Friday 16th December 2016
As door 16 opens on your advent calendar it is time for my latest update.
In the last few hours it has been announced that the Government has dismissed an appeal lodged against the outcome of the TBID Ballot earlier this year. You can read more on the Herald Express website by clicking here.
Yesterday saw a significant anniversary for the bay as at just before 4am the South Devon Highway celebrated its first birthday. It is safe to say the new road has done a lot more than just make it a bit quicker to travel between the Bay and Newton Abbot. Many of our visitors will have had the joy of a summer season where a holiday in the bay did not mean having to plan how to avoid delays at Kingskerswell and investors no longer are deterred by them either.
Sadly this week has not produced quite such a significant event, but our transport links have again been the focus for me at Westminster. I met both the Rail Minister and the Secretary of State for Transport to discuss our train services and future plans for investment in the local rail network. Following these meetings I helped lead the questioning at the Public Accounts Committee of officials from Network Rail and the Department for Transport. More on all these below.
Here in the bay I have been getting out and about visiting a range of events being held across Torquay and Paignton. Last Saturday Hazel and I joined the fun at the Purple Angel Memory Café Christmas Meal at Barton Baptist Church. It was great to see everyone enjoying themselves and to reflect on the support this great initiative offers so many people.
On Thursday I was back in the bay to join the Paignton Branch of the Royal British Legion for their Christmas Lunch and to perform 2 special presentations. One was to present the Cyril Perry Shield to Major Ron Goodwin. The second was to present the Legion’s “Gold Badge”, which is a national honour that recognises exceptional service, to Kevin Jeffrey.
Earlier today I was at Preston Primary School to present prizes to the winners of my annual Christmas Card Competition. The winning design was created by Amelia Gilboy (Who won a set of train tickets thanks to GWR’s sponsorship) and four runners up also got a House of Commons Teddy Bear for their efforts. Amelia’s design has now been sent to hundreds of MPs, Government Ministers and groups here in the bay. You can see it in the photo above as i presented here with a well earned prize.
Later tonight Hazel and I will be joining a large crowd at the Torbay Business Forum Festive Feast. If you have not heard already we made an announcement this week which you can find in this week’s update along with: Fairer Funding For Our Schools, Parkfield School Application Refused, GWR Modernisation Programme Spending Scrutinised, Save Our Trains Discussion With Rail Minister, Dawlish Rail Line a “Totemic” Issue, Silent Service Is Heard, Development Approved For Sheddon Hill Eyesore, Health Secretary Unveils Action To Tackle Preventable Deaths, Last Posting Dates, Christmas Bin Collection Dates, Homeless By-Law Blocked and finally…….Wedding Bells.
Fairer Funding For Our Schools,
For many years Torbay Schools have lost out due to a national funding formula that sees them receive one of the lowest levels of funding per pupil in the country.
The reasons behind the current formula have mostly been lost to history and I, along with colleagues from the 40 local council areas which get the lowest amounts, have been calling on the Government to introduce a fairer funding formula. I strongly believe that a school's funding levels should be determined by the needs of the children it serves, not by the postcode the school is located in.
Earlier this week the Education Secretary gave a statement to parliament on a proposed new formula and early analysis by Schools Week showed Torbay as one of the areas predicted to gain the most from it. We came third in their table of "winners" with a projected 2.4% increase in funding overall. That said the details will need to be checked.
You can read the statement from Justine Greening and the comments of other MPs by clicking here and see School Week’s figures by clicking here.
Parkfield School Application Refused,
The debate surrounding the future of the Parkfield Youth Centre took a dramatic turn this week as the plans for a new school to be built there were considered by the Council’s Planning Committee.
The Councillors on the Committee were unimpressed with the plans and decided to reject them by a clear majority. You can read more on the Herald Express website by clicking here.
Obtaining planning permission for the conversion is vital before any work to build a school at the site can start and it is unclear where this refusal leaves the overall plans for the future. Once there is more clarity I will include details in a future update.
GWR Modernisation Programme Spending Scrutinised,
One advantage of being a member of the Public Accounts Committee is that I can be picked to lead the Committee’s questioning on issues that directly affect our area.
This meant on Wednesday I worked with a Labour MP from Bristol to lead the questioning of senior Network Rail and Department of Transport officials on the recent National Audit Office report that slammed the financial management of the project to modernise the Great Western Railway.
The report highlights a range of mistakes and failure to plan effectively that not only helped delay the project by some years, but are so far estimated to have cost up to £330m of public money, not least due to a contract for fully electric trains that were to be delivered before the electrification of the tracks they were meant to run on would be completed!!!!
What makes it particularly galling is this waste comes at a time when the rail network desperately needs investment in many schemes to deal with growing demand. Judging by the way this project has gone billions of pounds over budget, is running years late, missed key milestones and (until recently) was not even managed as a coherent project, there are major improvements needed in how such schemes are delivered on our rail network.
You can watch footage of the hearing and read more about the issue by clicking here. The Committee will produce a report on our findings in the new year.
Save Our Trains Discussion With Rail Minister,
I have been backing the Save Our Trains Campaign against plans by Crosscountry Trains to axe the majority of their direct services to Torquay, Paignton, Dawlish and Teignmouth.
As part of the campaign on Monday night I met with Rail Minister Paul Maynard. The final decision on the plans, which are included in Crosscountry’s Timetable Consultation Document, will be made by Ministers so I was keen to ensure he knew the strength of feeling in our bay.
During a frank exchange of views I made clear a number of points about how these changes would hit our bay and its economy. I pointed out how passengers with luggage who currently enjoy a direct service to the bay would instead be forced to change at Exeter St David’s during busy periods. I also made clear that local businesses benefitted from having direct links to key business centres like Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol.
Helpfully Paul is a seaside MP himself (He represents Blackpool) so immediately understood the point about tourists, in particular families, with luggage being put off from visiting if they could not use a direct service. He was also aware of the way in which Crosscountry had sought to sneak this proposal out as part of a lengthy consultation. Whilst he could not give a view ahead of a formal decision making process he did indicate that the strength of response to the proposals is being noted by Ministers.
Finally Dr Sarah Wollaston and I will present the “Save Our Trains” petition, which has been run by the Herald Express and my team, to the Department of Transport on Monday.
Dawlish Rail Line a “Totemic” Issue,
Following my meeting with the Rail Minister, the next day I meet with Chris Grayling, Secretary of State for Transport, to discuss the recent report by the Peninsula Rail Task Force on securing the long term future of Devon and Cornwall's Rail Network.
The report sets out a plan to improve and, most crucially of all, secure the resilience of our main line. A key part of which is a major project to strengthen the line at Dawlish and make it much more secure for the long term. I outlined how vital this project is to ensuring we actually have a rail network west of Exeter St David’s in the long term.
I am pleased to report that Chris Grayling described the need for a major project to secure the Dawlish route as “a totemic project for the south west region” and recognised how vital it is that work on a scheme, once final plans are completed, must promptly get underway.
Silent Service Is Heard,
The core talent of the Royal Navy’s elite submariners is to operate undetected across the world, hence the tag “silent service”, yet this week HMS Torbay’s work was being shouted about in the media.
The Daily Mirror’s Defence Correspondent spent a week aboard HMS Torbay and wrote a fascinating piece about their work, which by its nature is virtually always unseen. You can read her report by clicking here.
I decided to highlight this report and the work of HMS Torbay in the House of Commons this week and you can read my comments by clicking here.
Development Approved For Sheddon Hill Eyesore,
Anyone who drives or walks along Sheddon Hill will share my delight at news that the eyesore which is the old Sheddon Hall Hotel is set to be redeveloped.
The plans include refurbishment of the old hotel building into four apartments, the demolition of modern extensions and the construction of three two-storey cottages, four four-storey town houses and one four-storey coach house. There would be 19 car parking spaces.
You can read more on the Herald Express website by clicking here.
Health Secretary Unveils Action To Tackle Preventable Deaths,
Losing a loved one is hard enough, yet the discovery that their death could have been prevented makes that even harder.
The Secretary of State for Health made a statement to MPs this week in which he outlined plans to tackle this issue, in particular ensuring there is more openness about issues that might have led to a preventable death.
Six years ago three year old Sam Morrish died at Torbay Hospital, a death that could have been prevented if the correct care had been given by the NHS. You can read the full story on the Herald Express website by clicking here. A recent report from the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman showed the way in which the NHS failed to identify his death was avoidable.
I welcomed this week’s statement, although openness will bring with it difficult questions, a point I raised with the Health Secretary and you can read our comments on this by clicking here.
Last Posting Dates,
If you still have some Christmas Cards to write then you have only a few days left to get them in the post.
Royal Mail’s last recommended posting days for UK Inland Mail are:
Second Class Tuesday 20th December
First Class Wednesday 21st December
I will be visiting our local sorting offices in Paignton and Torquay on Wednesday to thank our local Posties for their efforts at this busy time of year.
Christmas Bin Collection Dates,
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.
Homeless By-Law Blocked,
In a recent update I reported on a controversial suggestion that a new by-law could be introduced that would seek to ban rough sleeping in the bay.
The suggestion of a new by-law was included in a consultation that was due to be started by the Council, which also included looking at how the services supporting homeless people could be improved. The decision to undertake the consultation was formally challenged and this week Councillors voted to block the move pending a vote of all Councillors on it.
The Police have already advised me that they do not support the suggestion of a new By-Law as they already have powers to deal with any anti-social behaviour related to rough sleeping. You can read more on the Herald Express website by clicking here.
A new Bill currently going through parliament is aimed at reforming how support is provided to those who are homeless or in danger of becoming so. This will alter some of the support arrangements and the Government has promised to fund the new duties. Focussing efforts on how these will be used to deal with the genuine issues of homelessness and rough sleeping in our bay,plus the problesm caused by it, is the best option.
and finally…….Wedding Bells.
Ending on a lighter note many residents who receive these updates will have met Hazel who volunteers to help at my surgeries and with much of the work I do as Torbay’s MP.
Hazel and I are therefore delighted to announce that we are now engaged to be Married. The service will take place in June at St Matthias in Torquay where we are both part of the Church Family. The news was shared on Sunday Morning with the congregation there by Rev’d John Beckett, the Rector of St Matthias, who will lead the service.
The engagement ring Hazel wears has a special significance as it was given to her by my Mother Linda shortly before her death in 2014. We have been grateful for the support of close friends and family and now have the task of getting lots of organising done ahead of the big day itself.
That is all for this week and have a great weekend.