August 2012

Thu, 30 Aug

Another early start, to ensure my newspaper column was submitted in time, my letter to NHS Dorset completed and the final, final draft of my report to the Transport Select Committee rounded off.

My youngest daughter was home for a night, too, so it was wonderful to catch up with her.

In the evening, I hopped on the bike and headed to Swanage for a meeting called by the Friends of Swanage Hospital at the Town Hall.

Despite it being an invitation-only event, more and more people kept coming through the door, such was the interest.

Jan Turnbull was brilliant, as always, and updated everyone on a report by Helen Tucker, who has been helping the Friends.

The report was very clear and very helpful to our cause and I shall deliver it to the Secretary of State on Monday.

After Jan had been through the recommendations, she opened the floor for suggestions on where the campaigners should go next.

It was decided that a large Forum - made up of those present, with more to be invited - would take the battle forward, to ensure the town was kept well informed.

I told the group that we were holding a debate on the future of all cottage hospitals in the Commons on Thursday afternoon.

I was also attempting to get the consultants who use Swanage Hospital to write a letter of support.

Hopefully, we can achieve this.

The national press are not so interested because the story is not grim enough! ie. not enough hospitals are currently under threat.

Hopefully, the local press will take the story on and we are working on that.

The meeting ended at 8.30pm and I was back on my bike to meet my son, daughter and wife for a late dinner in a local pub.

Wed, 29 Aug

 

A very early start to meet agriculture minister Jim Paice and my farming group for a meeting in Dorchester to discuss farming issues.

An earlier meeting had to be postponed because Jim and I were recalled to Parliament at the last moment, so it was good of the minister - a most affable and charming man - to come down again.

He was excellent and armed with a bacon-buttie and a coffee, he took questions for 90 minutes from about 20 farmers.

We covered a huge range of issues and Jim impressed all the attendees with his knowledge and calm responses.

There are genuine concerns among the farmers, not least the price they receive for their milk and of course this year's weather.

The latter will push up food prices and feed for stock like pigs. 

After the obligatory photograph, Jim left to visit Dorset Cereals, a very successful company based in Dorchester.

I returned home on my motorbike in the pouring rain. It's quite hairy on a bike in the rain, especially in a downpour. Still, I made it and spent the next few hours in the office working on my submission to NHS Dorset regarding the Purbeck health review.

Then, at 4pm, I was back on my bike and headed to the Osprey Leisure Centre on Portland.

I'd come to see a remarkable lady called Sue Austin, who has been confined to a wheelchair since 1996.

Through sheer grit and the support of a wonderful team that has sprung up around her, Sue has adapted her wheelchair to swim underwater.

Sounds remarkable, but is true.

Her main support has come from the remarkable Rob and Andrea Frankham-Hughes, who live on Portland.

Rob's a diver and he has worked with Sue for some time.

In addition to Sue, there were other wheelchair users in the pool, all of them inspired by this remarkable woman.

Sue performed underwater to some haunting music, while a young girl swam around the chair, making the whole experience almost surreal.

It was inspirational and very moving. It showed what can be done and the power of the human spirit, literally.

What a way to end a busy and fulfilling day.

No rain on the way home this time! 

Tue, 28 Aug

 

Working on last redraft of my report on the Portland SAR helicopter to the Transport Select Committee.

Received an extraordinary letter from minister Mike Penning, telling me to behave more "responsibly". A little rich from a man who appears to be ignoring his for the sake of a few pounds. 

Both he and Transport Secretary Justine Greening have ridden roughshod over everyone's views except their own. And not holding any form of consultation is quite extraordinary and arrogant.

We shall fight on.

Contacted Jan Turnbull, chairman of Friends of Swanage Hospital, to tie up some detail and to confirm our Dorset Forum on Thursday evening is on.

Trying to get national press interested in this story, but not enough bad news for them!

Kept in touch with Jeffries family in Weymouth who hope that some safety measures will be put in place on the A354 following the horrid accident earlier this year when their five year old granddaughter was killed. So sad.

Also chatted to local businessman Derek Luckhurst as we continue to strive to establish something which can help our young people into work.

And confirmed visit to Dorset tomorrow by agriculture minister Jim Paice MP, who has kindly come down to speak to some of our farmers.

Sun, 19 Aug

 

A real scorcher and you could be forgiven that summer really is here at last.

A great day for motorbiking and it's on to my metal steed that I hopped at 1245 and headed to Crossways.

The Parish Council had asked me to attend the renaming and dedication of the village's playing fields, to rename their skate bowl and to look at a new bench placed by the gateway in memory of a former parish councillor.

Arriving on my bike, my first view was of a boxing ring! It turned out that a boxing coach was starting a new club for youngsters and he'd brought his own ring to advertise this new and exciting idea.

The Deputy Lord Lieutenant attended and at 1.30pm council clerk Stella Wilson had us standing in front of the pavilion as the plaque was unveiled.

The plaque in effect ensures the field can only be used for sport in perpetuity. Brilliant and no wretched politician can get their hands on it. Hurray!

We met a group of about 20 youngsters all playing in the skate park and some very impressive performances there was too.

After the officialdom, we took refuge from the sun in a small, sideless marque, where we enjoyed a traditional cream team, served by the lovely ladies from the WI.

I then presented three prizes to the winners of a short fun-run, before heading home to leap into a suit and head down to Swanage for the annual tribute service to the lifeboat and her crew.

The Reverend Tony Higgins, a former crewman, took a poignant service, which was interrupted by pagers going off as the inshore lifeboat was tasked to go and rescue someone the far side of the bay.

How appropriate is that and apparently something similar happened last year. Spooky!

The service was simple and short, with music provided by the Salvation Army and the RNLI choir.

Afterwards, I chatted with some members of the crew and to residents as the sun disappeared and a cold, sea fog came in.

The RNLI really does a wonderful job and its volunteers are truly remarkable. 

Fri, 17 Aug

 

After a short stint in the office, I headed down to Weymouth on my motorbike.

I'd gone to catch with Alan and Anita Jeffries. Anita, if you recall, was involved in that horrendous accident where her five-year-old granddaughter was killed after being hit by a motorcycle earlier this year.

Anita was terribly injured herself, but she has made a remarkable recovery and this was the first opportunity I had to meet both Anita and her husband.

They are both very special people and have battled through this ghastly experience with such courage and dignity.

Their charming daughter had flown in from Australia so I met her for the second time.

During our meeting, I called Miles Butler at the County Council. He's in charge of roads and I wanted to get an update  on suggestions the family and other residents had made to make the road safer.

The council is still looking at it, but hopefully something good will come out of this accident to ensure no one else can be hit when crossing this road.

While refuelling my bike, I stopped to chat to two Dorset traffic cops and thanked them for the wonderful job they'd all done during the Sailing Games.

They told me it had been very quiet with no serious incidents. What a relief.

I was back in the office my mid afternoon and finally finished my report on the Portland SAR helicopter.  

Thu, 16 Aug

 

A final drive on my report to the Transport Select Committee in the battle to retain our Portland SAR helicopter.

This report has taken some time to put together, with helpful contributions from many people. 

Fingers crossed that this evidence will persuade the Committee to push the Government to think again.

My weekly column in the Echo thanked the 70,000 volunteer Ambassadors, especially those in Weymouth and Portland, for their major contribution to the Games.

There were many others to thank, too, and I didn't have room to do them all justice.

I'm talking about the likes of the St John's Ambulance volunteers, the lifeboat crews at both Weymouth and Swanage, those who work in search and rescue, whether on land, sea, or in the air, the police and of course of wonderful armed services.

All of them did a wonderful job over these past 16 days, keeping us safe and secure while the athletes in Team GB performed wonders.

I ended my day with a long and refreshing run!  

Wed, 15 Aug

 

A brief stint in the office, before driving through the pouring rain to Swanage.

There I met up with Jan Turnbull, chairman of Swanage Hospital's League of Friends, and Helen Tucker, who is going to draft a report on behalf of the Friends to keep the hospital.

We met in the Town Hall Lodge B&B tea room, which the kind proprietor kindly opened up for us, in addition to providing coffee and biscuits.

Helen was impressive and clearly she will have an important role to play. We chatted for more than an hour, before she had to meet the hospital matron and I had to attend another meeting in the Conservative Club.

There I met Bill Trite, Garry Suttle, Ali Patrick and Ian Brown to discuss the shennanigans surrounding proposals to build a new school in the town. 

I feel very sorry for the free school team as they've had a nightmare trying to find a site.

They thought they'd acquired the former grammar school site, only to see the owner back out of any deal. I won't bore you with the details, but the site is now the key missing element.

Our meeting went on far longer than any of us had intended, as our chat ranged far and wide.

I briefed them on the latest regarding the helicopter and the proposed offshore wind farm.

Swanage certainly has its fair share of issues!

I had intended to cross over to the Weymouth Carnival to wave to our Olympic sailors who were parading through the resort in an open-top bus.

But I was now running late and headed back to the office instead.

Tue, 14 Aug

 

My report to the Transport Select Committee took up most of my day. I want to get this right and there are many people helping with their own submissions, corrections or additions.

Our Portland SAR helicopter must stay, of that I am certain and no argument I've heard has persuaded me otherwise.

I find the Transport Secretary's claim that she did not feel the need to consult because what she was proposing was better breathtakingly arrogant, for a start.

Ms Greening knows absolutely nothing about search and rescue, helicopters, or the brave and committed crews who fly them.

I have now asked her down three times to listen to those intimately involved in SAR, but my requests are ignored.

I suspect the lack of any consultation might well be breaking some code or other. I hope so, as it will give our case even more legs.

Of course, there were several other constituency issues to deal with and correspondence to write.

A run and supper with my youngest son ended another busy day.

Mon, 13 Aug

 

Back to ground with a bump! Athletes head home via a specially built terminal at Heathrow, which resembles the Blue Peter garden!

Back to the report on the Portland SAR helicopter for me and amendment six as contributions come in and script is tightened.

Then, at midday, I headed down to Weymouth to meet Sue Follan, a remarkable lady who runs the Weymouth Community Volunteers (WCV).

WCV is a charity which Sue has run for some time and provides training and support for those who would otherwise fall through the net.

Sue and her team have done the most wonderful job and the news that they have got a lottery award of c£250,000 is just fantastic.

That will ensure their survival for at least three years and hopefully secure it for the longer term.

We had an interesting job in that everyone was lined up by the local paper for a photograph but Sue could not tell them what for. The news was embargoed until tomorrow!

We all managed a big grin, despite the drizzle, and afterwards I spent some time chatting to the volunteers, some of who have made impressive comebacks from broken homes and other disadvantages.

On the way home, I dropped into the Association office and caught up with one or two more local issues.

Then home and back to my desk before a good run in the evening.  

Sun, 12 Aug

 

Could not let this extraordinary day go without comment.

I am of course talking about the last day of the Olympics and the closing ceremony.

The Games themselves have been inspirational, with young men and women from around the world straining every sinew and muscle to win Gold.

Team GB has done spectacularly well and congratulations to them all, even those who did not win medals. They gave their best on the day, and that's all you can expect.

The closing ceremony was every bit as eccentric as the opening. From Eric Idle's wonderful sing-a-long song from the Life of Brian, an exploding Robin Reliant, showcase performances from British pop and rock and nuns on roller blades, it had it all. 

Certainly, the athletes, who have entertained us for 16 wonderful days, appeared to enjoy themselves.

A fitting tribute was paid to all the 70,000 volunteers by Lord Coe during his speech at the end.

We had our share of these wonderful people in Weymouth and Portland and they did a fabulous job.

I couldn't help feeling a huge sense of the morning-after-feeling as the Olympic flames was extinguished at the end.

What a time we've all had and well done to Britain. We did it.

Fri, 10 Aug

 

More sunshine! A stint in the office and then to Bincleaves to meet a wide range of businessmen and women working in engineering.

The lunch was preceded by a series of presentations at Weymouth College by a number of businesses as part of week-long exercise to sell Weymouth and the surrounding area.

Each day was themed, ie. tourism, engineering, environmental, etc.

Today, some senior players, like Augusta Westland, Airbus, Atlas Elektronik and the British Marine Federation attended.

The whole event was under the auspices of UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and Sir Alan Collins, managing director Olympic Legacy, gave an excellent address before lunch.

It all bodes well for the area and we must now milk this Olympic legacy for all it's worth, to create jobs and wealth in the future.

Certainly, the will is there and we all need to work together to take it all forward. 

Chatted to Cllr Angus Campbell and the chief executives of both Weymouth & Portland BC and Dorset CC.

Grabbed a sandwich and then headed across to the Nothe site with my 'ambassadorial' hat on.

The Sailing Games have been an outstanding success and the Nothe Gardens have proved an excellent viewing point.

The wind dropped in the afternoon and some match racing was delayed. 

I walked around, chatting to all and sundry and of course thanking the many volunteers, not least all the first aiders, who have given their time for this great cause.

There's been no touble at all on site and the police told me they've all enjoyed themselves too.

Two young people approached me, inquiring about working for MPs.

I guided them in the right direction, hopefully, advising them not to stand for Parliament until they are at least 40!

Hopped back on the bike and rode back in brilliant sunshine.

The traffic was appalling and I was grateful to be on two wheels where I could ease my way past stationery traffic. 

Back to the desk until the evening.

Thu, 9 Aug

 

The sun shone at last! After a brief stint in the office, I headed to Weymouth on my motorbike to meet a group of youngsters completing their four-week National Citizenship course building a sensory garden at Southhill pre-primary school.

I'd met the young people before at the College but wanted to see them in action.

Their mentor, the lovely Laura Summers, a sport's lecturer at the college, has been in charge of this group for the past month and the sensory garden was their community project finale, if you like.

The team had done a wonderful job by the time I arrived and they have one more day on site before it's completed.

All credit should go to the College, which is sponsoring this scheme and has plans for more.

Judging by the reaction of those I spoke to, they've all had a ball and learnt alot from it.

Waving farewell, next stop was the Conservative Club, where I left my helmet and orange jacket and walked along the esplanade to the Games' site.

I spent more than two hours talking to a whole range of people. I met and thanked the beach cleaners, the Games' volunteers, all smartly dressed in purple, St John's Ambulance teams, G4S security guards, police, local businesses, the fire brigade and last, but not least, ended up chatting with some former colleagues from my BBC days.

That brought back many happy memories.

As I walked back to the Conservative Club, I saw our SAR helicopter hovering over the harbour entrance, reminding us all of its importance and necessity.

I hope to win this battle and if we lose it won't be through lack of trying.

Back to the office and more report writing! 

Wed, 8 Aug

 

An office day, working on two important reports.

The first was my report to the Transport Select Committee about the potential loss of our SAR helicopter at Portland.

The second was a response to the consultation currently underway into the future NHS cover in Purbeck.

I also had my column to write for Friday's paper.

The first report is a very detailed one, with contributions from many people. It's important we lay out the arguments for retention of our helicopter and present the facts rather than the emotion, which rarely wins battles.

The second fight is equally important and in this regard the Friends of the hospital have found someone to write an independent report on retaining the hospital.

I shall be meeting her next week, as we prepare for our day in the Chamber on 6 September.

Wrting reports takes a lot of time and inevitably they need frequent editing and redrafting.

But both issues are so important for my constituents and it's vital we get it right. 

Tue, 7 Aug

 

Rose early to get some work done in the office before heading to Weymouth on my trusted metal steed.

The council were having a civic day at the sailing Games and I'd been asked to attend very kindly.

I managed to park in a LOCOG car park not far from the Nothe. The gatekeepers could not have been kinder and one of them eyed my motorbike jealously, he having been a motorcycle cop for more than 30 years.

I entered the Nothe just after midday and joined councillors and officers for a very good lunch and a glass of wine.

The Lord Lieutenant, Val Pitt-Rivers, was there and was, as always, in great heart.

After lunch we wandered across to the stands and watched some racing.

Sadly, Bryony Shaw didn't win a medal in the windsurfing but our man Nick Dempsey did: silver and brilliant.

He did a very smart beach landing after his final race which amused and entertained the large crowd.

The Prime Minister took everyone by surprise by arriving unannounced, chatted to enthusiasts, councillors and officials and left. He'd been over at the sailing academy.

Then the charming local government minister Bob Neill arrived and stayed for an hour or so.

Both he and the PM were very impressed by what they saw.

On Bob's way out, we were passed by Academy chief executive John Tweed, who kindly asked us into the Sea Cadets base for some nibbles.

John has done an amazing job and he's working hard on securing more sailing events at Portland for the future.

Back on the bike at about 5pm and home to the office.

Great day and more medals by Team GB, who are doing so well.

Meanwhile, Mr Clegg whinges and whines about Cameron's decision to drop the Lords' Reform Bill.

A good decision and a bad bill can be put in the bin where it belongs.

But in a tit-for-tat move, Clegg says he will not support boundary changes. Time to end the Coalition perhaps and go it alone? Watch this space.

Mon, 6 Aug

 

I set the alarm early, wolfed down some toast and on to the bike to Portland.

Princess Anne and her husband were visiting the Coastwatch Tower on Portland Bill to present the Queen's Award. This is the equivalent to an MBE, apparently.

I arrive in good time, stripped off my outer layers to my suit and then joined the assembled gang of volunteers.

They really are the most amazing bunch of people, all volunteers and all such characters. Many have had very successful careers and just want to give something back. There is a great sense of camaraderie between the 80-odd volunteers.

There were more than 100 people there, including the Mayor and Consort, the lovely Cllr Sandy West, Commander Rupert Best, who had submitted the nomination in the first place and of course the volunteers themselves from the four stations along the Dorset coast.

Princess Anne was brilliant, as always, and it was interesting to meet Vice Admiral Sir Tim Lawrence, who was much taller than I expected. 

They chatted to everyone and the atmosphere was relaxed and informal.

It was typical of Princess Anne to present the award after being told by Portland volunteer Geoff Peters in an aside during another visit that the organisation had received it.

After about an hour the Princess left and everyone went down to the pub for a cup of tea.

I was late for another appointment by now so I headed off to Victorian police station on the island to meet TA Major Tom Martin and a colleague of his.

The purpose of this visit was to meet and thank all those working around the sailing academy itself.

They included members of the Royal Marines, G4S, volunteers, the police and others who were on duty.

I was impressed by all those I met, especially two young people who were responsible for directing traffic at the entrance to the sailing academy.

They were both camping in tents for the duration of the Games and told me they were getting increasingly smelly! 

Then, it was back to the police station, where I bumped into my old friends Chief Superintendent Dave Griffiths and Inspector Sean Cronin.

We chatted for a while and I got the low down on how everything was going. I am glad to report that that was good.

Back onto my bike and I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening in my office. 

Sun, 5 Aug

 

Time to become a part-time 'Ambassador'!

This was the name given to the likes of myself by the Government. The aim is for these Ambassadors to visit the Games on certain names and represent HMG.

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect, so hopped on my motorbike and headed down to the Nothe.

I managed to park my bike quite close and walked the remainder of the way in brilliant sunshine to the entrance, where security staff were checking tickets and searching bags.

It being so hot, I wandered to the bar - naturally - and bought myself a pint of Pimms, although no one could call it that because the sponsors wouldn't allow it. 

I was taken aback, though, when the very nice barman said that would be £9! I could not believe it.

Anyway, clutching my very expensive drink, I wandered to the stands and met and chatted to a number of police men and women.

I thanked them for doing a wonderful job and then concentrated on the sailing.

Our two boys, Iain Percy and Andrew Simpson, managed silver which is an astonishing achievement, although for them a huge disappointment.

Then it was Ben Ainslie's turn in his Finn and he didn't disappoint.

Despite coming ninth in the race, he won overall and there were rapturous scenes as he crossed the finish line.

I had to explain to our lovely Lord Lieutenant, Val Pitt-Rivers, that he had won even after coming ninth, which threw her a bit!

The security minister Hugh Robertson then arrived and I had a brief chat with him before he was wanted by Sky News.

I bumped into a mass of friendly faces and ended up in the fort itself, saying a big thank you to all the volunteers there, who were feeling a little left out of it all.  

I left at about 5pm and hopped back on to my motorcycle and headed home in glorious sunshine. 

Fri, 3 Aug

 

Worked through the morning, before holding a catch-up meeting with our councillors at Purbeck District Council.

We chatted about a number of local issues, including the threat to Swanage Hospital and the proposed offshore wind farm.

Thu, 2 Aug

A day in the office, not least establishing our new e-petition to save our Portland SAR helicopter, which goes in 2018.

Dr Ian Mew, from Dorchester set up the first one and he very kindly agreed to allow us to close his down and start another.

The reason was because his was about to run out after six months. It had attracted c18,000 signatories. We need 100,000 at least.

I also put in calls on a proposed meeting with Agriculture Minister Jim Paice at the end of this month.

An earlier event this year had to be cancelled due to a three line whip being imposed on us all in the Commons for a vote. I can't honestly remember what the topic was now.

The Sailing Games continue to go well in Weymouth & Portland, with no security alerts so far, or none to worry about.

Wed, 1 Aug

 

A day I had been looking forward to.

After an early start and managing to finish some work in the office, I hopped on to my motorbike and headed to Chickerell army camp.

There, I was met by the charming and urbane Commodore Jamie Miller, the Royal Navy's regional commander.

The assembled guests, including the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, and Sir Digby Jones, former Director General of the CBI, were then ushered on to a coach and taken to the port.

There we boarded the RFA Mount Bay, where we ushered to a waiting landing craft floating in the sinking dock at the stern.

We emerged from this cavernous hole and headed out to HMS Bulwark.

I recall thinking that this was a vessel I would not want to spend much time in. They roll!

By this stage, we'd been joined by our Chief Constable, Martin Baker, who of course is running the security operation along with the military.

Again, we disappeared into the backside of this giant 19,000 ton flagship and with salutes flying and whistles blowing disembarked, to be met by an array of sailors and Royal Marines. 

Our day on board was fascinating and consisted of one long guided tour, with meal breaks every so often.

We climbed up and down some perilously steep stairs and manoeuvred our way through hatches and bulkheads!

Without our courteous guides, we'd have been lost in seconds.

We began in the Ops Room, where representatives from all the Olympic agencies were hunched over computers, watching screens and talking on radios.  

It was most impressive and you realised the sheer scale of this security operation.

We visited the vast bridge, met Sea Cadets, inspected the tiny quarters for the Royal Marines, and watched Merlin helicopters come and go from their tiny airstrip on the stern of the vessel.

There was no room for mistakes there and you could only admire the skill of the pilots and crews as these large helicopters hovered only feet from the deck and the adjacent aircraft. 

Captain Alex Burton was the perfect host and briefed us on the operation and finally took questions at the end.

Visit done, we clambered aboard our landing craft again and reversed out of the stern and into the fresh air.

Back on shore, I split from the main party to get back to Chickerell to pick up my bike.

I then drove to Bincleaves where the local authority had laid on a special day for the troops as a thank you for all they were doing.

Sadly, by the time I arrived, most had left, but there were enough to chat to and thank.

An entertaining and interesting day.