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.