I hope you have had a good start to 2013......Not long now until Easter and I, for one, am looking forward to an Easter Egg after giving up sweet things for Lent! I thought I would take this opportunity to update you on some of the things I have been doing in Parliament.....
As I write, we are less than a week away from the Budget. The economy is the number one issue for most people and I know the cost of living is the number one concern for households. We remain in very tough economic times. The need for deficit reduction has meant difficult decisions have been taken, and I am pretty sick and tired of the Opposition's refusal either to support any of the cuts and reforms we are making, or to say how on earth they would propose to sort out Britain's economy if it was up to them!
David Cameron is completely right to stick to 'Plan A' – getting our economy back on track means eliminating our deficit and thereby reducing our huge burden of debt. But it's by no means all bad news on the economic front: the private sector has created one million new jobs since the 2010 election; council tax has been frozen since 2010; we have reduced our deficit by 25%; interest rates are at historically low levels, meaning that for mortgages, businesses and the servicing of our huge national debt, the costs are significantly lower than they were under Labour. We have also introduced major reforms to bank regulation – getting rid of the tripartite regime that so badly failed us during the financial crisis. The Government's 'Funding for Lending' is starting to take effect, with loans to homebuyers and small businesses showing signs of improvement. I can't say that there are not still hard times ahead but I am confident we are on the right track.
I would like to update you on a few planning issues that affect South Northamptonshire. Firstly, the Spring Farm Ridge wind farm saga (affecting Helmdon, Greatworth and Sulgrave) continues. In the summer I was outraged that the Planning Inspectorate overturned the decision of the local Council and disregarded the local community when it allowed this wind farm on appeal. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the Planning Inspectorate and held a public meeting to explain how this decision made a mockery of the Localism agenda. I was delighted that through the hard work of the local community, a Judicial Review found in favour of the community and the Inspector's decision was overturned.
The developers of the wind farm now plan to appeal and I held a meeting with them recently to explain that this further appeal was appalling PR for the industry, for them as well as the community and I explained that I didn't see how they could possibly win the appeal, in light of now fast moving changes in planning rules. Their position is still to appeal but I hope that a seed of doubt has been sown in their minds and they will think again.
Secondly, I wanted to touch on three proposed developments which I have been dealing with recently. First, many constituents have contacted me about plans to convert the Ironstone pub on Hunsbury Hill Road into a new Tesco Express store. I fully support the views of the local residents on this issue and agree that whilst we all value the success of our big supermarkets, the unwelcome dominance that big chains, such as Tesco, hold over local, long standing businesses should be put to a stop.
The second planning issue I have been dealing with has been the development at Collingtree and the plan for 1,000 homes by Bovis. Residents are unhappy about the proposed scale of the project, flooding risks and the access arrangements and I have spoken in support of local views in the Chamber, written to Ministers and met with Network Rail to discuss alternative access arrangements.
The final planning issue that has concerned many is the proposal for 220 new homes in Silverstone. I have raised their concerns about overdevelopment of the village and the possible impact on the future growth of Silverstone Circuit with Ministers and in the Chamber.
I also want to update you on HS2, which is a constant worry to many constituents. From the very beginning we knew this would be a long battle. I am firmly against the project because I do not think it is good value for taxpayers' money, it is not environmentally friendly and I believe it will not achieve its objectives of narrowing the North South divide. Along with other colleagues, I will do all I can to argue that HS2 is not the right project.
However, if this project is to go ahead, I am determined to achieve the best form of mitigation for the areas affected and decent compensation for my constituents. Over the last year I have held several meetings of the HS2 Compensation and Mitigation Forum that I Chair, and have discussed these matters with Department for Transport Ministers, HS2 officials and the Prime Minister himself. This is a long battle but I assure you I will keep fighting.
In Parliament, it has been a busy start to the year. In January it was a real pleasure to welcome Roy Crutchley and Stewart Blake from Hoggleys Brewery in Litchborough to have a go at pulling a pint of their Northamptonshire Bitter in Strangers. Hoggleys brews some great beer which is enjoyed across Northamptonshire as well as further-a-field. I am pleased they have built up a successful business in a time which has been difficult for the pub trade. It was a pleasure to meet Roy and Stewart and discuss issues facing the pub industry. I am always eager to support local businesses in any way I can. Hoggleys is just one example of many successful businesses in South Northamptonshire.
Early this year I held a debate in Parliament to raise awareness of Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP) which is a disease related to Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson's Disease. It is a dreadful condition which, over time, can rob people of the ability to walk, talk, feed themselves and communicate effectively. The average life expectancy is seven years from the point of diagnosis.
The PSP Association, which is based in Towcester, does some fantastic work in providing advice, support and information to people living with the disease and also funds research to find potential treatments for the condition. I am delighted to be Patron of the charity and to help them raise awareness in any way I can.
In February, I joined several of my colleagues on Parliament Square to participate in the One Billion Rising demonstration. The campaign aims to end violence against women and girls worldwide. The movement takes its name from the horrifying statistic that one billion women, about one in three, will be raped or beaten in their lifetime. An appalling fact that politicians need to do more to resolve. I was delighted last week to invite a student from Magdalen College to shadow me for a day to mark International Women's Day. Hannah Roberts came to Portcullis House to take part in a day of activities organised by Parliagender – including a visit to Downing Street.
I know some of you are following my Fresh Start Project work......in January we published our Manifesto for Change, by coincidence exactly a week before the PM's speech on the EU. The Manifesto sets out specific proposals for reform of Britain's relationship with the EU, and Colleagues and I have been meeting with various EU Ambassadors and Parliamentarians to explain the sort of fundamental reform Britain needs to see. We are certainly not alone in our desire for change - the British press don't like to report just how much support there is for reform right across the EU.
At the moment, I am a member of the Bill Committee for the Children and Families Bill going through Parliament. It is a huge Bill, requiring the Committee to sit all day Tuesday and Thursday for eight weeks to go through all the proposals, ranging from shared parental leave to speeding up adoption processes to improving the way in which children receive statements for special educational needs. It will change the lives for the better of many vulnerable children and for many working families.
I will do my best to keep you informed on what is going on. Just a reminder that I am always keen to visit schools, charities and local businesses in our area, and I hold a bookable surgery once a month as well as regular 'drop in' surgeries in Brackley, Towcester and at Tesco Mereway for those that have an issue to raise with me. Do let me know if you have suggestions for visits or if I can be of any help with a personal matter.
With best wishes
(Photos show 1. Andrea signing the petition at the Hill Shop on Hunsbury Hill Road; 2. Serving a pint in Strangers; 3. With other MPs supporting the One Billion Rising campaign; 4. Outside Number 10 to mark International Women's Day)
Another year draws to a close. It has been another busy year and the campaigns I am working on have made some excellent progress. I will come on to them in a moment, but I want to start by focussing on the big highlights of 2012.
Will we ever see another year like 2012? The Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the Olympic and Paralympic Games had a fantastically positive and uniting effect on the entire country and I was extremely proud to be British – this year more than ever!
It was absolutely right that we honour 60 years of dedication and commitment to our nation by Her Majesty The Queen. In an ever changing world and in good and difficult times, our Queen has always provided composure and stability. It was great to see well-wishers cheering and waving flags all around the country as they celebrated the many wonderful events to commemorate such an incredible achievement. My family and I enjoyed a street party in our own village and it was a huge pleasure to attend the lighting of one of the thousands of beacons that were lit across the country at the Cadet Training Centre at Yardley Chase.
We had barely recovered from the Jubilee celebrations before we had the honour of hosting the greatest show on earth! I think we were all amazed by London 2012. Team GB did the country incredibly proud at the Olympic and Paralympic Games. The medal haul was incredible. And it wasn't just on the track, in the saddle and in the water that our team were so superb. The organisation, the wonderful venues, the amazing volunteers and huge crowds all made London 2012 the best Olympic and Paralympic Games ever. Brazil in four years time has a lot to live up to and I hope that here in the UK the legacy of London 2012 will live on for generations to come.
One campaign that I am leading is to promote Early Year's Intervention to help families establish secure emotional bonds with their new babies. The first two years of a child's life are the most important for brain development, and much of the 'brokenness' in our society is caused by people who as babies did not experience the healthy brain development that is stimulated by a loving early relationship. If we could solve the problem of insecure early bonding, it's not too dramatic to say that we could profoundly change our society for the better. I want to see far greater support provided to Mums with post natal depression, and other issues, to build a secure relationship with their baby. As well as introducing a 10 Minute Rule Bill in Parliament to promote this issue, the new charity NORPIP that I founded last year to provide psychotherapeutic services for families in Northamptonshire is going from strength to strength. Finally, in May I was able to launch PIPUK - a new national charity that will help fund and set up a network of new services for families across England.
NORPIP held a sell out conference called 'Two is too late' in May at Whittlebury Hall and I was delighted that we had over 500 delegates including representatives from 27 Local Authorities and many other charities such as Adoption UK, The Royal Society for Public Health and the NSPCC to name a few. Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was our keynote speaker. Iain is a Patron of NORPIP and I am delighted with the support and commitment he has given to promoting Early Intervention. Iain spoke about his work in establishing the Centre for Social Justice in 2004 and the importance of cross departmental working in government to progress successful early years work.
Turning to my most important local campaign.......when I was first elected, HS2 had just been announced. I knew then that this was going to be something which we would be dealing with for a long time and this is proving to be the case. My view that this is not the right project to deal with capacity issues on the West Coast Mainline, does not provide good value for taxpayers' money and is not going to achieve its stated outcomes. But whilst I continue to try to convince the Government of these facts, I have had to accept that building HS2 is agreed policy for all main parties of government, and so I have been focussing a great deal of time on seeking fair compensation and mitigation measures for those affected.
At the beginning of this year I established the HS2 Compensation and Mitigation Forum in Parliament for MPs who are affected. We have met with the Secretary of State for Transport, the Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd and many others and have fed back to them the concerns of residents over compensation measures, have forwarded ideas for compensation and mitigation and have taken advice on the steps that the Hybrid Bill will go through when it reaches Parliament. A consultation into compensation opened last month and runs until the end of January. I do hope as many residents as possible will respond and make their views known. This is a long battle but I assure you I will continue to fight. I met this week with the new Minister for Transport, Simon Burns MP, and you can read my blog about the meeting here.
Other issues of great concern to South Northamptonshire residents are those of wind farms and planning. Northamptonshire is not a windy county and it has had more than its fair share of new house building under the last government. Going forward we must have sensible plans that allow local voices to take a lead in decision making about the siting of new developments.
Key to protecting local interests is for the local planning authorities to achieve sign off for their Local Development Plans as soon as possible, and I know S Northants and Northampton Borough Councillors are prioritising this work through the W Northants Joint Planning Unit. Whilst I am no fan of the WNJPU as I fear it lacks overall democratic accountability, nevertheless it is making faster progress in developing the Local Plan than individual planning authorities could do alone. Neighbourhood Development Plans, for those parishes and towns intending to write them, will also be a valuable means by which communities can profoundly determine what happens in their area.
Our membership of the European Union continues to be a hot topic, not just in Westminster but around the country. The Fresh Start Project that I launched 18 months ago is coming to the end of Phase Two. The project was established to articulate a new vision for Britain's membership of the EU that would retrieve our sovereignty in many areas, yet still keep us at the heart of the Single Market that has served us well. We have consulted widely with industry, the police, human rights groups, farming groups and think tanks, as well as MPs, Peers and MEPs. In Phase One we published the Fresh Start 'Options for Change' that covers 11 areas of EU impact on the UK. This massive (and I believe, unique) piece of research was published in July this year and you can see it here. Since then, a group of Conservative MPs have been working on a 'Manifesto for Change' that we plan to present to the Party leadership first thing in the New Year. This is something else I look forward to updating you on.
I want to finish by mentioning some of the key highlights of being an MP that receive too little focus.....and that is the visits to schools, charities and businesses around the constituency. It is a huge pleasure to meet so many new people and hear their stories. I'm pleased to say that this year has been no exception. I took part in a charity bike ride in aid of NORPIP and the Nene Valley Care Trust at our iconic Silverstone Circuit, I was delighted to be asked to plant an 'Olympic' oak tree at Hardingstone Primary School, I was honoured to open the newly refurbished Snowdrop Bereavement Room at the Barratt Maternity Home in Northampton Hospital. I attended Towcester Rockschools' Concert at Nicholas Hawksmoor School, visited Hoggley's Brewery in Litchborough, a wonderful concert by the Northampton Orchestral Winds at Caroline Chisholm School and visited the Cogenhoe based Caring and Sharing Trust, a superb place which looks after adults with a range of learning disabilities, as well as many, many other events.
I hope that throughout the year I have also been able to help some people in need. I hold an advice surgery every month for constituents who want to speak to me in person about their problem or issue. I also hold six 'drop in' surgeries for constituents to stop by and discuss with me whatever is on their mind. I also receive thousands of letters, emails and phone calls. I am aided by my superb casework team who help me in dealing with the variety of issues and we always do our absolute best to resolve the matter in the most positive way.
As you can see a lot has gone on in 2012 and I could tell you much more but I want you to be able to finish my newsletter before the New Year! The workload in Parliament and in South Northamptonshire doesn't show any sign of slowing down but you won't catch me complaining as I love the challenges, making progress on some really important campaigns and standing up for your concerns and raising your issues. It is truly an honour to be your MP.
Whatever you have planned for the festive season, I would like to take this opportunity to wish you a very happy and peaceful Christmas and all the very best for a successful 2013.
With best wishes
Andrea and her team
(Left to Right: Bill Clare, Media Advisor - Lucia Hodgson, Parliamentary Assistant - Duncan McCourt, Office Manager - Andrea Leadsom MP - Marc Pooler, Parliamentary Researcher - Daisy Peck, Apprentice Caseworker - Luke Graystone, Secretary)
As 2012 steams towards its conclusion I thought I would write to update you on the few months since I last wrote.
Earlier this year I wrote about the Northamptonshire Parent Infant Partnership. NORPIP has now been up and running for about a year and is making great progress in helping parents who are struggling to form a secure bond with their new born babies. The earliest experiences of a baby determine his or her capacity for lifelong emotional health, with profound consequences for society.
Related to this work, recently I presented a 'Ten Minute Rule Bill' to Parliament, which is an opportunity to propose a new piece of legislation. I proposed a Bill which would enable psychotherapeutic support to be made available to parents of a baby who will be born onto the child protection register. The Bill would also ensure that a decision on the adoption of babies is taken in the first year after birth in order for a baby to have the best chance of forming a secure bond with their adoptive parents. We must do all we can to ensure the emotional wellbeing of young babies. Prevention is not only kinder, but also much cheaper than cure.
Also in Parliament I recently sponsored a debate in the House of Commons called 'Stimulating growth through better use of the Prompt Payment Code'. Increasingly small and medium sized companies are reporting that payments are being withheld by businesses further up the supply chain, and that this is not only hampering growth, but also threatening their very existence. At a time when access to finance has rarely been more difficult for these companies we need to ensure timely payments are made and that companies stick to agreed payment terms.
The Prompt Payment Code is about encouraging and promoting best practice between organisations and their suppliers. Any organisation can sign up to the code, and those that do so undertake to pay suppliers on time within the terms agreed at the outset of the contract, give clear guidance to suppliers on payment procedures, encourage good practice and request that lead suppliers promote the adoption of the code throughout the supply chain.
In my speech I made the point that if every business in the country was able to employ just one more employee we would be short of workers in this country to the tune of 1.5 million people! I will continue to do all I can to support SMEs and to make sure that Government agencies and public bodies lead by example by paying their bills on time, which in turn, will enable businesses to expand and grow.
I have enjoyed many varied visits around the constituency. I visited Tesco in Towcester to present four South Northamptonshire schools with new equipment as part of the 'Tesco Schools and Clubs" scheme. I am delighted that Tesco is able to support local schools through its community engagement scheme, and encourage all businesses to take an interest in their community. I had the pleasure of speaking to children afterwards from Nicholas Hawksmoor, and Greens Norton C of E. We talked about a wide range of topics including favourite sports and what life is like as an MP.
I was delighted to visit Wappenham based Enterprise Control Systems Ltd (ECS) to officially open their newly-completed office facility. I unveiled a plaque to officially commemorate the opening, which was followed by various demonstrations of ECS products taking place throughout the afternoon. What an amazing company! It combines the best of innovative technology with a clear commitment to the local economy and local employment. It highlights the best of British creativity and enterprise.
I have also visited Chenderit School in Middleton Cheney to take part in a fundraising activity for ActionAid organised by a student at the school, Megan Buckley. There were homemade cake stalls as well as a raffle, and it was great to see so many students participating during their lunch break. Delighted to see charity work and community spirit alive and well in our schools.
On the subject of charity, in London I was invited to attend a charity event to raise money and awareness of the dreadful condition, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP). PSP involves the progressive death of neurons (nerve endings) in the brain and over time PSP can rob a person of the ability to walk, talk, feed themselves or communicate effectively with the world around them, yet they usually remain mentally alert. The average life expectancy of a PSP sufferer is seven years and it is a truly dreadful disease.
Brigadier Michael Koe is the Founder and Life President of the PSP Association which is based in Towcester. Brigadier Koe lost his wife to PSP and he and his family have been fundraising and raising awareness for many years. Whilst there were many sad stories to listen to, the event was a huge success. Lord Seb Coe was Guest of Honour, and he had invited stars such as Daley Thompson and Steve Cram, as well as current Olympians. Emeli Sande sang a few songs to huge applause, and another famous guest, Sir Philip Green purchased a limited edition Mini Cooper during the auction, only to donate it back to the charity so it could be auctioned again! Over £200,000 was raised by Lord Archer as auctioneer, for an excellent cause.
I plan to do whatever I can to raise this issue and the need for more research into this terrible condition during the coming months in Parliament.
Remembrance Day is always a poignant and important day of the year. This year I attended All Saints Church in Northampton to lay a wreath and remember our very brave service men and women who have lost their lives in the service of their country. Whilst we remember those that made the ultimate sacrifice, it is also important to remember those currently serving, those that are faced with life changing injuries and also their family and friends.
As 2012 draws to a close, I know times are hard for many people and will be for a while to come, but I believe we are on the right path to recovery and I am encouraged by the positive news we have heard on the economy recently. Unemployment has fallen and the private sector has created one million new jobs this year. The deficit has been cut by a quarter from when the Government came to office, our triple A rating has been maintained, inflation is low and the economy has achieved modest growth. There is a long way to go but I believe the steps being taken will put us on a firm footing for future generations.
I will write again before Christmas. There is still so much work to be done in South Northamptonshire and Westminster before the year is done and I look forward to updating you on that.
With best wishes
(Photos show 1. Andrea speaking in the House of Commons; 2. At Enterprise Control Systems; 3. Visiting Chenderit School)
This summer has seen some real highs and lows - sun and storms, fabulous Team GB and corrupt bank traders, better employment figures but back in recession.....
In July I led a debate in Parliament on bank competition. Unless you have been on a trip to the moon you won't have failed to notice that the reputation of our banks hit a new low following the LIBOR scandal at Barclays and the money laundering/embargo breaking scandals at HSBC and Standard Chartered. Restoring the reputation of our banks is an uphill struggle, and one we must begin immediately. Ever since Becoming an MP in 2010 I have been campaigning for greater competition in the banking sector.
As a member of the Treasury Select Committee, I was part of the inquiry into the LIBOR fixing by Barclays and other banks. This highlights to me why we should be looking again at how we can better promote competition in the sector, getting rid of the 'too big to fail' issue by breaking up the taxpayer owned banks to create smaller challenger banks, considering again the separation of investment and retail activities, and importantly, introducing full account portability - where customers can move their bank account instantly (like their mobile phone) without changing their bank details. I'm not convinced we have yet gone far enough, as a government, to sort out this incredibly valuable industry.
While the House is not sitting I've been able to spend time in the constituency, catching up with familiar faces and getting to know some new ones. I was delighted to attend the Northampton Orchestral Winds (NOW) concert at Caroline Chisholm School, and was impressed with their energy and effort. NOW is a community organisation which takes on new players of all ages and ability, and it is clear that the group means a great deal to the people involved. I was delighted to be asked to become a patron.
I also met with the Northamptonshire Police Federation, who represent the interests of the local police force. I catch up with them on a regular basis to ensure I am up to date with any policing concerns.
I visited Komcept Solutions, a local business in Ashton who specialise in audio and video recording, telecommunications and surveillance and on one sunny morning, I visited the Cogenhoe based Caring and Sharing Trust, a superb place which looks after adults with a range of learning disabilities, offering them opportunities to perform on stage and to take part in a wide range of artistic and creative activities. I am lucky enough to be a patron of the Trust, and it is always great to drop by and see the wonderful work they do. Recently they had a disastrous flood that wrecked their theatre, but the Principals, Lena and Caroline, wasted no time sorting this out to turn disaster into a triumphant new venue. A lot of hard work lies ahead but they are so positive about it all. Local Northampton businessman, Tony Anselm, brought along a box of chocolate 'Olympic gold medals' for the entire team!
On the subject of the Olympics, I think we were all amazed by London 2012. Following on from the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the excitement of a British man in the Wimbledon Final, Team GB did the country incredibly proud. And it wasn't just on the track, in the saddle and in the water that our team were so superb. The organisation, the wonderful venues, the amazing volunteers and huge crowds all made London 2012 the best Olympic Games ever and made me so proud to be British! I am sure the Paralympics will continue where the Olympics have left off.
September approaches fast and I have a full diary. I will be organising more meetings of the HS2 Compensation and Mitigation Forum, examining how the Community Fora are working and responding to the compensation consultation when it finally opens. My opinion on this project has never changed; it is a waste of taxpayers' money. It will be a long battle but I can assure you I will keep fighting.
I will also continue to battle against unwelcome wind turbines in our villages. The approval on appeal of Spring Farm Ridge is a disgrace and I will work with the council to try and stop local views being ignored in these matters.
Things are hotting up with the Towcester and Silverstone Circuit development plans. While supporting both, I will be pressing for urgent attention to the A5 relief road.
In Parliament I shall be working on Phase Two of the Fresh Start Project that I launched a year ago to consider how Britain can renegotiate a better deal from its membership with the EU. We will be consulting widely with Conservative MPs, Peers and MEPs and then writing a manifesto for change that we plan to present to the Party leadership by Christmas.
I will also be making progress with PIP UK, a new national charity that will set up Parent Infant Partnerships across the UK. I hope that in years to come, every family that is struggling to form a secure bond with their new baby will be able to access psychotherapeutic support, ideally delivered via childrens centres. If we can achieve this, it will have a profoundly positive impact on our entire society - infants that fail to form a secure bond to a loving parent are far more likely to have poor emotional health that can later on lead to divorce and depression and even crime, addictions and violent behaviour. Achieving this PIP network is a driving passion for my political career.
Finally, I am really looking forward to attending the Job Club Member Awards in Towcester at the end of September as we celebrate helping the 100th Job Club Member back to work. The Brackley and Towcester Job Clubs do excellent work and I am delighted we have reached such a fantastic milestone.
A mammoth amount has gone on this summer and there will be more to come this autumn. I will keep you updated with progress.
With best wishes
(Photos show Andrea with the Northampton Orchestral Winds, with the Police Federation, at the Caring and Sharing Trust and the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games)
Apart from a fleeting visit of summer at the end of May, the weather recently has left us feeling extremely soggy! However, it is clear it takes more than just a bit of wet weather to dampen our spirits across South Northamptonshire and the rest of the country.
Recently, in the pouring rain, I was delighted to be asked to plant an 'Olympic' oak tree at Hardingstone Primary School as part of the preparations for the 30th Olympiad which I'm sure we are all looking forward to. Many residents and local sporting stars came along to enjoy the occasion.
I also had the honour of opening the newly refurbished Snowdrop Bereavement Room at the Barratt Maternity Home in Northampton Hospital. The funding of the refurbishment was paid for by 'Sands' which stands for 'Stillbirth and Neo Natal Death'. This wonderful Charity offers support to bereaved parents whose baby has died before or during birth.
To cap off my wet weather experiences, I took part in a charity bike ride in aid of NORPIP and the Nene Valley Care Trust at our iconic Silverstone Circuit. I was delighted by the number of people who turned up to take part despite the atrocious weather. Cycling clubs from around the country came to enjoy cycling round Silverstone. I managed one circuit with my husband and eight year old daughter as the driving wind and rain was a little too much for us! However a fantastic amount of money was raised for some excellent causes.
Fortunately the weather was fabulous for the NORPIP conference on Friday 18 May. I was delighted with the turnout – over 500 delegates and a waiting list besides. We had representatives from 27 Local Authorities, from Kirklees to Cornwall to Jersey and delegates from Adoption UK, The Royal Society for Public Health and the NSPCC to name a few, some of whom held exhibitions in the atrium.
Our speakers were world class, sharing their expertise on brain development, early years intervention and the consequence of poor early relationships. They included Baroness Susan Greenfield, Dr Michael Galbraith, Dr Amanda Jones and Camila Batmanghelidjh.
Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith MP, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions was our keynote speaker. Iain is a Patron of NORPIP and I am delighted with the support and commitment he has given to promoting Early Intervention. Iain spoke about his work in establishing the Centre for Social Justice in 2004 and the importance of cross departmental working in government to progress successful early years work.
I had the great pleasure of being able to launch PIPUK at the conference. My aim is to see Parent Infant Partnerships like OXPIP and NORPIP established all over the country. Therefore I am establishing PIPUK which will offer practical and financial support to groups looking to establish a 'PIP' in their area. It is an exciting initiative and I am pleased that Iain Duncan Smith was also able to add his support to the project. I look forward to keeping you informed with how this project progresses.
Staying loosely on the theme of weather, I want to mention wind farms. The lack of clarity on wind farm policy is increasingly frustrating. Whilst they do have a place in a mix of energy resources, I do not believe they are an efficient source, nor are they a serious contributor to our energy security needs. It is clear from conversations with residents that they are unpopular and communities are unhappy with them peppering our beautiful countryside.
The uncertainty about renewable policy is unhelpful for Northamptonshire which has many applications either approved, submitted or in the appeal process. Northamptonshire is regularly cited as a county 'not known for being windy' yet we have seen more than our fair share of applications. I want communities to be able to make decisions themselves and I will continue to try and ensure local voices are heard.
I was encouraged to see that an appeal against the refusal of a wind farm application in Great Yarmouth has been turned down because of the negative impact on the local community. At last it would appear that inspectors are recognising that communities need to have a say on how their areas look and feel and that this outweighs national targets on renewable energy rather than the other way round. I hope that this decision in Great Yarmouth to support localism bodes well for similar decision in our area.
HS2 remains a huge issue in South Northamptonshire. I am trying to promote the idea of a 'property bond' as a way to allow the local property market to work normally. Far too many people are finding themselves trapped by blight, and this would be a reasonable approach as it would stop people being trapped in their own homes – it would remove the uncertainty from affected residents and inject confidence into the property market.
The third meeting of the HS2 Compensation and Mitigation Forum has taken place. Martin Tett, Leader of Buckinghamshire County Council and Chairman of 51M was our guest and the meeting was very well attended with more MPs beginning to take an interest in the work of the group. I am delighted that Nigel Mills, MP for Amber Valley in Derbyshire, which is not affected at the moment but could be when the second stage of the route is announced, has agreed to co-Chair the group with me and is working hard to get MPs north of Birmingham involved in this group.
The next meeting of the Forum will take place at the end of June when Rt. Hon. Justine Greening MP, Secretary of State for Transport will be attending. My Colleagues and I will be drawing up an agenda well in advance of the meeting of issues that we want to raise with her and will submit them to her in advance so we get full and comprehensive answers to our questions. I will update you on the outcome of that meeting of the Forum.
Finally I would like to reflect on the fantastic Diamond Jubilee celebrations that we have just enjoyed. It is absolutely right that we honour 60 years of dedication and commitment to our nation. In an ever changing world and in good and difficult times, our Queen has always provided composure and stability. It was fantastic to see the incredible flotilla of 1,000 boats on the Thames, the concert in front of Buckingham Palace and the well-wishers cheering and waving flags on the Mall and wonderful to see that Her Majesty and the Royal Family seemed to really enjoy the celebrations. I hope, like me, it made you proud to be British.
My family and I enjoyed a brilliant street party in our village of Slapton and it was a huge pleasure to attend the lighting of one of the thousands of beacons that were lit across the country at the Cadet Training Centre at Yardley Chase.
Whether you watched from the comfort and warmth of your living room or whether you braved the elements, I hope you had a fantastic time in celebrating an amazing achievement and I hope that the weather did not dampen your spirits!
With best wishes
(Photos show: 1. Andrea at Hardingstone Primary School; 2. Opening the Snowdrop Bereavement Room; 3. At the Silverstone Circuit Charity Bike Ride; 4. Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith MP addressing the NORPIP Conference; 5. Wind Farm; 6. Her Majesty The Queen; 7. Andrea at the Jubilee Beacon Lighting at Yardley Chase Cadet Training Centre)
We've had some fantastic events in South Northamptonshire recently that highlight the talents and ambitions of local people of all ages. First the 'Food and Drink' event at Towcester Racecourse celebrated local entrepreneurs such as Limes Farm in Farthinghoe, Hoggleys Brewery and Belflair Chocolates in Brackley.
The Towcester Rockschools' Concert at Nicholas Hawksmoor School gave talented young musicians from across the district the chance to perform their own music as well as some fantastic cover versions. I had the pleasure of presenting Harrison Coleman from Pattishall with the Outstanding Contribution award. On Easter Monday, Towcester Rockschools will be playing at the Vision Cafe Easter Fete on the Recreation Ground in Towcester, and I hope to see you there!
'Strictly Towcester' was a superb afternoon's entertainment following on the success of the 'Strictly' event at the Royal and Derngate last year. The dance competitors were all ages and put on a fantastic show to raise money for the charity NORPIP which I founded last year. NORPIP offers intensive therapeutic counselling to Northamptonshire families who are struggling to form a secure bond with their babies. A staggering £5,000 was raised in sponsorship. Fun was had by spectators and competitors alike and I was amazed to discover that my husband, who took part, can still do back flips!
I am officially launching NORPIP on the 18 May at a conference in The Atrium, Whittlebury Park, when Rt. Hon. Iain Duncan Smith will be the keynote speaker. You are very welcome to come along and can find out more at www.norpipconference.org.uk.
On the national picture, I know many are angry about the Budget. I just want to say two things: first on the so called 'Granny tax'. This is where the tax free allowance for the over 65s is frozen until the uplifting in the tax free allowance for the under 65s rises to come into line with it. As you know, the Coalition is committed to lifting the tax free allowance to £10,000 for everyone during this Parliament. So this is about lifting more people out of tax altogether, fairness between different groups of taxpayers and a significant simplification of taxes. It of course also means that those over 65s who expected their tax free allowance to rise next year in line with inflation are very disappointed. But it is not a 'tax rise' as has been widely reported.
The other point I want to raise is on the change in the top rate of tax from 50% to 45%. HMRC and the independent Office for Budget Responsibility have both agreed that the 50% did not raise meaningful revenues (in fact only about £100m). On the other hand, the 50% did lead to different (and perfectly legal) methods of changing earnings to opt to move income to previous years. The problem is that we had the highest and least competitive, top rate of tax in the G7 which would be harmful to our recovery prospects over the medium term. For that reason, the Chancellor moved to put us in line with other developed economies' top rate of tax, and sought to take a cleverer approach to raising tax revenues from the wealthiest by a series of anti-avoidance measures. In particular, I was pleased he closed the loophole that allows wealthy non doms to buy multi million pound homes in the UK and avoid paying stamp duty on them.
These remain very difficult economic times and overall it is quite right that we have delivered a fiscally neutral budget. From 2001 to 2002 until right about the time the coalition was formed, the national public spending line started shooting skyward, while the national tax receipts line goes on a downward trajectory. The Coalition's plans steadily bring the spending and receipts lines back together. Yet despite the Coalition's efforts, forecasts show the economy will not be in full balance until 2031 – so no one should believe that difficult decisions can be avoided. The Government's commitment to recovery is welcome and must remain the number one priority.
Now that Parliament is in recess for Easter I am hoping to make the most of my time away from Westminster. As well as setting up visits to Hoggley's, Belfair and Limes Farm I am also hoping to arrange visits to some other pubs and breweries in our area. This is not because the job is getting too much for me, but because I'm a big supporter of businesses that bring our communities together and I know that in many of our villages the pub is the focal point of the community. I am also hoping to visit Carlsberg and Mercedes Benz who are big employers in our area.
During recess I am holding an HS2 public meeting in Brackley on Tuesday 10 April from 6.30pm until 8.30pm to discuss compensation, mitigation and the proposed judicial review. The meeting is taking place at the Women's Institute Hall on Manor Road. If you are interested, I hope you can make it.
A few weeks ago the first meeting of the HS2 Compensation and Mitigation Forum took place in Westminster. Alison Munro, Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd, Ralph Smith, Senior Transport Campaigner from the Campaign to Protect Rural England and Matt Ware, Senior Parliamentary Advisor and Ivan Moss, Chief Planning Advisor from the NFU were the speakers.
Consultations on blight, safeguarding and the environment will begin in May and last until the summer with conclusions announced in the Autumn. I intend to take a full part in these consultations. There is a long way to go in this project, and it was clear there are more questions than answers at present. If HS2 goes ahead, I'm determined to make sure none of my constituents lose out financially. I look forward to being able to update you on future meetings of the HS2 Compensation and Mitigation Forum and the public meeting in Brackley in due course.
Time certainly does fly and it only seems like five minutes ago that I was wishing you Merry Christmas! I would, however, like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and peaceful Easter.
With best wishes
(Photos show Andrea at the Towcester Rockschools' Concert, Strictly Towcester and at the 'Food and Drink' event at Towcester Racecourse)
I had my first official visit with the Treasury Select Committee in February, to China and Singapore as part of our inquiry into 'global trade imbalances', where Asia (and Germany) have unsustainably high trade surpluses, and the rest of Europe and the US have unsustainable trade deficits. My aim in going was to 1. Promote British business; 2. Understand how financial services are regulated and what Britain can learn from them; 3. Work out whether Singapore is a 'threat' or an 'opportunity' for British financial services; 4. Understand China's policy toward opening up her economy. A full report on my trip is on my website, and I do urge you to take a look – particularly with regard to China, I was pretty shocked by the extent to which their single party system depends on continued export led growth: little impetus to increase domestic demand, huge infrastructure expenditure and extreme poverty create a toxic mix where any slowdown in their economy could have dire consequences for social harmony.
In this newsletter I want to focus, however, on a few of the constituency issues I've been working on. Planning has for a long time been a big issue for Northamptonshire. For too long we were seen as an area earmarked for massive development (under the regional spatial strategy) without proper consideration given to local views and the adequacy of infrastructure. Whilst I'm pleased that planning strategy is being passed to local authorities and communities under the Localism Act, I remain concerned at the length of time it will take to fully complete local plans. In the interim, there are still far too many applications that are not welcomed by local communities where Appeals Inspectors are able to overrule local wishes.
I recently met with John Parkes, Northants' 'Champion' for Neighbourhood Development Plans, and the person who is leading the Yardley Gobion Plan. John and his colleagues are doing an excellent job and Yardley has been selected as a 'front runner' nationally in the push for the development of proper neighbourhood plans. I have written to the Planning Minister, Greg Clarke to raise some of John's feedback with him.
On the subject of windfarms, where there are very strong views in the constituency, and where we have four applications for different windfarms either subject to planning or appeal, I have been working with Chris Heaton-Harris MP (Daventry) to appeal to the Prime Minister to fulfil the localism promise of greater power to local people. We wrote (over 100 MPs signed the letter) to the PM, and you can see the text, and his response here. Personally, I think windfarms will not plug the gap in our energy provision due to the sporadic nature of wind power. On the other hand, the huge subsidy being paid by households is helping to push more and more people into fuel poverty. I think the PM is right to be cutting the subsidy – I would prefer that it was removed entirely. I also think Northants has already provided more than its fair share of renewable energy – local wishes MUST hold sway.
On the same subject of our communities but on a rather negative note, I have been very disappointed to hear from a number of residents of the beautiful housing development at Upton about the level of anti-social behaviour there from a small number of social housing tenants. I have also been disappointed by the lack of effective strategies to deal with this issue from the local housing association. However, after a productive meeting with them last week, I will be watching closely for improvements. It is not acceptable that private home owners' lives are disrupted constantly by social tenants who take part in anti-social behaviour, noise disturbance and even domestic violence and drug taking in the streets. The local police and the housing association need to take a 'no tolerance' approach.
I also want to update you on HS2. As you are aware the Government announced its intention to go ahead with the project at the beginning of the year. I have now formed the HS2 Compensation and Mitigation Forum which is a group of MPs who have constituencies that are affected by HS2. The aim of the group is to take an active part in representing individual constituent's concerns and to take a full part in the consultations that are beginning. The group will engage positively and constructively in seeking a fair deal for all affected by HS2. I have invited those MPs along the 'Y' section who don't yet know where the route will pass, but are sure to be concerned in the future about these matters! I shall update you on my progress with this group and I urge anyone with individual compensation concerns or mitigation suggestions to make contact with me.
I am arranging meetings of the group in March, April and May and representatives of HS2 Ltd. and the Secretary of State for Transport are being invited, as well as representatives of HS1 to discuss the experience of the HS1 project.
There is also an HS2 public meeting taking place at Brackley Town Hall on Friday 9 March at 7.30pm, hosted by Tony Baldry MP. I would encourage residents to attend if possible and for action groups to send a representative.
I would like to finish on a positive note. I was delighted that last year the National College of Motorsport at Silverstone got the 'prospective' go ahead to build a brand new University Technical College specialising in Motor Sport and Events Management. We will hear in April whether it will receive Government funding – I am a huge supporter of the project, that I believe will be a flagship UTC for Britain and will attract interest from students all over the world. I am planning to hold a launch party in Parliament in October! The UTC will offer a fabulous opportunity for 14-19 year olds in a industries where Britain is a world leader. Huge congratulations should go to Tresham College, the University of Northampton and Silverstone Circuit for their work in securing this facility.
Until next time.
With best wishes
It's that time of year again! It only seems like 5 minutes ago that we were last preparing for Christmas, time really does fly.....It has certainly been a busy and fairly dramatic year, internationally, nationally and in Northamptonshire.
I think we were all frankly amazed by the Arab Spring. First, we saw Tunisia over throw their Government, then Egypt and finally the brave Libyans achieved the end of Gadaffi's long years of dictatorship. Meanwhile there is still unrest in Syria and in Egypt. I said towards the beginning of the year that it is a dangerously fine line that foreign governments must tread in their efforts to try to help other nations. We had to make that decision with regards to Libya, whether to impose a no fly zone and whether to help arm Libyan rebels. I believe that Parliament made the right decision to intervene in Libya and whilst the road ahead will be hard, I hope there are brighter days ahead for Libya and the other countries that are going through transition to greater democracy.
In 2011 we also witnessed the tragic Japanese Tsunami that caused so much devastation and disruption, the appalling terror attacks in Norway and we were all shocked by the phone hacking scandal. We also experienced the disgraceful behaviour of rioters in our towns and cities during the summer. The right to freedom of speech and the right to protest are extremely important and should be protected at all cost; however, what we witnessed on the streets of some of our major cities was nothing more than greed that spread fear and intimidation through the thuggery of a minority. I was pleased MPs of all parties robustly condemned the violence and destruction. Those who went out to riot would do well to learn a lesson from the citizens of the countries involved in the Arab Spring who have been fighting to regain their streets not destroy them.
However, 2011 also had some fabulous highlights: the Royal Wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in April caught the attention of around 2 billion people worldwide and was a fantastic day that highlighted exactly what is great about Britain. The extra bank holiday was also well received! I am sure we are all looking forward to the Diamond Jubilee next year as well as Britain's opportunity to host the Olympics.
A key issue which has dominated the news this year has been the European Union. Greece, Ireland and Portugal have received bailouts as the sovereign debt crisis continues to sweep across Europe and it is difficult to see how and when this crisis will end. It is very clear that we were right never to join the Euro and events suggest that whatever happens, we almost certainly never should. I believe now is the right time for us to negotiate a better deal with Europe. It has been 36 years since the British public have had a say on our relationship with Europe and that is why, in the debate in October, I voted for a referendum – promising to give the public a vote on Europe at some point. Before we get to a referendum, however, I believe we need to look at what we want our relationship with the EU to be which is why I have established the EU Fresh Start Project. We aim to research and build cross party support for a new relationship between the UK and EU, culminating in a draft White Paper that we will produce by July 2012. Working closely with Open Europe and other think tanks, we will produce detailed research on each policy area affected by the EU and we will then consult with MPs, MEP's, interest groups and constitutional experts on the substance of each area.
2011 has obviously been a busy year both nationally and internationally and I am yet to touch upon how busy life has been in Northamptonshire. My campaign against High Speed Rail continues and we expect an announcement from the Government early in the New Year. I sincerely hope that the new Secretary of State for Transport is having a re-think - HS2 is not a sound project and with our economic position now so much worse as a result of the Eurozone crisis, we simply cannot afford this vast expense with unproven returns.
I remain committed to Localism and making sure local residents have a say on how their communities look and feel. I hope the Localism Act will go a long way to achieving this but I am still working with the Government to iron out some strong concerns. I am also working closely with the Department for Energy and Climate Change to look at alternatives to meet our energy security needs other than onshore wind farms – I feel that there has been a shift in thinking and that these incredibly intrusive turbines are no longer as central to policy as under the previous government. Energy security is vital but it's not clear onshore wind turbines can genuinely contribute to our long term security as they are extremely inefficient.
The Northamptonshire Parent Infant Project (NORPIP) has been launched this year and is doing very well. The work has already begun to help parents form a secure early bond with their new born babies. Prevention is much kinder than cure and early intervention is the ultimate in prevention. The first ever NORPIP carol concert at Magdalen College School in Brackley raised a staggering £1,800! Beachborough School choir sang beautifully.
I am also continuing my campaign to promote age appropriate sex and relationship education in primary schools - a huge concern of many parents who feel far too much inappropriately explicit material is being shown to very young children. I have proposed to the Department for Education that the material shown to children should be rated in the same way that films and play station games are rated. This would help schools and parents to make the right decisions for their children.
Next year I plan to campaign on the issue of late payments to small businesses by larger companies and areas of the public sector. I am hoping that by encouraging payments to be made in a timely manner, particularly by the public sector, this will help small businesses in the supply chain during these difficult economic times. I am also pleased to see that the Brackley and Towcester Job Clubs continue to do excellent work in helping people find jobs.
I attended some wonderful local events during the year including many school visits, trips to Museums including Sulgrave Manor and the new Towcester Museum as well as the Ironstone Railway Trust; I saw the soon to be restored Iron Trunk Aqueduct at Cosgrove, attended the opening of the fabulous new 'Wing' at Silverstone, met with many businesses and local charities, attended the Army Cadets Annual camp in Norfolk, the Wootton Walk in the Park, the Blakesley Show and the superb Remembrance Day Service at All Saints Church in Northampton, to name just a few highlights. I have enjoyed meeting lots of people out and about in the constituency as well as during the 12 advice surgeries and 12 drop in surgeries I held during the year at Towcester, Wootton and Brackley.
You can see that 2011 has been a busy year and I suspect 2012 will be even busier. I do believe there are difficult times ahead but I am confident that the Government is on the right course to lead us to better and more prosperous times. Now is the time to stick to our programme of cuts with reforms that will lead to a better and more competitive future for Britain in an ever more global world. There is much to look forward to in 2012, including the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics, which I think will be superb for both morale in the country and for the money they will bring into our economy.
And so I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas and all the very best for 2012.
With best wishes from Andrea and her team.
(Left to Right: Luke Graystone, Secretary – Duncan McCourt, Office Manager – Tom Greeves, Parliamentary Assistant – Andrea Leadsom MP – Sarah Jackson, Caseworker – Marc Pooler, Parliamentary Researcher – Breon Finch, Apprentice Caseworker)
Time for another update. The summer recess is a distant memory now, the Conference season has come and gone and Parliament is back in full swing. There is a lot to share with you.
HS2 has been high on the agenda. With Dan Byles MP and Chris White MP, I went along to Downing Street recently with members of the Stop HS2 campaign to present a petition of over 100,000 signatures to the Prime Minister.
Following that, on Thursday 13 October I led a debate in the House of Commons to discuss HS2. I was particularly pleased to see that MPs from across the country including the North West and Birmingham raised their concerns about the project. I made clear that I entirely support the need to improve capacity on our railways but that this particular project is neither environmentally friendly nor will it narrow the North South divide, it is, in fact, an enormous waste of taxpayers' money. I argued that there are many measures we can take now to deal with the capacity issue. These measures can be delivered far quicker so that commuters on the West Coast Mainline do not have to wait until 2026 at the earliest for relief to the overcrowding.
Thousands of constituents are doing a fantastic job of writing letters, attending meetings and giving up their own time to oppose this project – keep up the hard work. The battle continues, and now that we have a new Transport Secretary in Justine Greening, I feel there is a new opportunity to win the argument!
There has been another important debate on the National Planning Policy Framework. I believe the Planning Framework does contain the protection required for the countryside. Our rural areas are incredibly important to us all, and I have personally long campaigned to protect them. I do still have reservations regarding the 'grey area' between now and when neighbourhood development plans are put in to place and I am concerned by evidence that developers are using this 'grey area' to have plans approved on appeal. I am still challenging Ministers on this point and raised them during the debate in the Chamber. I have closely followed the Localism Bill from when it was introduced at the end of last year to now and I have followed the introduction of the National Planning Policy Framework. Constituents can rest assured that I will continue to monitor the Bill and the NPPF closely.
Staying with the topic of planning, I would again like to reassure constituents that I continue to represent their views on onshore wind farms. I am meeting with Charles Hendry MP, Minister of State for Energy on Monday 7 November with many MP Colleagues to discuss the subject. My main concern is that onshore wind power still needs to be proven as a valuable contribution to our energy security needs rather than just an opportunity for 'subsidy farming' by developers. Britain has some of the best renewable resources in the world - not just on land, but in offshore wind, wave and tidal power available off one of the longest coastlines in Europe and it is right that we utilise such resources. I am holding a public meeting at Sponne School on Thursday 10 November at 8.30pm to update all concerned residents.
I am also pursuing the issue of how sex and relationship education is being delivered in primary schools. There is no doubt that sex and relationship education is important and needs to be taught to our children as we try to deal with issues such as teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. However, there is evidence that some of the material being used in some schools is completely inappropriate for the ages of the pupils.
I am confident that every school is teaching SRE with the best of intentions; however most of the material is unlicensed and supplied by private companies without proper guidance to schools. A number of head teachers have said to me that they would appreciate far more guidance on what is age appropriate and suitable for children of different age groups. The debate was well attended with some interesting and constructive speeches and comments being made. Away from the Punch and Judy style politics of Prime Ministers' Questions and the big debates in the Chamber of the House of Commons, which the media tend to focus on, it is often the smaller debates that receive less attention that are the most constructive, informative and productive.
I imagine that few would have failed to notice that the issue of our membership of the European Union has again reared its head. On Monday 24 October a debate was held in the House of Commons on whether to allow the British public a referendum on our membership of the European Union. The Government had told all their MPs to vote against the motion calling for a referendum. Whilst I believe the Government are doing an excellent job in Europe, for example keeping us out of further bailouts of Greece and putting in place the EU Referendum Lock, nevertheless I decided to support the motion for the sake of our democracy. For too long, voters have been denied the chance to have their say on ever closer EU integration, and so, whilst it was a very difficult decision, I concluded that I had to support the principle of a referendum.
Finally, I would like to tell a little about the new EU Reform Project, sponsored by me with Colleagues George Eustice MP and Chris Heaton-Harris MP that aims to research and build cross party support for a new relationship between the UK and EU, culminating in a draft White Paper that we will produce by July 2012. Working closely with Open Europe and other think tanks, we will produce detailed research on each policy area affected by the EU (social and employment law, financial services, Structural funds, CAP etc) and we will then consult with MPs, MEP's, interest groups and constitutional experts on the substance of each area.
This has been a mammoth update, so well done if you have made it all the way through in one go! I haven't even touched on the fantastic events, interesting meetings and exciting visits I have been to in the constituency but I will save them for my next newsletter. As ever, if you think I can be of any help in any way, do not hesitate to call, write, and email or come visit me.
With best wishes
Pictures show Andrea and Colleagues presenting the HS2 petition to Downing Street and Andrea speaking in the House of Commons during the HS2 debate.
It has been an interesting couple of weeks in the constituency with visits to charities, projects and museums. A highlight was a visit to the award winning Iron Trunk Aqua Duct where residents have been awarded money from the heritage fund to restore the aqua duct which takes the Grand Union Canal over the River Ouse. From the photo you can see it needs a facelift! An army of volunteers as well as paid staff are working to restore it to its former glory and British Waterways want to restore many of the scenic walkways around the area. British Waterways are a huge asset to Britain and there is enormous scope to expanding our tourism industry. I am looking forward to them becoming a charity instead of a quango next year as I think it will give far greater flexibility in their efforts to reconnect people with the countryside.
I also visited Sulgrave Manor, the ancestral home of the Washington family and chatted to Wendy Barnes about the challenges of keeping this beautiful house thriving with no Government or Local Authority funding.
I had an important meeting with police officers and staff who wanted to express their concern about cuts in the police budget and what that means for them and their families. I was grateful for the opportunity to meet so many of them and to discuss the challenges they are facing. We're lucky to have such a professional and committed police force and I have taken away some questions to bring up with Ministers.
On a day of torrential downpours I went along to the amazing Bletchley Park home of the World War Two code breakers to attend a fundraising event hosted by Google. My children came too and enjoyed a real 1940s style tea and games as well as a tour of World War Two communication systems and 'Collossus' the world's first electronic computer that played such an amazing part in shortening World War Two and saving many lives.
Perhaps the highlight of my visits was the trip out to Norfolk to see the Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland Army Cadet Force at their annual summer camp. The three hour drive each way was well worth the effort, seeing Northamptonshire cadets from 12 to 18 taking part in a huge range of activities from obstacle courses to army drill events to 'It's A Knockout' style competitions. The most impressive bit was being shown inside a 'billet' (army sleeping hut) where three army teenagers stood to attention by their immaculately made beds, with their boots shining, and addressing me as 'ma'am' whilst making full eye contact. If only I could introduce this regime at home with my own children! I'm sure their parents will be very proud of them.
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