Last month the Herald published a small and innocuous article, with the heading “Response due on Wantage-Didcot name change plan”. The headline did not quite give the full detail and nor, more unfortunately, did the opening paragraph – “a response to an application to rename Wantage-Didcot is set to be published in the next three months”. Even more unfortunately, I was quoted in the article.
Taking the title and opening paragraph of this article alone, such a response would be entirely justified. The idea of renaming Wantage as Didcot, or indeed Didcot as Wantage, would be nonsensical, barmy and insane. However, I would like to reassure you all that such a change has never been considered. Didcot and Wantage are two entirely wonderful, but separate, towns with their own distinct identities - including names - and this will most certainly continue indefinitely.
What is being proposed, as the rest of the article makes clear, is changing the name of the Parliamentary constituency from ‘Wantage’ to ‘Didcot and Wantage’ as part of a UK-wide boundary review by the Boundary Commission for England. This review is examining the boundaries of existing constituencies and will make recommendations for any changes that might be needed to make sure constituencies comply with legal requirements.
Great Repeal Bill
I have been receiving a lot of correspondence recently on the EU Withdrawal Bill, otherwise known as the Great Repeal Bill.
While I support the Bill at second reading, it is on the basis that it is improved upon in the committee stage. There has been much discussion around the so-called ‘Henry VIII’ powers that will give ministers the power to change or update EU laws without putting changes before Parliament. On a practical level this measure is sensible, as putting every change before Parliament would be an impossible task due to the volume of legislation. However, I feel that the proposed powers go beyond what is reasonable for the Government to achieve its stated aims. To this end I have put my name to three amendments, all designed to ensure that the powers given to ministers are proportionate and strictly focused on achieving the policy objective.
Last month it was a pleasure to meet the team at Immunocore, in Milton Park. Immunocore is one of the UK’s fastest growing life science companies and an industry leader in the research and development of cancer treatments using T-cell receptors.
I am immensely proud that our constituency homes some of the very best scientific researcher and engineers. As well as the brilliant organizations working collaboratively at Milton Park, we have over £1billion of world-leading research infrastructure at Harwell Campus - home to around 200 science and research organizations and 5000 of the UK’s most innovative minds.
Additionally, last month I also caught up with Sovereign – one of the main social housing providers in the constituency – and with Oxfordshire County Council to discuss a range of infrastructure projects.
Political Studies Association Video Competition
Are you or a family member an A-level student interested in politics? The Political Studies Association are asking students aged 16+ to enter their video competition on the subject "Fake news: Is this the end of facts?" Groups of students are invited to submit short videos on this subject, examining what fake news is, what effect it may be having on the political landscape and what it means for expert opinion and ‘factual’ knowledge.
The PSA exists to develop and promote the study of politics and it has never been more important to engage young people with politics and citizenship. This competition is a unique opportunity for A-level students to add their voice to an important discussion and more details can be found here: www.psa.ac.uk
Countryside Alliance Awards
Nominations are now open for the Countryside Alliance Awards – nicknamed the ‘Rural Oscars’. They celebrate people going the extra mile to ensure that rural Britain’s food and farming industry, small businesses, traditional skills and forward-thinking enterprises can flourish. Our constituency is home to a whole host of brilliant community champions, so please get involved and nominate at the following address: /www.countryside-alliance.org
This month’s mailbag
This month I have received 485 items of correspondence (emails and letters) from constituents. Subjects raised with me included Brexit, Universal Credit and energy bills.
With regards to Universal Credit, this is a major reform that will transform the welfare state in Britain. At the heart of Universal Credit is a belief that work should always pay. Under the new system, benefit will be withdrawn gradually as claimants start work or increase their earnings, meaning their total income always goes up.
Rightly for a programme of this scale, the priority continues to be its safe and secure delivery. The controlled expansion of Universal Credit started in April 2013 and I am pleased that significant progress has been made to date. Universal Credit is now available for single claimants in every jobcentre in the country.
I am delighted that Housing Minister Alok Sharma has announced a £6.2 million government cash award for South Oxfordshire District Council. This will accelerate delivery of Didcot’s much needed Northern Perimeter Road, a vital piece of local infrastructure and key to the success of Didcot Garden Town. The infrastructure investment promises to boost economic growth across the Science Vale and enterprise zone, increasing employment by 20,000 over the next 20 years.
Didcot Garden Town’s delivery plan sets out a vision for the development of high quality housing and the transformation of the local area. Good design is at the heart of the plan, prioritising high quality public and green spaces. In keeping with its location at the heart of Oxfordshire’s Science Vale, cutting-edge technology will underpin and enable development.
I am pleased that the ‘Better Broadband for Oxfordshire’ programme is on course to achieve above 95 per cent coverage across Oxfordshire. This places the county in the top quartile of counties in the UK. Since its launch, this £38 million collaboration between Oxfordshire County Council, Government, BT and local councils has provided 72,309 homes and businesses with access to broadband with a speed of over 24Mbps. Some 488 new fibre broadband cabinets have been installed and a total of 460km of fibre laid.
In June there was an additional £4 million boost to the programme. This will provide an additional 3,000 of the most remote households and businesses with access to super-fast broadband. In addition to the £4 million, a separate fund of up to £600,000 from programme efficiency savings has been set aside for co-funding projects where communities are willing to share the costs of the installation work. Under the scheme, the council will contribute up to £1,700 per premise.
HLF funding for WWI projects
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) helps people across the UK to explore, enjoy and protect the heritage they care about. In Wantage alone, more than £6.7 million of National Lottery money has been invested in over 65 local heritage projects since 1994.
HLF is now encouraging people in Oxfordshire to apply for grants between £3,000 and £10,000 to undertake projects exploring the impact and legacy of the First World War beyond 1918.
Just like many towns and cities across the UK, the area we live in today was shaped by the First World War. For instance, as I am sure many of you will be aware, the army’s Central Ordnance Depot was built on the site of what is now Milton Park. During the war, some seven million rounds of ammunition were sent to the Western Front from Didcot.
I strongly encourage local people to make use of the money available from HLF to explore its legacy further. More info can be found at: www.hlf.org.uk/firstworldwar
Oxfordshire LEADER programme
As you may have read in local newspapers, £100,000 has been made available through the Oxfordshire LEADER programme. Farmers, foresters, businesses and community groups, in rural parts of the county, can apply for projects up to £100,000 that support their local community. In exceptional circumstances, they may qualify for even more financial support.
Applications are open until March 2019. For more information on the programme please email Sophie Milton (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone 01235 422245.
Business and Community Awards (BACAs) nominations
Do you know a business, charity or community group that deserves some recognition for all they do in your local area?
Didcot First, has launched their annual Business and Community Awards (BACAs) and would like you to nominate an organisation for all the excellent work they do. The awards are open to businesses, charities and community groups based in Culham Science Park, Harwell Campus, Milton Park as well as villages that surround the Didcot area.
To find out the areas the awards cover and to make your nominations by 30 September, please visit: www.didcotfirst.org.uk
In the constituency recently, I have met with GARD a local pressure group campaigning against the proposed reservoir at Steventon. I have also met with SUDEP, a local charity of which I am President, which campaigns to prevent sudden deaths in epilepsy. I have also met local GPs at their surgeries, including Wantage, Shrivenham and Faringdon, to discuss their concerns.
This month’s mailbag
This month I have received 185 items of correspondence (emails and letters) from constituents. Subjects raised with me included the Brexit, factory farming and the protection of pubs.
With regards to the protection of pubs, through the Asset of Community Value scheme, communities can list facilities of local importance, such as pubs. This means that if a pub owner wishes to sell, the community has six months to come up with a plan and funding in order to try to save it. I am glad that there are now around 2,000 pubs across England listed as assets of community value.
Many pubs have also benefited from the Government's package on business rates for small businesses. The Spring Budget also provided a £1,000 discount on business rates bills in 2017 for pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000 - 90 per cent of pubs in England.
Regarding the A34, as many of you will know, I initially brought the issue to Parliament by securing a Westminster Hall debate last October. This resulted in a commitment from the Roads Minister to commission a safety review. This was followed in November by the Chancellor confirming £50 million for the area as part of the 2015-20 Road Investment Strategy.
Highways England presented a first draft of the safety review in April this year. While statistically this proved that the A34 was no more dangerous than other roads, it did acknowledge the particular issues on the stretch by East Ilsley. It also recognised the huge economic impact caused by hold ups and collisions, given the increasing importance of the road as a major north-south transport link.
Addtionally, last week Communities Secretary Sajid Javid pledged more than £9 million of Government funding to a major upgrade to the A34. Two new south-facing slip roads at the Lodge Hill Interchange will help end years of congestion and pave the way for up to 1,700 new homes in Abingdon.
Oxfordshire MPs will now meet with Highways England in the coming weeks on completion of the safety review and I look forward to working with stakeholders to implement the results.
This month, I began a campaign to urge the government to retain our membership of Euratom after we leave the European Union. Euratom is a sixty year old treaty that allows the UK to trade freely with its European partners in the nuclear industry. It’s vital for our local area, as hundreds of millions of pounds, and many thousands of jobs, are centred around Culham, the home of nuclear fusion research.
Since the start of the campaign, this issue has grown in prominence. I am pleased that the case for remaining in Euratom is increasingly gaining support from across parties and from prominent voices outside of Westminster too. Retaining membership will best serve the national interest – as has been unequivocally stated by representatives of the UK nuclear industry – and I hope that ministers are listening to the genuine concerns being raised.
This month, Oxfordshire County Council placed third in the country for tackling anti-LGBT bullying in schools in Stonewall’s ‘Education Equality Index 2017’. The council has developed nationally recognised strategies to tackle anti-LGBT bullying and has a huge array of online resources and guidance for schools and young people. Stonewall – Britain’s foremost lesbian, gay, bi and trans equality charity – paid tribute to the progress made in our local area and I am proud that our schools are at the forefront of addressing this issue.
Adult Social Care
Figures released this month have shown that adult social care services on Oxfordshire are outperforming the national average. Of the 231 care service providers in the county, 84 per cent have been rated as ‘outstanding’ or ‘good’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) compared to 76 per cent across the country. Previously under-performing homes are improving also and these statistics show that, across the board, older people and those with learning disabilities are receiving a higher than average level of care in our local area.
It is great to see that a number of ‘smart transport’ initiatives in the county have been progressing recently. One such example, the DRIVEN consortium, has been awarded £8.6 million by Innovate UK, with £450,000 of this money especially for Oxfordshire. The project will see a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles deployed in urban areas and on motorways, with an aim of an end-to-end journey from London to Oxford by the end of 2019. Oxfordshire has long been at the forefront of a number of technological areas – for instance the nuclear research centre at Culham - and this is will prove a positive step towards becoming leaders in another future industry.
Commencing next month, Vale of White Horse District Council will be offering two grant schemes worth a total of £175,000 to support the local community. The Capital Grants scheme and New Homes Bonus community grant scheme opens on 20 August and will run until 15 October for people to apply. Workshops to give guidance on the grants and help people to apply for them will be offered 4-6pm on 8 August in Abingdon, 10 August in Faringdon and 15 August in Wantage. You can book a place on an advice session by calling the district council on 01235 422644 or by emailing email@example.com.
This Month’s Mailbag
This month I have received 355 items of correspondence (emails and letters) from constituents. Subjects raised with me included the public sector pay cap, fire safety and the environment after Brexit.
With regards to the environment, the Government is committed to being the UK’s greenest ever. Carbon emissions have fallen by 6 percent since 2010 contributing to a 27 per cent reduction since 1990. Britain's share of electricity generated from renewables has doubled since 2009 and Ministers are determined to ensure we become a world leader in the new green economy.
EU environmental regulation will remain in place until the UK formally leaves the EU. The Government will work with our EU neighbours, environmental organisations and the public to develop the new arrangements. The Secretary of State will shortly launch a consultation that will give environmentalists and others the chance to share their views and ambitions for the future.
|Didcot Garden Town|
In March an incident took place in Westminster that we all hoped would never happen. An act of vicious terrorism by a deranged individual attempted to impede our democracy and sadly led to the loss of multiple lives and injuries to many more. My sincerest condolences go out to each of the victims and their families. My team and I also offer our deepest gratitude to the police officers and security teams who keep us safe in Parliament on a daily basis. Their bravery and professionalism must never be taken for granted. PC Keith Palmer lost his life protecting MPs and their staff and his actions will never be forgotten.
Triggering of Article 50
This week saw the Government invoke Article 50 and formally begin the UK’s process of withdrawing from the European Union. Over the next two years, the Government will now be tasked with negotiating a positive new partnership with the EU’s remaining member states. The Prime Minister has made clear that she will attempt to deliver an outcome that works in the interests of the whole of the UK and will not ignore those who voted to ‘Remain’. MPs will be able to debate, scrutinise and vote on important negotiating decisions and I will make sure that the voices of the constituency are heard throughout.
In the 1940s film “Magic Town”, the owner of a company which performs consumer surveys lacks the funds to compete with its larger rivals in the field. Instead, he comes across a small town which he believes is perfectly representative of the nation’s views and uses it to conduct his research. This month, the team at ASI Data Science used modern data science methods to establish an English “Magic Town” - an area that is most representative of the whole country. Their verdict? Our very own Didcot! Of course, we have always known that Didcot is indeed a “Magic Town”, but it is great to see it finally get the official recognition it deserves!
Strategic Cycle Network for Oxfordshire
This month, the Oxfordshire Cycling Network has launched its vision of a future Strategic Cycle Network for Oxfordshire - a county-wide ‘all ages, all abilities’ cycle network linking major towns, workplaces and transport hubs with safe, direct and attractive routes. The 366-mile network could cost £120m and take 15 to 20 years to build, but it would bring transport and health benefits of worth at least 7 times that in the 20 year period alone. More information can be found here.
New £1 Coin
A new, highly secure, 12-sided £1 coin has now entered into circulation to replace the current coin which was introduced over thirty years ago. This coin has, more recently, become vulnerable to sophisticated counterfeiters at a major cost to businesses and taxpayers. Research suggests that there are over £400 million worth of £1 coins sitting unused in peoples’ homes across the UK. The existing coin will lose its legal tender status on 15 October 2017 so get digging down the sides of those sofas!
This Month’s Mailbag
This month I have received 699 items of correspondence (emails and letters) from constituents. Subjects raised with me included Article 50, the refugee crisis and the protection of ancient woodland.
With regards to protecting veteran trees, the recent Housing White Paper proposed upgrading their protection to the same level as the green belt. Over 11 million trees were planted in the last Parliament and there is a pledge to plant a further 11 million in this one – a rate of expansion not seen since the fourteenth century. Ministers want to protect and enhance our woodland habitats and I fully support this objective.
March saw the final Spring Budget as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, announced a few months ago that future budgets will be delivered in the autumn.
Within the budget there were announcements to freeze fuel duty for the seventh successive year, an increase in the national living wage to £7.50, a rise in the personal allowance to £11,500, £2 billion more for social care over the next three years, and £100 million for A&E departments to help them better manage demand ahead of the next winter.
I was especially pleased to see that the Chancellor announced an extra £270 million for Research and Development, which is an important boost to our local and national economy. The Chancellor also announced new T-levels for 16-19-year-old technical students from autumn 2019, an area of education that our constituency is leading in. £200 million was also announced to further support the roll out of broadband, along with £16 million for a national 5G Innovation Network to trial the new technology.
The beginning of last month saw my second public meeting on Brexit, in Didcot. I was pleased with the number of people who attended and a good discussion was had. The views that were expressed will feed into my thoughts and what I raise with Government Ministers after Article 50 is invoked and we begin the process of withdrawing from the EU.
As well as my public meetings I also contributed to the third reading of the Parliament Bill to give the Government authorisation to invoke Article 50, which you can read here.
The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service
The award, dubbed the “MBE for voluntary groups”, is currently open for nominations. The Queens Award for Voluntary Service is awarded annually, and currently there is a maximum of 200 awards per year. Any member of the public can nominate a group of volunteers for the award by completing the online form here.
Apprenticeship Levy Survey
I have been contacted by a local company who is running a survey on the Apprenticeship Levy that will come into effect on 6th April. The idea of this survey is to further understand how it will affect firms in Oxfordshire, what employers need, and crucially what it might mean for apprenticeship growth. You can undertake the survey here, which closes on 6th March.
Local Pub achieves Top 10 ranking in 100 Best Companies to Work for 2017
Congratulations to Oakman Inns and Restaurants, operators of the Old Post Office in Wallingford, as their exceptional staff policies and human resources record got them to the eight position in the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies Awards 2017. The list of other winners is here.
In the News
Speaking on the decision to leave Euratom during the debate on invoking Article 50, here.
Pledging my support for a new campaign to raise awareness and funding for primary bone cancer, here.
Meeting students from Didcot Sixth Form College, here.
Being praised for my sideburns, here.
This Month’s Mailbag
This month I have received 423 items of correspondence (emails and letters) from constituents. Subjects raised with me included the future of adult social care, compulsory sex education, and issues coming up in the coming budget such as beer duty and fuel duty.
With regard to fuel duty, I know that this is an issue of great concern to my constituents, and that fuel duty remains a significant part of business and household costs. During the Autumn Statement in November the Chancellor announced that fuel duty would remain frozen for a seventh year, which saves the average driver £130 a year. I am looking forward to further announcements in this area in the budget.
20th January saw my first public meeting to discuss Brexit. This one was held at The Beacon in Wantage. The meeting proved to be a lively discussion, with representatives on both sides of the debate airing their opinions.
There will be a second public meeting on Brexit on Friday 3rd February from 19:00 to 21:00, held at Didcot Civic Hall. I look forward to seeing many of you there.
NHS Fertility Services Debate
This month I hosted a cross-party debate on decommissioning of NHS fertility services alongside Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake and Labour MP Stephen McCabe. Following the debate, the Minister for Public Health, Nicola Blackwood, stated that she would tell NHS England that the Government expects all clinical commissioning groups to provide the recommended three cycles of treatment. The debate can be read here, and watched here.
Rail Improvements Meeting
This week I organised a meeting for a consortium of MP’s, high level Local Authority officers and Local Enterprise Partnerships from Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Swindon.
The new rail link between Cambridge and Oxford will provide a vital economic corridor between two of the most vibrant parts of Britain and the purpose of the meeting was to discuss proposals to extend that link through Wantage/Grove, Swindon and Wiltshire, to provide vital connectivity between Bristol, Swindon and Oxford.
Pushing the Clinical Commissioning Group for Action
Earlier this month I met with the CEO of Oxfordshire CCG, David Smith, to seek clarity on the priorities of the Oxfordshire Healthcare Transformation Consultation and its implications for residents of my constituency. The first phase of the consultation opened this month, and is due to conclude in April, and you can take part here.
I intend to have regular meetings with both the CCG and Oxford Health to keep on top of these consultations and would urge everyone to take part. I also raised the issue of capital funding for the expansion of GP’s surgeries in both Wantage and Faringdon, and offered to help lobby the Department of Health and the NHS during the next round of bidding.
Wantage, Grove and District Health Survey
Wantage Town Council has set up a Health Survey to further understand what the community wants and needs. You can undertake this survey here, and it will be open until 17th February 2017.
Half Term Activities at the Vale and Downland Museum
On Tuesday 14th February 2017 the Vale and Downland Museum in Wantage will be running a whole day of half term activities for all the family focused around the Stone Age.
In the News
In my Herald column I discussed the challenges facing our local health services, here.
Receiving assurances from the Chancellor that funds to improve the A34 have been allocated, here.
Fighting for better IVF services in the constituency, here.
Pledging to help Wantage Health Centre get expansion funding, here.
Writing about the challenges facing the advertising industry during Brexit, here.
This Month’s Mailbag
This month I have received 452 items of correspondence (emails and letters) from constituents. Subjects raised with me included Donald Trump, Article 50, withdrawal from Euratom.
With regard to the proposed withdrawal from Euratom, Nuclear research is important not just to the future energy needs of the country, but nuclear research also provides vital jobs in my constituency – and in many cases are supported by direct funding from Euratom. The Government maintains that it has to withdraw from Euratom because it is an EU institution. I regret this, though I take some comfort in the fact that the Government has indicated that it intends to seek a deal whereby the UK can continue to participate in European projects that support civil nuclear energy.
I have raised this issue with Ministers, and am seeking a meeting to discuss this matter further and ensure that the vital work at Culham continues.
As this is my first Parish News of the New Year, may I wish you Happy New Year and hope that you had a wonderful Christmas and got to spend time with your families and loved ones.
2017 has arrived with quite a full in-tray for me as your local MP. Issues such as the congestion on the A34, the continued campaign to re-open Grove station, my campaign to secure better fertility treatment for people in Oxfordshire, and the need to secure continued investment in science and technology post-Brexit will take centre stage. The early months of this year will see us take the formal step to begin leaving the European Union, an issue that will dominate the agenda in the House of Commons.
One of the issues I am most contacted about is local health services, and I share many of the concerns my constituents have raised about the ongoing review, known as the Sustainability and Transformation Plan. I am very unhappy with how the process is being undertaken, and the constant delays to publishing anything meaningful is having a severe impact on local services. Prior to Christmas two GP practices failed in a bid to secure funding to expand their premises to cater for growing populations.
This situation is becoming very urgent, and I will be meeting local NHS chiefs early in the New Year to try and get from them a clear timeline for the STP, so that we can all have a say in how our health services are developed. I am also seeking meetings with health ministers to discuss the failed capital bids for GP surgeries so I can understand why they were turned down so we can have greater success in the future.
In January I will be also co-hosting a debate in Parliament on the provision of IVF treatment. This is an area that I have campaigned on for some time, and I am frequently contacted by constituents who are having difficulty funding fertility treatment. I fear that this area is seen as a treatment that local health services can easily cut and reduce. I will be making Ministers aware of my concerns, and hope they take some action to further protect this important service.
January also saw my first public meeting on Brexit, held at the Beacon in Wantage at 18:30 on Friday 20 January. I will be holding a second meeting from 19:00 on Friday 03 February at Didcot Civic Hall. I am looking forward to meeting many of you at these events and hearing your views on Brexit.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any pressing issues that you would like help with. Either myself or one of my team will get back to you as soon as possible and do what we can to assist.
A quick reminder that I will be holding a public meeting this week to discuss Brexit.
It will be held between 18:30 and 20:30 on Friday 20th January at The Beacon in Wantage.
If you are not able to attend this meeting, there will be a second public meeting between 19:00 and 21:00 on Friday 3rd February at Didcot Civic Hall.
I would like to invite you to attend one, or both, of these meetings so I can hear your views on Brexit and answer any questions you may have.
I look forward to seeing you.