Swanley Business Expo

I was delighted to this week attend the Swanley Business Expo, a joint initiative between Swanley Town Council and Sevenoaks and District Chambers of Commerce to promote local businesses in the area.

Small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of our economy: they pump money into the local economy, creating jobs and community supply chains.

It was a real privilege to meet so many exciting small businesses in Swanley – a place far more than a commuter town. I look forward very much to hearing about their successes in the future.

 

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.”

MP Demands Transport Secretary’s Assurance

Michael has demanded the Transport Secretary’s assurance that the new Thameslink fast service will be delivered in full, following fresh fears that the future express service would be delayed “indefinitely”.

The new link – to run from Maidstone East through Swanley and Otford to the City – was set to begin at the end of this year.  But the start date was postponed until at least December 2019.

Worse still, the Sevenoaks MP discovered that the tendering documents for the new South East franchise operator asked for a cost analysis of the “indefinite” delay of the service.

He warned that this spelled bad news for families and businesses in his constituency and requested an immediate meeting with the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, which was granted.

Following the meeting, Michael said: “The Transport Secretary has committed to investigating why this paragraph was included in the Invitation to Tender.  He has also undertaken to provide further reassurance that the fast service will commence in December 2019 and will not be further postponed.”

Fresh Doubts over Thameslink Fast Service

Michael will meet Transport Secretary Chris Grayling next Tuesday after expressing fresh doubts over the deliverability of the delayed Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East yesterday morning.

During an interview on BBC Radio Kent, the Sevenoaks MP revealed he was “horrified” to learn that the Invitation to Tender document for the new South Eastern rail franchise outlines a hypothetical plan to delay the service “indefinitely”.

He said: “I’m now seriously beginning to wonder if this service will ever be delivered”.

The fast service was due to start in December 2018, but has been delayed until 2019 to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, according to the government.

Michael: “This is bad news for people in Maidstone East, but this also affects Otford and Swanley, because families, businesses, everyone has been looking forward to these regular express services to London for a long time.

My constituents in Sevenoaks have fast services to London through Southeastern.  The Thameslink trains from Maidstone East would balance the level of service in my constituency: that’s what we were promised, and that’s what we’re going to insist on.”

The Sevenoaks MP went on to say that while rail timetabling is “complicated”, local stakeholders “should at least insist that we have an hourly service, which would help reduce some of the peak capacity issues”.

Michael has lead the campaign to deliver the new Thameslink fast service in Kent.  He recently said the Transport Secretary’s decision to postpone the service betrays Kent commuters.

Kent MPs Signal Concerns to New Rail Minister

Michael has today (12) organised a letter to the new Rail Minister signalling concerns about the postponed new Thameslink fast service, which has been signed by four other Kent MPs also affected by the delays.

Following his representations to Govia Thameslink Railway about his alternative phased proposals earlier in the week, the Sevenoaks MP took the opportunity to put the issue on the new Rail Minister’s radar.  It is the first time the local MP has took charge of a county-wide campaign since returning to the backbenches in November last year.

The letter reads: “Many families and businesses have made long-term plans on the basis of this service starting in 2018.  Our constituents are therefore concerned that the services could be postponed further still, beyond 2019.

We are extremely disappointed at this situation, which has been taken without consultation, and would appreciate your time to discuss alternative phased proposals as soon as possible.

It is vital that the new plans avoid punishing businesses and commuters in our constituencies who have anticipated and planned for the introduction of this new service now for over four years.”

Click here to read the letter in full:      Page 1    Page 2

Michael at Royal Opening in Swanley

Michael helped officially open the new Swanley Citizens Advice in Swanley Shopping Centre with HRH The Princess Royal this month.

Citizens Advice is an independent charity that provides free, confidential and impartial advice and information for those who need it.  Its trained volunteers help with drafting letters, advocacy and preparation for tribunals.

As Patron of Citizens Advice since 1990, HRH The Princess Royal greeted volunteers and spoke to Michael about the importance of developing strong working relationships between MPs and Citizens Advice.

Welcoming HRH The Princess Royal’s comments, the local MP said: “Citizens Advice is essential to my work.  Its advisers are experts who are trained to deal with very difficult cases, so I am pleased that locally we have such a good relationship and look forward to our continued collaboration.”

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.”

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.”

Fast-Service Delay ‘Not Good Enough’

Michael has pressed the government for answers following news that the new Thameslink fast service from Maidstone East, Otford and Swanley to London due to start from December 2018 has now been postponed until at least December 2019.

The local MP submitted a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Rail Minister about the matter.  The Rail Minister answered the questions last week, writing:

“Learning lessons from previous major changes and to enable the industry to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from too much change on the network at any one time, the Secretary of State for Transport asked Govia Thameslink Railway (GTR) to propose options to reduce the risk of disruption to passengers from the introduction of the Thameslink timetable and operational changes. GTR’s proposal increases the number of services through central London more gradually than had been planned, beginning in May 2018 and ending in December 2019.

The changes have been selected as the best option to benefit the most passengers across the wider south east network. The new Thameslink services from Maidstone East will now be delivered in December 2019.”

Michael has also written to the Transport Secretary for an explanation, demanding he provide reasons for not having consulted on proposals before having taken the decision.

Before writing to the Transport Secretary, Michael was informed by GTR that the decision had been taken by the Department for Transport.

Michael said: “This is not good enough.  We need confirmation that operators will still achieve full capacity on this route, as planned, in 2018.  I await the Transport Secretary’s explanation for not having consulted with stakeholders before taking this decision.”

‘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.”