Fighting for Sevenoaks Commuters

Michael has vowed to continue fighting for rail travellers ahead of the new May 2018 timetable.

He met senior directors from Thameslink recently and complained that commuters to London and children heading to school in Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells would be inconvenienced by the new timings.

In response, Thameslink made clear that it would provide the same number of services to London, though some timings are altered.  The new 700 trains would double capacity to 1,000 seats.  There was an extensive consultation last summer, with over 100 responses from this section of the line and the Sevenoaks Rail Passengers Association were involved.  The timetables had been co-ordinated closely with Southeastern, who share an office with Thameslink.

Sir Michael said: “The consultation wasn’t thorough enough.  Too many people have been inconvenienced.  I have insisted that Thameslink be prepared to make changes to the timetables if there is sufficient evidence that particular services can be re-timed in ways that create more winners and losers.  Timetables are revised again in December, and I am asking those who have complained to me to see if they can identify particular changes that could help.”

Brushing Up

Michael with Dr Dev Patel and the new Brushlink device at the Dental Beauty Surgery, Swanley
Michael with Dr Dev Patel and the new Brushlink device at the Dental Beauty Surgery, Swanley

A recent visit to Brushlink at Dental Beauty, based in Swanley helped Michael to learn more about their innovative new design which seeks to improve dental hygiene.

The device, which clips on to the end of a toothbrush, and is linked to an app on your phone, ‘gamifies’ the way people brush their teeth, setting targets for improvement and offering scores. It has already achieved success amongst school children, who enjoy the competition, and elderly people in care homes, who sometimes forget to brush. It is hoped that the initiative will be rolled out across the rest of the UK.

 Sir Michael said: “Brushlink is another fantastic example of the innovation and entrepreneurial flair that is abundant in my constituency. What sets Brushlink apart is the combination of innovation and dental expertise, meaning they are years ahead of other would be developers. I have recommended that the Department for Health and Social Care meet Brushlink, and I look forward to hearing more about their success in the future.”

Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve

Dave Hutton and Stevie Rice from Kent Wildlife Trust with Dr Pamela Harrison and Michael at the Jeffery Harrison Visitor Centre, Bradbourne Vale Road, Sevenoaks, TN13 3DH
Dave Hutton and Stevie Rice from Kent Wildlife Trust with Dr Pamela Harrison and Michael at the Jeffery Harrison Visitor Centre, Bradbourne Vale Road, Sevenoaks, TN13 3DH

Kent Wildlife Trust and The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) have launched an international competition for the architectural design of a new flagship Visitor Centre for the Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve offering key messaging around nature, health and wellbeing.  You can see full details here.

Today Michael attended a view of the four shortlisted designs (selected from over 200 submissions).

Kent Wildlife say:  ‘The Nature and Wellbeing Centre will be the gateway to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve.  It will be the first centre of its kind in the country dedicated to connecting people and nature in ways that evidence and demonstrate positive benefits for both people and wildlife. It will also raise awareness about the importance of conservation work on our own wellbeing and that of the planet.@

The Jeffery Harrison Visitor Centre, Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, Bradbourne Vale Road, Sevenoaks, Kent TN13 3DH is  full of information and activities – why not go and see what is being planned for the future?

NHS Re-organisation

Daily Telegraph
Here we go again.  There have been rumours for weeks.   Now there’s a formal invitation to be briefed on the forthcoming “strategic” merger of Kent’s NHS “commissioning groups”.

In 21 years as Sevenoaks MP I’ve known one constant – endless NHS re-organisation.  When I arrived in 1996 there was just one District Health Authority.  This was then split into a new West Kent health authority and several GP fundholding practices.  In 1999 these were merged into the Sevenoaks and Tonbridge Primary Group.   In 2002 this became the West Kent Primary Care Trust.  In 2006 this Trust was merged again, with two neighbouring Primary Care Trusts to form the North West Kent Primary Care Trust.

Then came the Lansley reforms.  His massive Bill, burning up hours of parliamentary time and much coalition political capital, swept away the Primary Care Trusts, on which GPs were already represented, and replaced them with Commissioning Groups (on which more GPs were represented).  Our West Kent Commissioning Group took effect in 2013.

Now its days, too, look numbered.  A statement last month suggests each of Kent’s eight Commissioning Groups will now be brought together to form “a single strategic commissioning function”.  Our commissioners have explained: “it has become clear to us collectively that there is a need for some aspects of the commissioning of NHS care to be more joined-up.”   So new notepaper, new senior posts, yet more change.

That’s only part of the ever-changing NHS mosaic.  Higher up, the South East Thames Regional Health Authority became the South Thames Regional Health Authority in 1994.  In 2002 this was split into smaller “strategic” health authorities, in our case the Kent and Medway Strategic Health Authority.  In 2006 this was enlarged to become the South East Coast Strategic Health Authority.  In October 2011 that merged with two neighbouring strategic health authorities to become the South Coast Strategic Health Authority.  Just 18 months later it was abolished altogether.

Beyond primary care, the same upheaval. Mental health and community services were originally provided to Sevenoaks by the District Health Authority.  In 1997 mental health services were transferred to a new Invicta Community Trust.  In 2002 Invicta merged with the Thames Gateway Community Trust to form the West Kent NHS and Social Care Trust.  Four years later the West Kent and East Kent NHS and Social Care Trusts came together to form the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust.

Meanwhile other community services moved in 2009 from the Invicta and Thames Gateway Trusts to West Kent Community Health, which in 2011 merged with East Kent and Coastal Kent Community Services NHS Trust to form Kent Community Health NHS Foundation Trust.   Ambulance services were run by Kent Ambulance Service: in 2006 this merged with the Surrey and Sussex Ambulance Services to form the South East Coast Ambulance Service NHS Trust.

In the midst of this bureaucratic turmoil survives Sevenoaks Hospital, founded in 1870.  But its day-to-day operations are becoming increasingly complex.  Since 1997, it’s been owned by Invicta Trust, by the West Kent Primary Care Trust and by NHS Estates.  Now owned by NHS Property, it’s run by Kent Community Health NHS Trust, with clinics run by various NHS organisations – even some from Sussex.

I make that at least 19 different bodies that have been “running” the NHS in Sevenoaks, almost one for every year I’ve been its MP.  All these changes have been accompanied by hopeful PR, promising better patient service.  But each has involved more cost and more management time which could be better spent on patients. So much change erodes public confidence: nobody really knows who is responsible for what.

Ever-changing bureaucracies undermine local institutions and affections.  In twenty-five years we’ve moved from local to district, from strategic to local, and now back up to county again.  Who can be sure of the right level at which to allocate resources and prioritise services when there’s nobody in charge long enough.

The damage isn’t just to patients and the public but to front-line staff.  It is our hard-pressed nurses and doctors who have to re-adjust their reporting procedures, to cope with fresh layers of bogus accountability, to learn the latest jargon of the newly merged.  This isn’t why they joined.   And we don’t need more of it.    After serving as a surgeon in the Second World War my father joined the NHS as it began: in 25 years he dealt only with a single regional hospital board.  Are we really better served now ?

There are now 32,000 senior managers in the NHS, paid over £65,000 a year: 7 per cent up on a year ago.  Remember the empty St Edward’s hospital in Yes, Minister – the best-run hospital in the country, but which had no patients.  If we’re serious about putting patients before paperwork, it’s time we stopped endlessly re-organising the NHS.

Digital Giants Must Tackle Millennial Terrorists

Hosting the Counter Terror Awards, Olympia, London
Hosting the Security & Counter Terror Awards, Olympia, London

Former defence secretary Sir Michael Fallon, presenting the first Counter Terror Awards at the Security & Counter Terror Expo 18 called on tech industry giants to “help root out” terrorists who are using social media to spread extremism.

In his speech, “Tackling the Millennial Terrorist”, the Sevenoaks MP said the changing nature of terrorism meant digital companies have a duty to help “tackle the aggressors behind the algorithms and the enemies behind the encryption.  These companies are hiding behind the pretence that they are not publishers: on the contrary, they have created huge ungoverned spaces in which extremism flourishes.  It’s bad enough that some of them don’t pay proper taxes in the UK; what’s shocking is that they could be doing much more to help our security services forestall these deadly attacks.”

He argued that recent terror attacks show everyone is now a legitimate target, saying: “As terrorists adopt more low level methods, killing with knives and vans, the range of targets increases”.

“90 per cent of organised terrorism on the Internet takes place via social media”, he said, “and for these millennial terrorists communication is 90 per cent of their struggle. Facebook, Google and the rest cannot opt out of their responsibility”.

Sir Michael also praised the “brainpower of innovative British businesses” for their part in tackling the threat.  He presented 10 companies and public sector organisations with Counter Terror awards.

You can read the full speech here.

Honouring Lizzy Yarnold in House of Commons

Lizzie Yarnold at Pyeongchang 2018
Lizzie Yarnold at Pyeongchang 2018

Michael has tabled a motion to the House of Commons in honour of Lizzy Yarnold’s “magnificent success” at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games.

Yarnold became the first Briton – and the first skeleton athlete – to win successive Winter Games golds when she claimed victory last Saturday on an historic day for Team GB.

Michael’s tribute follows news that Yarnold, originally from West Kingsdown near Sevenoaks, is now the most decorated British Winter Olympian.

The Sevenoaks MP also called on the Government to recognise Yarnold’s achievement with a lasting commitment to youth sport.  Members of Parliament from different parties continue to add their names to the motion in support.

Michael said: “Many congratulations to our double Olympian.  Let’s use this momentum to set up a talent programme, helping our young people access any specialist sports equipment needed to succeed in events like the skeleton.”

Michael Reviews Arms Law with Craftsmen

Michael has reviewed the Government’s proposed new legislation on offensive and dangerous weapons with local knife maker Clive Witton.

The Sevenoaks MP recently visited Mr Witton’s workshop to learn more about the process of knife making.  As a specialist knife-maker, Mr Witton is concerned that the new rules from Government will make it more difficult for craftsmen to send knives in the post.

Mr Witton said: “While I understand that the UK needs to consider new ways to stop young people getting hold of knives, the Government must ensure that the small craft sector is not damaged as a result.”

Michael raised Mr Witton’s concerns directly with the Home Secretary, who assured him that the proposal to restrict the online sale of knives is aimed at strengthening the prohibition on sales of knives to under-18s.

According to the Home Office, evidence from recent test purchase operations shows that the failure rate on online test purchases is high.  However, the Home Secretary said Mr Witton’s points will be carefully considered as part of the Government’s response to the consultation process, which ended in December.

Michael said: “It’s right that the Government reviews our weapons law.  But those affected like Clive should have their say, so I’m pleased that the Home Secretary will listen.”

Armed Forces Bill will have Radical Impact

Michael has welcomed the news that the Armed Forces (Flexible Working) Bill has now become law, saying that this “modest change” will have “radical consequences”.

The Bill was introduced by Michael when he was defence secretary to make provision for members of the Regular Forces to serve part-time or subject to geographic restrictions.  Following agreement by both Houses on the text of the Bill it received Royal Assent on 8 February. The Bill is now an Act of Parliament (law).

Michael said: “This is a modest change that will one day be seen to have had radical consequences.  Anybody considering a career in the armed forces – male or female – will now know they’re changing expectations over their careers will be recognised.  The new law will enable employees in the armed forces, for the first time, to apply for work for the days and hours that suit them best, removing barriers to female work and ensuring we don’t miss out on more talent and expertise.”

We Need Certainty Over Delayed Fast Service

Transport Secretary Chris Grayling says the delayed Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East “remains on track” in a letter to Michael today.

The fresh assurances follow the pair’s meeting last week, in which Michael demanded the Transport Secretary’s commitment to delivering the new Thameslink fast service in full after fresh fears that the future express service would be delayed “indefinitely”.

Click here to read Grayling’s letter to Sir Michael

Reacting to the letter, Michael said: “Last week, the Transport Secretary tried to reassure me that the new service will be delivered.  Now, its deliverability merely remains ‘on track’.  Kent commuters, businesses and families need more certainty.”

More Welcome News: Extra Funding for Police

Michael has welcomed the extra funding for Police announced this week by the Government.

The Police Grant for 2018/19 will release around £450 million extra for policing next year, creating a better a balance between funding raised locally and nationally.

As Kent Police expands its recruitment programme, the new funding will enable the Chief Constable to enlist up to an additional 200 Police Officers next year, thereby boosting rural and road, local community and cyber-crime policing.

Since May 2016 Kent Police has recruited 80 extra Police Officers and protected PCSO numbers at 300, when other police forces have seen reductions.  Sir Michael inspected some of the latest police recruits at a passing out parade last October.

The announcement comes weeks after the Sevenoaks MP met the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, to review his funding proposals and press for the roll out of a more effective speed prevention system in villages such as Otford and Brasted.

Reacting to the announcement, Michael said: “While crime rates are falling, criminality is becoming increasingly complex.  So it’s right that our police in Kent get the funding they need to continue to protect us.”