Another week, another bewildering range of issues to confront. With my PPS hat on, we’re looking in greater detail at how we expand our ‘red tape challenge’ and focus on enforcement so that it closely aligns with what individual businesses are experiencing. For example, we may decide to look at all the regulation that a hotel has to cope with, rather than the regulations enforced by different regulators individually. Visiting a fish and chip shop in Cleveleys this week brought home to me why the approach is worthwhile, so if you’re a small business that feels the sum total of regulation is impeding what you do, rather than the individual regulations themselves, then let me know!
Other than that, the week in Westminster was spent helping journalism students out with interviews for their course, speaking to a group of public affairs specialists about what a PPS is actually for (good to make me think it through!), as well as addressing a conference of Conservative Post-Grads who were debating how we balance the national budget. Full of ideas, they were, but I added to them by suggesting that love it or loathe it, there were few more egalitarian places in the country than Tesco, in that all sections of society can be found there!
I also had a tranche of constituent meetings both in London and Blackpool. I heard about some of the travails of owning a small business in Blackpool – not a surprising set of troubles, but a deeply frustrating situation I am sure many are in, and which Government must start to address to aid growth. Up in Blackpool, I had a chance for further debate on Remploy – a good chance to listen to all sides of an argument about how we best put those with a disability at the heart of our society, and how we change provision for the benefit of future generations without penalising those accustomed to the current style of provision.
This week was also the first time I had driven in to the Palace of Westminster itself! But it did at least allow me to discover, for the first time, the five-storey car park directly underneath the Houses of Parliament, which I had never actually explored, despite unknowingly walking over it many a time. Driving in and out is a little complex, involving multiple security checks and engine examinations, and much looping-the-loop. But then as you drive down the slope into the car park, it is hard not to forget that that was where the IRA exploded the bomb that killed Airey Neave in 1979 – so security in Parliament really does have a purpose. Nonetheless, the lengthy drive back on Thursday reminded me that train travel does have its advantages, no matter how much we complain about the West Coast Main Line, it compares favourably with the M6 bottlenecks!
On Friday, I continued meetings with the members of the Fairness Commission to bat ideas around about how they can best play a role in shaping a strategic direction not just for Blackpool, but the entire Fylde Coast. Cleveleys is as affected by what occurs in Blackpool as St Annes. As individuals, they are all people with strong views, and a desire to be seen to be both challenging and independent, so I hope what emerges in the process is equally challenging and independent. Rigorous scrutiny of decisions and plans is required to understand not just what the Council could or should be doing, but why they are doing what they have been doing. My vision for the Fairness Commission is of a Select Committee for the Fylde Coast asking some of the difficult questions we all have, and commissioning the factual evidence that underpins recommendations.
I also had a flying tour round the constituency for a few site visits – looking at parking arrangements outside Kay’s Fish & Chips in Cleveleys (a concerted effort with local councillors David Walmsley and John Hodgkinson I hope will see a sensible conclusion), before we went to visit the Jubilee Gardens Bowling Club a little further north. The club here have made fantastic strides in recent years, but have some underlying problems with flood management and the unintended impact of the new car park which is draining water in new directions – some more for me to get my teeth into. But what really impressed me was the enthusiasm of those we met, and their desire to provide a safe and relaxed space in which people of all abilities (in bowling terms) can come together. I have been invited to come and demonstrate how inept I am at bowls at a future date.
Further flooding issues were aired when I met with Blackpool’s flood officer to discuss some of the sites of flooding specific to the Blackpool part of the constituency as part of my ongoing work in this field. A tranche of letters has gone out from me to affected residents in the Norcross area which should be received within a day or two, and I am visiting another flooding area next week (something to save for the next letter!) It was also a good chance to discuss the bathing waters challenge we face on the Fylde Coast, an issue I now think all stakeholders have woken up to thanks to the hard work of Rob Keirle of the Marine Conservation Society to raise awareness locally.
Lastly, I was pleased to meet with the Fylde Coast Hindu Society – a group you may be unaware of, but who do a tremendous amount of work in local schools explaining Hinduism, but also raising cultural awareness. I heard about their plans for a health fair at the Winter Gardens later in the year, which should be a good event to go, combining not just health awareness but aspects of Indian culture either. Let no-one say that Blackpool and Cleveleys are dull places!