Full Steam Ahead for Station Regeneration

Michael has welcomed the news that Sevenoaks Town Council has secured a £755,600 Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant towards the refurbishment of the Bat & Ball Station Building.

The Bat & Ball Station Building is a Victorian property constructed in 1862.  It was the first station in Sevenoaks and used by Queen Victoria when visiting Knole. It has been boarded up since 1991 and gradually deteriorated.

Having helped the Town Council secure the funding, Michael offered his congratulations.

He said:  “Regeneration projects require huge community effort just to get off the ground.  So I congratulate the Town Council for securing the funding it needs for the project to go ahead and I look forward to visiting the station in the New Year.”

The restored building will provide public toilets, two community rooms, and a café selling Kent produce and heritage information.  It will also have the ability to sell train tickets.  Currently there is only a ticket machine.  All of these facilities should encourage more people to use the station.

The project is on track to be completed in September 2018.

Fallon Cross at “Betrayal of Kent Commuters”

Michael has expressed his “severe disappointment” at the “betrayal of Kent commuters” in a letter to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling today.

The letter was sent in response to a letter Michael received from the Transport Secretary, explaining why the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London had been postponed until at least December 2019.

Having earlier contacted Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) and the Rail Minister about the matter, Michael had wanted a comprehensive explanation from the Transport Secretary.  Instead, the reply failed to address two of his key concerns: why a consultation had not been launched and why a similar fast service will be delivered on-time in Sussex.

“Govia’s decision is a betrayal of Kent commuters and my constituents”, the MP said.

“This news means that there will have been a delay of over a year and a half from the originally-planned completion date.”

The Sevenoaks MP has called for an urgent meeting with the Transport Secretary and GTR to consider “an alternative schedule that avoids punishing Kent’s commuters.”

Calls for End to Camelot Complacency

Michael has called for Government to help end national lottery provider Camelot’s complacency in a Westminster Hall debate on the future of society lotteries on Tuesday (12).

Intervening early in the debate, Michael said: “Whether one admires Camelot or not, is not the real difficulty Camelot’s length of tenure as an operator?  It becomes more and more difficult to know whether it is performing as well as possible.  The metrics simply are not there due to the monopoly that it has enjoyed.”

Society lotteries are different from the national lottery in many ways.  The main difference is the prize cap: society lotteries are limited to 10 per cent of the value of any one draw.  Most high street charities run society lotteries, raising money for good causes such as cancer research, military charities, disability support charities and animal welfare charities.

Lotteries Debate 12th December 2017Michael made the point that society lotteries are not in competition with the national lottery and that what they do complements it.  Because the causes for which society charities support are often locally based on peoples’ doorsteps, the case was made for the regulations and caps on society lotteries to be lifted and raised for the benefit of charities in constituencies across the country.

The local MP joined the cross-party calls for Government to give society lotteries the freedom to succeed and consumers the choice of causes to support.

Intervening on the Minister’s response to the debate, he said: “No one doubts the success of the national lottery.  It is an enormous achievement and we should be very proud of it.  But how do we know whether a quarter of a century further on it will continue to be as successful as it could be?”

The Minister replied that the Government and Gambling Commission are constantly reviewing the national lottery, but recognised that there needs to be a healthy mixture of lotteries, signalling that the government will take action on the points raised in the debate.

Outstanding Achievement of Local Police

Michael has praised the achievements of local police following today’s news that Kent Police has once again been graded as ‘Outstanding’ for legitimacy.  The rating means that Kent Police is now the only police force in England and Wales to achieve the grade three years in a row.

The rating comes just weeks after Michael visited Kent Police Headquarters to inspect the new Police Constables in their Passing Out Parade.  Reacting to the announcement, the local MP said: “This is a significant achievement that reflects the police’s ability to maintain law and order in the constituency.”

According to the PEEL (police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy) annual assessment of police forces by Her Majesty’s Inspectors, Kent Police is efficient and effective and is policing the county ‘by consent’.

Inspectors found that officers and staff have a clear understanding of the importance of treating everyone with respect and making fair decisions, as well as being friendly and approachable.  It recognises that Kent Police has a clearly defined vision and set of values and has invested in extensive training to ensure the workforce know what is expected of them.

The report concluded that the leadership of Kent Police demonstrates a very positive ethical approach to policing which is reflected throughout the force.

Seeking Stronger Ties with Swanley

Michael has recommended that the town of Swanley be formally recognised in the name of his constituency in his response to the Revised Boundary Proposals 2018.  Should his request be granted, the official name of the Sevenoaks constituency would become Sevenoaks & Swanley.

Revised proposals for all the parliamentary seats were published in October by the Boundary Commission for England.  Under the new proposals, the Sevenoaks constituency remains largely the same, but would gain the Wrotham, Ightham and Stansted ward from Tonbridge, increasing the size of the Sevenoaks electorate to 72,561.

The review aims to make constituencies more equal in size.  Parliament has also approved the principle of reducing the size of the House of Commons.  If the majority of MPs support the detailed plans, the proposed changes will take effect at the next election.

Happy with the boundary proposals, the local MP took the opportunity to recognise Swanley as a key part of his constituency.

He said: “My constituency is special because it is diverse.  The town of Swanley is very different from the town of Sevenoaks, and each contributes equally to the character of the constituency.  I refer to my constituency as Sevenoaks & Swanley, and I believe that now is the time that Swanley be recognised in its formal name.”

‘Small Businesses Saturday’ in Swanley

Michael took the opportunity to celebrate local businesses over the weekend in aid of Small Business Saturday – a campaign to raise awareness of small businesses and their importance to the economy.

He visited a number of businesses in Swanley and Westerham, ranging from hairdressers to retailers.  Feedback from those he met highlighted the innovation and creativity small businesses require in order to thrive.

Michael started the day outside Michael inspecting the ETMS lorry with owner, MartinSwanley Town Council, where he met the owner of Exhibition Traffic Management Services, Martin.  The company hires and trains local young people and helps the council with voluntary projects such as litter-picking.

The local MP then walked through Swanley Shopping Centre, where he visited Rural Age Concern Darent Valley, an independent charity, and RAW Hair, a hairdressers.  It was the tale of two businesses with plenty of customers but one struggling with high rent.

Walking down the High Street, Michael was struck by the number of empty lots where businesses have left and moved up into the Shopping Centre. The owner of Towes Convenience Store, Darren, said business was slower due to the traffic and restricted parking in the area.  He hopes his Hermes parcel collection system will help bring in more customers, and his array of Eastern European foods and drinks will keep them coming back.

Lastly, the local MP visited K2 Flooring – a company Sir Michael was pleased to discover has existed since the 1960s under the same family ownership.

Later in the day, the MP visited businesses in Westerham during Late Night Shopping and watched the turning on of the Christmas lights.

Michael said: “Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy.  We could all learn from small businesses: they work hard and invest their own money to employ other people.  As we approach Christmas, I encourage everyone to think ‘small’ and support our great local businesses.”

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’.

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.’