May 28 2014
As I explained a few days ago in the previous Letter from Westminster, so much occurred down there that I didn’t have chance to go into as much detail as I might about what I have been up to here in the constituency.
Most importantly for the area’s long-term future, we had the Business & Skills Minister Matt Hancock up to listen to local employers describing the importance they attach to Blackpool & Fylde College’s bid to be the National Energy College.
As I explained a few days ago in the previous Letter from Westminster, so much occurred down there that I didn’t have chance to go into as much detail as I might about what I have been up to here in the constituency. Most importantly for the area’s long-term future, we had the Business & Skills Minister Matt Hancock up to listen to local employers describing the importance they attach to Blackpool & Fylde College’s bid to be the National Energy College. This would mean we would be the ‘go to’ place to study the technological, manufacturing and scientific skills which are common across the energy sector and underpin so much of the local regional economy from Westinghouse at Springfields, to nuclear at Heysham, to Dong’s offshore energy wind farms in the Irish Sea. After Blackpool & the Fylde College, I took him along to the equally impressive Sixth Form College to meet with Chairman of Governors John Boyle and Principal Felicity Greeves, as I wanted to demonstrate not only the impressive facilities his Department has been part-funding alongside the College, but also understand the way in which the College is taking a lead in helping drive up educational standards as part of the Academy network emerging across Blackpool and beyond – with Unity College being a strong example of the difference that can be made, having seen truancy levels plummet over the past year. In addition, Mr Hancock presented Blackpool Sixth teacher Alice Hedges with the Silver Award for Pearson’s Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award (one of only 59 awarded nationally) as well as meeting Blackpool Sixth’s most recent Harvard success story, Gemma Collins, who will be going from here in my constituency in Layton over to Harvard in a few months – genuine proof that academic aspiration right here in the heart of Blackpool really does change lives. More on the visit can be read here: http://www.blackpoolsixth.ac.uk/news/latest/2014-05-15-skills-minister-praises-blackpool-sixth I believe he left quietly impressed, so I shall be keeping on lobbying him on all fronts. Other highlights of the past week have been meeting with the Jobcentre on Queen Street to discuss some of the more thorny current issues surrounding joblessness in the town. I was able to discuss how the sanctions regime is operating, and whether Blackpool remains within the national norm of about 5% - it does – but also how we can ensure that those who are sanctioned are able to access appropriate help, and actually understand what is now expected of them. A more intensive regime for those out-of-work for more than two years was also introduced in late April, which may mean signing-on as often as every day. It will present challenges – not least at the Central Library who have had to recruit a Security Guard from their own budget because the computers are all being used by job-seekers, which has led to some tensions (as I myself witnessed when using the cafe the other week). Council and Job Centre are now in discussions to find a solution thankfully. The other key issue we discussed was how to improve public transport and bus routes to facilitate ‘labour mobility’ and get people to where the jobs are. We can’t just accept as an unchangeable fact that neighbouring constituencies such as Wyre & Preston North or Fylde have some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, but Blackpool North & Cleveleys remains above national average (though falling at the moment, I’m pleased to see). At the heart of this is ensuring that the growth in private sector jobs in the constituency are accessible to those who don’t have a car, and rely on public transport or bicycles. I also met with the local CCG to discuss the wide range of issues regarding improving access to GPs, and ensuring that people can get the right level of treatment at the right time from the right place. Demand for GP services continues to increase due to an ageing population, and the CCG are responding intelligently with a new multi-disciplinary service that will bridge hospital and community services to provide a bespoke package for individual patients that will hopefully reduce the high levels of hospital readmission in the area, as well as high usage of primary care by a relatively small number of individuals. I also took the time to visit A1 Creations (www.a1creations.co.uk<http://www.a1creations.co.uk/>) on Holmfield Road who recently took over an empty shop to help owner Alyson Yates’ growing business providing creative ideas for weddings, special occasions and even ‘home dressings’ for special family events. The shop is both shop and showroom for the vast variety of things Alyson deals with – and her imagination seems to know no bounds. It is another good example of a local small business that is leading the way locally out of the economic downturn. Last, but by no means least, I had the treat of listening to Hiawatha’s Wedding sung by the Fleetwood & District Choral Society at their most recent concert last week. As ever, the quality of performance was superb, but on this occasion it was a piece unfamiliar to me, based on the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow about Native American Indians. As ever, the Society remains an important part of our local cultural scene. Also, just a heads-up so your calendars are not booked up, but 8th June will be the Cleveleys Classic Car Show again, which takes over the centre of Cleveleys. I have the honour of opening it, and am really looking forward to an event which has been a growing success for local businesses in recent years, and takes a massive amount of organisation from a small group of people.