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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

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.

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.’

Sevenoaks Preserved in Boundary Plans

Michael has welcomed the Boundary Review proposals that largely maintain the current borders of his Sevenoaks constituency.

Revised proposals for the shape of parliamentary seats were published Tuesday (17/10) by the Boundary Commission for England.  Under the new proposals, the Sevenoaks constituency will gain the Wrotham, Ightham and Stansted ward from Tonbridge, bringing the size of the Sevenoaks electorate to 72,561.

The review aims to make constituencies more equal in size.  Parliament approved the principle of reducing the size of the House of Commons in 2011.  If the majority of MPs support Tuesday’s detailed plans, the proposed new constituencies will take effect in 2022.

Michael said: ‘I warned the Commission about moving wards out of my constituency, and happily they have listened.  Instead of losing constituents, I am set to gain.  It is right that the fundamental shape of the Sevenoaks constituency is respected.’

The proposals are now open to a public consultation until 11 December 2017. Comments can be made via https://www.bce2018.org.uk/node/6488.

Michael will support the proposals, but once again he will also request that the name of the constituency be formally recognised as ‘Sevenoaks & Swanley’.

Michael Opens New Wound Centre

Michael has officially opened a new specialist wound centre at Sevenoaks Hospital.

The new centre, which has been operational since May, is staffed by advanced wound nurses supported by tissue viability specialist nurses.  The clinic means patients in Sevenoaks with a chronic, complex or surgical wound now have access to specialist care.

As part of his official duties, Michael was given a tour of the centre.  He was joined by Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust’s Chief Executive, Paul Bentley, and Chairman, David Griffiths, as well as dozens of guests.

Michael spoke to some of the patients on his tour.  One patient, Monica Wain (90) from Sevenoaks said: ‘[The staff] really know what they are doing here and in two months they healed my wounds.  It’s marvellous.’

The clinic is piloting an innovative new wound-monitoring app, WoundMatrix, that supports clinicians to heal wounds and pressure ulcers faster in the centre, which Michael was keen to inspect.

He said: ‘This new centre is an important addition to our local health services because treating wounds requires specialist ongoing care.  Its unique state-of-the-art equipment helps keep Sevenoaks one step ahead in the services it provides.’

Spotting Invisible Wounds

‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.’

A saying that dates back to 1862, passed down through the generations; it embodies those British stereotypes of supressing emotions and stiffening the upper-lip.

Yet old adages contain old ideas, and such sayings standardise a stigma that we now need to move beyond: how we speak about mental health problems.

World Mental Health Day on Tuesday reminded us that 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children are affected by mental illnesses.  The majority do not speak up and do not seek help.

By changing the way we discuss mental illnesses, we can start to provide people the support they need.

That’s why I am proud of this Government’s record investment in mental healthcare; mental and physical health now have parity in law.

Last week, the Prime Minister announced a review of the Mental Health Act to tackle longstanding injustices in our mental health system.  It’s about helping some of the most vulnerable in society.

It’s also about relieving our straining public services.  The NHS’s challenge with mental illnesses is marked by a 43 per cent increase in detainments within the past decade alone.  Around 40 per cent of police business in Kent is concerned with mental health problems.

To deal with this, we’ve increased the number of psychiatric consultants and we’ve taken steps to ensure that many thousands more young people will receive the right treatment at the right time by 2020.

Compared to 2010, 40 per cent more people access mental health services every day.  The number of mental health patients being held inappropriately in police cells is also down by 80 per cent over the same period.

We’re lucky that West Kent MIND, which has provided vital support for years, is based in Sevenoaks.  On Tuesday, they held training sessions for schools and businesses to facilitate workplace wellbeing. On Sunday, they’ll host a fun run in Knole Park to raise further awareness.

Tomorrow, I will visit Sevenoaks Hospital to open the new Wound Centre.  But I will remember those wounds that are often just as serious: the ones we cannot see.

Michael Welcomes Local Plan

Michael has welcomed the Sevenoaks District Council’s Local Plan survey: an important planning policy which says what can be built and where, as well as what should be protected up to 2035.

The survey, sent to every household in the district, is the first step to forming the new Local Plan.  It asks residents for their opinions on early suggested options for dealing with anticipated issues the district will face.

In a comprehensive set of responses, the Sevenoaks MP indicated that he supports the Council’s overall strategy to promote housing choice for all whilst maintaining Green Belt protections.

‘Only 15 per cent of housing here is affordable’, he wrote.  ‘Older generations need options to downsize and younger; economically-active families need a chance to move in.’

The local MP supported the District Council’s approach to promoting environmentally-friendly improvements, but cautioned against developing renewable sites that diverge from the historic aesthetic of the district.

Michael said: ‘The Plan recognises that both ambition and caution are required to deliver for the next generation.  Residents must decide how best to solve the challenges we face.  I will continue to work with the Council.’

The Vital Work of Women’s Refuge

Michael has praised the ‘vital’ work of staff at a local Women’s Refuge.

The refuge, based at a secret location in West Kent, accommodates women and their children who have experienced domestic abuse.  For these families, the seven-room refuge is their only safe space.  Run by Look Ahead Care Support and Housing and managed by Yvette Hazeldon, the refuge provides families the time and security needed to reintegrate into society.

During his visit, Ms Hazeldon briefed Michael about the high demand for accommodation in the refuge, adding that the nature of the demand has changed because social media enables perpetrators to locate victims more easily.s Refuge 22 Sept 17

They reviewed the Government’s work to help victims of domestic abuse.  Despite record numbers of prosecutions and convictions since 2010, there are still two million victims of domestic abuse every year in England and Wales.

Michael told Ms Hazeldon that the Government will introduce a Draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill to bring to the justice system greater clarity about the impact of domestic abuse on families and encourage better response to the lifelong impact on children into adulthood.

He said: ‘My office regularly deals with cases involving domestic abuse.  This refuge provides a vital service in keeping families safe.  We will work together to ensure the Government are taking the right steps to support victims.’