Firstly, may I take this opportunity to wish you and your family a happy Christmas.
The parliamentary autumn session is always the longest without a full week or so set aside in the middle for MPs to spend in the constituency. This session is now drawing to a close as Parliament stumbles towards the year’s conclusion at the end of this week. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the workload is diminishing
One key guest this week – who due to clashing diaries and a late-arriving train meant our paths wholly failed to cross – was Judith Mills, who had been nominated as a ‘Heat Hero’. Her citation reads thus:
“Judith Mills has been an influential advocate for Affordable Warmth initiatives for many years. It is because of her personal commitment, foresight and influence that many of Blackpool’s most vulnerable residents are able to keep warm and well through the winter. Her consistent & unwavering support has meant that the Winter Warmth offer in Blackpool is viewed as an exemplar of good practice both nationally and in Europe. She has been integral to the development of the service and thoroughly deserves to be recognized and thanked for all her hard work”.
I think we all realise the importance of keeping our homes warm at this time of year, and any cursory inspection of energy bills shows they only ever seem to go in one direction. I could recite the various steps we have taken (quadrupling Cold Weather Payments, trying to ensure people are on the lowest possible tariff etc) but I might be accused of passing political comment. Suffice to say, I think there is more to be done. The era when there were plenty of homes still needing basic insulation, for example, is coming to an end, so the Green Deal we’re introducing will have to focus on higher-spec interventions. We also need the energy companies to do more still – bills are becoming simpler to understand. We can now see how much of what we pay is subsidising renewable energy, for example. But switching providers is still not as simple as it could be, especially for those without internet access, and that can still make a real difference to the bottom line on the bill.
I was also able to fulfil a few other useful meetings – lobbying Visit Britain, the body that promotes Britain overseas, to shed some attention on Blackpool and the Fylde Coast in a bid to get more overseas visitors, as well as listening to their concerns over the difficulties that potential visitors from countries like Russia and India have due to a slow visa system compared to other places they could visit and spend their money in (and they do – more Indians now go to France for holidays than the UK!)
I also met with Trans-Pennine Express discussing the broad range of issues related to services across the North West, including the impact of a direct Virgin service to Euston TPE’s Blackpool-Preston express service, the challenges of regionalising franchises (does the North need one or two franchises to reflect the differing nature of the services provided? Discuss!) And the broader impact of the drive for value-for-money and the need to retain a human presence at stations.
Up in the constituency, I was pleased to meet with David Lowe of Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline, who regularly brings 8-10 youngsters over from Belarus who have cancers that are a consequence of the 1986 explosion. It was a fascinating insight into how lives are so different elsewhere, but I was especially alarmed that the Government has decided to remove the free visas the children from Belarus previously had in order to save £130,000. This is something I will be making strong representations about, as it seems a disproportionate act for relatively little saving. We would be the only country in Europe to remove the free visa offer.
I also paid a visit to Sacred Heart School in Thornton to take part in their debate club, where the children debated whether or not zoos should be banned. I ‘played’ the part of Mr Speaker, and tried to keep order – but I can confidently assert the children were better behaved than some of my fellow MPs sometimes are!
I also dropped in on the Christmas Party for the Over 50s Club at Sevenoaks Community Centre, a BCH-operated venue which the local residents contribute towards. It’s typical of a vital local facility, and has had a great amount spent on it in recent years – so it needs use, and the efforts of people such as Bob Denby to build social groups such as this one is vital in our local community. More power to his elbow!
Saturday morning saw me shivering (only a little) at Bispham Junior Football Federation’s HQ on Kelvin Road, discussing the challenges and plans for the future. They clearly need to expand their parking facilities, and I hope they can work with the planning department to find a solution, and I’ll be ready to add my support for the bids that will be needed to the funding authorities also. The football pitches round here are a vital resource, and clearly popular as any Saturday morning demonstrates.
Last, but by no means least, I went to visit some local residents in Thornton who continue to be as irate as I am over the County Council’s unwillingness to lift even the smallest finger to tackle the issue of HGVs thundering through Thornton Village, when it is in reality only to be used for access to the Red Marsh Industrial Estate. Despite repeated requests by myself and others, even replacing signs that directed traffic to the Hillhouse Estate and the waste plant up Amounderness Way have not been replaced. There is a long list of simple interventions that could make life easier for those on Fleetwood Road North, and I despair of when the Council will ever choose to listen.