufacturers. The Government needs to look at how we can better support infrastructure development in the regions, so that we can make them more competitive and also how we ensure that we are able to sell our regions internationally so that we can attract inward investment.
The regions have the potential to be the engine that powers our economy's recovery, and I hope that these regional seminars will enable us to develop the ideas to achieve that.
The past couple of years have not been easy ones for businesses in our community or across the country. The decade of debt that preceded the financial crisis in 2008 has left a legacy which we are still dealing with today and has affected many of our shops, particularly smaller local shops which often run on tighter margins.
No one can deny that we are facing challenging circumstances, but I believe that Warwick and Leamington is well placed to meet those challenges in the years ahead.
The latest data indicates that Leamington Spa has one of the lowest town centre vacancy rates in Warwickshire of below 14%. This is in comparison to towns on the other end of the spectrum such as Wolverhampton, Walsall and Stoke which have rates over 25%. This shows that we are holding up relatively well in comparison to others, keeping our area vibrant and open for business.
We are fortunate that we are home to the grand Georgian architecture of Leamington and the glorious Warwick Castle, which ensure that our area has a sense of place and character which can attract visitors and provide the footfall that our local shops need.
Another reason why we are well placed is the fantastic array of shops and businesses that we have in our community. This week, for example, Hatton and Harding in Warwick is in the last three for the Best Small Shop Award. The diversity and creativity of our shops is a strength that we need to capitalise on and showcase.
I am a strong supporter of our local shops and retailers, having signed up to the Federation of Small Businesses "Keep Trade Local" campaign last year in order to encourage people to shop more locally. However we need to do more to highlight the successes on our streets, assist our existing shops and encourage local people who have new business ideas.
We still face tough times, but if we continue to build on these strong foundations then we can see our area thrive as a centre of retail excellence.
International development charity Cord has announced it will host a parliamentary reception on 13th March 2012 with Chris White MP to raise awareness of the increasing challenges facing refugees in Chad.
Cord has been working in Chad since 2004 when 250,000 refugees were forced to flee from their homes in the Darfur region of Sudan. Since then the Leamington-based charity has helped more than 100,000 people to rebuild their lives and currently has 35,000 children in regular education.
The charity's recent study in Chad found that the scarcity of firewood for cooking is increasingly leading to conflict between the indigenous Chadian community and the Sudanese refugees, threatening the balance of peace in the region. On 13th March at the House of Commons Cord will announce a programme which will see revolutionary solar cookers and essential training which has already been delivered to nearly 16,000 people in the refugee camps reach thousands more.
Brian Wakley, chief executive of Cord said: "It is clear that conflict causes poverty, but it is often overlooked that poverty can cause conflict again. We are working in Chad to help the Sudanese refugees take control of their own lives and provide food and education for their children.
"One of the biggest causes of conflict in the region is the scarcity of firewood for cooking, which often creates tension and violence between the indigenous community and the refugees as they both struggle to find resources. The solar cooker offers a revolutionary solution to this challenge."
On average a refugee spends 10 hours a week just finding or buying firewood and carrying it back to the camp. As well as the physical excursion required and the tensions it creates between the two communities it is also creating a serious deforestation problem in Chad.
Chris White MP, supporter of Cord and member of the International Development Select Committee said: "It is so important that we address the causes of conflict early on and work towards a sustainable peace. When I visited the refugees in Chad in 2009 before I was an MP I was overwhelmed by the severity of the situation and could quite easily see how conflict creates poverty and can so quickly create conflict again."
Cord was first established in 1967 and has been working with communities in conflict zones to help them build better lives. The charity currently works in Chad, Burundi, Cambodia, Laos PDR and is dedicated to bringing peace through partnership.
To find out more about Cord visit www.cord.org.uk.
Last Friday, I hosted my second Casework Conference, which this year took place at the SYDNI Centre in Sydenham.
The aim of the conference is to get the people who work on the frontline, providing support to local people who are facing difficult situations, in one room to talk about their work and how together we can better help residents.
Every day, my office answers emails, telephone calls and letters from concerned residents who need help and advice. Often this is the last port of call, when all other avenues have been exhausted. In the past year, my team has dealt with over 600 cases from problems with allotments to tax credits.
Across the constituency, organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau, Macmillan Cancer Support, Jobcentre Plus, CHAIN, Age UK and our excellent community centres such as Brunswick Healthy Living Centre, the Gap Community Centre and the SYDNI Centre are providing similar support to thousands of others.
We are fortunate to have so many dedicated people working to help the community and I will continue to do what I can to support them.
However, one of the clear themes that emerged from the conference was the need for better communication.
Better communication between organisations, between the government and citizens and between government and organisations on the ground. This conference is a means to help improve communication, and I will be continuing to work with these organisations to see what we can do in the future to get information out to local residents about the support on offer.
There are a wide variety of changes occurring across the public sector – particularly in the structure of the welfare system. This presents challenges to organisations who have to find out how they can best assist people through the new procedures and also to the government, to ensure that we get the right information out there so that people are clear about what help is available.
I am grateful to all the organisations that attended the conference and if you want to contact me about getting involved in future casework conferences, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In my fortnightly article for the Courier, I looked at how we can support local business.
This week I have been spent a great deal of time focusing on business and how it can be supported and helped to grow in the years ahead.
At the start of the week, I had the great pleasure of visiting CeWe Color Ltd in Warwick, in recognition of the start of National Apprenticeship Week. We are fortunate to have an excellent institution in Warwickshire College right on our door step and they are providing top quality apprenticeships to hundreds of young people and adults each year, which ensure that local businesses have the access to the skills that they need to grow.
Last year, the Government exceeded its target of creating over 200,000 apprenticeships. Overall 257,000 new apprenticeships were undertaken with some of our biggest employers from BT to Rolls-Royce. By ensuring that we have the right skills in place, business can lay the foundations and I will be continuing to support efforts to increase the number and range of apprenticeship that are available.
On Tuesday night, I attended the annual Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) dinner and listened to a speech given by the Chancellor George Osborne. In his speech, the Chancellor made clear that the Government would continue to follow pro-growth policies to support business. I fully support efforts to help our small businesses such as the small business rate relief holiday and the reduction of regulations that hold business back.
I will also continue to support the FSB's campaign to 'Keep Trade Local' so that we recognise the importance of small local businesses and the benefit that they have to our community.
I also spoke in a debate about international trade and exports. In Europe, countries such as Germany see around 25% of their small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) export their products. In Britain, the figure is around 20% and if we are going to rebalance our economy then we need to aim to match that European standard – for that reason, I welcome the National Challenge that the Government has launched to improve SME exports. I particularly want to support our manufacturers and ensure that they have the ability to compete in the emerging markets of South America and South East Asia.
Skills, small businesses and exports are key to our economy and I will be continuing to meet with local employers to discuss what more can be done to help. If you are a local businesses and you'd like to meet to talk about this in more detail, please email me on email@example.com.
This week I wrote about my teaching experience at Campion School, please feel free to leave your comments below!
Last Friday I was delighted to have the opportunity to teach a lesson at Campion School. My task was to teach a group of Year 8 pupils (aged between 12-13 years old) about the English Civil War –the battles, how they were fought and the social impact of the war.
It was a real privilege to be able to teach the students, although only for an hour. It showed me once again the fantastic work that our teachers do every day to help educate our young people and to create lessons which engage them and bringing subjects to life.
I admit, it was one of the most challenging things that I have done since becoming a Member of Parliament, but also incredibly rewarding and the brief experience will stay with me for a very long time.
Campion School, which became an Academy at the start of this year, is an example of a strong local school with a positive ethos and identity through effective leadership and committed teaching.
Teachers and staff at our schools know exactly what they need to do get the best from our young people and combine this with a drive and passion that can change lives.
In Westminster, I have supported the Government's reforms to the education system, which will see teachers have more power in the classroom, a greater opportunity to tailor their schools to fit local circumstances and more freedoms with how they spend their budgets.
Accountability is important as well, and we need to continue to encourage and strengthen the voice of parents and local people. Governors have a key role to play, as I know, and it is by establishing strong links between governors, parents and teachers that we can create excellent institutions.
I was glad to have to chance to get some firsthand experience of some of the challenges that our teachers face, day in and day out, particularly in terms of the time it takes to prepare a lesson (and I am grateful for the advice that the Head teacher gave me on this) and to engage young minds and I will continue to regularly meet with local teachers and governors so that I am able to express their concerns in Westminster.
Nothing is more important than the education of future generations, and I will to continue to support our teachers in the excellent work that they do. But most of all, I would like to thank the year 8 class that had me teach them for an hour. I thank them for their patience!
In my maiden speech, back in June 2010, one of the key areas that I referred to was welfare reform.
I highlighted the situation of a constituent who was claiming jobseeker's allowance and desperately wanted to work but because of the welfare system found that she was better off on benefits than she was in employment – effectively, it cost to work. I said that this was unacceptable and one of the best ways that we could help our society would be to make our welfare system fairer and more sustainable.
For this reason, I supported the Government's efforts to change the system and voted for the Welfare Reform Bill as part of a plan to achieve this change.
Under the provisions of the Bill, a new Universal Credit will be created which will bring together Working Tax Credits, Child Tax Credits, Housing Benefit, Income Support, income-based Jobseeker's Allowance and income-related Employment and Support Allowance into one benefit.
The Universal Credit will enable those that move from benefits into work to keep more of their money and it will also make it simpler for recipients to plan ahead.
These proposals will cost around £2 billion to implement, but will in the long term deliver considerable savings and will make detecting fraud easier.
However while incentives like this are important, it is also right that we have a system that is fair on taxpayers. One of the proposals in the Bill is to put a cap on benefits that a single household can receive of £26,000.
This would mean that no one could earn more by staying on benefits than the average income. I believe that this is the right thing to do and will ensure that families who work do not feel they are being treated unfairly.
In recent weeks, members of the House of Lords have voted to reject the benefit cap. I understand their reasons, but I believe that the cap is an important part of ensuring that fairness works both ways. The Government has made clear that it will ask the Lords to reconsider their decision and this is something which I support.
We need to ensure that we overhaul our benefit system and focus on jobs and growth so that there is employment for people to get into. This Bill is an important step forward in improving our welfare system and I hope that we can generate a consensus around these proposals in the weeks ahead.
In my Observer Article, I discuss the recent debate we had on Town Centres and my views on the future of these important institutions.
This week saw a debate in the House of Commons on the important topic of our town centres – something which I helped to secure alongside fellow Warwickshire MP, Marcus Jones.
All too often, our towns are not given sufficient attention and too much focus is placed upon our big cities, despite the fact that the majority of our population live in towns.
Fortunately, however, the Government has taken the decision to look closely at towns and town centres, with the setting up of the Portas Review. The debate this week gave the House of Commons the opportunity to consider the report and our town centres .
I believe that town centres are more than just a collection of shops; they are communal and social spaces which people live in.
This is important because if we only think about our town centres in terms of retail, then we limit their potential and also leave them vulnerable during periods of economic difficulty.
We also need to make our town centres more responsive to the desires of local people.
The internet gives us a powerful tool to understand the thoughts of residents and local authorities need to make sure that they are accessing this information, co-ordinating at all levels their activities, so that they create town centres which are what people want not merely what has been given to them.
This is especially necessary, as local people are the lifeblood of our town centres. Without their continued loyalty and support, town centres cannot hope to survive. It is therefore not a question of whether we engage local people in forming our town centres, but how we do this.
Our town centres are vitally important for our community; they are the backbone of our local economy and need to be properly considered. I hope that by devolving power downwards, we can give residents, businesses and local authorities the tools that they need to create town centres fit for the 21st Century.
In my Courier Article this week, I look at the recent decision by the Government to go ahead with High Speed Rail 2.
Like many in our community, I was most disappointed to see the Transport Secretary announce this week that she would be giving the go ahead for High Speed Rail 2 (HS2).
The more I have examined this issue, the closer I have looked at the business case and the longer I have considered the potential impact that it has on our area, the more convinced I am that this project is not right for Warwick and Leamington, nor for the country at large.
There is a great deal of talk about our Victorian railways and the need to build HS2 in order to modernise our infrastructure. But we mustn't forget that we are in the middle of our own 21st Century industrial revolution, one which isn't powered by coal and steam but by microchips and fibre optic cables.
So to invest £33 billion of public money, at a cost of £51m to each and every constituency, on one scheme which has a questionable evidence base, lacks a consensus not only amongst the public but amongst rail experts which will see hundreds of miles of our countryside irrevocably damaged, does not make sense – particularly when we face a time of national austerity and where there are many other projects which are potentially more worthwhile.
In the space of three years, the Department of Transport has gone from rejecting the need for a high speed rail line to enthusiastically supporting its development. I do not believe that there has been a proper consideration of this issue, and given the scale of the project in terms of cost and time, a full and independent commission should have been set up to ensure that we make a decision based on the best information possible.
That being said, the Government has now made a decision. But I will continue to oppose this scheme and ask it to reconsider. I will vote against the legislation when it comes before the House of Commons, whenever that may be.
This is the wrong decision, but I am still hopeful that if local people and campaigning organisations work together, we can still make a difference to the final outcome.
Courier New Year's Message:
2012 promises to be a busy year. As your Member of Parliament, I will be continuing to respond as best I can to the concerns of local residents whether that is through my regular surgeries, visiting schools, local businesses, charities and other organisations across the constituency or answering the large amount of correspondence I get every week.
We know that next year will not be easy. Large challenges still remain across the global economy that will need to be resolved, particularly in Europe. And we will need to continue to ensure that we get on top of our debts and deliver quality public services at home too.
However, I am positive that as a community we can make sure that the most vulnerable are supported and we build on the relationships that make our neighbourhood so special.
Most importantly, I will carry on defending the interests of residents on the issues that matter to them most. Whether that is on a national scale through opposing projects such as High Speed Rail 2 or on the local level by, for example, trying to ensure that school children are safe on their way to school or trying to support our youth centres, I will endeavour to make your voice heard.
In Westminster, I have focused on a variety of areas from championing the cause of local charities and voluntary organisations through my Private Member's Bill to speaking up for our manufacturing industry so that we can create the jobs and growth that we need in the years ahead. I hope that next year we can have further progress on all these fronts and, fingers crossed, see my Private Member's Bill become law in the spring.
We also have a lot to look forward to next year. The Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic Games in London will be great opportunities for us to celebrate our unique cultural and sporting heritage both locally and nationally.
Being your Member of Parliament is an incredible privilege, particularly because it gives me the chance to support and get involved in my community, which I care deeply about. The past twelve months have been challenging, as will the next and I look forward to continuing to work as hard as I can for the constituents of Warwick and Leamington.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and healthy 2012.
Observer New Year's Message:
2011 was a tough year for people across our community. The continued instability in Europe, rising food and energy prices and the need for tightening the public finances have meant that many difficult decisions have had to be made, whether that is in households, businesses or Government.
And while progress has been made towards getting our economy moving forward again, 2012 promises to be a year which will be equally challenging.
As your local Member of Parliament I have seen firsthand some of these challenges that we face – with local services, for local businesses or opportunities for our young people.
It is my intention over the next twelve months to continue to focus on these important issues and to work with local authorities, local businesses, local community groups and local residents to see what can be done to help.
In the past year I have visited many local organisations, met with hundreds of residents at my regular surgeries and responded to thousands of letters and emails that you have sent. I know that across Warwick and Leamington, there is a real sense of a community and of wanting to play a part in helping others.
This gives me great confidence for the year ahead. If we can use this spirit of community and channel it positively, then I believe that we can not only get through the next twelve months but be stronger for it.
Moreover, as your Member of Parliament I will also continue to express your views on the issues that you have raised, whether that is on a local or national level.
My first priority has been and will continue to be standing up for local concerns and using my role to help those residents and organisations where I can make a difference. This is something that definitely won't change in the year ahead.
So as we look forward, we should recognise the challenges that we face but be optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead. With national celebrations to come - the Diamond Jubilee and 2012 Olympics – this is a great chance for us all to reflect on our country's great traditions and also to focus on what we want for the future.
But most importantly of all, I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year.
In my Courier Article, I looked at the latest news for manufacturing. I'd be interested to know your views, please comment below.
As we come to the end of the year there has been some good news emerging regarding our international trade. The latest figures on the value of UK trade to non-EU countries published last week shows that our exports to the rest of the world have increased by £1.3 billion in October, this is up 20% from last year.
This shows that despite the problems ongoing in the Eurozone, we are seeing our trade increase in those emerging markets which are the key for our economic future.
Manufacturing has had a big role, and will have a big role, in achieving increases in exports to emerging markets and as the co-Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group I am keen to promote the importance of manufacturing in Westminster.
So this week, I was pleased to meet with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, Vince Cable MP and the Minister for Business, Mark Prisk MP, to look at what is being done to support manufacturers and how we can do more.
I made clear to the Ministers that I believe we need to see more joined up thinking across Government and a fully fleshed out strategy for manufacturing, with targets that enable us to measure success, would enable us to do that. We also need to see more support for manufacturers to gain access to the finance that they need, and I suggested that we should consider a 'Bank for Industry' which could leverage in the extra investment the sector needs.
I also believe that we need a strong voice for manufacturing and a dedicated Minister for Manufacturing who could work across departments, similar to what the City Minister does for financial services.
The Secretary of State and the Minister made clear their determination to do more to help manufacturing and to work constructively with the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group in the future. Already progress is being made on helping more manufacturers to export, on providing more funding for apprentices so that we have the skills we need and supporting innovation to ensure that Britain continues to design and make world beating products.
But there is always more that we can do, and while this month's good news shows the potential for the sector, politicians, business leaders and academics need to work together to ensure that we make the most of that potential and thus develop the growth and jobs of the future.
In my article for the Courier, I looked at the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. Please feel free to leave comments below.
This week the Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement. The news was more serious and less positive than any of us would have hoped. Higher than expected inflation, sharp increases in global prices and the continued crisis in the euro area has impacted growth and made our recovery more challenging. A realisation of the scale of the economic circumstances we now face.
But most important is the effect this situation has on people's lives. We need to focus more than ever on getting our deficit down so we turn interest on debt into investment in schools and hospitals.
Otherwise the cost to families across the country will be huge. Just a 1% rise in the market interest rate could add £10 billion to mortgage bills – costing the average family around an extra £1,000 per year. The cost of business loans would rise by £4 billion, making it harder for firms to create more jobs and we would have to find an extra £21 billion to pay off debt interest – money that could have been spent better elsewhere.
However, getting our deficit down isn't enough on its own and we need to see growth.
Over £5 billion has been set aside to fund infrastructure improvements alongside a potential £20 billion investment from the private sector which will create new jobs and benefit business.
The National Loan Guarantee Scheme will mean that small and medium sized businesses will be able to get better access to credit. The Small Business Rate Relief holiday which has reduced rates or eliminated them for nearly 500,000 businesses, has been extended till April 2013 and the Regional Growth Fund will see an extra £1 billion invested into regional economies.
Despite the state of the public finances, more has been found to help households. Fuel Duty which was planned to rise by 3p in January will now not go ahead till August 2012. This will cost families £144 less on filling up the average family car by the end of next year. Rail fairs will also be capped to RPI plus one per cent.
Other difficult decisions have had to be taken. The propose increase of the State Pension Age to 67 has been brought forward to April 2026. Public sector pay has also been capped to 1% for each of the next two years. Child Tax Credits and Working Tax Credits have been frozen also to ensure that welfare remains affordable.
There will be no quick fix that can transform the economic situation overnight. The global economic outlook remains gloomy. However, it is the responsibility of government to deliver a sound and sustainable economic future for the long term, for this country. The alternative is inconceivable.
In an article for ClearlySo, the Social Enterprise Consultancy, I gave an update about my Private Member's Bill and its progress.
Last Friday, my Private Member's Bill – the Public Services (Social Value) Bill – completed its Report Stage and passed its Third Reading with the unanimous support of the House of Commons.
This was a big day for social enterprise up and down the country and it was down to months of lobbying and pressure from the sector, that Members of Parliament took the decision to instil social value throughout the commissioning process.
The Bill is a small technical change, but it could make a big difference.
The Bill would ask commissioners when procuring public services to consider social value – the additional environmental, social and economic benefits that can be accrued to communities above and beyond the delivery of the service – when they craft what the contract will involve.
This will give social enterprises a better chance of winning public service contracts and I believe will help to diversify our public services, to make them better and to get our communities more involved in their delivery.
It has been a long process. It has been a year since the Bill passed its Second Reading with the support of all parties. But getting a Bill through the House is a tough process, especially for a backbencher.
What has made this Bill so successful however is the consensus that has developed around it. Everyone I have met on this subject believes it is common sense for public services to be commissioned in a way that is not just about cost – although cost is important – but about securing 'value'.
For too long value has just been about estimating the monetary worth of a service and deciding purely on that. But value means more.
If you take the example of delivering adult social care services, cost is certainly one part of value. But if you engage with your local community, get volunteers to help provide company to some of the users, if you source your food sustainably and locally and if you reinvest those profits back into the service you provide – they also deserve importance and should be considered in the contracting process.
We still have more steps to take on this journey. The Bill has now entered the House of Lords where social enterprise supporter and Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Newby has kindly sponsored the Bill.
But the social enterprise community needs to keep banging the drum for change, so that peers support it and we can pass it before the end of this session. Nothing would be more disappointing if, having come so far, we were not able to see this through.
I am confident, however, that with the continued advocacy of social enterprises across the country and organisations at a national, regional and local level, we can get this Bill through and make a positive difference for all our communities.
Below is my latest article for Works Management:
The latest Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group focused on one of the biggest issues affecting the sector at the moment: how do we increase our exports?
Weak domestic demand and the legacy of debt from the previous decade have meant that the only way that our manufacturing sector is going to achieve significant growth is through selling our goods and services abroad.
The 30% devaluation of the pound from its peak in 2008 would traditionally have given our manufacturers are big competitive advantage in export markets, however in recent months with events in Europe, we have seen the recovery of our manufacturing sector slow down.
The APMG arranged a meeting with Lord Green, Minister of State for Trade and Investment to look at the ways that we can help boost our exports. There have been some good news stories with exports to emerging markets growing rapidly.
But there is still much more that needs to be done – in particular with small and medium sized businesses. If we could get 100,000 SMEs to sell overseas we could add £30 billion to the UK economy, wipe out our trade deficit and create around 100,000 new jobs.
In order to do that we need to get more information out to businesses about how to export and the support that is on offer. UKTI is already launching a big initiative to help spread the message out to businesses and is creating a new "Passport to Export" which will assess companies readiness to export, provide mentoring, give training and prepare companies for the rigours of the international market place.
Lord Green also highlighted the new Export Enterprise Finance Guarantee which provides short term guarantees for loans from lenders to viable SMEs seeking short term export finance facilities. These can be anything between £25k to £1m for up to 2 years.
We need to get the message out there that there is support for businesses that want to export. I would be interested to hear of any experiences that readers have of challenges and successes that they have had with exporting - please contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org
In my Observer Article this week, I discussed a debate I helped secure on the future of manufacturing in the UK and also progress on my Private Member's Bill.
Next Tuesday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer will announce the conclusions of the government's growth strategy at his annual Autumn Statement.
In advance of his statement I have, alongside other colleagues, secured time for a debate in the House of Commons on the future of manufacturing in the UK.
All political parties accept that we need to rebalance our economy away from consumer demand and more towards exports. If we are to achieve this, then manufacturing is the only solution. Even at the height of the banking boom in 2008 financial services only generated 30% of the exports that our manufacturers were able to achieve.
Our community is particularly well placed to benefit from an increase in manufacturing. We have a rich manufacturing history locally, dating back to the development of the canal system during the industrial revolution. William Flavel, representing Leamington won a Gold Medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851 for his invention of the first modern kitchen cooker.
These historical examples should not be an excuse for nostalgia but should inspire us to do more.
Across the constituency there are still many great manufacturing businesses but what they need is a long term commitment from the Government of investment in skills, transport infrastructure and access to finance.
I will be asking the Government to continue to invest in upgrading the skills of our young people, through apprentices and through better design and technology education. Warwick and Leamington will already see an extra 210 apprenticeship places, an increase of 60% on the previous year – but this must only be the beginning.
I will also call upon the Government to create a new Minister for Manufacturing so that there is a dedicated voice for manufacturing in the government, who can beat the drum for business and ensure that we continue to advance the competitiveness of British industry in an increasingly tough global export market.
If we want to see strong growth, then manufacturing is the key industry to achieving this. As co-chair of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group I will be continuing to push the Government to support our manufacturers and provide a space for policy-makers, experts and business to discuss how we can achieve the growth we need.
This week I'll also be steering my Private Member's Bill on reforming our procurement system to support charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprise through its Report Stage and Third Reading – and I look forward to reporting on that debate in next week's paper.
The next three days caused by the unexpected recess are pretty packed and I have arranged meetings with a variety of different organisations and residents.
By the time this paper has gone to print, I will have already met with local county councillors over the issue of passenger transport assistants, made a visit to the Netherfield Association, an excellent day care centre in Lillington and been interviewed by students from Warwick University about the impact on Coalition policies on mental health services, higher education and our communities.
I'm also visiting two schools, Bishops Tachbrook Primary School to open a new school room and Warwick School to meet with the Headmaster about some of the Government's education policies.
A great deal of my time is spent visiting community organisations to find out more about their activities and to see if there are any ways I can help. So I'll also be visiting Cranstoun Community Drug Agency in Leamington, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation service, to learn about the important work that they do and how we can help maintain this important service.
Understanding the views and concerns of local business is also one of my top priorities, and so I am visiting local energy company Encraft to discuss some of the changes that have been made to the Government's green policies, in particular to Feed-in-Tariffs, so that I can take their concerns back to Ministers. Just prior to this, at the invitation of Natural England, I am taking the opportunity to look at water quality in line with the water framework directive through a visit to the Campion Hills Water Treatment Works, a partnership work between Severn Trent Water and the Environment Agency.
This will be a busy three days, but I always welcome the chance to meet with local residents to discuss the issues that affect them.
If you are a local charity or business and you'd like to discuss your organisation then please do not hesitate to call my office on 01926 315 888 or email at email@example.com and I'll be happy to arrange a meeting.
This week is profound one in our national calendar. The two minutes' silence on the 11th November and the service of remembrance held at the Cenotaph, which is repeated across the country, are an opportunity for us to remember the brave sacrifice of those who gave up their lives so that we could live free.
It is made all the more poignant by the fact that many of our servicemen and women are still engaged in operations across the world, particularly in Afghanistan. My thoughts, and those of all readers I am sure, go out to these personnel and their families.
This year also marks the 90th Anniversary of that great institution, the Royal British Legion. Formed after the First World War to support those who had served their country and to support the families of those who lost loved ones - it is an organisation which does fantastic work in communities up and down the country alongside many other Armed Forces charities all year round.
For that reason, I was pleased to attend the Legion's Poppy Appeal Launch in Leamington a few weeks ago and to attend a service of remembrance with the RBL's Warwick Branch last weekend.
The Legion hopes to raise a significant amount this year through its Poppy Appeal – and although these are difficult times, I am confident that the generosity of the British people will shine through and I know that the appeal will receive strong support, as always, in our community.
The poppy is, however, a symbol of more than sacrifice. It is a sign of the bonds between generations, of the importance of community and the duty that we all have to look after those that have given so much.
As we honour the fallen this week, let us not forget this and endeavour to do what we can to remember them.
I wrote my Courier Article this week on Labour Party's revised route for High Speed Rail 2 and why I think we need to look at the project as a whole, not just a route.
Many readers will be aware that this week, the Labour Party has announced a revised route to the High Speed Rail 2 line (HS2).
This new proposal would see the track following parts of the M40 before potentially rejoining the currently proposed line somewhere in Warwickshire. This could mean that part of the high speed rail line would run south of Warwick and affect many communities in the constituency.
I have already made clear that I do not support HS2.
I do not believe that HS2 makes economic or environmental sense and asks people across the country to make sacrifices for a project which has questionable benefits.
This change from the Opposition shows that there is a growing realisation across Westminster that this issue not closed.
There still needs to be a proper discussion about the economic benefits, about the potential environmental benefits and whether these benefits are worth the cost. This would be best done through a full and, more importantly, independent review of High Speed Rail 2 and I hope that it would receive cross-party support.
A complete review headed up by a team of experts from transport, business and environmental groups would ensure that we make the best decision possible. This would be expected of any major infrastructure project, but it is particularly important given the scale and cost of High Speed Rail 2.
We all agree that Britain needs to radically overhaul its transport infrastructure if we are to be competitive in the years ahead. No one disagrees about the ends, the question is about the means to that end.
Discussions about changing the route are pre-emptive because they still do not answer the most fundamental question: Do we need High Speed Rail 2 at all?
I believe that the answer to that question is no, but I would like to see all parties attempt to resolve that debate first, before we make any decisions regarding the route.
This is going to be a long process, but I will be continuing to represent the concerns of residents over the coming months and years ahead. I will also endeavour to keep residents informed through local media and my website about developments. You can see my thoughts on high speed rail online at www.chriswhiteMP.com/high-speed-rail
In my Observer Article this week, I outlined my position on the European Union Referendum Motion and the reasons why I voted the way I did.
A great deal of attention this week has been focused on the European Union Referendum Motion that was debated in the House of Commons on Monday.
After nearly six hours of debate, the motion to have a referendum was rejected by a majority of 372 MPs from all sides of the House. I voted against the motion.
This was not because I did not believe that reform to the EU is not necessary. I believe that reform is vital for Britain's interests. If we are to secure a stronger future for our country, then the EU needs to become leaner, more efficient and less prescriptive. Britain and other member states need to be given greater freedom to act, so that they can take decisions based on what is best for their communities and unnecessary bureaucracy needs to be scrapped.
However this referendum was neither the right way to achieve that reform nor was this the right time.
Firstly, the motion, as written, could have led to a significant minority holding up the majority's desire to see big changes in our relationship with the EU. A three-way referendum may also have given mixed signals – which rather than strengthening our hand in Europe, could actually have weakened it.
Secondly, the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary have rightly committed the Government to renegotiating our membership of the EU. This will take time, and we need to give the Government the space to properly make our case.
Thirdly and most importantly, at a time when we need to be relentlessly focused on jobs and growth here and now, we should not be distracted from achieving these goals through a debate that would force us to take our eye off the ball. Any referendum should only occur, when we have secured our recovery and seen growth and jobs return. In addition, legislation has already been put in place, in this Parliament, that if there is any proposed significant treaty change a referendum will be automatically triggered.
That being said, I believe that the debate on Monday was a step forward. It confirmed that this Government is serious about changing our relationship with the EU.
We now need to move on, to put in place the foundations for a stronger and sustainable economy and society, so that when we do return to this issue, we do so from a position of strength and can secure the changes that this country needs.
This week my Private Member's Bill passed its Committee Stage, an important milestone in the Bill's legislative journey towards becoming law.
In June 2010, I presented my Private Member's Bill to reform the public sector procurement process and make it easier for local charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises to help deliver our public services - inspired by many of the fantastic organisations that work across our community.
Since then, the Bill has received cross-party support during the Second Reading debate and has now successfully passed through its Committee Stage. This phase of the legislative process allows Bills to be debated and scrutinised line by line. It is an opportunity for a small group of MPs, from all parties, to consider the Bill in detail and to enhance or modify the proposals.
The Government, represented by the Minister for Civil Society, Nick Hurd MP, introduced a series of amendments which saw some parts of the Bill removed and other technical changes made.
This sparked a lively debate between members of the Bill Committee but the motivation of all parties was to ensure that we support our charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises and do what we can to help open up the area of public service procurement.
It is important that as we review our public services, that we maximise the use of the skills, knowledge and dedication of organisations who have the best interests of our local communities at heart.
Bringing forward a Bill as a backbench MP is no simple task. But I am delighted to have had the support of hundreds of organisations from across civil society who have encouraged the Government to listen and focused all parties on finding a way that we can best support these vital organisations.
As a Member of Parliament, presenting, debating and voting on new laws is a key task and responsibility. I hope that through this Bill, we can make a real difference for the benefit of people and organisations up and down the country. This is what the Bill has set out to do.
This Thursday will see the first debate in the chamber of the House of Commons on High Speed Rail 2. This follows the handing in of a petition of 108,000 signatures opposing the scheme, by campaigners and politicians, including myself, into Downing Street.
While the consultation process has now finished, there has been a growing awareness around the country not only of the scale of the project but also of its potential costs.
Newspapers such as the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Economist have stated their opposition as well as respected organisations such as the Taxpayer's Alliance, the Institute of Economic Affairs, the Adam Smith Institute and the National Trust.
The longer the debate has continued, the stronger the opposition has become.
Alongside colleagues, I will be seeking to make clear to the Government that there is time to reconsider this policy. While all sides agree that we need to see significant investment in our transport infrastructure over the next decade and beyond, we should be looking again at the more sustainable and incremental changes that may deliver the necessary improvements and enhancements at a lower cost.
However while this week's debate in Parliament is important, this is a long process. A vote on the issue is unlikely before 2013 and the building work itself would not begin until 2017 with the first train being boarded in 2025.
There is still a great deal more discussion to be had and it is incumbent on both supporters and opponents of the scheme to come together to ensure that we work out the costs and benefits, so that we make decisions based on the best evidence available.
I have made clear my position, that HS2 would not benefit our community economically, socially or environmentally. But this week's debate should not be end of the matter, but merely the opening phase in a much wider national dialogue about the proposals.
Given that HS2 is likely to cost each constituency around £51m – this is the least that should be done.
This week I looked back on my work over the Conference Recess and I look forward to the new Parliamentary session which is about to begin. Please feel free to leave your thoughts below!
Next week, Parliament starts up again after the Conference Recess.
It has been a busy few weeks and I have enjoyed the opportunity to get out around the constituency, to meet with local residents, visit businesses and voluntary organisations and hold my surgeries.
Following the visit earlier this summer by the Minister of State for Health, Simon Burns, I was pleased to be present for the visit of the Prime Minister, David Cameron to Warwick Hospital. This visit recognised the award given to Warwick Hospital as the Most Improved Hospital in the UK and shows the dedication and excellence of our doctors, nurses and health professionals.
We are also fortunate to have Warwickshire College as part of our community and in meeting with the Principal recently, I am confident that with the extra support being given by the Government for apprenticeships and the strong management team of the College, that we will see many young people given the help they need to find good careers.
I also attended and spoke at the recent Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Meeting, which was a great opportunity to meet with local businesses to find how we can best create an environment in which our small businesses can thrive.
However, while the recess is over there is also more work to be done representing our community both locally and nationally. Next Thursday there will be a debate on High Speed Rail 2 in the House of Commons in which I hope to make clear the concerns of local residents. And next Friday there is the Local Enterprise Partnership Conference at the Ricoh Arena which will focus on how we can keep our local economy moving forward.
My Private Member's Bill on Social Value also receives its Bill Committee in two weeks time, an opportunity to advance an important piece of legislation that could benefit tens of thousands of small businesses, social enterprises and charities.
Over the next few months, I will be continuing to work hard for our community and if you would like to keep up to date with what I am doing, then please sign up to my e-newsletter at www.chriswhiteMP.com or following me on Twitter @ChrisWhite_MP.
Computer Suite donated by Fijitsu to Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs
At the start of the month I was pleased to open a new computer suite which has been kindly donated by Fijitsu to the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs. After several months working with Fijitsu to find the best way to support community organisations through new equipment, it was good to see the new suite set up and I look forward to it being put to good use by our young people.
If you want to find out more about the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs, then please look at their website : http://wayc.org.uk/
Public Bill Committee Announced
When Parliament came back after the summer recess, the Public Bill Committee for my Private Member's Bill on Social Value was announced. The Committee will meet when Parliament returns in October and will give the opportunity for all parties to propose amendments before the final legislative stages back in the House of Commons.
You can find the latest information about my Public Services (Social Enterprise and Social Value) Bill here and on my website.
I also made a speech to a ClearlySo's Public Asset Seminar at the Guardian about my Bill which you can read on the website "Speeches" section..
Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Meeting
On Friday 23rd September, I attended and spoke at the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Meeting. Chambers of Commerce are vitally important links between policy makers and the business community, and I was glad to be able to hear the views of local employers.
If you are a local business or have any ideas about how we can support our local economy, then please do get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org
Around the constituency
September was a busy month. I spoke at the Renewable Energy Club Warwickshire's meeting on the Green Deal, met with local police officers at my constituency office, attended my first planning meeting of the Motionhouse as a trustee, was present at the first meeting of Innovation: Design Birmingham at the Birmingham Institute for Art and Design, saw the new equipment presentation for local schools through the Tesco for Schools & Clubs in Warwick, visited the Saturday Club at Coten End Youth Centre, met with the acting Head of Lillington Primary School, held a discussion with the Principal of Warwickshire College, visitied Bravissimo in Leamington Spa, spoke about how we help small businesses with Lloyds Banking Group, met with the CEO of PCT Arden Cluster, held a working group meeting of the Warwick and Leamington Energy Forum at my constituency office, met with Governors and the Head Teacher of Telford Infant School and attended the World's Biggest Coffee Mornings for Macmillan Cancer Support in Whitnash and Hatton Village Hall amongst other things.
To find out more about what I have been doing this month, see the interactive map on my website.
Parliament in brief
Parliament is now on recess for the party conference season, but during September I raised the issue of local government procurement in the House of Commons, attending an officer's meeting of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, chaired an event on procurement for the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group and addresed the ClearlySo Public Asset Seminar at the Guardian.
I also submitted written questions about health, local government and policing in Parliament which can be seen at TheyWorkForYou.com
In October, I'll be meeting with the Head Teacher of Campion School, meeting with Severn Trent Water, attending the Action 21 AGM at the Sydni Centre, meet with the Head Teacher of Aylesford School, attending the Annual Regimental Parade Service at St Mary's Church in Warwick, speaking at the Diwali Celebration at the Royal Spa Centre, visiting Dennis Eagle, going to the Local Enterprise Partnership Conference at the Ricoh Arena, attending the Anti-Poverty Week Seminar of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty and attending the Poppy Launch for the Royal British Legion as well as other engagements.
I'll be continuing to run my regular surgeries as always and if you wish to make an appointment please do not hesitate to get in touch.
This week, I have written about the proposed planning changes in my fortnightly column for the Observer. Please feel free to comment about it by clicking below.
Over the past few weeks, one of the main issues which residents have written and emailed me about has been the Government's proposed planning reforms through the draft National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).
I believe that everyone recognises the importance of securing economic growth over the coming years. Britain needs to be as competitive as possible, in order to attract investment from overseas, to provide new opportunities for businesses at home and to ensure that new jobs are created which will help get our economy moving in the right direction.
Moreover, we are facing shortages in housing across the country. A report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) indicated that by 2025, without higher levels of house building, the UK would have a shortfall of 750,000 homes.
However while getting the planning regime right is important for our future – that should not mean overriding the will of local communities or scaling back environmental protections.
Like many, I welcomed the end of the Regional Spatial Strategies, because I believe that it should be local communities that decide the future development of their areas, not top-down target setting. Any reforms to the planning system must ensure above all that local people have their say. The Localism Bill strengthens local communities power over planning through the creation of new Local Plans, the potential for neighbourhood level planning and a variety of mechanisms such as local referenda.
Any new NPPF should give ample time for local communities to put in place local plans and thus ensure local accountability.
Our natural environment needs to be protected. This includes not only those places of scientific interest or areas of outstanding natural beauty – but also everyday special places which provide us all with the chance to enjoy our wonderful green spaces.
Any planning changes need to be sensitive to the need to care for our environmental heritage.
I have written to the Minister in charge of these reforms, Greg Clark MP, and made clear my concerns and the concerns of residents. I will continue to keep a close eye on these reforms and I urge all residents who feel concerned to make their views known through the public consultation online: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/planningandbuilding/draftframeworkconsultation
In my Courier Article this week I highlighted the need to ensure fairness in the way that we tackle our the deficit and to make sure that the richest pay their fair share of the burden.
The conference season has begun with the Liberal Democrats holding theirs in Birmingham. These occasions give all parties an opportunity to articulate their views about the challenges that we face in the years ahead.
One of the big issues to emerge this week was the 50p rate of tax for those earning over £150,000, which affects around 310,000 people who earn around six times the average individual income.
Most would agree that those with the broadest shoulders should take a larger share of the burden, such as the 50p rate, and this is an attempt to ensure that we face our economic challenges in a fair way. I think this is right.
There is currently a review in progress by the Government to find out whether the 50p rate is the most effective way to achieve this fairness – if this does not turn out to be the most effective way to raise revenue, then I believe, as Nick Clegg said, that we should consider a variety of different measures to make sure that the richest in our society contribute to paying down our debts and investing in our future, whilst at the same time reducing the burden on those with the lowest incomes.
One of the many ideas that has been mooted is a tax on the most expensive properties. Any tax of this kind would have to be set at a suitable level that does not penalise people for the rise in property prices that we have experienced over the past twenty years and is only paid by those that have the means to do so. That being said, I believe that it important that we have a debate on how to keep our tax system progressive.
The next few years will be difficult as we can see from the events in Europe. It is vital that Governments put in place credible plans to pay off their debts. But that has to be achieved in a fair way and which asks the richest to contribute most. I hope that all parties will work together to achieve the fairest possible solution.
This week marks the third year anniversary of the collpase of Lehman Brothers - an event which marked the beginning of the banking crisis. I look at that event and the Independent Commission Banking's report on how we can make our banks safer. Please feel free to comment below.
September 15th marks the third year since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, an event which triggered the global economic crisis and that still reverberates across our economy. Although this event on its own was not responsible for the global downturn, it is the most vivid example of irresponsibility and ill considered risk taking that led to the biggest bank crisis since the Great Depression.
Despite the bailout of the banks in 2009, the fundamental structural issues of our financial sector still need to be addressed. However, this week also marks the publication of the Independent Commission on Banking by Sir John Vickers which looks to create a more stable banking system.
The Commission's Report aims to make the banks stronger so that they are better able to absorb losses, to make it easier and less costly to sort out banks that do get into trouble and also curb incentives for excessive risk taking.
The main way that this is to be achieved is through a "ring-fencing" of core operations of banks such as lending to households and small businesses. Banks would be asked to set aside more capital so that if they run into difficulties it is not savers and local businesses are better protected. Moreover, if banks do fail, then depositors will be the first in the line of creditors.
This "ring-fence" will therefore provide added protection for customers and ensure that if there are future problems in the banking sector then it is the investors and banks that have to pick up the bill – not the taxpayer. Putting these reforms in place will make banks think more carefully about the risks that they are taking and make the system more stable.
Banking affects every part of our lives whether it is through our pensions, our savings, our mortgages or our businesses. We need to have a strong, thriving banking industry in order to provide the capital for our economy to grow. The Commission's proposals are the first steps on a long road to creating more sustainable financial services and I hope that all sides can work together to make a better banking system a reality.
In my article this week I highlighted the importance of procurement to not only saving the public money but also stimulating business in our local communities, and how local authorities can make a big difference.
I recently met with a Warwick-based business which was concerned about the way that local authorities purchase goods and services. Different policies from local authorities across the country needlessly cost business, particularly small businesses, money and create a barrier for new companies to grow. In many cases, this inefficiency also costs the taxpayer and local authorities money, which could be better spent elsewhere.
In order to highlight this issue, I asked a question in Parliament regarding how we can improve the way that procurement is managed by local authorities and how we can best help our small businesses gain access to this important market.
The Minister responsible, Bob Neill, Parliamentary under Secretary of State at the Department of Communities and Local Government, shared my concerns and outlined the Government's policy to devolve power to our councils so that they can be more innovative and collaborative on this issue. His department estimated that £10 billion could be saved through better procurement systems and by more co-ordination across local authorities. This potential saving works out at around £452 per family each year, which could be diverted to those local services that need it most.
I was pleased to hear that the Government is currently looking into how to make savings in both the short and long term through the Local Productivity Programme, and working closely with the Local Government Group.
Success of small businesses is key to our recovery. Local and central government must help to remove obstacles and use all levers of public policy to promote growth and create jobs in this sector. Procurement is a tool which we can use to not only ensure that the public get value for money but also to boost business and I will be continuing to meet with local businesses to discuss their concerns and ideas on this issue.
Out and about in Warwick and Leamington
This month I have been getting around the constituency, knocking on hundreds of doors and trying to speak to constituents that might not otherwise have the time to book an appointment with me to raise their concerns. I hope to continue to do this over the coming months.
If you have any concerns or problems that you would like to raise with me, I urge you to get in touch. You can contact me via email through email@example.com or by phoning 01926 315 888. For more information about my regular surgeries please visit my website: www.chriswhiteMP.com
Giving young people work experience
August has seen many students from the local community seeking work experience in order to get a better understanding of the world beyond education and to help plan their future careers. I have been pleased to offer work experience to nine of our young people and I have been very impressed by their hard work and enthusiasm.
I wrote about this programme in my article of the Observer which you can see here. If you know any young person who might be interested about working in my office, then ask them to get in touch through firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visiting Eden Villa
I recently visited the Salvation Army's Eden Villa Lifehouse in Leamington in order to better understand the support that is being given to some of the people in our society who need it most. As Vice-Chair of the APPG on Poverty, I am a supporter of the important work that the Salvation Army and other charities do across our community to help some of the most vulnerable in our society.
As Parliament returns, I will be continuing to do more work on this issue and I will give updates on my website. For more information about my visit to Eden Villa, click here.
Around the constituency
There has been a lot going on this August. Amongst other things I have had meetings with businesses across the constituency, visited University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire, dropped in to see the excellent work going on at Hybrid Arts in Spencer's Yard, met with E.ON to discuss some of the community work they doing, met with the management of our local Citizens Advice Bureau, spoken at the AGM of the Satkaar Asian Elders Day Care Services, attended the Leamington and Warwick Mela Festival, met with Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action and opened the new BDR Thermea training facility at Acorn House.
To find out more about what I have been doing this month, see the interactive map on my website.
In September, I'll be spekaing at the Renewable Energy Club Warwickshire, participating in a manufacturing dialogue in Parliament, addressing a forum of social enterprises on Public Assets and the Role of Government, visiting Telford Infant School and the Saturday Club at Coten End, meeting with Lloyds Banking Group in Leamington to discuss help for small businsses and attending a meeting of stakeholders regarding health care in Warwick, as well as other engagements.
In the Observer this week, I wrote about the start of the school year, congratulating students, parents and teachers on the excellent exam results they acheived last year and some of the work that I have offering with our young people.
The school year is about to begin once again and as students return with record breaking A Level and GCSE results, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate teachers, parents and students for all their hard work. Waiting for results can be a nerve wracking time for families - I wish everyone good luck with the choices that they make.
I have had the opportunity to experience firsthand the creativity and enthusiasm of our young people through the work experience that I have offered in the constituency or Westminster over the summer. Nine students have had the opportunity to work in my office – doing a variety of tasks and I hope, inspiring many of them to take a greater interest in politics and perhaps pursue political careers in the future.
I have been pleased by the engagement and knowledge of these students – in contrast to the stereotypes that some people have. They have shown that given the chance, they can really contribute and increasingly, through their work in volunteering, community groups and charities their efforts are being recognised. I hope to continue to be able to offer this opportunity to local students in the years ahead and I urge any young person who might be interested to get in touch.
One of the most rewarding parts of my job has been to provide the option for schools to tour the Palace of Westminster, to see how our democracy works and to answer their questions. Eight schools have already toured Parliament and I hope that many more tours will be organised in this upcoming academic year. Each time I have been impressed with the perceptive questions that have been asked and their appreciation of the range of work that takes place in the House. If any school does want to organise a tour, they can get in contact with my Constituency Assistant, Carole Weaver, on 01926 315 888 or through email@example.com and she will be happy to help.
Our young people are always our greatest asset and we need to do everything we can to nurture and support their futures. I hope to continue to do my bit.
My article for the Courier was about the importance of trusteeship and how our communities rely on the dedication, skills and responsibility of our trustees. I always welcome comments by visitors, so feel free to post below.
Over the last few weeks I am delighted to have been made a trustee of two very different but important organisations. One is Motionhouse, the other is the Webb Memorial Trust, a national charity.
Motionhouse is a renowned dance company based locally, that has put on performances which have wowed audiences both nationally and internationally. It also plays an important role in educating young people in dance, helping their personal development through participation and engaging with other young people through dance. We are fortunate that we are home to such an outstanding group which provides such inspirational cultural and social benefits.
The Webb Trust by contrast was set up in memory of the great social reformer Beatrice Webb. The trust has provided grants to organisations that work to help combat poverty and inequality.
Our community is home to nearly six hundred charities as well as many other societies, clubs and community organisations. They are sustained by the dedication and commitment of their volunteers and by the leadership of their trustees who bring their skills to help support our local area and society as a whole.
Being a trustee for a local charity, or a governor of a local school requires a great deal of time and asks people to take on responsibilities to ensure that these organisations are able to function and thrive.
While attention is usually given to the frontline work of these groups whether it is providing services or educating our children, we should not forget that without the hard work of those behind the scenes, who direct the resources, ensure accountability and give advice, this work would simply not be possible.
We are fortunate that many people have already taken up these challenges and we should always ensure that we respect and celebrate the efforts that they make on everyone's behalf. If readers are interested in volunteering or becoming a trustee, a good place to start is the Volunteering Centre in Leamington run by Warwickshire CAVA (Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action). You can call them on 01926 477512 or visit them online http://www.wcava.org.uk/.
My article for the Observer this week was about what I have been doing during the August recess and some of the work that I have been doing across the constituency. Please comment below!
Often summer is seen as a quieter time in politics – however as the debt crisis in the United States and recent riots across England have showed, this is certainly not true of this year.
Like most MPs, when Parliament isn't sitting, I spend my time in the constituency visiting local organisations, meeting with local people and attending local events.
Since the recess began, I have visited both Warwick Hospital and University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire, helped out at the Salvation Army Homeless Action Project, held meetings with local businesses, charities and voluntary organisations and met with constituents in my office on a range of issues as well as hosting my regular surgeries.
The summer has also given me the chance to offer work experience to young people from schools across the constituency. By the end of the summer holidays, around seven young people would have worked in my office ranging from a couple of days to a week. This is been a very useful experience and one that I hope to repeat in the years ahead.
In addition, I have used the summer as an opportunity to get out onto the streets and visit residents in their homes. I appreciate that not everyone has the time to come and book an appointment with their Member of Parliament, and so I hope to continue knocking on doors and speaking with local people over the next few weeks in order to give as many people as possible the opportunity to raise their concerns with me.
While a great deal of publicity is attached to the work that MPs do in Parliament, whether questioning Ministers, debating or voting on new legislation, the most important part of my work is here in Warwick and Leamington, helping local people and doing what I can to support our community. This is always my number one priority.
I'll be continuing to work in my office and around the constituency over the summer, so if you do wish to get in touch or arrange an appointment, please do so on 01926 315 888 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week I wrote my Courier article on the appalling riots that have taken place across England. If you do wish to leave a comment below, please do not hesitate to do so.
I am sure all readers will be deeply saddened by the events that have taken place in London and in other major cities. This kind of behaviour is completely unacceptable and I want to pay tribute to the brave police officers who have put themselves in harm's way in order to protect communities up and down the country.
The scenes that we have witnessed are nothing more than opportunistic criminality. The destruction of businesses, homes and lives has been random in its nature, with no thought given to the damage that it will do not only to their own neighbourhoods but also to their own futures.
In response to this the Prime Minister has asked the Speaker to recall Parliament and by the time this paper is on the newsstands, he will have made a statement to the House and a debate will have taken place. Everyone needs to come together at this difficult time to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice. We cannot allow this thugishness to go unpunished and we must show the consequences of this kind of behaviour.
It is important to remember, however, that this is just a small minority. I hope that young people in those communities that have been affected will work with police in order to prevent this kind of violence taking place again. But let us not tar all young people with the same brush.
What we have seen over the past few days must not be allowed to spoil the reputation of our country. We have seen some of the worst of Britain, but more importantly we have seen some of the best - people volunteering to clean up their streets, people supporting the police and people helping those affected with donations of clothes and food. This is a side of Britain we can be proud be of and we want the world to see.
However like all readers, my thoughts are with those that have lost their homes and their livelihoods and I am confident that by coming together, we can prevent this from happening again.
"Made by Britain" Exhibition Success
The Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group, which I co-chair, successfully launched the "Made by Britain" Exhibition this month. The aim of the exhibition was to raise awareness of Parliamentarians to the importance of manufacturing and to focus on supporting these vital industries. Dr Vince Cable, Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, launched the exhibition.
Each MP was asked to select a product from their constituencies, and over sixty entries have been received. All the products, including the nomination from Warwick and Leamington, can be viewed online here: http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/apmg/made-by-britain
The Exhibition will continue online, and the aim is to have 650 entries, one from each MP, by the summer of 2012. I will be continuing to give updates on my website.
Health Minister Visits Warwick Hospital
In response to a question I asked in the House in April this year, the Minister of State for Health, Simon Burns MP, came to visit Warwick Hospital to see some of the innovative work taking place.
The Minister was very impressed by the work that Warwick Hospital is doing, particularly in helping older people. I was glad that the Minister had the opportunity to meet with some of our excellent healthcare workers and I hope that Warwick Hospital will continue to lead the way in health care provision.
Meeting with Minister on Child Poverty
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty met with the Minister for Disabilities, Maria Miller MP this month to discuss ways that we can reduce child poverty. The meeting was well attended and saw a lively discussion about the Government's approach to child poverty and the effect poverty has on the aspirations of young people.
As Vice-Chair of the APPG on Poverty, I will be continuing to give updates on my website and you can see my maiden speech on poverty in the "Speeches" section of the website.
Around the constituency
July has been a busy month. Amongst other things I held a meeting with police officers regarding local policing issues in my constituency office, visited an exhibition at Emscote History Week, visited the Warwickshire Probation Service, attended the Royal British Legion County Parade, gave the speech at Warwick School Speech Day, attended the "Raise the Roof" event at Bath Place, met with the Headteacher of Myton School, attended the Senior Citizens Activities Group at the Royal Spa Centre and met with the Chief Executive and Chairman of the Warwickshire Association of Youth Clubs.
To find out more about what I have been doing this month, see the interactive map on my website.
Parliament in brief
Parliament rose for recess on July 19th, however I raised the issues of community energy projects and manufacturing during parliamentary questions – the Minister for Climate Change, Greg Barker, also promised a meeting with Warwick Hospital and Community Energy Warwickshire to see what more can be done to promote cross- sector collaboration (find out more here).
I also attended meetings of the All Party Parliamentary Groups on Poverty and was elected Treasurer of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Enterprise. I also hosted a Question and Answer Sessions for students of Campion and Warwick Schools during their respective visit to the Houses of Parliament.
In August I'll be meeting with constituents at the Whitnash Coffee Morning, visiting Hybrid Arts at Spencer's Yard, going on a ward visit at the University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire, meeting Warwickshire Community and Voluntary Action in Leamington, speaking with Age Concern and Warwickshire CAVA (Community And Voluntary Action) and attending the Annual General Meeting of Satkaar Asian Elders Day Care Services. I will also be attending the Leamington and Warwick Mela Festival.
I'll be running my regular surgeries as always and if you wish to make an appointment please do not hesitate to get in touch.
This week's Courier Article was on the awful attacks in Norway and the importnat role that young people play in public life. Please feel free to comment.
I want to express my utter sadness, horror and despair at the tragic killings in Oslo and Utoya last week. It was a senseless, appalling loss of so many lives.
The attacks are a stark reminder of the risk we face from not confronting extremism, even in countries as traditionally peaceful as Norway. Those who died in Utoya, in particular, set out to participate in their nation's future in a peaceful and democratic way and were excellent role models for young people all over the world.
The same can be seen up and down Britain not only in all the mainstream political parties but also in many non-political, charitable and voluntary organisations and we should not forget the contribution young people make to our public life.
Sadly, like all countries, Britain also faces the challenge of extremism - and one thing is common amongst all extremist groups, is that they have made a decision to use violence and fear in an attempt to force people to agree with their views.
Parliament is currently looking in detail at the powers which our Government has to stop those who use terror to achieve their aims. The new Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill will ensure that we protect individual freedoms whilst providing the police with the right tools to protect the public from atrocities like we have just seen.
We must do all we can to prevent extremist groups from operating and recruiting. And if crimes are committed then we must ensure that those involved are brought to justice.
Living in a tolerant and liberal country, with all its freedoms, has many benefits, but it also has a responsibility to protect citizens from terror and to maintain an open public space.
There is no quick solution to eradicating extremism. However, the correct combination of prevention, education and dialogue can provide the best possible means to prevent such a tragedy happening again.
My thoughts are with the wounded and those who have lost friends and family, something I know all readers will share.
The Courier asked me for an annual report on my first year as Member of Parliament, and I have copied below the text that was featured in the article. I hope that constituents find this update useful and I hope to do something similar each year.
This year has been a busy year but one of the most rewarding in my life. The process of setting up two new offices, one in South Leamington and another in Westminster from scratch, quickly and effectively, has been a challenge, but a year in I believe that I have a strong team in place who are working hard to serve constituents. One of the hardest tasks for me this year has been getting to grips with the workings of Parliament. From debating etiquette to understanding how to navigate the building, I have had a lot to learn. But since my maiden speech last June, where I raised the issue of poverty and welfare dependency, I have tried to use Parliament to represent the concerns of constituents. Whether it is apprenticeships and small businesses or adult social care, green energy policy to drug rehabilitation I have consistently questioned Ministers, spoken in debates and sought to champion the interests of Warwick and Leamington.
Part of that process has involved working with MPs of all parties in "All Party Parliamentary Groups" or APPGs. I have set up with a Labour MP, the Associate Parliamentary Group on Manufacturing which has successfully held an exhibition in Westminster to showcase the best manufacturing products and companies in Britain in order to keep this issue high up on the Government's agenda. I am also Vice-Chair of the All Party Group on Poverty and the All Party Group on Intelligent Energy as well as Treasurer of the All Party Group on Social Enterprise.
One of the first things I was had to do, however, on arriving at Westminster was prepare a Private Member's Bill, which is very rare for a first year MP. With cross-party support, the Public Services (Social Enterprise and Social Value) Bill has been passed through the House of Commons and seeks to help voluntary, community and social enterprise organisations across the country. This has been a challenging experience, but has enabled me to do what I can to help support the fantastic voluntary and community groups that feature across our area.
I was also successfully elected to serve on the International Development Committee which scrutinises the work of the Department for International Development, in order to ensure that aid goes where it is needed most and that taxpayers get value for money. Getting to grips with the various programmes the UK runs across the world and the complex issues facing the developing world has been a great experience and I hope to learn more in the years ahead.
But the most important part of my job is helping residents and organisations across the constituency. I have seen over 200 residents at my twice weekly surgeries and have replied to over 4,000 letters from constituents and have kept over 1,500 local people informed through my monthly e-newsletter.
I have also visited over 200 local schools, GP surgeries, charities, business, voluntary and community groups across Warwick, Leamington, Whitnash and our villages. One of the most enjoyable aspects of my work has been to get out to meet residents and to understand better some of the concerns which residents have. I hope to continue to reach out to many more organisations in the months and years ahead.
Listening to the concerns of residents has sometimes meant taking action in Parliament, for example, joining with MPs from all sides of the House to successfully lobby the Government to provide extra funding for our Citizen Advice Bureaus.
Other times, I have worked with residents and local authorities to ensure that important local services are supported, such as Lillington Youth Centre which is now set to become a 'centre of excellence' for youth services.
My main priority, however, has been jobs and supporting the redevelopment of our local economy. For that reason, last year I set up the Warwick and Leamington Energy Forum which is made up for local businesses, community organisations and educational institutions to find ways of putting our local area at the heart of Britain's low carbon future. The Forum, the first of its kind, this year met with the Minister of State for Climate Change, Greg Barker, to discuss what more can be done to help generate skills and jobs. I will be continuing to work with members of the forum in the year ahead to see what more can be done to help in this important area.
One of the key areas of concern for residents has also been HS2, which I have publically opposed. Despite the importance that the Government has placed on this flagship policy, I do not believe that it will be economically beneficial for our community and will do terrible damage to our local environment.
Becoming Member of Parliament for Warwick and Leamington has been one of the most humbling experiences of my life and it is has been a privilege to serve the community I love. Over the coming years, I hope to continue to do whatever I can to help local residents and to advocate the issues that are of most concern to them.
The past week in Parliament has been one of the most dramatic in recent times. The phone-hacking scandal has shaken the very foundations of the British media and this has demanded a response not only from News International and the wider journalistic profession – but also from politicians and Parliament.
This week's Select Committee hearing in which Rupert and James Murdoch were asked to appear before MPs to explain the actions of News International around phone-hacking was a start. It is right that in this country, anyone and everyone, can be brought to account by Parliament and it was important not only so that we can understand why these awful events happened, but also for public confidence in our democratic institutions.
This is only the beginning of what must be a wide-ranging investigation. It is also about a wider culture within the media, in which individuals felt that they could not only intrude into people's private lives on an unparalleled level but also to break the law in order to secure a story. The Milly Dowler case was an appalling example of what can go wrong.
It is right that there is a public inquiry led by a senior judge which will look both at the specific issues regarding phone-hacking and the wider regulation of the media.
We should be careful, however, not to allow what at the moment appears to be a small number of individuals to damage our historic tradition of a free press and free speech.
There are also two ongoing police investigations which need to be followed through and those who have broken the law and caused anguish to families such as the Dowlers, need to brought to justice.
That was my Observer Article for this week, but if you do have any comments or thoughts on this issue, please feel free to post them below.
I used my Courier Article this week to report on the "Made by Britain" Exhibition which was set up by the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group. I am always eager for comments from residents, so please feel free to leave your comments below.
Last week I was pleased to be able to attend the "Made by Britain" Exhibition which was set up by the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group, for which I am Co-Chairman.
The Exhibition asked a group of MPs to search through their constituency to find manufacturing products, technologies and processes which they believed symbolised the innovation and creativity of this country. I nominated a product from a new start up business in the constituency, AG Instruments – which designs and makes innovative gas analysers. You can see Warwick and Leamington's constituency nomination here: http://www.policyconnect.org.uk/apmg/made-by-britain
One of the main reasons that I helped to set up the group in Parliament was to provide a voice for the manufacturing sector within Westminster and to make sure that the Government was listening to the needs of the sector. In an indication that the Government is listening and is taking seriously the need to invest and support our manufacturing industry, the exhibition was launched with a speech from the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills – Vince Cable MP.
He stressed that the Government would be continuing to find ways to support the industry whether by providing a better skills base – through an increase in apprenticeships – or by helping businesses export overseas. These are measures that I fully support.
However, the importance of the exhibition was its effort to dispel the myth that Britain doesn't make anything anymore. Manufacturing still makes up 12% of our Gross Domestic Product and is responsible for providing around 3 million jobs. This makes it a key part of our economy and if we are going to break our over-reliance on financial services, manufacturing will have to play a far bigger role.
The group will be continuing to raise the profile of manufacturing in this country and it is hoped that the Exhibition will continue to run next year with the aim of getting all 650 Members of Parliament to take part.
Rebalancing our economy back towards sectors such as manufacturing will take time, but it will require all parties to support the industry and I hope that the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group will continue to fly the flag for British business over the next four years.
In my Observer Article this week, I looked at the issue of Child Poverty and how we need to do more to ensure that this important issue is tackled. Please feel free to leave your comments below.
One of the most distressing issues that we face in this country is child poverty. According to the End Child Poverty campaign around one in four children in our country live in poverty. This is a truly shocking figure.
Child poverty not only causes short term costs in terms of benefit payments – costing some £12 billion a year - but also has a considerable long term effect which costs our economy tens of billions of pounds in lost incomes. But there is another impact which cannot be measured in pounds and pence but is so much more important, and that is the damage poverty does to the aspirations and hopes of our young people.
To continue to keep this issue at the top of the Westminster agenda the All Party Parliamentary Group on Poverty, of which I am Vice-Chair, held a discussion between the Minister with responsibility for child poverty, Maria Miller MP, and MPs, charities, poverty campaigners and those with direct experiences of child poverty. We were also fortunate to be joined by the producer of "Poor Kids" – a recent BBC television documentary on child poverty – and a participant from the programme. The presence of those who have had experiences of child poverty was particularly thought provoking and it enabled the discussion to focus on the key issues around financial support, debt management, education and the stigma attached to those from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Minister assured the meeting that the Government was focusing on reducing child poverty through extra funding - such as the £7 billion Fairness Premium which will be targeted directly to help disadvantaged children – and by working with charities, businesses and communities on the ground to raise awareness of these issues.
This is a good start, but much more needs to be done. In a truly 21st Century Britain, no child should be unable to fulfil their potential because of poverty and I will be continuing to do whatever I can to keep this a priority.
HS2 Debate on BBC Radio C&W
This month I participated in a debate on HS2 on BBC Radio Coventry and Warwickshire, alongside both proponents and opponents of High Speed Rail. I made clear my continued opposition to the High Speed Rail line not only because of the enormous environmental damage that it will do, but also because of the fundamental flaws in the business case.
You can listen to the debate online on BBC iPlayer and you can see my response to the consultation on HS2 on my website.
Supporting our Troops
The weekend of the 11th-12th June was the Poppy Party Weekend – to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion. I was therefore very pleased to attend the Whitnash Town Council's 1940s Poppy Party which was raised money for both the Royal British Legion and the Forces' Children Trust.
I wrote about the importance of supporting our troops and the important role communities play in raising awareness and funding. You can see read my article online.
International Development Committee
As a Member of the International Development Committee I recently visited Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi in order to investigate the work that the UK is doing to alleviate poverty and also to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent effectively.
I wrote an article for the Courier newspaper on my visit which can be seen on my website.
Around the constituency
There has been a great deal of activity in the constituency this month. Amongst other things I have attended the Warwickshire Association for the Blind's Re-enactment of their First Meeting and the opening of the Warwick and Leamington Stroke Support Group Opening Meeting, visited the opening of Woodloes Primary School, met with media students at Warwickshire College, spoken with doctors at Warwick Hospital about the NHS Reforms, opened the Wasterside Medical Centre Fete, saw a production of Arabian Nights by Myton School and attended the Guide Dogs Carnival as well as opening Friends of Guys Cliffe Garden Party.
To find out more about what I have been doing this month, see the interactive map on my website.
Parliament in brief
As well as visiting Africa with the International Development Committee, I raised the issue of Apprenticeships and the support given to Small Business as well as Care Services for Older People. (find out more here).
I also attended a meeting for the APPG on Poverty which will be launching several events over the next few months and had a meeting with the Minister for Schools, Nick Gibb MP, regarding STEM funding.
In July I'll be attending the launch of the APPG on Manufacturing's "Made by Britain" Exhibition – which I will be writing about next month – and I'll be meeting with the Minister for Child Poverty, Maria Miller MP to discuss what we can do to help the most vulnerable in our society. I'll be speaking at Warwick School's Speech Day, holding a meeting to launch a new volunteering service for MPs with the charity TimeBank UK.
In my article for this week's Courier, I wrote about my visit to Africa with the International Development Committee. If you want to leave a comment or let me know your thoughts, please do so below.
As a Member of the International Development Committee (IDC) it is my job to ensure not only that the Government is focused on poverty alleviation in the developed world but also that taxpayers are getting full value for money.
Most weeks while Parliament is sitting, I and other MPs from all parties will hold hearings and meetings with Ministers, officials, international organisations such as the UN and aid charities to investigate what progress is being made on development issues and how we can make sure that every penny spent on behalf of British taxpayers is spent wisely.
However while this is useful, the best way to find out the effectiveness of our aid spending is to visit the countries we are helping to see the work that is being done on the ground.
So last week, the IDC visited three African countries – Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) – to do exactly that.
All three countries have had histories of civil war and conflict that have prevented development and left millions in absolute poverty. DRC and Burundi are the two poorest countries in the world. People there live on £190 per year on average – that is around 50p per day. Yet countries such as DRC have huge levels of natural resources, which if they could be tapped and economic development allowed to go ahead, could lift tens of millions out of poverty.
But this will not happen unless infrastructure is in place, such as roads and railways, or if there are no schools where children can be educated or hospitals to help keep people well. The materials for future prosperity are there – and they are eager to access them - but after years of conflict and internal strife they need our help.
The UK is spending around £150m in these three countries – around 0.01% of our GDP - which will help to provide education to nearly 400,000 children by 2015 in DRC and give mosquito bed nets to over 1 million people in Rwanda over the next four years. This is good news and will help lay down the foundations for future growth.
But when you spend a night with a family in Burundi, with no electricity, few drainage and sanitation facilities and little fod – you realise that there is so much more we need to do and I will be continuing to push the Government to ensure that all the money we spend goes directly to help those that need it most.
In my article this week for the Courier, I looked at the excellent work by Whitnash Town Council to support the Royal British Legion and the need to support our service personnel once they have finished active duty. Please feel free to let me know your thoughts by commenting below.
Last weekend marked the 90th anniversary of the Royal British Legion – a charity which in many ways symbolises the spirit of our country, which prides itself on remembering the service of others and seeks to support those that have sacrificed so much.
I was therefore delighted to attend Whitnash Town Council's celebration of the event, which hosted a 'Poppy Party' in order to raise awareness of the work of the Royal British Legion and also to raise funds.
The event was well attended and credit must go to Adrian, Fiona, Cathy and Jenny for all their hard work as well as the people and organisations which donated exhibitions and time to make the day a great success.
We all appreciate the dedication, professionalism and courage of our Armed Forces and the Royal British Legion's work in supporting the welfare and memory of those who have served is incredibly valuable – all the more valuable because there is no compulsion.
While the Government has a duty to protect and support members of our Armed Forces and their families – one which I am pleased to see is about to be enshrined in law by the Prime Minister – there is a wider duty on our entire society to do what we can to help support servicemen and their families both during and after active service.
Our community has a proud history of showing that support whether through giving up time to our armed forces charities or donating to causes related to supporting those who have served.
There is always more work that we can do and should do to improve the welfare of our Armed Forces and it is through the work of local people on the ground – such as on Saturday in Whitnash – that we continue to raise awareness and money for this important cause.
On Saturday I was pleased to attend the 1940s Tea Party for the Great Popy Party Weekend - organised by Whitnash Town Council for the Royal British Legion and the Forces Children's Trust.
It was very well attended and it was a pleasure to be there on the day - credit to Adrian, Fiona, Cathy and Jenny for all their hard work!
This week in my Observer Article I highlighted the importance of volunteering in light of volunteer's week and 2011 being the European Year of Volunteering. Please leave your comments below!
2011 is the European Year of Volunteering and June 1st marked the beginning of "Volunteers Week" – which seeks to celebrate the fantastic contribution that volunteers make across the country.
We are fortunate that in our community so many residents are willing to volunteer and I would like to take this opportunity to show my appreciation for all the efforts that they make – without them we would be considerably worse off.
Since becoming Member of Parliament, I have had the opportunity to visit many community organisations, charities and projects which local people volunteer for and it has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my job.
Whether it is the person who volunteers to spend a few hours a week with elderly residents, the person who helps to keep our wonderful parks and green spaces clean, the person who works with young people and inspires them towards a better future – all of these contributions are worth more than money can quantify.
In our modern world, with its many distractions and pulls on our time, it is heartening to see that people still put time and energy aside to give something back and do their bit to make our community just that bit better to live in.
Not everyone can volunteer, for one reason or another and many of us would like the chance to do so. But we all should do what we can to encourage others to volunteer, to praise those that do dedicate themselves to their local community and to celebrate their achievements.
Volunteering is an activity which lies at the very centre of what it means to be part of a community – it reveals our interdependence, it binds people together and shows that we care.
One week is not enough to recognise the importance of volunteering – but it is a good start.
In this week's Courier Article I looked at how the Warwick and Leamington Energy Forum is seeking to promote green jobs and encourage young people to study subjects which will give them the skills they need to succeed. Please feel free to comment below!
Last week, I chaired a meeting of the Warwick and Leamington Energy Forum at Warwickshire College's Trident Centre.
The meeting was again well attended by members of businesses based in the constituency, members of local government, educational institutions and community groups. We discussed how best we can promote growth in the local energy sector and most importantly in green energy.
One of the key challenges facing the energy sector is the skills gap. In some sectors of the green energy economy – there has been a growth rate of over 91% in recent years – but we have not been able to create enough skilled graduates to do the work. This has caused many companies to start scouting for future employees from overseas – at a time when youth unemployment needs to fall.
If we are going to secure the jobs of the future – then we need to get our young people to train for the future.
This means removing negative perceptions around science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects and showing students that not only will these skills help them get good jobs in growth sectors such as green energy – but also jobs that are sustainable.
The Energy Forum will be looking to put together a showcase event in the near future to do just that.
Local businesses will be asked to promote their products and to sell careers in the energy sector so that we can inspire future generations in our community to take up STEM subjects and work in this growing sector of our economy.
I hope to keep residents informed of progress on this and if anyone would like to get involved, please get in touch with me on email@example.com
Over the next few years – tens of thousands of jobs will be created in this industry and I want to see Warwick and Leamington be one of the main beneficiaries of that growth. By getting businesses, educational institutions, government and local communities working together we can achieve this and this showcase will be a step towards that.
Small Business Q&A Event in Leamington
One of the most important issues that we face in Warwick and Leamington is creating new jobs. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy and provide a large amount of all private sector jobs. In order to engage with small businesses and to get a better idea of what they want from Government, I took part in a Question and Answer event hosted by the Warwick and Leamington Branch of Federation of Small Businesses.
I also signed up to the "Keep Trade Local" Campaign which seeks to promote trade and to encourage communities to use their local businesses. I wrote about this event for the Observer newspaper and you can see my piece on my website.
Coventry and Warwickshire LEP Meeting
At the beginning of the month, I met with the board of the new Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership to discuss how we can promote investment into our local area. The meeting covered a wide range of work that the LEP will be doing and the five year plan that they have created to help address the skills gap and to champion key growth industries such as advanced manufacturing and green technology.
I also called on the Government to do more to support Local Enterprise Partnerships and I will be continuing to do what I can to keep growth high on the agenda in Westminster.
Warwick and Leamington Energy Forum Showcase
Last month, I mentioned that I would be hosted the next Warwick and Leamington Energy Forum meeting at the end of May. I am pleased to say that the meeting went well and members have agreed to put on a "showcase" event in the constituency this year in order to exhibit the best products that we have to offer and to attract young people to take a career in the green energy sector. I'll keep constituents updated on its progress.
On 5th May the country rejected the Alternative Vote and the Conservatives gained two additional seats on Warwick District Council.
Around the constituency
It's been a busy month in the constituency amongst other events, I attended a meeting of the Renewable Energy Club, the Mayday Trust Art Exhibition at the Old Library, visited local manufacturer Mills CNC, spoke at the Hatton Parish Council Forum, met with the Coten End Playgroup as well as opening the Eco Information Room at Campion School.
For more information on what I've been doing this month, see the interactive map on my website.
Parliament in brief
Parliament is now in recess so I am now working in the constituency. Over the course of the month I spoke in the Second Reading of the Energy Bill, raised questions in the House on pensions, drug rehabilitation, HS2, Local Enterprise Partnerships and Manufacutring (find out more here).
I also spoke at an event held by civil society organisation, 3SC, on public service commissioning in relation to my Bill. You can read the speech online.
In June, I'll be attending the Warwickshire Association of the Blind re-enactment of their first meeting in 1900, meeting with DCA Design International (based in Warwick), saying a few words at the opening meeting of the Warwick and Leamington Stroke Support Group, meeting with local residents about Town Planning, taking part in a Q&A session with the Warwick Hospital Medical Staff Committee and going to see the start of Two Castles Run. I will also be visiting Africa - Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Republic of Congo - with the International Development Committee.
As always, I'll be running my regular surgeries and if you wish to make an appointment please do not hesitate to get in touch.
I hope you had a good Bank Holiday weekend and I look forward to updating you again next month.
The Warwick and Leamington Energy Forum met yesterday (Friday 27th May) at Warwickshire College's Trident Centre.
The meeting covered a range of topics which I will be dicussing in my article for the Courier newspaper this week.
I believe that green energy will be one of the biggest growth industries in our economy in the years ahead and I want our area to be at the heart of that growth. The Energy Forum will be looking at a variety of ways in which we promote Warwick and Leamington as a place to set up business, to encourage young people to take up careers in the green energy sector and to raise public awareness of this issues.
If you would like to get involved, please get in contact with my office on 0207 219 7201 or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Today I signed up to the Federation of Small Businesses' "Keep Trade Local Campaign" which seeks to stem the tide of business closures, reserve the trend of decline of independent shops and improve customer choice.
Last week, I attended a Q&A event hosted by David Kelham, Chair of the Warwick and Leamington Branch of the FSB (pictured here with me signing the Keep Trade Local Campaign) and I am keen to do whatever I can to support small businesses in our local community.
If you are a small business owner and have any thoughts about how we can make Warwick and Leamington a better place to do business, please contact me on email@example.com.
This week in the Observer, I wrote about the need to support small businsses and how we can make sure that we achieve growth and jobs in our local economy. Please let me know your thoughts by commenting below:
Last week I was delighted to be invited by David Kelham, Chair of the Warwick and Leamington Branch of the Federation of Small Businesses to at a Question and Answer event.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy and are part of our unique character – they provide the vast majority of jobs, produce fantastic goods and services and give generously to local charities and good causes. Small businesses have a vested interested in making the communities that they are based in better and they are consistently shown to be responsible socially, economically and environmentally – so it is important that we do everything we can to support them.
There are many issues of concern to small business, but I think two are particularly important: regulation and access to finance.
Regulation is always a major concern for small business and it is something that has often come up in my discussions with employers. A balance needs to be struck between both protecting employees and customers while at the same time not placing too heavy a burden on employers that it inhibits growth. The Government has already made progress by scrapping over £350m worth of regulation but we need to do more and I am always eager to hear from local business owners which regulations we should be targeting.
Since the credit crunch it has also been difficult at times for small businesses to access the finance that they need in order to stabilise and grow in the years ahead. Project Merlin – the government agreement with the major domestic banks – guaranteed that there would be over £75 billion in debt finance available to small businesses but more progress must be made. We need to ensure that employers know where to access to access this finance and I will be continuing to push the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to make information more available.
Small businesses are very important for future economic growth and this week I will be signing up to the "Keep Trade Local" campaign to show my support – but all of us need to do our bit to support local businesses. I hope to do what I can in the months ahead to raise the profile of our small businesses and for those that want more information about the work of the FSB in our community please visit www.fsb.org.uk/warwickshire/branches/warwick
In this week's Courier I raised the issue of supporting the local economy and how jobs and growth have to be the focus of politicians across the political spectrum. Please feel free to leave your comments below.
This week, the Government has brought out a White Paper which seeks to look at ways to reform the House of Lords, a process that will take several years and occupy many hours of parliamentary time.
While I support the principles of Lords reform, this comes in the same month that local residents – along with millions across the country – decisively rejected the 'Alternative Vote'.
I believe that this was not just a vote against changing our electoral system, but it was also a message that people wanted all sides to focus on the most important issues we face – namely economic growth, sustainability and job creation.
I was therefore pleased to meet members of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) last week to discuss the work they are doing to help support local businesses. I was impressed by the determination of their team to develop new ideas, to work with businesses to create the right environment for success and to use resources in the most effective way possible.
I also took the opportunity last week to raise the example of Coventry and Warwickshire LEP in the House of Commons and asked the Government to hold a debate on how best we can support LEPs across the country.
The Coventry and Warwickshire LEP board have put together a five year plan which will focus on tackling the skills gap, working with key industries such as advanced engineering and low carbon technologies, boosting exports and helping business access the finance it needs. I will be working with them in any way I can to help advance this plan.
Constitutional reform is important, but I believe that the primary focus has to be the economy and although many people may have strong feelings about reforming the House of Lords, I do not believe that now is the time to look into these issues.
I know that the Government will continue to focus on securing our recovery but I hope that all parties will work together to ensure that we support local businesses to promote jobs and investment.
I have written my first article for trade journal - Works Management - in my role as Chair of the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group. I will be continuing to make contributions to this magazine in the months ahead - I will put my articles up here as well. Please feel free to comment below:
My name is Chris White and I am that rare breed of MP who has had real experience of what is life is like in manufacturing.
I had the privilege to work at Longbridge for MG Rover for seven years before entering politics.
During this time, I was able to see for myself how manufacturing works and the challenges that the industry faces in our globalised economy. We are fortunate in this country, and particularly in the West Midlands, to have such iconic brands and a proud heritage – but we are going to need more than this if we are to see our economy rebalanced and jobs return to the industry.
When I was elected to parliament, therefore, I was keen to do what I could to raise the profile of the industry and to create a debate about how we can best support and promote manufacturing. I was fortunate enough to be able to work with Barry Sheerman, who is a very experienced parliamentarian and together we have helped to restart the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG) once again.
The APMG had its first formal discussion last session on financing for small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses. We were pleased to be joined by officials from DBIS and the Technology Strategy Board as well as the managing director of Lombard, the asset finance business.
The meeting was clear that more information needed to be given to businesses about the types of financing on offer and the APMG will be producing a guidebook for MPs on the range of financing options available to their local businesses. There was agreement on all sides that asset financing could provide a model for helping manufacturing SMEs to gain investment.
There is a long way to go, and I hope to engage through this column with members of the industry – please feel free to email me on firstname.lastname@example.org about the APMG – on how we can move forward and what issues we should be addressing.
In the Observer this week I looked back at the recent local elections and national referendum on AV. Please feel free to comment below:
Last Thursday was a big day in the political calendar both nationally and locally.
Nationally, we saw an overwhelming rejection of the 'Alternative Vote' as a method of selecting Members of Parliament. As it was only the second national referendum we have had in this country, it was an important opportunity for people to directly express their views on the way that we conduct our politics.
Locally, we saw elections for Warwick District Council. As someone who has ran for elected office, I know how tough campaigning can be and I congratulate everyone who took part regardless of their party or whether they won or lost. We are fortunate to be home to a vibrant local political scene and we should be proud that so many local people are willing to get involved and participate.
The elections for Warwick District Council saw the Conservatives win an overall majority and gain two seats.
I hope that a dialogue will be kept open with residents over the coming months and years so that the entire local community can help to shape the future of our area and make it an even better place to live and work in.
Now that the elections are over, I hope that we will all come together in the best interests of our local community to ensure that the priorities of local residents are respected and that all voices are listened to.
I am confident that this will happen and I look forward to working with the District, Town and Parish Councils in the years ahead to deliver for our community.
In order to help residents respond to the High Speed Rail 2 Consultation I have put up a new section on my website:
There you can find my response and find out how you can take part. I hope that users find this helpful!
In this week's Courier I have urged residents to take part in the upcoming High Speed Rail 2 consultation and outlined my views. Please feel free to leave your comments below.
One of the most significant developments in our local area over the next twenty years could be the construction of a High Speed Rail line between London and Birmingham.
This £17 billion project is currently out for consultation and the Department for Transport will be hosting a number of "road shows" across the country to listen to concerns.
The consultation closes at the end of July, but this week I have sent in my response to the proposal which can be seen on my website: www.chriswhiteMP.com
I have already made clear my opposition to the development of a High Speed Rail line.
I believe that it will focus economic development on large urban areas such as Birmingham and London – to the disadvantage of our local economy. I also believe that it is not value for money, the limited benefits of the scheme do not justify the huge burden it will be place on the public finances – particularly at a time when we are having to make savings elsewhere.
Environmentally, I believe that it would be a tragedy to cause such widespread damage to our wonderful Warwickshire countryside.
In addition, the construction of a high speed rail line may have unforeseen consequences for conventional rail lines serving our community – a point I will make to the Secretary of State for Transport, Philip Hammond MP, this week.
I hope the Department for Transport will look again at this proposal and investigate other ways that we can improve our rail infrastructure in the years ahead.
However it is important that as many as possible take this opportunity to express their views in this consultation. Residents may not get another chance to make their voice heard and I urge everyone to have their say.
In the Observer this week I've written about the upcoming Royal Wedding - please feel free to add your comments.
This Friday will see the most anticipated Royal Wedding in thirty years – an event that a great many people have been looking forward to since it was announced some five months ago.
It goes without saying that I wish the bride and groom every success, both on Friday and for the rest of their married life – a life that will, for better or worse, be spent largely in the public eye. As a future King, Prince William bears an enormous responsibility and I wish the couple all the best as they begin their new lives together.
During this time of austerity at home and much conflict abroad – and when the news on our TV screens is sadly often more bad than good – the wedding is a welcome occasion indeed.
I am delighted to see the bunting already hanging in Warwick and Leamington ready for Friday's celebrations. Much of this, of course, was already up as part of last weekend's St Georges Day festivities – and is a sign of the kind of community spirit that our area in spades. I am looking forward to hearing of some of the street parties and other events that are being planned to celebrate William and Kate's big day.
The monarchy is a vital part of the fabric of our nation, and is - of course - above party politics. The power of the monarch to unify people was demonstrated only a few months ago, when Her Majesty opened the Warwickshire Justice Centre in our own Royal Leamington Spa. That sunny afternoon – attended by many of the same schoolchildren that I hope will also be able to look back happily on their memories of watching the Royal Wedding this Friday – was a testament to the institution's position and continuity in our national life, and to its power and ability to bring people together.
I hope that our area will enjoy more Royal visits – perhaps from the groom- and bride-to-be – over the coming decades.
In the meantime, I hope that William and Kate will enjoy their day; and that readers will enjoy the extra bank holiday weekend and join in the celebrations this Friday!
In this week's Courier I've written about the importance of St George's Day in bringing together our local community - please feel free to add your comments below!
Over the next 10 days, with the Easter weekend and next Friday's momentous Royal Wedding, there is one event that is in danger of being lost in the battle for the nation's attention.
April 23rd is not only Shakespeare's birthday, it is (or at least should be) recognised across England as a great celebration of St George's Day.
Warwick is leading the charge to give this celebration of our Patron Saint the prominence it deserves in our national calendar– with the Town Council and local businesses arranging another fun-filled extravaganza this Saturday. Bunting and St George-themed window displays will be joined by a parade, medieval re-enactments, Morris dancing and plenty of activities for children in what I am sure will be a repeat of last year's success.
It is essential that we do everything we can to prevent the rich history of our national day being high-jacked by those with extremist agendas – and the best way we can do this is to take pride in coming together, as a community and as a country – to celebrate St George's Day in style.