Fresh Doubts over Thameslink Fast Service

Michael will meet Transport Secretary Chris Grayling next Tuesday after expressing fresh doubts over the deliverability of the delayed Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East yesterday morning.

During an interview on BBC Radio Kent, the Sevenoaks MP revealed he was “horrified” to learn that the Invitation to Tender document for the new South Eastern rail franchise outlines a hypothetical plan to delay the service “indefinitely”.

He said: “I’m now seriously beginning to wonder if this service will ever be delivered”.

The fast service was due to start in December 2018, but has been delayed until 2019 to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, according to the government.

Michael: “This is bad news for people in Maidstone East, but this also affects Otford and Swanley, because families, businesses, everyone has been looking forward to these regular express services to London for a long time.

My constituents in Sevenoaks have fast services to London through Southeastern.  The Thameslink trains from Maidstone East would balance the level of service in my constituency: that’s what we were promised, and that’s what we’re going to insist on.”

The Sevenoaks MP went on to say that while rail timetabling is “complicated”, local stakeholders “should at least insist that we have an hourly service, which would help reduce some of the peak capacity issues”.

Michael has lead the campaign to deliver the new Thameslink fast service in Kent.  He recently said the Transport Secretary’s decision to postpone the service betrays Kent commuters.

Michael: ‘Defence Needs More Money’

Michael has called on the government to give defence “more money” in the House of Commons today during a statement on the new defence review.

He said: “Is my Rt Hon Friend aware that he would have the support of the whole House if he were to secure additional funding for the pressures this year and next year Defence Review Statement 25th January 2018 standingbut then put the defence budget onto a more sustainable footing that allows our armed forces to tackle the increased threats that they face without these demoralising rumours of deep cuts.

The words here are interesting and they are important, but what really matters in the end is money – more money.”

The current defence secretary responded: “I’d like to thank my Rt Hon Friend for all that he has done for our Armed Forces.  Without his work, without his campaigning, we wouldn’t have been in a situation where we had a rising budget today, with the extra £4 billion worth of extra resources committed to our armed forces by the government.

I will certainly take on board his comments, and I notice his article in the Telegraph today which I thought set absolutely the right tone in terms of approach of how we take things forward, and I hope I have the opportunity to sit down with him to discuss how we get the balance right to make sure that we achieve everything that he has set out and built on for our armed forces over the past four years.

We do need to look at getting additional resources for our armed forces so that they have the capability to protect and truly defend Britain’s global interests both near and far.”

Watch the exchange here: https://goo.gl/7gqAot

Free Sports for Swanley

Michael recently attended a Swanley FC football training session to show his support for a new initiative to provide young people in Swanley with free access to a range of sports around the town.

The initiative is funded by Kent Police and the Crime Commissioners Office under one of PCC Mathew Scott’s grant initiatives.

The programme is designed to get young people involved in positive activities and provide them with just a taste of what activities Swanley has to offer.  Each activity runs for 6 weeks and the Town Council are currently providing Football on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday Lunch Times, Boxing Sessions on a Tuesday Evening and Survival Skills on a Saturday.  Working with the local Rugby Club, Junior Rugby Sessions will be available from March along with Tennis provided by a local Tennis Coach.

Michael attended a training session for 5-7 year olds run by Swanley FC coaches.  Michael said: “It was great to see such enthusiastic kids even in driving rain. Getting them outside is the key. Let’s hope some will go on to play for local youth teams”.

The funding has so far enabled six coaches to train in Football and Rugby, and 50 young people each week are learning new skills.

In addition to free sports sessions, the funding will pay for equipment such as rackets, trainers and sports strips, and will contribute to the transport costs of getting young people where they need to be.

Fallon Calls for New Defence Spending Target

In his first defence speech since stepping down, Michael has called on the government to set a new, higher target of 2.5 per cent of GDP for defence spending by the end of the Parliament, warning that Britain’s “security is at stake”.

Michael listed the “new and growing threats” since he took office in July 2014.  He highlighted the threats Daesh posed in the Middle East to energy supplies, key shipping lanes and allies in the Gulf as well as inspiring attacks on British and European cities.  He also noted the increasing use of cyber by state and non-state actors sheltered by Russia, Iran and North Korea, and the fragility of democracies in Africa.

Michael warned of the increasing spending gap with Russia.  He said Britain “has to do better” than the NATO 2 per cent target in light of increased Russian naval activity, cyber and hybrid insurgence and its proxy war in Ukraine.

Michael also reviewed the pressures on the defence budget from the decline in sterling, the need to reprofile nuclear spending, and to deliver efficiency savings earlier.  He wants the Treasury to provide immediate relief of £1 billion, in return for removing back-office and inter-service duplication.  “Efficiency savings are a continuous process, not a one-off exercise,” he said: “all three services need to work much more collaboratively in everything from helicopters to medical and logistics support”.  In return, defence spending should rise from 2.1 per cent to 2.5 per cent of GDP over the next four years.

Concluding his speech, Michael called on Britain to reassess its role in the world.  “If we retreat from our vision of a confident, outward-looking Global Britain”, he cautioned, “then we will drift downwards to being a bit-part world player, a part-time champion of democracy and freedom.  That would mean walking away from our international obligations, letting down our allies, and in the end leaving us less safe.

“On the contrary, we should be doing more in the world: our troops, planes and ships should be seen on every continent, in every sky, on all seven seas.  And our ambition needs a fully-funded budget to match.”

Read Michael’s speech here: Reflections on Defence speech 22nd January 2018.

Michael Meets Kent PCC in Parliament

Michael recently met the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, in Parliament.

The pair reviewed Mr Scott’s recent funding proposals for Kent Police and issues affecting Michael’s constituency casework.  The local MP was also happy to hear about the good progress of the new Police Constables in Sevenoaks, whom he had inspected during their Passing Out Parade last year.

Discussing key issuesMichael pressed Mr Scott to roll out a more effective speed prevention system in villages such as Otford and Brasted.  He welcomed the introduction of TruCam – a smart speedwatch system that administers on-the-spot fines to repeat offenders – but called for more immediate action.

Michael said: “Kent Police is getting the funding to increase the number of officers patrolling our streets.  But speeding remains a menace.  So it’s important that some of this money is put towards rolling out more effective tools for stopping speeders.”

Victory as Council Scraps Plan to Axe Buses

Michael has welcomed Kent County Council’s decision to not cut vital bus services after he campaigned to save them.

Council leader Paul Carter committed to reconsidering the plans after more than 17,000 people signed a local petition against the plans.

Mr Carter said he was “passionate about not isolating people in rural communities” and although savings would now need to be made the emphasis would be on “conversation and not consultation.”Vintage Bus

The Council said it had set aside a budget of £500,000 to speak to people, district and parish councils about bus services. Some little used buses could see changes to the way they were run but routes would not be cut at present.  Councillors also pledged to continue a £8.7 million subsidy through the Young Persons Travel Pass.

The council’s funding shift comes after the Government agreed local councils could increase the amount they could raise in council tax without holding a referendum by one per cent. And it follows an announcement which gives Kent the right to retain business rates locally.

Michael said: “I welcome the county council’s commitment to looking at other options. This shows that when people get involved we can win and change minds.”

Kent MPs Signal Concerns to New Rail Minister

Michael has today (12) organised a letter to the new Rail Minister signalling concerns about the postponed new Thameslink fast service, which has been signed by four other Kent MPs also affected by the delays.

Following his representations to Govia Thameslink Railway about his alternative phased proposals earlier in the week, the Sevenoaks MP took the opportunity to put the issue on the new Rail Minister’s radar.  It is the first time the local MP has took charge of a county-wide campaign since returning to the backbenches in November last year.

The letter reads: “Many families and businesses have made long-term plans on the basis of this service starting in 2018.  Our constituents are therefore concerned that the services could be postponed further still, beyond 2019.

We are extremely disappointed at this situation, which has been taken without consultation, and would appreciate your time to discuss alternative phased proposals as soon as possible.

It is vital that the new plans avoid punishing businesses and commuters in our constituencies who have anticipated and planned for the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”

Click here to read the letter in full:      Page 1    Page 2

MPs See Need to Change Voting for Blind

Michael has led calls for a change in the voting system for blind people at the launch of the Royal Society for Blind Children (RSBC) Youth Forum’s 2018 Youth Manifesto in Parliament.

The RSBC Youth Forum was set up to act as a voice for blind and vision-impaired young people in London and the South East and to unearth potential solutions to challenges they face, such as employment, transport, accessible technology and mental health support.

As the charity’s President, Michael was keen to educate parliamentary colleagues about RSBC’s forward-looking initiatives.

“Not enough people know that people who lose their sight in youth have huge hurdles to overcome”, he said.

“As a Member of Parliament, I am particularly interested in improving access to democracy for the vision-impaired: using technology to reduce barriers to voter-turnout, considering the location of polling stations and making local candidate information more available.

These are basic human rights that some young people are being denied: this is something we cannot ignore.”

MPs from all parties then listened to presentations by the Chief Executive of the charity, Dr Tom Pey, members of the RSBC Youth Forum, Ruksana Khanum, Cory Sharp and Charlotte McMillan, and Areeq Chowdrey of Webroots Democracy.

With RSBC officers and Nusrat Ghani MP
With RSBC officers and Nusrat Ghani MP.

The four key areas of focus in the manifesto are:

  1. Raising awareness about what it looks like to be blind or vision-impaired;
  2. Working with national transport providers in order to improve services for independent travel;
  3. Campaigning for better mental health support for young people who are blind and vision-impaired; and
  4. Making our current voting system accessible to blind and vision-impaired people.

New Direction on Train Delays Needed

Michael has today (10) called for Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to rethink the scheduled phasing of its new Thameslink fast service.

Writing to Chief Executive, Charles Horton, the Sevenoaks MP urged GTR to consider starting the postponed fast service as originally promised, but with one train per hour rather than the twice-hourly service originally planned.  The alternative proposal aims to ensure that families and businesses in the northern parts of his constituency still benefit from services that would help local regeneration.

Michael indicated it was possible to meet the capacity problem by protecting existing services and pursuing a more balanced phasing in of new services.

He said: “It is vital that the result of this delay avoids punishing businesses and commuters in my constituency who have anticipated the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”

Michael at Royal Opening in Swanley

Michael helped officially open the new Swanley Citizens Advice in Swanley Shopping Centre with HRH The Princess Royal this month.

Citizens Advice is an independent charity that provides free, confidential and impartial advice and information for those who need it.  Its trained volunteers help with drafting letters, advocacy and preparation for tribunals.

As Patron of Citizens Advice since 1990, HRH The Princess Royal greeted volunteers and spoke to Michael about the importance of developing strong working relationships between MPs and Citizens Advice.

Welcoming HRH The Princess Royal’s comments, the local MP said: “Citizens Advice is essential to my work.  Its advisers are experts who are trained to deal with very difficult cases, so I am pleased that locally we have such a good relationship and look forward to our continued collaboration.”