Friday 27th October 2017
After a busy and varied week it is time for my latest update.
My diary for this week included a range of items which show the breadth of work my role can involve. This included surgery appointments with residents needing my help, visits to local businesses, speaking in two debates, asking questions in parliament, a meeting to plan forthcoming legislation connected to my department and a discussion with the Prime Minister following her weekly questions session in the commons.
On Saturday I was pleased to join the team from the Torquay Community Larder at the Salvation Army in Market St, Torquay to mark their first anniversary. The service not only provides a food bank for those in need of urgent support, but also a café and drop in service. The larder has recently been well stocked by many donations made at Harvest Festivals, but could always do with more help. You can find out more about volunteering or making a regular donation on their website by clicking here.
The Wellswood District of the Torbay Hospital League of Friends held a successful fundraising lunch on Sunday at the Belgrave Sands Hotel. The event was a first for the branch who are always looking for more ways to support the fundraising efforts of the league overall. You can find more details of how to help support their work on the League’s website by clicking here.
The House of Commons sat from Monday to Thursday this week with me attending debates ranging from proposed new laws for Automated and Electric Vehicles and Smart Meters to a technical Statutory Instrument Cttee discussion about VAT Rules on phone calls made between different Countries.
On Tuesday meet with Stephen Bird, the Chief Executive Officer for South West Water (As pictured) at Westminster. We discussed their latest performance statistics for Torbay and where future water bills could be heading after the end of the current pricing period in 2020. The encouraging news for our area is low interest rates are making investments much cheaper and reducing costs, with further reductions in the base bill likely.
Last night I returned to the bay and I started this morning with a visit to a local Trader in Fleet St, Torquay to discuss recent issues with the Town Centre. They pointed to a range of issues causing them frustration and we discussed what work could be done to alleviate them. I also mentioned the new retail network being set up to help bring focus to these efforts.
Finally today I signed the community letter protesting against the closure of Torre Post Office. There is more on this below, along with this week’s update which includes: Supported Housing Raised At PMQs, SW Rail Debate, Further A303 Work Confirmed, Fast Ferry Service Ends, Car Park Closure Postponed, Freedom of Religion or Belief Debate, Poppy Appeal Launched, Armed Forces Question on Census, Vote For Clennon Valley, Call For Evidence on Home Sales, Free Flu Vaccine, Trick or Treat and finally…. The Gorilla Jive.
Supported Housing Raised At PMQs,
Love it or loathe it Prime Minister’s Questions, with all its heckling and robust debate, is the most high-profile parliamentary session of the week.
Many residents will be aware I was not a great fan of the “punch and judy” politics this session too often sees before I got elected and my views have not changed since May 2015. This means when I get a chance to ask a question I use it to raise an issue, rather than score a partisan point. Due to demand most MPs will only get to ask a PMQ about two or three times a year.
My latest chance to ask the PM a question came this week and I was scheduled to be the first from the Government benches to do so. I decided to raise the issue of funding for Supported Housing in our area given an announcement is due from the government next week and the importance of these services to many vulnerable residents.
You can read my question and the Prime Minister’s response by clicking here.
SW Rail Debate,
Since the collapse of the Dawlish Line in 2014 securing the future of our rail network has been one of the top priorities for MPs across our region, with work being done on a cross party basis to achieve this.
On Tuesday Labour MP Luke Pollard secured a debate in Parliament about the future of train services in the South West. This provided a further opportunity to highlight the vital importance of taking forward work to secure the resilience of the coastal railway at Dawlish, plus invest in better connections within our region.
In my speech I commented on how, despite the lack of investment over recent decades, our rail network is seeing passenger growth and playing a vital part in our economic growth. In addition to Dawlish I highlighted the need for new rolling stock and again pushed the case for Edginswell Station with the Rail Minister.
You can read my speech, along with the rest of the debate, by clicking here.
Further A303 Work Confirmed,
Rail improvements were not the only transport issue being discussed at Westminster this week.
The Government confirmed plans for the A303 to be dualled between Sparkford and Ilchester. This scheme will link with two other projects, including the proposed tunnel at Stonehenge, to complete the dualling of the A303 creating a second key route into our region. You can read more details of the scheme on the Highways England website by clicking here.
Delays and bottlenecks on the A303 affect business in our area who rely on it to get goods to key markets and ports. They also help deter visitors from heading west for a holiday. The dualling of this key route to our region cannot come soon enough.
Fast Ferry Service Ends,
Whilst our trains and roads may be on track for improvements, the Brixham Express Ferry conducted its final service this week.
The service was intended to provide a speedy link across the bay for commuters throughout the year, although was also blamed for causing one operator to cease providing its summer service. The catamaran built to provide the service has left the bay, being spotted off The Lizard earlier this week. You can read more on the Devon Live website by clicking here.
Given the service was supported by a grant from the Department for Transport (administered by Torbay Council) I have written to Ministers highlighting the ending of the service and asking what action is being taken to protect the public funds involved.
Car Park Closure Postponed,
In last week’s update I reported on the surprising news Watcombe Beach Car Park was set to be closed permanently this Wednesday.
Having contacted the Council and spoken with local Councillors I challenged the council about the grounds on which the car park was being closed. I also raised the lack of a meaningful consultation with the local community, whether the Police had raised any concerns with the council and why alternatives such as a night or winter closure had not been considered.
On Sunday evening I received a response from the Council indicating the closure would be postponed, with a consultation process to follow.
Freedom of Religion or Belief Debate,
Today is International Freedom of Religion or Belief day and this was marked with a debate in parliament yesterday.
The 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther outlining his 95 theses (Which started the reformation) is next week making it a very opportune time to reflect on how European Society has changed since a time when a religious disagreement could see a person burnt at the stake.
I joined MPs on a cross party basis in speaking about the need for religious freedom to be a right. We also highlighted how religious repression usually went hand in hand with efforts to repress political rights. You can read my speech and the rest of the debate by clicking here.
Poppy Appeal Launched,
The Poppy Appeal was launched by the Royal British Legion (RBL) this week, with poppies now available across Torquay and Paignton.
The Legion is again asking supporters to Rethink Remembrance by recognising the sacrifices made not just by the Armed Forces of the past, but by today’s generation too. You can find all the details of this year’s appeal on the RBL website by clicking here.
Finally if you have an old style “round pound” coin you can turn it into a Poppy Pound as Paignton and Torquay RBL will be delighted to accept them. There are still over £400m of the old coins, which are no longer legal tender, circulating and these could make a massive difference to the forces community. (The coins will be honoured for their face value when banked by the Legion).
Armed Forces Question on Census,
Over recent years the RBL has been campaigning for a question to be included in the 2021 Census asking about military service.
The aim is to get detailed information on not just the current service community, but also identify veterans and ensure services can be tailored to their needs. In past decades this was less of a requirement as until the 1970’s most adult men had seen military service via mass conscription in the two World Wars.
This week the Office for National Statistics confirmed it would be recommending the inclusion of this topic in the 2021 Census. I welcome this news which will help ensure the ex-forces community is no longer hidden once they de-mob.
Vote For Clennon Valley,
Clennon Valley has been nominated in the Fields in Trust UK’s Best Park, as voted by YOU! 2017 Award.
Fields in Trust protects and champions parks and green spaces in perpetuity for communities to enjoy. Since being founded in 1925 they have protected over 2,700 sites, including playgrounds, playing fields, and formal and informal parkland totalling 30,000 acres of land across the UK.
The UK’s Best Park Award gives the public the opportunity to vote for their favourite local green space; the public vote will run until the 3rd November. You can find out more and cast your vote by clicking here.
Call For Evidence on Home Sales,
If you have recently bought your home or are involved in home sales locally you might be interested to take part in a call for evidence launched this week.
The Government wants to hear from everyone with an interest in home buying including estate agents, solicitors and mortgage lenders. Ministers want to ensure that they address issues across the whole sector, from ways to tackle gazumping and reduce time wasting to increase commitment to a sale.
If interested in taking part you can find full details on the Government website by clicking here.
Free Flu Vaccine,
Did you know everyone over the age of 65 can have the flu vaccine available from their GP or local pharmacy for free?
The risk of serious illness from flu, plus consequent hospitalisation and death is higher among those aged 65 years and older as they are more likely to have an underlying health problem and the immune system does not work as well.
If you are over 65 and have not yet had your jab just contact your GP Surgery or Pharmacist to arrange it
Trick or Treat
While Halloween can be fun for many, not everyone enjoys this time of year.
Our local police are reminding trick or treaters some people, particularly if elderly or vulnerable, might be distressed by strangers knocking at their door wearing spooky costumes.
Their campaign encourages people to print out and display a poster on their homes, or the homes of elderly friends, neighbours or relatives, if they don’t want trick or treaters calling on them.
The police are also sharing these six top tips for young people at Halloween:
- Always be accompanied by an adult when you are trick-or-treating.
- You should only go to houses of people that you know and who are happy for you to call.
- Stay safe, keep to places that you know and are well lit. Do not take short cuts through gardens, alleyways or parks.
- Watch out for traffic – drivers might not see you.
- If you are wearing a mask make sure that you can see where you are going and are aware of your surroundings.
- Carry a torch and a fully charged mobile phone.
I thought it would be useful to provide a link to the poster which you can print for yourselves or for a neighbour who maybe doesn’t have internet access. It is not about spoiling fun, but making sure anyone taking part is aware of those who would rather not be disturbed. You can download the poster produced by our local police by clicking here
and finally…. The Gorilla Jive.
Ending on a lighter note one of Paignton Zoo’s prized gorillas was snapped showing off his dancing moves this week.
14-year-old male Western lowland gorilla named N’Dowe appears to be doing the hand-jive in photos, taken by Zoo regular and keen photographer Miriam Haas.
A gorilla hand is like a human hand, with four fingers and an opposable thumb. Opposable means the thumb can move to touch the other fingers, giving the ability to grasp things. Human thumbs are usually longer than those of other primates, and humans can move their thumbs further across their hand than any other primate. But the gorillas win, as they have opposable thumbs and toes, meaning a simple hand jive is a piece of cake.
You can see the photos on the Devon Live website by clicking here.
That is all for this week and enjoy your weekend.