One of my first duties as the newly re-elected MP, having sworn in on the day of the State Opening of Parliament, was to discuss the contents of the Queen’s Speech on BBC South East.
There are many great initiatives in the Queen’s Speech that will benefit our area, including extra investment in our transport, bills that champion equality, and a plan to protect our agricultural industry.
However, as many will have noted, there is one conspicuous exclusion: our election plan to scrap the current ban on building new grammar schools.
Having campaigned for so long for more grammar provision in Sevenoaks, I am disappointed that the current grammar school legislation will continue at least for the next two years. The constitution dictates that we must play the cards the electorate has dealt to us. So, with a minority Government, it is important that we put forward the best deal for Britain. That means amending slightly our manifesto commitments in the national interest to ensure they can be delivered in Parliament.
But rest assured, I remain committed to securing grammar provision here in Sevenoaks for boys, and we can do that without changing the law, by adding a boys’ annexe to the girls’ one at Wildernesse.
There is strong local demand for a boys’ grammar. Sevenoaks is the only area in Kent without a grammar school, and there is substantial pressure on local school places. Parents need more choice, and to travel back and forwards to Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells wastes time and money.
Later this year, I will be welcoming a young constituent and his class from Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys to Parliament. I will be delighted to welcome the new class of girls from our Sevenoaks grammar annexe, too, after they start in September.
Michael officially opened a new multi-purpose educational centre at The New Beacon preparatory school for boys on 26th May 2017.
He was invited to speak at the event by Headmaster Mike Piercy and was greeted by all the schoolboys and their parents outside the new Centre. Michael asked one of the boys from Reception to join him in cutting the ribbon and officially opening the new building.
Michael was then given a tour of the Centre, where the Headmaster revealed the results of an election poll he had taken with the schoolboys that put Michael and the Conservatives in the lead. This was followed by an hour-long Q&A session with the senior boys inside. Among many questions, the boys asked about Michael’s motivations to become an MP and his views on defence.
Michael said: ‘This is about you, the schoolboys, and the future generations. I’ve always supported this high-achieving prep-school and believe this new Centre will itself become a new beacon for other schools in our area to use.’
Michael joined school governors, local supporters and representatives from churches across Sevenoaks as he helped to open Trinity School’s new building last Friday.
After giving a reading in a service led by the Bishop of Rochester, he participated in a balloon release and helped to plant an olive tree in the school’s grounds.
Michael said: “I was very pleased to help to open Trinity School’s new building. This event was the culmination of many years of effort from local parents and volunteers and this excellent new building is the result of their work. School choice is expanding in Sevenoaks and I look forward to seeing Trinity going from strength to strength in the years to come.”
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.
Michael was given a fresh insight into Westerham’s strong community spirit on Friday. In a series of visits, he heard about local concerns and voiced support for the town’s businesses and initiatives.
Michael participated in an assembly at Churchill C of E Primary School and answered questions from pupils. He also heard about and endorsed the school’s ‘Traffic Watch’ scheme to reduce speeds on nearby roads.
He joined local residents and volunteers at the ‘Forget-me-not’ Memory Café at Westerham Congregational Church, which brings dementia sufferers and carers together once a month for conversation and companionship.
Visiting a number of small businesses, including Westerham Cyclery and Chartwell Apothecary, he discussed the state of the local economy and the impact of the changes to business rates announced in the Budget last Wednesday.
Michael said: “With innovative local businesses like Westerham Cyclery and its strong community atmosphere, I was pleased to see that Westerham is as vibrant as ever.
Abolishing business rates for small businesses and shops should be a big boost.”
Town Clerk Angela Howells said: “The Forget-me-not Café has been running for seven months and we were pleased that Mr Fallon was able to come and hear about the need that this initiative is meeting.”
On Friday, Michael was pleased to open a new kitchen at New Ash Green Primary School.
Michael met the school council and spoke to pupils in a school assembly, answering questions on a variety of local and national topics.
The school’s new kitchen was funded by £180,000 from the Government as part of the universal infant free schools meals programme. Work took place during the summer holidays and the kitchen is now in use. The meals have been well received by parents and pupils.
Michael also visited Horizon Primary Academy in Swanley, where he met pupils participating in their new Scouting initiative, and Hextable Primary School in Swanley, where he reviewed the school’s progress and recent expansion.
Michael said: “It was great to visit three excellent local schools. I very much enjoyed opening New Ash Green Primary School’s new kitchen; healthy school meals help pupils to achieve their best and I am pleased that Government funding made the difference. Horizon Primary Academy is to be congratulated on its scouting initiative and I will work to ensure that Hextable Primary School’s recent expansion is properly funded.”
For more information, please visit New Ash Green Primary School’s website.