So it stands to reason that every week is a hectic week, but first week back after any break usually sees me buried beneath a pile of mail. Adam and Jack down in Westminster do a great job opening the mail and throwing away the obvious junk mail, but it still leaves an enormous pile of invitations, reports, letters and so on. Casework always get identified immediately and acted on – so constituents need not fear they are in the pile – but the number of organisations and bodies that just send annual reports to every MP whether they have an interest in the issue or not is mind-boggling. Can’t be sensible in the long-run either. We normally all go and sit in Portcullis House where you can recognise me by my eyes just peeping above the top of the pile at the start …
But that doesn’t stop me having other things to do, though the fact I am no longer on the Transport Select Committee meant I suddenly had several hours not taken up with prep, the Committee itself, and ancillary meetings. Filling them with meaningful activity is never difficult though! For example, I put my ‘social tourism’ hat on to dash up to the Culture, Media & Sport offices off Trafalgar Square to speak to their Accessible Tourism Stakeholders Forum, partly to explain what my All-Party Group does, but also partly to try and get them to come up with a better name than ‘social tourism’!
I start my PPS role with Oliver Letwin in earnest next week – this week was as much preparation, but it has given me a renewed impetus to go along to some of the think tank meetings. Policy Exchange are only over the road by Westminster Abbey, and they had the former Chief Exec of Tesco (and fellow Christian Brothers educated, Everton fan) Sir Terry Leahy speaking on what he thought Government could learn from business. We had interesting discussions over the extent to which he at Tesco was ‘responsible’ for every error in every store, and how politicians need to find a way to trust the frontline of the public services once again – and how hard that is when every day the press and the public are calling for them to be held more responsible! Maybe the answer lies in empowering the frontline more?
Wednesday evening saw me hosting a reception for the Bobath Centre (http://bobathcentre.org.uk/index.php/2012/press-releases/reaching-out-rising-up/) to launch their Reaching Out, Rising Up campaign to improve provision for children with cerebral palsy. Needless to say, there couldn’t be an issue closer to my heart than this, since I have CP myself, and know just how misunderstood it is. The Centre rightly identifies how changes to NHS Commissioning have seen specialist commission for this sort of physiotherapy fall down a gap, and it urgently needs rectifying. This isn’t about the rights and wrongs of NHS reform, which are much needed, but ensuring that specialist care such as Bobath requires, is not neglected by local commissioning groups who may be unaware of the Centre’s existence.
Fortunately, I was able to raise Bobath’s case with the new Minister for the Disabled, Esther McVey, the very next day, and it is the start of my own personal dialogue with Ministers to bring some light to the end of what can seem a darkened tunnel.
I then had to speed up to Stalmine on an earlier train than normal as the Canatxx/Halite hearings are coming to a conclusion, and it was time for the local MPs to have their say. Rather than repeat what I had put in my written submission, I tried to explain how the proposals directly affected my own constituents, and why there was such concern. As ever, Halite produced a typical corporate smoothy-chops sort to rubbish everything anyone had said … so we’ll just have to wait and see what the Planning Inspectorate decides to tell us. No-one can say, having spent 6 years opposing this, that I have been anything other than consistent, as have all my fellow Fylde Coast MPs, as was Joan Humble before me. This has always been a cross-party, non-political issue, and I sincerely hope the proposal is rejected as it was on the last three occasions.
By the time the meeting finished, it was gone 9.30pm so I had headed home for some much needed sleep before a duo of fascinating meetings. Firstly, I had a regular catch-up with Sue Harrison at Progress House in Blackpool, discussing the vast range of children’s services she is responsible for. As ever, it was a fascinating insight into the challenges they face, and we had our usual good-humoured exchange of views! I then wended my way over to the Blackpool Music Academy (www.blackpoolmusicacademy.com) at Oxford Square, a growing venue for group keyboard lessons which used to be based at Springfield Methodist Church, and a fantastic resource. I know they are working closely with the local CVS to spread the word of their existence, but I would urge anyone of a musical bent to have a look at the website. And if you don’t think you can get there, then don’t forget Rideability!
Lastly, I was in Cleveleys on Saturday morning to both have a look at the ongoing bus station saga (LCC over to you!) and also drop in on the See-Saws (www.see-saws.co.uk) which is a Saturday morning play club for families with disabled children, set up by the dynamo that is Tina Mulgrew. Have a look at the website, and see what they do in both Cleveleys and Fleetwood, and the fact that people are coming from Blackpool too should tell you all you need to know that it is filling a gap in the market! I’ll be back soon for a proper chat with the parents …