Fallon Joins Fight Against Bus Cuts

Michael has joined calls urging Kent County Council to rethink plans to cut subsidies to 78 bus services across Kent.

Along with fellow Kent MPs, Michael has written to the leader of Kent County Council, Paul Carter, calling for the authority to explore alternative options for saving money.  The letter also seeks specific assurances on proposed cuts affecting schoolchildren.

“These services are vital for elderly people, allowing them to get into town and go shopping, visit relatives or attend doctor appointments”, the letter reads.  “Schoolchildren, disabled people and low earners also face being cut off.”Vintage Bus

“While we commend the considerable savings KCC has made in recent years – necessitated by the highest budget deficit in decades left behind by Labour – we urge you to explore other practical options that avoid cutting these vital bus services.”

The MPs highlight other recent cuts to routes by KCC and commercial operators, arguing that further cuts are understandably causing concern among constituents.  They also point out that KCC’s plans contradict stated environmental aims, as well as the principles of many local quality bus partnerships the local authority has signed up to.

The letter concludes: “In some areas the cuts to subsidized buses will cause significant disruption and place extra pressure on other services that are already crowded at peak times.

“We have already seen the problems caused by commercial operators’ changes to services in some areas.

“Our constituents tell us that further reductions by KCC create a real risk of people having to give up work, that elderly people will be isolated, and children will be unable to travel to school.

“Therefore, we urge KCC to fully explore alternative options – and that serious consideration is given to scrapping these plans, or at least reducing their scale. We would also welcome any assurances you can give for individual services, particularly those affecting schoolchildren.”

Local MP Joins Kent Campaign for New Medical School

Michael has signed a joint letter by 16 MPs across Kent to support the bid from Canterbury Christ Church University and the University of Kent to establish a medical school in the Kent and Medway area.

As Christmas approaches, local health services are preparing for the challenges the winter period brings.  Having discussed these challenges with many NHS and health organisations, Michael is aware that one of the main reasons local providers struggle is because they cannot recruit enough doctors.

Kent is one of the largest areas in the UK without a medical school.  The letter therefore raises awareness of issues surrounding recruitment in the health sector.  It also outlines the benefits a medical school would bring to the region, such as improving local people’s access to high quality healthcare.

The group of MPs add that a local medical school will attract newly qualified and senior doctors, thereby improving health outcomes for patients in Kent:

‘We face serious health inequalities across Kent & Medway, with life expectancy for males up to eight years lower in the most deprived areas […] we firmly believe that a medical school would be transformative for our local health services.’

Fallon Calls for Fairer Economy

Michael called for a ‘fairer economy’ from the backbenches in the debate on the Autumn Budget yesterday.

The local MP welcomed a range of measures from the Chancellor, supporting longer-term and additional money for the NHS.

He called for further action in four specific areas:

First, he argued that the National Insurance threshold should be raised in line with the income tax one. He pointed out that some low paid workers are paying as much in NI contributions as they are income tax.

Second, he highlighted the need for companies like Amazon and Google to pay their share of rates and tax, asserting that Britain ‘shouldn’t have different economies for the big and the small.’

Third, he pointed out that when Margaret Thatcher left government in 1990, 11 million people owned shares. Today, however, only 8 million do. He called for tax breaks for companies that offer free shares to employees and for discounted shares to be offered to the public when the government’s stake in RBS is sold off.

Finally, the Sevenoaks MP advocated a more vigorous push from Government for exports, noting, ‘outside the Single Market, we’re going to live and die by what we sell’.

‘A fairer economy, much wider employee share ownership, exporting at the heart of every government industrial policy, these are some of the steps towards our new economic future’, Michael suggested.  ‘Muddling along, mere managerialism will not be enough.’

Concluding his speech, Michael added: ‘Brexit Britain requires a bigger vision, more confident, outward-looking, self-rewarding.  Let’s build on this Budget to enable Britain to be bolder still.’

Michael Celebrates Super-HERO Officers

Michael has officially launched Sevenoaks District Council’s new Super-HERO service in a ceremony at the Housing Forum.

The Sevenoaks District Council’s current Housing, Energy and Retraining Options (HERO) service has received national recognition for its work.  According to the Council, its HERO service has helped thousands of people with issues relating to housing, debt, mortgage and further education and employment options.

Super-HERO extends the decade-old HERO service to offer a more holistic approach to providing support.  It will help people to live independently in their own homes, offering small home adaptations such as grab-rails and stair lifts to more technologically-based devices such as remote health monitors.

HERO officers will now work closely with GPs and provide relief such as a maternity package covering benefits, housing and debt service to vulnerable parents and people fleeing domestic violence.

Michael awarded the Council’s HERO officers with certificates as a mark of their achievement.

He said: ‘I’m pleased that HERO has evolved into a service that will now look beyond just housing, with health at its core.  I refer hundreds of my constituents to Sevenoaks District Council services every year, and I see at first-hand the commitment and professionalism of its officers.’

New Housing Strategy Launched

Michael has officially launched Sevenoaks District Council’s newly adopted Housing Strategy at this year’s Sevenoaks Housing Forum.

The launch, which took place on Friday (3), follows the completion of the Housing Needs Survey in winter 2016. The Housing Strategy document is the response to this survey.

The Strategy aims to tackle the shorter life expectancies associated with poor quality housing, using HERO officers to combat homelessness at an early stage and develop suitable housing options for young professionals and an ageing population.

With a focus on health, the document outlines a plan to support vulnerable people with mental or physical health issues, older people and military personnel re-adapting to civilian life.

In his address, Michael highlighted the ‘chronic issues poor housing causes’, particularly to individual wellbeing. He asserted that ‘growing up or getting stuck in unsuitable housing are injustices that we must address in order to build a country that works for everyone’.

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Michael hopes the Strategy will stand the test of time. He said: ‘I’m delighted to support Sevenoaks District Council’s hard work to ensure our residents can access the housing that is right for them. I hope their strategy will become an example that is followed by other councils across the country.’

Remembrance Sunday

Yesterday, Michael attended two services commemorating those who lost their lives in conflict as Sevenoaks and Swanley marked Remembrance Sunday.

He said: “I was proud to have laid wreaths in honour of those who lost their lives defending our country and our values.  It was a very moving day and a time to reflect on the freedom we enjoy because of their sacrifice.”

Column – Grammar Opening is Half the Battle

On Friday, I was delighted to join parents and pupils to officially open our new grammar school, the Weald of Kent Grammar School Sevenoaks Annexe.

Thanks to all the hard work of the parents, campaigners, district and county councillors, and the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Sevenoaks has finally got the grammar it has been due for nearly a century.

So it’s about time.

Parents in my constituency needed more choice.  With substantial pressure on local places causing unnecessary disappointment and stress, they wanted high-quality education to be accessible and affordable for their family.

Pupils in my constituency wanted more time.  Travelling up to Dartford or Wilmington or down to Tonbridge or Tunbridge Wells every morning and evening is time-consuming.  It never made sense that bright minds in Sevenoaks needed to travel miles outside my constituency in order to get the education that’s right for them.

Now the girls attending the new annexe will have more time in the day to pursue hobbies and sports, develop friendships in the local area, and be with their families.

History is being made.  It all started in 2011 when a group of parents launched a campaign to get a grammar school to Sevenoaks.  They delivered a petition that stunned Kent County Council by achieving thousands of signatures in a matter of days.

The law was stacked against us.  But what the opening of the Weald of Kent Grammar School Sevenoaks Annexe demonstrates is the winning power of parents.

With sustained local and national media coverage over many years, we forced the issue onto the agenda and reignited the debate.  My constituents now have a proper choice of good local schools.  But our work is only half done.  There is strong local demand for a boys’ grammar too.  That’s the next campaign.

Pressing Rail Execs for Answers

Michael recently pressed railway executives for more improvements to local services sooner rather than later.

In a meeting held in Parliament, the Sevenoaks MP sought answers from the Managing Director of Southeastern, David Statham, and Route Managing Director (South East) at Network Rail, John Halsall, about a range of issues.

Having been underwhelmed by the May 2018 Southeastern Timetable, Sir Michael was pleased to hear that there are now 14 extra services and 37 extra quicker trains at peak times through his constituency.  Further, every train will now be at maximum capacity.

Mr Statham and Mr Halsall reported on the progress of planned regeneration at Bat & Ball station and Swanley Station, the rollout of on-board Wi-Fi and new fleet upgrades including carriage air-conditioning.  Sir Michael also raised specific concerns about smart ticketing and was reassured that the range of tickets available on The Key will increase.

The executives committed to remaining in close contact with the local MP and thanked him for his help in pressing the Government to help tackle these issues.

Michael said: ‘My constituents want to see improvements now, not later.  That’s why getting Southeastern and Network Rail in a room together was important.  I will keep in close contact with Southeastern and Network Rail to ensure commuters in my constituency get the best deal.’

Michael Praises New Police at Parade

Michael has praised the next generation of local police officers in a special graduation ceremony at Kent Police College.

The parade included a display by Kent Police Dog Section, a March Past, formal inspections and a presentation of awards in which Michael was honoured to have taken part.

Chief Constable, Michael, and Crime Commissioner watch the Dog Section.
Alan, Michael, & Matthew watch the Dog Section
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The graduates will now be deployed to provide visible neighbourhood policing across the county, including in the Sevenoaks constituency. Michael met the PCs who will serve in Sevenoaks to offer his congratulations. He was also delighted to meet PC Zoe Hill, who previously served as a PCSO in Sevenoaks.

Michael with the Sevenoaks recruits.
Michael with the new Sevenoaks recruits

Michael said: ‘It is an enormous privilege to meet the next generation of police in Sevenoaks. They have demonstrated excellence and dedication in order to pass the course and will provide valuable service to our community.’

Michael, who during his visit also enjoyed a tour of Kent Police’s Tactical Training and Firearms Unit, added: ‘I wish them all the best in their careers.’

Fallon Raises Glass to New Brewery

Michael has welcomed the new arrival of Westerham Brewery in Westerham at an official opening ceremony last week.

The return of the brewery to the town has been long-awaited but locals were finally able to explore the tap room and shop on Thursday (12). The brewery uses locally-sourced malt, hops and hard water that is highly rated for the brewing of ales such as the IPA for which Westerham was once famous.

Robert Wicks, the brewery owner, invited Michael to say a few words to mark the special occasion following a tour of the site for over 100 people.

Michael and Robert both addressed the guests in the brewery.
Michael and Robert both addressed the guests in the brewery.

Westerham is renowned within military circles for having provided troops posted in Normandy during the Second World War with ales. These ales were smuggled across the Channel in the empty auxiliary tanks of Spitfires from Biggin Hill.

‘I should think our servicemen and women aboard our new aircraft carriers would also appreciate being reminded of Westerham’s historic role in our military’, Michael joked.
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Michael hopes the new development will increase the town’s tourism. He said: ‘Having benefitted directly from the regional investment programme I set up as Business Minister back in 2014, Westerham Brewery will strengthen not only the rural economy but also the character of the town.’