Saturday, 13 December 2008

Too many local shops are closing

I went to Woolworths in Deal today with the kids to do some Christmas shopping. Now while we all love a bargain, spare a thought for the people who work there. While at the checkout, I spoke to the till assistant about what was going to happen. He told me how concerned he was as this is not to time to be looking for work.

Then I went to Martins newsagent to pick up a paper and some coffee. I was expresing concern about Woolworths and they told me they are closing down as well. Right after Christmas. These two excellent shops are closing - right on top of a number of other shops being lost in Deal. The story's the same in Dover as well.

It's really important we do all we can to protect our high streets and the jobs they bring. As we know, many others are facing similar challenges. So I will be speaking to Brian Binley MP for Northampton South who chaired a commission into saving our town centres to seek his advice on how other areas are rising to the challenge to see what we can learn.

Family feast at The Ark

At the Ark Christian Centre in Noahs Ark Road, Tower Hamlets Family Feast provides meals for families to get together, meet, play and eat. Today I joined the Christmas Celebration meal with the family. It was really packed - there must have been about 150 people there.

Family Feast is run entirely by volunteers who passionately believe that the simple act of sitting down to share a healthy low cost meal together can help to strengthen a family. They provide a meal every month to local families and also provide an opportunity for families to play together. It was excellent and I had a good chat with parents and the organisers.

Thomas and I are pictured with James Smith and his son Zachary. James and his wife Emily help organise these fantastic monthly get togethers.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Dover Mayor's Annual Ball

A highlight of Dover's social calender is the Dover Annual Ball. This year it was just excellent and everyone had great fun. I even tried waltzing . . . and I admit with mixed results. Memo to self: spend more time watching Strictly!

Now, I know we're all meant to throw rocks at each other and that Dover Town Council is under Labour control and all that - but I have to say Diane Smallwood is a great mayor and wonderful fun! I'm pictured with Buckland Labour councillors Jan Tranter and Mike Smith. Mike and his charming wife Anne (also a Buckland councillor) were super company on our table and we had . . . well . . . a ball.

Very many thanks to the fantastic Doverforum team who have allowed me to use this photo. Their report of the event is much better than mine and worth a read.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Getting into the festive mood . . .

It's that time of year again! This morning I went to a great mulled wine party in Dover. As you can see, we had a real laugh getting into the December party spirit (for me, I must confess, this was initially a bit of struggle, after very hearty Men of Kent dinner in Deal last night!).

A number of people talked to me about their concerns for Dover's economy. Unemployment locally has risen more quickly than in the rest of the country, which is clearly a serious cause for concern. It underlines to me that importance of strengthening our local economy for the long term, with more higher skilled jobs and greater prosperity that will make us all better off.

However, we didn't let these worries hold us back from having a good time . . . December and Chistmas is a time to relax and enjoy life a bit, after all. And goodness knows, we need to in order to prepare ourselves for the harder times ahead.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Celebrating our excellent schools


Today I visited Dover's Astor College for the Arts and Walmer Science College with Michael Gove MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Children.
It was a great chance to show off the incredible job Kent County Council and our schools have done in forging such a strong partnership. We saw what a success the Astor Federation is and what a amazing job it does in equipping Dover's children for the future. Michael and I are pictured with above with pupils from Astor - the Federation head Chris Russell is on the right.
We also met Sue Knight Fotheringham, head of White Cliffs Primary. Sue has turned White Cliffs from the worst performing primary school in the country to an OFSTED outstanding rated school. Hats off folks! Just think of the different lives the kids attending White Cliffs will be able to lead with such a culture of success in their school. It's such a fine thing to see and makes us all so proud.
We then went on to Walmer Science College and heard about their plans for the future. Like Astor, they are taking a deep interest in vocational and skills based education. Michael and I are pictured with a group of teachers we saw who were meeting to talk through a skills based teaching programme. We were really impressed.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Speaking at Kent University, Canterbury

This evening I spoke to students at the University of Kent at Canterbury. There was much concern about the economy and how hard it is to get a job in the current market.

The students believe that the Government's economic incompetence has practically bankrupted the country - they are, of course, right about this. The arrest of Damien Green MP was viewed with serious concern. The students told me they did not want to live in a Police state.
It was a really interesting evening and I greatly valued the chance to hear what younger people think about things and the sort of future they want to see built for themselves and our country.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

River church bazaar


Today I went to a Church Bazaar in River with local district councillor Sue Nicholas. It was a hoot - as you'll see from the video! We played an odd game that involved dropping a (toy!) mouse down a tube for Sue Nicholas to hit. It didn't go entirely to plan . . .

In the photo, I'm holding an egg slice, which I was really pleased to find - you can never find egg slices these days, can you? I then went on to do a good deal of my Christmas shopping, buying up half the bazaar in the process.

Sue and I also enjoyed lunch there - people kept coming up to ask if I was about to be arrested by the Government for daring to be a Conservative. There seems to be a real sense of anger over the Damian Green business. I think it offends against the British sense of "fair play".

It was a really super day out. Congratulations to everyone who helped make it such a great success - especially Church Warden Hurling and his charming wife Gaynor who Sue and I are pictured with. Gaynor definitely wins the great wig competition.

Friday, 28 November 2008

The importance of Border Security

People in Dover tell me time and again about their overriding concern for the safety and security of our borders and the security of our nation. So it is of immense comfort to us all to know that Damian Green MP, possibly about to go on a political show trial, stands with us in wanting to keep our country safe.

Living in the Gateway to England, Dover people know first hand how the Government has totally failed to keep our borders secure. We know all about the disgusting human trafficking that goes on, the bogus asylum seekers and the evil crime syndicates that smuggle people in who have no right to be here. My mailbag is filled with disgust and concern about the situation. We know all too well that the Government does nothing about it and has lost control of our borders.

Many are concerned about the Government's Stalinesque behaviour and the attempt at a coverup. Yet let's not forget what Damian is really in the dock for. Let's not forget his work fighting tirelessly to hold the Government to account for its disgraceful failure to keep our nation and its borders safe. And let's remember why it matters so much to us all:
  • 577,000 people came to Britain in 2007 - and net migration was 237,000
  • The population has risen 1.8 million since 1997 thanks to immigration alone
  • There were 25,800 asylum applications in the 12 months to September 2008, a rise of 15% on the year before
  • To cope with all this, some 65,000 new homes are needed each year, meaning even more concrete and congestion along with increasing pressure on our public services

And while they fail to stop people coming to Britain that have no right to be here, we know that locally they arrest illegal entrants who try to leave the country. At the Dover Removal Centre, they give bail to people who are being held . . . people who then, surprise, surprise, vanish and are never seen again. Meanwhile France has stopped us using anti people smuggling scanners at Calais . . . without a squeak of protest from the Government.

This is why Damian's work has been so important. It's time for a renewed focus on border security, the safety and security of our nation and all the terrible figures the Government is so desperate to hide.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Making the case for our local economy

This evening, I attended the Enterprise Forum where David Cameron gave an excellent speech setting out how the current Government has basically bankrupted our country and why it's time for change.

Afterwards, I spoke to David about the need to strengthen East Kent's economy. We have so much potential in Dover & Deal - the biggest port in Western Europe, great roads, an airport down the road and some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful countryside that Britain has to offer.

Shouldn't we be doing better than we are? I think so. Realising the potential of Manston, getting the A2 dualled, regenerating the Dover harbour front and uniting Dover with the actual sea, rather than the current sea of lorries would make such a difference. We need to get more businesses to set up locally. I'd be really interested to hear your views on what more we can do to get our fair share - please feel free to comment or email me at charlieelphicke@googlemail.com

PS Tie afficionados please note . . . this evening I was wearing a tie, and so was David!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Godfather . . .

Today I became a godfather. The baby sort - not the other sort! To baby Teddy, pictured with the other godparents.

It was a really moving christening service and I feel really privileged to have been entrusted in this way by Teddy's parents Liam and Vicki.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Coffee at Roger's place


Cllr Roger Walkden kindly hosted a coffee morning for anyone in Dover's Maxton, Elms Vale and Priory area to drop in. The turnout was amazing - we couldn't squeeze everyone into a photo, but as you can see we had a really good go!
What did people talk about? There was a lot of concern about the trouble at the port. People are really worried about local jobs and increasingly concerned that the current Member of Parliament has seriously mishandled the whole business. Especially as the retirement pensions of port workers are at risk. A couple of residents were concerned that dog mess bins are not emptied, which the councillors are looking into. Also raised was the safety of parking in some of Dover's roads.
There was also a lot of amusement about the national press coverage on the fake Status Quo singer getting a ride in the Dover Mayor's limo. The town councillors present did get a bit of a ribbing . . .
Thanks so much to Roger and his lovely wife Jean for making us all feel so at home.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Meeting Deal ATC

This evening I went to see the Deal ATC. Their band is one of the legends of Deal Carnival. And when I went to see them, they were hard at work practising. As you can see, I had a lot of fun joining in the drum practice.

So roll up young people of Deal! Not only do you get to play the carnival, you also get to go on outward bound adventuring and learn to fly. Not only that, but you also get to gain all sorts of qualifications that will be useful when it comes to getting a job - and goodness knows, you need the best edge you can get when it comes to finding a job in these difficult times . . .

A big thanks to all the officers, staff and cadets who made me so welcome and congratulations on running such a great ATC.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

Marching with the port workers

Today I joined the port workers on their march protesting against them being outsourced. In these difficult times, we are all united in supporting the jobs and prosperity of the people of Dover. I do not agree with this outsourcing, or the privatisation of the port of Dover for the reasons I have previously set out. I have met directors of DHB and told them that clearly and unequivocally.

In this spirit of us all getting together cross party, it was a bit disappointing that Dover Labour tried to politicise the whole thing. I had to laugh though when Gwynfor Prosser MP started haranging me with the usual boring partisan rubbish that is so often heard from politicians when they are nervous. As they stood there behind a big fat Labour Party banner, I pointed out that I was not there to politicise the event. I was there to offer bipartisan support for the people whose jobs are threatened. That there are times when we should all join together and stand firm with the community and put party politics to one side. That this was one of them. That they should think about that.

Then again, I can see why they are running scared, as it does look like the Government has been consulted and not made any objection to this whole outsourcing thing. And they could, you know, since they do appoint the entire harbour board. So it's kind of hard for Dover Labour to explain why a Labour Government should allow this to happen without any objection isn't it? Hmm, time to find a scapegoat to distract attention eh brothers? Step forward Bob Goldfield . . . freshly minted distractive Labour bogey man!

At times like this, it's important to remember why we are all involved in public life. For me, that is to serve the community, to work to get the best for people and to deliver a fair share for Dover & Deal. That's why I was there. Many port workers came up, shook my hand and told me how pleased they were I was there for them. And you know what? I was proud to be there for them.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Strike expected at Port of Dover next Tuesday

There will be a 48 hour strike at the Port of Dover next Tuesday. We're not talking about any old port here - we're talking about the busiest docks in Western Europe. Given that so much of trade travels through Dover, this strike could not come at a worse time for our nation.

The reason? The Dover Harbour Board want to outsource, or privatise, 200 jobs. And it is the thin end of the wedge. The Government appear to have been consulted on this and agreed. While privatisation may have benefits in many cases, in transport matters it clearly works less well - just look at our airports!

I do not agree with the privatisation of Dover Docks, on national security grounds (along with data protection concerns). Border security, like the army, is just too important. I think the Government should intervene urgently to sort out an unncessary mess of its own making. What were the Government thinking approving this measure?!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

We shall remember them

Today's Remembrance Day service at Deal was a very moving experience. Veterans, parents and children all gathered to remember those who gave their todays for our tomorrows.

It was a particular privilege for me to lay my wreath with Cllr Ben Bano, leader of Dover District Council's Labour Group. For on this day we put aside that which may divide us and stand united, together, to remember the fallen. We are all in it together. And they did it for all of us.
I would like to congratulate everyone who helped organise today's ceremony. They did a fantastic job.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Does no-one want to be a Lib Dem any more?

Will the Lib Dems ever get round to selecting a Parliamentary candidate? For ages now, the sitting Labour MP for Dover & Deal and I have been setting out our stalls . . . but from the Lib Dems, hardly a peep. I raise it, as people are beginning to ask if they've given up altogether. They are certainly cutting it a bit fine, as there is talk of a General Election as early as next year.

What exactly is going on with Dover & Deal's Lib Dems? Have they have just lost their way locally or does no-one want to be their candidate? Last time, their candidate was the excellent Antony Hook, whose blog I highly recommend. Antony likes to take a pop at me (who says politics isn't fun any more?!), albeit a touch bitter at times (but then they did get thumped in the by election, so it's all quite understandable).

So who will stand for the Lib Dems . . . ?

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Servant of all I survey

It's amazing how much you find out simply by listening to what people have to say. And it helps me greatly in my work to understand what people would hope to see. After all, if you don't know what people want, how can you work effectively on their behalf? So I am asking every voter in Dover & Deal what they think in a constituency suvey.

This isn't simply a homespun homily. Abraham Lincoln said in the famous "Gettysburg Address":
"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth"

I also take this as a reminder that the job of everyone in public life is to listen, to serve and, above all, to represent. Too often politicians seem but slavish party toadies - lobby fodder who say little in Parliament and vote as they are told without much thought for the people who elected them. The worst tell their constituents one thing and then go up to Parliament and vote in the opposite direction. No wonder public trust in politicians is so low when this sort of stuff goes on.

No-one should be arrogant enough to believe they will do a perfect job or change the World - although we might hope to get lucky! Yet my hope is that I will never get tired or forget the interests of the people whose trust I would hope to serve.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Coffee at Nigel's place

Cllr Nigel Collor kindly hosted a ward coffee morning, open for any resident of Dover's Castle Ward to drop in. It was great to meet people and have a chat over a cup of coffee. The excellent Doverforum reporters came an took the photo here and posted it on their website.

What issues came up? Residents in the Gateway Flats are concerned about the proposal for a cable car up to the Castle. They told me it would go right over the flats and would be very ugly - as well as a potential safety hazard. One gentleman was understandably worried about planning permission that had been granted for a house next door that would take away all his light.
On a lighter note, I was also asked why I don't wear a tie very often . . . at this point a picture of (a tieless!) David Cameron was waved disapprovingly in my direction. What can I say? I guess I'm just not a very buttoned up kind of guy!
Pictured: Cllr Roger Frayne, Cllr David Hannent, Thomas Mitchell, Cllr Roger Walkden, Barry Wadsworth-Smith of the Doverforum, Cllr Nigel Collor, and me . . . tieless!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Mandie's brilliant result in St Radigunds

Many congratulations to Conservative candidate Mandie Sehmbi who came within 25 votes of capturing the St Radigunds ward council seat in a by election.

Labour just clung on to the seat in an area traditionally solid for them. Mandie was, until recently, the organiser of Dover's Carnival.
Full credit to the Lib Dems who, though they may struggle to find anyone prepared to stand as their Parliamentary candidate, did work very hard to gain a greater share of the vote. It was understandable that they should feel a little bitter at getting just 12% of the vote after giving it such a good go.
The full results were:

Viv Revell (Labour) 244

Mandie Sehmbi (Conservative) 219

Lib Dems 93

Dover Alliance 86

Independent 72

Independent 32

Thursday, 23 October 2008

On the campaign trail in St Radigunds

By elections are great fun. A chance to meet people on the doorstep and talk about issues of concern. The biggest issue raised with me by voters in this traditionally strongly Labour supporting area is the shocking treatment of Buckland Hospital.

To say people are disgusted would be an understatement. They tell me how the sitting Labour MP made it a big issue that he'd save the hospital back in 1997. Yet now its closing, to be replaced by a polyclinic. People are upset and tell me they just don't feel he's really fought very hard for Dover. They say he's more interested in following the party whip than speaking up for our interest.

There's a lesson here I won't forget. You have to fight for hopes and aspirations of the people you represent.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Mandie Sehmbi for St Radigunds!

Well known local campaigner Mandie Sehmbi is the Conservative candidate for the St Radigund’s by election. I have long been struck by how passionate Mandie is about Dover. She tells me she is incredibly angry about Labour palming off Dover with a polyclinic - she wants to be Dover have a proper hospital. Until recently, Mandie organised the Dover carnival. The most recent one being a total success.

Mandie is also angry that Labour Ministers have allowed port jobs to be privatised. She says it's an insult to Dover. Mandie thinks the lack of investment in Dover is an insult. That we deserve our fair share and we aren't getting it.

Some people say no-one in politics believes in anything anymore . . . to them I say Mandie is your answer!

Monday, 13 October 2008

Go Whites!

video

Dover Athletic's performance against AFC Wimbledon was brilliant! The game ended nil all and will be replayed on Tuesday.

Wimbledon is way higher in the league than the Whites. Yet Dover had the upper hand throughout the game. What a performance! And all before a capacity crowd too. It all goes to show how the club is going from strength to strength. Congratulations to the team.

In the photo I'm with club director and leading local businessman Roger Knight

Friday, 26 September 2008

Time for change at Dover Town Council

For years, Dover Town Council has been a virtual one party state. Labour have been in power there so long, the hunger for new ideas and innovation is weaker than Dover deserves. It's time for a change.

This year, the Council Tax has gone up by 29.6%, with further increases planned for next year. And a lot of the money is wasted. £1000s are being spent on leaflets which are never delivered. £11,500 was wasted on producing fridge magnets.

Not so long ago, I proposed that Dover twin with the town of Fuzhou in China. I worked hard to deliver the opportunity . . . yet it was rejected out of hand. That's a shame as twinning with a great city and province of some 7 million people from the fastest growth country on the planet could have brought jobs, money and investment to our community.

To me this highlights all that's wrong with the council - insular, backward and inward looking. In these difficult times, all of us in public service need to work harder than ever to deliver the hopes, aspirations and dreams of the people we work for. There is just not enough money in Dover and our community deserves its fair share.

There will shortly be a council by election in the traditional Labour heartland of St Radigunds. The record of the council will come under scrutiny. The Conservatives will stand as it's time the people of Dover had a real choice.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

No port privatisation!

I attended Dover's Port Consultative Committee the other day. There I said that the Port of Dover is a national asset and should remain so. The need for National Security and Border Security are overwhelming that the Port should remain an asset of the nation.

So I totally oppose the privatisation of the Port for these reasons. I am deeply unhappy about the recent changes at the Port which amount to privatisation. I am deeply concerned that the Ministry of Transport were not only consulted about the changes, but appear to have approved them.

The Ports Minister, who turned up the other day, and the current Member of Parliament should clarify exactly what the Ministry's role in this was a matter of urgency. They also need to level with the community whether they will permit further privatisation or "outsourcing" of Port jobs.

I am worried about Government's future plans for the Port. The Western Docks development will require a lot of money. Possibly more money than the Port has available on its own. It may require a joint venture partner. If that happens, it is essential that the Dover Harbour Board retain management control of the joint venture. It would not be right for the Port to be under the control of European or Middle Eastern interests - again on grounds of National and Border Security.

These are my thoughts and I would be genuinely interested to hear what people think about the way ahead. The Port is Dover's largest employer by far and critical to our economy. It's therefore vital that we all work together to get the best result.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Building a Britain everyone can be part of

The gap between rich and poor has been increasing. For me changing this and building a Britain that everyone can be part of is a key reason I got involved in public life.

Gordon Brown’s Government has taken people for granted and let them down. He doesn’t understand what it’s like to live on a low income when the cost of living is rising. That’s why he raised taxes for the least well-off when he cut them for the wealthier. His boasts about crime show how out of touch he is. Anti-social behaviour and alcohol fuelled crime are real problems for our area - and violent crime is a real worry. Just go out in Dover town centre on a Saturday evening . . .

David Cameron's Conservatives want to help the least well-off. That’s why we are putting forward ideas to heal our broken society and proposals to help needy pensioners. Locally, the Conservatives are spearheading the regeneration of Dover and Deal. The road upgrades we are proposing will also help to create more jobs. A few months ago, I began talks to build up links with the massive Chinese city of Fuzhou to get more investment locally - yet Dover Labour voted that down so they have gone elsewhere. What a waste and a terrible missed opportunity!

Nationally and locally Labour are just not helping us. We deserve better.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Crime fighters!

Conservative-controlled Dover District Council has had great success in fighting crime in partnership with Kent Police. The Council’s Anti-social Behaviour Unit is working to crackdown on crime. A key priority is to provide more things for our young people to do. More things for younger people to do is a priority to help cut crime.

But they can't do it all on their own. They need the support of Central Government. So David Cameron and the Conservatives have launched a long-term Crime Action Plan. The key measures are:
  • Make families stronger - keeping families together so children have a stable upbringing

  • Support teachers to teach children the need for respect and bringing more good schools into deprived communities - for example, the Astor Federation has turned the failing St Radigunds School into the successful White Cliffs Primary

  • Help young people to come off welfare and into work - Work brings responsibility, dignity, money and respect - making people less likely to commit crime

  • A National Citizens Service - where all 16-year-olds can go on a six-week programme to develop the confidence and skills to contribute to society

  • Tough enforcement and prison sentences for young people caught carrying illegal knives, whilst also working to rehabilitate young offenders.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Tackling the North South divide

Many will be horrified about PX's report on the Northern cities. I certainly am - the top line strikes me as defeatist and depressing. Yet I think they may have done the country a favour in (re) sparking a debate about the North South divide.

This divide is frankly one of the worst features of our country. I've often heard it said that the North has the quality of life, the South the quantity of life. In other words, the South has great wealth, but less time, community and increasingly less beauty as it subsides gently in a sea of concrete and congestion. The North has less material wealth, yet there seems a greater sense of community, more time for people and some of the most heartbreakingly beautiful countryside our nation has to offer.

Somehow it seems that every new home in the South (built in lovely places like Whitfield and Sholden) pulls the rug further from under the North and makes the South a worse place to live. The PX report seems to say we should accept this is the way it's going to be.

I've long wondered - how can we rebalance to unite the country so that all have the best of both worlds? Can we build a truly united nation? This is not about tarting up places with regeneration. This is about a great national effort to strengthen the Northern (private sector) economy - a whole skills revolution, the establishment of a renewed labour pool in the North, incentivisation for new businesses to establish in the North rather than the South. Just reading this, you can see how hard it would be to do. I feel deeply that a house divided against itself cannot stand and that we need to act to tackle the North South divide.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

What change do the Conservatives offer locally?

People often say to me "what would you do different from the current lot?"

To my mind, very little has been achieved in the last ten years for our community. It’s not good enough. Let’s look at the key issues:
  • A new Dover hospital - Labour have ruined Buckland. The Conservatives have helped to gather signatures for the hospital petition. We have been fighting alongside local health
    campaigners for a new proper hospital with beds and 24/7 GP-led emergency services.

  • Crime and anti-social behaviour are worrying problems for our area. Violent crime has doubled in the UK in ten years. Nearly 2,000 people are victims for violent crime locally every year. We need more police on the beat preventing crime, with zero-tolerance and more facilities for our young people.

  • Rising living costs are hitting family budgets, with prices rising for food and the cost of motoring. Gordon Brown has been increasing taxes on the lowest paid, fuel duty has gone through the roof - and now they are raising the price of car tax discs too. Local wages have fallen over £1,000 in the last five years, meaning an even bigger squeeze here. People who work hard to earn their keep should be rewarded, not punished.

  • Post Office Closures have hit local people hard - particularly the elderly and those without transport. Gordon Brown’s closure of six local Post Offices leaves large areas without proper Post Office cover. More Post Offices are expected to be axed by Gordon Brown in due course.

  • Local Transport has seen terrible underinvestment. The A2 upgrade was axed by John Prescott. Gordon Brown has done nothing about making the A258 safer. We need to get lorries out of Dover and regeneration in.
I would like to hear about your ideas to further improve our community. It's time we got our fair share. Why shouldn't we enjoy the same level of success seen elsewhere in Kent?

Friday, 8 August 2008

Maggots in local hospitals . . .

The case of a proper hospital in Dover was underlined to me again recently. Turns out that our local acute hospitals have problems with infestations of rats, insects, flies and maggots.

I'll tell you what really upsets me. It's the maggots. It means that flies have been around long enough to breed. To me this highlights a downside of big centralised impersonal acute hospitals. It underlines the need for Dover to have a proper hospital, which will be easier to keep safe and in which the community will take pride.

Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Dover has some world class businesses

I went to see Dover’s Model Production company and London Fancy Box to see for myself what Dover's businesses do. The excellence we have locally and the great skills of our workforce are sometimes overlooked and it was great to see. We have some World class businesses locally and it makes me really proud.

The Model Production company makes complex plastic components for pumps, light fittings as well as many other applications. The things they do really are World Class. It’s really great to have a businesses of this quality in Dover. We need more high technology business like this that create value add jobs to really realise our potential and dreams as a community and a nation. Congratulations to the whole team at Model Production for building up such an exciting business.

In the photo, me with Kieran Jaynes of Model Production.

Friday, 25 July 2008

Dover Air Training Corps looking to grow

Following its great success at the Dover carnival, 354 (Dover) Squadron of the Air Training Corps, motto "Venture Adventure" is looking to gain more recruits. So roll up, roll up!

The squadron formed part of a 50 piece band from across Kent which lead the recent Dover carnival. I went to visit the cadets with District Council cabinet member Cllr Nigel Collor. We went to see the officers and cadets to congratulate the squadron on its success and to hear about the squadron's plans for growth.

Turns out that the lads and lasses don't just play instruments - although they do that very well - they can also learn to fly and get a strong boost to their school eduction, leading to qualifications. It's clear to me that the ATC is really important to our community. The cadets learn the importance of teamwork and respect - things too often missing in our neighbourhoods. The cadets have great fun there and they are keen as mustard.

There are 23 cadets in total, who gain valuable education qualifications as well as having a lot of fun and learning to fly. I really hope more people will sign up and enjoy a broader horizon. They are lead by Flt Lt Nigel Harman, who's a great leader and a real inspiration. Great stuff!

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Connaught Park anniversary - a great success

The celebration of Connaught Park's 125th anniversary was a fantastic success and a great day out.

My whole family had great fun. Star, our dog, tried to do a runner . . . but we just about kept her in check! Congratulations to Cllr Sue Nicholas and everyone else involved for putting on a wonderful day. In the photo - me with Cllr Nigel Collor.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Eastry fete - a great day out!

Eastry's village fete was a fantastic success and a great day out.

My whole family had great fun. I even managed to win a coconut! So a big congratulations to those organising the fete for putting on a wonderful day and thanks to George Mattheson for so generously hosting it at the Aumbury.

In the photo . . . me with Mrs Bradley and Eastry Cllr Nick Kenton. Mrs Bradley is the mother of an Iraq war hero.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

New play area in Pencester

I went to see the new play area at Pencester today. It's really great! Conservative led Dover District Council have done a smashing job and it was full of kids - including my daughter Charlotte, pictured.

I had a real struggle getting her out when we had to leave . . . !!

Monday, 14 July 2008

Shadow Health Secretary meets health campaigners & GPs

Shadow Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley MP, came to Dover to meet our health campaigners and local GPs. He listened carefully to what everyone had to say.

The GPs explained they'd like to commission local beds and doctor led emergency services in Dover. Andrew Lansley said that he would support them in the event a Conservative Government is elected.

For me, this is a defining moment. Dover deserves its fair share, has a right to expect fair treatment and should have a hospital. Without the ear of Government little will be done - and let's face it, we haven't exactly had the ear of Government Ministers when it comes to getting things done locally in the last ten years have we? What Andrew's visit says to me, is that Dover will get the ear of a Conservative Government and there is hope that things can change.

Friday, 4 July 2008

MPs who fiddle expenses should be expelled

The way Parliamentary expenses have been abused is a spectacle I find truly disgusting. So let me make my position on MPs' expenses very clear:

MPs WHO FIDDLE EXPENSES SHOULD BE EXPELLED FROM PARLIAMENT

The reason I raise this now is that MPs have just voted to keep the "John Lewis List". One of the MPs that voted for it was Dover & Deal Labour MP Gwynfor Prosser. And let me be really clear on my reaction. I condemn him for it totally, utterly and unreservedly. I'm not usually one to go swivel eyed about things - but this issue is an exception.

MPs - and Mr Prosser - had a real chance to restore trust in public life. Instead they stuck their snouts deeper in the trough. Shame on every MP that voted for it. It's a disgusting spectacle. Families are under real financial pressure. MPs should be thinking about how they can put more money in the pockets of the people, not line their own pockets.

More jobs and money for hard working families are my priorities - this is why I am involved in public life. For me, to serve is an honour and a vocation, not a living and a trough. Simple as that.

Monday, 23 June 2008

A proper hospital for Dover - update

In the last ten years, Buckland Hospital has been systematically destroyed, to universal dismay. Mr Prosser, the Labour MP, told a public meeting that he supports a plan for a polyclinic in Buckland’s car park.

That would not be good enough. Dover deserves a proper hospital. While the ideal would have been to improve and invest in Buckland over the last ten (wasted) years, it’s not the best for a new facility. The access, location and future space to expand are not the best.

So I don't agree with Mr Prosser’s support for the Buckland polyclinic. Nor do I believe this would be the “temporary” solution Mr Prosser claims. Ten years of advising the Shadow Cabinet on the management of the public finances has given me the experience to understand how things work at the highest levels of Government. It has also taught me how often temporary becomes permanent . . . and that people are right to be cynical as good intentions without funding are good intentions and no more.

Thankfully, things have already moved on. Reg Hansell, David Hannent, Pauline Majors, Denise Smith and 20,000 signatures do make a difference. I support and salute their work. Discussions are ongoing for a better located site and the likely settlement looks set to be better than the original offer Mr Prosser is so keen on.

Yet I am pessimistic that these discussions will get us fully where we want to be. I am not convinced the Government will agree to care beds, or adequate emergency services. I have therefore been pressing those engaged in the discussions for a site where greater expansion will be possible in the future. So that if this Government fails us again, a new Government would have the scope to make the further improvements we would all hope to see.

Monday, 16 June 2008

The Government's crazy school closure plan

Many parents will be terrified at the Government's plans to close schools. The threat is to close schools that fail to meet a benchmark of 30 per cent of pupils achieving at least five good GCSEs including English and maths.

Now, we all want better results, yet this policy is clearly barmy. Every school is unique and one size does not fit all. Locally, head teachers have been pointing out to me that the existence of grammar schools makes it a lot harder for non selective schools to achieve this benchmark. This is clearly true.

So I have taken this up with the Shadow Secretary of State for Schools, Michael Gove MP, who he tells me that he is acutely aware of the issue and believes account needs to be taken of special factors that affect schools.

In working the improve the quality of education, the Government should not go around stirring up fear. It's just not a way to treat teachers, parents or our kids. The education of our children is too important and a more thoughtful approach is required.

The photo is of me giving tickets for the Archery competition to the head of White Cliffs Primary School, with Chris Russell, Head of the Astor Fedferation. The White Cliffs School story is a lesson for us all - catchment areas may be tough, but it doesn't follow that schools in such areas have to be rubbish! Well done to them for bringing hope for a greater future to our children.

I think it's great that we have such a variety of schools - faith based, grammar, non selective, independent, city academies. I would like to see that variety further increased, with more schools that offer workplace skills based vocational education. All of us who are parents of school age children know that getting the right type of school with the right culture is a priority. A greater variety will make it easier for parents to achieve.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Petition for a proper hospital

I strongly support Dover's fight for a proper hospital. The Labour Government wants to palm us off with a polyclinic - this is not good enough! There should be beds and doctor led emergency services. So we are circulating this leaflet to give everyone the chance to have a say and join the campaign!

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Visit to Pfizer

Together with my South Thanet colleague, Laura Sandys, I visited Pfizer with Shadow Chancellor George Osborne. It was amazing to see the work done at this World Class research centre. Above is how Pfizer reported the visit in their magazine.
I am really proud we have businesses like this in East Kent and will do all I can to see that they not only stay, but expand over time.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Rally for a hospital

Some 1,500 came along for the hospital rally and march on Saturday.

Afterwards, I joined Cllr David Hannent at Blakes to help raise funds for the Dover hospital campaign. We pulled pints behind the bar. Blakes kindly donated all profits from the event to the hospital campaign fund.

It was great fun to help raise funds for the hospital campaign. Blakes have been incredibly generous in their support. Cllr Hannent deserves the congratulations of the whole community for the great work he did with Reg Hansell to organise the most amazing and successful march I've ever seen.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Marching for a hospital

Over the last ten years, Buckland Hospital has been ruined by the Government. It's now got to the point where it isn't really a hospital at all - not beds, no doctor led emergency services.

Today I joined the march of some 1,500 people calling for Dover to have a proper hospital. Reg Hansell and the Dover Hospital campaign group organised it. I spoke of the need for Dover to have its fair share and a proper hospital was part of that.

In the picture, Reg is in the foreground as I have a few words with the charming and engaging C Cllr Newman, who represents Dover Town at KCC.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

World Hepatitis C Day marked

World Hepatitis C Day was 19 May 2008. I joined Dover Hepatitis C campaigner Tracy de Gietelink to mark the day.

Few infected people know they have the condition. Tracy, who herself has Hepatitis C, runs the "Woman Aloud" The C in Me workshop to bring attention to Hepatitis C and how carriers can avoid infecting others.

Tracy told me that this condition is the leading cause of liver disease worldwide. Yet Hepatitis C has a 'zero' profile amongst the general population in this country.

Hepatitis C is most commonly associated with drug users, and the prison population, so measures are already in place in these areas, to educate and identify carriers of the virus. The workshop seeks to reach the people, especially women, (there's been a 40% increase in ladies over the age of 60, diagnosed with Hepatitis C, in the last year) who have had either medical or dental procedures, before 1991, (when proper Hep C screening of blood donations began). They might have unknowingly received contaminated blood products.

Another group that need flagging up are the growing amount of people of all ages having body art and piercings. As Hepatitis C shows no symptoms, until the end, who knows who sat in that chair before them? It could have been anyone. Tracey was diagnosed with Hepatitis C in 1991… after having given blood on 3 prior occasions.

I was really impressed by Tracy. She is doing fantastic work - not for herself, but to warn others to take care. That's real compassion. I admire Tracy so much for her work. She highlighted to me the importance for routine medical testing for Hepatitis C.

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Go Whites!

Congratulations to Dover Athletic on becoming Ryman League Division One South champions.

Winning the league was a tremendous feat and a great success for the club and our community. I was personally overjoyed to see the team lift the cup recently following the Sittingbourne game and take it for a well deserved walk around the pitch! The team deserve the highest praise for their great effort and the brilliant result.

Yet congratulations are also due to everyone at the club who helped achieve victory. Not least the club's board. The long, near 4 year, march back from relegations and financial problems didn't just happen by chance. It happened because of the unity of purpose shared by everyone at the club from the board downward. This I saw for myself attending the presentation dinner at the Ramada.

The Whites are so fortunate to be so well supported. There are regularly over 1,200 supporters in the Dover terraces. With this kind of support, the team can only go from strength to strength. Go Whites!

Monday, 28 April 2008

Gordon Brown's 10p tax con

Last week the Government made a "U Turn" on the abolition of the 10p tax band. Except . . . it's all a massive con!

The rebels (who include Dover's MP Gwynfor Prosser) have been duped by Gordon Brown and the Government. In the Dover constituency the estimated 5,000 losers are reduced to 3,000 losers only. It's a disgrace that 3,000 of our poorest neighbours will still lose out. Especially when real local earnings have been falling and the cost of living rising.

Who would have thought that a Labour Government would cut taxes for the rich and raise taxes for the poorest?

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Carnival Selection Day




Today I attended the carnival selection. This is, clearly, a risky thing for anyone, anywhere near politics to go!! However, it was great fun and I had the wonderful Mandie Sehmbi to look after me, as you can see.
A particular congratulations to Marek whose lovely daughter (left photo) was chosen as a carnival rose.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Meeting the A258 Action Group

The A258 road from Dover to Deal is a disgrace. For years it has been a serious danger and nothing has been done about it. Lots of warm words, no action. So I arranged for the families who have lost loved ones on this dangerous road to meet Theresa Villiers MP, Shadow Transport Secretary.

It was a really good meeting. I learned a lot. The families were so passionate and sincere. They fight, not for themselves, but so that other families do not suffer the loss they have suffered. That's real compassion. I was greatly moved and will do all I can to help.