In a sometimes unsettled year nationally, Sevenoaks, Swanley, Westerham and our villages have continued to go from strength to strength. Unemployment remains at record low levels. Our new grammar annexe is being constructed and will open next year. Our local economy is vibrant and prosperous.
Building on this progress will require more work in the New Year. Bringing fast broadband to all parts of the constituency is still a top priority. We must also continue to work hard to protect our much-loved Green Belt from inappropriate development. Most importantly, though, the spring will see consultation on the new rail franchise and I will use this opportunity to push for the extension of the Oyster network to Sevenoaks.
At the end of a successful year for Sevenoaks and Swanley, I would like to wish all of my constituents a very happy Christmas and New Year. I am always proud to represent this constituency and I look forward to being as active as ever throughout the area in 2017.
On Friday, Michael visited the Teardrop Centre in Swanley.
The site, which was formerly derelict, has recently been brought back into use by Trimline Distribution Group. Michael was shown around by Partner Bruce Hazell and heard about the progress that has been made to restore the centre.
He spoke to an assembled group of employees about the Government’s support for the economy and answered questions about his work as Secretary of State for Defence.
Michael has called on the Government to announce its decision on a new Lower Thames Crossing.
In a letter to the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling MP, Michael has pressed for urgent progress following the consultation conducted by Highways England earlier this year. With no announcement on the proposal in last week’s Autumn Statement and increasing pressure on the Dartford Crossing, Michael believes a decision is urgently required so that building can commence on the project as soon as possible.
Michael supports the easternmost route, option C, which was recommended by Highways England in its consultation. This route would be the best option for his constituents, relieving congestion in the Dartford area and providing economic benefits across the region. In his letter, Michael also emphasised the importance of properly connecting any new crossing into the wider road network.
Michael said: “The ongoing problems at Dartford are affecting the daily lives of my constituents so a new crossing is urgently needed. I am calling on the Government to turn its welcome support for the principle of a new crossing into concrete, comprehensive action so that we can resolve this issue as soon as possible.”
Michael was welcomed on Friday to Rural Age Concern Darent Valley’s Cottage Day Centre in Fawkham.
Greeted by Chief Officer Liam Curran and Trustees including Cllr Madeleine Rogers and Cllr Faye Parkin, Michael met clients and heard about the charity’s exciting expansion plans.
The day came after his visit to Age Concern’s refurbished shop in the centre of Swanley in April.
Michael said: “I was delighted to meet clients and staff at the day centre. It offers a vital service for older people living in rural areas in the north of my constituency. We need facilities like this to be bigger and even better and I look forward to supporting Age Concern’s efforts to expand.”
On Saturday, Michael cut the ribbon on the first piece of disabled friendly equipment to be installed in Swanley Park. He was joined by local councillors, the Mayor of Swanley, Cllr Shanker Gaire, and local resident Kerry Rogers and her family.
Michael said: “I was delighted to open the new piece of disabled friendly equipment at Swanley Park. I am particularly pleased that even more children will now be able to make the most of what the park has to offer. With the impressive fundraising efforts of the Mayor of Swanley, Shanker Gaire, and the hard work of local councillors, I am sure this will be only the first of many improvements.”
Swanley Town Council has committed to building an extension to the existing playground in Swanley Park which will provide disability friendly and sensory playground equipment. Cllr Gaire’s fundraising efforts are supporting this commitment and the council will shortly be inviting companies to submit bids and design ideas for the extension.
In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about helping young people to develop skills:
Last month, unemployment in Sevenoaks fell to its lowest recorded level. Even more encouragingly, the level of youth unemployment in my constituency is now just one percent, down by over three quarters since 2010.
I am always impressed by the students I meet when I visit schools in Sevenoaks. But academic achievement is only part of the story. To maintain this employment record, our young people need to be given the chance to develop the skills and experiences that it takes to succeed.
Opportunities like National Citizen Service (NCS) are the best way to do that. NCS has already enabled more than 200,000 teenagers, like those I’ve met from Sevenoaks, to take part in adventure challenges, skills development and social action.
Research has shown that nine out of ten participants find their experience worthwhile. But it doesn’t just benefit them. Getting involved is proven to make young people more likely to volunteer, more likely to vote, and more likely to be involved in their community.
Even on a smaller scale, opportunities like this can be found everywhere.
In June I visited Supajam, an innovative project in Swanley which is successfully helping teenagers who have struggled in formal education to learn about the music industry and through it to learn basic lessons in numeracy and literacy. Instead of an uncertain future, the vast majority move into further education, employment or training when they leave.
Earlier this month I joined Westerham Sea Cadets for one of their regular boating sessions on Chipstead Lake. The Sea Cadets offer practical training in the water and the confidence-building and self-esteem that comes with it, as well as valuable courses and certificates.
These opportunities are creating a new generation of well-rounded individuals with the skills they require to succeed. But they also have huge social benefits – strengthening our communities now and into the future.
Michael was welcomed to SupaJam in Swanley on Friday.
Founded by David Court and Nick Stillwell, SupaJam supports young people aged 16-19 from across the district of Sevenoaks who have fallen out of formal education. Currently supporting over 40 young people, the scheme will expand to support 90 in September.
Students work towards the accredited Music Business Diploma, supported by education in life skills and formal English and Maths qualifications. Seven out of every 10 young people who attend SupaJam move into further education, employment or training when they leave.
Michael spoke to students and tutors and observed lessons and activities. He was also given the opportunity to try his hand at the music technology used by the students.
Michael said: “SupaJam is doing great things in Swanley. Its remarkable record is turning lives around and helping young people to meet their potential. I look forward to working with David and Nick as they expand their ambition even further.”
On this day in his constituency, Michael also met representatives from the Electrical Contractors’ Association and local councillors.
Last May, I was honoured to be elected for the fifth time as your Member of Parliament.
Since the election, I have continued to work hard on behalf of all of my constituents. I hold two advice surgeries each month, as I have done consistently since 1997, and I regularly raise issues and concerns on your behalf. My Westminster office also deals with hundreds of emails and enquiries every week. I work closely with our county, district, town and parish councillors, as well as other organisations such as Kent Police, the Citizens Advice Bureau and West Kent Housing.
I remain closely involved in campaigns across Sevenoaks and Swanley. From fighting to save Hextable Dance Studio to defending Sevenoaks Hospital, I am proud to support my constituents and fight for our communities.
Supporting our local schools
I am a strong supporter of schools across my constituency. Since the election I have visited schools in Westerham, Sundridge, Swanley, Sevenoaks, and elsewhere to speak to pupils and answer their questions about my work as MP.
Winning our campaign to secure grammar school provision last October was probably my best ever day as your MP. This decision was long in coming but the priority now is to get this annexe built and open for local parents and pupils. My next goal is to secure grammar provision for boys and I am working on this.
Getting a better deal for commuters
Our ageing railways cause a huge amount of frustration for commuters and passen
gers. Disruption may be the price of the vital work at London Bridge – but passengers need to know why they are delayed and what is being done about it. I was concerned to learn on a recent train cab ride that drivers are often unable to inform passengers about ongoing disruption and slow running while their train is in operation. Making sure drivers and passengers have rapid, clear and sufficent information is essential. I will continue to raise these issues with Southeastern to make rail travel easier for my constituents.
Bringing Oyster to Sevenoaks was another promise I made at the general election. Rail passengers have waited long enough and I will be meeting the Rail Minister again shortly to push for a definite date.
Fighting for our NHS services
I am committed to our local NHS. We need to see more services in Sevenoaks, not fewer. That’s why I have continued to defend Sevenoaks Hospital against the threat of closure. The withdrawal of some clinics was concerning but I have secured assurances that these vital services will continue to be available for local people.
Protecting GP services is also important. There is a review of GP provision underway and I will ensure the views of local people are fully represented. The NHS is so much more than the big district hospitals like Pembury and Darent Valley; it works best where it is local and loved.
Boosting our local economy
In Sevenoaks and Swanley, our local economy is strong. Compared with 2010, there are 600 fewer people out of work, including 200 fewer young unemployed, and we have 600 more businesses. I see evidence of this progress on each of my regular constituency days. Since the election, I have visited businesses, shops and local sites throughout the constituency and I have more visits already planned for the next few months.
But there is still more to do to support our local economy. Broadband is a key issue that businesses and the Chamber of Commerce continue to raise with me. I have recently begun a fresh campaign to demand further action from BT. We need to make sure our local businesses and those who work from home have the broadband they need to thrive, wherever they are based.
Last Friday, Michael spent a busy day in Sevenoaks and Swanley. He visited Amherst School in the morning, answering pupils’ questions in a special assembly, before meeting local councillors in Swanley.
In the afternoon, he joined residents and staff of Gloucester House Nursing Home in Sevenoaks to celebrate its 25th anniversary celebrations.
Speaking about the visit, Michael said: “I was very pleased to help the staff and residents of Gloucester House to celebrate this anniversary. Speaking to the residents, it was clear that they have happy, fulfilled lives at the home thanks to its hardworking staff. That local, tailored approach is vital and we need to replicate it as much as possible.”
After speaking to residents, he travelled to Prime Place in the heart of Sevenoaks, where he joined the Mayor of Sevenoaks, Cllr Stephen Arnold, to open the new sales and marketing suite. Commenting on the opening, Michael said: “I first visited Prime Place, Sevenoaks last year, when it was little more than a building site. It’s a pleasure to see how much progress has been made and I look forward to seeing the completed development next year.”
Last Friday Michael visited Age Concern’s charity shop in the heart of Swanley. The recently-refurbished shop supports the work of Rural Age Concern Darent Valley.
Michael is a strong supporter of the charity’s services, which include the Cottage Day Centre in Fawkham.
Michael was met by Chief Officer Liam Curran, who showed him the state-of-the-art till system that has been introduced into the shop. They were joined by local district councillor Fay Parkin and some of the charity’s Trustees.
On his latest regular day in Sevenoaks and Swanley, Michael also visited local businesses and met Chief Inspector Roscoe Walford of Kent Police to receive an update on falling crime levels in the constituency.