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.
Michael showed his support for local businesses earlier this month with a visit to Sevenoaks town centre.
He met business owners on from high street shops and small businesses such as The Chinaman, Sevenoaks Bookshop, Barkers and Grace to talk about the busy lead up to Christmas and their efforts to attract customers. He was joined by Sevenoaks District Council Leader, Cllr Peter Fleming and Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Cllr Roddy Hogarth.
Michael said: “I was pleased to visit these thriving local businesses at such a busy time of the year. They really are the lifeblood of Sevenoaks’ economy and this was an excellent opportunity to hear about their latest progress.”
Michael has welcomed the Government’s decision to support a new runway at Heathrow.
Michael said: “This is the right decision. Airport expansion will boost our economy, showing that Britain is open for business. With its links to every part of the country, expanding Heathrow will provide the extra capacity and choice we need.”
In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the need to protect the Green Belt:
Like many in Sevenoaks, I was concerned by the suggestion that our district council is considering allowing swathes of new housing on the 300 sites that were submitted earlier this year for possible development, including many on Green Belt land.
While more homes are needed to cope with a rising population, the idea that 12,400 new sites in the District would be developed by 2035 led to understandable alarm. We love our town and villages with the beautiful countryside that surrounds them. The large amount of Green Belt land in this area is one of the many things that makes my constituency one of the nicest places to live in the country.
But it is important to remember that this number is merely an initial target, calculated using national figures without accounting for local constraints.
It is vital therefore that the council undertakes a proper, methodical process to develop its plan. If its plan isn’t sound, unwanted development could run rife, with applications governed by national policies, not local priorities.
We need to get this right. But I am confident the council’s work will demonstrate that the constraints presented by our large areas of Green Belt and AONB make it impossible for so many houses to be built.
We also need to ensure that this process stands up to local scrutiny so that people can have confidence in the final plan. The public consultation that will take place next year must not merely pay lip service to the legitimate concerns of local residents.
Of course we need some more housing. But there are still many brownfield sites awaiting development and any development needs to respect our local priorities and the characteristics that make our town what it is.
At the general election last year, I promised the people of Sevenoaks that I would fight to protect the Green Belt from inappropriate development. I intend to keep that promise.
Michael welcomed figures released this week showing that tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Sevenoaks and Swanley are now able to benefit from superfast broadband coverage.
The Government and local authorities are investing £1.7 billion to bring superfast broadband to as many people as possible across the UK. The Kent element of the national programme has been allocated over £17 million.
In the Sevenoaks constituency, this will ensure that 14,726 premises will benefit from superfast coverage by June 2017, of which 11,724 have now received coverage. This is in addition to the 23,584 premises that have received it under the commercial programme.
In the three months to June specifically, 1,769 premises across the constituency have gained coverage.
Michael said: “I welcome that the Government’s commitment to superfast broadband expansion is continuing to benefit people across my constituency. It is crucial to keeping our local economy growing and will make life easier, cheaper and faster. I will continue to advocate further expansion over the coming years.”
Michael welcomed new figures showing that 60 people have started their own business after being helped off benefits in his Sevenoaks constituency, with the support of the Government’s New Enterprise Allowance.
Since its introduction in April 2011, the allowance has helped 73,000 people on out of work benefits across the country to set up their own businesses. Individuals are supported by a business mentor and receive 26 weeks of financial support.
Michael said: “It is excellent news that so many people in my constituency have not only left a life on benefits, but have also started to make such a positive contribution to our economic success. This is the latest example of the Government supporting those who want to work. I wish all those who have been helped by the New Enterprise Allowance every success.”
Speaking in support of local businesses at the setting for the final of the British Touring Car Championships held at Brands Hatch from 10-13th October Michael said: “The Business is Great Britain campaign, which launched last year, now provides a comprehensive website that makes it easier for small businesses to access the support that will help them grow through exporting, hiring and business planning. They will also be able to see how services such as those offered through UK Trade & Investment, Growth Accelerator and the National Apprenticeship Service can help their business to grow.”
“Alongside this campaign the Government has unveiled a range of new support this year for small businesses. It has:
Introduced a new Employment Allowance which will put up to £2,000 back into your business: 450,000 small businesses will pay no national insurance at all;
boosted the number of apprenticeships to 1.8m since 2010 and driven up the quality of training every apprentice receives. Grants are now offered of up to £1,500 to support firms that hire an apprentice;
Developed Growth Vouchers to help business owners to find and pay for strategic advice to grow their businesses;
Introduced a new range of measures to make it easier for people to run a business from home, from updated planning guidance to clearer business rates;
Made it easier to access finance. New Start-up loans have been offered to over 20,-000 businesses and £100m has been drawn down;
Helped thousands of businesses to break into new markets, with local support from UKTI’s international trade advisors.”
“This already builds on the significant progress which has been made int he last four years. This includes:
Targeting 3,000 rules to be scrapped or amended – this is the first Government in modern history to reduce the overall amount of regulation, saving businesses over £1.2 billion;
Extending small business rate relief until 2015. This is saving £ millions for small businesses;
Introducing the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme, R&D tax credits and Annual Investment Allowance;
Establishing the British Business Bank – through their finance programmes £782m of additional lending and investment is available to smaller businesses
Cutting corporation tax to 20 per cent, making the UK tax system one of the most competitive int he world, the joint lowest in the G20.”
He also welcomed Bill Fox, MD for Kent Business Academy which offers help to businesses looking to improve and grow, Darryl Eales, Advisory Chairman for Lloyds Development Company, Guy Townley from the Intellectual Property Office, Alan Gow, Series Director for BTCC and Nick Kelly, MD of AFIA Ltd who has secured £125,000 from the Escalate fund to help it grow his mobility equipment business.
Speaking at Sevenoaks & District Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Business event at St Julian’s, Underriver on Thursday 5th June, local MP and business Minister Michael Fallon said: “Unemployment in Sevenoaks has fallen substantially since the last General Election. The number claiming Job Seekers Allowance has fallen from 1,074 in May 2010 to 675 in April 2014 – a drop of 37 per cent. There are now a record 4,720 businesses registered for VAT in the Sevenoaks area. Local firms have created 1,640 apprenticeships since the last election, over 500 of them last year. There are still challenges, and the government has announced new plans to improve lending to small firms and to help them win a bigger share of public sector contracts. But Sevenoaks business is on a roll.”