There will come a point at which opening my Letter from Westminster with the words ‘another busy week’ will become a cliché. I am sure the week will come in life when I am not busy, but for the moment, the relentless rush of events, ideas, problems, cases and everything else always seems to exceed the time available to deal with it.
Whilst the petition I have launched regarding Blackpool’s transport system has probably attracted most attention over the last week, it has probably utilised relatively little of my time beyond setting it up. I’m monitoring how well it’s doing, and the numbers continue to creep up – we should have reached 400 within the hour, I reckon. I’ll be circulating some helpful tips for those who have been struggling to sign – it’s a damnably complicated system.
However, as I say, it hasn’t all been e-petitions. Last week’s big national ‘event’ (in the eyes of the media) was the vote on gay marriage, and as many will have been aware, I voted against the idea. Votes like this are always difficult, since there is no clear party line to follow, only what your own conscience tells you. In the end, I cannot please everyone, and that has created a group of people who would rather I had voted the other way. Whilst I understand that, I ask people to also consider whether they want MPs who only say or do what they think people want to hear. On votes like this, MPs have to reach their own views, and be accountable for them. (I should stress that whilst I am a practising Catholic, that was not the sole reason for my vote. It affects my politics inasmuch as I try to put individual human dignity at the heart of what I do, and see the people rather than the label we attach to them).
That wasn’t all we got up to last week. I had meetings with regard to my proposals for spreading the coverage of food banks in the area so they become part of a joined-up support network – watch this space. I also dropped by on Anna Soubry, the public health minister, to discuss the plans for elderly rehabilitation on the Fylde. Numerous meetings with Spiral, the CCG and others have led me to conclude that they have held a genuine listening exercise, so I look forward to seeing the outcome, and hope that the proposals will be both more explicit about what will happen to Bispham Rehab Unit, and ensure that Spiral can continue to build on the excellent work they do, as recognised in a recent superlative report from the CQC.
I also had a briefing meeting with Together for Short Lives, which supports the children’s hospice sector, and is a merger of two charities I used to work closely with way back in the day when I worked on health policy, and was busy constructing a Conservative Policy on hospices. It still staggers and infuriates me that children’s hospices get such differing funding levels from adult hospices, and such differing levels from the local NHS also. Brian House in Blackpool is fortunate in just having received a larger pot of money from the NHS, but all too often this funding is not always consistent, and planning can be hard. No-one wants to see these vital community institutions nationalised, but I want them to be able to play as full a role as they want in delivering help to this most vulnerable group of children and their families. So much of what we do in politics is driven by the fact we care about an issue, and this is one I wish to keep beavering away on.
I also attended one of my social tourism APPG meetings where we had guests from three tourist groups – Blackpool, York and Kent – who I am hoping will start to pilot some social tourism schemes over the coming year. It will be no surprise, I am sure, to see Blackpool on the list, and I was delighted they are showing an interest in what I think is an excellent way of driving up visitor numbers in the resort, as well as ensuring that families across the Fylde who may lack what I call the ‘social capacity’ to arrange day trips and holidays get helped to do just that. It’s a fascinating policy area, and another one I intend to keep my beady, long-term eye on.
Bispham High and Collegiate also remain high on my agenda, and having listened carefully to the various views of many local people, I have reached the conclusion that, taking everything into consideration, it does seem as though locating the new school on the Bispham site is feasiblewithout compromising the rebuilding of Highfurlong School, adjacent to Collegiate, which in my view is so vital. Whilst I am sure the MP’s view shouldn’t count for any more than anyone else’s, I have added my views to the consultation nonetheless.
Up in the constituency, I held an important meeting at Senior’s in Bispham Village to discuss the future of the local shopping area there. Many, many ideas were floated around, but the key conclusion to come out of it was to set up a traders association to swap ideas and good practice, and use the leverage of numbers to put pressure for certain things to change. I’m committed to sponsoring a Christmas Tree (I’ve no idea where they come from!) but I’m also committed to supporting and exhorting Council and whoever to help drive footfall, both in the shops, and in the indoor market.http://www.liveblackpool.info/about/local-centres/bispham-shops.php is a good start, and one I want to work with everyone to build on.
Despite running out of space on my artificial 1000 word limit, I can’t finish without reporting on my continued lobbying for the £150 million it will need to construct the ‘blue route’ to expand capacity on
the A585. I have not met anyone who does not think it sorely needed, nor have I yet met anyone who has found that £150m down the back of the sofa. I went along to County Hall to press the case for the LEP to give it serious consideration as a strategic priority – and I’ll keep pressing anyone who will listen.
I have also been visiting another flooding problem in the patch, in Bromley Close (just off Warley Road) which has revealed a real can of worms, and much misery for local residents – another watch this space. But patience pays off – my battle on behalf of the residents of Elk View Court has seen the Council withdraw a misguided parking scheme adjacent to them.
And last, but not least, I wonder if you had noticed the demise of Chelford Homes last autumn? I hadn’t, until I passed the collapsed signboards on Devonshire Road, and looked at the appalling state of the uncompleted set of flats at the end of Coopers Way. Closer investigation revealed what a danger to local residents in terms of attracting anti-social behaviour, and further investigation revealed that Chelford Homes, who were in the midst of building on both that site and at Westminster Gardens in Bispham have ceased trading, leaving a half-finished building site, and yet more agony for local residents who will not see the areas finished any time soon. A letter to the administrators is on its way to find out what the future holds for these ‘ghost town’ sites. Another watch this space.