September 2010

Thu, 30 Sep

I have not seen Sue Moore, the principal at Weymouth College, for some time, so it was a pleasant morning I spent with her, chatting about further education matters and her concerns about the future.

Further education is vital is we are going to get our young people back to work. The trouble is funding is finite and is all too often being channelled into other educational priorities. We need to re-organise this area so that colleges like Weymouth are properly funded and supported. 

Afterwards, I drove to Poole to attend a lunch hosted by the Dorset Criminal Justice Board. This was most useful and informative. The cuts are going to his this organisation hard, with £200,000 of funding going.

Chomping on rather good sandwiches, we debated several issues, not least sentencing, the prisons and of course the prison service.  

Wed, 29 Sep

Back in Weymouth today, this time to attend my surgery at the council offices. Clearly, the content of these meetings are confidential, but I am saddened by many of the cases I try and help with.

Too often, people feel abandoned by the system, and come to their MP for help and reassurance. I try to give both, although in some cases - particularly planning and court proceedings - I am powerless to act.

Tue, 28 Sep

An overcast morning saw me heading down to Weymouth to visit a charity called Weymouth Community Volunteers.

Led by the remarkable Sue Fallon, the charity caters for a cross range of people, including ex offenders and those with mental health problems. 

Several organisations refer their clients to Sue, but regrettably without the necessary funding, and this is the problem.

WCV looks after those who fall through other nets, but without the extra funding the charity's future does not look good.

So, if you feel like contributing to this excellent cause, contact Sue at the centre on 01305 830255.

Then, on to another charity, this time one dealing with those who have just left prison. The aim is to prevent re-offending with a little guidance and mentoring from volunteers.

The Footprints Project has about 30 clients on its books and evidence show that the intervention work is proving successful.

But, again, funding - or lack of it - is an issue and there appears to be a severe lack of co-ordination at county level as to which charities are doing what to whom and for how much.

I have invited to visit Dorchester prison which I look forward to doing.

Mon, 27 Sep

Spent much of the morning in a briefing with First Dorset Credit Union. From small beginnings this charity has grown and now has offices across Dorset.

It provides a vital role, lending money to those who desperately need it at an affordable and manageable rate. 

We met at the Union's HQs in Dorchester. My colleague Oliver Letwin is also heavily involved and he's already taken some helpful ideas to the Treasury to try and make the Union's role easier and more effective.

In the afternoon, I set about helping Geoffrey Smith, the former boss of Stone Firms, which has now gone into administration. This is a blow for Portland, where Mr Smith employs more than 50 people.

I have written to Barclays to try and help Mr Smith and his business through a difficult time.  

Sun, 26 Sep

Had to turn on the TV at 1645 to see who's been crowned. There they were - Balls, Abbott, Burnham and the two Miliband brothers - all lined up in a row.

Surprise, surprise ... the underdog won. I can't help but feel Labour has just committed political suicide, but who knows. Never underestimate the opposition.

The commentators will have a field day with this appointment, especially as Red Ed does not have the support of MPs, MEPs or the Party. It's the unions, again, who have wielded their political sword and fatally wounded the heir to Blair. 

I suspect David Cameron will not be too concerned about the new leader, who is less light on his feet and weighed down by political ideology.

However, the latter is what makes Red Ed dangerous. The country's looking for political parties to stand up for what they believe in, and Red Ed will certainly do that.  

Sat, 25 Sep

Our first wedding anniversary. A very happy day. 

Fri, 24 Sep

Nearly all the day on the phone, answering correspondence and arranging a delegation to London. We shall know at the weekend who's going to take the Labour Party forward, or backwards! 

Thu, 23 Sep

 

Had a most interesting meeting with Ian Alexander and Dee Stephens, both of whom work for Natural England out at Arne.

They've certainly got their hands full, with a number of projects on the go. Like many public bodies, they are facing some severe cuts, but have prepared themselves as best they can. 

Completed this week's column for the Daily Echo which I get a huge amount of pleasure from. It's a great privilege to be able to write in your local paper and I am indebted to the editor Toby Granville for this generous facility. 

Wed, 22 Sep

Off to Portland to see Neville Copperthwaite and his delightful team, who are trying to sink a wreck to re-establish diving in the area.

We have some of the best waters in the country and Neville has been working long and hard to overcome various obstacles.

On, then, to see an elderly constituent. I hope my visit reassured him. Clearly, his problem is confidential, but it isn't the first time I've stumbled across his dilemma.

My surgery followed, on this occasion visiting constituents in their homes. Fortunately, I was on my motorbike, so I was not to badly affected by all the road works!

Popped into the local authority offices to see two more constituents before heading back to the office to catch up on more correspondence.

Tue, 21 Sep

I had an interesting and long meeting with a Swanage constituent today. I'd met both him and his wife during my candidacy, when they asked me to visit their home, to meet a number of their friends.

I repeated the visit for a second time and again met a delightful team of residents over a coffee and some rather good shortbread.

Following a resume on my activities in London, our conversation ranged from defence to the Coalition.

At midday, I met my case worker to go through a number of press related matters and other issues.

Then, in the evening, I went to the New Inn in Church Knowle to meet about 30 farmers. We're going to establish a new, working group to improve on the passage of information between government and this neglected group of people.

Following the meeting, I drafted a long letter to Jim Paice MP, our very capable Minister for Agriculture, listing a number of very real concerns that farmers have, not least cutting the red tape. 

Mon, 20 Sep

With parliament in recess, I was able to tackle an over-flowing in-tray, call a number of constituents and arrange several meetings.

A meeting with a Weymouth fishermen in the evenig failed to materialize for reasons I won't bore you with, but we've now re-scheduled.  

I note soundings coming the Liberal Democrat conference with interest!

Sun, 19 Sep

What a privilege it was to attend the laying-up of Weymouth and Portland's branch standards and the dedication of the new Weymouth branch standard at a memorable parade held in the Nothe Fort.

The service was taken quite brilliantly by the Reverend M Brotherton MBE BD RN, who is the Chaplain of HMS Drake Plymouth.

The music was provided by HMS Heron Royal Naval Volunteer Band, which performed brilliantly, first during the service and then leading the march past.

Although we battled a stiff breeze throughout the afternoon, the sun shone and everyone had a memorable time.

I would say there must have been about 200 members of the Royal Naval Association, all of whom had tales to tell of adventures on the high seas.

After the ceremonial phase, we walked to the sea cadets' HQs just down from the fort and tucked into an enormous feast.

In true naval tradition, there was plenty of booze and rum!

It was a very special afternoon and I think you had to be there to really experience the camaraderie and extraordinary atmosphere which enveloped the proceedings.  

Where would we be without the Royal Navy? 

Fri, 17 Sep

 

A busy day, visiting Kingston Maurward College, near Dorchester, Dorset County Hospital and finally Purbeck District Council.

My first port of call was most interesting. Principal Claire Davison gave me a full briefing on the college and all the excellent courses it runs. I was fortunate enough to be one of the few allowed on to the roof. What a view.

The college is working closely with a number of schools in the area and I was encouraged to hear that all students were leaving with jobs. 

In Dorchester, I met the new chief executive of DCH, Jean O'Callaghan, and Dr Jeffrey Ellwood, chairman of the NHS Foundation Trust.

It's not secret that DCH has been struggling financially and Jean is hoping to turn it round as promptly as she can. 

She certainly exuded confidence and I wish her well. 

Then on to PDC to chat to the chief executive and two members of his team. This was again a most useful meeting, talking through some planning issues, not least housing, which tests all of us.

Thu, 16 Sep

After a trip to the dentist - always fun - I met up with Steve Davies, the delightful chief executive of Portland Port, at a coffee shop near the Ministry for Transport.

After a brief chat, we wandered in for our meeting with Mike Penning MP, a former Grenadier, to talk through a number of issues on ports. Clearly, the content of the meeting was confidential, but it was most useful.

I then raced back to the Commons, reported to the Speaker, and took my place on our Benches to await my turn in the defence debate.

It was a most illuminating few hours, with some excellent contributions, not least from James Arbuthnot MP, the chairman of the defence select committee. 

I was called at about 4pm and spoke for ten minutes. My speech can be found on this website should you want to read it, so I won't bore you with the detail now.

The debate ended at 6pm and I just had enough time to catch the 6.35pm from Waterloo and head home for the conference recess.   

Wed, 15 Sep

I was in fairly early to continue work on my speech, planned for tomorrow. At 11.30 I left the Commons' library and went into the Chamber for PMQs.

The Prime Minister was in good form, considering his rather hectic private life, and he praised Harriet Harman for doing a good job as stand-in leader. He said she was the most popular of the three he had had to face, which drew a lot of laughs. 

Tue, 14 Sep

The day included correspondence to constituents, preparing my speech for Thursday and checking and confirming to ministerial visits.

I was going to attend the funeral of two dear friends of my parents who passed away only days apart. It is what they would have wanted. Regrettably, I was unable to go, finding myself in the doctor's surgery instead. Nothing serious ... just a bore!

Preparations well under way for the Pope's visit.

 

Mon, 13 Sep

 

Defence questions began the parliamentary day and I sat for an hour listening intently to our front bench team answering questions for an hour.

George Osborne, Chancellor of the Exchequer, then came to the House to answer questions about our proposals to reduce the deficit.

In the afternoon, I participated with colleagues in overseeing a Statutory Instrument with a defence minister in a committee room.

Then, at 6pm I attended a briefing by Air Marshall Sir Stuart Peach and Major General David Capewell on the current situation in Afghanistan.

It was fascinating, as you imagine.

Later in the evening we voted on the second reading of the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill.

Fri, 10 Sep

Down to Weymouth to meet the chief financial officer of the clothes retailer New Look. A very interesting brief from both him and his team. I was hugely encouraged to hear than a planned development of the site near the new relief road would generate hundreds of jobs.

This is most welcome and exciting. After observing the site from the top of New Look's office, I drove across to Swanage to attend my surgery.

Thu, 9 Sep

I was in the Chamber at 1030 for DEFRA questions. A wide range of topics were covered. Before the debate on Afghanistan started, the Speaker held an urgent debate on the hacking issue.

There was genuine concern that phones had been hacked and anger against certain newspapers was evident in the various speeches.

Hence, the debate on our continued presence in Afghanistan was delayed. There were many good speeches, with many fascinating observations. I was one of the last MPs to be called and spoke for about eight minutes.

I voted with the Government to keep a British military presence in Afghanistan because for many reasons I don't believe we can just cut and run.

Wed, 8 Sep

Another interesting day in the House, especially PMQs. David Cameron was away, dealing with the sad and premature death of his father. Nick Clegg stood in.

In addition to dealing with a mass of constituency correspondence, I prepared my speech for tomorrow on the continuing war in Afhganistan.

Tue, 7 Sep

After my early morning run, it was into the Commons to deal with a mass of correspondence. I then met the chief executive of UK Broadband, Nick James.

He heads up a a subsidiary of an IT company based in Hong Kong. We chatted for an hour and I found it most illuminating.

The point Nick made, which was not lost on me, is that our government must invest sufficiently in broadband to ensure we build a system which can match the capacity the nation will need for the longer term.

This system must also be able to host a number of providers, which will ensure competition and a reasonable price.

Sat in the Chamber to listen to a statement by the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell MP, on the floods in Pakistan.

What is clear is that the UK's contribution has been enormous. Mr Mitchell paid special tribute to the public for their generosity in donating about £40 million in aid.  

Mon, 6 Sep

Back to school, or that's what it feels like! The Commons was buzzing with gossip as MPs from all parties caught up on the last few weeks.

This next two weeks is a funny period, culminating with a further recess of three weeks for the conference season.

However, the work load is big, and tonight we voted through the Bill which will potentially change much of our constitution, not least holding a referendum on the alternative vote (AV).

I am a first-past-the-post-man and I'm afraid I will not budge on this, however Nick Clegg wants to dress AV up.  

What concerns me most is Mr Clegg's assertion that the public wants constitutional change. I have seen no appetite for this, nor have my colleagues, and we are embarking on a huge gamble agreed by the Conservative and Liberal Democrats at the birth of our coalition.

Fell into bed after midnight, with the Speaker's cry of 'division' still ringing in my ears!

Fri, 3 Sep

The early bird caught the worm this morning, as I headed for Dorchester for a meeting with an impressive array of people - including council chief executives and police and fire chiefs - for an update on the Olympics. 

The briefing had been kindly organised for both me and my neighbouring colleague Oliver Letwin.

A lot of people are working very hard to ensure the sailing Games are a success in 2012. Clearly, there is still more to do, but the effort that's going on behind the scenes is increasing daily.

Thu, 2 Sep

Today, I was given the honour of opening a renovated pharmacy in Weymouth. The new chemist in Crescent Street is the fourth Angel pharmacy in the town.

I cut the ribbon with a lovely lady of 103, who was as bright as a button. Both of us were very impressed with the new-look. And every need is catered for, including consultation rooms and a service counter around the corner for privacy.

Investments of this nature are most welcome in the town, which depends too much on low-paid seasonal jobs. More please! 

I then hosted a tea party in the afternoon at my home for about 100 supporters from right across the constituency. We were blessed with warm sunshine and the afternoon was a great success.

Then, in the evening I went to Swanage Conservative Club to address a monthly meeting of the area's Conservative Clubs. About 60 people came and I listened to reports from a number of representatives which indicated in most cases the tough economic times are taking a toll.

I'm glad to report that Swanage itself is in good shape and very much reflects, I think, the genuine affection felt for the club and its superb staff.

Certainly, every time I go in there, I sense a wonderdul atmosphere and am spoilt by some charming and courteous staff.

Wed, 1 Sep

With dire warnings of congestion in Weymouth, I left plenty of time for my meeting with Tom Grainger, the charming chief executive of Weymouth & Portland Borough Council. 

Tom's an impressive man, with a sound knowledge of the town, its needs and weaknesses. His own job is hanging in the balance after his council and West Dorset District Council agreed to move to one chief executive in a bid to become more efficient. 

They're also going to share more roles to meet these austere times and I admire the diligence in pursuing what is not an easy path. It is hoped that all redundancies will come through natural wastage.

We chatted about a number of issues and again the briefing was extremely useful. Afterwards, I ran my surgery before returning to Winfrith for an Association meeting.