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 Swanley 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.”
Michael has welcomed the new arrival of Westerham Brewery in Westerham at an official opening ceremony last week.
The return of the brewery to the town has been long-awaited but locals were finally able to explore the tap room and shop on Thursday (12). The brewery uses locally-sourced malt, hops and hard water that is highly rated for the brewing of ales such as the IPA for which Westerham was once famous.
Robert Wicks, the brewery owner, invited Michael to say a few words to mark the special occasion following a tour of the site for over 100 people.
Westerham is renowned within military circles for having provided troops posted in Normandy during the Second World War with ales. These ales were smuggled across the Channel in the empty auxiliary tanks of Spitfires from Biggin Hill.
‘I should think our servicemen and women aboard our new aircraft carriers would also appreciate being reminded of Westerham’s historic role in our military’, Michael joked.
Michael hopes the new development will increase the town’s tourism. He said: ‘Having benefitted directly from the regional investment programme I set up as Business Minister back in 2014, Westerham Brewery will strengthen not only the rural economy but also the character of the town.’
Michael has welcomed the news that DPD has withdrawn its planning application to build a delivery depot on the old Moorhouse Tileworks site near Westerham. The decision comes after he worked with residents and their representatives in the area to lobby against the move.
Michael said: “This is fantastic news. It is the result of the hard work of local councillors and campaigners in Westerham. With Sam Gyimah, MP for East Surrey, I have been clear that the application failed to address concerns about traffic and air quality. I welcome the developer’s decision to withdraw its plan.”
Michael joined residents in Westerham on Friday to protest against the application for the redevelopment of Moorhouse Tileworks.
Accompanied by local councillors, campaigners and Sam Gyimah, MP for East Surrey, Michael listened to concerns and reaffirmed his opposition to the application to build a major distribution depot on the site.
Michael has already written to Tandridge District Council to oppose the plans, which would increase the number of vehicles, including vans and HGVs, and negatively affect air quality and pedestrian safety in the Westerham area.
Michael said: “Like the last application, this plan fails to address concerns about traffic and air quality. It would have a significant impact on the lives of my constituents in Westerham and I was proud to join local residents to make our opposition clear. I urge the council not to approve this development.”
Mr Fallon spent the remainder of his day in the constituency attending a fundraising event for West Kent Mind and meeting local councillors to discuss development plans and the latest progress on securing grammar school provision for boys in Sevenoaks.
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 has welcomed the decision by Weald of Kent Grammar School not to exclude parts of his constituency from its 2017 admissions policy.
The announcement made last night means that areas such as Westerham, Crockham Hill and Brasted will all now be included in ‘Category A’ of the Oversubscription Criteria. The proposed changes, which were due to come into force in time for the opening of the new grammar school annexe in Sevenoaks, would have led to pupils from these areas having a lower chance of admission to the school. The school will next consult for the 2018 Admission Policy.
Michael raised his concerns with the school as part of the recent consultation process. He said: “This is the right decision by Weald of Kent. It is vital that the places at our new annexe go to local pupils. My constituents across Sevenoaks will now have access to a grammar school education for their children, regardless of where they live.”
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.
In his latest column for the Sevenoaks Chronicle, Michael has written about the challenge of dementia:
Dementia is one of the biggest challenges facing our country. There are an estimated 850,000 sufferers in the UK. In Sevenoaks there are almost 600. Dementia costs the economy £23 billion a year – more than the costs of cancer, heart disease or strokes.
It is a situation that is only going to become more serious. By 2040, the number of dementia sufferers is expected to double, with the costs predicted to treble.
I recently visited the Forget-me-not Memory Café run by local volunteers. Despite only starting in October last year, it already attracts dozens of dementia sufferers and their carers. They come for conversation, companionship and cake. My first question for them was “where did you go before this?” The answer of course was “nowhere”.
The Memory Café is bringing people together, many of whom would otherwise rarely leave their own homes. The problem is that these initiatives are few and far between.
We are making some progress. Since 2010, a 50 percent increase in our dementia diagnosis rate has made it the highest in the world. Local NHS organisations tell me that they are working positively with the voluntary sector. Fewer people with dementia now have to travel long distances to unfamiliar surroundings for treatment.
But there is still more to do to achieve the ambitious goal set in last year’s ‘Challenge on Dementia 2020’ for the UK to be the best country in the world for dementia care and support for sufferers, their carers and their families.
For too many people, there is still “nowhere”. But with initiatives like the Memory Café, we know how to start fighting the challenge of dementia. The priority now is to make sure we do it.
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.”
Sevenoaks MP Michael Fallon opened the new Chartwell Technology Centre in Edenbridge on Friday 24th July. This high-tech firm, established in Westerham in 2009, now employs 30 staff on environmental and security solutions for projects such as the Battersea Power station development, and has now taken on two full-time apprentices.
Michael said: “I’m delighted and proud to open these new premises. Chartwell is exactly the kind of growing high-tech company that we need here in Kent to create new, high value jobs. I wish Chartwell every success in winning new project work at home and abroad.”