Friday 9th December 2016
As we reach day 9 on the Advent Calendar it is time for my latest update.
This week has been an interesting one for me and the highlight came yesterday when I got to meet a person who is famous for flying at high speed over the bay in a red suit. No, not Father Christmas, Wing Commander Martin Higgins the Commanding Officer of the Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team, better known as the Red Arrows.
This year I am taking part in the RAF stream of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme and as part of this yesterday I visited RAF Scampton. My visit included meeting a range of personnel that support not only the Red Arrows (who are based there), but deliver a range of tasks vital to the Air Defence of our country. It was good to meet the two new pilots who will be joining the team next year and to hear how they are looking forward to displaying over the bay.
A visit to Scampton would not be complete without taking a moment to reflect on its most famous moment, Operation Chastise, the Dambusters Raid in 1943. Squadron Leader, George “Johnny” Johnson, was one of these brave men and after the war lived in Torbay for many years. It was poignant to visit the room where they received the final mission briefing before heading for their planes. It is still used daily by RAF personnel and as you walk out of the building into an area virtually unchanged since 1943 it does bring with it a real sense of history.
Today I was delighted to join staff and pupils at Curledge Street Academy, plus members of the Rotary Club of Paignton, to celebrate the opening of their new Nursery Building and play facilities designed especially for 2 year olds. The new area increases the capacity of the nursery, whilst making best use of the space available on the school site to create new play opportunities. It is was also great to note the donation made by local Rotarians to support the project.
Finally on Saturday I did get the chance to meet the other man in a red suit who flies over the bay each year. He gave me a few dates he would be in the bay this week and they are in this week’s update which is below along with: A Mayor for the City and The Bay?, Fight Goes On For Normandy Veterans, Article 50 Vote, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, More Bay Children in Good or Outstanding Schools, People’s Health Trust Funding, Save Our Trains Campaign Update, Christmas & New Year Bin Collections, Iconic Torbay Sites Out To Tender, Animal Cruelty Thug Jailed, Station Usage Figures Revealed, Kev’s Column: Keeping The Bay On Track and finally…….How Can A Fiver Be Worth £20K?
A Mayor for the City and The Bay?,
A suggestion that Plymouth, Torbay and Exeter could come together and elect a Mayor covering all three as part of a suggested devolution deal have grabbed the media’s attention today.
The idea is based on the deals being struck by councils in other regions, eg. Greater Manchester, with the government for the devolution of powers over, plus funding for, a range of issues including Transport, Skills and Regional Growth Funding. Unlike the present Elected Mayoral arrangements in Torbay the suggested combined authority would not have responsibility for day to day council services like refuse collection, parking or grounds maintenance. These decisions would stay with our local council.
This evening I spoke with Cllr David Thomas, the Leader of the Conservative Group on the Council, who has been involved in discussions around this suggestion. He was clear no decisions have been made, only in principle discussions and a lot more detail needs to be firmed up. Yet with a proposed devolution deal for Devon and Somerset making little progress Torbay, Plymouth and Exeter felt they needed to explore alternatives to avoid other areas of the UK being able to overtake us in the race for key funding pots.
The devolution agenda is one of the biggest areas of Government policy affecting regional development and growth. We cannot just ignore it or opt out of it purely on the basis of whether the person leading the Combined Authority is directly elected. Ultimately any deal will be based on powers currently sitting in Whitehall, not the Town Hall. You can read more on the Herald Express website by clicking here.
There will be a lot of details to be considered but with some figures suggesting funding streams of up to £1bn could be involved it is right to at least look at whether this idea would be of benefit rather than just dismiss it out of hand.
Fight Goes On For Normandy Veterans,
As pictured above on Tuesday I met with Veterans Minister Earl Howe at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall to discuss the case of the last Torbay D-Day veteran still waiting for his Legion D’Honneur.
Since being elected in May 2015 I have been pressing the cases of the brave Normandy Veterans still waiting for the Legion d'Honneurs that they were promised by the French Government in 2014.Much progress has been made, but we still have one award for a distinguished 95 year old Torbay Veteran outstanding.
I am determined that justice will be done and his gallantry will be recognised, and spoke in person with the Minister to press this case, plus get an explanation as to why it is taking so long. In a frank conversation the Minister, to his credit, admitted there had been some mistakes in this case and then outlined the steps being taken to rectify this.
A Civic Ceremony is planned for the remaining Torbay Normandy Veterans on 20th December at 1 o'clock at the Livermead House Hotel. Given these men fought for our freedom the least I can do is keep up the fight for their medals.
Article 50 Vote,
It is safe to say the most discussed issue at Westminster this week was the vote on a debate called by the Labour Party on Britain’s exit from the EU.
The Labour motion called for the Government to set out its plan for the negotiations that will take place with the EU in relation to our future relationship with it. In response the Government tabled an amendment to include a confirmation that MPs supported the timetable set out by the Prime Minister for triggering Article 50, the formal notice we intend to leave, by the end of March 2017.
Given the referendum result this amendment was supported by a decisive majority of MPs, with over 400 voting in favour of it. Given the large number of MPs wishing to speak I did not put in to do so, but I did make a short intervention on the SNP spokesperson which you can read by clicking here.
Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,
Last Saturday I joined the Clifton with Maidenway Community Partnership for a Christmas Celebration outside Palace Avenue Methodist Church, Paignton.
The Choir from Sacred Heart RC School did a great job signing carols and the big man himself took a break from loading his sack with presents to join us. If you missed him in Paignton, Santa told me that he will be passing through the following areas in Torquay this week:
Santa will be out and about in the area listed from 5:30pm - 8:00pm: Mon 12th Watcombe, Tues 13th Ellacombe, Wed 14th Hele and Thurs 15th Ilsham Christmas Fair.
If your area is listed don’t forget to remind any children to be good that night as it would be a shame for a last minute bit of naughtiness to result in their name going on the wrong list!
More Children in Good or Outstanding Schools,
Last weekend, Ofsted published their Education and Skills Annual Report, summarising the findings of nearly 25,000 inspections of schools, colleges and education providers over the 2015/16 academic year.
I was delighted to note that 94% of pupils taught in primary schools in the Bay have been rated as good or outstanding, whilst every single early years provider has been rated as good or outstanding, compared to a national average of 91%.
Given that the primary schools figure stood at 85% just three years ago, the results show that a lot of hard work is going from local teachers and school staff to ensure more of our youngsters get the best possible start in their education.
Finally it is worth noting that these results are being achieved despite Torbay Schools being in one of the 40 areas which receive the lowest amount of funding per pupil. The Government has pledged to change this and introduce a fair funding formula, although a detailed proposal is yet to be brought before MPs.
People’s Health Trust Funding,
The People’s Health Trust is an independent charity which funds local groups and charities with great ideas in order to create fairer places to grow, live, work and age.
They have just opened ‘Active Communities’, a funding programme which is offering grants of between £5,000-£50,000 to community groups and not-for-profit organisations with an income of less than £350,000 per year.
For more information, or to apply, please visit their website by clicking here, call 020 7749 9100 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Save Our Trains Campaign Update,
Over the last week the Save Our Trains campaign to stop Crosscountry axing most of its direct services to Torquay and Paignton has been building up a head of steam.
In less than a week over 1,000 people have signed the petition being run by the Herald Express and if you have not done so yet it is easy to do. You can either click here, print off the coupon at the bottom of this email, cut out the coupon in your Herald Express or pop into Dot’s Pantry in Union St, Torquay whilst doing your Christmas Shopping.
It is vital that as a bay we make our voices heard on this one as there will be little point lobbying for government investment to secure our rail tracks if there are few trains running over them!!!
Station Usage Figures Revealed,
Whilst on the subject of trains this week the Rail Regulator published the latest station usage statistics.
They are handily broken down by constituency and you can find them online by clicking here.
All 3 stations in the bay saw strong growth in passenger usage compared to the last set of figures. The latest data for 2015/16 (14/15 in brackets for comparison) shows Torquay Station was used by 488,854 (457,724) passengers, Torre by 306,802 (274,708) and Paignton by a whopping 678,656 (631,506).
Yet let’s spare a thought for those who have the lonely experience of using the quietest station in our region, Coombe Junction Halt on the Looe Valley line. Last year it was used by only 48 passengers, yet that was a large % increase as in 2014-15 only 26 did.
Christmas & New Year Bin Collections,
Just a quick reminder that waste and recycling collections are scheduled to continue as normal until Friday 23rd December.
Yet in the week starting Monday 26th December waste and recycling collections will be delayed by one day for all residents.
Collections will return to their normal day on Monday 2nd January 2017.
Iconic Torbay Sites Out To Tender,
Ever fancied running a business in a light house or got a great kiosk idea for the old gatehouses at Torquay Recreation Ground?
If you have then the TDA has prepared a portfolio of concessions ready for tender to be released for the 2017 season. The concessions available are a diverse range of unique opportunities including some unusual sites such as Brixham Breakwater Lighthouse and Torquay Recreation Ground Entrance Gate Houses. (The sites are available for rent, not purchase).
In addition to this, there are opportunities such as, boating and floating rights, power boat concessions, mobile catering, stores, shelters, kiosks, beach offices, trampoline sites, mobile car cleaning sites and ice cream concessions. The list will be open until 16 January 2017 and successful tenders will be in place and open for business from Easter 2017.
You can find out more and how to bid for a tender on the TDA website by clicking here.
Animal Cruelty Thug Jailed,
I am pleased to say that a South Devon thug who along with his twisted friends tortured to death hundreds of animals is tonight where he belongs, in prison.
The catalogue of cruelty Graham Coombes was responsible for is gut wrenching and rather than repeat it you can read more on the Herald Express website by clicking here.
Yet the sentence of twenty weeks in prison does not reflect the full barbarity of what he did and the judge sentencing him stated if the law allowed a greater sentence he would have got it. That is why I am fully supporting Anna Turley’s quest to alter the law to ensure the courts have the sentencing powers they need to deal with animal cruelty.
Kev’s Column: Keeping The Bay On Track
Every fortnight I write a “Kev’s Column” for the Herald Express, you can read this week’s edition by following the link below:
and finally…….How Can A Fiver Be Worth £20K?
It is not uncommon to hear older residents of the bay reminiscing about what a fiver used to be worth in the past.
Yet now a small number of the new £5 notes could be worth up to £20,000 and it has nothing to do with inflation.
Four of the new plastic £5 notes which have just been released into circulation carry a tiny engraving by world famous "micro engraver" Graham Short, from Birmingham, who was commissioned to etch a microscopic image on to just four of the polymer notes.
He painstakingly carved tiny portraits of Jane Austen on to the special notes, next to the images of Sir Winston Churchill and Big Ben. Art experts estimate they could each be worth up to £20K at auction. If you want to know what to look for you can watch an ITV report on the notes by clicking here.
That is all for this week and enjoy your weekend.