I recently visited the Gateway School on the outskirts of Tiffield, near Towcester. What a wonderful, cheery looking place it is! The garden at the front of the school was a sight for sore eyes, full of flowers and beautifully tended. The sun even came out......
The school is a specialist centre for young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, and many of the pupils are in care.
Gateway consists of a group of modern buildings, having moved from the centre of Northampton some years ago. David Lloyd, the Principal, and David Williams the outgoing chair of governors, showed me round the place, of which they are rightly proud.
Both believe that these children, many of whom live in really difficult circumstances, need the best help to overcome the cards they have been dealt and to help make them capable and responsible adults. Their personal commitment shone out, and the respect and liking of the pupils for their Head was apparent as we went around the school.
The Gateway School has excellent facilities that are also used by the local community including an indoor swimming pool and astro turf pitch. It has 60 pupils on the school register, many travelling in on the schools own buses from Northampton. The school also runs a successful outreach program for children who find traditional classroom settings difficult.
I was very impressed not only with the fabric of the school and outstanding facilities but also with the students. I visited the vocational training areas which included car mechanics, wood working and welding and a full scale beauty salon and hairdressers was just being completed. Building and bricklaying courses were also being run.
Whether we like it or not, what happens in the EU has a big impact on the UK.
Europe is by far our most important overseas market and trading partner. And, just in case anyone missed it, the Eurozone was this week confirmed to be in the sixth successive quarter of Recession.
So how the Government handles the issue of the UK's relationship with the EU is critical to the performance of huge swathes of our economy, and thus our well-being more generally.
Since coming to Westminster, I've been increasingly struck, and alarmed, by the EU's lack of democratic legitimacy, and the damaging impact which this has on the interests of the British people.
I therefore believe passionately that British voters must be given the chance to decide whether the UK's relations with the EU serve their interests. That's why I voted for a referendum in 2010, and again earlier this week.
Having said that, I also believe that, while there's a time to focus on when a referendum should be held, there's also a time for concentrating on how the Government goes about negotiating the deal which the referendum will be about.
On this last point, I entirely agree with the Prime Minister – now is the time we should be thinking about the "substance", not the "process". All of our attention needs to be given over to how we conduct the renegotiation of the UK's relationship with the other 26 Member States.
I'm delighted to say that this is where the Fresh Start Project really comes into its own. Our comprehensive research and analysis has identified the (many) failings of the present relationship and set out all of the options available to the Government to put this right. I'm optimistic that our proposals will be at the heart of the renegotiation which the next Conservative Government conducts after the 2015 General Election.
How the UK's relationship with the EU evolves at that point is profoundly important.
If we get what we want from that renegotiation – and I'm absolutely certain that we can – this will be a huge boost to Britain's interests.
So, as the British people ponder how to vote in 2015, they need to keep very much in mind one thought. The Labour Party has made clear that it's the Party of No Referendum. Anyone who really cares about Britain's relationship with the EU had better make sure that they don't land themselves with a Labour Government.
Today I attended the Bees Tea reception in the House of Commons, organised by Friends of the Earth. I was delighted to be involved, and fully recognise the important role that bees play in the biodiversity of our country.
At the reception, I was presented with a briefing pack explaining just how essential bees are, the very real dangers they face as a species, as well as suggestions for how we can help.
If you would like to know more about the Friends of the Earth campaign, please visit http://www.foe.co.uk/what_we_do/the_bee_cause_home_map_39371.html
I recently visited students at Magdalen School, Brackley who are either studying or considering whether to study Politics at A-Level. I particularly wanted to talk to them about apprenticeships and specifically the scheme I operate for an apprentice in my own office.
My current apprentice, Daisy Peck, was formerly a sixth-form student at Northampton School for Boys and leaves my office in August having completed her year long apprenticeship and also achieving an NVQ. She hopes to go on to become a campaign manager for a parliamentary candidate at the next general election.
The apprenticeship I am offering is four days a week at the constituency office in Northampton and one day a week in Westminster. The pay is around £9,000 per annum, and for anyone wishing to get into politics or improve their CV it's a great head start!
I hope to receive plenty of applications from South Northants school leavers. The only limitation is that applicants should be 18 by 14th August 2013.
For more information on my apprenticeship scheme, or to apply for yourself, please feel free to e-mail me at email@example.com.
The second annual NorPIP Charity Bike took place on a bright and sunny evening at Silverstone circuit with over 400 riders taking the opportunity to help the Northamptonshire Parent Infant Partnership and enjoy cycling around the famous Grand Prix circuit.
For the first time some of the local Formula One teams were involved with Brackley based Mercedes AMG Petronas bringing a former Nico Rosberg formula one car that was on display at the entrance to the Wing.
Red Bull and Marussia also sent teams of cyclists who not only put in some superb times, but also raised thousands of pounds in sponsorship. Thanks so much to all the cyclists!
After cutting the ribbon with Councillor John Bailey chairman of Northamptonshire County Council in the pit lane to start the event, I was able to enjoy a few laps of the circuit with my family.
The event was organised by the wonderful Events Management students at Northampton University and I'm grateful to everyone who attended to help this very worthy cause.
I was delighted to be able to present one of my constituents, David Whitehead, his long awaited Arctic Convoy Medal. The medal, finally issued after years of campaigning, recognises the brave men on board the Arctic convoys during the Second World War.
The Arctic convoys were the only arena of war not to be recognised in the aftermath of World War II, due to the deterioration of diplomatic relations with Russia, our partners in the convoys, which eventually culminated in the Cold War. It is only now that international relations are strong enough again to enable the Government to issue these awards, and I am very pleased that the campaign has finally been successful.
More information about the Arctic Star, including how to apply for one, can be found at http://www.veterans-uk.info/arctic_star_index.htm.
I travelled with a group of colleagues recently to Berlin, to meet with German politicians, business leaders and think tanks to discuss ideas for reform of the EU. We wanted to share with them some of the ideas of the Fresh Start Project, and to understand the German perspective on European issues.
We were struck by their deep-seated commitment to the European Union that goes far beyond the economic benefits. We heard comments such as "I would rather describe myself as European then German" and "A common law from Scandinavia to Greece is an end in itself". These are not comments we hear often in UK political circles!
German MPs and businesses leaders typically started our meetings thinking that the Fresh Start Project is moving the UK towards exit from the EU. At the end of our meetings, having discussed the details of some proposals, they usually agreed that we face many of the same issues, and can work together to implement reforms.
For example, some German MPs were very interested in the proposal to limit EU structural funds to those states with an average GDP per head of less than 90% of the EU average. A number of them expressed support for a review of competencies, and potentially rebalancing some competencies back to member states. And the proposal to extend the double-majority voting mechanism, agreed for the European Banking Authority, to other areas of EU decision-making was met with interest and has the potential to be taken forward. "Ah, that was used in the Holy Roman Empire" said one of our German colleagues!
Many of the business leaders we met would support the return of the competence over social and employment law to member states, in order to create competition between regions.
There is much that we can learn from the German system-as one colleague put it, all the regulations come back from Brussels already Germany-proofed. In part, this is because their Parliament engages early in the decision-making process, with the relevant Parliamentary committee summoning ministers, discussing the issues, and coming up with a consensus 'German' view, way ahead of the negotiations in Brussels. We have a long way to go in the UK to reach this standard, but it is something we should strive for, without losing the benefits of our system.
We left our German colleagues with agreement that the discussions had been useful, and with a plan to continue to build a German-UK Parliamentary dialogue.
Local Conservatives fought a strong campaign and focused on the local issues that matter in South Northants. Sincere congratulations to all of them for their hard work. S Northants constituency now has, under the boundary changes, 5 Conservatives, one Lib Dem and one UKIP. In addition two County seats are half in S Northants and half in Northampton South. One is now Conservative and the other Lib Dem.
UKIP have made a big impact in these elections. The national momentum has taken them to second place in many NCC seats. It is definitely a wake up call for our party. We have got to prioritise:
- Serious EU reform
- Limiting migrant access to benefits as well as limiting net migration still further
- Keeping our progress with welfare reform and rolling out universal credit to make work always pay
- Change policy on wind farms to give localism the upper hand
- If HS2 is going ahead, reach a fair compensation and mitigation deal so that residents feel we have heard their concerns
- Amend the Same Sex Marriage Bill to ensure the meaning of marriage is not changed.
That will be my message back to the party.... Any thoughts you have will be welcomed.
I am delighted that this week Caroline Chisholm School in Northampton beat an outstanding shortlist to win a national competition to help shape the future of development today. The 'Shape the Future' competition was launched in February by International Development Secretary, Justine Greening MP.
It gave UK secondary school pupils a chance to submit ideas for the post-2015 development agenda. Caroline Chisholm pupils beat four other shortlisted finalists in the final held in Parliament, where they had just ten minutes to make their presentation in front of a panel of experts.
Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening said:
'The number of schools from across the UK that have taken part in our 'Shape the Future' competition shows that British schoolchildren want to play their part in creating a fairer and more prosperous world. Their analysis of our current development goals and creative ideas for the future shows an understanding that what happens across the world matters to us in the UK more now than ever before.
Our aim is that the student can see developing countries grow and prosper over the next decades as we, and others, invest in jobs, opportunities and peace. This competition has given them the opportunity to set out what values they believe the international community needs as we create the world of tomorrow.'
Mr Downing, Caroline Chisholm School's Headteacher said:
'Tackling global poverty is a key target for the 21st Century. Our young people will travel and work all over the world during their lifetimes. We want them to understand the challenges our world faces and to play their part in reducing global poverty. That's why we have a globe in our school badge.'
The winning proposal by our local school will feed into the Prime Minister's work as co-chair of the United Nation's High Level Panel, looking at what should succeed the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) from 2015.
It was great to meet them and huge congratulations to all! This is such a fantastic achievement!
This week I met with the Secretary of State for Transport, Rt. Hon. Patrick McLoughlin MP to discuss HS2. This was the first time I had met Patrick in his capacity as the Secretary of State, as I have reported in the past I have had many meeting with Department for Transport Ministers and officials and representatives from HS2 Ltd. I have also met with the former Secretaries of State for Transport to discuss the HS2 project; however this was one of the most positive meetings I have had regarding HS2 for a while.
The main aim of the meeting was to raise with him the need to provide full, fair and generous compensation to those that are affected, if the Government are determined to go ahead with this project. I explained to him that I felt the best way of achieving this would be to introduce a property bond in addition to the measures of compensation that have already been announced.
I feel that if the Government are confident that many homes that are blighted by HS2 at the moment, are not going to hear, see or experience the train in any way, then they should be prepared to guarantee the pre blight value of those homes. The market simply does not accept the Government's assurances and as a result some residents have become trapped in their own home, unable to sell, remortgage or realise equity in their property. A property bond would get the market moving again.
The Secretary of State was certainly listening very careful to this proposal and I was pleased he told me that he was interested in hearing all views.
As you may be aware, the Judicial Review earlier this year found that the Government must re-consult on compensation and a Department for Transport official who was present at the meeting said that this would 'give them the opportunity to reconsider a property bond.'
I will try to keep you informed of when this re-consultation is to take place and would urge as many people as possible to make the representations again and to support a property bond.
At the meeting I also raised the operation of the Exceptional Hardship Scheme, mitigation for our communities and the performance and engagement of HS2 Ltd. I also raised with the Secretary of State the plans of some MPs to discuss with the Parliamentary Ombudsman the concerns over how HS2 Ltd. are engaging with communities and the operation of the EHS.
All further HS2 updates will appear on these pages and I will do my best to keep you up to date.
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I've been keeping a blog since 2006, so you can see the position I've taken on many different national and local issues. Whilst it's sometimes hard to find the time to write on every issue, I hope that you can get a good idea of my beliefs and values in the areas that matter to you. Please do leave your comments - I'm always interested to hear your views.
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