12 APR 2019

EADT Column - 10th April 2019

"Last month I held a public meeting for my constituents to ask me questions about the Brexit process. As I set out at that meeting, unfortunately and very frustratingly, the situation is very fluid at the moment. Parliament has been clear about the options it doesn't support but hasn't yet coalesced around an agreement to get Brexit over the line. A month on, nothing has changed in that regard.

That is the reason I supported the Prime Minister's deal – which would have allowed us to take back control of our borders, our laws and our money while protecting jobs and security – and crucially delivering on the referendum result by leaving the European Union. Unfortunately, there were too many people in my party that either wanted to stay in the EU or thought the deal was too much of a compromise – and with the Labour Party doing everything it could to destabilise the situation just to get another general election – we couldn't get the deal passed.

Whilst, I have supported the Prime Minister's deal, I have voted consistently against taking No Deal off the table and against a second referendum. I'm a democrat and it's absolutely essential that we respect the 2016 referendum result by leaving the EU.

I'm pleased that the Prime Minister has now brought the Leader of the Opposition back to the table in an effort the break the logjam – and I hope we can now make progress in leaving the EU in an orderly way. The majority of people I meet in Suffolk Coastal are fed up with all of this and just want Parliament "to get on with it". I will continue to work in Westminster to try and get a Withdrawal Agreement passed as quickly as possible.

On a lighter note, whilst helping out with a Great British Spring Clean litter pick in Woodbridge recently, I was delighted to present Jason Alexander with the Prime Minister's Point of Light award, recognising his amazing 'Rubbish Walks' work. Jason's campaign is very simple, every day he goes for a walk, picks up some litter and disposes of it properly – recycling what he can. Well done to Jason and everyone who joined me on the Great British Spring Clean."

15 MAR 2019

EADT Column - 13th March 2019

"At time of writing, Parliament is still deliberating the future relationship between the UK and the EU. I hosted a well-attended public meeting in Felixstowe last week for constituents to discuss Brexit. People are still passionate about the running and outcome of the referendum. I don't think the answer is a second referendum. I hope we can leave the EU in a sensible manner. I wish more MPs would accept the result and move on. That probably is the greatest exasperation I hear that nearly three years on, Parliament cannot decide.

I know readers share my pride that we host the Army in our part of Suffolk– and following the decision by the Defence Secretary recently, I'm delighted that Rock Barracks will remain open and house a newly formed regiment. When the MOD first suggested closure back in 2016, I, along with Cllr Geoff Holdcroft, immediately met Defence Minister, Mark Lancaster MP, to make the case on why the base should be retained. Not least because of its special characteristics and the fact that it brings enormous economic benefits to Woodbridge and surrounding villages, but also because the planning constraints on the site meant it would not generate the financial income the MOD expected. Instead, Rock Barracks will now house the Army's new Counter-Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear capability, a Defence task currently being undertaken by the RAF Regiment at Honington. A Royal Engineers squadron will relocate here from Germany with other elements being added as the capability grows over time. I have had the pleasure of working with members of the units that will be coming into the new regiment during the horrendous Novichok incidents in Wiltshire, as I was the minister responsible for the decontamination process. They will be great professionals and I warmly welcome them to Suffolk.

I continue to make the case with the Energy Minister about why the proposals for the sub-stations at Friston are not appropriate. The government clearly indicated its support for the offshore wind industry with the sector deal announced last week, which also included the commitment to address the environmental impact offshore and onshore and its cumulative effect. The Minister is listening hard to the concerns.

Finally, I encourage you to join in the Great British Spring Clean, which I helped launch recently. It starts on March 23rd for a month. Let's all take a stand against needless litter."

18 FEB 2019

EADT Column - 14th February 2019

"As Environment Minister, I was pleased to have the privilege of formally opening the new Ipswich Tidal Flood Barrier last week, a £67m project to help keep the town safe from tidal surges during storms. Whilst I hope it is never used, apart from monthly testing, this investment from government to better protect the 1,600 homes and 400 business in the area is essential for our County town. This new piece of infrastructure will give businesses increased confidence to come and invest here, creating 4,000 extra jobs and making the Waterfront an attractive place. Being a Suffolk MP it is really important to me that the County Town of Suffolk thrives because we in other parts of the County really rely on Ipswich becoming stronger and getting more investment to make sure we have that high quality offer for people to live and work in Suffolk, ensuring the sustainability of our communities.

Ahead of the final consultation on the energy infrastructure needed for the East Anglia offshore windfarm projects, I met senior executives from Scottish Power Renewables to ask questions on their decision to site the substation in Friston. SPR chose the Friston site in December following a previous period of consultation where they also considered Broom Covert at Sizewell. Neither of the sites they considered were wholly appropriate and it was my suggestion that SPR and National Grid find an alternative, such as the proposed nuclear site at Bradwell. However, if the Friston site does go-ahead then it is extremely important that its construction be mitigated. I was clear with SPR that they need to find a solution to enable the substation to be dug into the ground to minimise the impact on the environment. I urge local residents to respond to the consultation before it closes on March 26th.

Finally, I was delighted to help launch this year's Great British Spring Clean, run by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy. The campaign encourage people to take action to clean up streets, parks and beaches across the country. We need to be united in making sure this becomes a habit that everyone gets into on a regular basis, of not allowing litter to be left. I hope local people will get involved by taking part and organising events. For more information or to register an event visit - www.keepbritaintidy.org"

14 JAN 2019

EADT Column - 10th January 2019

"Happy New Year.

This week the Prime Minister and NHS England Chief Executive, Simon Stevens launched a long term plan for the NHS, which includes the biggest cash boost to the health service in its history. By 2023–24 the NHS will receive an extra £20.5 billion a year in real terms. As well as transforming patient care the plan will have a much greater focus on prevention – with £4.5bn a year invested in primary and community care promoting good health and more rapid diagnostics.

I particularly welcome the focus on supporting our ageing population and increasing independence, which is something Suffolk GPs and health professionals have raised with me in the past. The plan will support people to age well by bringing different health and care teams together, making sure older people are getting the support they need to remain independent and to avoid unnecessary hospital admissions. I know from my stay in hospital last year that extra support in the community is absolutely crucial to enable patients to be discharged quickly from hospital. Importantly, mental health provision will also be boosted by an additional £2.3bn a year, which will include 24-hour access to mental health crisis care as well as mental health support in schools. This additional money has given the health service the certainty it needs to deliver its 10-year long term plan meaning they can get on and recruit more doctors and nurses - ensuring the NHS is there for you and your family in the future as it has been in the past.

The third stage of public consultation on Sizewell C is now open - www.edfenergy.com/energy/nuclear-new-build-projects/sizewell-c/proposals/stage-3. There have been quite a few changes since the last round of consultation so I would encourage you to read and reply to the consultation document which closes on the 29th March. EDF are also holding a series of public exhibitions across eastern Suffolk throughout January. Details of which can be found on their website."

23 DEC 2018

EADT Column - 20th December 2018

"2018 has proved to be yet another memorable year as we come to the end of a very busy political year particularly focussing on our departure from the European Union. It feels like little else has been happening but of course it has been. In addition to a number of issues happening in the constituency like the pressure on the natural environment with proposed substations near Friston or trying to improve the quality of education like getting leadership change at Felixstowe Academy and other schools, actually this year has been a particularly special year for me which sadly was due to my extended experience of the NHS. Celebrating its 70th anniversary it turns out it was bad luck that I experienced it quite so much and really value the treatment and care that I received as a patient in May and June earlier this year.

At the time I didn't want to broadcast what went wrong until I knew in more detail about what happened and why it happened. What happened is that an ear infection went disastrously wrong and instead of the infection being dealt with in a particular way it ended up on the side of my brain. That led to an emergency operation once this was diagnosed and I was in hospital for nearly a month and then received after care at home for some time afterwards. I really want to thank not only the NHS staff who cared for me in London but also the staff from Ipswich hospital and the community health group who actually taught me how to self-administer an intravenous injection. Not only was that reducing pressure on NHS nursing resources, it actually liberated me and I was able to share some of these experiences with health ministers.

Looking forward to 2019 it is going to be another memorable year as Parliament and the Government work together to try and make sure we leave the European Union in the best way possible. I also want to thank constituents who have been very kind to me, including local councillors who have acted to help on certain constituency matters and also to my Parliamentary team who kept the show running for that couple of months when I was away from Parliament. I will never know the reason why I got that illness but I am really looking forward to this Christmas to be spending it with my family and friends. I want to wish all readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

12 OCT 2018

EADT Column - 11th October 2018

"Great news that the Thoroughfare in Woodbridge has been shortlisted for this year's Great British High Street awards. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the Mayor and Clerk of Woodbridge alongside James Lightfoot, Chairman of Choose Woodbridge, who have been at the forefront of this campaign. The range of independent stores and their owners work hard to make the Thoroughfare such a success. I visited a hairdresser, bookshop, boutique, shoe shop and a very special jewellery shop (who knew you could design your own wedding ring). The Thoroughfare is up against 25 other streets in the Champion High Street category. You can show your support for Woodbridge by posting on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, using both #MYHIGHSTREET and #GBHSWoodbridge to register your vote. Unusually, you can vote as many times as you want.

Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart, has offered to meet me regarding HMP Hollesley Bay to hear first-hand the concerns of residents on the inclusion of sexual offenders. Open Prisons are extremely important in helping facilitate a prisoner's transition back into normal life but considering the close proximity of the primary school I share local concerns, especially in relation to certain categories of sexual offender. I will continue to press the case.

It was World Clean-up Day recently and whilst I would usually be helping pick up rubbish from our beaches in Suffolk, this year I was in Maputo in Mozambique helping to tackle the plastic pollution that has such an impact on their environment. Programmes like Blue Planet and Drowning in Plastic have sharply brought into focus the consequences of our everyday actions – and as well as everybody doing their bit it really matters that we find global solutions to this problem. That is why I was at the United Nations General Assembly in New York recently, to discuss ways in which we can further protect the world's oceans. It is the UK's ambition to treble internationally-agreed targets for protected areas – and I called on other nations to push for a global target of 30 per cent of oceans designated as Marine Protected Areas by 2030. Only by working together can we ensure our marine life continues to be a source of awe and wonder for future generations."

18 SEP 2018

EADT Column - 12th September 2018

"New legislation to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations was introduced in Parliament yesterday by my departmental colleague, Michael Gove. The Agriculture Bill sets out how farmers will in future be paid for "public goods", such as better air and water quality, improved soil health, higher animal welfare standards, public access to the countryside and measures to reduce flooding. This will replace the current EU subsidy system of Direct Payments, which is ineffective and pays farmers based on the total amount of land farmed. The current payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits with the top 10% of recipients receiving almost 50% of total payments and the bottom 20% receiving just 2%. In its place, a new Environmental Land Management system will start from next year. Under our new system, farmers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards. Importantly we will work together with farmers to design, develop and trail the new approach. There will also be a seven year transition period, in which payments will still be made, to enable farmers to invest in new technologies and methods that boost productivity - allowing for a smooth and gradual move away from the Common Agricultural Policy, laying the foundations for a Green Brexit.

My Government Department continues to be one of the busiest in Westminster as we continue our campaign to improve animal welfare. Over the summer we announced a ban on third-party puppy and kitten sales in England. The ban will mean anyone looking to buy or adopt a puppy or kitten must either deal directly with the breeder or with one of the nation's many animal rehoming centres. This step follows a commitment by the Prime Minister to crack down on cruel puppy farms. After the consultation on electric shock collars, Michael Gove has also announced that we will proceed with this but we will exempt those collars used for fencing, used by owners to give animals freedom but keep them safe from wandering off onto the highway. This is a sensible outcome and thank you to everyone who responded.

Finally, I'm pleased that Greater Anglia is investing in more ticket machines for its stations with Melton station set for a machine within the next two months. These are much needed facilities for passengers who can take advantage of advanced purchase rates and pick up tickets bought on-line. The information from Greater Anglia follows my request for a repair to Woodbridge's machine, which I'm assured is now in full working order."

13 AUG 2018

Star Column - 8th August 2018

"I met the Energy Minister, Claire Perry MP recently to convey residents' concerns on the Scottish Power Renewables proposal for a substation near the village of Friston. I was joined at the meeting by Councillors Geoff Holdcroft and Andrew Reid as well as the Heads of Planning from both the District and County Councils. The proposed energy generation and transmission projects suggest that our small bit of Suffolk will be responsible for a quarter of the country's electricity supply in the 2030s. In addition to Sizewell C, the cumulative impact of huge pieces of highly visible infrastructure, with no additional local jobs once built, without changes would clearly be visible on our flat landscape and be unacceptable. As Scottish Power Renewables have decided to place their substation at the very end of their corridor of search in Friston, 5 miles of countryside will needlessly have to be dug up for cables to reach the substation and there may be multiple huge buildings. We spoke about other options that could reduce the impact, including moving the proposed transmitters elsewhere to other energy hubs. The Minister has taken this back to her department to consider carefully. She cannot express a view else she will have to remove herself from the decision making process. I will keep working with councillors and officials on this important issue.

Before Parliament broke up for the summer, I was delighted to welcome the SouthGen Community Group to Westminster to celebrate their hard-work in obtaining the former community hospital for the benefit of the local community, including for new affordable houses. Representatives of Hastoe Housing Association and NHS Property Services also attended the reception, who alongside the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership have worked together to make this achievement possible. The Save Our Southwold campaign engaged local residents and its continued work as SouthGen is a great example to other local groups around Suffolk and the rest of the country.

Finally, I'm sure the recent good weather has encouraged you to seek refreshment at your local pub. We have so many great pubs in Suffolk Coastal (over a hundred) – and as a dedicated constituency MP, I have visited every one. But I would like your help! I have the chance to nominate one of our fantastic pubs for the Parliamentary Pub of the Year award – and would like to hear from you which one I should nominate and why. The main criteria for nomination is that the pub are great at what they do. Please email me at therese.coffey.mp@parliament.uk before the 7th September."

17 JUL 2018

Star Column - 11th July 2018

"Aside from the World Cup, Brexit continues to dominate the national conversation as we get ready to leave the EU on the 29th March next year. This week the Prime Minister set out her detailed plans for the next stage of the negotiation with Brussels, which honours the referendum result. Despite some sensationalist headlines and Ministerial resignations, we will take back control of our borders, with an end to free movement. We will take back control of our money, with no more vast annual sums paid to the EU and we will take back control of our laws, ending the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. It's all coming home! The proposal also contains a commitment to maintain a common rule book for goods underpinned by our determination to maintain high standards in consumer and employment rights and importantly, environmental standards. This will enable the creation of a UK-EU free trade area for goods which will ensure both frictionless trade with the EU and the freedom to strike new trade deals around the world.

The Government has also set out in detail our post-EU fisheries policy which means that for the first time in 40 years access to UK waters will be under our control and for the benefit of British fishermen, especially important for the under 10 fishing fleet along the Suffolk coast. I am sure this will be highly welcomed and I encourage local fishermen to give their views on the consultation, which can be accessed via the gov.uk website.

I wrote previously on my formal presentation of the Felixstowe Academy petition signed by 2,599 people calling for the removal of the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET). I met Education Minister, Nick Gibb MP, recently, to discuss this further. It was a very positive meeting and he shares my concerns about the leadership of the school. I am keen to get new arrangements in place as quickly as possible, so the school can have a fresh start under new leadership for the benefit of the children of Felixstowe. I am working in Parliament to try and make sure that happens as quickly as possible."

19 JUN 2018

Star Column - 13th June 2018

"I enjoyed the Suffolk Show. It was my first trip out as, unfortunately, I have been in hospital recently with an ear infection which turned into something quite serious, leading to an operation. I am still getting treatment from district nurses as I continue my recovery but it was great to get out and about. I am still handling parliamentary work with my team and back in Westminster, I hosted another meeting in Parliament for the Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Trust to update MPs on the Independent Service Review – to continue to improve ambulance response times - and the Serious Incidents review. It was good to have Dr Ed Garrett, who negotiates the contract on behalf of all CCGs there, which recently announced plans to increase the funding for the ambulance service from £213.5m in 2017/18 to £225m in 2018/19 rising again to £240m in 2019/20. Dr Brown from NHS Improvement also attended. It was confirmed at the meeting that the biggest increase in paramedic numbers as a result of this investment would be in Suffolk and Norfolk, which is very welcome news. There was further good news on staff retention – which is now much, much better. The Chief Executive also gave assurances that they are continuing to reduce the number of rapid response vehicles that stop the clock on response times but that are then unable to transport patients to hospital – and instead invest in 160 double staffed ambulances. This was one of the most positive meetings on the subject I have attended – and it seems that everything is coming together to continue to improve the service.

I also voted to make progress on the EU Withdrawal Bill. Too many MPs and Lords still don't accept the result. Nearly two years after the country voted to leave the EU, it is important that we allow the Government to negotiate the best deal.

Finally, I'm looking forward to the 2nd annual Suffolk Day, taking place next Thursday. The brainchild of EADT contributor, Mark Murphy, Suffolk Day takes place on the 21st June each year – the longest day – to mark our status as the sunrise coast. Suffolk Day aims to recognise and celebrate all that is great about Suffolk - and my goodness do we have a lot to shout about. With the success of our local economy based on tourism, I hope that Suffolk Day will develop as a useful fillip for our businesses and a fun-filled day for local residents."

15 MAY 2018

Star Column - 9th May 2018

"At the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the Prime Minister announced our intention to ban the sale of plastic straws, drink stirrers and cotton buds and called on other Commonwealth countries to join us. Plastic waste is one of the greatest environmental challenges facing the world, which is why protecting the marine environment is central to our agenda. In order to eliminate these items from use, the Government will work with industry to develop alternatives and ensure there is sufficient time to adapt. This builds on our 25 year environment plan, which I am taking forward as Environment Minister, where we said we would target the elimination of avoidable plastic waste. We will also be consulting later this year on our plans to introduce a deposit return scheme for all single-use drinks containers - another important step in reducing littering and improving recycling. We have already banned harmful microbeads and cut plastic bag use but it is essential we take action on plastic bottles to help clean up our oceans.

As the first ever women to be elected as a Member of Parliament in Suffolk, I was extremely proud to attend the unveiling of the first female statue in Parliament Square - Aldeburgh's very own Millicent Fawcett, pioneer of women's suffrage. The statue marks the centenary of voting rights being extended to women under the Representation of the People Act 1918 and the ability for women to stand for Parliament for the first time under the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act 1918. However, it is not just in Westminster that celebrations are taking place. The UK Parliament's Vote 100 programme is helping groups from all over the country to hold EqualiTeas. Running between 18th June-2nd July EqualiTeas are a chance for any group anywhere in the country to come together to share, debate and celebrate women's right to vote, over a cup of tea and a slice of cake. I am writing to all the WI groups in Suffolk Coastal to urge them to take part. I can think of no-one better than the Women's Institute, with its unique role in expanding opportunities for women and who also recently celebrated its centenary, to help mark this historic event."

20 APR 2018

Star Column - 12th April 2018

"I'm delighted that Ipswich and Colchester Hospitals will receive a huge £69 million capital investment to improve services for patients. The additional cash, announced recently by Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, will enable the transformation of buildings and services as the two hospitals merge creating the new East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust. My recent meeting with the Chief Executive of the two hospitals, Nick Hulme was the latest in a series of updates where I have been pressing for assurances that the need to fix Colchester Hospital would not detract from the clinical care for patients of Ipswich Hospital. I'm satisfied that has been the case and I recognise the significant benefits this merger will bring.

Thank you to the 2,400 parents and residents who have signed my petition to remove the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) from running Felixstowe Academy, after Ofsted rating the school as 'Inadequate' and placing it into 'Special Measures'. I will present the petition to the House of Commons in the next fortnight. I recently met the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, who has subsequently issued a pre-termination warning letter to AET. This is the first stage of the process that can lead to securing a new organisation to run the school. While the EADT reported this as reducing funding for the school, I can assure readers this is not the case but is a warning to AET. I will shortly be meeting the Education Minister to go through the situation in detail and I will also be raising the concerns about the reduction of choice of key A level subjects. I intend to meet AET with the National Schools Commissioner to focus on rapid improvement in the short term. The pace of change must be increased in order to help the young people of Felixstowe Academy fulfil their potential. Ensuring that students who are due to sit their GCSE exams shortly are fully prepared must remain a priority.

Finally, good news for cyclists and motorists that the government has given a further £2.5m cash to Suffolk County Council to fix potholes. The recent winter weather has caused numerous potholes to appear and this additional money should help ensure that they are fixed quickly."

19 MAR 2018

Star Column - 14th March 2018

"It was great to welcome the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd to Felixstowe Port recently, as she came to see the successful Border Force operation that takes place here and talk to frontline staff. As well as dealing with potential threats to our border and ensuring the smooth flow of 4,000 lorries in and out of the port each day, Border Force have an important role in stopping illegitimate and counterfeit products getting through, which not only rips off the consumer and undermines legitimate business but is often used to fund criminal activity. The work done by Border Force to protect us and to stop illegal activity is appreciated by everyone.

Last month, I wrote about my concerns on the latest Ofsted report into Felixstowe Academy, which declared it an 'Inadequate' school and placed it into 'Special Measures'. As a result of that I set up a Parliamentary petition which has now been signed by over 1,200 people calling on the Academies Enterprise Trust who run the school to go, so the school can have a fresh start under new leadership. These are precious years in a child's life - and I don't want parents to have to drive past an inadequate school to get to another for their children to have a good education. A report is currently being drafted by the Schools Commissioner to inform Ministers about a way forward.

Finally, the latest round of the Government's £40m Coastal Communities Fund is now open for projects and organisations in Suffolk Coastal to bid into. In previous years Suffolk Coastal District Council and Felixstowe Forward have benefitted from the scheme to help promote tourism on the East Coast and to help rejuvenate Felixstowe. As in previous bidding rounds, the aim of the fund is to support economic development, delivering sustainable growth and jobs. The deadline is April 30th though the Government are also looking to fund a small number of projects which are ready to go and can be fast-tracked, with a closing date of April 2nd. For more information see - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coastal-communities-fund-round-5"

18 FEB 2018

Star Column - 14th February 2018

"Today marks the first day of Lent and I will be giving up something slightly different this year. I'll be joining a group of Conservative MPs in Parliament who will try to give up single use plastics. I am starting by carrying around my reusable water bottle, which fits into my handbag, so I can avoid buying drinks in plastic bottles. As Environment Minister, I have been working with a number of different organisations to try and increase the number of places where you can fill up your water bottle. Most coffee shops will do it for you if you ask but I am also trying to get more refill points into railway stations, airports and other transport hubs. We all know from watching Blue Planet 2 what damage single use plastics can do to our environment so before you pledge to give up alcohol or chocolate this Lent, I want to challenge you and all EADT readers to see what plastics you can give up - and see just what a difference it can make to our environment.

The latest Ofsted report into Felixstowe Academy was published this week and it is damning. It declares it as an 'Inadequate' school and placed it into 'Special Measures'. It notes that outcomes for pupils are below the government's floor standards; that there is a culture of bullying at the school; that too many pupils are persistently absent; and that the support provided by the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) has been ineffective in helping the school to improve. I have been on the case with AET for some years to try and improve the performance of Felixstowe Academy and thought things were getting better. However, when I saw their provisional results and their progress 8 results in particular last summer, with the final results published in January this year, it showed to me that the Academy was going backwards and that AET was not giving the leadership and support to the teachers in order to provide the best for the children.

That's why I met the Education Minister last month to discuss my concerns and why I am meeting AET next week. That was before I knew about the report coming out and I will escalate this within the Department of Education. The time for AET running Felixstowe Academy is over. We need to get new arrangements in place as quickly as possible, so the school can have a fresh start under new leadership for the benefit of the children of Felixstowe. To this end, I have started a Parliamentary Petition calling on AET to go. I have heard from a small number of parents so far but please add your voice by signing the petition at - http://theresecoffey.co.uk/petitions/"

12 JAN 2018

Star Column - 10th January 2018

"Happy New Year!

In 2018 we commemorate two totemic events - 100 years since the end of the Great War and of women getting the vote. As the first women to ever be elected to Parliament in Suffolk – I'm incredibly proud that a statue of Suffragist, Millicent Fawcett, who was born and raised in Aldeburgh – and part of the great Garrett family – will be erected in Parliament square this year. The first statue there of a woman.

I hope 2018 will also a big year for improving our road infrastructure. Late last year I added my support to the business case being developed by Suffolk County Council for the Suffolk Energy Gateway, the new road to by-pass the four villages along the A12. We now await the final decision from the Department of Transport. I also welcome the fact that the A14 has been marked as a potential expressway in the Strategic Road Network Report which should help us sort out some of the congestion points along the route.

Talking of roads - ahead of the phase 2 closure of Woods Lane which started on Monday, Bloor Homes committed to extended working hours on site, which should help reduce the length of the closure. Following a public consultation Bloor have agreed to extend their working hours to 730am – 8pm Monday – Friday and 730am – 4pm on Saturday and Sunday from the normal working hours of the Phase 1 closure. The response to the consultation did not support 24-hour working due to the impact on residents in the immediate vicinity. I'm pleased Bloor have listened to our concerns and although I recognise any closure will be incredibly frustrating for local residents, I'm confident from this extension in hours that the works will be completed more quickly.

Finally, the Secretary of State for the Environment and my departmental colleague, Michael Gove, last week set out our plans for the way farming subsidies will work post Brexit. The policy is designed to create certainty for famers over the medium term with guaranteed EU level subsidies until 2022. Our future plans will also see farmers rewarded for providing 'public goods' such as planting woodland, boosting wildlife, improving water quality and recreating wildflower meadows – all part of our policy to make sure our environment is even better protected as we leave the EU."

18 DEC 2017

Star Column - 14th December 2017

"In the early hours of Friday morning the Prime Minister secured an historic agreement with the European Union, which brings to an end the first phase of Brexit negotiations. The agreement secures the rights of the three million EU citizens living here and the million British citizens living in the EU; it represents a fair settlement in terms of money - the so called 'divorce bill'; and maintains the common travel area within the island of Ireland.

This agreement represents significant progress in the Brexit negotiations – the exact opposite of the picture that has been painted by parts of the national media in recent weeks. I'm grateful to the Prime Minister and our negotiating team for all their hard work in getting the best deal for Britain.

There has been lots of talk about our future financial obligations both during the referendum campaign and during the negotiations – but following a rigorous assessment by our negotiators the Government expects our final bill to be significantly below the £50bn - £100bn predictions that have been talked about in the media. Importantly the 'divorce bill' is money that we would have paid anyway had we stayed in the EU – but as we leave and pay off our commitments there will be significantly more sums of money to spend on our priorities. Including – and whisper it quietly – the NHS. Although I'm not committing to a figure on the side of a big red bus.

Now the first phase of Brexit has been agreed we can move on to detailed negotiations on other issues, including our future trade deal. This is of significant importance to our part of the country and crucial for Felixstowe as we need to ensure we can continue to trade freely through the port. The success of Felixstowe Port post-Brexit is an important strategic issue that affects not only the port itself but the many local businesses whose business relies on it. I'm confident that with the planning that's happening within Government we will avoid significant issues at Felixstowe.

As this is my last column of the year, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all readers a Happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I hope you have a fantastic time with family and friends."

10 NOV 2017

Star Column - 8th November 2017

"Ambulance bosses including the Chief Executive and the Chairman came to Parliament recently, at my invitation, to update East of England MPs on the Turnaround Plan to improve response times. This was the first update since the General Election so it was good to get an insight into progress made. To their immense credit things are improving with Red 1 and Red 2 emergency response performance up by 15% and 9% from 18 months ago. I was also pleased to hear that the Chief Executive is now confident through visits by the regulator that they are now headed for a 'Good' rating having previously been marked as 'requires improvement' by the CQC. Unfortunately handover delays at hospitals are getting much worse, which is very disappointing. Especially as I had previously written to offending hospitals and they assured me they were 'looking at ways of urgently improving the situation'. Undoubtedly, there is still a way to go before the full turnaround is achieved but the vital work of our paramedics and our laser-like scrutiny is helping patients.

Constituents often talk to me about the issue of litter which blights our towns and also our countryside when discarded via car windows. As the Minister responsible, I'm pleased to be bringing in tougher penalties to deter and punish those who continue to drop rubbish. From April next year the maximum on-the-spot fine will almost double from the current limit of £80 to £150 – and councils will also be given the power to impose fines on the owners of vehicles from which litter is thrown. Up till now councils had to prove who was driving the vehicle. These new fines will make sure the perpetrators, not the local community, bear the cost of keeping our streets, roads and countryside clean. As BBC Radio Suffolk used to say – Don't be a tosser!

This weekend the country will come together in remembrance. This year I will be in Aldeburgh before heading up to Halesworth for their service of remembrance later in the day. Remembrance Sunday is an opportunity not only to remember those who died for our freedom but also to show our gratitude to our serving men and women who do so much to keep us safe. My heartfelt thanks to them all."

13 OCT 2017

Star Column - 11th October 2017

"At the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester last week, the Prime Minister set out what the Government is doing to build a country that works for everyone and to build a better future for the next generation. She was clear that we will continue to take a balanced approach to the economy, dealing with our debts whilst also investing in public services.

The standout announcements for me were increasing the affordable housing budget by £2bn to more than £9bn – allowing more homes to be built for social rent; a price cap on energy bills, we are publishing a draft Bill in Parliament this week; and doing more to bring tackling mental health issues into the mainstream. For the record, I am 100% behind Theresa May as our Prime Minister and so are all my colleagues I have spoken to.

Just over a year ago, I attended a ministerial convention on illegal wildlife trade. After that conference, I visited Kruger National Park in South Africa and saw the carcasses of slaughtered rhinos as well as the rhinos that rangers were protecting. Last week we heard that around 20,000 elephants a year are still being slaughtered because of the ivory trade. If current rates of poaching continue then elephants could be extinct in some African countries within decades. This is why the UK is pressing ahead with a full ban on the sale of ivory. A ban stronger than anywhere else in Europe, stronger than the USA and most of the world. Our ban will put the UK front and centre of global efforts to end the trade in ivory and we will continue to press other countries to close their markets where it is contributing to poaching. My department have just started a 12 week consultation on the detail of the ban, to which we will respond early next year.

Finally, thank you to the NFU for organising a visit to Church Farm in Eyke earlier this month. It was great to meet the Flemings (and other farmers from the area) who run a mixture of dairy, livestock and arable farms. We talked about agricultural policy, water abstraction and, of course, Brexit – as well as the farmer led Environmental Scheme which promotes good stewardship of our countryside. It was also lovely to see calving first hand and the challenges on the River Deben."

22 SEP 2017

Star Column - 21st September 2017

"Brexit continued to dominate the national headlines from Parliament last week but the Education Secretary, Justine Greening, announced an increase in funding for schools. Locally, there are rises varying from 0.5% to over 18%. The big change, which I pressed for with other Suffolk MPs, is that the new formula had a higher basic percentage of funding to go to every child. This reflects that Suffolk has a very high employment rate and we have far fewer children than the national average receiving free school meals, but our household income is not as high as other places like Liverpool. I recognise the frustration locally that increases were not even higher and that Suffolk is still in the bottom quartile for funding per pupil but the teachers' unions and the Labour party campaigned to protect funding for other parts of the country which were already funded much more generously than Suffolk schools. Overall this meant less was available for Suffolk to right the historic wrongs but, we have kept our word, we have improved the funding formula for Suffolk children and we are now firmly on the up for school funding.

Suffolk MPs have been working together again to take up issues on our county's behalf. First all seven of us attended a meeting with Robert Goodwill, education minister who is taking through the new childcare policy. This was useful to set out some of the concerns that nursery and other childcare providers have shared with us, as well as hearing from the minister and officials the basis of the scheme specific to Suffolk. This was followed up with a meeting at Endeavour House. We also met senior transport officials regarding road infrastructure improvements in Suffolk, making the case for further investment on the A14 and key junctions along it.

Friday is the last chance to give your views on the controls on dogs being proposed by the council. While we all want our beaches and pavements cleaner (and thanks to those who helped in the national cleanup last weekend – I was at Aldeburgh), I think the original proposals go too far."

15 AUG 2017

Star Column - 9th August 2017

"Felixstowe's confidence is back as a town with a seafront of which to be proud. Recently, it has hosted the Suffolk Armed Forces Day (which Felixstowe style turned into to a weekend) and the transformation of the Pier is the latest triumph in the renaissance of the town. The owners should be really proud of their investment helping the regeneration. There are still a couple of issues to sort out to make Felixstowe even more beautiful, including the eyesore which is the former North Sea hotel but this tourist season is proving that Felixstowe is, once again, a great day out by the sea.

Residents are being given the chance to have their say on future development across Waveney as the council sets out its Local Plan with preferred locations for building 5,000 new homes over the next 20 years, including significant development in Halesworth. It is important that people read this carefully and respond to the consultation which closes on the 22nd September. Suffolk Coastal are due to publish their updated Local Plan shortly.

Exam results are due out this month and I hope that all our students achieve great results. Schools and colleges will be on hand to support students. There is also a national helpline which will open on results day 0808 100 8000 giving impartial advice. For students and parents, it may be a bit surprising for GCSE results are starting to be given as a rating from 9 to 1, rather than A* to G. Grade 4 upwards will be the new pass level. Schools are now assessed on the progress made by students while at school, rather than the proportion of students that pass 5 GCSEs.

My first few weeks of recess have been dominated by ministerial work, including publication of our new air quality strategy and then a recess road trip taking in visits to councils, businesses and environmental schemes across the country. My own constituency tour returns this month and in bank holiday week, I will be stopping off in over 90 parishes and towns across the 302 square miles of the Suffolk Coastal constituency. This is an invitation for constituents to come and speak to me about any issue that concerns you. You can see my tour timeline online - http://theresecoffey.co.uk/tour 2017"

14 JUL 2017

Star Column - 12th July 2017

"Since the General Election my constituency work has been firmly focussed on the health agenda – championing patients. As you may have seen in article in last week's East Anglian, I'm highly concerned that the East of England Ambulance Service is pressing ahead with their plans to create super hubs, which would leave no ambulances stationed in the Suffolk Coastal constituency at all. I'm worried that all the work I and others did holding the ambulance service to account to get them to improve their response times will be put at risk by their proposal - especially in relation to the Stroke 60 target, where patients suffering a stroke have to get to hospital within 60 minutes to maximise their ability to recover. I have written to the Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service, Robert Morton on this and I am arranging another meeting for ambulance bosses to come to Parliament so we can quiz them on their plans.

Another one of my long standing health campaigns has been trying to get the money from the sale of both Southwold Community and Patrick Stead hospitals re-invested in local healthcare provision. After many, not very fruitful exchanges with NHS Property – there is some hope with the publication of the Naylor Review. The review, which the Prime Minister has indicated that she is formally accepting, states that any sale receipts from locally owned assets will not be recovered centrally provided the disposal is in agreement with the local Sustainability and Transformation Plan. The Great Yarmouth and Waveney CCG 'Shape of the System' plan promised that NHS nursing beds in local care homes would be provided instead of keeping the two hospitals open because it was clinically sound to do so. Despite the need for capital to be invested into this plan, there has been no previous guarantee that the money from the sale of the hospitals would be invested locally. I have asked the Secretary of State to intervene directly on this matter to support the 'Shape of the System' plan and to realise the recommendation set out in the review.

It was Seafarers' Awareness Week recently - and to mark the occasion I paid a visit to Felixstowe Seafarers Centre where I met some sailors and the Centre Manager. The Seafarers' Centre is an oasis on the port where seafarers are made to feel very welcome by the friendly staff and volunteer helpers. There's a chapel, a bar, shop, recreation area for table top games, TV room and a quiet room to sit and write home. I'm proud that such a fantastic service exists within Suffolk Coastal."

14 APR 2017

Star Column - 12th April 2017

Following the Chancellor's Budget announcement to provide a £300 million fund to help businesses hit hardest during the recent business rate revaluation, the Government has been consulting on how that fund will be administered. Provisionally, Waveney District Council has been allocated £417,000 in the first year and Suffolk Coastal District Council has been allocated £406,000. I am encouraging the councils to focus on the small, independent businesses affected the most in receiving the support they need.

It was English Tourism Week recently and as we approach Easter the tourist season is already well underway here in Suffolk. Tourism is a key industry supporting one in nine jobs in our area is supported and if contributes more than £500m to the local economy. A lot of effort is put in by businesses, the LEP and our councils to make sure the Suffolk coast continues to be an attractive destination for visitors. I am therefore delighted to see that investment continue apace, including a completely redeveloped pier in Felixstowe due to open later this year and the £10m Whisstocks project in Woodbridge providing homes, restaurants and shops overlooking the River Deben as well as a new home for the town museum and new shipbuilding facility. As Parliament is now in recess, I am enjoying spending much more time in Suffolk and experiencing our great local hospitality.

All that investment is worthwhile but having clean streets and verges makes such a difference. The government launches its litter strategy this week with a focus on making it easier to get rid of litter and tougher enforcement measures to hit thoughtless litter louts in the pocket. We have particular problems along the A14 and the strategy includes such litter hotspots and a plan to work with the freight industry to improve that.

Finally, my Department has just launched a ground-breaking competition which enables flood defence projects to apply for a share of £1 million to help protect homes and businesses. The competition is open to innovative schemes that plan to use landscape features such as ponds, banks, meanders, channels, and trees to store, drain or slow flood water. For more information and to apply see - www.catchmentbasedapproach.org/resources/tools-and-casestudies/deliver/nfm

10 MAR 2017

Star Column - 8th March 2017

"Today is Budget day when the Chancellor will deliver his financial statement to a packed House of Commons. I will be listening very carefully for a mention of business rates, having pressed him and the Financial Secretary of the Treasury on the matter in recent weeks. I am hoping for a positive announcement to help Southwold and Aldeburgh.

It is good news that Suffolk New College are linking up with Alde Valley Academy to use the campus in Leiston as a hub for vocational courses. This is timely news as the Government is set to unveil plans this week to improve technical education, including the introduction of 'T Levels', which could be a good fit for many young people at Alde Valley. Whilst the partnership with Suffolk New College is a real positive for local students who want to undertake these types of courses it is important that there is also suitable A level provision for pupils in East Suffolk and I will look carefully at that.

I was delighted to address the Bawdsey Coastal Partnership AGM last month and welcome their new chairman, Nick Crick. The Government has invested £2.4 million in emergency interventions at Bawdsey since 2010 and Bawdsey Coastal Partnership was formed 2 years ago as a result of the December 2013 storm surge. I was pleased to hear that the partnership is continuing to work with the Environment Agency and have recently funded the Bawdsey Coastal Processes Study to inform future long-term solutions. I spoke at the Suffolk Coast Against Retreat (SCAR) AGM this weekend on the same subject. The January storm surge demonstrated just how prepared we are along the Suffolk coast, thanks in a large part to the local flood action groups. SCAR's concerns about the lack of information from EDF on the proposed jetty mirrored my response to the Stage 2 proposals. It is essential EDF provide information on whether the jetty will impact coastal defences and if it does, how they will mitigate that.

Finally, congratulations to all those who got involved in the Great British Spring Clean last weekend. It was a nationwide triumph. As an Environment Minister my message is not to drop litter in the first place but these big community cleans are a great way of bringing people together to tidy up our towns."

14 FEB 2017

Star Column - 8th February 2017

"The House of Commons is set to approve the short Bill which gives the Prime Minister the authority to notify the EU that the UK is leaving, by triggering Article 50. I received a lot of emails asking me to vote against or support a lot of amendments, which were designed to tie the Prime Minister's hands during the negotiation. Parliament has a role in the ratification of treaties and I expect this to be no different. I voted for the referendum, campaigned in it and, as a democrat, I fully accept the outcome. I now expect the Lords will also give consent soon.

I welcomed the Mayor of Southwold, Melanie Tucker, to Parliament last week to press the case on high street business rates with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jane Ellison and the head of the Valuation Office Agency. Business rates account for about £23 billion of Government income and is levied on the approximate rental value of property, which is revalued regularly. Southwold businesses have mostly seen very large increases while elsewhere in Suffolk, business rates will fall. Three quarters of businesses across will see their rates either fall or remain the same and many businesses in Suffolk Coastal will benefit. Southwold is a successful town but I am concerned that the VOA have overestimated when considering new rateable values, which is why I wrote to all businesses on the High St encouraging them to challenge their new rating. I was pleased to hear from the VOA's Chief Valuer that eight businesses have so far had a review before the formal appeals process has started. I will now work with other MPs who represent high street hotspots to put across the value of a mixed retail presence.

I replied to EDF's stage 2 consultation for Sizewell C. The construction of the new nuclear power plant is extremely important for the UK's future energy supply and will benefit the local economy here in Suffolk, with the creation of thousands of jobs. That said, Sizewell C will create significant disruption to local communities and the transport network, especially during the construction phase. It is essential that thee impacts are mitigated as much as possible and I have been robust in challenging EDF to do more work before the next phase of consultation, especially in relation to improvements to the road network and campus site."

26 JAN 2017

Star Column - 24th January 2017

"Last week the Prime Minister set out the Government's negotiating objectives for Brexit. She was unequivocal that we are not seeking partial membership, associate membership, or anything that leaves us half-in or half-out. Leaving will mean just that, control over our immigration system, an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and ceasing our membership of the Single Market. Last year's referendum was close but decisive and it is right that we now make progress with leaving. But while it was a vote to leave the EU, it was not a vote to leave Europe – we will continue to be reliable allies, willing partners and close friends with our European neighbours. At time of writing, the court judgement is not yet out so our next procedural steps are to be determined but I am confident that the Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 by the end of March and a two year negotiation. I welcome the clarity that Theresa May has given the British public as well as our friends in Europe, which immediately caused the pound to rise. I'm confident we can forge a brighter future for Britain.

I was shocked and saddened to hear about the death of a crewman who was killed in a boiler room accident on board the Manhattan Bridge container ship at the Port of Felixstowe on Thursday night. My sympathy goes to his family and friends. Thankfully incidents like this are very rare. The Marine Accident and Investigation Branch will be investigating and hopefully lessons can be learnt to ensure the risk of this sort of accident is minimised in the future.

Just a few hours later, on Friday morning, I visited the Harwich Haven Authority as part of a scheduled visit. Harwich Haven serves us all by making sure that one of Britain's most important transport and shipping freight arteries runs smoothly and invests millions of pounds each year in dredging work to keep the shipping lanes open. I met the Chief Executive, Neil Glendinning to talk about a wide range of issues including the potential impact of leaving the EU. It was nice to see the Port Of Felixstowe berths fully loaded from my vantage point at Harwich Quay.

In Suffolk we all know the importance of our port for global trade links and the success of UK PLC. Yesterday the Prime Minister launched her modern industrial strategy to build on Britain's strengths to secure our future as a competitive, global nation. The strategy looks at how it can use trade and investment deals to increase exports. Good news for our part of Suffolk.

Finally, it was a pleasure to welcome the School Council from Waldringfield Primary School to Westminster last week, as they visited Parliament's brand new education centre. We talked about their manifestos and compared notes on the huge responsibility of being elected. Whilst they were there they learnt how Parliament works, including the process of passing legislation through both the House of Commons and House of Lords. I always encourage schools from Suffolk Coastal to make the trip to Westminster and hope to welcome more Suffolk pupils to Parliament in the coming months."

19 JAN 2017

Star Column - 17th January 2017

"On Friday evening all eyes were on the weather as Suffolk braced itself for a tidal surge. As Floods Minister, I always have my wellies at the ready in case I need to dash off to a part of the country affected by bad weather but over the weekend the risk was far closer to home with severe flood warnings issued right across the east coast. As I've said before, being MP for Suffolk Coastal has given me a great apprenticeship for the role of Environment Minister, not least the floods of 2013 where some parts of my constituency were hit by a storm surge with water levels surpassing even the 1953 flood.

This time levels were lower than they were three years ago and thankfully we remained largely unscathed. We were better prepared this time with more temporary and permanent defences. In fact our coastal defences are estimated to have protected over 500,000 properties over the weekend. I visited Snape and Felixstowe Ferry who were prepared for the worst but thankfully the storm passed. I know there was some minor flooding further up the coast with the Harbour Inn in Southwold bearing the brunt. There was also a hugely tragic incident on Saturday morning where a gentlemen died under crumbling cliffs in Thorpeness. My sympathy goes to his family and friends.

The advance warning of the surge meant the Emergency Planning team were able to swing into action and set up the Strategic Coordinating Group, chaired by Suffolk Police – which gave me regular briefings on Friday evening. Rest centres were mobilised to cope with evacuations and a helpline was set up to help move people. I want to thank Suffolk Police, the fire service, council officers, the Environment Agency and flood groups who all helped residents and businesses at risk of flooding.

Turning to matters in Westminster. Today, the Prime Minister will set out her approach to Brexit negotiations. She is clear that we will decide for ourselves how we control immigration and that we will pass our own laws. We will be a fully independent, sovereign country. The Prime Minister wants a deal that is unique to Britain and by the end of today we will know a little more about her approach to that deal. Parliament has already voted the trigger Article 50 by the end of March, which will set off a period of negotiations. Whether you voted Leave or Remain it is time to unite to build a global Britain outside the EU.

Finally, we had welcome news last week that Suffolk is going to benefit from a dedicated £1.8m pothole fund, which will help keep the county moving. Whilst on my constituency tour last year the state of our roads was consistently raised with me by local residents, so I'm delighted the County Council will benefit from this additional fund, which builds on the £1.4m we received last year to help fix our roads. Remember you can report potholes to be fixed online at www.suffolk.gov.uk."

11 JAN 2017

Star Column - 10th January 2017

"The New Year has brought some immediate good news with reports showing that our economy grew by 2.2 per cent last year – more than any other G7 country, including Germany and the USA. The fundamentals of our economy are solid which is reassuring as we move into a period of negotiation with the EU on our future trade deal. The Prime Minister has said that she will set out our next steps soon and we know that our future deal on business will be critical for our long term prosperity.

Parliament returns this week with a very busy schedule, so I was pleased to fit in some visits to schools and meetings on education, the NHS and Sizewell C before returning. I spoke to our county council about all the schools in the constituency, including some of the factors affecting the primary school assessments. I followed that up with a chat with the Regional Schools Commissioner about the academies and free school in Suffolk Coastal, which are ever increasing. I visited Farlingaye High School and Felixstowe Academy. It was my first time meeting Dr Andy Sievewright at Farlingaye High School, following the retirement of Sue Hargadon. Sue led the school to record exam successes, outstanding Ofsted ratings and made Farlingaye one of the most consistently top performing schools in the county so Dr Sievewright has big shoes to fill. It was useful to understand his priorities for the future of Farlingaye and more widely for our part of Suffolk.

At Felixstowe Academy, it was good to see Mr Williams for the second time with a good notch of results under his belt and clear changes made at the school. The passion is clearly undimmed though he pointed out this would be the challenging year, helping everyone at Felixstowe Academy to fulfil their potential by being systematically diligent at teaching and learning day in, day out. I was pleased to hear that applications had increased for the coming year – a vote of confidence in the academy from local parents.

Before Parliament resumed, I also took the opportunity to talk to Nick Hulme, Chief Executive of Ipswich Hospital, about the sustainability and transformation plan for Suffolk and North Essex. The key focus is more care outside a main hospital setting, including primary care, self medication and thinking about how outpatients check ups are carried out, as well as links with social care. I referred to the experiences at the other end of Suffolk as well as seeking to understand exactly the challenges of running two hospitals. Colchester has been in special measures and is taking a lot of time and effort to resolve but we have a strong team in Ipswich to keep the show running.

I'm trying to keep positive on football but the FA cup was nearly a humiliation for the Tractor Boys. Glad to see our non League sides are thriving.

Finally, and with my DEFRA Ministerial hat on as well as being the local MP, I was delighted to see the completion of Woodbridge's new flood defences. Three years ago Woodbridge was hit by a storm surge with water levels surpassing even the 1953 flood. After a £1.2m investment, the new strengthened defences for the town will give precious piece of mind to local residents, ensuring that the effects of future flooding are greatly reduced. The new defences are part of the Environment Agency's excellent work across Suffolk and the country."

06 JAN 2017

Star Column - 3rd January 2017

"Happy New Year! A grey, damp start to 2017 on the Suffolk coast but I expect the year will be full of colour whether it's the bright-eyed, tanned, white teeth beaming President Trump at his inauguration to the opportunities and challenges as we go ahead with Article 50, triggering our departure for the EU. There are also important elections coming up on the continent, with Angela Merkel up for re-election in Germany, France due to elect a new President to replace Francois Hollande and the Dutch are also due to go to the polls. The ongoing wars, interspersed with temporary ceasefires, and the terrorist attacks are deeply disturbing but we need to press on with our call for freedom and our generous, humanitarian approaches, largely supported by our overseas aid budget. We certainly live in interesting political times. While it is likely that Britain's withdrawal from the European Union will continue to dominate the headlines as the government embarks on the most complex task it has faced since the end of the Second World War, especially as we seek a deal that is bespoke to Britain, there is much else that continues to command our attention on a local and national level.

The second stage of the public consultation on Sizewell C is still open and closes on 3 February. We waited a long time for this stage of the consultation and it is vital that residents and business owners contribute so we maximise the opportunity to improve local infrastructure. Sizewell C will bring huge benefits to the Suffolk coast, in particular bringing high skilled, high paid jobs to our area, but there are legitimate concerns regarding increased traffic and other disruption during the construction phase. This disruption could potentially stretch to the A14 and all along the A12. If you haven't contributed yet, you can find out more about what is being proposed and give your feedback on http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info.

As Environment Minister, I am looking forward to publishing the framework of our 25 year environment plan and, in due course, the full plan itself. As I expected when I started the role, being MP for Suffolk Coastal has been a great apprenticeship for this ministerial position which I have found in the first six months to be an ever broader portfolio than I realised. As floods minister, I checked the flood information service twice daily and had my wellies ready. However, fortunately, we have had a rather dry Christmas season – which is a welcome relief for the staff of the Environment Agency across the country, many of whom have not enjoyed a peaceful Christmas day at home for a few years. This Christmas break has been a fresh chance to reconnect with the special landscape and coast that we all enjoy. I just wish our rescue dog, Jess, was not quite so noise sensitive as she is. Many walks have been curtailed by a sudden bang or whatever and I get the exercise chasing after her. That said, the doggy welcome in many of our pubs is very special – something which many tourists praise too.

The New Year brings an opportunity for resolutions. I really must do one – improving my handwriting for my team. I will also resolve to continue to work with my fellow MPs on helping our great county. I will also be campaigning in the important county council elections. Finally, I will continue to work for residents and businesses along the coast. May I wish you all peace and prosperity for 2017."

03 JAN 2017

Star Column - 28th December 2016

I hope all Star readers had a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas and are looking forward to what 2017 brings. 2016 brought events that will define politics for years to come. An MP was murdered. The referendum on the EU was a close but decisive vote to leave. The Prime Minister resigned and we have a new PM in Theresa May. Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected Labour leader with an even bigger mandate, while Donald Trump won the US Presidency, while Hilary Clinton lived up to her politically unlucky reputation as she won the popular vote but not the electoral college.

The defining event of the year, Britain's decision to leave the European Union in June's referendum, will have ramifications for decades to come as we forge a new role for ourselves in the world after 43 years of EU membership. The turnout of 80% in Suffolk Coastal was one of the highest in the country and I hope that my efforts in contacting over 25,000 households to encourage them to use their vote during the campaign helped to contribute to this. The government is now getting on with the job of delivering the verdict of the British people and we will seek to build a relationship with the EU that reflects the kind of mature, co-operative relationship that close friends and allies enjoy.

The referendum result also led to the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. David came to office in 2010 and put Britain back on a sound economic footing would have been enough to make his premiership a success I believe, but he was a great reforming Prime Minister too, notably in education and welfare where sweeping changes have been made to raise standards and make sure work always pays. He has much to be proud of during his 6 years in office and it was an honour to serve in his government.

The transition of power to Theresa May was swift and smooth and she has provided strong and principled leadership to our country in this uncertain time. Theresa has shown she has the determination and vision needed to get us the best possible deal from our upcoming negotiations with the EU and will work tirelessly to implement the manifesto which we were elected upon at the last general election. It was a great honour to be appointed a Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs by the Prime Minister, covering the environment and rural life opportunities. It is such a broad portfolio that touches every part of our great country and we are working hard to make the most of the opportunities that leaving the European Union brings to reshape our environmental policy so we leave the environment in a better state than we found it.

There were moments of national joy – the Queen's 90th birthday, the tremendous success for Team GB at the Olympic and Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro. To finish second in the medals table at both events is a monumental achievement of which the whole nation is rightly proud. In Defra we were particularly proud of Hollie Webb who scored the winning penalty stroke to clinch gold. I expect we will celebrate our sporting heroes in the New Years' honours list but as the Queen said in her Christmas, we can all do extraordinary things in our daily lives to make a difference to the lives of others. I would like to thank my team Phil, Hugo, Kirsty and Alex for all their help in helping constituents of Suffolk Coastal.

On that note, I would like to wish all Star readers a happy and prosperous New Year.

21 DEC 2016

Star Column - 20th December 2016

I have had a significant number of debates and appearances in Parliament recently on my broad portfolio – air quality, forestry, sales of ivory – while out of the chamber and committee rooms, a large amount of my time has been ensuring we are ready for winter. Last year's flooding resulted from unprecedented rain so I have been watching the weather reports very closely indeed and am hoping for a white rather than wet Christmas. That said, the country is definitely better prepared this winter than last. Not only have defences been repaired, in the last year, more than 55,000 homes are now better protected. For those people not insured, I encourage you to be so. The new Flood Re scheme has been in operation for six months now with the aim of having affordable insurance for all home owners, effectively cross-subsidised by those at effectively no risk. This is a medium-term measure to allow home owners time to improve the resilience of their home but at least having insurance gives some comfort of mind in case the worst does happen.

Just as schools close for Christmas, after a very long term, not only do they have a break but we also have a chance to look at the primary school test results. There was a reset of the standards expected at primary level which has been assessed. As a county, Suffolk has started inching up the league tables to 123rd from 134th in 2014. This new curriculum raises expectations and works to ensure pupils become more accomplished readers and fluent in mathematical basics. This added rigour will help to better support pupils when leaving primary school for the demands that come with moving into secondary education. Locally, congratulations should go to Nacton Primary School where 75% of pupils met the new benchmarks in reading, writing and maths, compared to a national average of 53% and a Suffolk average of 49%. St Mary's Primary School in Woodbridge and Colneis Junior School in Felixstowe also performed particularly well, far exceeding the national average. The Education Secretary issued a new funding formula for further consultation. This proposes a welcome though modest increase for Suffolk and I will scrutinise it carefully before responding.

While children and families in Suffolk are looking forward to Christmas, our thoughts are no doubt with those still trapped in the Syrian city of Aleppo where survival is a gift in itself. The horrific images of war and desolation continue to haunt our television screens and newspapers. Britain is urgently sending medical kits, clean water, food and blankets that will be the difference between life and death for those fleeing the city, caught in freezing temperatures after being systematically bombed from their homes by the Syrian regime and its Russian allies. Since the start of the conflict in 2012 the UK has pledged more than £2.3 billion to support those affected, our largest ever response to a single humanitarian crisis, making us the second largest donor of aid only behind the United States.

As we think of those less fortunate in Syria and elsewhere, let us be thankful for what we have here at home. I'm looking forward to spending Christmas with my family here in Suffolk (weather permitting!) and would like to wish all Star readers the very best for the festive season. Merry Christmas.

14 DEC 2016

Star Column - 13th December 2016

As I wrote in my column last week, a number of people stopped me while I was out shopping in Felixstowe to discuss the proposed rise of beach hut rents. I have also received a lot of correspondence on the matter from residents and beach hut owners. I followed this up with local councillors and am pleased to report that at Suffolk Coastal District Council's Cabinet meeting last week members decided not to progress with the proposals straight away, but to carry out a six week consultation, to commence on 3 January 2017, on the conversion of all current site licenses into longer term leases and the proposed scheme of charges. It's important that owners who are concerned about these proposed changes have their say when the consultation opens. You should be able to respond by visiting www.eastsuffolk.gov.uk when it opens in the New Year.

There is another consultation which I want to encourage residents and businesses to respond to, regarding the Post Office Network. The government wants feedback as to what expectations are of the Post Office and the services they provide to inform the future funding and development of the network. This will have a particular focus on smaller communities which means it's vital that Suffolk's voice is heard. Since 2010 the government has committed almost £2 billion to support this vital network and fund the transformation of stores. They can often be the lifeblood of local communities and in the Conservative government's manifesto we committed to securing the future of 3,000 rural post offices. You can respond to the consultation by visiting https://beisgovuk.citizenspace.com/ukgi/post-office-network-consultation or by calling 0207 215 4383.

Business owners will be aware that their business rates will be changing from April in the first revaluation of commercial property since 2010. Current rates are based on rateable values from 2008 and next year's change will be based on 2015 valuations. This is not about raising revenue for the government, but a realignment of the basis on which businesses are charged. Three quarters of all business nationwide will see their rates either fall or stay the same, with several businesses benefitting in both Felixstowe and Woodbridge. Some businesses will see a rise in their rates however and the government is doubling the threshold from which small businesses will be exempt from paying rates at all, as well as applying transitional relief for five years. There is also the option to appeal the change in rateable value if it is felt to be unfair.

And finally, Bawdsey Parish Council's project to regenerate the Amenity Area at Bawdsey Quay has been shortlisted for a public vote as part of Tesco's Bags of Help project. The project awards funding to communities from the 5p plastic bag charge which was implemented last year. Shoppers can vote for the project, which includes building an outdoor classroom and improving wildlife projects, at Tesco stores in Felixstowe, Martlesham and Ipswich by collecting a token at the check-out tills.

07 DEC 2016

Star Column - 6th December 2016

I was out and about in Felixstowe over the weekend to support Small Business Saturday, visiting a number of retailers, including one of my favourite kitchen shops, Ruby & Scarlet on Hamilton Road. This excellent new businesses run by Donna Johnson and Claire Noye has only been going for a year, but is already award winning having picked up the Most Promising Newcomer Award at the National Excellence in Houseware Awards a couple of months ago. I also picked up a book for my godson at Stillwater Books, some new work shoes from the Clarks franchise and slippers in time for winter from Russell Smith. It's important we support our fantastic local businesses all year round, not just as we do our Christmas shopping, but at this busy time of year shops on Hamilton Road will be opening their doors until 7pm every Friday during the festive season to make it that little bit easier to find the perfect gift. Along with free parking in town centre car parks from 3pm there is even more reason to shop local this Christmas.

The A14 is a vital route for Suffolk businesses, especially the Port of Felixstowe. I have campaigned for improvements to the road for many years now and am delighted that work has started on a new bypass near Huntingdon and the widening of 21 miles of existing carriageway to improve the free flow of trade, commuters and other road users along this important route. Regular readers may remember the successful campaign I ran against the proposed toll on the road which would have been effectively been a tax on Suffolk businesses, many of which will now benefit from the £1.5 billion of investment going into this project. Additionally, with Sizewell C on the horizon the construction phase will bring many more heavy goods vehicles on the road, primarily using the A14. It's essential we are prepared for additional traffic along this key route and am pleased this work is due to be completed by 2020. The news comes hot on the heels of the announcement that the government will also fund a business case to be developed for the Energy Gateway on the A12, another important route for local residents and businesses.

I had the pleasure of welcoming Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club to Parliament last week. They're a really friendly bunch and I thoroughly enjoyed spending some time with them. I was pleased to learn that Felixstowe has produced some world champion sailors and if getting out and about more is going to be one of your new year's resolutions, they'd be delighted to hear from any potential new members – www.ffsc.co.uk.

And finally, I was stopped in the street several times as I shopped over the weekend by people wanting to discuss the proposed rise of beach hut rents. I will be following this up with local councillors who will be making the decision and the Felixstowe Forward group.

30 NOV 2016

Star Column - 29th November 2016

The Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement last week and there was good news for Suffolk Coastal with £1 million allocated to develop a business case for the Energy Gateway on the A12. This is an important first step and follows the recent delegation of local councillors I led to meet the Transport Minister in Suffolk so he could see first-hand the congestion problems we face along this road. With Sizewell C on the horizon I will now work with our local councils to progress this as speedily as possible so residents and businesses can benefit from improvements to the A12.

Other welcome measures in Wednesday's statement included a new National Savings and Investments (NS&I) savings bond and a freeze in fuel duty. The Chancellor recommitted to raising the tax free personal allowance to 11,500 in April 2017 and to £12,500 by 2020. Raising the tax-free personal allowance has done more to help working people than almost anything else. Someone with a salary of £15,000 now pays just £800 a year in tax, less than half what they paid in 2010.

The announcement in the Autumn Statement completed a double boost for the Energy Gateway as stage 2 of EDF's public consultation on Sizewell C contained an option to bypass the villages of Farnham and Stratford St Andrew. While this falls short of the proposal we have been lobbying for it is the first time such an option has been included by EDF. We have waited a long time for this second stage consultation and it is vital that residents and business owners contribute. There is now more information about traffic movements and similar. You can see what is being proposed and respond here: http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info. The consultation is open until 3 February and there will be a public exhibition at the Community Hall in Woodbridge on Tuesday 13 December between 11am and 3pm.

It's Small Business Saturday this weekend and we're blessed with numerous fantastic local businesses in our area and I hope as many people as possible will show their support my sending some trade their way in the run up to Christmas. Last year, customers spent £623m with small businesses on the day, an increase of 24% on the year before. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our communities and we have a responsibility to help them thrive all year round. The Chancellor announced in the Autumn Statement that the government will inject a further £400 million into the British Business Bank to lend to small firms and help them grow. Corporation tax will be cut further to 17% by 2020, down from 28% in 2010 and rural rate relief will increase to 100% from April, resulting in a tax break of £2,900 for our small rural businesses which so many isolated communities rely on.

And finally, I'm looking forward to welcoming Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club to Parliament on Thursday. They're a great family friendly organisation who cater for all ages and abilities. If you want to give sailing a go, visit their website on www.ffsc.co.uk.

24 NOV 2016

Star Column - 22nd November 2016

I mentioned in last week's column that stage 2 of EDF's public consultation will begin tomorrow, where residents can submit their feedback by going to http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info. There are also details on there about a number of exhibitions being held up and down Suffolk Coastal where residents can see plans for new infrastructure and ask any questions they may have. The EDF team will be at the Community Hall in Woodbridge on Tuesday 13 December between 11am and 3pm.

Following the announcement earlier this month that Rock Barracks near Woodbridge is due to close by 2027, I met Defence Minister Mark Lancaster to discuss the future of the site. I was joined at the meeting by the Deputy Leader of Suffolk Coastal District Council, Cllr Geoff Holdcroft. I understand the local community are upset by the closure and I promised to review some of the criteria on which the decision was made with the Ministry of Defence. We had a detailed discussion about these criteria as well as discussing the special characteristics of the site. I put across to the Minister that it is vitally important to carefully consider the potential options for the future use of the site, including vital infrastructure that would be needed for any alternative use than that we have today.

Great news for sustainable fishing as the ban on discarding perfectly good fish back into the sea will extend to cod, plaice and sole from 2017. Fish discards are unacceptable and the government worked hard to reform the policy to encourage more sustainable practices. This ban on demersal species discards follows earlier bans on other species and there is more reform coming between now and 2019 to end this harmful practice. Fishermen in Felixstowe can find out more information on what they need to know on the Marine Management Organisation's website.

HMRC are reminding married couples and civil partners of the savings they may be eligible for under the Marriage Allowance. The government launched this last year and it can help many couples save over £200 from their tax bill every year. It takes just seven minutes to apply online at www.gov.uk/apply-marriage-allowance or by calling 0300 200 3300.

And finally, the festive season is fast approaching and there is good news for those hardy souls who like to take a dip in the North Sea on Boxing Day. The bathing water on Felixstowe's beaches has been rated as Excellent by the Environment Agency as part of a national survey of beaches and lakes in England. This isn't just positive for festive swimmers, but a boost for our coastal economy and the £500m tourism industry that supports it. The high standard of bathing water is just one of a number of reasons that so many people choose to visit the Suffolk coast every year. One in nine jobs in our part of the world is connected to tourism meaning these visitors are crucial for so many local people's livelihoods. Credit should go to the Environment Agency and Anglian Water for doing their bit to keep our coastal waters clean.

17 NOV 2016

Star Column - 15th November 2016

It's been quite a week in geopolitical terms, with Donald Trump upsetting the polls to become President-elect of the United States, taking office on 20 January 2017. I look forward to continuing our special relationship with our American cousins based on shared values of freedom, democracy and enterprise. We are and will remain strong partners on issues of trade and defence and the government will build on these ties to ensure the security and prosperity of our two nations in the years ahead.

I wrote in last week's column about the Ministry of Defence's proposal to close Rock Barracks near Woodbridge. I fully understand the local community will be upset by this and I am due to meet the Minister responsible for the defence estate later this week to review some of the criteria on which this decision has been based, particularly thinking of the capability of having an airfield available for the 23 Parachute Engineers. That said, the overall strategy of the MoD has been to move to lifetime basing for the Armed Forces, with the 23 Parachute Engineers likely to end up as part of the garrison in Colchester along with the rest of 16 Air Assault Brigade. That is logistically sensible, emotionally sensible for families and in particular for children who will no longer be moved around the country and can focus on their education. There is likely to be opportunities for 23 Parachute Engineers to maintain their links with the town of Woodbridge as I have seen other regiments who move away from their original town return for special events, including Remembrance Day. I will endeavour to make sure that Woodbridge and the surrounding areas retain their link with 23 Parachute Engineers.

As for the future of the site, we must consider carefully the potential options and what vital infrastructure might be needed for alternative uses of it. I will work with local councillors and the community to find the best way forward, mindful not only of the societal benefits that the base brings, including the education of children at Sandlings Primary School, but also the economic benefits it has bought to our community. To that end I will be looking to host a meeting for the local community in due course, please check my website for more details.

EDF have announced that the stage 2 public consultation for Sizewell C will begin on 23 November. This has been a long time coming and it's a crucial step along the road to the project finally getting underway. It's important that the opinion of local residents is conveyed to EDF and that we maximise the opportunity to improve local infrastructure. While Sizewell C will bring huge benefits to the Suffolk coast, in particular bringing high skilled, high paid jobs to our area, there are legitimate concerns regarding increasing traffic on the roads during the construction phase and on the location of where to build accommodation for construction workers, among others. The consultation will last for ten weeks and will include exhibitions around the local area. You can find out more on http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info.

And finally, the bathing water classification for Felixstowe has been rated as Excellent for the second year running. 93% of beaches in England have been rated excellent which is a huge boost for our coastal economy. Thousands of people flock to the Suffolk coast every year and Felixstowe is becoming an increasingly popular destination for visitors. Well done to the Environment Agency, Anglian Water and all those in the town who have worked to make this a reality.

09 NOV 2016

Star Column - 8th November 2016

"Rock Barracks near Woodbridge has been earmarked to close by the Ministry of Defence as part of their strategic review, although I imagine it may not happen for some time yet. I want to look at the detail of what is being proposed and the reasons for this closure as I know how much local people have really embraced 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment who are based there. Having seen action in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the regiment were awarded the Freedom of Woodbridge in 2009 and have regularly paraded through the town. I know residents always enjoy the open days held on the base when the gates are thrown open and activities on offer for all the family. Since the regiment was re-formed in 2003, they have played an invaluable part of our national defence force being on a constant state of high readiness in preparation for deployment anywhere in the world. They have played an important part in local life in Woodbridge and will be missed if the base does close.

It's the time of year we pay tribute to all members of our armed forces, especially those who have died in service to their country. I'm looking forward to the parade in Woodbridge happening on Remembrance Sunday. Elsewhere, there are events taking place in Felixstowe at St John's Church and Martlesham Heath at Barrack Square. We must never forget those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Last week was a very busy one for me in Westminster as I was called upon to respond for the government in several debates related to my ministerial role at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. A debate on grouse shooting was triggered after a petition to ban the practice received over 100,000 signatures online. Sustainable grouse shooting is an important part of the management of uplands and the government recognises that there needs to be a balance between the environmental and economic benefits that shooting brings.

This debate was followed by another one on global biodiversity where I emphasised the good work being done to protect and promote endangered species around the world. I attended the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in South Africa not long ago where we adopted measures that will protect critically threatened species such as pangolins and opposed the resumption of the commercial trade in ivory.

I was called upon to answer an Urgent Question about air quality, a priority area for the government. There has been much progress on this and the transport industry is the focus of our action. We have committed over £2 billion to green transport initiatives including supporting the introduction of ultra-low emission vehicles. There is more to be done on air quality and this government is determined to take action.

Finally, I took the short flight out to Guernsey to attend the environmental meeting of the British-Irish Council where we tackled issues of food waste and recycling. The council is made up of the British and Irish governments, as well as devolved administrations and other authorities such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. It was also a good opportunity to discuss upcoming EU negotiations with these other admirations as it was the first time all island ministers have been in attendance.

It was certainly a busy week and one that emphasised how diverse my role at Defra is. A lot of the issues discussed have an immediate impact on Suffolk Coastal which for me makes it even more worthwhile."

02 NOV 2016

Star Column - 1st November 2016

Network Rail are going to be improving the Felixstowe branch line to make way for more freight trains as the Port of Felixstowe continues to grow. This will result in the closure of six level crossings in the Trimley area to be replaced by a public bridleway footbridge over the line. These improvements will also increase the reliability of passenger services on this vital line and demonstrates Network Rail's commitment to our railway. This increased capacity will also benefit drivers on the A14 as for each additional freight train, 60 lorries are taken off the road. Thousands of local jobs depend on the Port of Felixstowe, meaning its continued growth as Britain's flagship container port is very welcome. Network Rail are holding a public information event this Thursday to explain their plans and give residents an opportunity to ask questions and provide feedback. It will take place in the Trimley Sports and Social Club on the High Road in Trimley St Martin between 2pm and 7pm. If you're unable to make it you can get more information by calling 03457 11 41 41 or by emailing felixstowebranchlineproject@networkrail.co.uk.

The government is introducing tough new measures to crack down on nuisance calls which will see company directors held personally responsible for the actions of their firms. Directors will now be facing personal fines of up to £500,000 on top of any fines against the company, meaning they can't simply fold and start trading elsewhere like many do now. Nuisance calls are a blight on countless people's lives and for the elderly and vulnerable these calls can be more than just a nuisance. Some of them rely on their phone as the only link to the outside world and when they are harassed by nuisance callers it can often leave them feeling intimidated in their own homes, or pressured into being scammed. The government has already taken action to force companies to display their numbers when they call which should help people dismiss calls they don't want and report them if necessary. Millions of pounds have been invested in a nuisance call package with money set aside for call blocking devices for society's most vulnerable so they can feel safer when answering the phone. The maximum fine issued to nuisance callers has also been increased and this year alone £1.8m worth of fines have been dished out to rogue organisations. These new measures make clear that the government will not stand for nuisance calls and will strike another blow to those organisations and individuals responsible.

As winter draws in the government is raising awareness about the risks of flooding and how to better prepare if the worst does happen. Visit www.gov.uk/floodsdestroy to see if you live in a flood risk area and www.centre4resilience.org to prepare yourself in case the worst does happen. Flooding doesn't just have a financial impact, it can be emotionally devastating. On top of an unprecedented investment of £2.5billion in flood defences which will better protect 300,000 properties from floods by 2021, the government has published the Property Flood Resilience Action Plan which works with industry to establish how homes and businesses can be better protected and help those who are unfortunate enough to suffer flooding get back in their homes and businesses sooner.

26 OCT 2016

Star Column - 25th October 2016

The East of England Ambulance Service seems to be improving, particularly on reaching stroke victims more quickly, according to the Chief Executive of the service who updated East of England MPs on the Turnaround Plan last week. There has been an improvement in response times for the most urgent calls, which is especially pleasing in the context of increased demand. After the last meeting, it was clear that the issue of handover times at hospitals was still a driver of performance decline so I wrote to some of the worst performing hospitals to ask what is being done to rectify this. I am pleased to report this is now improving with plans in place to implement a more effective handover process of patients. While these improvements are welcome, people living in parts of rural Suffolk are still not receiving the service they need and I will preserve with my efforts to see the Turnaround Plan fully implemented.

Felixstowe has made it into the top 5 'Rising Star' high streets in Britain in this year's Great British High Street competition. There were almost 900 applications across all categories which highlights what a tremendous achievement this is. It won't surprise those who know the town well however as we have much of which to be proud. The Spa Theatre Pavilion and Seafront Gardens have recently re-opened, we have a huge variety of shops and further investment is coming into the town including work to rejuvenate the pier. Well done to all the businesses involved and to Felixstowe Forward who put together the application to the competition.

These are hopefully exciting times for rail travel in our area with the new Greater Anglia franchise investing £1.4 billion into new rolling stick, extra services and faster journeys. I had the pleasure of addressing the East Suffolk Travellers' Association in Woodbridge on this subject recently as well as the importance of public transport in general. There was particular enthusiasm for the return of the direct service to London from the East Suffolk Line, which the association has encouraged in the past.

Following a consultation with local people, the Post Office will be moving their Hamilton Road branch into WHSmith. There were a number of issues raised during the consultation and the Post Office has addressed these in a letter posted online. I have also put this up on my website, www.theresecoffey.co.uk. The new branch is due to open on Thursday 24 November and the same range of products and services will still be available, 7 days a week.

And finally, I welcomed students from Farlingaye High School to Westminster on Friday. They had the opportunity to see how our democracy works up close, taking a tour round both the House of Commons and House of Lords as well as taking advantage of the brand new state-of-the-art visitor's centre which helps to bring the process of campaigning and law making to life. They had a chance to grill me on several issues before they left including the migrant crisis and the EU referendum. I hope they found the experience worthwhile and it was clear there were some budding future politicians among them!

Photo: Therese welcomes Falringaye High School students to Parliament.

19 OCT 2016

Star Column - 18th October 2016

At long last, Trinity College Cambridge is linking up with Felixstowe Academy to develop an exciting new maths partnership which will be of tremendous benefit to our young people. Trinity College makes a lot of money from the Felixstowe peninsula as it owns a lot of land and I have long encouraged them to do more here. Trinity College is renowned for its maths, science and engineering which fits perfectly with the skills agenda in our area. With Sizewell C on the horizon, continued investment in offshore wind and high-tech companies based at Adastral Park on our doorstep, students need to be ready to take advantage of high skilled and high paid jobs opportunities that are coming our way. 95 Felixstowe Academy students have already visited Cambridge to take part in problem solving workshops and talk to Trinity undergraduates about their experiences. More visits are in the pipeline and I hope this new partnership will raise the aspirations and ambitions of students and be a valuable resource for both children and teachers at the academy.

New Suffolk resident Bill Turnbull (formerly of BBC Breakfast) said he was surprised to learn of the deprivation to be found in our county, when he participated in the Flourishing Suffolk Conference last week. Following the publication of the Hidden Needs report on rural deprivation in our county this issue is becoming more prevalent in people's minds. Rural Life Opportunities is part of my ministerial brief at DEFRA and I sent a video message to the conference outlining the challenges people can face living in the countryside such as access to education and ambulance response times. I will work in government to make sure rural issues are actively considered in policy decisions by my ministerial colleagues so this is a country that works for everyone, no matter where you live. If you'd like to see my message to the conference you can find it on my website, www.theresecoffey.co.uk.

On the subject of ambulance response times, regular readers will be aware of my campaign to improve response times in rural areas like ours and I am due to meet the Chief Executive of the East of England Service in Parliament tomorrow. He will be updating Eastern MPs on progress made to implement the Turnaround Plan and I will report back with an update in next week's column.

Vodafone customers in Woodbridge will be pleased to know that 4G mobile signal is now available in the town, great news for residents and businesses alike. I understand that the situation can be more frustrating for residents who live out in the countryside who suffer from partial not-spots where only one or two operators cover. The government is planning to change planning regulations to allow taller masts to be built which will hopefully go a long way towards solving this.

And finally, I took part in my first set of DEFRA Parliamentary questions on Thursday where MPs can question the DEFRA ministerial team about our work. I was asked about soil health, flooding and tree planting amongst others meaning I was able to inform the House that woodland cover in England is at its highest level since the 14th century. We shouldn't rest there however and I want to encourage schools, including our own local ones to get involved in the Woodland Trust's tree planting scheme so we can reach our goal of planting 11 million trees by the end of the decade.

12 OCT 2016

Star Column - 11th October 2016

Prime Minister Theresa May set out her vision to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few at her closing speech at Conservative Party conference last week. The mood was positive and upbeat at the conference in Birmingham as the Prime Minister started the week with greater clarity on our direction in Brexit negotiations and closed the conference fleshing out her vision for the country. I thought she set out clearly where she wants the government to step in, reinforcing the message of the Conservatives that we will help those who do the right thing. Certainly, Theresa is a leader at ease with herself and the changes in emphasis to deliver a One Nation Britain.

The leadership change that happened in this country is quite in contrast to the unseemly slanging match in the USA, though not resorting to actual fisticuffs!

I had the pleasure of attending the 5th Annual Suffolk Coast & Estuaries Community Conference recently, not only as the local MP, but also with my DEFRA ministerial hat on. Flooding is part of my remit and having represented our area for the last six years in Parliament I'm very aware of the impact it can have on people's lives. The tidal surge of three years ago is still fresh in my mind, when the River Deben and others burst its banks, ruining people's homes and businesses. Leaving the European Union provides an opportunity to work towards a more holistic approach with environmental legislation and the government is currently formulating a 25 year plan to leave the environment in a better shape than we found it, particularly when it comes to water and flooding. There has been continued investment in flood defences along the Suffolk coast and we must carry on working to make our communities as resilient as possible.

Following Felixstowe & Walton United's recent FA Cup run there is another competition I am hoping we do well in. I am proud to say that Felixstowe has been entered into this year's Great British High Street competition in the 'Rising Star' category. I think it speaks volumes about how far the town has come in recent years with much progress being made to rejuvenate areas and attract more visitors. With a huge variety of shops accompanied by the recently reopened Spa Theatre Pavilion and attractive Seafront Gardens, there is new investment coming into the town, supported by Felixstowe Forward who are working hard to make their plans for a better Felixstowe a reality. Well done to all those involved in the bid so far, we've got a great chance to shine a light on our successes and I believe this is further proof that Felixstowe really is a town on the rise. The finalists will be announced shortly so watch this space, I'll keep you updated.

28 SEP 2016

Star Column - 27th September 2016

Prime Minister Theresa May made her first appearance at the United Nations in New York last week, calling for a new, more effective approach to better manage global migration and the refugee crisis. We can be proud that the UK is already playing its part as the world's second-largest bilateral humanitarian donor and the government will step up its efforts with further financial assistance and concrete action in partnership with those countries who are most affected by these huge movements of displaced people.

However, we cannot simply focus on treating the symptoms of the crisis, we need to address its root causes too. While we must continue our efforts to put an end to conflict and stamp out persecution and human rights abuses, a better way to manage mass migration should be based around three principles. Firstly, ensuring that refugees claim asylum in the first safe country they reach to reduce the influence of criminal gangs and traffickers who exploit the onward movement of people. Second, to better distinguish between refugees and economic migrants as failure to do so only encourages more people to put their lives in the hands of these criminal gangs and undertake dangerous journeys. Finally, the right of all countries to control their borders in order to reduce the flows of illegal and uncontrolled migration. By ensuring a managed and controlled international response to migration and at the same time tackling the underlying drivers of displacement and migration at source we can reject isolationism and xenophobia, achieving better outcomes for everyone.

I was pleased to see there has been a slight improvement in response times for the East of England Ambulance Service responding to the most critical calls. While there is still much more work to do, progress is being made. The Chief Executive is due in Parliament next month at my invitation to explain what recent steps have been taken to provide a better service for patients in our area.

September is World Alzheimer's Month and the government has released a new dementia atlas to highlight how standards of dementia care differs throughout the country. It will hopefully shine a spotlight on areas where work still needs to be done to improve dementia care and drive improvement, while highlighting best practice. The atlas shows that in our area we have a better rate of diagnosis for over 65's than other parts of East Anglia and more patients have their care reviewed more often. There are also hundreds of registered Dementia Friends in the Felixstowe area, where much credit has to go to the Dementia Action Alliance there who are doing great work. Dementia Friends is a scheme run by the Alzheimer's Society to educate people on how to help those living with dementia. Having undergone Dementia Friends training last year I want to encourage more residents in areas like the IP10 postcode where there are fewer Dementia Friends to do the same so Suffolk Coastal can move towards becoming a dementia friendly community.

And finally, I am in South Africa at the moment, representing the UK at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. We are backing urgent action to tackle elephant poaching which has reached critical levels recently among other measures. I will write more about my time here in next week's column.

23 SEP 2016

Star Column - 20th September 2016

The government has given the go-ahead for the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station in Somerset, the first new nuclear power station to be built in a generation. This is good news for us here on the Suffolk coast as it means we can progress with Sizewell C. After Prime Minister Theresa May comprehensively reviewed the agreement with EDF, a new series of measures will be introduced to ensure that these new nuclear power stations cannot change hands without the government's agreement. As I have written before, nuclear is an important part of our energy mix as a reliable and low carbon option. We must continue to take advantage of the opportunities that Sizewell C will provide and our young people should look at taking up subjects like science and engineering in order to capitalise on the high skilled, high paid jobs that will be coming to the Suffolk coast.

I was concerned about the reports of suspected illegal immigrants landing among our coast last week. Border Force have now briefed me on the situation. Most Border Force activity along our shores is intelligence led and collaborative but understandably, they will not provide a running commentary for the public. We should be careful on speculation or operation details as that helps the criminals. I do encourage the boating community and local residents to report concerns they have directly to the authorities.

Residents were out in force over the weekend for the Great British Beach Clean with several events in Felixstowe, Levington, Shingle Street and elsewhere. I was up in Southwold for this year's clean where there was another strong turnout of volunteers keen to see their community look its best. I expect the prospect of free fish and chips added to bringing about 100 people from far and wide. I was surprised at how some people seem to dig their rubbish into the sand and dunes. Children's toys were left behind too. With tourism so valuable to our local economy it's important we keep our coastline looking spic and span to make sure visitors' trips here are as memorable as possible. Well done to all those who gave up parts of their weekend to chip in.

Picking up rubbish was rewarding but it would be better to have as little as possible and more of it recycled. With my Defra minister hat on, I visited Suffolk's energy from waste plant and a business in Brightwell called Frugalpac which has developed a coffee cup which is much easier to recycle. Suffolk has a decent recycling rate with Coastal leading the way but our county town needing to do better. The less we put into landfill, the better for council finances. Taking it to the next step may include having a separate food waste collection, which most of the leading recycling councils already offer.

And finally, there was a great atmosphere at the Goldstar Ground on Saturday as Felixstowe and Walton United played Conference South side Bishops Stortford in the FA Cup. Nearly four hundred people attended and were well entertained. Cheers at the end marked a fantastic result against a side in a much higher division and the Seasiders go marching on to face Beaconsfield away in the third qualifying round, further into the FA Cup than they've ever been before.

14 SEP 2016

Star Column - 13th September 2016

There has been a lot of discussion in recent weeks about schooling and how we can best ensure our children and young people receive the best education possible. This follows Theresa May's initiative to make Britain the world's great meritocracy, where talent and hard work matter rather than where you were born. Part of this involves relaxing restrictions on selective schools, a discussion I welcome. In a true meritocracy, we should not be apologetic about stretching the most academically able to the very highest standards of excellence. I am also pleased that universities will be encouraged to sponsor schools or set up new Free Schools. The Free Schools initiative is already underway in Suffolk with the Seckford Foundation opening three, including in Saxmundham. The journey has not been plain sailing so I hope these new proposals are given careful consideration. Another part of the government's initiative includes making it easier to set up more good faith schools. The 50% rule, where schools which are oversubscribed must limit the numbers they select on the basis of faith to 50%, is being looked at with a view to being removed. There was also good news for children and parents in Warren Heath, as Broke Hall Primary opened its doors only a week after finding dangerous asbestos in some of the buildings. I hope the children have enjoyed their week out of the classroom doing some more hands-on learning and are now ready to settle down to the new term.

Like many, I have been glued to the radio recently listening to The Archers' storyline on an abusive relationship which has ended up in court. I have to say, I breathed a huge sigh of relief when Helen Titchener was found not guilty of attempted murder. Helen has become a figurehead for the plight of domestic abuse victims and millions tuned in to hear the jury's verdict. Albeit fictional, the plot has highlighted an important issue that affects too many people. The government has recently pledged £80m worth of funding for preventative measures to stop women and girls becoming the victims of violence and for support services. Every woman should feel safe, empowered and able to fulfil their potential. The government is also working on exempting women's refuges from the new housing benefit cap so they are able to continue the vital work they do to support victims of domestic violence.

On Friday I met Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore, to discuss the arrangements for lost property in the wake of front desks closing at police stations. He assured me that the police will still take items and that more information can be found on their website - www.suffolk.police.uk/contact-us/report-something/lost-and-found-property. There will be a publicity drive to make residents aware of the new procedures.

Congratulations to all those who were involved in the Felixstowe Heritage Open Days over the weekend. There was a lot going on in the town and I was delighted to officially open proceedings. Organisers Michael Ninnmey, Robert Scrimgeour and others deserve our thanks for all the time and effort put into organising a whole weekend worth of activities.

And finally, Felixstowe & Walton United are in action in the FA Cup on Saturday against Conference South side Bishops Stortford. The Seasiders are already the furthest they have ever been in the competition so please do come down and support your local team.

07 SEP 2016

Star Column - 6th September 2016

Parliament has now returned after the summer recess and we were welcomed back to Westminster yesterday with some wet and horrible weather, appropriate I suppose now summer is officially over. This two week period is usually one of the busiest of the year with much to pack in before the party conference season and I am looking forward to getting stuck in. Luckily we had glorious Suffolk sunshine for my constituency tour last week, which was a huge success with 191 people coming out to see us over 90 different stops from Walton to Wrentham. The number of people raising issues such as broadband and mobile phone signal was significantly lower than previous tours, with most issues raised relating to local councils as well as some other interesting national ones. While it can be a tiring week, doing around 25 stops per day, I always find it a worthwhile experience and I'd like to thank all those who came out to see me in their town or village. I will be following up a number of issues with local councillors in the coming weeks.

While my tour may now be over, Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner is kicking his one off in Felixstowe this evening. Over the next few months Tim Passmore will be holding a number of public meetings throughout Suffolk where residents will be able to raise issues with him and the Chief Constable about policing in the county. The meeting this evening will take place in the Town Hall Council Chambers at 6.30pm and is open for anyone to attend. More information about future meetings can be found on my website.

The Prime Minister has ordered government departments to identify and publish information showing how outcomes differ for people of different backgrounds in a range of areas from education to healthcare, childcare to welfare, employment, skills and criminal justice. This will give anybody the ability to check how their background affects the way they are treated by public services and the transparent information will help government and the public to force poor-performing services to improve. The latest figures from the Equality and Human Rights Commission show large disparities in our society. For example, white working class boys are less likely to go to university than any other group, a sad fact we must do better on. White working class communities also experience geographical inequalities with those living in coastal towns such as ours adversely affected. This audit will reveal difficult truths, but we should not be apologetic about shining a light on injustices as never before. It is only by doing so we can make this country work for everyone, not just a privileged few.

And finally, there is good news for Woodbridge residents as the post office is due to be upgraded to a new main style branch, meaning longer opening hours and more services on officer. A full refurbishment is due at the end of the month. In 2013 the government took the decision to invest an extra £640 million into the Post Office modernisation Programme and I'm pleased this is paying off for customers in our area after modernisation in Felixstowe too.

05 SEP 2016

Star Column - 30th August 2016

The end of summer is fast approaching. Young people have just had their exam results and are deciding their next steps while parents of others are digging out the school uniforms and shop displays have back to school kits in garish colours. I was particularly pleased to see the step change in GCSE results at Felixstowe Academy. Well done to Mr Williams, his staff and of course the students. I expect parents were thrilled. Mrs Hargadon retires from Farlingaye High School with record results. She will be much missed. The government has changed its assessment of school results. It no longer looks for the percentage of children gaining 5 GCSEs but is moving to a measure called Progress 8 (P8) and the proportion of children achieving passes GCSE English and Maths. P8 looks at eight subjects a child takes and sees how well he or she has progressed from the age of 11. This gives a more insightful look on how schools have helped children. I will write more about this when the P8 scores are published.

The summer recess has brought a lot more work as a Defra minister. The department was due to present a 25 year environment plan in line with our manifesto. That has taken on additional oomph now that we are leaving the EU. It now offers to have an environment policy bespoke to Britain though the environment and its effects do not just stop at country borders. We will need to continue to work with our EU neighbours and, as it is a devolved matter, we will need to work closely with the rest of the UK. I have already started visiting other parts of the country. My first trip was to Cumbria to see people hit by last year's floods and some of the flood defence works underway. Of course, Suffolk is prone to flooding too as well as drought. Last week, I visited Bristol which is home to two of the key parts of the Defra family – the Environment Agency and the Forestry Commission. This was a chance to see and meet people working at the HQ, working on strategic elements and other initiatives like open data. The bathing waters map (www.gov.uk/quality-of-local-bathing-water) is a good example of opening up data which some water companies and councils use to help with tourism. I was very pleased to note the excellent condition of the two bathing areas in Felixstowe.

While I was in Bristol, I took advantage of visiting the BBC which hosts a number of departments there including the natural history unit and the rural and nature teams. Countryfile is a big hit and it was good to have a quick chat with the production team. Farming Today is now a must-listen and the small, highly productive team talked through some themes. I got a sneak preview of a few shots of a new BBC programme on the marine environment (which will be a huge hit). Readers will know I worked for the BBC before joining Parliament. I know what a fabulous organisation it is at making and telling a story about matters which would be otherwise inaccessible to most licence fee payers.

I am out and about the constituency visiting 90 villages and towns in the next four days. My team all join me on this trip – useful for following up on queries and it provides a good bit of team bonding. The itinerary is on my website. I hope to see you at one of the stops.

24 AUG 2016

Star Column - 23rd August 2016

"What a two weeks it has been! Thanks to the dedication, hard-work and exceptional talent of our Olympians, along with a lot of help from the National Lottery and its players a nation of just 64 million people beat China, with a population of 1.36 billion, to second place in the Rio medal table. We can all be extremely proud of the achievements of Team GB and I'm sure their performance will help inspire a new generation of talent to continue our success as a sporting powerhouse. To help people get inspired, I am supporting the country's biggest ever sports day that's taking place this Saturday. The British Olympic Association are asking sports clubs to open their doors to local residents so they can take part in a range of sports, free of charge. A number of local clubs are taking part with Judo available in Felixstowe Academy and a mini-triathlon in Eyke. To see what's on offer in Suffolk, visit iamteamgb.com.

Continuing the sporting theme, I was delighted to attend the ground breaking ceremony at Felixstowe and Walton United last week as the first shovel broke ground on the Seasiders' new clubhouse. The new building at the Goldstar Ground will include new changing rooms and social facilities which can also be hired out by the community. The club has big plans to grow not only in the local community, but to compete at a high level too and this new facility is crucial in making that happen.

Congratulations to all those young people who achieved the grades they wanted on A-level results day. There are a record amount of university offers this year and a wide range of advanced apprentices too. For more details, check out www.apprenticeships.org.uk or www.thesource.me.uk. If you didn't quite make the grades you wanted then there are still lots of choices and the Government funded helpline available at 0808 100 8000, may help. Good luck to all of our GCSE students who pick up their results this Thursday.

In an important announcement by the Justice Secretary yesterday, prisoners who display extremist Islamic views will now be kept in specialist units to prevent them radicalising other prisoners. Governors have also been instructed to ban extremist literature and to remove anyone from Friday prayers who is promoting anti-British beliefs or other dangerous views. These measures, recommended by former prison governor, Ian Acheson, are a direct response to a specific problem and are designed to enable prisoners to be rehabilitated properly and to keep the public protected.

Finally, today is the deadline on the Suffolk and Norfolk devolution deal consultation. The deal involves having an elected Mayor for Norfolk and Suffolk and a combined authority for councils to make collective decisions. For more information and to have your say visit www.eastangliadevo.co.uk/consultation."

17 AUG 2016

Star Column - 16th August 2016

I'm pleased that the new rail franchise was finally announced last week and the great news is the £1.4bn of investment that we will be seeing in new carriages, extra services, faster journeys and free WiFi. Abellio won the contract to deliver rail services in East Anglia from October onwards with its competitive bid. The current fleet of trains will also all be refurbished before the new state of the art carriages are rolled out, with the new rolling stock expected to start arriving by 2020. The deal is a win for passengers in Suffolk Coastal as the new deal will eventually include four through trains a day to and from Lowestoft to London, once again directly connecting the East Suffolk Line to the capital without the dash across the bridge at Ipswich. This is a welcome restoration of through trains for residents, it's also great news for the Suffolk Coast as a whole, opening up more investment and tourism to further boost our growing economy. This campaign started several years ago and was the first great example of MPs from the four counties of East Anglia working together after the 2010 election, ably led by Ben Gummer and Chloe Smith. Well done to our councillors, LEP and business groups who also kept pressing the case.

Regular readers will know about my ongoing campaign to improve ambulance response times in our area. For the first time, the East of England Ambulance Service has been inspected by the Care Quality Commission and has been given a 'Requires Improvement' rating. While this is the outcome they were expecting at this stage of their journey it is still disappointing to see. Progress has been made in turning things around but it is nowhere near quick enough. The report reinforces the need for improvements in ambulance response times for patients in rural areas. I have a meeting lined up with the Secretary of State for Health when I plan to go into detail about the problems we face and I am also writing to the Chief Executives of those hospitals with the worst handover times which is poor for patient care and reduces the time that ambulances are available to help others who need a 999 response. I am now planning to meet the CQC inspectors so that I and other Eastern MPs can be better equipped when questioning the service bosses in the future.

It was a pleasure to be invited to the Alzheimer's Society Activity and Support Group in Felixstowe recently. Last year my team and I became Dementia Friends, a scheme run by the Alzheimer's Society, so we could better understand and support the thousands of people in our area who suffer from this terrible affliction. The session was both interesting and innovative, with people sharing memories and having the opportunity to receive face to face support. These sessions run every Wednesday at 10.30am at St John's Church on Orwell Road. I'd like to thank everyone there for taking the time to see me and for being so welcoming. There are other dementia groups that meet regularly in the town and I'm sure people will be equally welcome.

And finally, good luck to the young people who get their A level results this week. I really hope you get what you need to get to the university or apprenticeship that you want. If you haven't got the grades you wanted, I expect your college or school will have advisors on hand to help. No one should worry as there are always positive next steps that can be made. There is also a government-funded helpline 0808 100 8000.

11 AUG 2016

Star Column - 9th August 2016

The summer of sport continues as the Olympics are now finally underway. With the spectacular success of London 2012 still fresh in the minds of so many people, it's hard to believe that four years have passed but Team GB are ready to go again. Suffolk Coastal will have our own representative at the games in the form of Katy Sealy from Bawdsey. She will be representing Belize, the place her father was born in the 100m hurdles. Good luck Katy!

A new Olympic games is also an opportunity to reflect on the legacy that the London 2012 games left behind. Before 2012, Suffolk was ranked one of the least active counties in England, but did improve immediately after the games. However, since then successive surveys have shown there has not been a significant increase in the number of people participating in sport. We have not been short of inspiration in Suffolk with the Aviva Women's Cycling Tour returning for a third time this year and the men's race passing through in both 2012 and 2015. I have taken it upon myself to always try and get a Boris bike into work when I'm down in Westminster. Apart from the obvious health benefits there are so many more reasons to get more active as it can boost self-esteem, confidence and provides a new way to socialise. www.suffolksport.com and www.eastsuffolk.gov.uk/leisure are great places to start to see what's going on in our area.

I was pleased to see the Prime Minister's announcement that local residents should share in the proceeds of shale gas explorations in their area. The Shale Wealth Fund was previously only expected to share proceeds from shale revenues with only community trusts and local authorities however the Prime Minister has changed the consultation to include the option of money being paid directly to local residents in host areas. I think there is scope to replicate this idea for areas that host nuclear power stations such as ours as well. While the impact that shale gas exploration and a nuclear power station has on local areas is obviously different, it is only right that local residents who live near nuclear power stations should also be able to directly benefit from the proceeds that brings.

On the subject of nuclear energy, the decision by the board of EDF to give the go ahead for the construction of Sizewell C's sister station, Hinkley Point C in Somerset, takes us another step closer to the next stage of the consultation process here. With a new Government now in place, the detail of the agreement with EDF will be looked at carefully to ensure we get the best deal for Britain. We must continue to prepare to make the most of the opportunities that this historic project will provide and our young people should be looking to take up science and engineering to take advantage of the high skilled, high paid jobs that will be coming to our local area.

And finally, while the search continues for short-stay traveller sites to be identified throughout Suffolk we must be conscious of the feelings of local communities. I understand the concern and need for these sites, but they should not be foisted on communities who do not want them. Previous proposals have included a layby in Levington and off Candlet Road in Felixstowe, both of which were faced with opposition. We should respect the will of local residents before making these decisions.

08 AUG 2016

Star Column - 2nd August 2016

I am just a few weeks into my new role at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and I have been getting up to speed with my new brief as the Environment Minister. There is lots to learn, but I have been putting my experience in rural Suffolk to good use. Over the weekend we published the news that six billion plastic bags have been taken out of circulation since the introduction of the 5p charge and £29 million donated from retailers towards good causes around the country. In 2014 over seven billion carrier bags were handed out, a figure that has now fallen to just over half a billion in the first six months after the 5p charge was introduced last October. It shows that small actions can be make a big difference and means our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won't be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites. This is of course particularly pertinent as we celebrate the diversity of our sea life for Marine Week along the Suffolk Coast. While this is spectacular progress, we can't be complacent as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use.

I was in Woodbridge on Friday as the 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment were given the freedom to parade through the town. The regiment have now been based at Rock Barracks outside the town for a decade and were granted the Freedom of Woodbridge in 2006, with this being the sixth occasion they have exercised that freedom. Crowds were out in force to celebrate the occasion and show their support for the troops as they marched from Market Hill to Deben Pool with a musical ensemble and a salute by the Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk Clare, Countess of Euston, along the way. The regiment returned the wonderful support that the town showed by hosting an open day over the weekend with lots to see and do including more music by the regiment's band who were so popular on the march. It was great to see so many residents come down for that too.

The ban on cycling along the promenade at Felixstowe which has stood for a century is due to be lifted for a trial period over the course of the next year. It is up to users of the prom to now show that this is the right decision if it is to become permanent. With health and wellbeing high on the agenda I hope this move will encourage more people to use the prom to get active and enjoy being outside.

And finally, I have had my first complaint from a constituent about Pokemon Go, the new location based game which is taking the world by storm. With nearly 10 million every day users the aim is to catch Pokemon, fictional creatures, while walking out and about. There are different objects to collect at different locations and this persons house has been designated a stop on the game without their consent. As you can imagine they're somewhat unsettled by strangers randomly showing up at their house, which in a town you probably wouldn't notice but in the countryside is unavoidable. While I had heard of Pokemon Go (although not downloaded it despite the best efforts of my team) this raises the whole question of virtual space and who owns it. I'll be following up with Nintendo and alerting the Digital Minister.

27 JUL 2016

Star Column - 26th July 2016

Parliament has broken for the summer recess and it's hard to believe that it was only just over a month ago that the nation was digesting the result of the EU referendum. That historic decision has been the catalyst from the most extraordinary few weeks in British politics that I can remember and I'm sure everyone in Westminster and around the country are looking forward to a bit of break from the so called Westminster bubble, though I am back in London for the next two weeks working with my team and new ministerial brief.

As part of my ongoing campaign to improve ambulance response times in our area, I organised a meeting in Parliament for Eastern MPs to hear from the Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Service, Rob Morton about how the Turnaround Plan is progressing. We heard about a significant increase in demand and unfortunately there is still a major problem with handover times at hospitals despite their efforts. I will be writing to the heads of the worst performing hospitals, Watford, Colchester and the N&N to challenge them, as well as NHS England. Problems with response times in rural areas like East Suffolk remain and I am particularly concerned about response times for people suffering strokes. I will continue to organise these meetings and keep the pressure on until the full Turnaround Plan is implemented for the benefit of patients.

There is some good news for EE customers in Felixstowe who had their signal cut off earlier this year. I was contacted by several frustrated residents and it turned out that one of their masts on Felixstowe Promenade had been removed, causing an outage for customers. After conversations I had with EE and Ofcom a temporary solution has now been found and customers compensated. I'm delighted that a new permanent site has now been activated providing certainty for residents. I'm told the switchover should be happening next month.

The Great British High Streets competition is once again looking for nominations and I want to encourage our great towns and villages to put themselves forward. Suffolk's high streets are a vital part of our local economy and this is an opportunity to be recognised for the hard work being done to revive and diversify them for the future. Visit www.thegreatbritishhighstreet.co.uk for details on how to enter.

It's National Marine Week, a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the diverse wildlife who inhabit our seas. Along our coast we are lucky enough to have everything from the smallest molluscs to humpback whales. With the weather treating us well at the moment you can do much more than just dip a toe in the water with a number of events that the Suffolk Wildlife Trust are putting on to help celebrate our wonderful coastline. To find out what's going on near you visit www.suffolkwildlifetrust.org/whats-on.

And finally, the Felixstowe Carnival was a great success over the weekend with the sun shining down on us and a fabulous collection of floats making their way through town. I joined the procession to hold one of the buckets collecting people's coppers along the way and would like to thank people for their donations. There was one downside - the appearance of the old North Sea hotel which continues to be a blot on the landscape. I will chase the council on this. The carnival has been going for over sixty years now and I'd like to thank the current committee for keeping this fabulous tradition going and a hearty congratulations on another fantastic weekend.

21 JUL 2016

Star Column - 19th July 2016

We have a new Prime Minister. Theresa May has assumed office at Number 10 Downing Street and got straight down to work, with some of her first visits being to Edinburgh and Cardiff to emphasise the importance of the union. Her first week in office also saw the horrific attack in Nice where scores of people were murdered. Horrific acts of violence like this remind us of the threat this country faces and the work the security services do to keep us safe. My thoughts and prayers have been with the families of the victims of this senseless act. As I have written before, I believe she has the proven track record and strong leadership credentials required to take the helm at this uncertain time for our country and I wish her the best of luck.

On a personal note, I am thrilled to have been appointed a Minister at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. As I write this my portfolio is being decided, but it is likely to be the Environment and Rural affairs Minister. With so many environmental jewels along our coast co-existing with significant industry including marine, nuclear and agriculture, as well as the challenges of erosion and flooding at one extreme and water shortages for farming at the other, I have had a great apprenticeship already. One of my main challenges will be managing expectations locally as I am Minister for the whole country, not just for the Suffolk Coast. I am looking forward to working with Andrea Leadsom, George Eustice and Lord Gardiner in this exciting department which touches everyone across our great country.

While there is much to be optimistic about going forward, I would like to look back briefly and pay tribute to David Cameron who has been a fantastic Prime Minister over the last 6 years. He came to office during one of the most difficult times in the nation's history, with the economy teetering on the edge and at the head of the first coalition government since the Second World War. Along with George Osborne he has got Britain moving again and we are now one of the fastest growing economies in the West. We are reducing the spending deficit left to us and investors once again have confidence in the British economy. This is no mean feat and is the result of shrewd economic management and having the leadership qualities to take tough decisions when it mattered. Putting Britain back on a sound economic footing would have been enough to make his premiership a success I believe, but he has also been a great reforming Prime Minister too, notably in education and welfare where sweeping changes have been made to raise standards and make sure work always pays. There are now 1.4 million more children in good or outstanding schools than in 2010 and more people in work than ever before. Other measures such as introducing a National Living Wage and focussing on apprenticeships for young people are also worth highlighting. He has much to be proud of and it was an honour to serve in his government.

And finally, the grand final of the Tiffin Cup took place in Parliament last week with Bombay Nite from Felixstowe representing Suffolk Coastal. While they did not take home the national title, to beat off stiff competition and be one of the top 11 restaurants in the country competing against each other is a huge achievement. Congratulations to Shammi and Head Chef Jamal, they did us proud.

13 JUL 2016

Star Column - 12th July 2016

The political world hasn't been short of surprises recently and with Andrea Leadsom announcing that she is withdrawing her candidacy to become the next leader of the Conservative Party, Home Secretary Theresa May will become the Prime Minister tomorrow. She will provide the strong and principled leadership our country needs at this uncertain time. I have said before that she could become Prime Minister tomorrow and would be more than equipped to do the job. This scenario is no longer hypothetical! In a speech made yesterday she set out a bold new vision for Britain and was very clear that Brexit means Brexit. There will be no attempt to keep Britain inside the EU against the wishes of the British people. I believe Theresa has the determination and vision needed to get us the best deal possible and to forge a new role for ourselves in the world. She also spoke about the agenda of social justice she wants to pursue, making sure this is a country that works for everyone. David Cameron has been a great social reformer and Theresa will carry this on and build on it further. The Conservative Party will continue to put ourselves at the service of ordinary working people and strive to make Great Britain, greater still.

Today in Parliament is the final of the Tiffin Cup, a national competition to find the best South Asian restaurant in Britain. A few months ago I asked people to let me know what their favourite curry house was and as I have written about before, Bombay Nite in Felixstowe came out on top. A mystery taster has since visited the restaurant and has put them forward to the national final against 10 other curry houses to be held today in Parliament. I'm extremely proud that they've beaten off stuff competition to become one of this year's finalists. I visited the restaurant last week and got a sample of the special dish which will be presented to the judges. I have been before but the warmth for Shammi, Jamal and his team has been amazing. I will be at the contest to cheer on Shammi and head chef Jamal as he prepares his signature dish of lamb lagan and I'm sure all their customers and the people of Suffolk Coastal will be rooting for Bombay Nite to be crowned champions.

On the subject of our fantastic and successful local businesses, we had a number of successes to celebrate at the recent Suffolk Business Awards, hosted by the Star's sister paper, the East Anglian Daily Times. We had 3 business up for awards all of them were recognised. The Cake Shop Bakery in Woodbridge won the Best Family Business Award and the Suffolk Canine Creche in Martlesham were doubly successful, picking up the Customer Care Award and the Future50 One to Watch Awards. The Three Musketeers potato marketers from Rendlesham were the runners up in the Food and Farming Excellence category. Congratulations to all 3 businesses, we must remember to celebrate and support the fantastic work that all of our local businesses do. They are the backbone of the Suffolk economy.

08 JUL 2016

Star Column - 5th July 2016

Parliament has been very busy. There is a leadership election underway in the Conservative Party and the Labour MPs would like a leadership election but cannot make it happen. What a week it has been as candidates pull out and new ones step forward. We now have the choice of five capable candidates. Many residents have asked me who I will be supporting for leader of the Conservative Party and of course Prime Minister. This is a crucial juncture for our nation and requires experienced, competent and decisive leadership to steer us through some uncertain times. I am also conscious that the next four years is not just about the EU but is about implementing our manifesto on which we were elected a year ago. That's why I'm backing Home Secretary Theresa May. I admire her qualities, she could step into the job tomorrow and we need to choose the person who we think can get the best deal for the UK. I think she fits the bill with credible, sensible and calm leadership.

A new EU unit has been set up in Government in order to prepare for negotiating our exit from the EU. This will bring together officials and policy experts from across Government including the Treasury, Foreign Office and Business Department. As one of the most complex and important tasks any Government has undertaken in decades, the new unit will be led and staffed by the best and brightest from across the civil service and report directly to the Cabinet. It will be responsible for ensuring that the new Prime Minister has the best possible advice from the moment of their arrival.

I'm looking forward to the annual Suffolk Business Awards at Trinity Park, sponsored by the Star's sister paper, the East Anglian Daily Times. It will be a celebration of the many fantastic businesses that call Suffolk home. We have a number of local business who are up for awards, including the Suffolk Canine Creche in Martlesham, the Three Musketeers potato marketers from Rendlesham and the Cake Shop Bakery in Woodbridge. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that all three pick up a well-deserved award each.

I chaired the inaugural meeting of the A14 Suffolk campaign board, bringing together the Chamber of Commerce, councils and LEPs with the Department for Transport and Highways England to address and push the government for further improvements within Suffolk. This is a long-term campaign as the next available tranche of money will not be available till 2020. It was useful to agree a strategic direction and how to engage the public as well as the government. Many think the A14 is sorted because of the huge project in Cambridgeshire. We need to make them realise that we still need further investment to help growth and the plight of the commuter in and around Ipswich.

The Trimley Carnival is this weekend, with this year's theme being Rule Britannia – Queen & Country. The carnival will feature the usual procession through both villages as well as entertainment and other forms of fun on the events field. Please do come along and support them.

And finally, yesterday I welcomed Melton and Bucklesham Primary Schools to Parliament as they learnt all about how our democracy works and went on a tour round both the House of Commons and House of Lords. Afterwards the children had an opportunity to grill me about my role as a Member of Parliament and Minister. There is a brand new education centre that has recently opened on site so I would encourage other schools from our area to visit Parliament and take advantage of this fantastic new facility.

29 JUN 2016

Star Column - 28th June 2016

The referendum has been decided and there is a clear majority expressed for the view that the UK should leave the EU. I will work with fellow ministers and my colleagues to implement that result and to continue fulfilling the manifesto on which we were elected last year. While I did campaign for Remain, I also wanted to boost turnout as I wanted the result to be clear. I hope that my efforts helped increase the Coastal turnout to 80.7%, one of the highest in the country.

The Prime Minister has resigned and will leave office later this year which means that there will now be a leadership contest for the Conservative Party and de facto the Prime Minister. At time of writing, I am still deciding who to support. I want to understand what each candidate has to say on next steps for leaving the EU and their views on what to achieve beyond our manifesto for the next few years. Simultaneously, we are seeing unprecedented moves in the Labour Party with more than half the Shadow Cabinet resigning.

Parliamentary tributes to Jo Cox, the MP who was brutally murdered, were very moving. Jo's family were watching and listening in the gallery. The empty seat on the green benches and the voices of her children were a constant reminder of this awful tragedy.

Parliament also paused yesterday to observe the national minute of silence for the victims of the Sousse beach massacre in Tunisia a year ago. 38 people were murdered, including Philip Heathcote from Felixstowe. He was especially in my thoughts as were his wife Allison who miraculously survived and the other members of the Heathcote family. By all accounts Philip was a determined, generous and loving man who was a familiar face in the Felixstowe cricket community. Rest in Peace, Philip.

Despite the heavy rains overnight there was a good turnout for the Woodbridge Regatta and Riverside Fair. It was a nice change of pace from the frenetic activity of the referendum with Songs of Praise opening the day and free rides up and down the river throughout. I'm told that the first regatta races were run on the River Deben in 1784, making this a great Suffolk tradition. Well done to all the hardworking volunteers and community groups for coming together to put on a fantastic day.

While they may not have been going for as long as the Regatta, the Suffolk Town Pastors were celebrating their 10th anniversary recently. The volunteers from churches all over Suffolk work with police, pubs and others to help out in the early hours of the morning in town centres as people make their way home from nightclubs and bars, making sure vulnerable people are supported and often providing practical support or a listening ear. Pastors work in both Felixstowe and Woodbridge and the celebration took place at Adastral Park in Martlesham Heath. The project and volunteers are a credit to Christians everywhere and deserve our thanks for giving up their own time at extremely unsociable hours.

29 JUN 2016

Star Column - 21st June 2016

An MP was murdered last week and I am at Parliament to pay tribute to her. Jo Cox appears to have been targeted because she was an MP and because she expressed views. Recently, we were together in the Parliamentary tug of war raising thousands for charity. My condolences and prayers go to her family, her friends and particularly her member of staff who cradled Jo in her arms. I also commend Bernard Kenny who tried to intervene. MPs are united that we will continue to publicly serve our constituents and not be intimidated. Jo Cox RIP.

The EU referendum is this Thursday, when the people decide whether or not we stay in the EU. There are good arguments on both sides of this argument and I understand it has not been a straightforward decision for most, me included. I do want people to vote on the basis of good judgement though and not myths. Other factors have been brought into this debate which are nothing to do with EU membership like human rights judges, the monarchy or some far-fetched claims on us being forced into the Euro or a European army which are simply baloney. There is a lot about the EU that can be infuriating and some of the arguments on regulations which we fight and sometimes lose, though win most of them, those will continue to be there. But actually the more this campaign has gone on, the more I am certain that families and businesses in the UK will be better off if we vote to remain in a reformed EU. With our special status that the Prime Minister has negotiated, we can get the best of both worlds – staying in the single market of 500 million people but stepping off the escalator to ever closer union, keeping our borders and pound.

The consensus from the majority of financial authorities, trade unions and businesses is that leaving the EU will bring a hit to our economy. That will likely have a knock-on impact on the government's funding available for public services and the household budget for every family. The governor of the Bank of England has warned of a recession. The Chief Executive of Virgin Money, Jayne-Anne Gadhia, predicts mortgage interest rates will go up, adding about £900 a year to the average mortgage interest payments. The last thing business wants is uncertainty and we are already seeing investment being pulled in Suffolk. I think that is why almost all of the small and large businesses that I have visited in the last six years and spoken to recently, including our farmers, are in favour of staying in as the single market is good for jobs, helps us be prosperous and it is also critical for our local retail and tourism industry that their customers' livelihoods are not affected.

The Out leaders seem to have decided for the WTO model which means import tariffs for goods coming in and paying tariffs on exports (bad news for many manufacturers in a global economy), as the model Switzerland or Norway have includes full freedom of movement and they are in the borderless, passport free zone. It could take years to negotiate the trade deals that we have today. Let's not waste the years ahead but focus on continuing to grow our economy which helps pay for our public services and the NHS, improving education, skills and infrastructure and really work together for a prosperous Suffolk and UK.

We still drink pints, bought with British pounds, drive on the left in miles and yards and keep our safe, 3 pin plugs. We will still be Britain with our Queen, our Armed Forces, our borders and the pound. Thinking of you and your family's future, I encourage you to vote remain.

15 JUN 2016

Star Column - 14th June 2016

Her Majesty the Queen celebrated her 90th birthday this weekend and up and down the country people were out in force to help her mark this momentous occasion. Her Majesty is a national icon and a beacon of stability and duty in an ever changing world. The most novel way of celebrating in Suffolk was a musical train on the East Suffolk line going between Ipswich and Lowestoft and I joined in the celebrations along the way in Halesworth. The station was packed on both platforms as hardworking volunteers from the Community Rail Partnership had decorated it in red, white and blue bunting and laid on a special tea party in preparation for the arrival of the Southwold and Reydon Corps of Drums. The brass band was getting off and performing at every station and gave a magnificent rendition at our stop. We even had our own ukulele band to compliment the musical theme! Everyone involved in making the day such a special occasion deserves our thanks and despite the sun not making much of an appearance it really was fit for a Queen.

I'll be at the Salvation Army Hall in Felixstowe on Saturday evening for an EU debate. I believe we are stronger, safer and better off inside a reformed EU and will be putting forward the case for voting to Remain. Please do come along whatever side of the debate you are on, or better yet – if you are undecided!

To mark the 150th anniversary of the first women's suffrage petition, handed to Parliament in June 1866, a new six metre tall light sculpture called New Dawn was unveiled in Parliament. Suffolk's own Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett played a leading role in organising signatures for the petition aged just 19. The Garrett family were from Aldeburgh built and Snape Maltings as well as much of the town. Milicent was a pioneer of her age, she and others deserve the gratitude of all women. While much progress has been made over recent decades, Parliament is still a very male dominated place. At the general election last year, a record amount of female MPs were elected, however at the same election more men were elected than all women ever, highlighting that there is still much work to do to achieve a gender balance.

And finally, I had the pleasure of Captaining the Parliament Ladies Team in the Macmillan Cancer Support Tug of War fundraising event. It's one of the highlights of the Westminster social calendar and is compered by BBC Radio 2's Jeremy Vine. On the evening, over £110,000 was raised for Macmillan, adding to the £3 million which has been raised in total since the Tug of War began 30 years ago. Although we didn't emerge victorious, the whole team pulled together and put in a sterling effort. I'm proud of my fellow MPs from all parties for some good natured political heave ho. Every year more than 4,000 people in Suffolk will be told they have cancer and I'm pleased that we've played a part in raising money for the vital support network that Macmillan provides.

09 JUN 2016

Star Column - 7th June 2016

The Suffolk Show was a great success, albeit rather cold and grey. However, like thousands of others I had a great time with family and friends over the two days. Going round the tradestands, I was pleased to see a lot of familiar faces and local companies as well as some new I hadn't previously come across. One such new one was the Eastern Community Assistance Team, EA-CAT for short. A group of volunteers with all-terrain vehicles, they can be called upon to assist communities wherever possible, be that in emergencies or just to lend a helping hand. They are always on the lookout for new volunteers as well, more information can be found at www.eat-cat.org. A big thanks to the NFU too who gave me and other local MPs and MEPs the opportunity for an in depth chat about all things farming. Like me they too are convinced that Suffolk's farmers have a brighter future inside the EU. I was particularly pleased to meet some of the young people getting involved in agriculture. The pride of a young lady called Jessica who was handling some of her family herd was a joy to behold. The agriculture industry needs more young people to want to make that a career and events like the Show demonstrate one element of that life.

I have been making stops up and down Suffolk Coastal advocating why Britain is stronger, safer and better off inside a reformed EU. I want to speak to as many people as possible and importantly give them the chance to ask any questions they may have about the referendum. On Friday I had the pleasure of being invited to Adastral Park to speak to employees at BT. I took part in a debate with my colleague and Essex MP Bernard Jenkin who was advocating for the Leave side followed by questions from the floor. Companies like BT who employ thousands of people have decided that they will have a more prosperous future if they have access to the European single market of 500 million consumers, something that can only be guaranteed by staying in the EU. Afterwards I also held town hall meetings in both Orford and Halesworth, before finishing off at the Anchor in Walberswick. Thank you to everyone who came along to discuss this. Today (Tuesday) is the last day where you can register to vote in the referendum, if you haven't done so already please go to www.gov.uk/register-to-vote to have your say. If you received a polling card for the Police and Crime Commissioner election last month and have not moved house since, you will be automatically registered.

This week is Carers Week, where we celebrate the truly priceless work that people up and down the country do looking after friends and family. 3 in 4 carers don't feel their role is fully understood or valued by their community. It's difficult to know just how many carers there are in our area, but local charity Suffolk Family Carers are in touch with over 14,000 in our county. If you're a carer and want to know more about how they can help you visit their website www.suffolkfamilycarers.org.

And finally, I will be captaining Parliament' Ladies Team in the MacMillan Cancer Tug of War fundraising event. Hopefully we can improve on last year and claim the victory while raising lots of money at the same time. It kicks off what is sure to be a memorable summer of sport with Euro 2016 starting this Friday and the Olympics getting underway in August. Best of luck to England and Team GB!

01 JUN 2016

Star Column - 30th May 2016

I met Simon and Jo last week who had come to Parliament with their assistance dogs, Ulay and Lennox, to press for better enforcement of the law which allows their assistance dogs to accompany them anywhere – shops, restaurants, pubs, taxis, buses and so on. Central Lobby is the usual place to greet constituents but with so many four legged friends and such a large group of people visiting Parliament, Mr Speaker allowed the 11th Century Westminster Hall to be used instead. The issue Jo and Simon raised does matter and affects their lives on a regular basis. I said I would follow up with the Secretary of State on the fine limits but I do think more awareness is a better way to prevent these problems arising in the first place. I will also follow up with our council to see what more can be done, particularly on transport.

It's half-term week which means many more visitors to our coastline. Of course, it also means the Suffolk Show. I will be there both days this year so do please say hello. I am looking forward to seeing one of our MEPs Vicky Ford and to discuss several agricultural issues. The Secretary of State, Elizabeth Truss, was in Suffolk last week visiting Suffolk Food Hall and Blythburgh Pork, where she met proprietors Jimmy and Pauline Butler. The outdoor pig industry is quite a feature along the A12 with Dingley Dell also favouring the outdoor life. High standards of animal welfare do come at a premium but anyone will see that their short lives are very contented ones. I was also able to introduce some other farmers to the Secretary of State and discuss other matters including the Rural Payments Agency. We also discussed the importance of the EU single market to the farming and food industry. 180,000 people are employed in Norfolk and Suffolk in the food and agricultural industry. It is good to have great companies in our county selling across the UK, the EU and further afield.

I enjoyed an early visit to Chelsea Flower Show with a Parliamentary group. Arriving at 7am, we managed to get round at pace and then enjoy another hour to look at a few more gardens in detail. I now understand better why gardens win certain medals and prizes while gardens I would much rather sit in and enjoy don't seem to win. Technical standards are the key measure it seems. Anyway, it was a great pleasure to see the Suffolk Retreat designed by Frederic Whyte in partnership with the Pro Corda Trust, a music organisation based in Leiston Abbey which tutors world class musicians specifically on ensemble performances, including this year's winner of the BBC Young Musician of the Year. Seeing pargeting, water feature inspired by the outdoor pig troughs and some beautiful plants sourced from Suffolk nurseries was quite a treat.

There is much in the press about small boats making their way across the Channel bringing illegal immigrants. Not since World War II have we been able to have a physical presence along every part of our coast but we have extensive intelligence, cooperation with French authorities and as of today, new stronger maritime powers for the Border Force – which we legislated for recently. The powers allow the Border Force to stop, board, divert and detain vessels and arrest anyone they suspect has broken immigration law. I encourage people living along our coast to be alert. Recently, people smugglers were jailed for bringing in illegal immigrants into Orford – thanks to the actions of local residents. Being alert and reporting suspicious or unusual activities is one way we can help.

26 MAY 2016

Star Column - 24th May 2016

The Queen officially opened the new Parliamentary session last week, announcing a packed agenda with 21 new bills to be debated over the coming year. As Deputy Leader of the House part of my role is to help legislation be ready for inclusions in the Queen's Speech. Most notably for us here in Suffolk, steps will be taken to ensure that fast broadband becomes a legal right for all households who want it, with a minimum speed of 10MB/s. We have made great progress in Suffolk connecting more homes and businesses to superfast broadband over the last few years, with 20,000 more households now having access thanks to Government and council investment. This new legislation will help to build on this further and will be another step on the way to universal coverage. Other notable measures in the Queen's speech include a British Bill of Rights, legislation on Lifetime ISA, speeding up the process for children to be adopted into homes and families, while also enhancing the prison system, giving governors more powers to help rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for the world of work rather than return to crime. I hope that the governors of our local prisons Hollesley Bay and Warren Hill take advantage of this in order to help transform the lives of inmates. Overall I'm proud of the agenda that we are setting out, further fulfilling our election manifesto.

I had the pleasure of visiting the Lallemand yeast plant in Felixstowe recently. After hearing me praise the Scotch Whisky industry in Parliament they were kind enough to invite me along to see what they do first hand. The factory on Dock Road is one of only three in the UK and yeast is a key ingredient for making whiskey and all alcohol. The Scotch Whisky industry is the biggest single contributor to the UK balance of trade in goods and I'm proud of the role that the Lallemand yeast plant plays in that. Of course, it's important to remember that our port also helps to export Scotch to over 200 countries worldwide.

As I mentioned in last week's column, I was excited to go along to the Felixstowe Dementia Action Alliance's Brainy Dogs demonstration in the Triangle. As a dog owner myself, it was great to see how our canine companions can help those suffering with dementia. I was pleased to learn too that these dogs are trained by prisoners at Hollesley Bay. Not only is this training great for the dogs and their future owners, but will it provide valuable dog care education for offenders, hopefully influencing their attitudes to dog ownership in the future. Credit should go to Heather McRoberts and Honor Dines who have worked hard to get the Dementia Action Alliance in Felixstowe off the ground.

And finally, it is now less than a month until the country votes in the EU referendum. This is probably one of the most important decisions this country will make for a generation and it's crucial that everyone has the opportunity to have their say. If you received a polling card for the recent Police and Crime Commissioner election, you will be on the electoral register. If you did not, you can register on www.gov.uk/register-to-vote by June 7th. You can apply to vote by post or have someone else vote for you (a proxy vote). In both cases, you need to return a signed form (which you can download from the website above) to the council. The deadline for postal vote applications is 5pm June 8th and 5pm June 15th for proxy votes.

18 MAY 2016

Star Column - 17th May 2016

"The BBC is one of the jewels in Britain's crown and is largely cherished by viewers and listeners. It has a special relationshipwith licence fee payers, with Government agreeing with the BBC what the licence fee can be. In return, the Government negotiates the Charter on behalf of licence fee payers and will set out certain expectations in return. In the past, this has included matters like more TV shows being made by independent production companies, more being made outside London, broadband access and engagement and similar. Last week, the Government published its policy paper setting out proposed reforms to the BBC to make sure it remains a valued public broadcaster for years to come. There was a lot of scaremongering in the past twelve months from various organisations and individuals – which I knew were groundless and somewhat hysterical. The new 11 year charter has been largely welcomed, as it comes after an active discussion between the BBC leadership and ministers. I am really impressed with what is proposed. I used to work for the BBC so I know from the inside what great stuff it does, but I do think there is room for change which I think will keep the BBC focused on its distinctiveness and excellence. There will also be new measures on diversity to make sure the BBC reflects every corner of the UK. The reforms will provide the foundations for a stronger, more independent, more distinctive BBC that will inform, educate and entertain for many years to come.

I'm delighted that planning permission for the new A14 in Cambridgeshire has been granted by the Secretary of State for Transport. Upgrading this 21 mile stretch which has traditionally suffered from congestion will make travel into Suffolk and other parts of East Anglia much easier. I'm looking forward to the diggers breaking ground and this project getting underway (toll-free!)

Felixstowe is really on the up with two pieces of fantastic news. Firstly, congratulations to the Spa Pavilion Theatre who received a grant of £34,500 from the Government's Coastal Revival Fund to help to improve disabled access to the building and make it easier for those with mobility issues to work backstage. The Government is committed to boosting coastal communities and this latest grant is proof of that. Improving access so that everybody can enjoy it and have the opportunity to work there is all part of restoring it to its former glory. Secondly, I was delighted to see that the recently renovated Spa Gardens, which look fantastic by the way, have received an East of England regeneration Award from the Royal Institute of Charter Surveyors. They are now in line for countrywide recognition at the national Awards.

Finally, this week is Dementia Awareness Week with many events planned in Felixstowe (see the Suffolk Coastal District Council website for details). One in three people over 65 will develop dementia so it is a health issue that is likely to affect each of us directly or indirectly. A key element of that is ensuring that we have residential homes where people with dementia can be cared for but it is also about all doing what we can to help. Last summer I trained as a Dementia Friend, a trailblazing initiative from the Alzheimer's Society to help people understand what it might be like to live with dementia and to help those that live with it in their daily lives. There are events on in Felixstowe all week with the library as a base. Heather McRoberts and Honor Dines are leading on this and I'm particularly looking forward to the Brainy Dogs demonstration on Friday at 11am in the Triangle."

11 MAY 2016

Star Column - 10th May 2016

We have many choices in life, but one thing we have no control over is the day of the week we get ill. In our manifesto we presented to the British people last year we made a commitment to deliver a safer, seven-day NHS. Since 2010 there are now 10,100 more doctors and 10,700 more nurses, meaning the NHS is in a good position to deliver this seven-day services for patients. I was incredibly disappointed that junior doctors undertook unprecedented strike action at the urging of the British Medical Association to withdraw emergency cover from hospitals, meaning more than 150,000 operations and appointments have now been cancelled as a result of this dispute. At the urging of the government, the BMA have now agreed to get back round the negotiating table to try and hammer out a solution. Talks began yesterday with the main focus being on the issue of Saturday pay. The new proposed contract is not a cost-cutting exercise. It will mean an average 13.5% basic pay rise for junior doctors and the maximum number of hours a junior doctor can work during one week is being reduced from 91 to 72. This new contract is fairer for junior doctors, safer for patients and will help to create a fully seven-day NHS. I hope a resolution to the dispute can be found this week so that patients, who should be our primary consideration, are put first.

Since the government launched the Educational Excellence White Paper, consulting on the proposal to make all schools in England academies, there has been much constructive feedback from teachers, school leaders, parents and MPs which have highlighted the positive impact that academies have had on transforming young people's life chances. It is widely accepted that more and more schools are keen to embrace academy status. As a result of these conversations, the government has decided that while it would still like to see all schools become academies in the future, it is not necessary to bring forward new laws to force this change. Underperforming schools will however still be required to convert to academies so they can benefit from the support of a strong academy sponsor. Schools rated 'Good' and 'Outstanding' will still be encouraged to seize the opportunities which come with converting to an academy and it is through these methods that the academies programme will continue to expand, empowering frontline headteachers to transform children's educations.

In Parliament last week I attended a meeting organised by Waveney MP Peter Aldous about speeding up the East Suffolk railway line between Ipswich and Lowestoft. It currently takes 94 minutes to make the journey and shaving 20 minutes off this would encourage more people to use the line for business and pleasure. A number of assessments need to be made first, such as top speeds and level crossing issues, before this can progress further. The new franchise contract in place from October this year will help contribute to this work.

And finally, I was out in Felixstowe this weekend with the campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. We had a great reception and although we didn't persuade everyone, it was important to highlight why we will be stronger, safer and better off in a reformed EU. In Felixstowe in particular, a quarter of exports from the Port head over to other EU countries, business which could be put at risk should the UK vote to leave. I will be doing a lot more in the coming weeks in order to highlight why I think Suffolk should vote to Remain and I'm looking forward to speaking to as many people as possible.

04 MAY 2016

Star Column - 3rd May 2016

One of the main manifesto commitments on which I was re-elected a year ago was to make it easier for people to get a home of their own. A key element is reducing the number of empty homes. I am pleased to report that Suffolk Coastal District has seen a drop in vacant dwellings in the last year – general vacancies and long-term vacancies - though it has risen in Ipswich (though not in council-owned homes). Our manifesto made the commitment for people to be able to buy their housing association home on similar terms to people buying their council houses. It so happens in the Suffolk Coastal constituency, Waveney District Council has council housing while Suffolk Coastal transferred its entire housing stock to Flagship Housing Association several years ago. Our Housing and Planning Bill is in its last stages and we are currently battling with the Lords, particularly on housing in rural areas. I do get frustrated that a lot of wealthy peers, many of whom have more than one home, keep trying to put barriers in the way of this key policy, particularly in the countryside. Families often stay in their homes but it does allow them to make more choices about their lives. There is also no compulsion to buy. I am hoping that our policy on starter homes, our discounts and ISAs designed to help people building a deposit and a sensible planning framework from our councils will help many more achieve a home of their own.

The Hillsborough inquest verdict was clear, though required a majority verdict on the issue of unlawful killing. This was the second inquest on what happened at Hillsborough; in the first, the jury recorded a verdict of accidental death. I was at school in Liverpool when Hillsborough happened. It is quite difficult to convey how devastating this was. I am aware of people's views about Heysel, the portrayal of events in the national media at the time and the view about football hooliganism in general. The Taylor inquiry was clear in its view that the main reason for the disaster was the failure of police control. However, it was the inquiry, led by Bishop James of Liverpool, that went further in its revelations and raised significant concerns. I was particularly struck by the review and alteration of recollections and statements by police officers. It was then that Attorney General Dominic Grieve successfully applied for a second inquest and the jury returned its verdict last week. The next step is for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether to charge any of the officers or officials involved at the football match. In the meantime, the families and friends of the victims will console themselves that their march for justice has, after 27 years, been fulfilled.

The 5p charge for single use plastic bags came into effect last October. Motivated by a desire to see a reduction in the number of these bags handed out, the proceeds, after costs, are to be given to charities. I know some petrol stations and similar have chosen local causes. I am pleased that Deben Community Farm in Melton recently secured £10,000 from the Tesco scheme. Tesco are running their second round of funding and charities can apply for consideration via www.tesco.com/carrier-bags by 3rd June.

I hope you all enjoyed your bank holiday weekend. Mine, as usual, was dominated by campaigning prior to elections this Thursday. However, I was delighted to open the new playground in Eyke. The equipment has been carefully chosen to extend to the very young through to the 12 year olds. The primary school children already had a favourite – the swinging basket. Thanks to sponsors who helped the community in their fundraising.

28 APR 2016

Star Column - 26th April 2016

I am very pleased that the Government has, with NHS England, published our forward view for General Practice, investing up to an additional £2.4 billion a year in GP services by 2020/21, a 14% increase. There are four areas on the roadmap to benefit from this investment – building the workforce, improving access, cutting bureaucracy and investing in infrastructure. We target increasing the number of GPs by 5,000 with additional incentives for returning to work and moving to areas with very high GP patient ratios. We will also fund 3,000 mental health therapists to be based in GP practices. The hard work now begins to ensure that more of this funding comes to us here in Suffolk. Under the current formula, most Suffolk residents are underfunded when it comes to primary healthcare and much like our battle to address historic underfunding in our local schools, we must also fight to ensure our healthcare receives the fair level of funding that people in Suffolk deserve. I hope that dentistry receives similar attention to ensure everyone can access affordable oral health.

Felixstowe Library celebrated its 50th birthday this weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed the singing of the Felixstowe Community Choir who performed memorably to mark the occasion. Staff were dressed in 60s attire with appropriate soundtracks and memorabilia from the decade to match. It is a much cherished and well used facility. I was happy to join the celebrations and hope that as one of the town's most used public facilities, the library can look forward to another 50 years of serving the community.

I met the dedicated team at Apprenticeships Suffolk, located in the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce offices, who work with employers to encourage them to take on apprenticeships. We discussed some of the opportunities and also some of the challenges for, particularly, small employers. The government has made some changes recently to put employers more firmly in control of the training that they want to help their new employee. Instead of a one-size-fits-all, employers can now pick and mix different elements of courses. That is a new challenge for training providers – colleges and private companies – to offer but I think it will encourage more employers to take on apprentices. Other benefits are that employers know that their workforce will be more productive. In particular taking on younger people, they will not have to pay employers' NIC. If you are interested, do contact them online.

I was disappointed with the news that trade unions are considering challenging EDF on its British nuclear programme – French trade unions that is. I really had hoped that the final investment decision on Hinkley Point would be made next month, allowing consultation on Sizewell C to start by the summer. The further consultation for unions means that we are unlikely to move to the next stage until September. Meanwhile, MPs and councils continue to work on this huge project.

After many splendid celebrations of Her Majesty's 90th birthday, whom I consider to be the greatest ever British woman, we were celebrating arguably Britain's greatest man the William Shakespeare on the 400th anniversary of his death. So many of his phrases are in everyday speech. For sheer longevity and global reach, not many can come close to Shakespeare whose legacy continues to expand. Celebrations have been taking place in the run up the anniversary of his death and will continue over the course of the next year. Locally, there will be a series of free art and drama workshops for all ages at Farlingaye High School which anyone can attend over May, June and July. More information can be found on www.choosewoodbridge.co.uk/events.

21 APR 2016

Star Column - 19th April 2016

Her Majesty the Queen turns 90 this Thursday. The House of Commons will be paying its tribute with addresses in Parliament. Across our county, beacons will be lit at 8.30pm. I am aware of events in Nacton, Sutton Hoo, Orford, Aldeburgh, Friston, Dunwich and Southwold. There are several events planned on the day, over the weekend and also in June for her "official" birthday. The Queen has been a role model of service and provided much stability in our nation and the Commonwealth. I think she could be considering Britain's greatest ever woman. This coming weekend, we commemorate the 400th Birthday of Shakespeare, whom I consider to be Britain's greatest ever man. I will wax lyrical about him next week!

The murder last week in Felixstowe came as a shock to the system. At the weekend, I spent time with Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore in Felixstowe speaking to local residents. I was pleased to hear that people generally felt safe around the town but were largely unsettled by the murder of a woman in Gosford Way. This is a tragic incident, however a suspect has already been arrested and charged and remains in custody at Martlesham Police Investigation Centre. Justice should now run its course.

Yesterday I attended an event at the BT Tower in London to celebrate the launch of TechEast, the new voice for the technology industry in Suffolk and Norfolk. We really do have a golden triangle. Adastral Park is home to BT and many other IT companies. BT invests the most in R&D of any IT company within Europe. Not a lot of people know that. Cambridge Science Park is seen as the dominant cluster largely driven by many more start-ups making it into the big league. We are ripe to challenging that with greater collaboration with more success for each of the clusters. This attracts some of the top talent to the area, with some leaving to start their own tech businesses nearby and therefore creating the multiplier effect and growing the industry further. We need to keep the momentum going by making sure the right infrastructure is in place which encourages tech companies to come here in the first place and grow their businesses into local success stories.

The 'Twins of Dellwood', Chris and Stuart Daynes set off yesterday on their 92 grounds in 92 hours challenge in order to raise money for the Crohn's and Colitis Charity and Felixstowe & Walton United's new clubhouse. Well known to regulars at the Goldstar Ground, they previously undertook a similar feat last year to visit all 39 grounds in the Eastern Counties League. However, this new challenge to visit all 92 Premiership and Football League grounds will be even tougher and I wish them both luck as they look to arrive at their final destination, Portman Road, by 2pm on Friday. To find out how to support the brothers, visit United's website at www.felixstowefootball.co.uk.

It was good to see that work has now started on the new Wetherspoon's site in Felixstowe town centre. The demolition phase is over and I hope that the next phase will start soon. I want to congratulate the Ferryboat Inn in Felixstowe Ferry on reaching the final three of this year's Suffolk Pub of the Year. While we are blessed with many great pubs in our area, I hope this recognition will encourage more people to sample this special and idyllic part of Felixstowe.

And finally, I'm pleased to announce that Felixstowe's Bombay Nite have received the most nominations in this year's Tiffin Cup. It will now be put forward with other curry houses nationwide, with the top 10 being selected for a cook off in the House of Commons. Best of luck to them, I'm sure they'll do Suffolk Coastal proud and thank you to all those who submitted nominations.

13 APR 2016

Star Column - 12th April 2016

Every suicide is a tragedy, reflecting a lack of hope at a critical moment which has devastating consequences for family and friends. The Orwell Bridge has, unfortunately, been the scene for over 40 suicides in the last 33 years. Along with Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, I have asked Highways England to look at this matter on several occasions, including what measures have been taken elsewhere at places like the Clifton Suspension Bridge. They have ruled out higher fences and nets. I have asked them to look at sensors and CCTV so it triggers an alert of someone does walk on the bridge. They suggested they would improve the signage regarding the Samaritans and the phone service and that signage is certainly evident. However, I am completely opposed to the idea of stopping people walking across the bridge. The wall is four foot high, so people can see over but cannot accidentally fall. Perhaps it could be higher. Perhaps the reservation about nets should be set aside despite AONB and SSSI. Nevertheless, it is an important crossing for traffic of all types, be that cars, lorries, tractors, cyclists and pedestrians.

The Government is committed to providing security at every stage of life and for those who have worked hard and done the right thing all their life that includes dignity and security in retirement. For those approaching retirement age a new full flat rate pension is being introduced at £155.65 per work, working out at over £8,000 a year. This will bring a solid income in retirement without the need to apply for means tested benefits and credits. People will have had to pay full national insurance for 35 years to receive the full amount. There will be many workers who paid a lower national insurance amount dependent on their work pension scheme. That system of lower national insurance contributions comes to an end and so people may pay slightly more NI from now own. People should check if they are eligible for the full amount. More information can be found at www.gov.uk/new-state-pension.

Businesses will also now benefit from tax reforms the Government has introduced, meaning those organisations who employ apprentices under the age of 25 will no longer pay any National Insurance Contributions which could save employers who pay apprentices the minimum wage over £500 a year. Training our young people so they have the skills they need to succeed in life is crucial and I'm pleased that more than 4,000 apprenticeships have been created in Suffolk Coastal since 2010. I hope that this kind of support will help to create many more. The Employment Allowance for all businesses and charities has also been increased from £2,000 to £3,000 which will enable a firm to employ up to four full time employees on the new National Living Wage and pay no employer National Insurance Contributions at all. Great news for those organisations seeking to grow and take on new staff.

And finally, the deadline for nominations for the Tiffin Cup is noon this Thursday. The curry house with the most nominations will be put forward to the next stage with the top 10 restaurants nationwide invited to a cook off in the House of Commons as they vie for title. Felixstowe's Bombay Nite remains in the lead but the gap with other contenders is closing. To nominate your favourite restaurant, please get in touch.

07 APR 2016

Star Column - 5th April 2016

The Prime Minister is hosting a landmark event next month, as he launches the world's first anti-corruption summit in London. When it comes to tackling corruption, the international community has for too long looked the other way and it is crucial for the prosperity of the whole planet that we get to grips with this scourge. With the recent revelations about money laundering and tax evasion from the leaked papers from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, the summit is very timely. The UK is a world leader in the fight to tackle corruption and the summit will be an unprecedented opportunity for the international community to come together and agree practical action to beat this evil. It is crucial that we get our own backyard in order so as to set an example to others. This year Britain will become the first major country to establish a publicly accessible central business registry which will show who really owns and controls British companies. The corrupt, the criminals and the money launderers all need anonymous company structures to hide in and this change will open up a new era of corporate transparency in the UK. Others must follow suit and this will play a vital part of the anti-corruption summit next month.

There is good news for savers, as from Wednesday, most people will now be able to earn up to £1,000 interest a year on their savings without paying tax on it. This is one of the largest shake-ups of savings accounts for a generation and means 95% of people will no longer pay any tax on their savings. Currently, for every £100 of interest earned on savings, basic rate tax payers lost £20 in tax and higher rate payers £40. Dividends received through an ISA will now not count towards the dividend allowances, meaning an ISA now increases the amount of dividend income that can be received without having to pay tax on it.

The start of April also sees 1.3 million lower-paid workers receive a direct pay rise thanks to the new National Living Wage. Over 25's will now legally earn at least £7.20 an hour, the largest jump in a minimum wage in any advanced economy since the financial crisis. The National Living Wage will increase each year, with the aim to have it reach £9 an hour by 2020. More families will now have the security of a decent, regular pay packet, making sure that people are always better off in work.

As a dog lover, I feel it is my duty to remind others that from Wednesday it will now be compulsory to have your dog microchipped. A microchip will mean our canine chums can be quickly reunited with their owners in case they get lost and will prevent dogs from having to be unnecessarily and tragically put down. I've experienced how effective this can be first hand when a few years ago I found a lone dog and thanks to its microchip was able to reunite it with its owner later that day. Vets will offer this service and the Dogs Trust and Blue Cross will do it free of charge. Visit www.chipmydog.org.uk or call 0330 123 0334 for more information.

And finally, I'm on the hunt for the best curry house in Suffolk Coastal and need your help. The curry house with the most nominations will be put forward to the next stage with the top 10 restaurants nationwide invited to a cook off in the House of Commons as they vie for The Tiffin Cup. I know from personal experience there are many curry houses in Suffolk Coastal which serve up a tasty Rogan Josh or Jalfrezi. Bombay Nite in Felixstowe is currently in the lead, but there is still plenty of time to get your nominations in. To nominate your favourite restaurant, please get in touch. The deadline for nominations is noon on 14th April 2016.

31 MAR 2016

Star Column - 29th March 2016

Spring has sprung with a vengeance with Storm Katie making her presence felt along our coast. The Orwell Bridge was closed for safety reasons, even though the lower speed limit is now in force. I hope the unseasonal weather did not wreak havoc on your home nor mar your bank holiday. It's the worst I have known the wind, judging by the effect in my garden. It comes at what should be a boost for our tourism industry. I hope the bad weather doesn't linger too long. However, it was a good excuse to catch up on some TV – stored up till the recess.

Junior doctors are about to take an unprecedented step by striking in A&E as well as the rest of the hospital. While they may hope that others in the hospital will cope, this is bad news for patients. I am glad that the doctors' union have finally started saying this is about pay and money, but they will not negotiate on the final two points – overtime for all of Saturday and a higher proportion of hospital fines on working time to be paid to the doctor. The contract offers fewer hours for same overall pay for these doctors but it specifically reduces the maximum working time for doctors. The chief negotiator for the NHS is Sir David Dalton, the well respected chief executive of the Salford Royal. A while ago, he concluded that the BMA were not serious on negotiating to conclude the deal, on which negotiations started in 2012. I hope doctors think again before putting patient safety at risk. The NHS is there for when we fall ill and is usually at its best in an emergency. Let's hope they will step away from the brink.

A number of recent newspaper articles have reported claims that misrepresent or inaccurately portray projects supported by the Department for International Development (DFID), or focus on projects that are no longer funded. UK aid is spent where it is most needed and is subject to rigorous internal and external checks and scrutiny at all stages. The government has realigned the UK's aid strategy, cutting wasteful programmes and making sure spending is firmly in the UK's national interest. Alongside an increased defence budget and the UK's world class diplomatic service, our aid programme is helping to create a more prosperous and stable world in which the UK can stand tall and flourish. This is an approach that works; it has helped reduce the threat to the UK from Ebola in West Africa, it is targeting the root causes of the migration crisis, and it is increasing economic prospects in fragile states to counter extremism and help build our future trading partners.

I was delighted to see that construction work is now officially underway on the riverside development in Woodbridge. Millions of pounds is being spent developing new apartments and a restaurant overlooking the River Deben and Tide Mill. I'm looking forward to seeing the finished article in Spring next year.

Finally, I was pleased to take Business Questions. It is like a mini PMQs as MPs can ask me about any topic and it lasts about an hour. It was the last day before the Easter recess so I also replied to the adjournment debate when again, MPs can raise any issue. Fortunately, I am back in Suffolk for about ten days and a chance to recharge the batteries. Members of my team will still be in the office to pick up emergency cases.

23 MAR 2016

Star Column - 22nd March 2016

"With 100 days to go to the EU referendum, the Prime Minister came to Felixstowe to explain why Britain is stronger and safer in a reformed EU. He visited the port, looked at operations on the quayside and then spoke to workers from the Port, with a Q&A session afterwards. He pointed out that we have a hundred days left to secure our future with the decision affecting all our futures. I was pleased he came to our port, as it reinforced his message that he could not think of a more appropriate location in which to highlight the importance of Britain remaining a member of the world's largest trading bloc. Britain is and always has been a trading nation and Felixstowe is the largest container port in the country. Over a quarter of all exports from the port are bound for other EU countries which is why maintaining our EU membership is crucial not only for our prosperity here in Suffolk, but for the whole of the United Kingdom. This point was further underlined by the owner of the Port, Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing, who also owns other businesses in the UK like Superdrug, mobile phone provider Three, Suffolk Water, UK Power Networks and other infrastructure businesses. In his report to investors just last week, he categorically stated that if Britain votes to leave, then his company would consider scaling back their investment in the UK - strong stuff from (reportedly) the richest person in Asia. We need to encourage and promote investment from across the world into our country. The risk of leaving the EU should be clear on the barriers raised to securing future investment.

Lenny Henry wasn't in Felixstowe this week but I was delighted to join local Mayor Doreen Savage and her consort Peggy Osborne at the official opening of the new Premier Inn on Undercliff Road. This is further proof that the town is on the up and is becoming a more attractive destination for visitors. By their own estimates, the new hotel could attract 20,000 guests a year, great news for local businesses and I'm sure our new guests will see a town with a lot going for it. They have done so well so far and the hotel is booked out for Easter already. This comes hot on the heels of the Spa Gardens being redeveloped, the Spa Pavilion re-opening and plans being submitted for the old boating lake to be turned into an events area. Exciting times indeed.

Last week saw the Chancellor deliver his Budget statement to the House of Commons as he set out the state of the nation's finances and his spending plans going forward. The deficit is on course to be eliminated by 2020 as Britain gets back to living within its means. Our economy continues to grow faster than other major economies and needs a steady hand on the tiller to fully realise UK plc. There was good news for Suffolk savers, schools and small businesses. The maximum threshold for Small Business Rate Relief was increased to £15,000 which means many shops, restaurants and offices in Felixstowe and Woodbridge will no longer pay any business rates at all. This is great news which could see money spent on hiring new staff or increasing their offering to customers. For those looking to save money for the big purchases in life, a new lifetime ISA will be introduced for the under 40s, where for every £4 saved, the Government will contribute a further £1. Schools will also be helped, by receiving transitional funding to smooth the introduction of a new national funding formula. I hope the new formula will mean that children in our county receive higher funding as rural areas like Suffolk traditionally receive less funding per pupil than those pupils in cities."

17 MAR 2016

Star Column - 15th March 2016

I was delighted that Felixstowe Town Council marked yesterday's Commonwealth Day by hoisting a flag on the pole on the seafront by Arwela Road. They joined over 40 town councils across East Anglia who are all taking part in this special day to celebrate our extensive links around the world, which have endured and prosper to this day. All 53 countries of this unique network can celebrate our rich, shared history, but can also look ahead to future successes that we can build together. This year's theme is An Inclusive Commonwealth, which speaks to our values of tolerance, respect and understanding. There are more than 2 billion people in the Commonwealth which constitutes enormous diversity and opportunity. As a nation we export £54 billion to the Commonwealth, a figure which is growing at over 10% a year. Since 2010 we have revitalised our relationships with these historical partners and I hope it continues for years to come.

This week is also National Apprenticeship Week, celebrating the positive impact that apprenticeships have on individuals, businesses and the wider economy. Apprentices are one of the great successes of the decade, with 2.5 million apprenticeships having begun since 2010. 268,000 have been created since the general election alone, with the Government committed to creating 3 million more by 2020. Not only do these deliver life changing opportunities to our young people, they also deliver on the bottom line for businesses. We have some fantastic companies in our area who are offering apprenticeship schemes for young people locally. There have been nearly 4,000 new apprentices in Suffolk Coastal since 2010 and organisations like BT, Adnams and the Port of Felixstowe all offer opportunities for young people to gain the skills they need for a successful future.

Last week I met the East of England Ambulance Service along with other Eastern MPs to receive an update on how their Turnaround Plan to improve ambulance response times is progressing. Regular readers will know that this is an issue I have been campaigning on for some years now. The new Chief Executive, Rob Morton, has been in the job for 6 months now and has had the chance to get his feet under the table. I am satisfied that ongoing issues with handover times at hospitals, including Ipswich, are beginning to be addressed with the Ambulance Service getting tough with those hospitals which are the worst offenders. Problems in rural areas like East Suffolk still persist and I am determined to keep a laser like focus on the Service to ensure the full Turnaround Plan is implemented. We must also continue to scrutinise the money being put into the Service to ensure that it is spent beneficially for patients.

I was pleased to see that Melton's Neighbourhood Plan has gone out to consultation. It's crucial that as many people as possible are able to contribute to shaping the plan, which will set the future direction of the village when it comes to local development. If you're a resident who wasn't able to attend the consultation sessions last week then please go to www.meltonneighbourhoodplan.co.uk to have your say on the future of the village.

And finally, the Chancellor will announce his Budget in the House of Commons tomorrow. The world is a more uncertain place than at any time since the financial crisis and we have to act now so that Britain is protected in the future. The Government needs to find savings equivalent to 50p in every £100 the Government spends by the end of the decade to ensure we live within our means. We will take the necessary measures to safeguard our economy security and ensure our prosperity.

10 MAR 2016

Star Column - 8th March 2016

I have written before about the historic unfairness in the school funding system which sees schools in rural areas like ours receive less money than our urban counterparts. To illustrate this, in Suffolk, £4,370 is spent per pupil every year. Whereas in some of the best funded parts of the country, £6,300 is spent. The Government has taken some small steps to begin to address this previously and I am pleased that Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has announced that more is going to be done by introducing a new national funding formula from September next year. The aim will be to ensure that pupils get the funding that genuinely matches their need and I intend to study these new proposals carefully. I want children to get a great education, whatever their background or wherever they live. The new formula has the potential to be a key moment for Suffolk schools and I will continue to fight their corner in Westminster.

On Friday I spoke at a No More A14 Delays breakfast, hosted by the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce. Improvements to the road are vital not only for commuters, but for the future economic success of our county. Investment across Britain is growing and it is important to remember that it is Felixstowe at the east end of the A14 which is the port of choice for the Northern Powerhouse we hear so much about. The A14 goes through 6 of the 7 constituencies of Suffolk MPs and as your elected representatives we are fighting for more investment from Government, but our call needs the voice of business to be effective. The same evidence and strong business case is also needed for the project to build the new Energy Gateway bypass along the A12. With Sizewell C on the horizon and more investment in offshore wind along our coastline the road is being asked to shoulder a significant burden and I will be meeting Councillors this week for an update on how the case for the new bypass is progressing.

The Prime Minister has announced that the Royal Navy will be sent to the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey to help defeat people smugglers in the region. The purpose will be to gather intelligence in order to assist the Turkish coastguard in their task to intercept boats which are attempting to make the perilous crossing. The migration crisis is the greatest challenge facing Europe today and it is right that where we can help we should. Britain has not faced anywhere near the scale of migrants coming to Europe as other countries because we are out of the Schengen zone and retain control of our borders. However, as passport checks are not made in other EU countries who are part of this borderless zone, it is important we should help to control the flow of people coming into Europe through its external frontiers.

And finally, today is International Women's Day which gives us an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women all round the world. Encouraging women to enter professions where they are traditionally underrepresented such as science, engineering and indeed politics, is a cause I am passionate about and is an area I have undertaken research into before. Gender should not be a barrier to achieving anything in life and while there has been much progress over my lifetime, there is still a long way to go before we have total equality of opportunity for women in Britain and around the world.

Photo: Women Ministers and Whips gather for a photo to celebrate International Women's Day.

02 MAR 2016

Star Column - 1st March 2016

Readers will know that rolling out broadband to as much of Suffolk as possible is high on my priorities list and I recently met BT to discuss the situation as it stands. There has been a lot of debate about separating BT and Openreach, which operates its broadband network. Ofcom has decided against this in favour forcing BT to open up its network infrastructure to other broadband providers. I hope that other companies will start to take advantage of this opportunity so that ultimately residents and businesses can benefit from faster speeds and a wider choice of suppliers. I was pleased to see that in the run up to National Apprenticeships Week, BT has announced they will be creating 1,400 new apprenticeships and graduate jobs. Many of these will be based at BT's research campus at Adastral Park and given many will be in cyber security and software development as well as research, this announcement further strengthens the Ipswich area's claim to be one of the UK's tech hubs, which I wrote about a fortnight ago.

I have now spoken to the new Chairman of the Ipswich Hospital Trust, David White, to welcome him to the role and discuss what the future holds for the hospital. We spoke at a top level on various issues but he gave me assurances over the future of Felixstowe Community Hospital, which the Trust will start to manage next month. I know how much the hospital is valued by local residents.

Over 100 coastal communities have now unveiled their plans to boost growth, jobs and prosperity in their areas, including three locally. Greater Ipswich, Felixstowe and the Deben Peninsula all have a coastal community team and I hope they will all play an important role in realising the potential of our coastal areas to ensure they thrive all year round. I feel there is much optimism around at the moment, with investment being encouraged and realised in both towns and I wish these teams every success and am pleased that the Government has committed further funding for coastal revival in the coming years.

I had the pleasure of welcoming Sandlings Primary School from Sutton Heath to Westminster yesterday. The schoolchildren visited Parliament to learn about our democracy and get a real feel for how laws are debated and made. Pupils from years 5 and 6 got to grill me on all sorts of issues and it was great they were able to make the trip down. It was the first time one of our schools has visited the brand new, state of the art visitor's centre and I encourage other schools to take advantage of this fantastic facility.

And finally, this weekend will see thousands of people take to the streets for the Clean for the Queen campaign to clear up Britain in time for Her Majesty's 90th birthday to be officially celebrated in June. There will be litter picking efforts in Woodbridge and Boyton, but there is still time to register for communities to start their own. Visit www.cleanforthequeen.co.uk to find out more. Let's make sure Suffolk is spic and span.

24 FEB 2016

Star Column - 23rd February 2016

After extended negotiations, including a marathon session in Brussels (though I understand he is partial to a Twix and Haribos), the Prime Minister is setting out his stall for the UK to remain part of the EU. At time of writing this column, the PM is due to speak to Parliament about the deal he secured and why he thinks we should stay. On June 23rd, you have the chance to decide in the referendum whether our country remains in the EU or leaves. I have largely made up my mind but I am taking some time to read and re-read the text as well as listen to the PM. This is the most difficult political decision I have made and when I do declare, I intend to explain in detail the basis for my decision. Already, I sense some readers will be fed up of the coverage but make no mistake, this is a significant decision. In due course, a Remain and Leave campaign will be officially designated. Each side will then contact you directly with information. For the Conservative Party, we will have friends and colleagues on different sides with robust debate but I am very clear that our party is not defined by the EU issue. Only one party is and their single MP did not show up in Parliament to vote for the referendum at Third Reading. We are delivering on our manifesto commitment to deliver an in-out referendum on the EU and it will be the country who has the final say.

Mobile phone signal for EE customers in Felixstowe has finally been restored. After the problem originally arose in early January it is unacceptable that it has taken until recently for it to be resolved. The company were forced to remove their existing mast from a site it had rented after the owners of the property wanted to redevelop it. This has understandably been a very frustrating time for EE customers and I have pressed the case form them to be compensated. I will also be taking this up with Ministers as an example of customers being failed.

I am meeting David White, the new Chairman of Ipswich Hospital, this week. He was appointed a few months ago and brings the experience of having run the Suffolk Health Authority. Up until 2013 was Chief Executive of Norfolk County Council, but I won't hold that against him. The hospital is in a good position and, with the pending acquisition of the old Bridge School site, is looking to improve their clinical services offer. I look forward to hearing how David can contribute to the future success of the hospital.

Finally, I am looking forward to welcoming Sandlings Primary School to Parliament next week. Pupils from Years 5 and 6 will be coming to Westminster to see our democracy in action and learn about how laws which affect all of us are made. This will be the first time one of our local schools has visited the brand new visitor centre in Parliament which was officially opened last year. The new centre includes 360 degree projections and augmented reality experiences depicting both the Commons and the Lords. Virtual reality is no substitute for the real thing though and I hope we will have a fun question and answer session.

18 FEB 2016

Star Column - 16th February 2016

Readers will know the great success that the Port of Felixstowe enjoys as the largest container port in Britain, with over 40% of the UK's import and export market for containers, and its ongoing plans to grow to accommodate the world's biggest ships. Readers will also be aware of the significant amount of housing that Felixstowe and the Trimleys are being asked to accommodate. Well the growth of the port also brings the need for more employment land, particularly for storage space and distribution infrastructure. A few years ago, I met interested parties and just last week, I visited MSC and PD Ports to discuss these and other logistical challenges. There is limited land available in the area that does not belong to the port or to Trinity College Cambridge. I want to protect the green corridor between Ipswich and Felixstowe but I am pleased that the council is considering this key matter. The shortage of drivers for haulage firms is a further issue which needs addressing, with the lack of drivers being particularly acute in the Felixstowe and Ipswich area. I have been lobbying on this as the haulage sector is a vital part of the UK supply chain which underpins large parts of our economy.

The Tech Nation 2016 report has been released, with Ipswich highlighted as both a regional and national tech hub for the first time. Frankly, I was amazed when it was left out in the first report given the presence of world-leading IT firms in Adastral Park. Digital firms in and around the Ipswich area grew by 24% between 2010 and 2014, adding 16% to the local economy in terms of Gross Value Added. I am always keen to press this sector even more and hope to meet BT soon to follow up. Just removing barbed wire would be a good sign of intent that we want to welcome more business here, not put up unnecessary barriers.

Unfortunately there was some disappointing news on ambulance response times recently, with recent figures revealing that only 64% of the most critical call outs in our area are reaching their destination within the 8 minute target in Suffolk, well short of the 75% that is required. I am unhappy with the lack of progress over the last six months. I met Health Minister Lord Prior to discuss my concerns. I appreciate the new Chief Executive has to bed in but my patience on behalf of patients is beginning to wear thin. I have said I will hold the East of England Ambulance Service to account and will do this when they are in Parliament next month. I am however pleased that the number of Community First Responder groups in the county continues to grow, with over 80 groups and 400 volunteers now registered. These vital volunteers play a crucial role in their communities to save lives in an emergency while paramedics are on their way. I urge the Chief Executive of the Ambulance Trust, Rob Morton, to reconsider their policy of not paying for the mileage undertaken by these lifesaving volunteers like they do in many other parts of the country.

And finally, the Government has announced than an additional billion pounds will be invested in mental health care by 2021 which should help a million more people get the mental health support they need. A quarter of people will experience mental health problems in their lifetime and while we have made progress on treatment, we will push further so that more care will be available closer to home for young and old alike.

10 FEB 2016

Star Column - 9th February 2016

I have been in contact with EE regarding problems for customers in Felixstowe and despite assurances that signal would be restored by the end of last week, I was disappointed to be told that this date has been delayed further to February 17th. The situation is unacceptable. I will be taking this up with ministers and Ofcom as an example of customers being failed. People understand if there is a technical hitch which causes problems for a couple of days, but not for six weeks. There are also problems for Three customers as they share masts with EE and I have a meeting with them today where I will be making my feelings on the matter very clear and pushing for a speedy resolution.

Ofsted, the schools inspectorate published their report on the Academies Enterprise Trust, which Felixstowe Academy is a part of. The Trust appointed a new Chief Executive in 2013 who has been working towards improving performances of academies under the Trust's watch. Too many pupils who attend one of the Trust's academies are not receiving a good standard of education, with secondary academies like Felixstowe performing worse than their primary counterparts. Pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are still not achieving as much as other pupils and it is crucial that this gap is closed as quickly as possible. I am pleased that the report by Ofsted has recommended addressing this as a matter of urgency. I have expressed concerns in the past regarding the capacity of the Academies Enterprise Trust to tackle these issues and there is still clearly a lot of work to be done and they need to up their game. I welcome the new headteacher of Felixstowe Academy, Mr Anthony Williams, and expect improvements to flow from his impressive energy and determination.

The next ten days is key for the Prime Minister as he seeks to seal the deal on his negotiations with other countries in the EU about reform for both the UK and the EU. If a deal is finalised this month, I do not expect the Prime Minister to hang around in announcing the date of the referendum, though Parliament has to approve it. For those readers in the undecided camp, I recommend you await the final outcome and allow some flesh to be added to what it all means in practice before reaching your conclusion. For those complaining already, I simply say that without the Prime Minister and a Conservative government, there would be no referendum at all.

Finally, I was delighted to be quizmistress at the Old Mariner pub in Woodbridge over the weekend. They were taking part in the World's Biggest Pub Quiz, which was raising money of local causes up and down the country. Well over a thousand other pubs were also taking part so congratulations to PubAid and JustGiving for organising this world record event. Although the questions were rather difficult we had some impressive scores from our local teams and I would like to thank the Old Mariner for being such hospitable hosts, in particularly Gemma and Mark. Over £100 was raised for St Elizabeth Hospice and a good time had by all.

03 FEB 2016

Star Column - 2nd February 2016

EE have assured me that customers in Felixstowe should have phone signal restored by the end of the week. There will be a temporary fix put in place by Friday with a permanent relocation of their mast set for later this year. As I mentioned in last week's column, the problem arose after the company had to remove their existing mast from a site it had rented after the owners of the property wanted to redevelop it. I understand this has been a frustrating time for EE customers, but I am pleased they have been able to secure this temporary fix. They have also assured me that their customer service team will contact each affected customer directly to discuss their individual circumstances and I have pressed the case for them to be compensated.

I welcomed Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to Westminster last week along with business and civic leaders to discuss plans for Suffolk with the Business Secretary Sajid Javid. Suffolk is one of the leading growth areas for UK PLC and we were keen to drive this point home to the Secretary of State as well as highlight the potential for future growth opportunities. In Suffolk Coastal there is much to be proud of, we have an expanding energy sector along our coastline, the country largest container port at Felixstowe and BT generating 250 new patents every year from their global Research and Development base in Martlesham Heath.

Suffolk Chamber held an information consultation event for Suffolk businesses last week in order to build the case for the new Energy Gateway bypass on the A12. My assistant attended, but did not hear much support from businesses for the new road who were sceptical about how effective the project might be at alleviating existing congestion problems. I believe there is an opportunity for growth which the new road could help, including for new housing in the area, but with mitigation needed for the increased traffic Sizewell C construction will bring, we must build an effective business case to Government in order to secure the investment needed to make the project a reality.

Following the announcements of the HMRC re-organisation and the proposals to close the centres in Felixstowe and Ipswich I met Chief Executive Dame Lin Homer to discuss the issue. The new proposals involve opening new regional centres in every part of the UK, with Stratford in London due to serve the East of England. This is concerning when other parts of the country such as the North West are due to have two centres. I wanted to seek assurances that our region had not been overlooked and reinforce the message that while Stratford does have good rail links with Suffolk, this location will not work for everyone who is currently based in Felixstowe or Ipswich.

Finally, I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the Suffolk Punch pop-up restaurant. This is attached to the Vault Festival and is the first time a restaurant has been included at the unusual venue underneath Waterloo station. Well done to our local young producers, including the Cake Shop Bakery in Woodbridge, run by the Wright family and the Pump Street Bakery in Orford for taking full advantage to showcase their goods right in the middle of London. Visit www.vaultfestival.com/eat for more information, the Suffolk Punch will be open until March 6th.

27 JAN 2016

Star Column - 26th January 2016

Following up on last week's column about a lack of signal for EE and THREE customers in Felixstowe, I have contacted both companies to find out why this has happened. EE have confirmed that one of their masts has been removed and there has been a loss of network coverage across Felixstowe town centre. THREE have also confirmed that this may be affecting some of their customers in the town. The mast on Felixstowe promenade was turned off on 5th January due to the building the mast is located on being redeveloped by the landowner. They are working on identifying a replacement site and plan to have a new mast in place shortly.

EE informed me that they are identifying customers who have been affected and will be contacting each customer over the coming days to discuss their individual circumstances. The proposed interim measure is a signal box (free of charge) that connects to a customer's broadband and enables them to make and receive calls. EE customers who have a compatible phone are also able to use WiFi calling to make and receive calls and texts over a WiFi connection. Obviously this does not help those who want to use their phones out and about but I will keep pressing and continue to discuss this with Ofcom.

I have written to the Office of Rail and Road (ORR) who hold Network Rail to account make sure the rail industry is fair and competitive to check how cancelled trains affect passenger number statistics. It seems the ORR uses tickets purchased as their key indicator for passenger numbers. I made the point that if trains are not available, as was the case recently on the Felixstowe to Ipswich branch line, then tickets will not be purchased.

The Chancellor has announced that deaths from malaria could be nearly eliminated in the next 15 years thanks in part to a new £3 billion funding commitment from the overseas aid budget and the Bill Gates Foundation. Spending the aid budget on challenges that affect global and national security is crucial, these are issues that people in Britain want to see addressed. A billion people around the world are infected with malaria, it is a cause of untold misery and lost economic potential. Over the last 15 years we can be incredibly proud of Britain's contribution to the battle against this awful disease. Thanks to British efforts and others, more than six million lives have been saved since the turn of the century.

The Transport Select Committee in Parliament has been undertaking an inquiry into road haulage, focussing on skills and workforce planning. This is a key industry nationally and especially for our area where it is also one of the largest sources of vacancies. I am meeting local businesses in the next month as I believe we can get some quick wins. 85% of everything we buy, eat, wear and use is moved by a UK-registered lorry. Add home deliveries and we need to keep the goods of Britain on the move.

The final GCSE results have been declared and congratulations to students and staff from Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge who performed even better than they thought. With the second highest attainment in Suffolk, I am sure that retiring headteacher Sue Hargardon will be looking to finish on top this coming summer.

22 JAN 2016

Star Column - 19th January 2016

"Farewell to the Blue Cross in Walton as it closed its doors to rehoming animals on this side of the Orwell. The proposed closure back in early 2010 was one of my first involvements in a campaign ably led by Tom Crowley. The Protest on the Prom on a damp blustery day followed by a more sedate Bark in the Park were memorable occasions. I was particularly drawn to this as I had taken on a rescue dog myself, so it was a no-brainer to give it my support as a candidate and then as the newly elected MP. In 2010, I took part in a sponsored walk with my dog, Rizzo, to raise money to help the Blue Cross improve the centre or move to a new one. I'm delighted that dream has now become a reality and their move to their purpose built Suffolk centre in Wherstead is happening.

Last week the Prime Minister gave a speech on life chances, explaining how the Government intends to transform the lives of the poorest in Britain. As the Prime Minister said families are the best anti-poverty measure ever invented. Children in families that break apart are more than twice as likely to experience poverty as those whose families stay together. Which is why the Government have committed to doubling the funding for relationship support from £35m to £70m over the next five years. The Life Chances Strategy also helps new parents with the first few weeks and months of their child's life. The Government have expanded the number of health visitors but recognise that new parents also need extra support and it is our aspiration to provide that. The new strategy will include a plan for boosting the opportunity to attend parenting classes and developing strong support networks.

I met the East of England director of Highways England to discuss key issues on the local road network. During the construction phase of Sizewell C, there will be many more heavy goods vehicles on the road, primarily using the A14. It is essential that we are prepared for this additional traffic on this key route, as well as up the A12 and junctions along the A14. I intend to meet directors of the new National Infrastructure Commission to press the case as to why investment in our area should be prioritised as we take on these projects of national importance. I also raised the issue of resurfacing, particularly for noise reduction.

Congratulations to the team of the Bawdsey Radar project who have been successful in obtaining £1.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is incredibly important we tell the Bawdsey and Suffolk coast story of where radar originated and its key role in World War II. I congratulate all involved with the Bawdsey Radar project on their imaginative scheme to restore the transmitter block and enhance the experience for visitors. This adds to the recent funding secured from the Coastal Communities Fund, all of which contributes to our tourism as well as securing key heritage for our nation.

Thank you to the Felixstowe resident who alerted me to the lack of phone signal in the town centre from EE. I then subsequently heard from other residents about their issues and for other operators. I will follow up with the networks to see what's happened and for action to get signal restored.

Finally, I am pleased to report that the World Health Organisation announced last week that the Ebola crisis in West Africa is over with no new case in the last 42 days, double the incubation time for the virus. William Pooley, originally from Eyke, is well known for his efforts in caring for those people fighting the virus which he then contracted himself. While he made a full recovery in the hands of the NHS after being flown back to Britain, it is good to know that UK aid has helped tackle this devastating disease in Africa."

13 JAN 2016

Star Column - 12th January 2016

"Readers will likely have seen distressing images of starving children and families in Madaya in Syria. Belatedly, the Assad regime has consented to allow emergency aid. Those kind of images we haven't seen in a war context since the Nazi concentration camps. On this occasion, in the midst of the civil war, the siege of the city is being portrayed worldwide. Using hunger as a weapon, with access as a bargaining chip, is not acceptable. We will keep up diplomatic pressure through the UN to secure the food and water these people need.

Nanny state! Common sense! The new alcohol guidelines recommended by the Chief Medical Officer caused quite a stir. It is up to the Chief Medical Officer to update people as and when the evidence changes. That said, there are risks to health in everyday activities like driving, cycling, spending more hours watching TV than you used to. The odds are nothing like the chance of winning the National Lottery last weekend (I missed out too) but everything in moderation is my principle.

At time of writing, junior doctors in hospitals are proceeding with their strike. I am disappointed in this as I believe patients will be the losers. I know doctors and other clinical staff want to help their patients not put them at risk. So what has brought on this? The British Medical Association – the main trade union for doctors – is suggesting that they will be required for longer hours for less pay, which they claim will put patient safety at risk. That is categorically not true. In the wake of Mid Staffs, the NHS has made a lot of progress in improving patient care. We need to ensure that consistently high standards of care and treatment are delivered for patients (who don't choose when they will be ill) every day. The current contract allows doctors to work up to 91 hours a week, seven night shifts in a row and twelve consecutive day shifts. The new contract says that will be reduced to a maximum of 72 hours in a week, with no more than four night shifts and five day shifts consecutively. The Care Quality Commission will scrutinise this. On pay, yes, we are seeking to remove the automatic pay rise linked to time served but on the proposals put forward, three quarters of doctors will get a pay rise and all doctors will be pay protected for three years, addressing those doctors who work considerably long hours. The increase in basic pay rate, as opposed to overtime rates, results in higher pension contributions. The combination of those factors addresses, I believe, the issue on overtime and unsociable hours.

I was pleased to attend the start of the fundraising brainstorming in the somewhat dilapidated clubhouse of Felixstowe and Walton United Football Club on Saturday. Felixstowe is a medium-sized town, though the biggest in the Suffolk Coastal area, which deserves better sports facilities. A number of ideas will be taken forward as the club needs to find a considerable amount of cash in order to access other grants. I am making a pledge. I hope others will too.

I was very pleased to see that Felixstowe Spa Pavilion theatre seemed rather full this weekend. It can only survive if people support it. I was impressed by some of the acts already booked. While Jimmy Carr isn't my cup of tea, I think Gerry of Gerry and the Pacemakers fame will have me crooning along to Ferry Across the Mersey. With the Premier Inn taking its first customers next month and the long-awaited pier works to start later this year, Felixstowe really is edging forward."

06 JAN 2016

Star Column - 5th January 2016

"Happy New Year to Star readers and a warm welcome from Westminster as MPs return to work too. Though Christmas is not yet formally over till the 6th, I welcomed in the New Year on the beach at Aldeburgh. Thanks to the Brudenell Hotel, the fireworks were nearly as good as those in London. There were some other impromptu displays accompanied by the contented murmurs of the crowd. The New Year Honours list saw a wide range of people recognised. I was particularly pleased to see Maxine Hammond and Tony Hubbard honoured. Maxine received the OBE for her work with 23 Parachute Engineers at Rock Barracks. Tony has received the MBE for all he has done in Woodbridge. I have met him most regarding restoration of the Tide Mill. Well done to both.

Congratulations to all involved at Felixstowe and Walton United Football Club who have worked so hard to get planning permission for their new clubhouse. Anyone who has visited will be aware of the state of the current facilities. I know they worked hard in their consultation with local residents. It should be a great new facility that supports the growth of football for boys and girls, as well as the adult teams. Well getting planning permission was just the start, now they have to raise the funds. They kick off this coming Saturday with a special launch event at their clubhouse at 6pm. You can buy a brick, sponsor a mad dash around every league ground and other items will be considered. Do get involved and make a difference now and for years to come.

I was pleased to learn that the Felixstowe Pier project is finally starting to move. Well done to the company and to the council for working together to make this happen. I will do my bit to help smooth the path to upgrade this particular stretch of the seafront. Now that the Spa Pavilion is open, the Spa gardens completed and other works along the seashore are on track, it really is going to be a great 2016 for our town.

Broadband has been rolled out to many villages and towns in Suffolk. In Suffolk Coastal constituency, however, no more rollouts are envisaged in the next nine months. The next programme is subject to state aid clearance, though I believe that will come through shortly. For those people who still have a download speed under 2MB, you can now apply for help with the costs of satellite broadband. You will need to pay the monthly fee but a voucher from Broadband Suffolk will pay the costs of installation of the satellite. If you want to know more, contact me or go to the betterbroadbandsuffolk.com website direct.

Looking ahead, my forecasts are that we will have better mobile phone signal – though I need help from our district council to achieve that. I know we will have a new train contract which should see a significant improvement in the experiences commuters and tourists enjoy, including an all through train from Lowestoft to London. I expect we will have the EU referendum this year. I predict that the country will vote to stay in, though quite narrowly in favour (a bit like the Scottish referendum). I am confident that more schools will be rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted, which is good news for children and parents. As the Prime Minister suggested in his New Year's message, there will be no gimmicks from the government but continuing to fulfil our manifesto, providing security for people at every stage of their lives. May I wish you a peaceful and prosperous New Year."

04 JAN 2016

Star Column - 29th December 2015

"I hope readers had a peaceful Christmas. TV pictures of how this normally joyful season has been ruined for many people living across Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire were heart-rending. Locally, it has been a couple of years since we had devastating flooding. What has been happening in between is steady increases in flood defences, primarily targeted at areas with many residents. It all comes back to the calculations on what constitutes value for money. That can be difficult to swallow when one town or village is deemed worthy but not yours. I hope that one key part of the devolution deal, which our council leaders have been working hard to secure, will involve transferring responsibility for flood and coastal defences with the budget to local hands. The Environment Agency works hard but there is often frustration, not all of it well directed, that local knowledge passed down from generation to generation is ignored. Rather a lot of that knowledge is held in Suffolk within the Internal Drainage Boards – organisations with which many readers may not be familiar. I do not know the reason why the presence of IDBs is quite so limited to certain parts of the country. While we learn the lessons of how to cope with such unusual weather events hitting certain parts of the country (it was Somerset which was particularly hit two years ago), I hope that more IDBs right around our nation form part of the answer.

I normally relay how many queries and pieces of casework I have undertaken in the last year. I switched computer systems during the year so that is no longer possible, however, the mass email at the click of a button continues to dominate the inbox. I understand that parties offer broad manifestos, which require a wide level of scrutiny at election time, I am always happy to answer queries about aspects of government policy or decisions. What is frustrating is the so-called clicktivism which heads into the inbox at the behest of a campaigning organisation. Quite often I reply to ask people to let me know in their own words why they disagree with something or want a particular law or action or what experiences they have had of the situation locally, rather than outsource their views or words on a matter on which they are extremely concerned or outraged. It really is quite surprising when the reply (if I get one) comes back with that it is not their job to provide details. The only problem with these campaigns is that they risk crowding out the calls for genuine help from me or that I can direct to someone who can address their issue. To be open, any response to these mass emails now take a very low priority.

It has been nice to set aside a fortnight to be at home. Sadly, I wasn't particularly well in the run-up so I have missed almost every carol concert as I do not want to be accused of passing on the lurgy and I also never manage to refrain from singing, when it strains the vocal chords once more. I pay tribute to those hardy souls who ventured into the North Sea, many raising funds for good causes locally. I have left that to the dog who is very eager to swim after balls but the waves have deterred even her from spending too long in the sea. Thoughts now turn to New Year celebrations, resolutions and forecasts. I will save that till next week but, dear readers, have a splendid start to 2016."

23 DEC 2015

Star Column - 22nd December 2015

"Last week the EU Referendum Bill received Royal Assent from Her Majesty which meant it became the EU Referendum Act. This means the law now says that there has to be a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union by the end of 2017. The Prime Minister is currently working hard to renegotiate the terms of our membership and it will be for everyone to decide whether we should accept those terms or come out all together.

As I referred to last week, I organised a dinner with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and the Roads Minister Andrew Jones MP, to discuss amongst other things the A14 and the need for improvements. This vital corridor is important not only for Suffolk, but for the whole country. Businesses rely on goods coming into the Port of Felixstowe being transported in a quick and efficient manner, something the road is not currently delivering on. With 40% of the UK's container trade coming into Felixstowe and the future development of Sizewell C on the horizon, we made the case to the Minister that our county is being asked to take a significant burden for the good of the country and there must be the appropriate investment in infrastructure to support this.

Talking of infrastructure, I have recently been asked to join the Digital Infrastructure Taskforce, which was set up after the general election to ensure Government policy for broadband and mobile phone signal rollout is followed through. We have committed to connecting 95% of UK households to superfast broadband by 2018 and this taskforce will track progress, identify problems and agree plans to resolve them. I will be bringing my experience as a Member of Parliament for a rural area as well as the experience I have gained since 2010 on the Culture, Media and Sport committee and my ministerial involvement in taking infrastructure legislation through Parliament. It is important that all parts of our country benefit from our growing digital economy.

Great news for our local fishermen. The UK has obtained a fishing quota increase at the EU Fisheries and Agriculture Council – including a 47% increase in quota for North Sea Haddock and a 15% increase for North Sea Cod. The negotiation is especially good news for our under 10 metre fleet as the Government made sure that next year's total allowable catch took into account the ban on discarding fish. Decisions were based on three clear principles: following the available scientific advice; achieving sustainable levels of fishing and reducing discards. The government fought hard to deliver a better deal for our fishing industry from the EU and I congratulate the Minister for an excellent negotiation.

I'm delighted that the Colneis Primary School in Felxstowe flag design that flew proudly in Parliament Square earlier this year is now on display at the County Council Headquarters in Endeavour House. I was pleased to nominate Colneis to represent Suffolk in the national Magna Carta celebrations earlier this year as we celebrated 800 years of the Great Charter which established the principle of the rule of law and the rights we enjoy today.

At this time of year, I want to thank all those who work so hard to keep us safe. Our NHS and emergency services are on stand-by and responding to emergency situations when we are all celebrating and I thank them for the important work that they do.

A very merry Christmas to all Star readers."

17 DEC 2015

Star Column - 15th December 2015

"It was a pleasure to meet Heather McRoberts and Honor Dines from the Felixstowe Dementia Action Alliance last week. They ware passionate about raising awareness and hope to help people directly but to engage local businesses about the issue. This illness can affect people who are customers, employees, relatives of employees who need care and so on. I was encouraged by their enthusiasm and they want more people to join in. They will be in the Felixstowe triangle on December 17th.

At time of writing, I am due to meet Roads Minister Andrew Jones MP with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to discuss the A14, amongst other projects. Phase 2 of the national road investment strategy will be decided soon and it is time to increase the lobbying for our key route. Of course, transport is not just about roads. I am pleased that fellow Suffolk MP Jo Churchill has secured a debate on Wednesday regarding the next rail contract. Bids are due on Thursday. While the tender for bids stated a minimum of expectation, I hope that all three bidders will be highly ambitious. Nearly thirty years after the line from London to Norwich was electrified, we need and deserve a step change in our rail links.

There was a lot of good progress made in our primary schools locally on Key Stage 2 assessments (which children take as they leave school). Well done to Waldringfield which secured 100% of children achieving the expected level in all areas assessed. I am so pleased for the children and staff at Langer Primary (which I wrote about last week) as it was revealed 80% of children achieved the expected level, in line with the national average and ahead of the Suffolk average of 77%. Trimley St Martin Primary School also stands out as every child made the expected progress in their learning, leading to 95% of children reaching level 4 in reading, writing and mathematics. Raising the Bar will have helped as has the step change in leadership, the supportive and collaborative work undertaken and the focus on teaching and learning. This will really help our young students moving into secondary school.

A historic new global climate agreement has been struck at the United Nations conference in Paris. The deal takes a significant step forward to reducing emissions. For the first time ever 195 countries, including the world's largest emitters, have now committed to act together to combat climate change and be held equally accountable. It marks a clear turning point towards a sustainable and low carbon future. Countries will now have to come together regularly to review their climate plans and collectively ensure that the necessary action is being taken to tackle climate change. For the first time, all countries will be held accountable by independent review for acting according to their pledges. The Secretary of State, Amber Rudd MP, has played a blinder on this. Here in Suffolk, our farming community are well aware that the climate is changing. We are doing our bit too for energy with low-carbon nuclear and wind powering the nation.

Well done to the teams responsible for securing grants from the Coastal Revival fund. I'm delighted that the Bawdsey Radar Visitor Centre & Landguard Fortprojects have bagged almost £73,000 between them. The fund was set up to help coastal areas become year round destinations, supporting our local tourism sector and sustaining jobs. Both these projects will help unlock the economic potential of our coast. Commiserations to those who did not secure funding this time but I am sure the work done will have its own incentive to make progress for Felixstowe seafront and beyond."

09 DEC 2015

Star Column - 8th December 2015

"Last week, MPs voted to endorse the strategy of the Prime Minister in tackling ISIL, also known as Daesh. He set out his stall with a three pronged strategy focused on political/diplomatic action, humanitarian action and military action. Last year, Parliament endorsed military action against ISIL in Iraq. Last Wednesday, by a substantial majority, we endorsed extending that action into Syria. Readers only have to remember the terrorist murder of Felixstowe resident Phillip Heathcote and the attempted murder of his wife Allison to understand how this vile ideology and movement is already attacking our country. Substantial progress has been made with further countries joining the talks in Vienna, including Russia and Iran. That is a significant step. We are not alone in wanting to tackle ISIL. We are part of a global coalition of 63 countries actively involved. We have a UN resolution that urges us to act now. Our French ally asked us to help them. I am proud that we are. In contrast to last year, MPs have been subjected to a lot of abuse when making this decision, including me. Some sent anonymously, some very openly. Frankly, we're not schoolchildren with sticks and stones and all that. If anything, receiving gratuitous abuse makes me think even more that I have done the right thing. The RAF has already been deployed from Norfolk and I believe our military capabilities will help successfully tackle this evil.

It was Small Business Saturday last weekend, though shoppers in Hamilton Road and surrounding areas will want shoppers every Saturday, not just once a year. In the Autumn Statement, the Chancellor confirmed he would extend small business rate relief for another twelve months. I know this will be welcomed by many small businesses and as a major retailer says, every little helps.

Storm Desmond is wreaking devastation on the north west with displacement of families, businesses and several rescues being undertaken.We know too well locally what damage to life and land such heavy flooding can inflict. I am also reminded that on our coast, we are often vulnerable to such surges though often with erosion which is terminal not temporary. This is a time to pay tribute to the coast guards who are volunteers helping people on land. I think the RNLI have also been helping there and the North East.

The Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner have announced the closure of several police stations including Felixstowe and Woodbridge. Both are currently open 9-5 so this will be a significant change. I have asked Tim Passmore for details of how many times each station was visited and will also ask for what purposes. This is a big change in front line policing, though I do expect not many people actually go to the station any more but call 111 or 999. That said, a lot of money has just been spent building a new Woodbridge police station alongside the fire station. I have not yet checked but I think Suffolk Police budget is actually due to go up in the next year but there are costs that continue to rise year on year and they have to live with the decision of previous Chief Constable and the former Police Authority to build very expensive Police investigation centres on a PFI contract. I will also ask what arrangements are being made to facilitate matters like lost property, needing to attend a police station for various matters and will update readers."

02 DEC 2015

Star Column - 1st December 2015

"There were three big events last week in Parliament – the Strategic Defence and Security Review, the Autumn Statement and, unusually, the Prime Minister replied personally to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee report on Syria.

The Prime Minister presented the Strategic Defence and Security Review. With our renewed economic security, we are now in a position to further invest in our national security and will be spending £178 billion over the course of the next decade. Included in this will be the renewal of our continuous-at-sea nuclear deterrent, the creation of two new strike brigades of 5,000 personnel which will be able to deploy rapidly to fight terrorism and new maritime patrol aircraft which will hunt down hostile submarines as well as enhance existing maritime search and rescue resources. Later in the week, the Prime Minister set out his stance on why the UK should engage in further military action to tackle ISIL. I support him wholeheartedly on this and will vote for it.

The Chancellor delivered the Autumn Statement and Spending Review setting out how we will fulfil our manifesto, including the important element of balancing the books. Prosperity and security were at the heart of the announcements and because of the tough decisions that the Government has taken, the Chancellor was able to make a commitment to balance the nation's books by the end of this Parliament. The decision to preserve the police budgets at this time was, understandably, well received given the threats we face from international terrorism.

I was particularly pleased on the commitment for a new school funding formula, which should address the historic imbalance for Suffolk. Full details will go for consultation early next year. There was good news for pensioners as well, who will receive the biggest real terms increase to the basic state pension in 15 years with it rising to £119.30 a week. Housing was also prioritised, particularly affordable homes that people can buy. The housing budget will be doubled and the Government will encourage private developers to step up to the plate and deliver more affordable homes. The measures unveiled by the Chancellor will deliver the biggest affordable housebuilding programme since the 1970s, with over 400,000 new homes to be built across the country.

I met representatives from Telefonica (which owns O2) to discuss the roll-out of 4G across Suffolk Coastal. Mobile phone signal was one of the most frequently raised issues during my constituency tour and I am working hard to address this issue as a priority for residents and businesses. Telefonica updated me on existing sites which are being upgraded to provide 4G coverage and on new suits being built to increase coverage elsewhere. Having already met Vodafone, I will continue to press the case with mobile phone providers to ensure that Suffolk Coastal is included in any improvement works going forward. 3 Telecom is up next, which is owned by Hutchison – who own Felixstowe Port.

Yesterday was the deadline for submissions on local planning sites for housing developments. Inevitably, that involves building on green land, just as happened in the past to create homes in both Felixstowe and the Trimleys. I am still committed to keeping a strategic green barrier between Ipswich and Felixstowe, recognising the distinctiveness of these towns.

Finally, I visited Langer Primary School and what a difference in atmosphere from when I last visited. Everyone at the school was warm and welcoming, pupils were alert and learning with a good Q&A session. I was delighted about 20 young people would like to be an MP in the future. Well done to Mrs Bartholomew and all her team."

25 NOV 2015

Star Column - 24th November 2015

"The Felixstowe to Ipswich trains are back in service. I was aware that trains would likely be out for the entire week but when it started to emerge that the disruption could continue, which would have taken us into the third week of no service, I don't mind sharing with readers that I did the proverbial equivalent of throwing my toys out of the pram. With South Suffolk MP, James Cartlidge, I met Rail Minister Claire Perry MP to discuss how this could be averted in the future franchise. James and I also put pressure on Greater Anglia, being clear that we felt rail users in our area had taken enough of the pain and it was time for our services to be reinstated. I am glad that has happened and while I appreciate the trains through to Peterborough are now suspended, at least people can get there by changing at Cambridge.

The Strategic Defence and Security Review could not have been more timely, as governments continue to respond to the surge of terrorist attacks and threats. At time of writing, I do not have details of that but I know it is eagerly anticipated by members of the Armed Forces themselves, as I learned when I visited Rock Barracks for their Remembrance service. I will update readers next week.

Chancellor George Osborne and Bill Gates have announced they are to join forces as part of the global effort to end malaria. A staggering one billion people are infected with malaria and 500,000 children die from the parasite each year. A new £1 billion fund will be used to support the global fight against malaria and other infectious diseases. Named after Sir Ronald Ross - the first ever British Nobel Laureate who was recognised for his discovery that mosquitoes transmit malaria – will be used to support the global fight against malaria and other infectious diseases. The announcement is part of a fundamental restructuring of Britain's aid budget to be set out by the government this week as part of the Chancellor's Spending Review, putting prosperity and security at the heart of the new strategy. It will also fund work to target diseases with epidemic potential, neglected tropical diseases, and diseases with emerging resistance. Malaria still causes one in ten child deaths in Africa and costs the continent's economies around £8 billion every year. The UK will tackle resistance and develop drugs or insecticides to help bring an end to this terrible disease. A healthy, prosperous world is in Britain's interest and the prevention of deadly diseases is a smart investment.

On Wednesday, the Chancellor will announce the Spending Review when he will set out in more detail how the Government intends to bridge the deficit. It is important that we live within our means. It seems that Labour have not learned any lessons and think we should keep maxxing out the nation's credit card. I think there are some difficult decisions to be made. There will also be decisions which previous governments have put in the "too difficult" pile, which need to be tackled. Meanwhile, we still continue to raise a lot of taxes and have to be careful in how we spend that money on your behalf.

I'm delighted Sutton Hoo have been successful in obtaining a £150,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a new interactive experience. Creating a new interactive experience to showcase the story of this hugely important excavation is important for our local and national heritage, which I expect will attract many more visitors to Suffolk and boost our local economy."

20 NOV 2015

Star Column - 17th November 2015

Paris has seen the worst terrorist attack in Europe in a decade, after what happened in Spain and London in 2005. We need to face this threat with all necessary means and ruthless determination. Emergency (COBR) meetings were held by Government after the attacks. The Prime Minister is at the G20 summit in Turkey and undoubtedly, side talks as well as elements of the summit will be focused on this issue.
The threat level in the UK is rated severe – which means an attack is likely to happen. However, we should not be unduly alarmed but be alert to potential treats. I want to assure residents that the national counter-terrorism strategy is not just a piece of paper but the police, armed forces and government have undertaken two significant exercises in the last few years. In 2012, there was a simulated chemical terror attack exercise and this summer, there was a 2 day exercise which simulated rolling terror attacks across London. Businesses and places where a lot of people gather have been working with police to protect sites and staff from a variety of terrorist attacks. Being vigilant and reporting suspicious activity could help save lives in the future. However, we should not be put out of our usual stride and in that spirit, I will still be going to see England vs France at Wembley.

There has been significant disruption to the trains this week, particularly affecting Felixstowe to Ipswich line. I have been in regular touch with Greater Anglia. I do not pretend to be a rail engineer and so I cannot give a different explanation why they have had a considerably higher than usual outage of trains. They do plan on the basis that five of their twenty six strong fleet will be in maintenance at any one time, but recently that has been as high as ten. Yes, it is to do with rain and leaves and the track. Yes, it is deliberate that the Felixstowe and Sudbury lines have been targeted for bus replacement services, rather than services to and from Lowestoft. This is partly due to numbers of passengers but also due to the number of stops and distances. It is more straightforward to run a short replacement service, with more reliable timekeeping expected. This is an important matter with regard to consideration of the rail franchise decision. I will write to the Rail Minister asking her to consider the investment into branch line services put forward by the three bidders. In the meantime, I have been warned that full service is unlikely to resume till the end of the week.

HM Revenue and Customs have announced that they are to close several regional offices, including Customs House in Felixstowe and Haven House in Ipswich (though the latter will be kept open as a transition office). They are doing this to save money on buildings and believes it will also offer a better service to customers given then greater number of people in fewer, larger regional offices. I understand the point about saving money on property costs that can be redirected into the front line. I was surprised then to see that there is to be no office at all in the East of England but we would be served by two offices in Croydon and Stratford, which will also serve people and businesses from the South East and London. Meanwhile there are to be two offices in the North West – in Liverpool and Manchester – and two in Scotland. I am not happy about that and have written to the Chief Executive about this.

13 NOV 2015

Star Column - 9th November 2015

Last week, flights to and from Sharm El-Sheikh were grounded due to security concerns. Not only was this another example of our intelligence services working night and day to protect us, it showed decisive action by the government to minimise risk to British people, regardless of where they are in the world. Felixstowe residents Philip and Alison Heathcote are reminders to us all of the need to be vigilant and to act decisively. Yes, the government was criticised by Egyptian and Russian authorities but we now see that Russia has followed suit.

Given the timing of events, unfortunately, the Secretary of State for Transport was no longer able to come to the Port of Felixstowe on Thursday. I was delighted that former Transport Minister, Sir Simon Burns, was able to give the speech welcoming the formal opening of the Berth 9 extension and I formally opened the extension with Port CEO Clemence Cheng. This is a huge investment in the future of the port and the town. Providing this extra length of berth means that two large ships can be accommodated at the same time. No other port in the UK can do that, which offers us a competitive advantage.

Further up the coast, I was delighted that the Greater Galloper offshore windfarm is now to progress as RWE announced that it had secured investment from Siemens, Macquarie Capital and the government's Green Investment Bank. Our local MEP Vicky Ford also informed me that the European Investment Bank is also investing £200M in this from its fund for strategic investments, the first UK project to receive such funding. This is good news for construction and then good, well-paid ongoing jobs. The connection will come onshore at Sizewell and there is no need for any additional pylons. Suffolk Coast really is the green energy coast!

All of this points to the skills agenda and the need for higher attainment at our schools. I was really pleased to see that both Melton and Bucklesham Primary Schools have been rated Good by Ofsted in the last week, both of them making the big step from Requires Improvement category. This bodes well for the future for our local children. I also visited Felixstowe Academy and Saxmundham Free School last week. I was delighted to meet new Principal Mr Williams who seems to have started his tenure with gusto. Mr Williams is part of the Talented Leaders programme, in which I have great faith. Making the transition from Croydon to Suffolk brings its own challenges but I was impressed by Mr Williams' sheer determination to make that step change for young people in our town. Higher up the A12, I met the leadership of Saxmundham Free School. Their action plan has been developed and is up and running. The results in both schools were below expectation and I will keep pressing for improvements.

Remembrance services were held up and down the coast on Sunday and I hope to attend another this coming Wednesday. I am always impressed by how many people turn out to pay their respects, including young people – largely through the cadet force equivalents or scouts and brownies. I am pleased that they are there but most young people seem to play no active part in the actual services. Next year, I will be encouraging group leaders to actually teach the young people the specific prayers or songs that are usually sung at such events. I would hate to see the day when we have to rely on some electronic gadget as a substitute. It is not about brainwashing but about a civic tradition.

28 OCT 2015

Star Column - 27th October 2015

"The House of Commons has passed the Government's proposals for English votes for English laws, fulfilling our manifestocommitment. English votes for English laws will strengthen the Union, create fairer arrangements and ensure the English have more of a voice over matters that only affect us. The proposals are fair and balanced and are being introduced in a considered way. They will be reviewed after 12 months to ensure the process is working effectively.

I replied to the debate which was rather lively. A year ago in debate, the SNP representative said that he sympathised with English MPs and "they should have English votes for English laws". A year on, he suggests this is branding other MPs to be second class. The proposals are actually rather modest. After devolving more powers across the United Kingdom, it was the right time to give the English more say over our own destiny.

Under English Votes for English Laws, every MP would continue to have a vote on every Bill. Where the House of Commons considers a new bill which only affects England, and where the power to make that law has been devolved elsewhere, a new Parliamentary procedure will apply. The Speaker of the House of Commons will be responsible for certifying which bills, or parts of bills, meet this test.

The procedure will see English, or sometimes English and Welsh, MPs being asked for their consent to the provisions which meet this test. They will do this in a new stage of Parliamentary consideration called the 'Legislative Grand Committee', which will let them debate the proposals and secure their consent to them.

All MPs will continue to debate and vote on legislation at Second Reading, Third Reading and Report stage. This ensures that new laws are made with the agreement of the whole House of Commons, but that English (and Welsh) laws will be made with the consent of MPs who represent those parts of the country.

None of this affects how the Lords scrutinise legislation, though their approach to handling government manifesto commitments and financial decisions is causing increasing concern. In the Commons, we will have to change Labour amendments that will delay the delivery of 30 hours of free childcare to working families. This week, they are threatening to stop changes to welfare despite this being a decision that forms part of the tax and spending decisions to reach a balanced budget. None of the devolved Parliaments have a second chamber. The SNP do not want a House of Lords. I think having a revising Chamber is useful but the unelected House really needs to assess its purpose, particularly when one party's representatives is largely comprised of people who lost an election or failed in their attempts to be elected.

It is National Lorry Week and the Road Haulage Association is raising the issue of the shortage of drivers. I know this is a particular problem in the Felixstowe and Ipswich area where there are many vacancies. I undertook a simulator test which demonstrated some of the challenges. Fortunately it was not based on an articulated rig else I may not have competed the course. My cousin is a HGV driver. Early on in his career, he travelled to the continent a lot but now keeps considerably closer to home. It may not be the life for everyone but if you fancy retraining for a career where you will never be short of work, then consider this route."

22 OCT 2015

Star Column - 20th October 2015

"The Chinese are coming is the cry but in reality, here in Suffolk, the Chinese have been here for some considerable time. Sir Li Ka-shing is from Hong Kong (now part of China) and has invested in the Port of Felixstowe, in 3 Telecom and UK Power Networks which operates the electricity grid to your home and place of work. He is reported to be the wealthiest person in Asia and has been investing in our county and our country for some time now.

This week, the President of China visits our country for a formal state visit. I am hoping that we will have the final deal on the financing of both Hinkley Point and Sizewell. This is much needed for the country but is also much needed locally as a good source of highly skilled, well paid jobs both for construction of the plant and for the long term operational side. I am keen as Chairman of the Suffolk Energy Coast Delivery Board that we maximise our chances for local people to have those long-term jobs. After Sizewell B, unfortunately the last Labour government did not start any other construction and a number of skills and the training for them were largely lost. That said, I am ambitious for local skills and local growth. We should celebrate this week.

I was pleased that the district and county councils have made a fresh step on the four villages bypass, which I think we should consider renaming. My opening bid is to rename it the Suffolk Energy Gateway. The issue on the A12 is not limited though to the Farnham bend. Back in 2001, the then council leadership applied to take the road under their remit and away from the responsibility of the Government. Ever since then, while it has been well maintained, the opportunities for step change improvement have been lacking. I am keen that all the issues on the A12 are addressed and some of those could be done now, including the stretch between Seckford Hall and Wyevale. This key road can unlock growth for much more than Sizewell.

Sunday nights has seen the return of Homeland –one of my favourite programmes. However, we have to remember it is fiction based on reality not an actual documentary. The Prime Minister has published the Counter-Extremism strategy today. It will vigorously counter extremist ideology – making sure every part of government is stepping up to the plate. It will actively support mainstream voices, especially in our faith communities and in civil society. That means supporting all those who want to fight extremism, but are too often disempowered or drowned out in the debate. It will disrupt extremists, aggressively pursuing the key radicalisers who do so much damage. Finally, it will seek to build more cohesive communities, tackling the segregation and feelings of alienation that can help provide fertile ground for extremist messages to take root. As the Prime Minister said, defeating extremism in all its forms is not something the government and the state can do alone. We need the help of everyone, including our faith communities. We must be absolutely clear that when it comes to countering Islamist extremism, our strategy is not about criticising or attacking the religion of Islam or its followers. Our aim is to work in partnership to isolate the extremists from everyone else – and to stop them from driving a wedge between British Muslims and the rest of our society."

20 OCT 2015

Star Column - 13th October 2015

"I visited Manchester twice last week – the last England rugby game and the Conservative Party conference. Both proved interesting and successful. On the rugby it was a case of what might have been as our score would have been enough to take us into the quarterfinals if the captain had chosen to kick for a penalty and draw with Wales rather than go for glory and end in failure. Politicians too have to choose, to decide and to end debate. In Manchester last week, it was great to see such ambitious plans from our manifesto being updated and to discuss many different ideas for the future around the fringe.

The Prime Minister set the tone in his speech, laying out what will drive him in the next five years. The long-term economic plan still needs to function, which is necessary to pay for the public services we cherish. He was also clear on removing discrimination in everyday situations and the duty of care that every government has. I am firmly on the side of making home ownership a reality for many more people, particularly young families. Old rules allowed housing developers to build on a site, but only if affordable homes to rent were built as well. The Prime Minister announced that these rules will be replaced so that where houses are built these affordable homes will also be low cost homes to buy. This is about turning generation rent into generation buy. Current planning rules prevent Starter Homes, which give first time buyers at least a 20% discount on a new build home, as counting as affordable. But such homes are a key way for many to turn their dream of owning their own home into a reality as part of a sensible affordable housing mix. This will help deliver more homes for first time buyers, more quickly.

Ofsted, the schools inspectorate, will also be empowered to inspect faith schools which provide intensive education. Where parents or others have concerns about issues of extremism, child cruelty or inappropriate teaching in unregulated settings, Ofsted will have new powers to intervene in order to address these concerns. The overall aim is absolutely clear - if establishments are preaching hatred or putting children at risk, they will be shut down.

The Chancellor fired the starting gun on a new 'devolution revolution' aimed at enhancing the freedoms of local councils to promote growth and prosperity. The big shift was to move towards removing central grants but allowing councils to retain business rates. To avoid the situation of poorer areas suddenly losing a lot of income or when a big business closes, there will be a safety net. However, I believe that this change in focus will be beneficial to Suffolk as we are a pro-business county. I also like the power given e Suffolk County Council the power to cut business rates which could really help boost enterprise in our area.

I also started my own firing gun on the challenge to get fitter. This will not be the most straightforward of tasks but one I know has to be embraced. I participated in a short rowing race on an erg, with a spot of coaching from Olympic gold medallist James Cracknell. Just last month, a headteacher was recognised for introducing a mile run in every school day for children of all ages. As I was reminded, it is about building time into the day for activity – something which has got crowded out in the rush from meeting to meeting. Anyway, while I will not be entering a marathon any time soon, you may spot me in my trainers while I dash from place to place."

12 OCT 2015

Star Column - 6th October 2015

"I took a day trip to France last week. My mother has a significant birthday and I thought I would take advantage of the revival of summer and secure some good value refreshment for her party. Rather than just head for the supermarket, and I had not long been to visit Dunkirk, I turned just south of Calais and headed along the Opal Coast. It being such a nice day, I could see back to the White Cliffs of Dover. Dotted along the coast are large forts which would have hosted large artillery to attack Britain. They struck me as being like our Martello towers but of course, ours were used for defence. One had become a home, another a museum and another left as a ruin. Just 26 miles divide our countries but what a world of difference the Channel and North Sea have made in our history. Those were problems of the past, which we still remember in our commemorations of the first and second World Wars.

The international problems of today are more about terrorism, civil war and the consequences of both for the rest of the world. We are particularly witnessing that with mass movement of people across continents, a lot trying to get into our country when safe refuge is available in other countries. Driving back to the ferry, being a bit early I looked for the beach at Calais. I had spotted a handful of people walking along the motorway. I may have taken a wrong turn but I suddenly was at the edge of the so-called jungle. Tents, people and detritus as far as the eye could see. I already had my doors locked and I did not linger but I was quite taken aback by the scale of it. There was a small police presence close by but as I drove along, the presence increased closer to the large fences by the port, which have been recently enhanced. There also seemed to be a significant step up in checking of lorries at a separate point on the port. The following day there was another large scale attempt to enter the UK illegally, though not on the same scale as earlier in the summer. The Border Force is working closely with French authorities. The question still remains on why France is choosing not to deport people. However, we should continue to work with our neighbours to make that as straightforward as possible.

I agree with my neighbour Ben Gummer that the Highways Agency should be investing in actual road infrastructure rather than more digital signs along the A12. These signs are largely for the benefit of HGV drivers who already use sat nav to look at disruption further along their routes. The signs may say queue ahead or M25 closed at J30 or whatever but no sense of how long the problem will last or diversions that are possible. Instead the money should be spent on fixing the problems themselves. That includes, for now, the £500k cost of the proposed speed cameras on the Orwell Bridge. Meanwhile, no signage improvements for traffic joining for slip roads reminding people that they do not have right of way.

Finally, well done to the Aldeburgh Food and Drink festival which seems to have had another successful year and through its successful fringe programme is extending the tourist season. I'm in Manchester for the Conservative Party conference which is usually good fun and will certainly wipe away the misery of England's World Cup performance. The fringe is usually the more interesting bit of conference as this is where policy ideas get discussed, filleted and rehashed."

06 OCT 2015

Star Column - 29th September 2015

I have been on holiday for the last week in Salcombe in Devon. I had spent all summer in Suffolk so it was nice to get a different perspective on our great country with a few more hills and the south west beaches (the dog is an avid swimmer and it was a bit gentler for her than the North Sea). Salcombe is one of the few places where the average house price is higher than our local hot spot in Aldeburgh, with similar challenges of a gradually ageing population and the risk of local workers being priced out of the market. While I did not investigate the local ins and outs of their problem (it was a holiday after all), it reminded me of the challenges we have – keeping the balance of our largely rural area and creeping urbanisation versus keeping villages sustainable and not become commuter dormitories where the shop, post office and bus service struggle to survive. A lot of the proposed sites for housing in Suffolk Coastal are east of the A12. We should not be surprised at that as I expect developers will know that people moving into Suffolk will often be wanting to be near the coast but that does not mean that we should be more proactive in creating sustainable development across all of east Suffolk. The creation of the new Adastral Park and more housing in the Trimleys goes a considerable way, with Adastral Park edging very close to the AONB but councillors felt it was a logical next step to Martlesham Heath and Kesgrave. Meanwhile, the Planning Inspectorate has agreed to a site in Melton which will add pressure to an already busy junction, though I understand our highways officers were content. We should now be looking to ensure that the strategic barriers within the local plan are rigorously enforced.

The Prime Minister has been speaking at the United Nations in New York this week, about the new Global Goals. These have been set up to build on the work of the successful Millennium Development Goals which have helped to fight poverty and improve living standards around the world. We should be proud that Britain has taken a lead role in developing these new goals, which are even more ambitious, and commit us to ending poverty in all its forms, everywhere. Following three years of discussion, seventeen Global Goals have been agreed, including one on gender equality. I think the Prime Minister is mindful of his two daughters in policy formation on this.

Suffolk Coastal's very own Richard Curtis, who co-founded Comic Relief, and his wife Emma Freud, the Director of Red Nose Day, are playing a crucial role in promoting these new goals through Project Everyone (www.project-everyone.org). They recently moved to New York for a year to help the UN do this, with Emma stating that it would be Suffolk she misses the most during her stay in the Big Apple. During the weekend just gone they staged a huge concert in Central Park, which was beamed to 90 countries worldwide, announcing these new goals. Alongside Beyoncé and Coldplay, another Suffolk connection, Ed Sheeran was invited to play at the concert, performing a memorable duet with Chris Martin.

So not only can we as a country be proud of the leading role we are playing on the world stage to help those most in need, but we can also be proud as a county, of those of us who are involved in spreading the word and making these goals a reality.

25 SEP 2015

Star Column - 22nd September 2015

“There was a big step forward for improvements in East Anglian rail services last week as the new rail franchise process gotunderway. The Government published the criteria in which firms will bid to run the rail service. Three companies; First Group, National Express and a joint venture between Abellio and Stagecoach will be bidding for the franchise, due to start from October 2016. The criteria will make sure that East Anglia has a rail company that is committed to investing in our area and providing the Ipswich in 60 pledge that I and others have been lobbying for. This is an important step towards securing a fast and frequent service to London, which will help our local economy prosper as well as a more reliable and modern experience for all commuters.

Continuing on rail, I spoke to Network Rail last week about the Felixstowe branch line. Due to the increase in freight from the expansion of the Port there was a scheme to dual the Felixstowe to Ipswich line. This has recently been recosted from £45m to over £100m, for the most future proof scheme. I was pleased to hear from Network Rail that works to this line is still the top priority for the strategic freight rail network and that a revised scheme, most likely to include passing loops, should still be completed in the next four years.

The Chancellor announced this week that the UK will guarantee a £2bn deal for Hinkley Point under which China will also invest. An important step for the development of Sizewell C. Some people have reservations about Chinese investment but we should not be worried. Especially in relation to energy as UK Power Networks, which connects all our homes and businesses to the grid, is already owned by the Chinese.

I was delighted to hear last week that the Spa Pavilion will be staging shows again from November. This is great news for Felixstowe. It is important that people support it by buying tickets if they want the Spa to survive. This will be helped by a new box-office within the building for both telephone and in person sales.

We are now in Party Conference season but the fallout of the Jeremy Corbyn victory in the Labour leadership contest continues. Instead of being grateful to be asked to serve we saw the extraordinary scenes of possible shadow ministers interviewing their new leader to check what policies Corbyn will keep or drop before deciding if they will serve. This is an attempt by Labour MPs to half the huge leftward shift, but the problem they have is that their members voted resoundingly for this. While Labour battle it out internally in the lead up to their conference, we the Government will get on with economic recovery. A recovery that has now seen the highest growth in wages for the last ten years. Finally, I’m sure many of you are enjoying the home Rugby World Cup. Congratulations to England on their opening win against the Fijians. Japan beating South Africa was astonishing but I’m sure next week’s match against Wales will light up the World Cup.”

17 SEP 2015

Star Column - 15th September 2015

"With 329 other MPs, I voted against the Assisted Dying Bill, which would be more accurately titled Doctor - Assisted Suicide Bill. That is more than half of all MPs who voted to stop this Bill. This issue was debated in Parliament in 2012 in a backbench debate, when Parliament then voted not to change the law, though that was not debating a specific Bill. There are many reasons why I voted against this Bill. They include the fact that the current law works. There are very few cases happening. I want to protect the vulnerable, not reinforce the perception that they are a burden. I do not want the focus of doctors to fundamentally shift. Almost all disability groups oppose this ban. Celebrity advocates cite people and cases to which this law would not have applied, only a full euthanasia law would have done so. The law should not be changed just because it has elsewhere. In Washington State, more than half of people who want doctor help to kill themselves say that they do this due to being a burden on family, carers and friends. I think it would open the door to voluntary and even involuntary euthanasia, as is happening in Belgium and Holland. It is no secret that the campaign group now called Dignity in Dying used to be called the Voluntary Euthanasia Society. I could go on but my views were reinforced by many speeches and interventions in Friday's debate, which is available online in Hansard. It is now the case that Parliament has rejected this twice, as has the Scottish Parliament and also the Welsh Assembly. I doubt anyone would ever being forward such a Bill in Northern Ireland. It is also the case that the 5 main party leaders all personally oppose assisted suicide. While I recognise that those who want it to happen are upset, this issue has been resolved. I will continue to support our local hospices, St Elizabeth's and the EACH Treehouse, with the palliative care they offer.

A week on from the Prime Minister's statement about refugees, he confirmed that the UK would accept 20,000 refugees directly from the refugee camps in northern Africa, focusing on the most vulnerable including orphan children. I think that is the right approach. Last week, I highlighted Germany's approach to offer of asylum to hundreds of thousands of people. This week, Germany is now introducing border checks. People seeking asylum in Europe have chosen to leave safe Turkey, Hungary and Austria to get to Germany and perhaps beyond. While I agree that countries must work together address the situation in Syria, I do not think it appropriate for the EU to determine quotas for resettlement.

The political situation has become very interesting as Jeremy Corbyn is elected leader of the Labour Party – which was deemed unthinkable two months ago but for the last few weeks has seemed inevitable. It is concerning that someone who would rather not be in NATO nor wants it to expand its protection is now the person the Prime Minister has to deal with at this particularly fragile point. I am quite sure most people who voted Labour in May were not voting for a return to the "loony left" of the 80s but we will see that choice tested in 2020.

Finally, last week was also the London International Shipping Week and Felixstowe featured prominently in the Transport Secretary's speech. Due to parliamentary business, I could only attend one event but I will continue to support our port be vibrant and prosperous."

09 SEP 2015

Star Column - 8th September 2015

"The Prime Minister has said we need a comprehensive solution to the ongoing migrant and refugee situation. He is right.Anyone who saw the pictures of the young children cannot help but be moved. Britain is a moral nation and we will fulfil our moral responsibilities. That's why we sent the Royal Navy to the Mediterranean, saving thousands of lives; why we meet our commitment to spend 0.7 % of our economic income on aid; why Britain is the second biggest bilateral donor in the world to Syrian refugee camps; and why we are taking thousands of Syrian refugees – which we'll continue to do and we keep under review.

But there isn't a solution to this problem that is simply about taking people into our country. We need a comprehensive solution that deals with the people most responsible for the terrible scenes we see: President Assad in Syria, the butchers of ISIL, and the criminal gangs that are running this terrible trade in people – we have to be as tough on them at the same time.

The tragedy of the little boy came at the hands of smugglers exploiting the hopes of people desperate to reach Europe. I think the father said this was their third attempt to leave Turkey to get to Greece. Though people are safe from any war or persecution in Turkey, I expect the human traffickers have been highlighting Germany's offer to give hundreds of thousands of asylum places and once the cash is handed over, the traffickers push them out to sea and don't care whether people live or die as they line up the next boat.

At time of writing, the Prime Minister is due to speak in Parliament. In the meantime, the UK is still helping millions of people who are seeking refuge in Lebanon and Jordan. We have done that for the last four years and will continue to do so. Our country has been financially helping refugee support in Syria, Jordan and Lebanon and is committed to spend over £1 billion, which is nearly more than the rest of the EU put together. Don't let anyone tell you Britain has ignored these desperate people. I expect the Prime Minister to seek support across parties for military action. Last time Labour voted en bloc against such intervention, with shameful cheering when the Government was defeated by 12 votes. I voted for that as I believed the reports and intelligence of Assad attacking his own people. If the vote comes again, I will vote for military intervention.

Thank you to the 214 people who came to see me on my tour, stopping at 90 different places across the constituency. The top three issues were mobile phone signal, broadband and speeding. Buses and Sizewell C came up in a few places too. Thanks also to the pubs and shops that hosted some of the stops.

Parliament resumes after the summer recess, though just for a fortnight before the conference recess starts. That said, it is good to be back as not only the important matter of Syria is to be discussed but this Friday, we have the Second Reading of the Assisted Suicide Bill which is said to be just a minor change. It is not illegal to commit suicide but it is to assist it. This was last debated in the Commons in 2012, when debating the guidelines on prosecution. We voted against a motion to turn these guidelines into law, though we emphasised the importance of palliative care at the end of life. I fear that by changing the law even a little opens the door to more euthanasia, as has happened in Holland and Belgium."

04 SEP 2015

Star Column - 1st September 2015

"Being a victim of crime can be a horrific experience so it's essential that when you experience crime you have quick and easy access to support. That's why I'm pleased that a new Victims' Information Service was launched today.  The service includes free online and telephone advice which signposts victims to local services so that they can get the support they need. This could include emotional support, advocacy services and specialist advice for victims of sexual violence or domestic abuse. The new service can be accessed online via https://www.victimsinformationservice.org.uk or by calling the Freephone helpline on 0808 168 9293.

The Planning Inspectorate has allowed the Wetherspoons revised scheme to go ahead. The council had already agreed that a pub could be there but there was a dispute on some of the design and conditions. Now that it has been allowed, I hope the pub chain gets on quickly with construction. I had contacted them about the matter but I understand they would not get into discussion before the planning permission issue was resolved. I will get back onto them. Meanwhile, the Planning Inspectorate dismissed the appeal on new homes on Haven Exchange. That does not surprise me at all as it is so close to the port and Asda has secured permission to build a supermarket there.

Since last week, I have spoken to our Regional Schools commissioner and to the Chief Executive of AET, that runs Felixstowe Academy. The school is challenging some of their students' scores and hopes that as a consequence, its overall results will improve on the prior year. The regional director has also left and a lot falls on the shoulders of the new headteacher, Mr Williams. I wish him, his staff and all his students well for the next academic year.

Summer is officially over and children may be back to school this week, though Felixstowe Academy starts on Monday 7th, the same days as MPs return to Westminster. That gives me this week to undertake my constituency tour where I criss-cross this very large constituency. While I am only in each place for about ten minutes, it does give people a chance to come and say hello with a few queries. Of course, people can contact me any time via Parliament or my Felixstowe office or the internet. The tour also is a good opportunity for my team to get to know the area, particularly the two who are new. I hope to meet some readers en route. For details of my tour, please check my website.

It was an untypically windy, blustery day as many gathered at the Spa Pavilion for the formal opening of the Spa gardens. I commend the Friends, councillors and others who braved the elements as well as the managers and workers from the construction company. There are still some parts to be finished before all the gardens are open but certainly residents and visitors can start looking around. I did notice that the so-called Clock Pond does not have a clock. Apparently years ago, it was moved to Mannings. I feel a new project coming on!"

27 AUG 2015

Star Column 25th August 2015

"In the last parliament, over two million apprenticeships were created and in our manifesto, we said we would create three million more apprenticeships during this five years. One way is to include them as part of government contracts, particularly on infrastructure. An additional route is an apprenticeship levy on larger businesses and that is what is being consulted on at the moment.

Our best vocational training is world-class, but for the past 20 years employer investment in training has been in a general decline. Much of what is spent goes on health and safety or senior management, rather than improving skills on the shop floor. A fifth of the difference between Britain's productivity and that of the US, France and Germany is down to a lack of comparative skills, so reversing this decline in on-the-job training is vital if we're going to boost our national productivity and become a truly high-skilled, high-wage economy. Around the world, apprenticeships have long been recognised as a crucial part of the most successful skills development systems. That's why we're committed to increasing the quality and quantity of apprenticeships in England, delivering 3 million starts in the next five years, putting minimum standards in place and putting apprenticeships on an equal legal footing with degrees. We are also making it easier to hire an apprentice by abolishing employer National Insurance contributions for apprentices under the age of 25. However, Government alone cannot solve the skills challenge we face. Nobody understands the skills employers need better than the employers themselves, so they must be placed in the driving seat. That is why we are introducing an apprenticeship levy that will let employers choose and pay for the apprenticeship training they want. It's a model that's already working successfully in more than 50 countries around the world. This consultation sets out how it will work here in the UK, creating a system that benefits employers and the economy at large by helping us to invest in the single strongest asset we have – our hard-working, dedicated people. The construction industry already pays a levy to their training board. My experience in industry showed that good leadership training made a big difference but that was not limited to the classical leadership structure, but to everyone who worked there. I think this is a good move and I encourage employers to respond to the consultation online. If you know someone interested in an apprenticeship – offering them or applying for them, please encourage them to look at the website http://www.apprenticeships.gov.uk.

We have had results for both A levels and GCSEs. It really has been a mixed picture with well- established schools improving their results (and well done to them). Those schools that have really struggled still seem to be doing so. I am disappointed that Felixstowe Academy has decided not to release its GCSE results, especially as it was quick to do so for its A levels. I have asked the Chief Executive of AET to do that quickly. I think it is better to be transparent about these matters.

Good news that the Spa Pavilion is to open in November and I am due to attend the opening of the Spa gardens this week. The new play equipment at Martello Park was being well and truly used. The Premier Inn is being built. Announcements that a new Pier scheme is going ahead. All this is very positive for our great place by the sea. Felixstowe floreat!"

20 AUG 2015

Star Column 18th August 2015

"I attended Highways England's exhibition on works to improve traffic flow on the Orwell Bridge last week. There is a proposal to have a new speed limit of 60mph, to be enforced by speed cameras, in a bid to smooth traffic flows and reduce the risk of accidents. I previously campaigned against a 50mph limit as there was no evidence to justify this. There has been a suggestion from some that Highways England simply stop lorries overtaking on this stretch of road. The issue with that is the problem of other traffic getting off and on the junctions before and after the bridge if you have a nose to tail line of lorries. If we could solve that then I think it would be worth giving a go. The cameras to enforce the new speed restriction are thought to cost £400-500k. I think that's a lot of money. I suggested that they don't put these in, until they have given the new speed limit and the additional signage a chance to work without the heavy hand of average speed cameras. I would also prefer that money be used on signage on the slip road leaving the petrol station to remind traffic that they have to give way to traffic already on the road.

Whilst we all love living in and enjoying the Suffolk landscape, one of the challenges is poor mobile phone signal. Improving this is one of my priorities. We have too many partial not spots where only one of two of the major operators provide signal. Transparency helps progress to improve and I'm pleased that a nationwide mobile phone coverage checker was launched by Ofcom this week. You can find it at http://www.ofcom.org.uk/mobile-coverage. I will shortly be following up with Telefonica, who won the contract to provide 4G coverage nationally, for an update on progress.

Well done to the A-Level students who received their results last week, I hope you got the grades you wanted. Whilst many students are thinking about University there is a great choice of advanced level apprenticeships too. For more details on apprenticeships, you can look at www.apprenticeships.org.uk or via www.thesource.me.uk.

I wrote recently on my commitment to make Suffolk Coastal a dementia friendly constituency. Last week the Government committed to the ambition of finding a cure for dementia by 2025. This has been boosted by a large rise in people volunteering to take part in research studies – 22,000 last year. This will give scientists a huge advantage in finding new treatments to prevent, treat and hopefully to eventually cure the illness.

Figures published last week have confirmed that the Government has saved £18.6 billion through efficiency and reform, tackling fraud and uncollected debt in the last financial year. Getting our nation's finances in order, reducing the deficit and continuing to improve the economy is our top priority. In order to balance the books we must make every taxpayer penny count.

Finally, I want to welcome the new Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Service, Rob Morton to his position. I wrote in detail about the improvements made in the service in my column last week and regular readers will know that I am determined to see a service that improves response times, especially in rural areas."

13 AUG 2015

Star Column 11th August 2015

"I want to pay credit to Dr Anthony Marsh who has been Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Service, brought in to rebuild the service which had seen headline targets hit but care for patients, particularly in rural areas, missed. From the time that he was asked by the Department of Health to investigate to then taking on the role, while still holding down his job running the West Midlands service, he has always been available to help, to talk through issues and to get the building blocks in place. I am somewhat perturbed by the sneering tone adopted by the BBC on its website proclaiming the news that he was returning full time to the West Midlands. Honestly, any local journalist would have understood what the service has gone through in the last few years – tribulations, trials and triumphs. We all know the ambulance service isn't fully functioning yet but I am sure that the new CEO will take on the reins to get us there. In the meantime, the deputy Chief Executive – who was recruited from West Midlands Ambulance Service – will be running the service until the new Chief Executive is fully on board. I wish Anthony well. We need more public servants like him at the top of our organisations.

It was useful to catch up with New Anglia LEP Chief Executive, Mark Pendlington, down in Ipswich Marina. When Parliament is sitting, events in the Chamber come first so it can be challenging to find time to sit and speak for a meaningful amount of time. We covered a wide number of topics. Suffolk Coastal has a rather successful economy already so it can be tempting to remove the focus from this area. I think we need to focus on areas of strength, that are still hampered by weakness – a good example would be better mobile phone coverage and 4G. I think it would be sensible to make a deal and help straighten the way for the phone operators to roll out their networks, in return for full coverage. That is a win-win for consumer and company, with wider benefits for local business and the public sector.

Next Saturday, I will be joining Friends of the Suffolk Regiment to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VJ Day in Leiston. The lessons learned from fighting the Japanese in World War II are still used today in training for new soldiers.

This government since 2010 has taken forward revolutionary steps for pensions and pensioners. For the first time in years, it is now worthwhile to save even small amounts towards looking after yourself in older age, we have introduced the triple lock on pension upratings and for future pensioners, a flat rate pension which removes the need to access other means-tested benefits. The latest change was to allow people access to their pension pots. Now it seems that some insurance companies are imposing large charges to access funds. That isn't what the government wanted and it is now consulting on restricting such charges. You can find the consultation online at gov.uk and the Treasury is running a survey on https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/J3XV3KX .

UCS is conducting a survey for the police regarding community safety. I have heard that some people do not report crime as they think it's not worth it. I think it is always is as this gives an accurate basis for allocating resources. Crime maps are easily found on the police.uk website. I have also heard about how ASBOs given in one place just shunt the problem elsewhere – an issue that I will take up with the Police and Crime Commissioner. I encourage you to fillout the survey which is available online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/norfolksuffolksurvey"

06 AUG 2015

Star Column 4th August 2015

"I was back at Landguard Fort to thank the volunteers at their annual gathering. This dedicated group are a very friendly bunch and there were some people who had only just started. Some work exclusively at the fort, others in the museum but together they help to bring the history of Felixstowe alive for visitors. If you want to get involved, look at their website www.discoverlandguard.co.uk .

One of the pledges I made during the election was to try to make Suffolk Coastal a dementia-friendly constituency. This week my team and I took the first step and were trained to became Dementia Friends. We have a very large proportion of over 65's in our area who are statistically more likely to be affected by dementia. Therefore it's important that we all have an understanding of what it's like to live with the condition. I know that there are some groups already. I want to work with them and see if we can establish others to raise awareness of how we can all make it easier for people to live with dementia. If you want to know more, or would like to become a Dementia Friend, please visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk or contact me.

We had a great launch of the Deben Estuary Plan at Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club. Credit goes to all involved, including Cllr Christine Block. My predecessor John Gummer, now Lord Deben, added weight to the plan, particularly given his role as chairman of the Committee on Climate Change. The sun played its part and the river looked amazing, with many appreciative daytrippers enjoying the ferry service, the cafés and the fresh fish.

I attended the consultation on the proposals to build a modern clubhouse for Felixstowe and Walton Utd Football Club. The building design looks rather impressive and the club were open to some new ideas, including the siting, but also the design especially considering the youth teams. I think it is a great step forward but will take some fundraising to get it off the ground and access other grants. Well done and I genuinely hope it will be ready for the 2017 season (if not before!)

The situation at Calais is concerning as people seem desperate to enter the UK. The situation is rather complex. People have been trafficked into mainland Europe, often by criminal gangs. Paperwork is deliberately lost or destroyed. Even fingerprints are removed by burning. All this is done to try and stop people being returned to their home nations. I am pleased that we are increasing the amount of fencing and that the French have stepped up their security efforts. People entering Europe should register and process any claims in the first country they enter. Meanwhile for people who are concerned about their holidays, please do check with your operator in case they recommend diverting to another port.

Finally, I took the opportunity to see the new play equipment at Martello Park with Suffolk Coastal district council leader Ray Herring. I think it looks really impressive and there were children looking on, eagerly anticipating the opening due next week. There is still a bit to do to finish off but I am sure it will be very popular alongside the existing play equipment and fountains. We caught up with tea and an ice cream from the South Kiosk which were delicious and beautifully presented. I want to give credit to Kim Christofi and her team, with the free biscuits and water an added draw for dogs. To be fair, there is another kiosk there (competition is usually a good thing for the customer) and I will try that next time."

30 JUL 2015

Star Column 28th July 2015

The Orwell Bridge is proposed to have a new speed limit of 60mph, to be enforced by speed cameras, in a bid to smooth traffic flows and reduce the risk of accidents. Many readers will know that the knock-on effects can be quite devastating on other traffic in Ipswich, never mind those already on the A14. I previously opposed the 50mph limit on the basis that it was unnecessary to go so slowly and the knock-on impacts that would have at other junctions. I said I would support the 60mph as that was what the Highways Agency's evidence supported. I still think the average speed cameras are unnecessary. Outside peak hours, traffic flows very smoothly already and I still think it would be better to spend money on signs on the road and on the entry slips from the petrol station and some of the junctions. Also, when Ben Gummer and I raised concerns about the number of people trying to jump from the Bridge, we were told that the presence of safety nets or other structures would be deemed to damage the aesthetics of the bridge in its special setting. I expect speed cameras would do similar visual damage.

I was pleased to visit the new Principal of Suffolk New College, Viv Gillespie, so early in her role as she looks to restore the reputation of the college, after its assessment. I know most of their young graduates are successful in getting jobs, though I think we agree that there is a role to boost numbers training for careers in higher skilled sectors, which leads to higher salaries.

The CO of 23 Parachute Engineers, Lt Col John Clark, led his regiment through the streets of Woodbridge, asserting their rights of the freedom of the town. I joined in their celebrations at Elmhurst Park in what is always a special occasion. It was a good opportunity to meet many of the wives of the officers, who have their own special role in the life of the regiment. All were particularly pleased by the commitment made by the Chancellor in the Budget to maintain spending on defence and security at 2% of GDP. I was also pleased to learn that the reserves of this special regiment are at full strength. I look forward to welcoming the CO to Parliament next year.

I was heartened by the speech given by the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, as he reiterated the transition required within the NHS to make it a fully-functioning 24/7 health service. We all know of someone helped in an emergency situation and marvel at the professional treatment and care. However, it is the case that someone admitted to hospital at a weekend tends to have a worse clinical outcome than if they had gone in mid-week. No-body knows when that car crash or stroke is going to happen. The NHS needs to continue to evolve to match the expectations of patients and that is why we continue to put more taxpayers' money into the service. Demand will always exceed available supply but we can try.

Parliament is now in recess, after an intensive start to the new Parliament as the government is cracking on with putting its manifesto into action. The last big piece of Parliament was the Second Reading of the Finance Bill, which puts into law the legal aspects of the Budget. Extraordinarily, the Opposition could only keep the debate going for four hours. I think some MPs may have been getting away early. Now that the summer break is ahead of us, I do intend to take some time off but will also get to various events and fetes.

23 JUL 2015

Star Column - 21st July 2015

"Felixstowe welcomed Coastal Communities Minister Mark Francois MP to Landguard Fort to launch the Coastal Communities project after the general election. Felixstowe had already been nominated as a team but we now have the Deben Peninsula added too. Mark also announced that the Coastal Communities Fund would continue to run for the next five years. While I knew the Minister was a military man, he had never visited the fort and so it was great for him to have a private tour. This little fort at the end of our peninsula has a special part in maritime history. I have even discovered a painting of it in the Government Art Collection, though it is portrayed quite differently to how it looks today.

The Prime Minister has also announced a 5-point tourism plan to increase the number of international visitors already coming to London to continue their stay outside the capital. Suffolk is brimming with wonderful sights and experiences. Personally, I think there is more we can do locally to make it as straightforward as possible to encourage tourism. People will pay a good rate to visit and stay in friendly, welcoming areas and the extra bit of customer service goes a long way. The Latitude festival was a great advertisement for part of our coast. In addition, the organisers put on extra transport to take festival goers from Diss and Halesworth direct to the site. That is the kind of extra thinking that I believe we need to make almost as standard practice. While we may not have the whizziest rail service going, we do have a largely reliable rail service close to our coast that is a great asset.

I was really impressed by the Vision for Ipswich launched recently. While I have not studied it in detail, I have long thought that we need to significantly improve our town centre for the good of Ipswich and all of south and east Suffolk. It really matters to have a vibrant town for existing residents and it is also crucial if we want to attract businesses, teachers and clinicians to our county. I'll do what I can to support Ben Gummer and the team bringing this vision to reality.

Parliament is finishing for the summer but that doesn't mean the work ends just yet. I am back in Suffolk this week but will return to Parliament to crack on with all the projects I'm continuing, working with my new team who are just absorbed into the House of Commons team. I will also take the time to get to see a bit more of Suffolk and even Norfolk as I have not ventured much outside my own constituency for the last five years. That will include visiting places like Dance East, other colleges, UEA and so on. We are blessed to have much on our doorstep and I want to ensure I have broader knowledge of our county so we can continue to work really well together as a team of 7 MPs.

Finally, school's out for summer and I wish all those at 16 and 18 well in their next steps. Leaving school or college for the last time is one of the big moves into adulthood and all the freedoms and responsibilities then enjoyed. I am sure some are already working or looking forward to university but please do enjoy this last great summer. It really is once in a lifetime (until you retire). Enjoy it."

16 JUL 2015

Star column - 14th July 2015

"The big Parliamentary event of last week was the Chancellor's Summer Budget statement to a packed House of Commons. I described the last Budget of the coalition government as 'steady as she goes' – and whilst the theme of this Budget was security it was transformational in its outlook. Thanks to the hard work of the British people over the last five years and by working through our economic plan, we've been able to start to turn the economy round. That means we can afford to continue to cut taxes through the rise in the personal allowance and the higher rate threshold. We also recognise that Britain deserves a pay-rise. It's because we've taken the difficult decisions that the Chancellor was able to announce a new National Living Wage, compulsory as of next April, at £7.20 an hour rising to £9 by 2020. The changes on tax credits will gradually move us from situation where 9 in 10 families received tax credits to 5 in 10. As for the limit on tax credit claims for two children, this does not apply to existing families with more than two children or indeed for anyone expecting a child. This is sensible and proportionate. That's why I think we can genuinely say this is a One Nation Budget from a One Nation Government - continuing to move Britain from a low wage, high tax, high welfare economy to a higher wage, lower tax and lower welfare society.

There was also important announcements on the Employment Allowance – cutting National Insurance contributions for employers and the Investment Allowance – allowing companies to invest up to £200,000 of profits in their business without paying tax (previously a temporary measure) - both very important polices for firms in Suffolk – which will create jobs locally.

Motorists will welcome the fuel duty freeze which we have become accustomed to under this Government and a new roads fund means all money raised through vehicle excise duty will be invested into roads. This helps towards my focus of more investment in our roads locally, not only the A14 but also the A12.

The theme of security throughout the Budget was underlined by the commitment from the Chancellor to spend 2% of our national income on defence and security – hitting the NATO target. Britain has always been resolute in defence of liberty and the promotion of stability around the world. We live in an uncertain world and I welcome this measure.

This week there will be a vote in Parliament about hunting. The Government has laid a Statutory Instrument which amends the Hunting Act, though does not repeal it. This is in response to representations made by upland farmers about the problem of foxes killing lambs. The proposed changes, which will align the legislation more closely to that operating in Scotland, and will enable farmers and gamekeepers to make a judgement, based on the terrain and other circumstances, as to whether it is appropriate to use more than two dogs to flush out foxes and other wild mammals. This is particularly important in upland areas where the use of two dogs across large and difficult areas of ground, often covered by woodland, is not regarded as effective or practical. There is no limit on the number of dogs that can be used in Scotland. I believe that these small changes represent a proportionate and common sense response to the problem. I will be voting for this change.

It was good to attend the EADT Business Awards last week as we celebrated the success of a wide range of local businesses. It is good to have a local paper that celebrates businesses that create jobs locally. It was also great weather for Trimley Carnival last weekend and I'm looking forward to attending more fetes again this weekend as local residents enjoy the summer festivities."

08 JUL 2015

Star column - 6th July 2015

"With the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and Jo Churchill, new MP for Bury St Edmunds, I led a small delegation to meet Transport Minister, Andrew Jones MP, to make the case for improvements on the A14. We need investment to improve the capacity, resilience and flow of the road. Locally, that means tackling issues like Seven Hills, the Nacton exit, the Wherstead exit and the Orwell Bridge. Readers will know that the A14 is a vital corridor not only for Suffolk, but for the whole country. Businesses rely on goods coming into the port of Felixstowe being transported in a quick and efficient manner. 40% of the UK's container trade comes into Felixstowe meaning the road is crucial to the British economy. With the potential development of Sizewell C in the next few years, our county needs additional transport improvements to support such growth and national infrastructure. The over-arching message that I wanted the Minister to hear was that just because £1.5 billion is to be invested on the A14, that was all happening in Cambridgeshire and that Suffolk needs additional investment to unlock growth and have a resilient road. I was very encouraged by what the Minister had to say. He recognised how important the A14 is and that there is still much work to be done to make life easier for Suffolk residents and businesses. I will continue to lobby hard on this issue to make sure we get the investment we need.

Undoubtedly the people of Greece have spoken and they do not want to accept the terms of the bailout but sadly, this really is turning into a Greek tragedy. Any household knows that if you don't pay your debts, there are consequences and while you survive, trying to pick up the pieces once bankrupt is difficult. There is also a lesson for our economy. Our deficit is higher than that of Greece in cash terms and in 2010, as a % GDP, ours was worse. It is only by having a firm resolve to tackle the deficit that we have continued to have the support of financial institutions that keep our economy running. If we do not impose financial discipline on ourselves, then others will do that for you as Greek citizens are learning. Their banks are closed. Money is being rationed. Hospitals are at risk of running out of drugs. The government appears to no longer being paying its bills to businesses, which risks not only mass unemployment but killing off a recovery led by the private sector. The next week is critical. It is right that our Government assesses the impact on the UK economy. It is another reminder of why William Hague was correct in pushing for the UK to not join the euro. Later this week, we have our own Budget. Given that we still have a large deficit, I expect the Chancellor to present proposals that will be difficult, offset with ongoing funds for investment in infrastructure. I will write more next week.

Finally, we unveiled our plans for English votes for English laws last week. Given that we are embarking on further devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this is a sensible step that brings fairness for England and will strengthen the Union. Our proposals say that for those matters where law-making is devolved, like education or health, then English MPs should explicitly give their consent on these matters that only affect England. All MPs can speak and vote in the normal way. I am not surprised this has been met with opposition but I am happy to stand up for my constituents with this sensible reform."

01 JUL 2015

Star column - 30th June 2015

"My thoughts are with the family of the victims of the terrorist atrocity in Tunisia, a particular tragedy for family and friends of Allison and Philip Heathcote from Felixstowe. While Mrs Heathcote is in hospital, at the time of writing, the whereabouts of Mr Heathcote is unknown. This will be a tremendous shock to close family and also to their work colleagues in Felixstowe. My prayers are with them at this time. I have also made contact with the Foreign Office who are working closely with the Tunisian authorities to make as rapid progress as possible.

The Secretary of State for Transport last week spoke to Parliament about problems at Network Rail. It seems that the company has bitten off more than it can chew and this has only just come to light, particularly on the electrification programme. What impact does this have on the Great Eastern Main Line? In theory, it should not hinder the progress to be made on our line as the major improvements we expect are due to be from the new franchise. However, where this is a signal of concern is for the hoped-for electrification from Felixstowe to Nuneaton. It is right to take stock and for Network Rail to prioritise. The chairman has gone and the new one was in charge of London transport during the Olympics. Let’s hope he can get the programme truly back on track.

It was a great pleasure to visit Seafast Logistics, conveniently based in the same building as me in Felixstowe, on the announcement of their winning the prestigious Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade. This was granted for their outstanding sales growth over the last three years. Speaking to CEO David Halliday and his long-standing business development manager Caroline Heale, it was fascinating to learn more about the success of Seafast, entirely focused on meeting customer needs. The company was due to receive its award from the Lord Lieutenant today and parliamentary duties meant I could not attend but I hope all the employees had a great evening recognising their success.

Parents will be disappointed to learn that Felixstowe Academy received another Requires Improvement rating from Ofsted. While the new Education Bill will give the Secretary of State new powers to address struggling academies, I am pleased that a new Headteacher has been announced and that he has come from the Future Leaders Trust programme. This programme seeks out the best headteachers who will help struggling schools, particularly for children from deprived backgrounds. Felixstowe would not normally qualify but the needs of the children were recognised. I wish Mr Williams well and look forward to meeting him early in the Autumn term.

I was very pleased to meet new Agriculture Minister Rory Stewart with two representatives of the East Suffolk Water Abstractors’ Group. It was a useful exchange with the Minister and his officials putting forward the problems that local farmers and landowners face, who already do a considerable amount to reduce the amount of water used in irrigation and similar. The new Minister has a Cumbrian constituency so I don’t think they suffer from a lack of rain. Fortunately this year, touch wood, there is a low risk of drought as we had a reasonable winter. Nevertheless, the reforms being proposed will be in place for a long time and it is key we get this right.

Finally, well done to the Seasiders under-13s who won another national tournament, adding to their Aces National win last weekend. Testimony to the young people who work and play so hard, together with their parents for the support and crucially, the managers, coaches and all at the club who help these young people develop their talent."

24 JUN 2015

Star column - 23rd June 2015

"Parliament’s latest attraction – though only seen to a small group – is the race to book a seat in the Chamber. Labour and the SNP are still slugging out who is going to sit where. The Derby and Royal Ascot have nothing to compare! Yesterday, though, was the first day that this didn’t happen. Not because the SNP have given up but instead, it is the SNP sticking to its tradition of not voting on England-only matters. Will there still be a chamber in which to have this sprint? The report came out last week with a variety of options, all of which need careful scrutiny. It seems that my short experience in BBC property finance may come in handy after all and I was surprised at how some of the options were presented. There is considerable debate to be had but we must be careful to get best value for money and not gold-plate (metaphorically) the final building.

The new group of Suffolk’s 7 MPs have started meeting again and this week we will be seeing the County Council leader, Colin Noble. We will be discussing the rollout of broadband, progress on schools and economic development. Given Colin is new to his role and we have two new team members, meeting early in the Parliament is important to have a shared sense of priorities between us for our county.

It is Drowning Prevention Week and given the stretch of coastline, I think it is very important that every person in Suffolk can swim. I do not pretend that I am a confident swimmer but promoting an awareness of coastal currents is important, as is following the guidance on safe places to swim. It is not that long ago that the RNLI in Southwold carried out one of their largest peace-time rescues, helping over 50 swimmers in a race that went wrong. Thanks to them and to our lifeguards.

Independent Bookshops week is a good chance to stock up on that list of books for the sunlounger on your summer holiday or just in the back garden. While Kindles and other similar devices may be handy, there is nothing like the turning of a page and having nice bookshelves to remind you of the joys of reading. More importantly, independent bookshops have dedicated owners who can suggest alternative authors or know just the book you need for whatever desire you have. We have some great bookshops locally in Felixstowe and Woodbridge that would value your support.

The East of England Energy Group held its reception in Parliament and we were pleased to have both the new Energy Minister, Andrea Leadsom MP, and the Business Secretary, Sajid Javid MP, attend. This is an important industry for our county and especially our coast. The latest offshore windfarm has placed its orders higher up the coast at the new Siemens factory in Hull while it is hoped that more than one local port will benefit from the initial work, as well as ongoing maintenance. Another government announcement was not welcomed universally though but I expect most Star readers will be pleased to know that, as of next year, there will be no demand-led subsidy for onshore wind turbines. We already have a lot of turbines on the land and while there will still be an opportunity to gain a contracted price, this will be on the basis of greater competition which should reduce costs on electricity bills.

Finally, congratulations to Louise and Nick who re-opened the Hand in Hand in Trimley St Martin. I was pleased to join Louise on her opening night last Friday and the entire place has been updated. I am sure she will do well and I will be back."

18 JUN 2015

Evening Star Column - 16th June 2015

"The Education & Adoption Bill will receive its second reading in Parliament this week as it goes through the necessary stages for it to become law. The main thrust of the legislation is to enable the Government to intervene faster into poorly performing schools. In the past I have lobbied the Government for greater intervention powers, through the Regional Commissioner, for those schools that require improvement, so there can be a step-rate in the pace of change. This also updates the regime for Academies to enable intervention more quickly. I think it is fair to say, certainly in my constituency, that Academies haven't had the same impact on schools as they have had in the rest of the country. I wish the County Council had intervened earlier in schools, including academies, they could have done that through Raising the Bar rather than give the impression that as they were now not under their direct control that they would wash their hands of responsibility for the children there. That attitude has firmly changed and I know that the Councillors want all pupils to do well regardless of who runs the school. I'm very happy that the Cabinet has decided to invest more money into the Raising the Bar programme. For me this is one of the clear strategic issues which the County Council has embraced and is now putting extra resource behind it. I also welcome the ambition that every school will be at least Good within the next 18 months. That is the pace of change that we need locally in order to give our young people, regardless of their background, the best chance in life to have a good job and a good future.

This time a year ago we were cheering on the riders as they left Felixstowe in the Women's Tour of Britain. This time higher up the coast stage one of the tour meanders from Bury St Edmunds through Ipswich and Woodbridge finishing up in Aldeburgh. As well as being a fantastic spectacle for local residents it also adds to our thriving tourism economy as we edge towards the busiest time of year.

I welcome the question in Parliament last week from my near neighbour, Jo Churchill MP, on the A14. As I mentioned last week the contractor has been appointed for the £1.5bn worth of works, which primarily focuses on the congestion in Cambridgeshire. As Suffolk MPs we are making sure Ministers are made aware that the investment there shouldn't mean the end of investment along this really important road. I have already spoken to the new Minister for Roads, Andrew Jones MP, who has agreed to meet me on this issue and I will be delighted to take along the Chamber of Commerce. On that note, congratulations to Sarah Howard, the Chairman of Suffolk Chamber, who received an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours. Well deserved.

Finally, I was delighted to visit Colneis Primary School yesterday (Monday), on the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, to present the pupils with their flag which has been flying in Parliament Square to celebrate the foundation text of our freedom. Well done to the pupils and teachers for representing Suffolk in our national celebration."

12 JUN 2015

Evening Star Column - 10th June 2015

"Having moved parliamentary office last week following the election – and unpacking my painting of the Spa Pavilion to re-hang prominently on the wall - it was apt that one of the first things I did when I returned to Suffolk was to visit the Spa Pavilion Open Day. The Spa Pavilion is an important asset for Felixstowe and I'm delighted it will be re-opened again in the autumn under the auspices of NRG Theatres. The new owners are confident they can attract big names to the town and they have ambitious plans for a restaurant, bar and cafe which is great news for local residents and visitors alike. Quite rightly, they want to hear from local residents and other businesses on what will work for you. Fundamentally, if they do not sell tickets, the Pavilion will struggle to keep going. I am excited by the opportunity but it is going to be hard work. I will do what I can to help.

Earlier this year I organised and chaired the Felixstowe Seafront Summit, bringing together a number of key players to discuss how we can make Felixstowe seafront more attractive – this was backed up with a £10,000 boost from the Government for Felixstowe Forward to kick-start work in the area. I was delighted to meet with Helen Greengrass, the Felixstowe Change Director, in charge of Felixstowe Forward on Friday. We talked about ambitions for the town and a number of issues raised at the summit, as well as opportunities to follow up. I am conscious of time though and I think we need to press on with some visible leadership, rather than considerably more brainstorming.

One of my big achievements in the last Parliament was to secure the much needed improvements to the A14 without the proposed toll – which would have been bad news for local businesses and residents. I am pleased to report that the contractors were appointed last week to deliver the £1.5m upgrade between Cambridge and Huntingdon. This is an important step on the project. I am mindful, though, that this does not resolve the congestion locally. I am pleased that the Nacton area is to be tackled this summer as the tailbacks are getting longer. I will work with local business representatives to make further progress.

FIFA is in the dock and it seems change is finally afoot. A lot of credit should be given to the investigation team at the Sunday Times who first brought this issue into the open a few years ago. In the last Parliament, readers may remember that I served as a member of the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee. One major piece of work was to look into domestic football governance and we had a separate session on FIFA and the World Cup, when Lord Triesman made revelations – helped by the protection of parliamentary privilege, which saw off a legal attempt by a foreign football official to silence us. Sepp Blatter has now finally gone and the previous Chairman of the Select Committee, now the Secretary of State, John Whittingdale, has pledged that the Government will do all it can alongside the FA to push for urgent reforms to worldwide football governance. Good luck to the Women's team as the World Cup starts this week.

Finally, one of the more controversial stories of the week has been the changes to driving licences – and the need for individuals to give details of their driving record to hire companies – following the scrapping of the paper licence. The DVLA had problems coping with demand earlier this week and those problems are being ironed out. If anyone is struggling to access the correct information then please contact me."

03 JUN 2015

Evening Star Column - 2nd June 2015

"The full pomp and ceremony was evident as Her Majesty the Queen formally opened Parliament last week. I had an unexpectedly good view as the Leader of the House was already in the Lords for the Royal procession so as his deputy, I sat on the front bench next to the Chancellor and joined the traditional walk through from the Commons. Having watched a few TV documentaries and dramas recently, I suppose this is the closest to how historians imagine the Royal Household operated centuries ago. The key point though was what the Queen actually said as it set out the Government's programme for the next year. Reflecting our manifesto, there was a wide range of measures announced including an increase in childcare, the EU Referendum Bill, tax cuts for low earners, measures on security and defence strategic review, further devolution for Scotland, Wales and for England, an extension of the Right to Buy and plans to give English MPs more say over measures that only affect England. It is also includes a new counter-extremism Bill and measures to make legal highs illegal. In line with the promises my party made at the election it also includes plans to legislate to ensure there will be no rises in Income Tax or VAT during the whole of this 5 year Parliament. The Prime Minister has already started his tour around Europe to discuss changes that he will put in a referendum to the public by the end of 2017.

I was encouraged by the improvement in ambulance response times for east Suffolk and I will be looking to ensure that these become consistently good. The extra resources in terms of paramedics and new ambulances seems to be paying off and it proves we were right to push for change. I will soon do another deep dive into performance by village but be assured that I will keep pressing the case for local improvements.

The Felixstowe Spa pavilion is staging its open day this Friday, giving everyone a chance to meet the new owners and look at their early stage plans for the re-opening of the theatre and restaurant. I know there has been cynicism about the sale but we need to give NRG a chance to show how they are going to restore the theatre. The pavilion needs to have a balanced programme with a good retail offering to bring back the crowds of local residents and tourists in order to have any chance of long-term survival. I will update readers next week.

It's June already which signifies the peak of summertime for most of us but for our 16 and 18 year olds, it means exams and spending half-term on revision, not a relaxing break. It is always a difficult time of year but I am sure parents are encouraging their children to keep focused. Good luck to all our students locally.

I was delighted to welcome a large group of residents from the Felixstowe area to Parliament yesterday as they enjoyed a tour of the Palace of Westminster. Beforehand they had a chance to quiz me on matters. I try and encourage as many constituents as possible to visit the seat of our democracy. If you would like to visit Parliament then please get in touch with me or your own MP if you live outside Suffolk Coastal.

Finally, I am captain of the Ladies' Tug of War team which is part of an annual event organised by Macmillan Cancer Support. The main tug is the male Commons vs Lords which our MPs have won regularly in recent times, while we take on a crack squad of Macmillan staff who train hard. We have never won and I don't think we will break our losing streak this year either. Last year, it raised £141,000 and I am proud to play a part in it. "

27 MAY 2015

Evening Star Column - 26th May 2015

"Parliament is nearly back into full swing. Most Members have sworn in and we have already seen the start of the shenanigans between the SNP and Labour – a literal turf war on the green benches of Parliament. This battle is more like the classic sunlounger around the swimming pool manoeuvres which are not the most edifying but it is light relief to watch. I hope it is all resolved before Wednesday when we gather for the real opening of Parliament – the Queen's Speech. This is when Her Majesty reads out what the Government will do in the next year. Some of these have been well trailed – the EU referendum, adoption, childcare and Scotland. I have been involved behind the scenes on this but cannot say any more till the Queen has spoken!

This Wednesday is also first day of the Suffolk Show, which looks to be even bigger and better. I also have duties in Parliament on the Thursday so I am unlikely to attend this year, though I will try to make it on the Thursday. If it is Suffolk Show week, it is also half-term which is reinforced by the number of visitors. I'm hopeful for the weather though there is plenty to keep people entertained. One group that will be feeling the blues are Ipswich Town supporters who wished they were at Wembley. I admit I would prefer the Tractor Boys to be at Wembley but there are quite a lot of Norwich supporters at the northern end of Suffolk Coastal who are hoping for glory.

I happened to be at the excellent Landguard Viewpoint café on Friday, when visitors saw a big ship leave and an even bigger ship arrive – all within half an hour. This was a great reminder of the importance of Felixstowe and a reminder to me to invite the new Minister for Shipping, Robert Goodwill, to see the premier port of Britain for himself. The Minster already has a feel for things marine as he owns a cruise boat that carries about 200 people on daytrips off the Yorkshire coast.

The flag designed by children at Colneis Primary School has been flying proudly in Parliament Square this week. It was particularly prominent being the corner flag, close to the statue of Churchill. It will be included in the national Magna Carta celebration at Runnymede on June 15th. While the children could not make it to Westminster, I am sure the designers and all the children will share a sense of pride in their work.

It has been Dementia Awareness Week – a reminder by the Alzheimer's Society that for people who contract the illness (and those around them), life doesn't need to stop. Based on 2013 data, Suffolk Coastal has the 11th highest number of people diagnosed with dementia. That is the basis of why I want to turn Suffolk Coastal into a dementia-friendly constituency. I have already joined the Friends group in Halesworth and I will start to engage with groups and organisations to make this a reality. There are two ways that I am starting to help – by pressing for more EMI (elderly mentally infirm) capable homes and greater appreciation in hospitals; secondly, once my new team is in place, we will train to be dementia friends. The Prime Minister established his Dementia challenge in 2012 and updated it earlier this year. Tackling this requires pain-staking, time-consuming research but in the meantime, we can all help with understanding and compassion. For more information, you can look online at http://www.engage.dh.gov.uk/dementiachallenge/ or www.alzheimers.org.uk."

21 MAY 2015

Evening Star Column - 19th May 2015

Parliament has formally resumed this week for a short time before the Government sets out its priorities for the year in the Queen's Speech next Wednesday. The Queen's speech will lay out a legislative programme to implement the Conservative manifesto that I and my colleagues were elected on. This year I'm delighted to be playing a significant role in planning for and implementing the Queen's speech as the Prime Minister has asked me to become Deputy Leader of the House of Commons – helping Leader of the House, Chris Grayling. This has two aspects – managing the legislation of the Government through Parliament and acting as the champion of backbenchers. Large elements are procedural but there are the nuts and bolts bits like the decision on refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster. I had a tour today and it was quite an eye-opener.

Congratulations to two other Suffolk Ministers, Matt Hancock and Ipswich's very own Ben Gummer appointed as ministers for the Cabinet Office and Health, respectively. Ben has a fantastic record of fighting for NHS services locally and I'm sure he will do an excellent job in the Department of Health. He is taking over from another Suffolk MP, Dr Dan Poulter, who has stepped down from the Government. I want to thank him for all that he achieved as a Health Minister. Rest assured I will still be batting for Suffolk Coastal - lobbying other Ministers on behalf of constituents and on constituency issues – and we will continue working together as a group working hard for our county.

"Felixstowe Academy announced changes at the top as the Principal, Mr Andrew Salter, has decided to step down as Headteacher. I am sure the local community will want to thank Mr Salter for seeing through the transition of properly bringing the two schools into one and the development of the new building. I look forward to welcoming the new headteacher in due course. I see it as part of my role to be a critical friend to the Academy and I am keen to see a greater pace of improvement on attainment for our young people. As has already been announced by Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education, the Government intends to increase the powers for the regional commissioners so that they can intervene more quickly to improve standards. That's good for the children, that's good for parents. I also intend to meet the new academy sponsors for some local primary schools, including Reach2 who now lead Martlesham Beacon Hill Primary School.

The Supreme Court has rejected NANT's attempt for further legal scrutiny of the Adastral Park site and effectively uphold the decision of Suffolk Coastal's councillors who voted to include that area for future development. The key decisions now need to be made are on infrastructure and reducing the impact on nearby housing and business developments, particularly in regard to congestion.

I welcome the creation of Felixstowe Forward and the appointment of Helen Greengrass as the Change Director. Readers may recall my seafront summit that I held a few months ago. I will urge the group to use its powers of persuasion and legal powers to keep the momentum on key projects. It was good to see during the election period the opening of part of the Spa Gardens. Some planting is still to be done and I thank the Friends' gardening group who are a big support.

Finally, it was a great disappointment that Ipswich weren't quite able to make it to Wembley. The play-off buzz has been fantastic to witness locally. I'm hoping for better luck next season and I'm sure the fans will continue to get behind the team in the quest for the Premier League."

13 MAY 2015

Evening Star Column - 12th May 2015

"Suffolk Coastal has spoken. Britain has spoken. The pundits were wrong, the pollsters were wrong but a majority of the British people were right to elect a majority Conservative Government. It was vital that Britain returned a strong Government to make sure the benefits of our growing economy can continue to deliver great public services. With more jobs, lower taxes and the deficit down, we can invest in good schools to help our children reach their full potential, provide an NHS that always gives the best care for you and your loved ones and continue to invest in infrastructure to make Suffolk an even better place to live, work and play.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the 28,855 people who re-elected me as Member of Parliament for Suffolk Coastal. It is a privilege to serve and represent each and every one of you. It was particularly pleasing to see hardworking MPs like my colleague Ben Gummer, given the recognition he deserves by increasing his majority in Ipswich – with the Conservatives also making gains on the Council. My congratulations also go to those who were elected and re-elected onto Suffolk Coastal District Council. I will continue to work closely with our councillors. Special congratulations to the new Councillor for Felixstowe West Ward, Tracey Green, who used to work for me in my office in Felixstowe.

Parliament formally resumes next week for a short time to re-elect the Speaker and at the end of the month for the Queen's Speech. I suspect the new Parliament will have a more tartan feel to it. In the interim, I am recruiting a new team and will be back in and around the constituency, starting the next phase of working hard for Suffolk residents.

There is one fun event in the next seven days – the unfurling of the Magna Carta flags in Parliament Square to mark the 800th anniversary. I look forward to seeing the design created by the children of Colneis Primary School who I nominated to represent Suffolk. It features the sky rising in the East, the sea, beach and blue sky with a prominent Martello tower.

From one symbol of freedom to another as I was privileged to attend the commemoration of the centenary of the death of Dick Doughty Wylie recently, who was awarded the VC posthumously for his bravery in Gallipoli. The Lord Lieutenant of Suffolk unveiled the special paving stone presented by Her Majesty's Government at the war memorial in Theberton. As we commemorate VE Day this week – it is important we remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice in both world wars so we can enjoy the freedom and democracy we hold so dear today."

25 MAR 2015

Evening Star Column - 24th March 2015

Felixstowe has been chosen alongside Ipswich and Lowestoft to receive £10,000 to kickstart local initiatives for growth as a coastal town. Only 12 towns have been given this status so to have 3 in Suffolk is good going. I am pleased that our own seafront is gaining real momentum as the planning application for the old North Sea hotel will be assessed soon. The council has also appointed the new director of Felixstowe Forward. I won't be deterred by those who talk down the town. There is much to do but a lot has already been achieved. I am proud of our town and will continue to sing its praises.

"The Chancellor presented the final Coalition Budget. It was steady as she goes but thanks to careful stewardship of the economy of the last five years, there was plenty to encourage people who work, save and want to own their own homes. The things that stood out for me included the Help to Buy ISA for first time buyers where for every £200 you save, the Government will chip in £50 for your deposit. Other little gems include the industry plan to get more people driving HGVs which is key for our local haulage industry as well as more for broadband and the Wet Dock Crossing study. We have almost come to expect the increase in tax allowances, the freeze in fuel duty and the cut in beer duty but the extra penny off a pint or a tenner off the petrol bill when I fill up are equally welcome. The budget is online at www.gov.uk/budget2015

Parliament finishes this week but I am continuing my mission on encouraging students into science and technology as well as promoting high-tech businesses. Last Friday brought these together. BT, who recently announced their drive to recruit 1,000 apprentices and graduates, hosted the 2nd Robotics championship at Adastral Park. A lot more local schools participated this time, which is encouraging. Speaking to the young people, I was pleased to hear a young lady who wants to be a games programmer, which is a smart career move. I then visited Silicon Safe, based in Innovation Martlesham, which has been marked out as one to watch by being nominated as Pioneer of the Year by the World Economic Forum. Previous winners include Google and Mozilla. CEO Roger Gross is an entrepreneur with a straightforward idea but risking a lot to make it happen. I also met Jake and Andrew, the people behind Rade Systems, bringing wifi broadband to rural residents and businesses. These are the kind of people grafting hard and taking a risk with their own money to help others and, yes, hopefully will reap the rewards of their efforts.

This is my last column before the General Election. It is a huge privilege to have served as Member of Parliament for Suffolk Coastal for the last five years, working with many people to make this an ever better place to work, live and play. During the election, I hope you find some time to meet me and the other candidates hoping to be MP for such a special place. There are hustings in Felixstowe on April 26th and Woodbridge on the 20th. Don't forget we are also choosing our local councillors on May 7th. The Star will have all the news that matters on May 8th. In the meantime, I am still taking casework and you can contact me in the usual way. Till next time!"

19 MAR 2015

Evening Star Column - 17th March 2015

"Spectacular news that the Spa Pavilion is set to re-open as a theatre later this year under the auspices of NRG Theatres. I am reminded of this important cultural icon for Felixstowe almost every day as it features in a painting of Felixstowe I have hanging in my Westminster office. It is an important asset for the town and I'm delighted that it will soon be back in use and enjoyed once again by theatre goers. The announcement on the Felixstowe Spa came at an apt time as this week is English Tourism Week. One in ten people have jobs in tourism in our part of the world as opposed to one in fourteen nationwide, so we need to work hard to make sure our tourist economy continues to thrive. With work on the Spa Gardens and moves to rejuvenate the pier it is an exciting time for Felixstowe and an important opportunity to help our local economy. This was one of the reasons I organised and chaired the Felixstowe Seafront Summit that I referred to last week, bringing together a number of key players to discuss how we can make Felixstowe seafront more attractive for residents and visitors, including taking advantage of the Government's new £3m Coastal Revival Fund. Follow up meetings are already being organised so fast forward for Felixstowe.

Another important part of our local economy is the small fishing fleet, operating along our coast including at Felixstowe Ferry. Government Ministers have already been able to secure increased quota for under 10m boats by moving unused quota from large commercial fishing groups and are now consulting on measures to maximise sustainable fishing to reduce current inactive capacity so we can provide more certainty for the active vessels. I have alerted local fishermen to the consultation and I was concerned that, for some of them, it was the first they knew of it. I am currently following up with the Fisheries Minister with their feedback.

I responded to the East Anglian Rail Franchise consultation. This franchise process will ensure that bidders set out how they are going to achieve the recommendations set out in the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce report. I want the franchise process to include an obligation on bidders to provide higher quality trains with air conditioning, automatic doors, wi-fi and plug sockets alongside details of how they are going to increase capacity and resilience, ensuring users can enjoy a comfortable and reliable service. I also want to see potential bidders outline measures to increase capacity on the Felixstowe passenger line –to enable half-hourly services and better Felixstowe connections.

There are now only two weeks left before Parliament dissolves for the General Election but there is still important work to do. Tomorrow, we will hear the Budget. The big announcements are being kept under wraps until the Chancellor delivers his speech but there has already been an important announcement on positive measures for pensioners. We've already given freedom to people saving for a pension and now we're going to give freedom to pensioners who have an annuity. For many pensioners an annuity will be the right thing to have but some will want access to their money. By changing the law we're trusting people who have worked hard and saved hard all their lives. This is all part of our long-term economic plan to build a country based on savings and investment, supporting people who work hard, save and do the right thing. I don't know what else will be in the Budget but I hope there may be more good news on beer duty and fuel duty. I am pleased to report to readers that beer sales in pubs are now on the increase for the first time in years. Cuts in taxes are helping our landlords and breweries by giving confidence to invest in premises. Cheers George!

I was concerned by the news from Suffolk New College that it will no longer be offering A-levels which seems like an over-reaction to the adverse Ofsted inspection report of last year. This strikes me as a lack of determination to fix the problems at the College and is a poor reflection on the level of aspiration that it has for young people. I have called for fresh leadership at the Corporation, coinciding with bringing in fresh executive leadership."

12 MAR 2015

Evening Star Column - 10th March 2015

"Congratulations to the children of Colneis Junior School who have had their flag chosen to represent all of Suffolk for the 800thMagna Carta celebrations. I visited the children last November when they were brainstorming their various ideas for a design. The outcome is something very Suffolk – the sky rising in the East, the sea, beach and blue sky with a prominent Martello tower. I visited headteacher Mrs Reed to congratulate her and the children on winning. Their design will be made into a proper flag and will be flown at a commemoration in both Parliament and Runnymede. To see the flag, look online at http://flags.parliament.uk/galleries/flags

I held my seafront summit on Friday, pulling together a small number of people to talk through what has already been done on the seafront, what is in the pipeline and what we can still do in the future. I was particularly pleased to have a senior director from Premier Inns participate in the summit. He had never visited Felixstowe before so it was useful to have some outside thinking. Cllr Smith and I showed him the sights of the seafront, stretching from the "shabby chic" of the Ferry right along the golden beaches to the glory of Landguard Fort and the viewing area. I think he was pleasantly surprised. It was a very constructive meeting. Some key actions were generated and I hope we continue to see progress.

I was very pleased recently to join Graham Newman, the Mayor of Felixstowe, with his family at his fundraising curry night. We were joined by a number of the so-called "chain gang" including the Mayor and Mayoress of Ipswich. It is one of the hallmarks of being a Mayor that not only do you act as first citizen at civic events, you visit and recognise a number of organisations though possibly most challenging of all is the fundraising for a local charity or two. Graham is currently raising money for Level 2 and the Citizen's Advice Bureau. This curry night was one of several events and he is hosting a Ball this Saturday night at the Orwell Hotel. If you want to go, please call the Town Hall.

Great news in Rendlesham as there was enormous support for the neighbourhood plan in the referendum last week. I had already referred to this last week and I am glad it has now been endorsed by residents. Now the next phase of putting in action starts but well done to all involved so far.

Apprenticeship Week has started and locally, great news that BT is creating 1,000 apprenticeships and graduate positions. Most people selected will be trained at Adastral Park which is really exciting for our area. 740 people started an apprenticeship last year. I hope that more of our young people will consider this route and that we get more apprenticeships at a higher level. I met some BT apprentices last year and they visited Parliament. They were all advocates of earn while you learn.

It was International Women's Day on Sunday and there were a number of events around the country celebrating the role of women in our world. I have been inspired by various women in different phases and parts of my life – politically, in my faith and values, in the pursuit of excellence and it was a woman who inspired me to go into manufacturing. Of course, my mother has been a huge inspiration and I will be celebrating her this this coming Sunday, Mother's Day."

09 MAR 2015

Evening Star Column - 3rd March 2015

"Coastal heritage received a boost when Coastal Communities Minister Penny Mordaunt announced a £3M fund to support therevitalisation of piers, lidos and the like. I immediately thought of the Felixstowe seafront summit scheduled for next week and how an injection of funding could open up further private investment. Our pier was cut short during World War I. How fitting it would be if we could recoup some cash towards a good restoration and continue the regeneration of the seafront.

I was so pleased that the Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles, agreed to turn down the housing application as it was threatening to rob Rendlesham of a heart. The neighbourhood plan, which has its referendum this Thursday, was taken into account and I continue to encourage other areas to start their neighbourhood plans. The government has announced some extra funding to help with this. Rendlesham shows that these plans do have teeth!

I have also contributed to the council's consultation on strategic housing sites. Most of the extra housing has been allocated to Martlesham and the Felixstowe peninsula continuing the shift of the centre of gravity in our district to the south east. I am not against housing but I do think we need appropriate infrastructure to accompany that while ensuring that villages can continue to benefit from a small amount of natural growth.

East Anglia One offshore wind farm has been given the green light by the Government awarding a contract to Scottish Power. The jobs and investment this 100 turbine project will bring will be a major boost to our already successful local economy. Importantly this auction has driven down prices ensuring the best possible deal for green energy production along our coast. This will be the "best value" wind farm anywhere in the UK, if not the world. With Sizewell and successful offshore wind, Suffolk really is the green energy coast. I was pleased to join a conference call on Friday afternoon to congratulate the firm and to discuss next steps. A skills plan is already developed but they will be joining the Suffolk Coast Energy Delivery Board, which I chair, to maximise the potential.

I met Paula Vennells, CEO of Post Office, to discuss the Local Post Office model. There is a situation in Yoxford where the owner of the local store was happy to provide the service but as he did not want to open the Post Office counter on a Sunday, the Post Office refused to grant him the contract but are in the process of organising an outreach service. The consequence is that residents will have a service of just two hours per week rather than over sixty hours. I am trying to get the Post Office to be more flexible so this situation can be resolved locally but also on a national level. She promised she would review the situation and I hope to hear back later this month.

The Prime Minister pledged that Pensioners will keep universal benefits including bus passes, prescriptions and free eye tests in a speech last week. By the end of this parliament, the basic state pension will have increased by £950 per year for individuals and over £1700 for a couple. I'm pleased David Cameron has pledged to continue to support pensioners. Welcome news for many in Suffolk Coastal.

The Tractor Boys were not in best form on Sunday but I admire their tenacity. I hope the march to the playoffs resumes next weekend and that I don't have to suffer too much gloating from Norfolk MPs this week!"

25 FEB 2015

Evening Star Column - 24th February 2015

"I was pleased to welcome David Cameron to the Port of Felixstowe to launch the government's long term economic plan for theEast of England. The last Prime Minister to visit the port was Margaret Thatcher in the 80s so it was good to see him here backing our local port and industry. Our area has seen the fastest growth in employment outside London since the last election and the Prime Minister set out ambitious plans to secure an even brighter future for hard-working people across Suffolk, including plans to create 250,000 new jobs by 2020 and deliver £4.2 billion of investment into transport infrastructure, boosting road and railway connections. For Suffolk this includes a detailed study into electrifying the Felixstowe to Birmingham railway line which would further increase the capacity for freight that will take more traffic off the A14 and also benefit the passenger service to London. The Prime Minister also announced the launch of the passenger train long-term franchise which should get a better service for passengers with brand new carriages. There was specific reference Taking action to ensure that local businesses are able to access the supply chain for Sizewell C and tackling skills barriers across the energy sector. The Suffolk Energy Coast Delivery Board, which I chair, has been set up to take advantage of this opportunity locally and maximise the community benefits of this project. The Prime Minister also set out plans to build on our world-class science and technology base by supporting universities and high tech industries.

I visited Rockford Components in Rendlesham, which is based in the former US HQ for the old base. I was pleased to tour the factory, meeting directors and employees. I have driven past the building on many occasions but didn't realise that such a successful, international manufacturing business was inside. Rockford have been successful in their Sharing in Growth bid from the Regional Growth Fund which is excellent news. The potential to grow and succeed is really good news for the many employees who live locally.

MPs are being asked to vote on whether to make it explicitly illegal for an abortion on the grounds of their gender. For me, it's a no-brainer to make it illegal. I am shocked by the number of organisations that pleaded with MPs to oppose this including the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal Colleges of Obstetricians and even the TUC. I am open about my views on abortion but this amendment isn't going to repeal the Abortion Act. The reason for those opposing appears to be their desire to have abortion on demand, for any reason. I don't agree. At time of writing, we haven't voted but I hope we will succeed in giving the clearest view possible that we value both boys and girls equally.

Parliamentary recess coincided with spring half-term which meant the streets were full of children and parents enjoying their break. There was a sad accident involving a little girl in Hamilton Road and I hope that she will be okay. That said, I still think the shared street is a good idea and enhances that shopping environment, though perhaps we need more signage and a default speed limit to be flagged. I did manage one day off which involved a trip to the beach to introduce our new dog to Suffolk and the seaside. She is quite a live wire and I hope several of you will meet her on the campaign trail."

19 FEB 2015

Evening Star Column - 17th February 2015

"I welcomed the announcement by the Highways Agency to halt the move to a blanket 50mph limit across the Orwell Bridge and consider in more detail the evidence or insight detailed in the objections. I want a good solution to tackle the problems that arise due to accidents, including preventing them in the first place, and as swift a recovery as possible afterwards. That solution also needs to take into account the everyday traffic elsewhere along the route. I look forward to welcoming the Highways Agency director to our area so she can see these matters first hand.

Tax. Do you pay too much? Too little? Have you ever evaded tax? Or avoided it? The former is illegal. The latter is legal. The latter may be legal but is it right or have you just paid an expensive adviser to help keep your own money under wraps that could have gone to the exchequer? Many readers will already think they pay enough tax as it is but think some very rich people aren't. Some British citizens who work internationally go to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying UK tax so much so that they leave our country to live in places like Monaco and then only visit the UK for so many days a year. I can think of some sports stars, musicians and actors fitting that bill. The Government was pressed by sports event organisers to turn the Glasgow Grand Prix to be effectively a tax-exempt event so that leading athletes would come to Scotland and not be taxed on appearance fees.

There has been a lot of heat and bluster on this topic but we need some light and facts. Governments do use tax incentives to encourage certain behaviours including saving into ISAs, saving for pensions, donating to charities or investing in businesses. However, there is no doubt that there are schemes created (which have been used by people including leading celebrities) which are so contrary to the intentions set down by Parliament that HMRC deems these as being aggressive tax avoidance and starts to close down such schemes. That is why my Government has pursued such schemes and introduced a general anti-abuse rule. The tax avoidance rate has fallen under this Government and HMRC is collecting £9 billion more than 5 years ago. Labour may talk a lot about it but they had thirteen years to tackle this. They failed. We are getting on with it, clearing up another inherited mess.

While it may have been sad to see a headteacher resign from their post, I will make no apology that the Government and Ofsted judges schools on the progress of children. The best schools ensure that children benefit from a comprehensive, rounded education in addition to stretching children to the best of their ability. I was also sad to see letters to local papers condemning this focus on rigour, though one letter did come from a chair of a governing body at a school rated inadequate. Both my parents were teachers. I know it is not at an easy job but the years at school are precious for giving children the best start in life.

I am pleased that the latest candidate for the Chair of the child sex abuse inquiry has finally been appointed. This has been a long process and will continue for some time yet but I am confident that the victims and survivors will have an inquiry reaching wherever it needs in order to establish the truth."

13 FEB 2015

Evening Star Column - 10th February 2015

"We all know the importance of the maritime sector for the economy of Ipswich and Felixstowe. Across the Haven Gateway, about 32,000 people are employed in the maritime and logistics sector, driven largely by the success of the Port of Felixstowe. That is why I was pleased to attend the Chamber of Shipping's Annual Dinner and catch up with the industry. This coincided with the announcement that the Government is reducing light dues by a penny to 39p per registered tonne from April 2015, following the penny reduction last year. So what you may ask? Light dues are charges levied on ships based on their tonnage which pays for the upkeep of lighthouses, buoys and the like. When a large ship docks at Felixstowe or Ipswich, they can end up paying several thousands of pounds every time (though there is an annual cap). This is in contrast to the continent where the taxpayer pays. It is important we do all we can to support our shipping industry which is so important to us here on the Suffolk coast – this announcement alongside the Government's previous action to waive the backdated Ports Tax payments bought in by the last Labour government - signals our commitment to supporting our port and Britain's export trade.

Magna Carta has a special place in English history as it established the principles of the rule of law and was essentially the first written constitution. During the 17th-century struggles between Parliament and Charles I, Magna Carta assumed new significance as a written guarantee of political liberty. It was a major inspiration for such great constitutional documents as the 1689 British Bill of Rights and the American Declaration of Independence. The four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta were brought together in Parliament last week for a unique exhibition. They were in different states of repair but you can see the better versions in the cathedrals of Lincoln and Salisbury.

I'm sure many Star readers enjoyed the BBC2 documentary 'Inside the Commons' last week. The second episode is aired tonight at 9pm – focussing on the traditions of the State Opening of Parliament and the Queen's Speech. So far, the narrative seems to be a charming world but not a way to run our democracy in the 21st century. Actually, Parliament itself does work. While there may be wider disagreements about the body politic, some of the innovations being proposed could see fewer MPs being in Westminster regularly.

Another week, another chance to celebrate the NHS. The improvements made at Ipswich & West Suffolk Hospitals with round-the-clock hyper acute stroke care has really transformed the service. Thanks to the efforts of our dedicated doctors and nurses and the commitment of the Suffolk Stroke Care Review Board the service now achieves some of the best standards of care in the country. Added to this is the increased investment in other services and in staff. Ipswich Hospital carries out 6,000 more operations, over 5,500 more MRI scans and 8,000 more CT scans per year compared to 2010. It also has 41 more doctors. We still need a clear focus on improving ambulance response times, especially in rural areas and real progress is already been made with hundreds more paramedics and more double staffed ambulances. I am also pleased that Suffolk GPs are applying to the NHS for funding to open more surgeries at the weekend. That is welcome news for patients and I will be supporting their application."

04 FEB 2015

Evening Star Column - 3rd February 2015

"Three cheers for the NHS! Star readers will have been thrilled to learn that Ipswich Hospital has been rightly recognised as one of the top hospitals in the country. Patients who go through its doors will already know that they get excellent treatment and care. This is largely driven by the attitude of its staff and the vision and clear leadership of the Chief Executive and his team. Ben Gummer and I met Chief Executive Nick Hulme and his team last week to talk through the current situation and some of their plans for the next few years. Some of the work they have done is going back to basics and systemising how every patient is treated, so that care can be given consistently. Coming from a manufacturing background, this is good practice which the best companies have been doing for years. Of course making a widget or whatever is not the same as treating a patient, but actually applying similar principles to how patients come into and flow through the hospital as they receive their treatment and care does make for a better experience and usually better outcomes. One new insight was that residents of Ipswich and East Suffolk are among the lowest in the country for self-referral to A&E, though there seems to be a trend to younger patients using A&E rather than seeing their GP by default.

David Cameron said five years ago that "I will cut the deficit and not the NHS"; he has delivered on that and I am proud of our record of treating more patients than ever before. It saddens me that the Opposition talks down the NHS so much and then plots to cut spending on Suffolk patients despite the current unfair funding formula that does not recognise sufficiently the additional pressures that come with an increasingly older population and delivering services in a rural county. Thanks again to the nurses, doctors and all the support staff for what they do for Suffolk patients.

Following on from last week's news that Felixstowe was the least burgled town in England, the crime statistics for Suffolk have shown that recorded crime has fallen by 22% since 2010. This is excellent news for both residents and businesses, making Suffolk an increasingly safer place to live.

Star readers will have learned my views on the proposed reduced speed limits on the Orwell Bridge from my column three weeks ago, so I was surprised to find it was headline news last week. As a regular driver over the bridge at speeds of 70mph, I was surprised to learn that people think that a 50mph speed limit for all traffic, 24 hours a day, is what is needed to reduce accidents at peak times. I have arranged to see the Roads Minister to put across some of the alternative views which have been put to me. It has certainly generated a lot of interest on my Facebook page and I continue to welcome the views of constituents on this matter. My cousin is a HGV driver and I am aware that one of the main issues is about car drivers cutting in at the last minute to exit, causing HGVs to brake hard, as well as the problem we all see of one lorry trying to overtake another which can take a few miles with a consequent backup. I am still not convinced by the blanket reduction for all traffic and I hope we can get a sensible, constructive way forward."

29 JAN 2015

Evening Star Column - 28th January 2015

"There are now just 100 days till the General Election and while political battles in the media are heating up, Parliament continues to scrutinise legislation and hold the Government to account. Readers will know how much I champion the NHS for patients. I think the Opposition will come to regret their decision to "weaponise the NHS". The NHS is there to treat and care for people. We all pay into it and we highly value it. Not everything is perfect but it works well almost all of the time. I am proud that my government has increased the funding to the NHS in England and that more patients are being treated ever before. Where I am not happy is that Suffolk patients are not as funded as well as they should be, recognising our demographics and rurality. What makes me sad is Labour nationally advocating policies that would see a cut in funding for Suffolk patients while other areas increased. What makes me sadder (and madder) is to see Labour in Wales cut health funding with poor consequences for patients, but then Labour in England try to scaremonger. These are people's lives at stake. The NHS should and always will be there to help people when they need it.

Felixstowe readers will be pleased to know that they are least likely to be burgled in England. IP11 has the lowest burglary rate per 1000 houses in the country and 4th lowest in the UK. I think our community spirit and neighbourliness has a lot to do with it. According to a Moneysupermarket report published last week, overall levels of crime in Suffolk Coastal have fallen rapidly since 2010. I also want to thank our police officers and PCSOs.

Recognising the success of registering pubs as assets of community value (600 locals across the UK so far), the Government plans to change the law to provide even greater planning protection for those pubs which are valued by the local community. Having visited every pub in the Suffolk Coastal constituency, I know how much they are valued. The new plans will mean that when a pub is listed as an asset of community value it will automatically trigger a temporary removal of permitted development rights preventing change of use or demolition. Communities that list their local pubs are then given 6 months and the support they need to come together with a community bid to buy it should it be put up for sale.

According to news reports and weather forecasts Britain is bracing itself for another cold snap in the next few days. The Home Heat Helpline (0800 33 66 99 or www.homeheathelpline.org.uk) is a free service that provides independent advice on how to get help with your gas and electricity bills, as well as other help such as grants for insulation or a new boiler (which is income dependent).

I re-visited several schools last week and enjoyed meeting their new headteachers as well as the children. I particularly want to thank Maria Lucas and Archie Briggenshaw who gave me a personal tour of Eyke Primary School. We discussed the focus on attainment and some of the challenges for governors. I enjoyed being a school governor and it is challenging to get the balance right on being a critical friend. If you are interested, contact your local school or the council. It is rewarding to play a role in shaping the future of our next generation."

22 JAN 2015

Evening Star Column - 21st January 2015

"I was delighted to join the Prime Minister on his visit to Ipswich earlier this week, when he spoke at the Ransomes Jacobsen factory. He underlined the importance of our county's contribution to the economic prosperity of the country and the need to stick to our long term economic plan to achieve our aspiration of full employment. On average 1,000 jobs have been created every day since May 2010 and 9 out of 10 of these have been full time. We know that for ourselves with the reduction in number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance and the huge rise in the number of people in employment locally. The rise in the amount you can earn before paying tax, the freeze on fuel duty, the freeze in council tax and now the reduction in energy prices are all contributing to a rise in living standards. The Prime Minister said that these achievements are hard fought but are easy to wreck. We must stick to the course. It was great to see so many pensioners take advantage of the government bonds that went on sale last week. The initial demand was much higher than originally anticipated and there were some delays getting through along with problems with the website. National Savings & Investments have fixed the website issue and the Freephone call centre (0500 007 007) is open 24/7. These bonds are a key part of our long term economic plan to support savers at all stages of their lives. Mortgage rates have been kept low which is good for homeowners but has meant savings rates have been below inflation. These bonds provide certainty and a good return for those who have saved and now rely on their savings in retirement.

Well done to the children and staff at Trimley St Martin Primary School who received a Good Ofsted rating. The new headteacher has been in place since 2013 and the inspectors praised the work that he has undertaken to raise standards and attainment. I am also pleased that the school is already starting the journey to outstanding status. Well done Mr Stock. It was also a pleasure to meet and greet students from Felixstowe Academy last week. I hope in the next Parliamentary session we get more children to visit the seat of democracy.

This Friday I'm meeting planning officers to discuss future housing sites. Suffolk Coastal District Council are currently consulting on the site allocations for the Local Plan. There is also a separate area action plan for Felixstowe. It is absolutely key to get this right as it will affect the way our area develops over the next decade or so. For more information and to have your say please see www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk/yourdistrict/planning/review/issuesandoptions/. There will be a further phase of consultation in the summer which will ask for views on the preferred options.

Finally, there was a report published last week about the downgrading of 999 calls by our ambulance service. I arranged a conference call for East of England MPs to speak with the Chief Executive, Anthony Marsh, about this worrying story. Of the 57 patients affected all were terminal ill and had don not resuscitate notices. An ambulance or a Rapid Response Vehicle attended 45 of the 57 patients; 8 were handled by paramedics in the call room, of which 5 then received subsequent visits from GPs; 3 patients were in a nursing home; 1 patient had a carer and an Out of Hours GP attended. There are still a couple of questions to be answered, which I will feedback on but rest assured this all happened a year ago and was stopped last February."

15 JAN 2015

Evening Star Column - 13th January 2015

"Terrorist atrocities in Paris or elsewhere purportedly in the name of Allah will fail to stop our civilised society values of freedom,including freedom of speech. While I always think people should be considerate to one another, the ridiculing of political figures and dictators has long been a hallmark of western media. I was moved by the spontaneous gatherings to mark the deaths of the journalists and cartoonists. Indeed, many in Parliament gathered to pay their respects and in committee, we paused scrutiny of a Bill to join that dignified minute of silence. That atrocity was compounded by the sieges in a kosher supermarket and factory. The deliberate move to target Jewish businesses is particularly worrying. I remember when American colleagues were in London at the time of the tube and bus bombs in 2005. They were absolutely terrified and were amazed by the stoicness of those around them who just carried on business as usual, leaving a little more time to walk to places rather than try and take the tube or taxi. I do support the move to give our intelligence services greater powers to prevent terrorism. I am confident we can do that without unnecessary intrusion into our own personal privacy and freedom.

Thankyou to the staff at Ipswich Hospital who have seemingly weathered the Christmas and winter pressures so well. CQC visited last week – an important safety check for patients – and I hope they give a good account of what most of us consistently experience. Chief Executive Nick Hulme's leadership has taken the hospital on to a new level. We have a new NHS director looking after East Anglia as former Chief Executive Andrew Reed has been switched to the Midlands. I hope to meet our new director soon and continue pressing the case for better recognition of the challenges of our ageing population in a sparsely populated county.

The Orwell Bridge consultation has started regarding reduced speed limits in a bid to reduce collision rates, with the horrendous impact a lane or bridge closure can bring. Ben Gummer and I started this journey but to be clear, I do not and have never supported dropping the speed limit to 50mph over the bridge. The backup delays elsewhere would be horrific. The Highway Agency's own technical notes show that the average speed is already 60mph and that by reducing it to 50mph, the economic benefit of reduced collisions is outweighed by that of longer journey times. Meanwhile, there is still no constructive solution on what to do about bridge jumpers. Please do add your voice to whether you support or oppose the changes.

Well done to the children and staff at Trimley St Martin Primary School who received a Good Ofsted rating. The new headteacher has been in place since 2013 and the inspectors praised the work that he has undertaken to raise standards and attainment. I am also pleased that the school is already starting the journey to outstanding status. Well done Mr Stock. It was also a pleasure to meet and greet students from Felixstowe Academy yesterday. I hope in the next Parliamentary session we get more children to visit the seat of democracy.

After the disappointing result at Portman Road, Town fans must be hoping that Southampton will be less focused than against United. I have brought my club scarf to Parliament and will be sporting it on Wednesday night. One of my longstanding staff is a Saints season ticket holder who is travelling to Ipswich for the game. I hope my smile will be larger than his come Thursday morning."

07 JAN 2015

Evening Star Column - 6th January 2015

"This week, the largest ship in the world – the CSCL Globe - is coming to Felixstowe Port this week. It is making its first European stop in our waters and will be quite a sight. It is quite extraordinary how they keep getting bigger and bigger. It is of great importance to Felixstowe and Suffolk that we continue to attract such vessels. That will be helped by continued improvement in infrastructure, speaking of which the Highways Agency has finally submitted its planning application for the A14 improvements in Cambridgeshire with the expectation that consent will be granted by the end of 2015, ready to start construction in early 2016.

Good news for fish lovers as fish discards were formally banned for pelagic species in European seas this week. The ban will first apply to pelagic species including blue whiting, boarfish, herring, horse mackerel, mackerel, Norway pout, sandeel and sprat. It will also include by-catch of quota species, such as cod and whiting, and any quota fish that are below the minimum landing size

Apart from broadband coverage, which we are tackling across Suffolk, one of the other regular issues that comes up is mobile phone signal. A few weeks ago, I reported on the consultation the Government launched to tackle this issue. I am pleased to say that thanks to the consultation and the further talks with industry, the Government this week unveiled a landmark deal with the four mobile networks to improve mobile coverage across the UK. These "partial not-spots" are bad for residents, businesses, health and care workers as well as tourists. I'm therefore delighted the Government has secured a binding agreement with the mobile networks EE, O2, Three and Vodafone to tackle poor signal issues in these areas.
Under the agreement all four of the mobile networks have collectively agreed to: a guaranteed £5bn investment programme to improve mobile infrastructure by 2017; guaranteed voice and text coverage from each operator across 90 per cent of the UK geographic area by 2017, halving the areas currently blighted by patchy coverage as a result of partial 'not-spots'; gull coverage from all four mobile operators will increase from 69 per cent to 85 per cent of geographic areas by 2017; provide reliable signal strength for voice for each type of mobile service (whether 2G/3G/4G) – currently many consumers frequently lose signal or cannot get signal long enough to make a call; make the deal legally binding by accepting amended licence conditions to reflect the agreement – it will be enforceable by Ofcom. This deal will also result in cutting total 'not-spots' where there is currently no mobile coverage by two-thirds supporting the Government's existing £150m programme to upgrade phone signal where there is no coverage at all.

I am pleased that the council is developing the Felixstowe seafront. About time too many will say. I understand that though the land had been earmarked as part of the construction site for the pier. Now that project has sadly been delayed, it is right to invest. I hope other Felixstowe projects will be back on track during 2015 too.

Today marks Twelfth Night and the Epiphany marks the traditional end of the Christmas season but I know the recycling centres were full of trees well before New Year's Eve. It always surprises me that we want our festive celebrations to be over quite so quickly. I spent New Year in Parliament with a good view of the London fireworks. It was certainly buzzing that night though in three months' time, Parliament will be deserted as it is formally dissolved by the end of March. For now though, we are all back at work."

07 JAN 2015

Evening Star Column - 30th December 2014

"Happy New Year. I hope you all enjoyed a restful Christmas. While there were no flood warnings locally, I am pleased that a year on after the tidal surge that many more villages have created an emergency planning group. Forewarned is forearmed. The Bellwin compensation scheme changed early in 2014 which was helpful to our local councils.

The end of the year is a good excuse to have a look back over 2014. I spoke in Parliament 66 times asking questions, making speeches and contributions to debates; I asked 19 written questions. That was a lot than I realised as I was promoted in July to be a Government whip. About an extra 2,500 constituents contacted me for the first time while my team and I have handled 9,735 queries. I have continued to hold surgeries around the constituency. I enjoyed doing another tour around the constituency; we stopped in 90 villages and towns. Thanks to my team (those who are still here and those who have moved on) for their support.

2014 continued to provide plenty of issues to pursue, though many of them were a work in progress. That includes ambulances and I have been impressed by the rebuilding of the service with many more paramedics in training, the gradual replacement of old vehicles and a laser-like focus on long delays for patients at home and with hospital handovers. Broadband continues to be the issue most raised on my constituency tour and a lot of progress has been made. I don't know how many people are actually choosing to upgrade to superfast but capability has expanded significantly in the last year. Mobile phone signals will also be getting a boost – something particularly welcome for our rural residents, businesses and visitors. While the future of the A14 toll-free is secure, I have upped the pressure to improve the response to Orwell bridge delays and to further develop the rail links for Felixstowe port and town. I am continuing to press for a fairer funding formula for health, recognising the significantly older population in east Suffolk. On a fun front, bingo duty was reduced which was warmly welcomed by players at the Palace. I also won Beer Parliamentarian of the Year. Pub landlords and drinkers said "Cheers, George" when beer duty fell again.

The political moment of the year was the successful referendum result as the Scots voted to stay as part of the Union. That in itself has triggered a fast forward on progressing further devolution for the nations and a step closer to English votes for English laws.

The poignant moments of the year were many but largely connected with the commemorations of the start of WWI and subsequent Remembrance Day services. It is rare that public art captures the national imagination but the display at the Tower of London certainly did. Locally, further commemorations will continue in Theberton in April for VC hero Dick Doughty-Wylie who fell in Gallipoli.

Rolling forward to 2015, there is much to be done early on with more progress needed on the railways and our local schools. I have also picked up on issues affecting our post offices. It seems internal bureaucracy and stubbornness is getting in the way of supporting customers. There is the matter of a general election and district council elections. Certainly, 2015 promises to be as busy as ever and I intend to keep sprinting all the way. In the meantime, I have a few more days of rest before rejoining the fray. I hope Star readers enjoy a prosperous and peaceful New Year."

07 JAN 2015

Evening Star Column - 23rd December 2014

"After the announcement of an extra £2bn of NHS funding to be allocated across England, I immediately wrote to the NHS Board to ask for a fairer share for patients living in parts of the country underfunded by the NHS's own formula (even though I think that is still skewed against our area). I was somewhat pleased that it has had some effect as we have had a significant boost of over a 5% increase on what was planned. That is good news for patients.

I spoke to the Chairman of our Ambulance Trust last week regarding speculation on the Chief Executive. I know that Anthony Marsh's involvement in East Anglia was a temporary solution but I still expect him to be leading the ambulance service for the next few months. It will not be easy to get the right candidate and even then, it is likely three months' notice will be required. It is important that the next CEO is top notch. Patients deserve nothing less. Adding to that, I would not want patients to be unduly concerned about proposals to increase the triage time when you call 999. If someone has stopped breathing or is having a heart attack or similar, an ambulance will be dispatched immediately. For other conditions, there is a proposal to increase the triage time from one minute to a maximum of three minutes. I think this is sensible if clinically driven and gives the call handler time to send the appropriate resource. I have some queries on the treatment of stroke and will follow up on that.

I was thrilled to join members of the Waldringfield Flood Action Group to see the considerable progress on their flood defences. It is just over a year since the big surge and when I met John Wilkins and Clive Underdown, I had stressed that MP does not mean magical powers but that we needed to get this project underway as quickly as possible. A number of factors made this a great success – the pooling of government grants for every householder and business, the support of the Environment Agency, the district council and then finally, the Government through the Coastal Communities Fund. Work should finish by Christmas Eve – quite the present for everyone along there to sleep safely. Furthermore, consultation is now open till January 5th on the Deben Estuary Plan. This has the chance of becoming supplementary planning guidance which gives it real teeth. Well done to all involved in this comprehensive piece of work.

Readers may know I was promoted into the government last summer as a whip but it is largely a non-speaking role. I was pleased then to make my debut at the Dispatch Box on Thursday last week, answering a debate on rail. As another MP joked, I was the Rail Minister Replacement Service. Talking of Rail replacement services, I have written to the Rail Minister to ask for a formal review by the DfT on the huge number of problems along our track.

Parliament has finished and I have only just started doing my personal Christmas cards. It's a good job I believe in the twelve days of Christmas going right through to the Epiphany on January 6th (by which time Parliament will be back). It's a good job we have great posties too. Christmas is usually the quietest time of year for me but I have been invaded by family hoping for a peaceful Suffolk holiday bringing their own hustle and bustle to the festivities. On that note, may I wish readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

07 JAN 2015

Evening Star Column - 16th December 2014

"Congratulations to the owners of the Port of Felixstowe on its proposals for further development of spare land at the port. I met Port CEO, Clemence Cheng, last week and was delighted to hear more about their plans for the new logistics park – which is great news for Felixstowe. The site next to dock gate 1 will provide immediate access to the A14 and access to rail enabling more freight to be carried on trains. The investment coming in the passing loops on the Felixstowe to Ipswich line will increase the capacity and resilience of the line for freight whilst helping the aspiration for a half-hourly passenger service.

On that note the Department for Transport has published a consultation on the new rail franchise, which is due to start in 2016. We heard last week about the massive extra investment the Government have committed to, providing a faster, more reliable and comfortable passenger service. This is the chance for you to have your say on the improvements you want to see. More information is available at www.gov.uk/dft#consultations.

The Chancellor announced the market beating rates to be paid on pensioner bonds. The 1 year bonds will pay an annual interest rate of 2.8% and the 3 year bonds will pay 4%. The bonds will be available in January on a first come first served basis. A key part of our long term economic plan is to support savers at all stages of their lives. Mortgage rates have been kept low which is good for homeowners but has meant savings rates have been below inflation. These bonds will provide certainty and a good return for those who have saved and now rely on their savings in retirement.

I organised a meeting last week for the Chief Executive and Chairman of the East of England Ambulance Service, Anthony Marsh and Sarah Boulton, to brief East of England MPs on the progress of the turnaround plan to improve response times. One of the most important aspects of the turnaround so far is that the long ambulance delays are becoming rarer and rarer. The service has recruited over 400 new student paramedics this year rising to over 500 by April 2015. University Campus Suffolk has now been accredited to train paramedics and will start its first courses in March 2015. Alongside the extra frontline staff has been the investment in double staffed ambulances. By March there will be no ambulances more than 5 years old, increasing reliability and strengthening capacity. Dr Marsh has indicated that the full turnaround of the service is another year away but we can see that real progress is already being made and I will continue to keep a watchful eye on matters.

The cold snap has kicked in which will undoubtedly add to NHS pressures. Well done to Nick Hulme and all at Ipswich Hospital who are doing a great job helping patients at their busiest time of year. We can all remember to use our pharmacist more as well as the 111 phone service.

It was good to see Hamilton Road so busy last Saturday - hopefully an extra boost building on Small Business Saturday. That said, I saw first hand how many parcels are being delivered by Royal Mail when I visited the Felixstowe delivery office recently to pass on my Christmas wishes. I would like to thank them for their efforts and wish them all the best over the busy festive period.

Parliament finishes this week but there is no let up in the legislation being discussed. This week we continue our discussions on counter terrorism. The awful incident in Australia is a good reminder why we need to be vigilant at all times."

10 DEC 2014

Evening Star Column - 9th December 2014

"For many, the Autumn Statement could seem like a pre-Christmas giveaway as the Chancellor sought to balance the needs ofthe nation with the personal finances of hard-working taxpayers. I am always conscious that it is your money which the Government spends and I would rather see you have a bit more back in your pocket to decide how you want to spend it which the further increase in the tax allowance will help. There was also help for aspirational home buyers. Sorry to those who had completed the day before but understandably big changes like that have to be done quickly else the whole housing market could have shut down. For more on the Autumn Statement, search on www.gov.uk

The Autumn Statement and Small Business Saturday in the same week gave me a good opportunity to meet local business people and talk through some of the changes that will help growth and jobs. I spent Small Business Saturday moving up the A14 and A12 with a good start in Felixstowe. There was a warm welcome for the stamp duty changes by local estate agents and the extra discounts on business rates for our high street retailers and pubs (up to £1500) will give a big boost to our local shops. The annual debate on internet versus small shops has resumed. Like any local service, use it or lose it and that is true of our high streets if all we do is get a sense of what is good and then pop onto our smartphones to have a box delivered. I understand why people do that – often it is cheaper but more and more stores price match to try and reverse this habit.

The cold snap is a good reminder of the extra costs for heating your home, which is considerably more expensive if you live off the gas grid and have to use oil or LPG. I have been working for a few years now to support people in rural fuel poverty and off the gas grid, so I was particularly pleased to see the £25M put in to help people access renewable heating systems that help their wallet on running costs and help the planet by burning less oil. However, they are quite expensive to install initially though the payback helps. This initial cost has put some people off so I am pleased that there will now be capital sums available to transition away from oil. Oil prices have fallen for the moment, which has translated into lower petrol and diesel prices, but this may only be temporary.

A warm welcome for the Great Eastern Main Line manifesto (otherwise known as "Norwich in Ninety", though I prefer "Suffolk in Sixty") gives the green light for brand new trains to be specified in the franchise tender due out soon as well as investment from Network Rail to give our rail users the improved service they deserve. Being comfortable on the train is one thing; as important is reliability so it is this work which MPs will continue to press to be undertaken sooner rather than later. The National Infrastructure Plan outlined a number of roads to be upgraded as I highlighted last week. In there was also a plan to resurface 80% of the strategic road network. I will press the case for the A14, particularly the area by the Trimleys to be done.

Finally, it was useful to remember one year on after the tidal surge which impacted several communities on the Suffolk coast and estuaries. I am very pleased that more emergency groups and plans have been established so that if it happens again, there is a well-organised drill to help as many people as possible - another great example of Suffolk community spirit."

04 DEC 2014

Evening Star Column - 2nd December 2014

"I once said I would do a conga down the A14 to celebrate the investment with the toll removed and now I will have to extend it to the A12 after the Government announced a major upgrade. The investment means that the road link between London and East Anglia will essentially become a more resilient road with extra capacity so the delays around Colchester and Chelmsford should disappear. I will be checking with the Highways Agency on the cost-benefit of the overhead message signs, especially if they're anything like the signs on the A14.

Tomorrow, the Chancellor will make his Autumn Statement and I hope to hear further good news on rail investment to improve the Great Eastern Main Line. If it comes off, it will be due to the big campaign started back in 2011 to put our rail needs on the map. The business case is compelling and I hope the Chancellor will signal the investment this week. My particular thanks go to my neighbouring MP Ben Gummer who has worked relentlessly for the last three years making the case to Government.

The statement will also include a welcome £2bn in extra funding for the NHS frontline. I will be writing to the Chairman and Chief Executive of NHS England to ask them to use the extra cash to redress the balance for patients in Suffolk. Despite rising NHS budgets the needs of elderly patients are not being recognised as they should in the allocation of funds particularly in rural, coastal areas – a matter I have campaigned on previously. NHS England knows we are underfunded and this is a great opportunity to bridge the gap.

I visited the New Anglia Growth Hub a few weeks ago a central point for businesses and individuals across our region to access business support. I met the Growth Hub Manager, Jason Stenhouse and the LEP Growth Manager, Jason Middleton. We had a good discussion on how they are supporting businesses access a number of services, grants and tax credits. If you are looking to set up and new enterprise or your business is growing and you're looking to take on more staff it is always worth giving them a call. More information can be found at - http://www.newanglia.co.uk/business-growth-programme/

In Westminster, I enjoyed dinner with the British Ambassador to the Holy See, i.e. the Pope, earlier this week. I am always interested to hear of government relations with the Catholic Church, particularly as I am a Catholic. More importantly, on a diplomatic basis, the Catholic Church is the only religion that stretches across the world – though officially it is banned in a very small number of countries – with one hierarchy. As a consequence, in terms of diplomatic access, international development and so on, they can be a very important partner.

And finally, I'm looking forward to Small Business Saturday this weekend and will visiting businesses up the coast starting in Felixstowe. I look forward to seeing Star readers in Hamilton Road and the Thoroughfare. Small Business Saturday is scheduled to coincide with the busiest shopping day of the year, encouraging people to spend money in local independent stores as they prepare for Christmas. I will be doing my bit and I encourage you to do the same."

26 NOV 2014

Evening Star Column - 25th November 2014

"I was alerted by Councillor Stuart Bird of the ongoing problems with the Orwell Housing site in Philip Avenue in Felixstowe, so we visited it just as the big rain started this weekend. It was very alarming to see how perilous the situation was and it did beg the question on how approval was granted in the first place. I am following up with the Housing Association directly as activity seems to have stalled somewhat and I understand that it is causing distress to neighbours.

Like most weeks in Parliament, I had another opportunity to discuss rail for Suffolk. I met Network Rail to talk through the New Anglia Route Study, which sets out proposals for the period starting in 2019. It is a long way to go till then but these decisions get finalised in 2015 so that the work can start. Anyone who had a train set as a child will remember how it can start to get complex rather quickly as you start to add in a bit more track or increase the number of trains. Clearly fixing the main line is important to me as are the improvements on the freight lines to the Midlands. We discussed at length the situation with freight trains on the main line. Some of it is historic but we need to reduce the chances for disruption to passenger trains. I will be pushing too for half-hourly trains to Felixstowe which will be made possible by the loops to be built in the next few years. Increasing the service to Woodbridge and beyond to half-hourly becomes very complicated but we can but try.

I hosted a dinner with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce on the broader transport issues with the Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin. It was a good chance to discuss the 4 ways of travelling in, around and above our county. There are projects underway or will be given the green light shortly which will help our county but it is always good to reinforce our case with Cabinet members.

Open Farm Sunday 2015 was formally launched in Parliament this week. Suffolk has so much agriculture but how many of us have set foot on a farm since a school visit? Next year it will be on June 7th and you can find out more online at www.farmsunday.org

One of the defining features of Suffolk Coastal is its fragile coastline. I organised a meeting between the Bawdsey to Shingle Street partnership and the Environment Agency to discuss the latest happenings on the shoreline. There is no doubt that the forces of nature are somewhat unpredictable but it is good to have the community working with the Environment Agency on future strategy. The Deben Estuary Plan is a good example though I know some residents are concerned about some recommendations. Please do have your say through the consultation which can be accessed online at www.debenestuarypartnership.co.uk.

In Parliament this week, we are discussing the Recall Bill again. I am not expecting any further changes but it will have fulfilled a manifesto commitment and I am happy to support it, even if it could have gone further. We also finish business on Pension Schemes and will be passing laws to help the police on terrorism issue. I am also meeting the leadership of AET, who sponsor Felixstowe Academy. I hope we can continue to make progress on improving attainment at the school."

19 NOV 2014

Evening Star Column - 18th November 2014

"Rail Minister Claire Perry came to Ipswich to speak to the Suffolk Rail conference. I know Claire has been out and about on many lines recently trying to share the passenger experience including our own. After another day of disruption for many last week, I can understand the frustration about reliability and some emails I have that it is more important than speed or comfort. These are not mutually exclusive. The disruption of the overhead wiring was a good reminder of how the chain is as strong as its weakest link. I think what is fair comment is the length of time to complete repairs. One good move has been to put crews closer to the areas most likely to be disrupted. That alone has reduced disruption times in the London area.

I met fishermen from Felixstowe Ferry to discuss the latest disruption. Building on the problems associated with offshore windfarms and the impact it has on fishing grounds, the quota for some local popular fish has now been exhausted. I am seeing the Fisheries Minister this week to see if we can get some more by swapping unused amounts elsewhere, as happened a few years ago. Higher up the coast, the Marine Management Organisation did a sharp U-turn on requiring the RNLI and local fishermen to have a licence to move shingle to launch their boats. The MMO is also involved in marine planning and there is considerable discussion about the value of their role. The more government agencies do things like demanding new licensing powers for activities that have been done for centuries, the less seriously they may be taken on matters that can really help improve the marine environment that we all enjoy.

I enjoyed my visit to Felixstowe Academy. First, I met the Principal, Regional Director, governors and the Regional Schools Commissioner to discuss the progress the school is making towards higher attainment. It was welcome news that remarking of the coursework did increase the grades for some students. The overall effect increases the 5 GCSE passes including English and Maths to 45% from 43% so modest progress overall. I also discussed Parliamentary matters with some students to mark Parliament Week. Michael Meredith (second mention) gets another gold star as he was in the Commons chamber last Friday for the Youth Parliament.

Thanks to University Campus Suffolk for the interesting visit to understand their strategy and future expansion plans. Further along the line, it is important that we attract students from around the country (and international students too) so that Ipswich and Suffolk are firmly printed on the map for higher learning.

Last week, Parliament tried to debate the European Arrest Warrant. It was quite a Parliamentary spectacle as after having decided to debate till 10pm, we then had Labour trying to collapse the debate. All rather extraordinary. Nevertheless, the House largely supported the move to opt back in to 35 cross-Europe measures having permanently opted out of over 100. There was quite a lot of back and forth but I have confidence in the Home Secretary when she was explaining that it had once taken over 10 years to repatriate a terrorist suspect just a few years ago but when we had the joint arrest warrant, it took less than two months for a more recent suspect to be returned. The other key power which I welcome is to make it the default position to transfer EU prisoners back to their own countries with an assumption of permanent deportation. That makes a lot of sense to me, even if it has got the word European attached to it!"

12 NOV 2014

Evening Star Column - 11th November 2014

"I love living in our part of Suffolk but one of my few irritations is the poor mobile phone signal. We have too many areas where only one or two operators cover. These "partial not-spots" are bad for residents, businesses, health and care workers as well as tourists. I have been encouraging operators to do more to share masts but encouragement hasn't fully solved the problem. That is why the Government has launched a consultation on laws that would force the pace of change on things like sharing infrastructure or introducing national roaming. Talks have been held with the mobile phone companies in recent months in an attempt to find a voluntary solution and this is expected to continue whilst the consultation runs. I would urge residents and businesses to respond to the consultation – so we can signal that we want better signal here in Suffolk. For more information log on to www.gov.uk/government/consultations/tackling-partial-not-spots-in-mobile-phone-coverage.

Remembrance Sunday was particularly poignant this year coinciding with the centenary of the start of the Great War. I would like to thank all the different organisations participating in our towns and villages, extending the Act of Remembrance particularly to young people. Michael Meredith from Felixstowe gave a particularly moving speech and well done to him. Parliament has its own Remembrance Service in Westminster Abbey today. I will attend on behalf of constituents.

I met the Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Sir Alan Massey, last week. He briefed some MPs and Lords on the impact of changes made in recent years. I am pleased to report that the transition to a central centre with eight other operations centres has gone well. This centralisation of coordination staff has allowed more equipment and training for the volunteers along our coastline. I raised a particular point about coastguards being confined to land operations only. I am pleased to say that HM Coastguard has started training on shallow water rescues so the natural instinct to help someone if they are very near the coast will now be supported.

It is Parliament Week and I am looking forward to visiting Felixstowe Academy for a short talk with a Q&A with some students. I was also pleased to welcome children and teachers from Farlingaye High School who visited Parliament last week. I always encourage groups and schools to visit Parliament though with the election being less than six months to go, the powers that be have announced no more group tours can be booked until May. However, if individuals or couples want to visit, we can sometimes get people added to existing tour groups. Please get in touch if this interests you.

Parliament rises for a short three day recess this week which gives me the opportunity to visit some more places in and around the constituency including University Campus Suffolk. I was pleased that UCS is going to start a paramedic science degree. I hope to learn more about how the college is going to develop, particularly how it will respond to the needs of our county.

Rail progress is back on track as the Great Eastern Main Line campaign continues to gather steam. A lot of good work has been done with handing in the report to the government, the rail summit later this week and Ipswich MP Ben Gummer has secured a debate in Parliament."

06 NOV 2014

Evening Star Column - 4th November 2014

"Thanks to the initiative of Ipswich MP Ben Gummer, you will likely receive an income tax statement soon which will set out how your taxes have been spent. Anyone earning less than £100,000 will have benefited from tax cuts made during the lifetime of this Parliament - only achievable thanks to the long-term economic plan. Nevertheless, I support this initiative which makes it crystal clear how we spend money on behalf of taxpayers. One large element is debt interest. Two things to be said here - we cannot bring down cash levels of debt until we start not only balancing the books but spend less than we take in tax. The interest rate that we pay is very low only because we are resolute about starting to bridge the deficit and need to stay the course. Every household knows this. The long term economic plan which is supporting growth and jobs creation needs to keep going. Only then will we able to claim out of the deepest ever recession six years ago, forged by a Labour government that took its eye off the ball.

You may recall the Recall of MPs Bill that I mentioned last week. I voted for the most open form of Recall but we lost the argument with colleagues. As I suggested, there was a lot of concern that a small minority of voters may seek to continue to press the local MP for Recall on matters of policy which would put them under continual pressure. I understand that argument and having lost the argument that MPs can be recalled on any matter, I will be happy to vote for the unamended Government Bill in due course.

It was a pleasure to meet a young Suffolk farmer as part of the NFU Next Generation programme. Agriculture surrounds us and it is important for food security as well as helping the environment that we continue to make this an attractive career for young people.

The Prime Minister was resolute in his opposition to the EU landing us with a huge bill, a penalty for being one of the most successful economies in Europe, multiplied by backdating over ten years. It is fair to say that the membership fee goes up and down a bit, according to the relative success against other countries. It is bizarre though that Greece also received a bill when Germany got a rebate. I agree with the PM. The bill is too big and we won't budge on this.

I hope people enjoyed Fireworks Night - most larger towns seem to enjoy the spectacle at the weekend rather than the traditional day. In Parliament, I am hoping to see the ceremony where the Beefeaters go around the cellars of the House of Commons searching for gunpowder. It is a somewhat superfluous ceremony now but a bit of fun.

Neighbourhood Plans are getting more funding. I encourage our parishes to look into this and follow the example of Rendlesham who have led the way. Their provisional neighbourhood plan is being used right now in consideration of a housing application. They do have an impact.

Finally, it was a fond farewell to Clarissa Baldwin, Chief Executive of the Dogs Trust, who coined the phrase, "A dog is life, not just for Christmas". It's time for Clarissa to hand on the leash but she has achieved a lot. Most recently, the Dogs Trust has led the campaign to get dogs compulsorily microchipped. Thanks to the generosity of donors, they are also funding a free microchip. While the summer roadshows have finished, you can go to a local vet if they are in the scheme. Checkout chipmydog.org.uk or call 0300 123 0334 for more information."

29 OCT 2014

Evening Star Column - 28th October 2014

"MPs will be debating the Recall Bill this week, which is based on the idea that an MP may be subject to a by-election between elections because of something they have done during the Parliament. The Conservative manifesto committed to introducing recall on the basis of wrong-doing. There is a different view that MPs could be recalled for any reason, at any time. I generally support the concept that General Election is the time to have the fight about policies rather than be on tenterhooks after every vote be that on welfare, abortion or whatever. The only people who have contacted me on this so far belong to a nationally-organised campaign and it is broadly the same people who participate in their other campaigns, disagreeing with a particular Government policy. When their campaign was launched a few months ago, I asked constituents on what grounds they would look to recall their MP. Only one replied and it was on the basis of how I might vote on a very specific matter. This is part of the challenge for sitting MPs – being under the threat of recall just because they won and their opponents have sour grapes. I will listen carefully to the debate and am inclined to be more open about this, but I know a number of MPs are concerned that how they vote on a controversial matter may mean they end up not voting at all for fear of a small number of constituents trying to unseat them.

I am on the Pension Scheme Bill and we are in committee stage, undertaking line by line scrutiny of very detailed legislation which has two simple aims – allowing those who have saved for a pension to have control of their pension pot and not be forced into buying an annuity when they retire and introducing a new collective pension scheme. The latter is very interesting as it is expected people will be better off than if just in a defined contribution scheme. Most residents of Suffolk Coastal are over the age of 55 and will be well entrenched in their pension choices, with I expect many having enjoyed the pension of a defined benefits scheme (usually based on final or average salary). The trend for current employees is defined contribution where the employer puts in a set %, then the employee is on their own deciding how to invest and then being forced into an annuity when they retire – which may coincide with a downturn in the economy and a lower rate than perhaps just a few months before. I hope this third way proves to be a success. It has been fascinating to hear from industry experts. This Bill will complete the pensions revolution undertaken – the most prominent feature of which has been to introduce from 2016, the flat-rate pension.

I had time to pop into the British Heart Foundation's demonstration of their new CPR initiative, easily named CPR. You may recall Vinny Jones and Staying Alive theme last year. Any school or community group can get one of their training packs for free. Go online to www.bhf.org.uk/cpr to learn more.

The clocks went back this weekend and every year, it still seems to catch people out. In some Eastern parts of the globe, it is seen as being inefficient to have to change clocks twice a year and so it does not happen. I find my body clock switches very easily but I appreciate I don't have young bouncy children who seem to keen to get on with the day. I am tempted to start a campaign to introduce Parents' Day to coincide with turning back the clock day when hopefully children will give their amazing mums and dads a lie-in, just for one day a year."

22 OCT 2014

Evening Star Column - 21st October 2014

"I was delighted to attend the national Healthwatch reception in Parliament and meet the National Chairman, Anna Bradley. It was useful to talk about how they decide to prioritise their work on behalf of patients. I also met Suffolk Healthwatch CEO Annie Topping again. My best source of what is happening in our local NHS is casework from constituents. Just one source of concern allows me to start looking into the broader picture. That is how my work on ambulances started and I was recently alerted about the difficulty of securing NHS dentistry treatment in Felixstowe. A bit of "mystery shopping" confirmed the poor situation. I contacted NHS England, which has responsibility for this. They were not aware of the problem but I am pleased to say that they recognise the urgency of the situation and are following up with local dentists.

I welcome the news that absence rates from schools are falling. This is good news particularly in our area as we want our children to get the most from their education before they start the long years of adulthood and work. I am visiting the Felixstowe Academy again soon to follow up on their plans, after their stand-still exam performance last summer. We really do need a step change so that our youth can take full advantage of the skilled, well-paid work available in Suffolk.

Unemployment fell yet again in Suffolk Coastal registering another record low. This really is good for people and their families who are taking home a pay packet. It is also a good sign for our local economy. The trend is happening nationally too, with the number of people claiming unemployment benefit at an eight-year low. I know this has not translated into significant increases in earnings. However, thanks to the ongoing commitment to balance the books, interest rates have stayed low – which is good for people with mortgages, the Government has cut fuel duty and increased the tax threshold so you take home more of your own pay. Locally, Suffolk Coastal District Council, the County Council and the Police and Crime Commissioner have all frozen the council tax. This is challenging but it is good that local government strives to make savings that can be passed on to you. That is not true for all councils in Suffolk.

On Friday, I voted on the European Union (Referendum) Bill – which would require the Government to hold a referendum on our membership of the European Union by the end of 2017. This is the same Bill that went through the Commons last year but was blocked in the Lords by Liberal and Labour peers. This reaffirms the commitment of Conservatives to having the referendum. If we can get it to the Lords we may be able to use the Parliament Act to stop the Lords blocking it again (which was last done in support of restricting hunting). I hope the other parties will not block it this time and allow the British public to have their say once again.

It was my pleasure to support the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation online auction for the East Anglian Children's Hospice. I look forward to having tea with whoever bid for it. I missed out on a couple of auction lots but hopefully the total money raised will be a substantial sum for the running costs of the hospice. I also attended the Walton Parish nursing service at Maidstone Road Baptist Church this weekend. I was not sure what to expect but I found a group of people inspired by their faith, delivering human care to residents in Walton. It was a special service and a joy to attend."

15 OCT 2014

Evening Star Column - 14th October 2014

"Thanks to the 236 people who I met on my constituency tour last week. It was a good opportunity to get around and pick up casework as well as more general discussion about issues. The stops varied in the number of people attending – my biggest surprise was probably the 5 people who came to the bus shelter in Ubbeston. Particular thanks to all the venues that allowed me to stop there and I hope did not disrupt business too much. Probably the biggest issue raised was broadband. Understandably for those areas yet to be upgraded, it came as a surprise to hear that Suffolk is leading the way. Furthermore, the Government has set aside another £10 million if it is matched by the County Council. I am pleased that the Council will agree that this week. That allows the proportion of Suffolk premises to be superfast-enabled from 85% to 95% by the end of 2017.

I was concerned that the NHS strike went ahead. Of course, it is the right of most people to strike but I do not think it will get them anywhere. Everyone in the NHS will get at least a 1% pay rise, many staff will get more due to the annual increment. Not much I appreciate but no different to many other people in Suffolk at the moment. Yes, the Government made a choice and decided to prioritise funding on services rather than £430 million on the higher pay rise. There are very few careers now where an annual increment is expected on the basis of time served. The Government is looking at this particular issue more broadly.

The ongoing issue of Ebola is important for our country to address both with potential risks at home and at source in western Africa. Speaking to a priest normally serving in Africa but back in the UK raising funds, he mentioned that some cultural norms on meeting and greeting are changing – with a pat on the heart replacing the customary handshake. There is much to be done that can start to stem the epidemic and understandably to tackle the potential global spread of the disease. The Chief Medical Officer has updated her advice. Close to home, the Pooley family will be conscious more than any of us about the impact of the virus. The NHS has shown it can tackle this but treating at source is the best way to contain the issue.

The car tax disc is no more. A good piece of deregulation which removes the need to display the disc in a particular spot on the windscreen. Instead, the central database will be automatically aware of those yet to pay their tax. More and more people pay online so the broadband issue referred to above is critical. There is also the problem of 3rd party websites where people end up going on a website listed on a search engine which charges a fee when you go on the government's own website and pay no extra fees. The Government has met Google on this in an effort to start removing the websites. By default, if you are dealing with government, always start on the gov.uk website and you will find what you need.

Congratulations to sister paper The East Anglian Daily Times on its 140th birthday, only a few years older than the Star. While I may disagree some times with the views of reporters or the editor on certain issues, and vice-versa, it is good for democracy to have a local press reporting and investigating on what us politicians and other leaders of public bodies do."

08 OCT 2014

Evening Star Column - 7th October 2014

"I have long thought that as well as having human rights, they come with human responsibilities. We have moved on centuries from using torture and slavery as the norm, though sadly it has not left out our world, we can be proud our country has led the fight to stop these. There has also been a long running and widespread debate about the role of the European Court of Human Rights in UK matters and whether it has the right to overrule Parliament. Earlier this week the former Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge warned that "it would be a negation of the democratic process for Members of Parliament to be obliged to vote for a measure with which they disagree" if ordered to do so by Strasbourg.

Last week, Chris Grayling set out plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. Central to this change is to say that Parliament and our Supreme Court will have the final say on laws in our land and how they are applied. Examples of how the new law will be different include:

Foreign terrorists and serious criminals who pose a significant threat to the security and safety of UK citizens would lose their right to stay here under Human Rights Laws.

People who commit serious crimes in the UK, and in doing so infringe upon the basic rights of others, may lose their right to claim the right to stay here under the right to family life.

No one would be able to claim human rights to allow them to step outside the law that applies to all other citizens, for example a group of travellers claiming the right to family life to breach planning laws.

The right to family life would be much more limited in scope. For example an illegal immigrant would not be able to claim the right to family life to stay in the UK because he had fathered children here when he is playing no active part in the upbringing of those children.

The reaction in Felixstowe at the weekend was very positive to this. There will be considerable debate on this and I welcome the views of constituents.

I have had a few letters about the adverse effect of the significant increase in cycling in our countryside, which have involved little publicised road closures affecting businesses and residents alike. Have you been affected either way? Let me know.

The Woodbridge Shuck festival seemed to be a good success. I was pleased to attend the launch at the Tide Mill with three generations of the Simper family who are developing this business. My prior experience of oysters was not particularly special but I joined in and I found our Deben oysters to be a much better experience. There were other events over the weekend and I hope the festival goes from strength to strength.

I hope we haven't seen the last of the sunshine as I am on my constituency tour this week. The sun was certainly out at Bucklesham Plough Day. Thanks to Mr and Mrs Ramsay who have allowed the use of several of their fields but particular thanks to the Adcocks and the Suffolk Horse Society who put on a lovely day. Tractors were out in force but undoubtedly, the highlight of the day was watching the pairs of Suffolk Punches trot along with the plough going through the soil as easily as a knife through butter. One man who had worked on farms all his life, mainly with horses, told me of how horses were bought back from World War I and sold to farmers. It was almost like Warhorse in action but actually true poetry in motion."

01 OCT 2014

Evening Star Column - 30th September 2014

"Parliament voted overwhelmingly to join the direct military effort in Iraq against ISIL. The spread of their vile actions over several months on social media has been crucial in getting public backing on action in contrast to the suspicion last year regarding the ongoing atrocities in Syria. What is particularly different this time is that our help has been directly requested by the Iraqi government. We also have countries within the Middle East engaged in military action - which is key for the broad strategy. The Prime Minister is clear that we will not be sending combat troops to fight but we will support the Iraqi and Kurdish forces. Further, on a humanitarian front, we are providing direct aid to support displaced people and diplomatically, we continue to work hard on multiple fronts. David Cameron reminded us of Ban Qi Moon's words that the airstrikes and military action may stop the terrorists, it is good governance that will stop terrorism. Although our own union came close to breaking up just this month, the debate was had with no threats, no violence and people continue to live peacefully alongside each other. Not all parts of the world can say the same unfortunately.

This week I am at our party conference in Birmingham but I won't use this column to do a party political broadcast. Conferences are more than just about launching new policies, they are very sociable events which connect the volunteers to each other and to the Parliamentary party in a very direct way. I have been going to conferences every year since 1990 apart from the big leadership one in 2005. As a young Conservative in Liverpool, conference was the one time you got to meet people from all around the country with the same passion for politics and for our party as well as a chance to see the MPs and ministers that made it happen. The fringe is where think tanks, MPs, charities and so on get into more detailed, lively debates and with the election pending the buzz is as good as ever.

While at conference, I had a good in-depth discussion with Jamie Burles, the Managing Director of Greater Anglia. In operational terms, 2014 has been a difficult year for the railways with some very poor passenger experience. A lot of that has been due to Network Rail problems but Jamie was candid to say that they have got some things wrong too and have brought forward some programmes and expenditure. The next few months are key and I will keep up the pressure on Network Rail.

The Aldeburgh food festival at Snape Maltings was another good success. I am really impressed by how our tourist industry tries to stretch the season. I spoke to quite a lot of people who had come some distance (Surrey, Bedfordshire and so on) to feast their eyes and tastebuds on the efforts of local producers and some top names doing demonstrations. I was struck by a fact reported to me that Suffolk has one of the highest concentration of different, independent food producers in Europe. I am also encouraged by the reports on progress with the Spa pavilion. It really would be great for the seafront to get it reopened in time for next summer.

Next week, I am undertaking my constituency tour with my team. We will be criss-crossing the 302 square miles of Suffolk Coastal. Full details of where and when I am stopping are on my website www.theresecoffeymp.com"

24 SEP 2014

Evening Star Column - 24th September 2014

"The Scots have spoken and by a decisive majority, they have voted to stay with the UK. Expressions of relief and delight were quickly followed by discussion on the next steps. Our party leaders all pledged to transfer more powers to the Scottish Parliament and to ensure that Scots would not be worse off today than they were last week as a result of voting to stay together. Readers will know that I have been pressing for fairer funding for some time and I will continue to do so. We have made some steps on school funding with an extra £120 per child in Suffolk. NHS England now decides the health spending allocations within England and I will continue to press that case. Meanwhile Labour nationally has lobbied the NHS Board to cut funds to Suffolk and other rural areas to put more into city areas which already enjoy considerably more funding per head.

Devolution has already progressed. Several layers of reporting by local councils to government have been swept away with over £2 billion saved. Cutting red tape has again removed powers from central government and helping business and people avoid unnecessary regulation. Further devolution involving tax powers may take some time to consider but we can make a simple step within the House of Commons that says for those areas that the devolved legislatures lead (like health and education), then MPs from those countries should not vote on laws only affecting other countries. I think Ed Miliband will regret his partisan reaction. The Conservatives campaigned hard in Scotland and delivered half a million votes for the Union, 25% of those who voted No. However, we have raised this issue in our last 3 manifestos and this is the opportunity to make that change. As David Cameron has said, "Why should Scottish MPs be able to vote on what is taught in English schools, to reduce spending on English hospitals, or even vary English or Welsh income taxes, when under the new settlement English or Welsh MPs would have no say in such matters in Scotland? It is fundamentally unjust to have the views of the people of England and Wales overridden in this way." English votes for English laws – you know it makes sense.

Birchwood Primary School headteacher Mr Cloke invited me to a tour and reopening of its new School Hall which was, with most of the school, devastated by heavy deluge of rain earlier this year. I also recognise community governor Paul Firman MBE who became project manager and was fundamental in getting the school reopened so quickly. I also visited Farlingaye High School and spent a good hour with headteacher Ms Hargadon, touring the school and discussing the latest situation. Farlingaye High is oversubscribed for good reason as it strives to get the best from all its children and give an all round education.

Rubbish? Sometimes a cry you hear in politics but actually, there was not a huge amount of rubbish to pick up down at Felixstowe's Landguard Point where I joined over 40 other people to help clean up the beach as part of the Big Clean weekend. As I was chatting to people sitting observing the ships and fishing, I discovered that there is a gentleman (who I met) who comes every morning from Ipswich to look at the peaceful scene but goes along and picks up the rubbish. I was happy to step in and pick up the small, bitty stuff but I want to publicly say thank you to this gentleman. Thanks too to Felixstowe Port who coordinated this event in partnership with the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths team.

Bowls is not something I have tried before and after my poor showing on the rink at Felixstowe and Walton Club this weekend, I will probably not try again. That said, it was clear that the members – who were hosting sessions for people to try – clearly enjoy their activity and keeps them agile. Thank you to Mr and Mrs Reilly for the tuition."

17 SEP 2014

Evening Star Column - 16th September 2014

"While Suffolk Coastal constituency has the 11th highest proportion of pensioners in the country, with one of the lowest unemployment rates it is right to update readers on improvements to encourage people to save for their pensions. Auto-enrolment in pensions gets people of all ages saving, unless they deliberately opt out. Bringing in the flat-rate pension in 2016 will bring greater simplicity, less means-testing and, for the first time in twenty years, it will be worthwhile saving even just a little bit for your retirement with no clawing back of your pension. The next change is a defined ambition scheme which shares the risk between employee, employer and potentially a much larger number of other savers. If you work in the private sector, defined benefit pension schemes based on final or career average salary where the employer takes all the risk are becoming rarer; more likely you will be saving under a defined contribution scheme where you and your employer put in a set amount. It is then up to the markets to see it grow and you take the risk. Traditionally, you would have been required to use most of your pension pot as an annuity. We are giving more freedom with personal guidance to allow you to decide how to use your pension pot best. This new way of saving could give more encouragement to people to save – which is a good thing for them and society.

I was delighted to welcome several business people to Parliament for a Suffolk Chamber of Commerce dinner where we were joined by Business Secretary Vince Cable at which we discussed infrastructure and skills. East Anglia and Suffolk seems to have drawn the short straw on infrastructure for too long but that is being turned around with our broadband programme, the A11, improvements higher up the A14 coming as well as the Rail taskforce with the prospect of new trains and some new track. I thought it important to emphasise that an investment in our county would reap dividends and continue to accelerate our contribution for UK plc. I use these occasions to play devil's advocate internally, deliberately so we can get to the crux of issues quickly. Thanks to John Dugmore and his team as well as all the businesses involved.

Rendlesham has produced its Neighbourhood plan and is now out for final local consultation. After that, it should go through the independent assessment phase with the final decision being made in a referendum, hopefully before Christmas. Well done to all involved so far. It is an important document for this growing community. I will be using it as part of the appeal that I will be making to the Local Government Cabinet Minister, Eric Pickles, asking him to make the decision on the planning decisions to convert the theatre and sports centre into more housing. The district council has decided against it but the planning decision is currently lying with the Planning Inspectorate. I will update readers once I know more.

This weekend brought out the crowds and even more stories for Orford WW1 exhibition at Orford Museum. Well done to curator Jennifer, chairman Mike and his team as well as the lottery funding. A fun time was being had down on the riverside in Woodbridge as a thousand years of maritime history were being celebrated. Elsewhere, the Heritage Weekend unveiled a number of interesting opportunities to look behind the scenes. I particularly want to thank Mike Nimney and the vast number of volunteers, organisations and home-owners who worked so hard across Felixstowe and Walton to make the collective of events so successful. While some heritage assets are self-evident from the outside, you don't often get to go inside or learn at first hand of the real history to a place."

10 SEP 2014

Evening Star Column - 9th September 2014

"Liberal and Labour MPs came together in a debate on affordable housing which has been calculated to cost an extra £1 billion pounds every year. Given that all parties voted for a welfare cap for the country of £119.5 billion, the obvious question is what will they cut? The press is reporting that the Liberals will scrap winter fuel allowances and bus passes for pensioners. Labour are keeping schtum but could it be maternity and paternity pay? How about pension credits or child benefit? At least readers will now have a steer on the priority for a Lib Lab coalition, including higher spending.

During the summer, Ben Gummer and I met various GPs in our respective areas to follow up on an issue raised by one of them earlier in the summer. GP funding is rather complex and highly variable across the country though essentially in Suffolk, your GP practice is funding on the standard GMS contract or on a contract with extra services provided locally, known as PMS. Some local practices are on GMS but the majority in Suffolk are on PMS. Uniquely in the country, the PMS was negotiated to have the same contract and same rate across most of Suffolk (excluding the part covered by Waveney, which is part of a different NHS area). Nationally, a review is being done by the NHS to reduce significant variances in funding per patient between GP practices. The very existence of this review has had a destabilising effect on some GPs, as their negotiators (the Local Medical Committtee) have – to the best of my knowledge thus far – been looking to move all GPs on to the GMS contract, which attracts lower funding. Still with me? I am following up with NHS England at Board and Area level on the matter. Further to that, thanks to the constituents who have alerted me about lack of NHS dentist places. I am also following up on that problem.

This week, Parliament will debate its governance. This has been triggered by a big hoo-ha regarding the appointment of the new Clerk. More hot air from Westminster I hear you cry? MPs talking about themselves not what's going on in the world. Well yes and no (you would expect me to say that, wouldn't you?). Parliament is a magnificent building attracting World Heritage status but we should remember its prime purpose is its political and constitutional role. As the crucible of democracy, it is vital that Members of all parties and from all parts of the country have access to the best possible advice in that role. The Clerk also is the leading authority among Commonwealth parliaments. Parliament will also, on the same day, be debating foreign affairs with I expect much emphasis on Iraq and Ukraine. The Prime Minister has already talked of the situation being an ongoing threat for decades. One outcome of the NATO summit was the formation of the core coalition of ten countries with an important caveat that Arab countries in the Middle East also needed to be fully engaged. As was said at PMQs, this cannot be another Western-only initiative.

A bit of light relief at the weekend as I was pleased to support Non League Saturday. While I did not make it to the Goldstar Ground, I went to the Victory Ground to watch Leiston FC take on the Metropolitan Police. It was good value at a tenner to watch rather good football in a friendly atmosphere. I was pleased to see that Felixstowe's Art on the Prom went well, without the plethora of parking fines attached. While the autumn hurries in, there is still the chance to see some stunning sunsets at Felixstowe. I hope the art event brought some new visitors who will return."

08 SEP 2014

Evening Star Column - 2nd September 2014

"Good news for residents of Felixstowe and Levington as the consultation on potential traveller sites was stopped. I was pleased, relieved and assured by the swift response to the initial reaction to the consultation. I will continue to press on this though I was informed it was a county council officer who suggested the Treetops/Candlet Road site rather than anyone connected to Suffolk Coastal District Council. I hope the next review will not contain such further surprises. Meanwhile, some local residents are considering if they can buy the local land. This is the gateway to residential Felixstowe so what do readers think?

Thankfully, this weekend's train signalling updates seem to have worked with no cancelled or delayed services on the East Suffolk line or the main line. I broke my holiday last week to speak to our acting regional director who was about to have a review of what went wrong. They thought they had the best people on the job, but it transpires that there were serious design flaws. A fresh team came in to do this weekend's work and there was personal signoff from the acting regional director. I will be seeking a further meeting to understand how we can minimise these risks for future works, which are vital for improving resilience on our creaking track.

Parliament is back and there is a lot to cover this week with the opportunity to hear from Ministers on events over the summer. The Prime Minister is very focused on the terrorism threats and we will be looking at further ways to reduce the chances of British citizens being involved. The Rotherham abuse scandal is a salutary lesson for many and will require some soul-searching from those involved at the time, as well as how to rebuild faith locally. The NATO summit next week will clearly focus on the Ukraine situation but also on the potential threat to Turkey. We continue to live in interesting times.

Just like Parliament, schools are back and well done to them and Suffolk County Council for being ready to provide free school meals for 5 to 7 year olds. Undoubtedly, around the country, you will hear of places that aren't ready and be blaming someone else for that problem. I hope the nutritious food will reap the promised benefits for children, teachers and parents alike.

My trip to the Scottish seaside also gave me the chance to campaign in the referendum. Seven of us were out one night and it was interesting that for four of us, it was only the first or second time that they had ever been canvassing. They were inspired by the noble cause of keeping the UK together. I am pleased to say that in our patch, about two thirds of those who expressed a view will vote No. One person told me he had just four words to say to me – well that's better than the occasional two words I get. "God Save the Queen" he boomed. "I'll take that as a no, then," I replied. We both parted smiling. I will soon be seeing some more seaside on the campaign front with the Clacton by-election. I was disappointed by the defection and resignation as readers will know that if you want a referendum on EU membership, the Conservative party is offering that if we are re-elected.

And finally, I have recruited a new crusader against erosion. Our new dog Merry barks at the waves and she seems to think she has the power to make them go away. Perhaps we should rename her Canute!"

27 AUG 2014

Evening Star Column - 26th August 2014

"The inclusion of the area between Treetops and Candlet Road in Felixstowe as a potential short stay traveller site came as a shock to residents and local politicians alike. It is clearly an inappropriate site and I struggle to understand why it was included in the shortlist. I have asked questions of the county council on this matter and also the scoring for the 3 sites identified in our area. People living in rural Levington may occasionally have Operation Stack in force nearby but that is quite a different prospect from having a permanent site for short stay travellers - though three months is not what most people consider short. Of the three identified, the obvious site is the Little Chef site just off the A14. If the County Council and Police and CrimeCommissioner have decided we need one, that is where it should go.

This week I am holidaying in North Berwick, close to Edinburgh and in the coastal centre of East Lothian. I should not gloat but it is gloriously sunny and our new dog just loves running up and down the beach. It reminds me of our parts of our stretch of the coast - though somewhat more sheltered. I visited the local museum (called the Coastal Communities Museum) and saw similar stories to those of Felixstowe with the naval and flying corps presence. Similar too was the applications for exemption for service by agricultural workers. Our history unites us and that is why while I am up here in Scotland, I am also going to do some campaigning on the Scottish independence referendum. On arrival, the Yes tent and volunteers were out in force. We had already passed groups for Yes and No, side by side, in Dunbar. However, from what I could tell with brief discussions with local retailers and at the pub, the No camp were firmly in the lead. I recognise that part of the argument for staying is that Scots get a good deal from the UK. That could be grating for me as a Suffolk MP who is continuously pressing the case for a fairer share of government expenditure. However, I recognise that the UK is certainly stronger together with that critical mass as well as drawing on the strengths and historic ties of our four nations. The cold logic of issues like currency union, pensions and so on will go so far. The emotional draw also has to be there, which I will assess on the doorstep this week.

Congratulations to those students who succeeded in their GCSE exams. This is a big transition time for many and I am sure your teachers will be offering good advice on next steps - whether that be an apprenticeship or choosing the appropriate A levels for university or college. While some local headteachers will be disappointed with their overall results, I am confident that the focus on subjects and skills necessary for progression in life is vital for future wellbeing and prosperity of the next generation. This is not at the expense of an all-round education which is not a nice to have but is core at all good schools. Some local focus is necessary on performance and I was pleased to have a good introductory chat with our new Regional Schools Commissioner to that effect.

Finally, as at time of writing, the Star was reporting that the British nurse who has contracted the Ebola virus and brought back to the UK is from Eyke. I hope the privacy of the family will be respected during this difficult time for them and that we will all pray for his safe recovery."

20 AUG 2014

Evening Star Column - 19th August 2014

"I am pleased to say that the number of people out of work in Suffolk Coastal reached an all time low last month with just 534 claiming unemployment benefit, including a record low of 120 young people. I went back and checked the records since 1983 and it is amazing. Well done to all those people who have got that job they have been tracking as well as to the employers for taking on staff. It matters to get people taking home a pay packet for themselves and their families. I will continue to work with our councils to continue to bring high quality work here and for improved skills so local people can benefit.

For those young adults who received their A level results last week, I hope you got the grades you wanted. If you didn't get quite what you wanted, good advice will be available from your teachers. There are more places at university than ever before and a greater choice of advanced level apprenticeships too. It's a transition time which can be bewildering but it's the start of the rest of your lives. For more details on apprenticeships, you can look at www.apprenticeships.org.uk or via www.thesource.me.uk

With neighbouring MP Ben Gummer, I met the Chairman of our Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG, Dr Mark Shenton, to discuss some emerging ideas on urgent care for our area. It was very useful to understand the direction of travel for helping patients when they are at their most vulnerable. We also spoke about GP practices. While the CCG is not responsible for GPs, they themselves are GPs and we can get a first-hand overview, as well as talking directly to our own GPs. This builds on the discussions that I have been having with NHS England and the Department of Health regarding the current review. I found our discussion very insightful and together we can make some real progress for patients locally.

Fabulous food was on the menu at Tesco in Martlesham this week as the Children's Food Trust came to town to help teach some youngsters how to cook some tasty, wholesome meals. I was impressed by the enthusiasm of the children and the teachers. Covering different age ranges in 3 two hour sessions for three days certainly kept the chefs busy. I also picked up a few tips. I have never have been very effective at chopping onions without a tear or two. I now the new fork secure technique. Magic! A huge well done to Patsy with her able assistant Phililppa as well Tesco Community Champion Rosie Lindsell for pulling it together locally.

Other Suffolk and Essex youngsters were getting very active at Operation Camouflage held at Rock Barracks near Woodbridge. This partnership event between the council's Active Communities team, the police and the MoD certainly seemed to have a good mix of activity, problem-solving and fun for the children. This annual event brings together children from a wide background with team-building and confidence-enhancing at its core.

I popped along to the Kings Head in Woodbridge to support the free microchipping on offer from Dogs Trust. Landlords Mike and Lucy Ball very kindly allowed for the chipping to happen inside as it was one of those torrential downpour days. From April 2016, it will be the law for all dogs to be chipped and the Dogs Trust is working with seven local vets in my constituency and several more in the Ipswich area to offer free microchips. It's very easy and not at all painful for your pet. To find out where you can go, check www.chipmydog.org.uk or call 0330 123 0334. I will be back to the Kings Head with Merry this week to sample their fine mutts' menu. It's a dog's life, eh?"

12 AUG 2014

Evening Star Column - 12th August 2014

"This weekend, I trekked up to Shropshire to visit the Suffolk Army Cadet Force who were on their Summer Army camp. This represents the culmination of all the weekly training not only for the young people but for the adult volunteer staff too. During the sessions I visited, I saw some of the young people putting into practice their various skills. One day they were due to go to Capel Curig for kayaking, rock climbing and other exciting activities. One of the key elements of the camp is staying out under the stars. That involves erecting a "basher" which is the basically the top part of a tent. With downpours predicted that night, the test would be whether they were dry the following day. I am sure their Facebook pages will reveal all. The youngsters attend weekly sessions in various towns across Suffolk. In Felixstowe, they meet at the Cadet Centre in Garrison Lane on Tuesday nights while in Woodbridge, it is Monday nights on Quay Street. Apparently I am the first MP to ever visit the Summer camp. I was rather motivated to do so as I wanted to see it in action and thank the adult volunteers. It takes a lot of effort and coordination to pull together a programme that stimulates so many children.

On the way back, I visited the National Memorial Arboretum, near Lichfield. This was established a few years ago and continues to attract visitors, usually with some connection with those who have served in the Military. The focus is the National Memorial, which has the names of every Armed Forces personnel who have died on active duty since the Second World War. This is done deliberately on the basis that those who died in the World Wars are commemorated in their home village or town. Having trees at the heart of. this national memorial is appropriate as the variety and lacked of planned planting is a distinguishing feature of our country. This was eloquently laid out in Peter Ackroyd's book, "Albion", which contrasts our natural tree landscape with the regimented planting often found on the Continent.

I attended the ceremony to celebrate the achievement of safely removing all nuclear fuel from Sizewell A up to Sellafield. This was achieved ahead of schedule. It was quite a moment for many who have been involved in Sizewell A. It is quite a different mindset to close something safely as opposed to the joy of building from scratch and see it be used. The next step is gradual removal of fixtures and fittings. Eventually we will see the turbine hall come down but the reactor building will be standing for several decades as the natural radioactive decay process happens. Well done to site director Tim and his team for a job well done.

Few will fail to have been moved, if not downright sickened, by images of gruesome murders of citizens in Syria and Northern Iraq by ISIS, particularly Christians. In this country, if someone was killed in such a way, it would be so beyond our comprehension that the murderer would probably be considered insane. It is right that the UK plays a leading role in humanitarian aid and relief. With the US, we have started dropping relief parcels and water for Yazidis who are being besieged on Mount Sinjar. I hope other Arabic states step up their efforts to help resolve this horrendous situation.

Finally, the Blue Cross had a successful fun day at Trimley Social Club with various classes, agility fun and free microchipping. They are fundraising for their move to Wherstead from Walton and I wish them well. I am pleased to report that the Coffey household has found a new canine companion. My mum has adopted Merry, a 7 year old border collie. They are looking forward to their holiday in Suffolk next week."

06 AUG 2014

Evening Star Column - 5th August 2014

"Lest We Forget

Thanks to all who participated in the service of commemoration for World War One in Felixstowe this Sunday. I waspleased to join Felixstowe Mayor Graham Newman and other residents in a simple but solemn ceremony to commemorate the start of the Great War. Later on, I attended the special County Evensong service at St Edmundsbury Cathedral. I was pleased to be joined by the mayors and chairman of several parishes and town councils from Suffolk Coastal – Aldeburgh, Felixstowe, Leiston, Southwold and Woodbridge – as well as the Chairman of Waveney District Council, the vice-Chairman of Suffolk Coastal Council and my friend the MP for Ipswich Ben Gummer and his wife. The Deputy Lieutenant read some extracts from Private Trenchard's diary, who had worked in the tannery in town and served as a stretcher-bearer during the war. It was quite memorable, the images painted in words were very vivid and indeed referred to Ben's forebear as an MP, who was an officer with the Suffolks in the trenches. We see these shields around the Chamber of the Commons. It is right that the nation should commemorate one of the saddest times in our nation's history and continue to learn the lessons of the impact of such a conflict.

A hundred years later, sadly conflict continues. While our security services and Armed Forces continue to protect us at home, the images from Gaza and Israel are very disturbing. The Prime Minister and Government is right to continue to press for an immediate ceasefire on both sides. I was struck by a passage from a church reading of Paul to the Romans, citing Proverbs, "If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you." I appreciate this is easier said than done when your neighbour keeps firing rockets at you. Our own country went through the Troubles in Northern Ireland. It takes a big commitment from the warring sides to make peace and to keep it. Consensus matters. Sadly, the mission statement of Hamas does not allow for such commitment to a peaceful co-existence with Israel. Consequently, civilians suffer. Last August, Parliament was recalled to consider military action regarding Syria. It is reported that more civilians have been killed in the last year than in the previous two, despite the so-called peace deal initiated by Russia. We live in difficult times but the commemorations are a good reminder of potential outcomes of military engagement.

Thanks to Karen and her team who hosted my visit to the British Heart Foundation shop in Felixstowe. I know there are many organisations that call on our time and money. I appreciated the behind the scenes visit and managed to tag and price up an orange shirt (lucky young man who gets that at such a bargain price). Last year nearly a million pounds was raised in Suffolk for this worthy cause. Well done to the volunteers. Indeed some of them are now employees so a mutual benefit has arisen. Talking of mutuals, their success was celebrated at No 10 recently as 100 organisations now deliver public sector services. The two that stand out for me in Suffolk are our Library service and East Coast Community Healthcare. For more information, you can look online at http://mutuals.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/

Finally, I popped to the Sutton Hoo 75th Birthday party celebrating the original dig in 1939. The National Trust together with the Sutton Hoo Society are working well together on this landmark of Suffolk to ensure it has a good future. It was a rare privilege to hold one of the original rivets (encased of course) and to wear the famous replica helmet. Suitable equipment for my new role as a government whip, perhaps?"

31 JUL 2014

Evening Star Column - 29th July 2014

"Felixstowe Carnival was absolutely fantastic this weekend and the crowds flocked to watch it. The extra event of the AirShow on the Sunday added a new dimension, building on last year's Wings and Waves. I hope it becomes a regular feature. The event certainly drew in people from far and wide so I hope it reinforces the resort's theme of "Days Out by the Sea". Huge credit should be given to Nick Barber and the Carnival committee. I know they work very hard to pull together the carnival and can always do with some more willing hands. I work regularly with Nick anyway, as he is a local councillor. Good to see community spirit and fun alive and well, led by someone who is a local politician.

Encouraging news for the UK as the economy continued to grow. We are now the fasting growing economy of all major developed countries (the G7). However, no-one in Government is taking this for granted and we will continue to do what we can help the growth of the economy translate into better living standards for everyone. We cannot do this in isolation but I hope the raising of the tax threshold to £10,000, the freeze on council tax and the cut in fuel duty will help.

Of course, the best way to improve living standards is to be in work. While unemployment locally is at its lowest for the last seven years, there are still some people without work. Last week, I visited the Job Centre in Felixstowe and the Felixstowe Job Club, run by Charlie Hill at the Library. It was useful to meet both Jan Wain and Lynda Butcher who updated me on how they help people find work. It is quite different to even just a few years ago as both with the advance of the digital age but also the role of the DWP advisor as a coach, rather than doing job searches for people looking for work. At I applaud Charlie and her team for the extra work they do to help Felixstowe residents get back into work via the Job Club. Some of the challenges are a lack of skills or just confidence. However, I know Charlie is motivated and successful in tackling those challenges.

It was great to also visit Graham Denny who set up and runs the BASIC Life Charity. I visited him at his shop in Walton High Road for a behind-the-scenes tour of his operation. This is more than just about shops and a foodbank but also providing direct help to many local residents who need support. The model seems to work and he is supported by several volunteers. After a career in business, Graham says what he does now is so fulfilling. I can understand why.

The WW1 commemoration at Woodbridge's Kingston Field was rather special as the design of a flame of remembrance, designed by local schoolchildren, was unveiled in its full glory. I understand it will be hosted permanently in the Nottcutts Memorial garden. Well done to the Royal British Legion helped by the cadet forces, music from the Southwold and Reydon Corp of Drums who were suitably supported by many members of our local regiment, 23 Engineers. The flypast from an Apache dressed the occasion. I had already been to the Army Air Corps' Beating the Retreat a few days earlier. It was very interesting to get up close to one of our most effective machines in tackling our country's enemies. Commemorations will continue for the next four years but the national ceremony will take place next Monday.

Quite a lot else happened in the last week but no space for it today. Enjoy the summer sun and various fetes in the area."

28 JUL 2014

Evening Star Column - 22nd July 2014

"A week is a long time in politics, as former PM Harold Wilson once said. That is certainly the case for me as I had littleexpectation of joining the Government. I was certainly very pleased to get a phone call to go to No 10 and to be asked to be a whip. This is a non-speaking role in the Government apart from the odd "Aye" or "I beg to move" and so on. The principal role of a whip is to help get the legislation of the government through the House. Quite a lot of this involves forming and sitting on legislation committees, including timetabling and shepherding the progress of legislation and ensuring we have enough government MPs about to vote accordingly. I will continue to campaign actively on local matters and make representations on behalf of constituents and local businesses. You just won't see any more references in Hansard to it.

I was delighted to see the team from Suffolk Coastal Homestart in Parliament for the launch of their campaign. Certainly a good early start in life helps for future happiness and prosperity. Well done to them for their ongoing work. Separately, I still have not heard from any Star readers about the proposed changes to the Sea Breeze children's centre.

Earlier in the week, I was invited to a roundtable to discuss digital democracy with a handful of other MPs. This is part of the Speaker's Commission and is looking at how we work in Parliament, how we interact with constituents and also about the role of technology in elections. One element often discussed is that internet voting would increase turnout, particularly amongst the young. Apparently, though that has not happened in the few democracies. I already receive a lot of emails (no help for the Royal Mail) and I like the division lobby system as that is when you get to lobby Ministers. I think there is more that can be done online to engage with constituents – which is why I tweet, use Facebook and send a monthly newsletter. However, if Parliament just became a push-button democracy, I think it would reduce the debate on legislation and become a very remote place.

In the Lords, a Bill was introduced to allow assisted suicide. I am firmly against this. It isn't just about personal safeguards but also about how, as a society, we value the life of human beings. The Commons debated this issue extensively in March 2012. It so happens then, when I acted as an informal whip on that occasion, that I could not speak so as to ensure that any votes that were triggered had time to be undertaken. In the Commons, we endorsed palliative care and rejected a move towards statute. I have written to the Supreme Court to remind them of that.

Recess starts at the end of today which triggers a mixture of holiday and being out and about in the constituency. I don't have any formal holidays till the end of August but I will be enjoying much of what our coast has to offer as well as finally getting my DIY finally done. Recess will be tinged with sadness though as normally it is time that I spend with my faithful Rizzo. Unfortunately, she became very ill very suddenly last week and it was an easy decision to put her to sleep. I am hoping we can get another canine companion for the family but Rizzo really was a one-off. Key criteria include being an asset on the campaign trail. Rizzo certainly got more publicity than I ever did back in 2010. Farewell faithful hound!"

16 JUL 2014

Evening Star Column - 15th July 2014

"At our Ambulance meeting, it was good to see Chief Executive Anthony Marsh give us an update and to meet newinterim Chairman, Sarah Boulton. There is definitely progress but they estimate it is going to be another eighteen months before we get the Ambulance Service we really deserve. As ever, I am keen to hear from users on their experiences and any user should feel they can make a complaint if the service they receive has not been top notch. It is through the complaints mechanism that the Ambulance Service can continue to learn and improve for patients.

In Transport Questions, I welcomed the growth deal which sees some welcome funds for reducing congestion in Ipswich and Beccles but I highlighted a need for support for the A12, including a bypass for Farnham and Stratford St Andrew, in light of Sizewell C. There are bottlenecks right along the A12 which will need addressing including Seven Hills, the Woodbridge and Melton roundabouts as well as the 4 village bottleneck and the proposed turnoffs higher up at Yoxford. While I do not expect Stage 2 consultation to address all these points, they certainly need resolving before construction starts.

The county council is likely to vote this week to start a consultation on children's centres. In Felixstowe, the proposal is to close Sea Breeze (on the corner of Beach Station Road and Langer Road) and focus activity on The Oaks – a modern, purpose-built facility. The same manager has already been running both facilities for some years now and there is already a lot of collaboration. I am concerned about the distance between the two but I have been assured that more in-home outreach work will be done as well as using Langer Primary School as a base. I instinctively support the change as I know how much money and time goes into looking after bricks and mortar which can detract from the services that should be deployed. I would like to hear from parents, carers and children with their thoughts on this proposal.

I was delighted to formally re-open the refurbished parts of Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Club last week. I recall going there in December and seeing the damage along with a group of volunteers who were working hard to clear out the ground floor of the building. The newly refurbished club looks amazing and is a credit to the members and the professional contractors. The Trimley Carnival also looked bigger and better than ever before. Well done to Sharon Iannuzzi and her team for pulling it together.

The East Anglian Business Awards ceremony at Trinity Park was a glittery affair, celebrating many splendid companies across the county and even a winner from Colchester. I find these occasions helpful to meet business owners informally and to catch up with the Chamber of Commerce, who entertained me for the evening. Well done to the nominees and winners.

And finally, I had the joy of being crowned Beer Parliamentarian of the Year. This was in regard to me visiting every single pub in the constituency – not all on the same night I hasten to add. A few landlords may wonder when I was there. I never introduced myself unless drawn into conversation so I could judge how friendly and pleasant the atmosphere was. I pay tribute to the landlords up and down the coast. It may seem the ideal job to run your own pub but I know it is a lot of work and constant effort required to draw in the customers. So often, we see the extraordinary community involvement and charity fundraising. Anyway, I won a lovely pewter tankard which gives me an excuse to revisit the pubs. Cheers!"

09 JUL 2014

Evening Star Column - 8th July 2014

"I was thrilled after meeting senior Barclays executives as they gave me assurances that none of the seven branches would be closing in the Suffolk Coastal constituency. This was welcome news as it had been reported earlier in the year that one in four branches would be closing and we have seen this start to happen locally in Needham Market and Brightlingsea. This is good news for residents and businesses alike, as well as tourists.

Thanks to Mr Salter and Mrs Robinson, Principal and Chairman of Governors at Felixstowe Academy, for showing me around their new school last week. It is an impressive building with a lively feel to it. It so happened that sports day was on so there was extra excitement. I have said in the past that education is about the quality of leadership and teaching but I have no doubt that an attractive built environment encourages a sense of pride and aspiration.

I met West Suffolk College principal Dr Savvas and County Director of Skills Judith Mobbs for an update on their programme to develop a Suffolk-wide skills programme for Sizewell C. West Suffolk is the only nuclear-accredited college in our county and it is entirely appropriate they take the lead, working with other colleges which have strengths in different areas. The opportunity will be big and will require not just focusing on people at school today but those already in work that may want to re-train or existing tradesmen who need to gain nuclear accreditation. In contrast to many other nuclear sites, our colleges are spread out and so access to courses for as many people as possible is key.

One part of the agenda is developing an interest in Science, Technology and Mathematics – commonly known as STEM – for people of all ages. For almost all our lives, the focus on literacy – reading and writing - has been almost to the exclusion of numeracy. It is quite common to hear someone say that they have never been good at maths and dismiss it but would never dream of saying the same if they could not read or write. Rightly, the Government wants numeracy on the same level of desirability. Maths teaching, for some reason, has never had the same reach as English. However, I was pleased to see that Kesgrave High School is working with Sir Isaac Newton Free School in Norwich to be a maths hub for Suffolk. This teacher-led initiative will see a new approach to maths teaching – which I hope will be of huge benefit particularly to our local primary schools. On that note, well done to the children, staff and parents at Kingsfleet Primary School who secured a good Ofsted rating, which was unveiled last week.

Furthermore, I was pleased to be invited to be a Digital Industries Ambassador which builds on the work I have done supporting various computing initiatives in Suffolk Coastal since being elected. Coding clubs, Raspberry Pi programming and translating that into all sorts of apps is a growing area. Digital industries are an important driver of economic growth in Suffolk and I do encourage our young people to consider this attractive, lucrative career.

Very good news for East Anglia as the Growth Deal for our area was announced yesterday. This represents an important step in allowing our local enterprise partnership – comprised of businesses and council leaders – to unlock strategic projects in our two counties. New Anglia LEP has been granted a great deal of flexibility to get on with the job. Some other LEPs have much shorter reins applied. This is a tribute to the quality of the projects put together and trust, based on our recent record, in delivery."

02 JUL 2014

Evening Star Column - 1st July 2014

"In Parliament, we debated the Commemorations for the First World War. I found the debate very moving and I was pleased to contribute, though I nearly didn't make it to the end as I started welling up just as I was about to refer to my great-uncle who served with distinction, being awarded the Military Medal and Croix de Guerre. I was able to share some of the ways how people from Suffolk and parts of our coast were involved in the Great War. I have written before about the fascinating exhibition at Felixstowe Museum, which I strongly recommend. I was also able to praise Lt Col Doughty-Wylie who was born in Theberton and was awarded the VC. He died in action at Gallipoli and is the only British, indeed Commonwealth, soldier to be buried on that peninsula. The village will be commemorating him next year. A website database lists every Commonwealth war grave – www.cwgc.org . There is one just 100 yards from where I live and several graves lie in various cemeteries in Felixstowe.

I was also able to relay just one or two things that originated from the research done at Orford Ness, which also played a role later in its life regarding atomic weapon research. This magical strip off our coast has contributed so much to our country and is now a magical nature reserve. It so happened, the following day I visited Orford Ness as part of a trip around the three principal National Trust sites in the constituency – Sutton Hoo, Dunwich Heaths and the Ness. I was pleased to learn more about the vision for Sutton Hoo over the next ten years. Orford Ness has its own sense of mystery and I was lucky to go into one of the pagodas – extraordinary. The local staff clearly share a natural pride and curiosity into this place and they are a credit to the National Trust.

The conclusion to last week's phone-hacking trials brought flashbacks of three years ago when I served on the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee and our interrogation of the Murdochs and Rebekah Brooks. Three years on, several people have pleaded guilty without it going to trial, others are still awaiting trial, Andy Coulson was found guilty of one charge (and may still appeal) while Rebekah Brooks was found to be innocent. I remember at the time, there was talk of a film being made but somehow, I don't think it will go ahead as it doesn't have the ending that certain people wanted. People's reactions to the jury verdicts have been revealing. There were no fine legal points or technicalities leading to the verdict but crucially came down to whether or not the prosecution could prove their case to twelve people, chosen at random. In one case they did, in six they did not. The CPS has decided to re-try two people so I cannot comment further.

Well done to Meg Reid and her team for staging a successful 2nd Felixstowe book festival this past weekend. I had the pleasure of opening the festival and heard Professor Anthony King talk about his book, "The Blunders of Governments". While I think there were some home truths and good lessons to learn, it is also interesting to see how political scientists and commentators sometime really don't get the subtleties of how Westminster works. It also validates how difficult it can be to turn a top level, straightforward and popular policy into detailed action plan to deliver it.

Finally, credit to our local councillors and council officers for acting so swiftly on travellers who descended on the town last weekend. I know this caused considerable concern but quick, robust action meant the incident was over before it could even be really reported on."

25 JUN 2014

Evening Star Column - 24th June 2014

"Rail commuters and daytrippers were rightly annoyed at the chaotic scenes for those travelling to and from London last week. Network Rail and Abellio were both right to apologise and to announce remedies after their quick and thorough investigation. Network Rail is putting in place an enhanced maintenance regime for overhead line equipment to prevent the type of failure which caused the major problems on Tuesday evening and for the approaches to Liverpool St. Abellio is improving its customer information procedures including better descriptions on the departure board and increasing the number of customer service staff at peak periods. The Government is signed up to having a better service and as I have written before, the big structural changes will happen once Crossrail is finished. In the meantime, it is right that we learn from mistakes.

I was pleased to facilitate a meeting with the Office for Nuclear Regulation with councillors and officers to look at some issues on Sizewell C and to catch up on an issue on Sizewell B. The ONR too us through how they assess the design and any potential design changes. It was very useful to understand the ONR only consider technical and safety issues including any changes we may may ask EDF to specifically consider in regard to the visual aspects of the new reactors, including the impact on the nearby landscape.

A small number of MPs debated a select committee report on what should be Parliament's formal role on going to war and also on the need for a constitutional convention for the UK. I say a small. number but I wish had been more. Without replaying the rights and wrongs of the Syria vote last August, it was the first time that the Prime Minister had asked for Parliament's endorsement prior to engaging in military action. The report included a draft resolution which referred to this and suggested it should become the norm, though recognising that in cases of emergency, this may not. be possible. I understand the sentiment for doing this. Trusting the establishment appears to have dissolved, particularly after the second Iraq war. Nevertheless, just as happened with Syria, I feel that MPs do not have and never will have full access to the detailed intelligence prepared for the Government and that I would want to endorse the actions of HMG, regardless of which colour it is. On the constitutional convention, the last one I remember was on the EU and look where that got us. There are imbalances to sort out, including constituency sizes, representation on devolved matters particularly the question of Scottish and Welsh MPs voting on matters in England when they cannot vote on the same issue for their own constituents. These topics may be very dry and seem insular but they are important to address.

With England crashing out of the World Cup so early, with just the last token game to savour tonight, many football fans will now enjoy a bit of rest. Not for long though as the new season fixtures are already out for Ipswich Town, starting at home against Fulham on 9th August and the big derby against Norwich on the 23rd. What ever happened to the summer? I am sure many oub landlords were hoping for at least a quarterfinal but some of them have other activities in store. I was delighted to go to Sutton Ploughfest. The new owners of the pub are trying to make a real go of it. Readers know I like a drop of real ale and I was happy to pull a pint as part of their weekend ale festival. Cheers to summer everyone!"

18 JUN 2014

Evening Star Column - 17th June 2014

"I was very pleased to see unemployment fall yet again in Suffolk Coastal. In particular, youth unemployment is at its lowest since records were kept (130 people). 604 people are still unemployed but that is the lowest number since December 2007. Well done to all those now earning a pay packet again and to the employers for taking on new people. I don't know if the employers' national insurance rebate of £2000 was the sole trigger but reducing the taxation on employing people is a good thing. That is why I was concerned about the reports that the Labour Party is considering increasing these taxes. The recovery is still underway and I know businesses will be concerned too. I also met Charlie from Felixstowe Job Club – which has expanded considerably across Suffolk – to discuss their activities. I look forward to visiting her in action. She made a good point about the costs of people retraining. I will take that up with the County Council to see how we can look at that as part of future bids from the Coastal Communities Fund, particularly linked to construction and Sizewell C.

There wasn't much sun but there was plenty of fun at the Woodbridge Riverside Regatta this Sunday. Many fathers, who may have been up late the night before watching the football, were present among the large crowds enjoying this successful event. Geoff Holdcroft is Chairman of the Regatta and is also Mayor of Woodbridge. As such, I was delighted to accept Geoff's invitation to formally open the event and present some of the prizes. Woodbridge Air Training Corps were successful again in the raft race with a best turnout for 1st Scouts. Well done to Geoff and his committee for organising another successful day, with great support from the Rotary and Lions too.

While I was there, it was a pleasure to meet a team of young men raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust by undertaking a cycle ride through Death Valley this November. Cameron, Scott and Tom are undertaking the arduous trek in honour of Cameron's brother, Alistair, who unfortunately passed away last year suffering a rare form of cancer. I know readers get called upon to help many good causes but I said I would give them a plug so here it is, www.justgiving.com/deathvalleychallenge2014 . This is the same charity promoted by teenager Stephen Sutton who passed away last month. His very prominent fundraising campaign was awarded with an MBE, which was granted before Stephen's death but announced at the weekend. In the face of adversity, he showed grace and courage as well as a sunny disposition on life while doing his utmost to help others in the future – a very worthy honours recipient. I also want to pay tribute to Woodbridge resident Neil Smith who was awarded an MBE for his charitable works. By day, PC Neil Smith is a dog handler. He has organised the Bobby on a Bike team (www.bobbyonabike.com) and they have raised over £100k so far. Already recognised when he carried the Olympic Torch through Wickham Market in 2012, I hope Neil and his family enjoy their trip to the Palace. Unfortunately, I expect his trusty police dog will not be able to attend.

Back in Parliament, there was considerable concern about how to tackle extremism cropping up in schools. There is a clear mechanism for any parent concerned which is to contact Ofsted. The mood of the House was rather sombre considering the horrific atrocities being committed in Iraq, which have been well publicised this weekend. This follows on from a conference last week convened by the UK to focus on stopping rape being used as a weapon of war. The instability of parts of our world continue to present a challenge to us all."

17 JUN 2014

Evening Star Column - 10th June 2014

"I am sure readers were moved by the D-Day 70th anniversary commemorations. Bringing together heads of state of 17 countries involved in the war was appropriate to recognise the herculean efforts and achievements of the thousands of servicemen involved in those days of the largest ever naval invasion. The D-Day spirit was burning strongly in veteran Bernard Jordan as he left his care home in Hove and navigated safely to Normandy single-handed at the ripe old age of 89. On a visit to Felixstowe Museum, I was introduced to a gentleman who had been a boat commander for D-Day. I thanked him for what he had done.

I was actually at the museum, next to Landguard Fort, to formally open the World War I exhibition. Chairman Pam Cole has led a group of dedicated volunteers, including archivist Sue Tod, in creating a really interesting display of material. Did you know that during the war, planes were launched from a pier? That you needed a special permit to get in and out of Felixstowe and Walton? That special mines were used to protect Harwich Harbour from attack? It was very interesting and I will go back to look at the display in more depth.

While I was in Felixstowe, the collision of a yacht and a dredging vessel happened. At time of writing, the lady sailor had not been found. I hope she is recovered, with her pets, safely. I have asked Harwich Haven Authority for a report. This area is one of the busiest sea lanes going but every collision needs to be assessed for lessons to be learned. Thankyou to the coastguards and others involved in the search and rescue process.

I had the pleasure to visit Springwatch, which is being filmed in Minsmere. I am always interested in how things get made. The three presenters certainly know their stuff but so do the cameramen, who were pointing out the fascinating habits of the greenpecker. From those observations come the ideas for stories to be interwoven into the show. The editorial and production line is central to keeping the show on track and reacting to the latest that nature and the elements bring. I had not appreciated the amount of preparation that goes on including two rehearsals before the live show. I went on the second filming day when it rained non-stop. I spent most of the day apologising for the weather and expressing optimism. The sun did reappear but not on their live broadcasts. Ah well, it was a memorable experience.

From nature watching to people watching (do you remember that TV series) and the Queen's Speech is a spectacular affair in Parliament, adding colour to the staid affairs of state as new areas for legislation are revealed. Two Bills stand out - pension reform and modern slavery - as truly ground-breaking. Others are tidying up bills and put into place announcements already made, like reintroducing the married tax allowance. Much of government does not need new legislation every year but needs a focus on delivery. There are always issues coming up though that require bits of legislation to unlock barriers or grant new powers and these are being delivered through the growth, deregulation and infrastructure bills. Much of the parliamentary timetable takes place outside the main chamber with secondary legislation, so quite a lot of Acts passed last year like the Immigration Act will be followed up by the Home Office. There is a lot to do in the last ten months of this Parliament, particularly on constituency issues and new campaigns to fight."

17 JUN 2014

Evening Star Column - 3rd June 2014

"The Suffolk Show was particularly busy on Thursday as HRH Prince Harry visited and brought the sunshine with him to Trinity Park. For the first time, I hosted a stand there and managed to distribute a lot of information about Parliament to young and old alike. As ever, it was a good opportunity to get round and see farmers with their wide variety of working animals from across the county as well as many businesses. I am sure the decision to allow dogs back in to the Show will have brought a few visitors back. The water bowl and plenteous supply of dog biscuits drew a few people to the stand. Thankyou to everyone who stopped by – schoolchildren having a break from revising, people to discuss the impacts of the local and European election results and those interested in Parliament. Re-elected MEP Vicky Ford also joined us with her children and two dogs. Agriculture Minister Lord de Maulay visited and I know he received many insights direct from our rural community. The President of the Show, Clare, Countess of Euston, is to be congratulated on launching the Rural Lifeline Fund recognising the level of rural poverty that rarely gets noticed in the official statistics. I am particularly pleased that there will be a focus on those living in fuel poverty in the off gas grid area. Congratulations to the two ladies who won the champagne prize draws. I have a few photos from the day and will be putting them online on my facebook and website.

This week is Volunteers' Week, now in its 30th year celebrating the contribution that volunteers make to charities and other organisations in our community. Of course, their direct help is vital for those who benefit from their time but I have always found that volunteers get a tremendous sense of satisfaction – a mutual joy. Thank you to all those who give their time. Several of our communities have volunteer centres. At Felixstowe, it is at 108 Queens Road and you can call on 01394 284770. Woodbridge Library has information available all the time on local opportunities.

Recess has been particularly busy. I will have to leave it to next week to describe more of my tour around the Springwatch site. Parliament resumes on Wednesday with the Queen's Speech, which sets out new legislation for the fifth and final year of Parliament. While the Speech normally remains unveiled till the Queen reads it, journalists are expert at digging up a few tasters. I remember during my accountancy exams, we had to take courses on company law and the issue of "good Samaritans" came up. Case law has protected from legal action those help-a-hand-heroes who, for example, may pull someone out of a fire but the rescued person has broken a bone in the process. However, in our ever increasing risk-averse world and the appetite for suing others, I welcome the proposed change in the law which will give formal legal protection to those who try to help others and not rely on the one-off decision of a judge. You will not see in the Queen's Speech a bill on the EU referendum as our Liberal Democrat coalition partners do not agree but a Conservative backbencher will, lottery willing, bring forward the legislation again that was blocked in the Lords earlier this year.

The serious stuff is preceded by the Parliamentary Tug of War – when MPs, peers, armed forces, companies and charities come together to raise a lot of money for Macmillan Cancer Care. I'll be making a second appearance and I hope the lady MPs do better than last year when our lack of practice certainly showed."

02 JUN 2014

Evening Star Column - 27th May 2014

"Two meetings with ministers in two weeks on the big issue of better broadband coverage for Suffolk. Our rollout programme is making great progress but there are still several parishes which will receive the lowest speed of 2MB/s – which is better than a not-spot but still short of the ambitions that I know County Council leader Mark Bee has for the county. I was pleased that he was able to join Peter Aldous and myself at an open surgery with Broadband Minister Ed Vaizey. We made the case for further support on how to reach more properties in "the last mile", including those properties attached directly to the exchange. The Minister informed us of the innovation pilot scheme, which has received more bids than expected for funding. From that, the department will be able to calculate how much it will cost to connect every property around the country at a fast speed. That is welcome work and gives me encouragement for improving Suffolk coverage. Those messages were reinforced when I met the new Secretary of State Sajid Javid along with the new CEO of Broadband UK (who was part of the successful team running the Olympics). I again stressed the importance of reaching rural areas and highlighted the issue of exchange only lines – which affects many small villages. We also discussed the problems of mobile phone coverage, which to date has focused on eliminating not-spots. They both recognised that it is not just about no coverage but the patchy areas of operators.

The European and local elections have provided much for the Westminster commentariat to dissect and analyse. I am not so sure about the earthquake comparison being made but of course, there was an underlying message to politicians about the frustrations of the European Commission continuing to try to control and centralise. It was particularly difficult for Liberal Democrats and perhaps the Deputy Prime Minister will regret the TV debates. It certainly makes that particular issue even more interesting for 2015. In the meantime, I support the Prime Minister's move to renegotiate and serve in a group of MPs that is putting forward that agenda in the UK and in other EU countries. That is why, in the next session of Parliament starting June 4th, Conservative MPs will once again be trying to legislate for a referendum in 2017. I hope the other parties do not block us again.

Suffolk launched its nature strategy at RSPB Minsmere and we were fortunate to be joined by Springwatch presenter Chris Packham, who was very positive about the vision in it. It is an important document that brought together a wide number of organisations to produce objectives and actions to ensure that the precious environment is ever present as we continue to grow our local economy.

It was a pleasure to join 23 Engineers at Rock Barracks. Lt Col Hones is moving on to his new post soon, teaching future generals. He has moved the regiment away from its focus on Afghanistan back to its ever-ready status to help in incidents around the world. The building work was rather impressive as more soldiers and officers will be housed at the barracks, strengthening the regimental solidarity.

The centenary Suffolk Show is fortunate to be welcoming HRH Prince Harry, which I am sure will bring a few extra admirers. As the showground is in my constituency, I have the privilege to be in the civic line-up. Thank you M&S (there are other good retailers) for providing part of a new outfit. Readers will be able to say hello to me at my stand 266, particularly on Wednesday. Weather means wellies may be needed but hopefully there will still be a lot to see and do."

21 MAY 2014

Evening Star Column - 20th May 2014

"This week, I am meeting the Chairman of NHS England, Professor Malcolm Grant, to press the case that Suffolk deserves a higher level of funding to recognise the increasingly demanding needs that patients have as they get older. The NHS Board decision was very disappointing for patients across Suffolk and even more astonishing was the Labour Shadow Health Secretary pressing the case for our area to effectively have even less funding per patient. That was why I was astonished and saddened to read comments yesterday's paper by Labour officials who feel the need to talk down the great work being undertaken by hardworking staff in the NHS, doing extraordinary things for patients. The NHS is being used more than ever before and so thank heavens, the Government has increased funding contrary to the advice of the Labour Opposition, who suggested it was irresponsible to do so. If you think that the only way to help patients is to set headline targets, then readers can look to what happened with the ambulance service. Clinical reconfigurations can be really helpful in improving treatment outcomes for patients. Reconfigurations forced solely by funding challenges without regard for patients is bad. That is what matters and why I will continue to champion patients in the NHS and do my best to get support for our nurses and doctors.

Many congratulations to Matthew Farthing from Martlesham Heath and student at Farlingaye High School for reaching the percussion final for Young Musician of the Year. A bit of You Tube search will reveal his talent and I hope he does well in future. There are many budding musicians across our county and many festivals to display that talent. I was pleased to get two nominations for Rock the House and as one of the groups is comprised of young talent, I could put both forward. Well done to Bassline and Uncle Phil. Hopefully, they will both play Parliament later this year.

The sunshine certainly brought out the crowds this weekend. I suffered myself from a bit of heatstroke after a lot of campaigning but recovered to get to Orford to enjoy opening the additional facilities at the Sailing Club. My neighbouring MP was particularly fortuitous with the weather as he married the delightful Sarah. I hope they will have lifelong happiness together.

I had three meetings on schools last week. Leiston Primary School is likely to be joining an academy trust with Easton and Wickham Market schools. The headteachers were very positive about the venture. Better school food was on the menu at Orford Primary School which participated in Food Revolution Day – a Jamie Oliver inspired event to get young people involved in cooking healthy food. It was a real pleasure to visit Copleston High with Mr Common showing me round. While not in my constituency, many children who live in Purdis Farm and Warren Heath attend there. I was impressed with the learning atmosphere. Good luck to all the students undergoing exams at the moment.

Parliament may be in recess (again) but meetings continue in Westminster, including the one above. I am also seeing the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport to discuss broadband and meetings with other ministers to discuss off gas grid issues. Next week brings the Suffolk Show, celebrating its centenary year. I have taken a stand this year, sharing some information about Parliament. Readers are very welcome to come and say hello at Stand 266 on 6th Avenue, off the Grand Ring Avenue."

20 MAY 2014

Evening Star Column - 13th May 2014

"Felixstowe was in the spotlight once again as it heralded the start of Day 3 of the Women's Cycling Tour. The sun shone andthe wind blew, which I hope helped rather than hindered their progress and if not, our lovely hedgerows acted as a windbreak. Well done to the council for pulling off yet another high class event. I hope it proves inspiring too for people young and old to have world class sports stars in our small town. I tend to cycle in London rather than Suffolk but I am now inspired to bring my bike up here for the summer months.

I was pleased to join the long service and excellence wards for our ambulance service last week. Recognising the dedicated staff on the front line and the back office who help it all work is important for morale and just to say thank you. The Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire presented the Queen's Medal to several staff, including Karl Fryer from Felixstowe Ambulance Station. One of the new ambulances was on show. I also met the new interim chairman of the Ambulance Trust. This next year is vital to rebuild credibility. I am confident they will achieve that.

My postal ballot for the European elections arrived. My - what a long list to choose from, though I am sure Star readers will know where I put my x. Turnout is usually rather low but these elections do matter as while we have the system we have, it requires MEPs who are prepared to do the detailed, hard and sometimes dull work to both promote and defend Britain's interests. It should not be just a place to grandstand but then miss the vital votes. So please do use your vote this month.

It was a great pleasure to bump into Star political reporter Paul Geater on the train from Saxmundham yesterday. Paul is an avid train buff and has always been supportive of a better rail service across our county. He was on the train to speak to passengers about the huge increase in passengers since the switch to an hourly service on the East Suffolk line. I won't spoil the outcome of his informal survey but it is good we celebrate the improvements. It has been just over 25 years since the main line was electrified. I look forward to the next franchise when we get the new carriages that will bring us into the 21st century, with some short term improvements next year. I am concerned that Labour look to be renationalising the railways which would be a surefire way to kick this pending investment into touch. Rail lines up to the Labour heartlands of the north west and north east certainly benefited under the Labour government while we continued to be pushed the castoff carriages used on the West Coast mainline from the days when I lived in Liverpool (a long time ago). I hope they reconsider this policy which may grab headlines but puts at risk future improvements for Suffolk.

Finally, for the first time in 25 years, I was bitten by a dog while on the campaign trail. I always carry treats with me and had dispensed several to about twenty dogs already. For one little terrier that wasn't enough, literally biting the hand that feeds. As you can imagine, this was not a civilised Suffolk hound but a Nottinghamshire nipper where I was helping in a by-election. I was regaled by MPs with many stories of near misses or missing fingertips. Once bitten, twice shy? No fear for me and I was back out this weekend, dog treats in the pocket and many happy Suffolk canine customers."

08 MAY 2014

Evening Star Column - 6th May 2014

"Parliament resumed at its usual frenetic pace. I spoke in two debates on schools - one relating to the funding formula and theother on admissions policies to Catholic schools. The recent boost of an average of £105 per pupil is welcome in our county but we are still at the bottom end of the table for funding. I know someone has to be but in the case of school funding, it is the financial gap between different areas of the country that is impossible to justify. I support the Raising the Bar relationship with Hackney but they get an average 76% more for the London children and closer to double with the pupil premium effect. There is not a direct link to funding and performance so it is still the right question to ask - why does there need to be such a gap? I will keep pressing on this issue into the next Parliament as it is one of the very unfair formulas - another sad legacy of the last Labour Government.

I met the Secretary of State for Transport with Ben Gummer MP, Felixstowe County Councillor Graham Newman (and Cabinet Member on Transport) together with Clemence Cheng and Paul Davey from Felixstowe Port. We wanted to raise the issue of improving the line with electrification and to discuss the revised line scheme which will bring long passing loops on the branch line, to provide resilience and fewer cancelled services when other parts of the network go wrong. If we could electrify this short stretch in the short term and insist on freight using the main line to have electric-powered locomotives, that would certainly help the ambitions to improve the journey times to and from London for passenger services. It was a very useful meeting and we will continue to press the case.

Sizewell C was on the agenda when I met the Chief Executive of the Office of Nuclear Development, which is part of the Department of Energy and Climate Change. Their role is to facilitate the building of new nuclear power stations and were the driving force behind the creation of the Suffolk Coast Energy Board. I used the meeting to flag concerns that EDF was not prepared to accommodate local community concerns on various associated development. I should stress right now, the OND does not decide the planning application and furthermore, they have strict protocols in place to not influence the decision. However, they do have an oversight of each project. It was helpful to discuss more about the role of the Energy Board. I think this is a great opportunity for our area and one in which we need to boost skills and legacy from the project.

I met the CBI with other MPs principally to discuss EU issues but we covered a number of topics, particularly the referendum in Scotland after their difficulties last weekend. We also discussed the Ukraine situation and the potential impact of sanctions on UK industry. They were pleased with the changes made to apprenticeships to put the employer and apprentice in charge of the training money, rather than the course provider - so that they can ensure that the training is relevant to their job and career. They also liked the cut in corporation tax for all businesses. They had no doubt that this was an important signal to businesses around the world to invest in our country.

Finally, I popped into the reception to celebrate and our local markets. The stalls add vibrancy and often specialist goods in addition to our permanent shops. I enjoy recess when I can get to support a few of them dotted around the constituency."

06 MAY 2014

Evening Star Column - 29th April 2014

"Rain in the last few days did not stop play for a whirlwind weekend in normally sunny Suffolk. I was relieved the fog had lifted though last Thursday as I ventured out on the St Cuthbert, a pilot boat of Harwich Haven Authority that I had the pleasure of naming last year. It was an interesting insight and chance to discuss the many tasks undertaken by the Authority and its teams to keep our busy rivers and coastline trouble free – balancing the needs of Felixstowe and Harwich ports with the leisure sailors is not always straightforward. I was lucky enough to take the wheel for a bit and get up fairly close to some of the largest boats berthing at our port.

From sea to land and a chance to see what was going on at the school farm fair at Trinity Park. This is now in its 11th year and I was very impressed by the 200 stewards who came from across Suffolk to act as tour guides to the many children and teachers present. Children from Causton Primary School looked very happy. I stopped to speak to some children from Ravenswood Primary who were enjoying many of the exhibits. It certainly felt very interactive. Well done to Suffolk Agricultural Association which won a Raising the Bar award last month and I am sure will continue to shine in the future.

Our local health minister, Dr Dan, formally opened the new Grove Medical Centre and Pharmacy in Felixstowe. Up and running for six weeks now, the centre still has that fresh paint feel and is very welcoming. I was delighted to be there and see how much shared working is being developed, all with the aim of a healthier Felixstowe with more treatment closer to hand. Well done to all involved in making this a reality.

Community organisations and the work of local councillors were celebrated at Sunday's Woodbridge Civic Service. Almost a final hurrah for popular mayor Patti Mulcahy, it is always good to recognise the contribution people make to our towns. I could not make it to the concert in the Community Centre at which was played the unique musical instrument thought to be made in the World War I trenches.

Saturday afternoon, I was delighted to be a guest of the FA at Portman Road which hosted the FA County Youth Cup final. Suffolk were pipped at the post in the last couple of minutes of extra time. It was a thrilling game and the young men with their managers should be very proud.

Energy Minister Michael Fallon signalled a future policy regarding onshore wind farms. This is not to stop future offshore wind turbines automatically but essentially subsidy will be removed for these and the decisions made locally, without threat of the Planning Inspectorate. Support for offshore wind will continue. I know that concern has been raised more about the preponderance of solar farms in our area and there have already been changes made to these schemes. It is important to have a mix of energy sources. We have already set aside the money to pay for schemes that will take us to at least 20% of our energy consistently coming from renewable sources by 2020 and we will continue to invest in long-term, baseload energy plants like Sizewell C.

Finally, I am pleased to be attending a special event celebrating the centenary of East Suffolk Association for the Blind. As part of its celebrations, they are collaborating with Levington Marina-based East Anglian Sailing Trust to do Suffolk coast style Three Men in a Boat. Good to see two excellent organisations collaborating and I am sure the novice sailors will have much fun."

24 APR 2014

Evening Star Column - 22nd April 2014

"Good news on the trains. The two-year extension to Abellio/Greater Anglia will start to see improvements for passengers - more seats and power points so you can charge up on the move. There will also be a few more services on the East Suffolk line next year. The big opportunity for improvement is the long-term franchise. MPs, ably led in Suffolk by Ben Gummer, are gearing up to get the specification for that just right for our needs through to 2030. Many wants will be included but that will be the chance to get brand new trains and line improvements.

There was further good news on jobs. Unemployment in Suffolk Coastal is at its lowest since July 2008 which translates into a pay packet and more security for those back in work. As ever, there is still more to do. This month, the government has given every business up to £2000 as an employment allowance. Employers can use this to reinvest or be in a position to take people on. It also is giving up to £1000 off business rates for smaller retail businesses. That will help a lot of retailers in Felixstowe and Ipswich. In both cases, you have to apply to get the cash back.

Next Monday is the deadline for your thoughts on local government ward boundaries in Suffolk Coastal. With fewer councillors, some ward sizes are getting slightly larger but overall, the changes make no difference to which political party runs the council. More information is online at the Boundary Commission website www.lgbce.org.uk

Readers who are not football fans will be relieved in a month's time when the season is over. Seasiders now top the table, Ipswich had their destiny in their own hands (and I hope regain momentum this week) while my childhood team stay top of the Premiership - the Liver Birds gobbling up the Canaries. Respite will only be temporary as we gear up for the World Cup in Rio. Local Leiston player Gareth Heath will be there too representing England in the 6 a side.

As a regular churchgoer, Easter is the most important time of year theologically and the time when I most get to relax and do DIY/gardening/jungle taming like most other folk. I made an exception last week though and headed back to London to see young Felixstowe resident Reece Calver who was performing at Sadler's Wells Theatre. Reece has been chosen as one of just 30 young people to join the National Youth Dance Company. Reece was joined by Shakira Holder and Jack Parry from Suffolk. Proud parents were beaming at the extraordinary performance. The NYDC is a new (or I should say recently resurrected) organisation. Suffolk's success in producing 3 of 30 dancers is partly due to Dance East, based in Ipswich Marina, with director Brendan Keaney leading a great team. It was a pleasure to meet him and Kate. While I was there, as ever on behalf of Suffolk Arts, I undertook informal lobbying of the Arts Council Chief and Deputy Chief Executives as well as Channel 4 and the Culture Minister. Our cultural offering is a key part of the Suffolk economy so the recently announced theatre tax credits, extending to other art forms, should be good news for touring theatre and writing theatre groups, though is unlikely to help charities (which usually do not pay corporation tax).

After a relaxing Easter, I am looking forward to the opening of the new GP surgery in Felixstowe, a trip in St Cuthbert's pilot boat and the School Agricultural Fair at Trinity Park. See you in the sunshine."

16 APR 2014

Evening Star Column - 15th April 2014

"Last week was Export Week and I spoke at a breakfast meeting for the Chamber of Commerce, alongside successful exporters, UKTI and a Chamber representative who unveiled the the Network Partnership which will provide even better service for those wanting to export to key markets around the world. I was struck by how few businesses currently export. There is clear nervousness about how you get paid, getting the first customer but as speakers said, it is a good way to grow your business and not just rely on the ever competitive UK market. The "Britain is Great" campaign launched at the Olympics and continuing now really has worked - both in highlighting the quality of goods and services available to go worldwide as well as attracting foreign investment into the UK. On our doorstep is Felixstowe Port. It really would be great if we could boost the amount leaving our shores, not just incoming. To help with that, I happened to visit DHL on the Martlesham Heath industrial estate, that covers all of Suffolk and north Essex. Their distinctive colouring and logo will be well known but thanks to the local team for their insight.

I was delighted to hand over my recent bingo winnings to the League of Friends at Felixstowe Community Hospital, followed by a short tour of the hospital. It was nice to see the additional equipment in place since I last visited. The staff were as cheery as ever and the patients were about to start tucking into their fish and chips.

In Parliament last week, the President of Ireland - enjoying the first ever state visit to the UK from the Republic - spoke to MPs and Peers. I thought it an interesting speech, not avoiding the tricky issue of Sinn Fein and the troubles. I learned that Sinn Fein MPs helped secure the Parliament Act, which allows the Commons to ultimately get its way over the Lords. More revealing was that others associated with the IRA went to Windsor Castle for the State Banquet and graciously accepted the hospitality of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. Mindful that it was the IRA that bombed Mountbatten - the man who brought the royal couple together - I think it said a lot for the graciousness of our monarch.

Parliament is now in recess for Easter Holidays and is currently being used as a film set for "Suffragette". It so happens that this constituency has a long connection with the Suffragette and Suffragist movement. What I didn't know till last Friday was that the last militant act of the Suffragettes was to attack the Bath Hotel in Felixstowe on April 28th 1914. I discovered that at the Felixstowe Civic Society, when I was speaking to them about my role as an MP, and Phil Hadwen will be revealing more at their next meeting.

Thanks to the Mayor of Felixstowe, Cllr Jan Garfield, and her ever-present consort, Jon, for formally opening my new constituency office. I was delighted that so many people representing Felixstowe civic society were able to attend. Felixstowe is the largest town in the constituency, albeit a long way from the northern uppermost of my area (about 45 miles - further than Manchester to Leeds), and I look forward to seeing more Star readers out and about.

With just a few games to go, the Tractor Boys are still in great position to reach the playoffs, which would be a great boost for the town. I was at Leiston this weekend to watch the team win and was pleased to see a couple of Seasider supporters who love watching football up and down our coast. Two players were out of action as they were in action for the London marathon, as was one of my team Phil North, all of them raising money for charity. Well done to them all."

09 APR 2014

Evening Star Column - 8th April 2014

"This is the most important week of changes to our tax system for a generation.

The Government is making the biggest cuts to personal and business taxes for two decades, changes which will affect the lives of millions of people. People can keep the first £10,000 of what they earn before they pay any income tax. Four years ago, it was just £6,500 tax free. That means people keeping £700 more of their earnings and a tax cut for everyone earning up to £100,000. I am pleased to say that there will be no fuel duty hikes either. If we had kept the last Government's escalator, it would be 90p per gallon higher – particularly tough for drivers outside city centres.

However, it is the changes to business taxes that will help keep a sustainable recovery. Without successful businesses, we won't create new jobs. Corporation tax is now down to 21%, now one of the lowest rates in the world - and down from 28% in 2010. This is good to attract businesses to establish more operations in our country. We are helping small businesses too through the new Employment Allowance. Every business will get a £2,000 cut in the Employers National Insurance – the 'jobs tax' – which they would otherwise have paid. Over a million businesses will benefit and 450,000 small businesses won't pay any jobs tax at all. Businesses must remember to change their PAYE software to take advantage of this. To help our high street, small shops and cafes and pubs will receive up to £1,000 off their business rate bills. This is great news for our town centres – whether it be Hamilton Road, the Thoroughfare or many parts of Ipswich.

MPs' expenses are back in the news with Maria Miller. I should first point out that she was cleared of the allegations levelled at her about fraudulently using taxpayers' funds to subsidise the living costs of her parents. Where there appears to be a row is the differing views on the amount of mortgage interest to be repaid. Maria Miller calculated one sum. The commissioner felt she should repay a higher sum based on the initial mortgage payments from 9 years before entering Parliament. What may not have hit the news is that there are three independent people on the Standards Committee. They agreed with the MPs, not the commissioner, in saying she should pay back the smaller sum. Of course, this is bad for all politics but I have confidence the new regime in place since 2010 is transparent and fairer for the taxpayer. All MP expenses are now online.

I was pleased to formally launch the new upgraded Saxmundham broadband exchange with Cllr Mark Bee and Cllr Sir Peter Batho. This opens up a lot more premises in the villages and towns near Saxmundham. Remember you have to alert your provider or find a new provider to upgrade.

It's getting close on football fronts for the Seasiders – continuing their spectacular run of 5 wins – well done to them. Ipswich Town are achingly close to a playoff and trip to Wembley. I hope the Tractor Boys can hold their nerve. As regular readers know, I still support my childhood team of Liverpool and the tension in the Premiership at both ends will mean many nails will be bitten – bringing much joy to those who are not so keen to see Norwich in the Premiership next year. Saturday night TV is not just Match of the Day but also Strictly. I am sure many viewers will miss Brucie who is putting away his tapshoes. I hope his replacement is Anton du Beke. He has been a great character and would move across to the presenter role with aplomb."

08 APR 2014

Evening Star Column - 1st April 2014

"Last week in Parliament I led a debate on NHS funding for an ageing population. I believe that elderly patients are notcurrently being recognised as they should in the allocation of funds across the country, particularly in rural, coastal areas. I am proud that the NHS budget has risen under this Government and will continue to do so but we need significant changes to the funding formula. The Keogh review states that much of the pressure on operational effectiveness is due to the large increase in the numbers of elderly patients with complex sets of health problems. Areas like Liverpool receive over £400 per head more than Suffolk despite having a significantly lower population of elderly people. The NHS Board had a golden opportunity in the Health and Social Care Act to make changes to the funding formula but they ignored the advice of their own expert committee on resource allocation and crumbled to political pressure from the Labour party. The Government cannot wave a magic wand and change the formula. It is for the board of NHS England to do that. I hope it will reconsider and truly look after our ageing population.

I also spoke in another significant debate last week, pressing the case for more investment in our rail services, especially on the Felixstowe to Ipswich line. A part of its expansion plans the port agreed to dual the line. There is a interim solution of the loops and whilst I recognise that dualling is an expensive investment I still think we should have the line dualled which will make a significant improvement to resilience of freight coming out of the port and improve the service for passengers. The dualling of the line would be the gold standard whilst a set of passing loops would be a silver or bronze solution. With the continuing growth of Felixstowe we need that dualling of the line. In the same debate I received assurances from the Transport Minister, Stephen Hammond MP, that there would be no delay in the upgrade to the A14 now the tolling proposals have been dropped.

I was delighted to attend the first national CoSpace Championship for young computer coders hosted by BT at Martlesham last week and caught up with our young talents from local primary schools. Educating our children how to code supports the learning of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects essential for encouraging engineering and is vital for them to grab the future opportunities in this sector.

I attended the SCAR (Suffolk Coast Against Retreat) AGM on Saturday which was absolutely packed. My thanks go to Anne Page of Shingle Street for her years of dedication as Secretary. I am also glad Graham Henderson of Felixstowe Ferry will continue as Chairman. SCAR is an important organisation in coordinating the different community groups along our coast.

I was pleased that so few schools closed last week. The NUT strike over performance related pay was bad news for children and parents and I thank those head teachers who did their upmost to keep their schools open.

Finally, this Saturday is Grand National day. Thanks to Louis and David of Ladbrokes in Martlesham Heath who took my charity bet split between Teaforthree and Monbeg Dude. Last year I was lucky enough to be successful with an each way bet on Teaforthree and the winnings went to Heartbeat Homes for Horses based near Halesworth. I wish all Star readers good luck if you plan to have a flutter this weekend."

31 MAR 2014

Evening Star Column - 25th March 2014

"Last week the Chancellor delivered a Budget which I think will help most people in this country with a tax cut and tax freezes on everyday items while supporting the economic recovery and giving a huge boost to savers and reforming pensions. A rise in the personal allowance to £10,500 means basic rate tax payers will have had a tax cut of £800, in all 24.5 million people will have a tax cut and 3 million people will stop paying income tax totally. Savers will have straightforward ISAs and can save up to £15,000 a year tax free. The 10p rate on savings income will be abolished. Pensioners will receive free, impartial advice on their retirement options. No longer will you be forced to buy an annuity and there will be no punitive 55% tax rate if you try and take more than your tax-free lump sum. For those on money purchase benefits, this is a big change. Annuity rates have been falling for some time as people are living longer. In many cases, an annuity will provide a good level of income to supplement the state pension. However, if your pension pot is not large, the amount of income may be very small indeed. This revolution in trusting people to manage their own affairs in retirement is good news.

Apart from being a budget for earners, savers and businesses this was also a budget for those who drive, enjoy a drink and play a bit of bingo. The Government have committed to continuing to freeze fuel duty, have cancelled the alcohol duty escalator and taken a penny off a pint of beer, which is great news for our local pubs. Bingo duty is falling from 20% to 10% - welcome news for those who play at the Palace Bingo. With the interest-free season ticket loan limit doubling, Ipswich rail commuters will save about £50 off their tax bill. If we had continued the last Labour government's fuel duty escalator, petrol would be 20p per litre or 90p per gallon more than today.

Independent forecasts do suggest the economy is growing well and faster than other large countries, but there is no room for complacency. None of us want a return to boom and bust plus we have not yet balanced the budget, so national debt in cash terms is still rising. It was good to speak to people about the Budget and other matters on Saturday morning in Hamilton Road. For more information on how it may affect you, go online to your2014budget.com.

An improved tax free childcare scheme was unveiled, increasing the benefit to up to £2,000 per child each year and extending the age range for up to 12 year olds. The scheme is set to start in autumn 2015. I have asked why it is taking so long and understandably, the government needs to make sure all the IT works.

I hope our local schools stay open on Wednesday, despite the teachers' strike called by the NUT. This is a key moment for children and it doesn't help parents either. After praising Felixstowe Academy for opening its doors to former pupils, how terrible to read of the vandalism at the Orwell High school. What a shock for teachers and students. I really hope the police make some arrests.

In great contrast was the supportive crowd at the Goldstar ground as the Seasiders beat Hadleigh in a top of the table clash. It was useful to catch up on possible plans for the ground from the Chairman and committee. Cllr Kerry updated me on the recommendations going to Cabinet next month. I hope they are successful and will do my bit to help the club get funding for the development."

19 MAR 2014

Evening Star Column - 18th March 2014

"I met Jonathan Denby from Greater Anglia regarding the poor performance on the Felixstowe to Ipswich line, affecting manycommuters with delays and cancellations. Confirming earlier discussions with Network Rail, some of the major problems have been caused by issues with freight services – whether it be disruption and delay due to flooding or other problems on the line and at the Port. However, he recognised that it is now internal issues with their own rolling stock that has led to the significant deterioration in passenger experience. Across our network, there are normally 22 units available at any one time but four are unavailable for use - two have wheel problems, one was badly damaged in the December floods and another unit was damaged in a fatal collision. There seems to be a problem in obtaining additional wheel sets which I will pursue with the Department of Transport. I have received assurances that in the interim Greater Anglia are protecting key services from Felixstowe to Ipswich and vice versa to ensure the important early commuter trains with London connections run on time. Unfortunately some services have been disrupted and some replaced by buses but Greater Anglia have said that they are not just putting everything on Felixstowe and the pain is being spread around the network.

It is a nice touch by Felixstowe Academy to open the doors of the former Orwell High and Deben High schools for old pupils to visit one last time. The new Felixstowe Academy is looking really good and by this time next week, the building will be handed over to the Principal. A brand new shiny building should help create the atmosphere for excellence in learning but it does come down to leadership, quality of teaching and encouragement from parents to unlock the potential of children. Nevertheless, two significant investments coming to fruition within a month are positive steps for Felixstowe's future.

I visited West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds, which has learning centres in other parts of Suffolk including Ipswich, and see its engineering, energy and construction centres. West Suffolk is particularly important as it is the only nuclear accredited college in the East of England. It was useful to discuss with Dr Savvas and his vice principal the wider educational scene. He is fortunate to have arrived after significant investment in the campus but I was particularly impressed with his determination to help people in Suffolk capture the opportunity presented by Sizewell C.

The Budget is tomorrow. The Chancellor has been careful in previous budgets to focus on the lowest earners and I expect more of the same this week. Readers will know that beer duty was cut last time. I think we can hope for a freeze at best. Same is true for fuel duty. The Chancellor said he would stop Labour's fuel duty accelerator again if he could find the resources and I expect he will have done. I hope for a cut in bingo duty – which will be welcome news for those who enjoy their sessions at the Palace in Felixstowe and I presented their petition to Parliament last night on this.

Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore is right to tell his Norfolk counterpart to butt out with his gloom and doom views for our police force. It's a disgraceful intervention from this Norfolk chap when actually Tim is doing a great job, going through the budget in great detail and finding savings that can either be used for the front line or to help the council taxpayer. Tim is in Parliament tomorrow to brief MPs further on his findings on the Chief Constable's proposals. I know we can trust him to do what he thinks is right for the people of Suffolk."

14 MAR 2014

Evening Star Column - 11th March 2014

"The new GP surgery at the Grove in Felixstowe has opened. I have been driving past it for a while and it does look fantastic. It seems so long ago now when Dr Feltwell invited me to Central Surgery to explain how desperately a new facility is needed. I was pleased to arrange for the local NHS Chief Executive to visit and see exactly the problems. Not only that, we managed to get the new facility funded from the proceeds of the Bartlett Hospital. I fully expect patients registered there will have a better experience there and the partnership with the Felixstowe Community Hospital will continue. I look forward to the formal opening.

It was National Apprenticeship Week and I took the chance to highlight some Suffolk schemes during Prime Minister's Questions, including that at SPR Trailers in Felixstowe on Friday and meet two young apprentices, Callum Gooderham and Luke, who were obviously happy in their walk. Unfortunately we walked in on Callum who was taking his online assessment at the time. We quickly realised, left and he still managed to pass – clearly a young man who is cool under pressure! I want to praise Simon Rivers and his team, including workshop manager Ian Garnham, who are giving young people these opportunities to earn while they learn. Kevin Rodger from Suffolk County Council attended and we are discussing having a specialist event in the Felixstowe area to encourage more small employers to sign up. The County Council was successful in securing money from the Coastal Communities Fund particularly to focus on engineering apprenticeships and are looking to use this funding widely.

It was a great privilege to address the International Women's Day conference organised by UCS at Trinity Park. The theme this year was on Inspiring Change and Working Together to Achieve your Full Potential. I particularly spoke on our report on The Executive Pipeline of Talent, which addresses issues and makes suggestions to help women into senior management roles. I really enjoyed the speeches from other contributors too. The event was really well organised by students from UCS – they should be very proud. I was also lucky enough to attend a reception at No.10 celebrating this day meeting fabulous, successful women from all walks of life. I discussed our educational challenges with headteachers, a new film called Suffragette – part of which is to be the first ever filmed in Parliament – with Helena Bonham-Carter, the latest WI campaigns with their President and also met various sports stars, including members of the victorious Ashes-winning England cricket team and our latest gold medallist, Lizzie Yarnold. It is so interesting to hear what drives these women to achieve and more importantly, how they help others do so too.

Much has been written about the Chief Constable's plan to share a police control room and back office with Norfolk Police - the former in Norfolk, the latter in Suffolk. This is rightly for our Commissioner, Tim Passmore, to decide and he will have my full support whatever he chooses. I was not impressed with the challenge of a so-called Falklands moment, implying cowardice on Tim's behalf if he did not reject the plan. Other emergency services already share control rooms across counties so I do not believe there would be an increased risk to safety. However, I do recognise the disruption this would lead to local families and I think it is right that Tim is asking the Chief Constable to look at more options on saving money.

Finally, I had the pleasure of attending the Viking Exhibition in the British Museum, which was highly appropriate given the latest find in Rendlesham of the royal village. Later this year, the Sutton Hoo treasures are to be opened in a new gallery at the British Museum. I hope they can find some room for the newly-excavated treasures."

05 MAR 2014

Evening Star Column - 4th March 2014

"Yesterday I chaired the inaugural meeting of the Suffolk Coast Energy Board. This is a new venture building on the models from Somerset and Anglesey. It brings together business, councils, education and Government departments to ensure we have a joined up approach to this exciting economic opportunity as well as having more champions in the Civil Service. I thought it was a very useful start and we have identified four work streams. It is intended to keep the public updated as we progress. A lot of work is already happening specifically on the Sizewell C planning application. This body is not intended to duplicate that detailed work but to bring the different strands together to have a laser like focus on ensuring Suffolk takes advantage of the opportunities and that there is a long lasting legacy for any investment secured, whether that will be from Sizewell or the off-shore wind industry.

The Felixstowe Fire station consultation closes today. As I put in my column a month ago, the current situation helps no-one so while I have expressed concerns, I have focused my response on getting larger number of on-call firefighters and a higher proportion of those to be trained as drivers. Going back to having full-time fire crew all week is not feasible but spreading the load amongst more volunteers is.

It is National Apprenticeship Week - a time to celebrate and highlight this important route into work for young and old alike. Retraining is likely to be a key element of ensuring we have a sufficiently skilled workforce to support major energy and construction projects coming to out county. I will be visiting SPR Trailers in Felixstowe this week to see how they develop their apprentices. Earn while you learn is rather an attractive proposition. For more information online, visit www.apprenticeships.org.uk or www.thesource.me.uk/jobsandcareers

We celebrate International Women's Day this week. I am delighted to be speaking at an event organised by University College Suffolk, highlighting the report I co-authored last year focusing on increasing and strengthening the pipeline of executive women managers to become the board directors of the future.

Last week I joined a small group of MPs and many bingo players to present a petition with over 300,000 signatures calling for fair play on government taxes. There is no good reason for bingo players to pay more duty than those betting on football or the horses. I hope we get this changed in the Budget. I also took the opportunity to press the Chancellor to consider helping those households off the gas grid. Heating your home without mains gas is considerably more expensive. a boost to the fund to connect more homes to the grid would be welcome."

27 FEB 2014

Evening Star Column - 25th February 2014

"Parliament is back from recess, straight into a debate on holidays during school term-time. As a former school governor, I strongly support the move to restrict time out of school to be for exceptional reasons. I have had four emails explaining that holidays during term time are the only way families can have quality time together. Sorry, I don't buy that. There is certainly a link between attendance and performance. It should not be for teachers to help students catch up. I appreciate the prices of holidays can change significantly but that could be said for the prices of other items – rail tickets or even cinema tickets. We only really get one chance at education. We should maximise that chance.

I want to pay tribute to Andy Wood, Chief Executive of Adnams, who has been an excellent chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership, New Anglia. Andy has steered this fledgling group to be a credible, trusted organisation bringing together private enterprise and the public sector, focusing on creating even more jobs and prosperity for hard working people in Suffolk and Norfolk. New Anglia LEP also has a role to play on infrastructure. It has joined some of its funds with that of the Government to support flood defence work in Ipswich – welcome news to attract new investment to the county town.

I was in Southwold to launch the new superfast broadband service in that busy coastal town. Areas of Saxmundham, Aldeburgh, Leiston and Knodishall were also connected in the last few days. Most of Felixstowe and The Trimleys are already covered. If you want the higher speeds, you do have to contact your internet provider or pick a brand new one.

One of our MEPs, Vicky Ford, was in the area last week to catch up on local economic projects. I know she was in Ipswich to see the new business park. She also joined me visiting Sizewell. Vicky is actively involved in discussions with a European Commissioner to press the case for the necessary investment in our nuclear power stations. It was useful to get an update on the existing power station as well as future plans.

I spoke to our regional Network Rail director regarding the Felixstowe line. He agreed that recent performance had been woeful. He cited that some of the issues were beyond control as freight trains had been delayed from other parts of the country with various flooding issues as well as reliability of some of the current carriages. I still need to get Greater Anglia and Network Rail in the same room to sort this out but I am expecting better performance in the weeks ahead.

Half-term for children may have provided a useful chance to recharge the batteries in the spring sunshine in our beautiful part of Suffolk. Readers will know that much of our historic coastline is also regarded as an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). I was pleased to attend the launch of the Suffolk Coast and Heaths AONB Strategic Management Plan which celebrates much of our area and gives key points to include on future developments – economic, planning, housing and, for me the new perspective of health. It is vital to keep the balance right for our physical health and mental health.

A useful meeting with the water abstractor group in the newly reopened Crown at Snape allowed me to have a separate discussion on possible repairs to river walls. I will continue to follow up with our councils and agencies to ensure we are doing what we can to restore our sea and river defences locally. I will certainly be pressing the Prime Minister for the support we need here in Suffolk."

19 FEB 2014

Evening Star Column - 18th February 2014

"The Prime Minister has announced extra support for householders and businesses affected by the recent floods, which includes those areas like Suffolk which suffered before Christmas. Highlights include a £10M fund for farmers with waterlogged fields, £10M for small businesses to help keep trading and a £5,000 grant for households and small businesses for individual resilience and flood prevention work. Thankfully Suffolk has not suffered as badly as the South West but for those business people and homeowners affected, I appreciate the devastation and disruption they feel. The Environment Agency is hosting a series of events this week in Woodbridge, Snape, Hollesley, Orford and Waldringfield this week. You can see more on my website www.theresecoffeymp.com or www.gov.uk/government/news/uk-winter-storms-2014-government-response#gov-announcements.

The news that the Port of Felixstowe has received permission to extend Berths 8 and 9 is most welcome. There will be 37 cranes on the skyline servicing these two berths (a welcome sight from my new office in Felixstowe) acting as a constant reminder of the importance of this industry to our peninsula. This extra investment will ensure that the Port continues to lead the way in the UK and receive the largest ships in the world. Combined with the new warehouse, this economic boost is good for inward investment and sustainable jobs.

It was depressing reading that Greater Anglia came joint bottom in the passenger satisfaction survey conducted by Which. I am a critical friend of Greater Anglia as I genuinely believe that they are improving the service (like the hourly trains to Lowestoft and the ticket machines) but I appreciate the frustrations when services are cancelled at very short notice, as is being experienced by regular users of the service for Felixstowe and the Trimleys. Councillor Newman is right to raise this issue and I have asked both Greater Anglia and Network Rail to meet us to assess what can be done. Part of the problem is the freight line, which is why dualling and the interim loops are important to resolve this in the medium term.

The new Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Service, Dr Anthony Marsh, was in Parliament this week to brief East of England MPs on the steps he is taking to turnaround the performance of the Service. Regular readers will know I have been vocal about improving the Service for all patients. I was impressed by the candour of Dr Marsh who set out his priorities – recruitment, more ambulances out on the roads within the next month and even more later this year and maximising the number of trained paramedics on the frontline – ending assignments in office-based roles. In particular, Dr Marsh fully accepted that the long waits in rural and town areas were unacceptable. Instead of focusing all his effort on the national targets, he wants to ensure that if an ambulance is needed, then that response time is what is measured and focused on , not just the initial response by a rapid response car or a community first responder. Sadly, this is going to take longer than anyone of us would like but for the first time in years, I really do have confidence that we have a credible plan focused on outcomes for every patient with a proven ambulance leader.

Finally, many congratulations to Lindsay and David Wright of The Cake Shop Bakery in Woodbridge's Thoroughfare as they were crowned "Britain's Best Bakery" in the ITV competition. Beating off stiff competition in the final from Yorkshire and Birmingham, it was tremendous to watch this third generation of bakers cream the others with their gorgeous wedding cake. This is another feather in both Woodbridge's and Suffolk Coastal's cap, extending our reputation as the culinary capital of Britain's coast."

12 FEB 2014

Evening Star Column - 11th February 2014

"Every cloud has a silver lining may be a cliché or reflects a sunny disposition on life but that phrase sprang to mind in light of the flooding issues currently being suffered by the South West. It has opened up the discussion on how we value agricultural land and not just people's homes for justifying public money being spent on defences. Furthermore, the issue of how various European regulations on water, waste and habitats has been interpreted and put into practice has surprised many at the top of government. Along the Suffolk coast and estuaries, these issues are encountered regularly but rarely reach the Cabinet table. This sustained weather and flooding has made sure it is the top priority for the Prime Minister. Once this deluge is over, I hope we can get some reasonable action on what we can and cannot do to help with erosion. At times, it seems common sense gets left outside – e.g. how dredged silt is designated and can or cannot be reused to support sea defences, with expensive assessments and licensing to make it happen.

Saturday was National Libraries Day and I enjoyed the talk given in Saxmundham Library by two publishing legends, Liz Calder and Sarah Odedina. It was very interesting to hear the insights of the world that help authors get their books onto the shelves and into our homes. Both have distinguished careers though possibly their biggest commercial success story was the publication of the Harry Potter novels. I must confess that I do not read books very much (partly because I have so much reading to do for Parliament) but I do enjoy listening to books. This event inspired me to set aside some time to settle down with a novel. I took the opportunity to join the Friends of the Library while I was there.

MPs have been asked to comment on the Local Enterprise Partnership's Strategic Plan. It is rather a hefty read at 122 pages and oddly seems to miss out the biggest economic opportunity for the East of England, i.e. Sizewell C. I find that these huge documents have many worthy elements in them but also fail to give the compelling vision and how each of us has a part to play in making it happen. 

It was very useful to catch up with local council leader Ray Herring. With Christmas intervening, it hd been a while and we spent much of our time discussing planning. The big event had happened the day before with the judicial review challenge on the site for new housing at Adastral Park being struck down. While the appeal process may run on, other housing applications were approved in Felixstowe. The key for these is to ensure that the final detailed plans mitigate against traffic issues and that the full quota of affordable housing is built.

The Opposition staged another debate on the NHS, focusing on A&E and emergency services with accusations of complacency. I certainly get riled with that accusation as readers will know, I am anything but complacent, particularly on ambulances. Instead, as I put it to Labour, by setting regional targets and sitting back without looking at the detail, they themselves were complacent, as were the Department of Health and that rubbed off on the old Board sadly. We have our next meeting on Tuesday to hear the latest view from the new Chief Executive. I will update readers next week.

On a disappointing note in Parliament, the Lords from Labour and Liberal Democrat parties effectively killed off the EU Referendum Bill by voting not to debate it further. It does seem extraordinary to me that won't let Britain decide."

04 FEB 2014

Evening Star Column - 4th February 2014

"Felixstowe Fire Station on Friday delivered more light on the third phase of the consultation as I was able to voice myconcerns and ask more questions on its impact. Thanks to our on call firefighters, officers, the union rep and local councillors for joining in the discussion. It seems that the current stage of having 4 full time firefighters allocated to Felixstowe in effect makes limited difference from having an on-call crew only as the permanent crew have to wait for on-call resource to leave the station. It cannot be doubted that the availability of a fire engine has reduced, though some of this appears to be when drivers are not available. What I did not know too is that when a call out happens from Felixstowe or when the watch commander knows that there is not enough cover, a crew relocates from Ipswich to our station. That was quite comforting. It seems that there are only two choices - go back to full time during the day or move to on-call but set in stone the assurances of more recruitment of on-call firefighters, the high proportion trained as drivers and the back up cover from Ipswich. I will be asking further questions before I submit my views. The consultation closes soon and I am keen to hear your thoughts.

Keeping the focus on emergency services, good news that the number of long ambulance handovers significantly fell this winter. Using the liaison officers at every A&E has helped dramatically. Meanwhile, the interim chairman of the NHS ambulance trust resigned last week. Dr Harris steadied the ship during 2013 and I thank him for that. After the CQC report last week which rightly continued to fail the trust on the key measure of response times, it was good to see so many people applying to become student paramedics.

The Environment Agency is certainly in the spotlight so it was good to catch up with local manager Charlie Beardall. He reported that we were fortunate that there had been no wind that night in early December else the flooding could have been considerably worse. The priority has been restoring the defences affecting people and property. As of writing, I am not aware what decision was made on Hazlewood Marshes near Aldeburgh. There are drop in sessions for areas affected by the tidal surge during February and more details are available on my website. In Parliament, I am continuing to put the case for greater involvement of Internal Drainage Boards. Meanwhile, the post of Environment Agency Chairman is up for grabs. While Lord Smith has made changes to improve the way of working, I hope we get someone who knows the countryside inside out, not just as a weekend visitor.

Over the weekend, I popped into East Green Energy in Woodbridge as part of Energy Saving Week to catch up with directors Linda and Robbie about helping those off the gas grid. They showed me the new biomass boilers available to households and we discussed the Green Deal. I am sorting out my own energy needs and I switched suppliers last week, saving 10% off my bill. I was also thrilled to see Trimley Station heading on a new track. Well done to Robert Scrimgeour and his dedicated team of volunteers for taking on this task. As ever, it needs your support so watch out for the quiz nights and other fundraising.

I had the pleasure of being a guest at Portman Road as Ipswich Town beat Bolton Wanderers. Pre and post match, it was a good chance to discuss all sorts of matters including governance, community outreach work, the Environment Agency and more besides. I have been to three games now and every time, the Tractor Boys have won. I may be a lucky charm but I am not volunteering to go every fortnight!"

28 JAN 2014

Evening Star Column - 28th January 2014

"I was pleased to join many entrepreneurs in London yesterday for the Federation of Small Business conference. These heroes and heroines take the risk to start their own business, using their own savings or house as a guarantee, working hard and many then take the next big step of employing someone else. Understandably, there is a lot of concern about access to finance which is why the Government has stepped up its support for small businesses. Starting this April, every business will get an employment allowance of up to £2,000, deducting that sum directly from its national insurance bill. For those people wanting to start their own company, the Government now offers start-up loans of up to £10,000 at a rate of 6%. Further access to finance through banks or community finance institutions has not proved easy for all businesses, which is why the Government has boosted the funding for lending scheme for banks while also widening the mentoring and growth accelerator schemes. The latest initiative starts this month - growth vouchers which pay for up to £2,000 of advice for micro and small businesses. Finally, if the UK market isn't big enough, there is also help to export. For further information on any of these schemes, a good starting point is www.gov.uk/bis .

During my twelve years in business, I worked for a large company but in our supply chain, we had a wide number of small businesses. I liked to think we had mutual success and another of the ways we helped small businesses was to introduce them to advanced manufacturing and processing techniques. Last week, I met EDF and our local councils with skills on the agenda. A key part of the plan is to retrain existing workers as well as coordination of our local FE colleges, focusing on their existing strengths. I was particularly pleased to hear of Suffolk One (a 16-18 college) really working hard to attract and develop young people in engineering and technical skills.

Felixstowe Fire Station is once more under threat. I am going through the consultation proposals very carefully but instinctively, I am concerned. It appears response times have increased and the second appliance is not always available. I will keep Star readers up to date.

This week is Energy Saving Week and is a big issue for policymakers as well as all of us paying our bills. Over 1 million households have switched energy supplier in the last few months. I intend to do that this week myself to get a better deal. If you do not have access to the internet, you can visit your local Post Office who will help you access this information or you can post your latest energy bills with your phone number to FREEPOST USWITCH. You can also call the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234.

I do wish our Opposition would learn their lessons from the past. Gesture politics is not the way to have a long-term sustainable economy. You would think from the huff and puff that the richest are not paying more tax, but they are. Since cutting the 45p rate, tax revenues from the richest in society have increased significantly (about 20% up from £41 billion to £49 billion). It is right that the wealthiest in our country should make the largest contribution. Playing around with headline rates for headlines in the papers does not necessarily generate the revenues to pay for hospitals, schools, police and our Armed Forces.

Thanks to Sutton Heath Parish Council which is staging a town-hall style meeting for me this Friday at 7pm in the Alan Crompton Hall. I look forward to seeing some Star readers there."

28 JAN 2014

Evening Star Column - 21st January 2014

"Since the Government came to office in 2010 we have been making significant changes to welfare and immigration to ensure that work always pays and to limit the number of people that come to seek work in this country. Under the previous welfare system millions of pounds were paid out for people to sit on benefits whilst those from abroad filled jobs which British people then couldn't get. Between 2005 – 2010 British people in work fell by 413,000; whilst the number of foreigners in the employment market rose by 736,000. Since 2010 British people in work has risen by 538,000 whilst the number of foreigners have risen by 247,000. Of that the most dramatic change happened within the last year, after coalition polices had started to take effect, in 2012-13 British jobs rose by 348,000 and foreigners entering the market by only 26,000. The figures show that talking about British jobs for British workers isn't just an empty promise our policies are helping to make it a reality. I am not going to say to readers that I oppose every bit of immigration. I don't. I would be a hypocrite if I were to welcome investment in Suffolk, particularly into the Port of Felixstowe and then try to block skilled workers. However, I am keen to ensure that we continue to strain every sinew to put our workforce in the best possible place to gain these jobs with appropriate skills training. This Friday, our joint council taskforce is specifically reviewing skills preparation in companies and our colleges. This is vital work to be done now if we are going to grab the opportunity.

I thoroughly enjoyed my evening at the Palace Bingo in Felixstowe on Friday night and was made very welcome by Vivienne and her team. Particular thanks to Jeff and Jean from Ipswich who kept an eye on me. I was there to support the Boost Bingo campaign which is seeking to make the bingo tax the same as that for other forms of gambling. I think that is sensible and have raised the issue before. I will be supporting the campaign again. Most clubs offer a pleasant, safe environment for people to relax, enjoy themselves and get very good value food as well as a bit of entertainment. While I managed to call out the first few numbers without difficulty, I did upset bingo etiquette by winning a substantial prize. However, I did pledge to give my winnings to the League of Friends at Felixstowe Hospital and look forward to passing on the cash soon.

I mentioned our European Fresh Start conference last week. It received substantial press coverage, particularly thanks to the speech by the Chancellor, George Osborne. I found the 2-day conference very useful, particularly meeting other MPs. I chaired a session on institutional reform. There was a lot of support for that. Elections to the European Parliament are happening in May and, like most parties, I will be out campaigning. I hope we include aspects of reform in our manifesto for this May.

Yesterday, I met the Head of Marine Planning at the Marine Management Organisation to discuss my consultation response to the Marine Plans in the East. I previously outlined my concern that offshore wind was being prioritised above other sectors like shipping, fishing, nuclear, oil & gas. I also made some suggestions for policies, for instance on coastal defences. We talked through my response and discussed where they had taken comments onboard. In my view the plan is now more balanced supporting a range of activities undertaken on the Suffolk coast and seas.

It was a busy day yesterday as I also led a delegation of MPs to meet officials in the Department for Energy, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Energy Saving Trust to discuss the Off-Gas Grid. Our aim is to establish what is required to overcome the barriers to enable the Winter Fuel Payment to be paid earlier, allowing consumers to take advantage of lower prices. This was one of the key recommendations in the Off-Gas Grid report that was published under my co-chairmanship last year."

14 JAN 2014

Evening Star Column - 14th January 2014

"21 households in Suffolk Coastal had their benefits capped as of the end of November. To be honest, that is 21 more than I expected but it is an example of our welfare reforms working. Meanwhile, for those affected by the spare room subsidy removal, the council is distributing discretionary housing payments. The Government increased the budgets to councils, recognising the transitions people would go through and the number of people who have had properties adapted to help them cope with disabilities. In Suffolk Coastal, after nine months, 60% of our allocation has been distributed. In Waveney, it is about half. That is what I reflected in questions to DWP ministers yesterday. I support the policy and I am pleased that the discretionary payments are being used appropriately.

Our recent headlines have been dominated by rows on EU rights and benefits. Meanwhile, the Lords have started considering the EU referendum bill. MPs can stand at the Bar of the House of Lords to listen to debates. This is most noteable at the Queen's Speech when there is quite a ritual. Otherwise, MPs attending a particular debate on legislation indicates the Commons is interested. As such, a few of us attending on Friday. I was quite shocked at how many mandarins - the types who served at the World Bank or UN - joined Labour Lords to decry the chance for the people to have their say. As Lord Dobbs said, it would be a brave unelected peer to so forcefully reject the will of the Commons but it seems some of them are determined to frustrate the legislation. Meanwhile, this week, politicians from around the EU are heading to London for the Fresh Start conference. I am proud to be part of this initiative which is suggesting ideas for returning powers to national parliaments and sharing that discussion with MPs from all EU countries. This is part of a constructive operation which is working now, rather than putting all the work on the shoulders of the Prime Minister. I hope we can make progress.

First week back in the House, water dominated. The Secretary of State for DEFRA gave a statement and I brought up issues of households and businesses still left devastated. Later, at DEFRA questions, I asked for consultation events to be held in Suffolk on abstraction reform. Suffolk Coastal farmers are rather good at using water sparingly to grow many of the crops (particularly potatoes) required to feed our country. They do rely on abstracting from aquifers and storage in reservoirs. It is vital to get this reform right and ensure that abstraction rights stay within the farming community, rather than 3rd party organisations. That was allowed to happen with fishing quotas - fishermen sold their quotas when they retired - and got us into a mess for our small fleet, which we are only just resolving, many years later.

I was in Snetterton on Friday morning for the Norfolk and Suffolk banking summit. I was pleased to see some local businesses there. I was pleased that progress seems to have been made. There is a specific issue on derivatives which is taking too long to resolve but at least compensation payments are on their way.

Credit to ITV local news on their initial bulletins on the first World War centenary, particularly involving schools. Does your village or town need to spruce up its war memorial? There are quite a few grants available, particularly from Lottery, to help. Please get in touch.

This week, I am getting ready to move out of my office in Woodbridge. My current landlords are selling up. I am hoping to move into a new office next week in Felixstowe by the Triangle. I look forward to seeing Star readers out and about."

08 JAN 2014

Evening Star Column - 7th January 2014

"2014 and the New Year Messages abound. I am optimistic for the year ahead both for Suffolk and for our country as a whole. While it has been good news that unemployment has fallen consistently over the last three years, regular readers will know that I want to do what I can to increase the prosperity of people across Suffolk by attracting higher value jobs to our area. All the work being done and still to be done in Ipswich, our county town, is vital to enhancing the status of Suffolk for attracting inward investment and jobs. Even Ipswich Town is doing its bit this season – come on you blues! Meanwhile, on the national level, while we have made great strides in bridging the gap on the deficit, there is still more to be done. That is key to do for the national and household economies. Keeping on that path has helped to keep interest rates low which may not be good for savers but is very helpful for mortgages. The Chancellor has signalled more of the same. To be clear, when Tony Blair was Prime Minister, average spending as a % of GDP was in the low 40's. We need to head back there after the boom and bust years and no doubt, that is proving harder than anticipated.

I was very impressed by the start made by our new Ambulance Chief Executive, Dr Anthony Marsh, who undertook a region-wide tour in his first few days meeting paramedics, technicians, care assistants and call handlers. Having that direct contact, communicating clearly, setting and managing expectations with the team is a great sign of leadership.

While Parliament started again this week, there was another opportunity to raise the issues relating to flooding. Later this week, we have the Norfolk and Suffolk Banking and Finance forum which I am co-chairing. It provides an annual catch-up for companies and banks to go through local access to finance issues. I hope we can really crack this nut this year. Start-up loans are now very straightforward but growth finance can still be challenging.

I am pleased to say it has been rather a quiet Christmas and New Year. The weather was particularly horrific for retailers locally, though I was pleased to get all my supplies from within two miles of home – including the tree. I took my mother and dog back to Hampshire and the constant rain has left fields in a sorry state. I noted driving around Suffolk that there is still much sign of the flooding from before Christmas. I will continue to work with agencies and government to get resources in the right places."

03 JAN 2014

Evening Star Column - 31st December 2013

"Happy New Year. I hope you all enjoyed a restful Christmas. I know several families and businesses are still recovering after the tidal surges, particularly in Snape and Iken areas. I will continue to liaise with the Environment Agency and government ministers on this.

The end of the year is a good excuse to have a look back over 2013. I spoke in Parliament 74 times asking questions, making speeches and contributions to debates. I asked 47 written questions. Partly helped by our A14 petition and the EU referendum, an additional 4000 constituents contacted me for the first time while my team and I have handled nearly 10,300 queries. I have continued to hold surgeries around the constituency. I enjoyed doing another tour around the constituency, stopping in over 80 places. I also held ten meetings regarding phase one of the Sizewell C project. Thanks to my team (those who are still here and those who have moved on) for their support.

2013 continued to provide plenty of issues to pursue. The A14 upgrade will start in 2016, now without a toll. Ambulance performance continued to be concerning and the entire board eventually resigned. Consultation has started on Sizewell C. The centenary of Benjamin Britten was celebrated with aplomb. The extraordinary Grimes on the Beach epitomised the glorious year and will mark a salutary farewell to Jonathan Reekie, Aldeburgh Music Director (or should I say Maestro). The power of nature was felt with St Jude's Storm and a tidal surge higher than in 1953. Fortunately, though not everywhere, defences largely held but power took too long to reconnect. Raising the Bar gives momentum to school improvement.

In Parliament, the event of the year was undoubtedly the recall to debate possible military action in Syria. Neither the motion of the Government nor that of the Opposition were passed. Parliament also commemorated the death of two statesmen of the 20th Century – Nelson Mandela and, with the special recall to commemorate, Margaret Thatcher, my political heroine. I co-chaired two inquiries into the off-gas grid and on the talent pipeline of executive women. Both came up with recommendations which I will continue to pursue. 4G mobile broadband will go ahead by 2017. Fishing quotas for smaller boats are to be increased and discards to be a thing of the past. 23 Engineers will remain at Rock Barracks.

Looking forward to 2014 and a few predictions - the key constitutional event is the Scottish referendum (I think the Scots will vote to stay in the Union) and I also hope the Lords will pass the EU Referendum Bill. I hope to see considerably more progress on ambulances; I have great confidence in the new chief executive Anthony Marsh but we also need our local GPs to press the case. The splendid new Grove GP surgery will open – the ongoing legacy of the Bartlett Hospital for current and future Felixstowe patients. Faster broadband will be widely available. The economy will continue to improve. We must have a laser-like focus on skills training for Sizewell C opportunities. I hope our levels of attainment at school will rise and local secondary school children will enjoy their new school building at Felixstowe Academy. I will continue to pursue fairer funding for health and education. We will commemorate the centenary of the start of WWI – adding significant poignancy to Remembrance Day services and the final withdrawal of Armed Forces from Afghanistan – and the 75th anniversary of the discovery of Sutton Hoo. I hope Felixstowe residents will see the phoenix rise from the Spa pavilion. I will celebrate taking Rizzo back to the Suffolk Show. Certainly, 2014 promises to be as busy as 2013. I hope Star readers enjoy a prosperous and peaceful New Year."

24 DEC 2013

Evening Star Column - 24th December 2013

"2013 is fast coming to a close. Where has the year gone? I'll do my end of year review next week but the last week in Parliament showed no signs of letting up with meetings on rail for Felixstowe, a roundtable at No 10 on steps forward to get more young women studying physics and maths plus various debates.

Big news came from the Ambulance Service with the decision to recruit Dr Anthony Marsh as the new Chief Executive for four days a week. Dr Marsh is continuing his role as CEO of West Midlands Ambulance Service. When Dr Marsh undertook his review in the summer, it crystallised many of the leadership failings in the service and gave positive suggestions on how to address the challenges. I found Dr Marsh to be very proactive in his communications with MPs and staff. I want to thank Andrew Morgan for his interim leadership. I think Andrew made a positive difference in his time, introducing local leadership and starting to tackle the culture change necessary. I believe Dr Marsh will bring his proven CEO skills and will accelerate the changes needed, particularly on recruitment and training.

We scored a partial win on NHS funding this week by getting an above average increase for our area. Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG (the group led by local GPs that allocates the funding of hospitals, community and mental health services here in Suffolk). That took a lot of campaigning internally to do. The allocation is now decided by the independent board of NHS England, which gets advice from its sub-committee. This year, and last, the sub-committee recommended a substantially higher increase for our area - which could have meant a slight reduction in parts of the north west, north east and London. However, even with politicians no longer making the decisions, the NHS, sadly, continues to be a victim of political correctness on funding and NHS England decided to give everyone at least an inflationary rise. As such, we will have to continue the campaign to get the full fair share that our area deserves. This is the same board whose chairman complains that politicians should not meddle in health. I agree that politicians should not be trying to run the NHS but it is our role to represent our constituents. If it had not been for our campaigns on funding or the ambulances or hospital treatment of the elderly, the issues could well have been buried. That is why I was pleased to see David Prior, leading the healthcare quality watchdog CQC, come out and support the scrutiny being applied.

As we brace ourselves for another storm, I was pleased to participate in Peter Aldous' debate on coastal flooding in Waveney. It is key for central Government to recognise the challenges not just for councils but for other bodies like our IDBs and Environment Agency to help fix local problems. I noted with concern the views of farmers in Martlesham about farmland being lost. I know there has been a temporary fix to the sluice but permanent solution is needed quickly.

Christmas time also brings one of the two MP-county council cabinet meetings to review key issues like budgets, education, broadband and similar. Over 10,000 households now have access to superfast broadband, thanks to funds from the County and Government. Lucky lot they are and I hope many of them sign up for these super speeds. Check out www.betterbroadbandsuffolk.com .

So finally to Christmas and a chance to enjoy various carol services. Felixstowe continued to excel with the 9 lessons service in St Mary's Walton. I popped in to the Half Moon which was buzzing; clearly Mary deserved her Best Newcomer Adnams award this year. A Merry Christmas to all Star Readers and a peaceful New Year."

17 DEC 2013

Evening Star Column - 17th December 2013

"While much of my time recently has been devoted to roads, it was very good to refocus on rail. Last week I joined my Suffolk Parliamentary colleagues alongside Transport Portfolio holder, Councillor Graham Newman, and Mark Pendlington from the Local Enterprise Partnership at the Suffolk Rail Conference in Endeavour House. It was an opportunity for us to hear from the Rail Minister, Stephen Hammond MP, who gave the keynote address, on the task force that has been set up to improve the speed of trains from London to Suffolk. This builds on the work already underway to increase capacity on the line. The Minister Hammond really understands the need to improve rail services to our part of the Country. As one of the UKs leading growth areas top quality transport infrastructure is essential. The first meeting of the taskforce takes place today, with my colleague Ben Gummer representing Suffolk.

The Key Stage 2 results for Suffolk Primary Schools were published last week. Regular readers of the Star will already know that these didn't make for good reading. Well done to those schools that achieved results above the national average but there is still a long way to go to make improvements that will offer sustained prosperity in the future for our young people. It is possible and I want to ensure that we do what we can to attract the best teachers to our fair county.

I was delighted to attend the unveiling of the Tommy Flowers memorial at BT's Headquarters in Adastral Park. It was a very moving occasion as we celebrated one of our greatest engineers. 70 years ago last week Tommy Flowers helped to develop the machine and technology used at Bletchley Park to decipher the German codes. He also created the first electronic programmable computer. As was eloquently said by Trevor Baylis (he of wind-up radio and energy fame), we should boost innovation and invention. The statue will be a reminder to the thousands of scientists and engineer who work at Adastral Park that one of them may change the future in ways unimaginable today. Thank you to BT for honouring him.

My Suffolk colleague, Peter Aldous MP, has secured an adjournment debate in the House of Commons tomorrow on flooding. This gives us a timely opportunity to question the Minister. It is essential we press for full funding for urgent works to be carried out to help repair the damage. I visited some more of the scenes of devastation. Snape Marshes looked more like the Broads and a lot of pumping was underway.

I was pleased to attend the opening of the new Emergency Resource Centre for Sizewell B. This has been constructed in response to the Weightman Report, with the interesting thought that we actually hope it will never be used. The technology is different to other power stations around the country and in a doomsday scenario, this centre would be brought into use. Baroness Verma did the honours and I look forward to welcoming her to Sizewell again in 2014.

I had a useful meeting with Flagship Housing Association, which looks after about 4000 properties in Suffolk Coastal constituency. We spoke about future demands for their services and I was pleased to hear progress on the building of the new bungalows in Felixstowe. I was also interested to hear that rent arrears are not becoming an issue, unlike the anecdotal evidence which is often cited in the chamber. That is good news and reflects well on Flagship housing managers being proactive.

Hamilton Road in Felixstowe was looking very festive at the weekend. I intend to do a mass communication to local businesses to ensure that they maximise their opportunity on business rate exemptions and similar from the Autumn Statement. I hope you continue to support our local retailers in the run up to Christmas."

17 DEC 2013

Evening Star Column - 12th December 2013

Celebrating A14 victory – good for residents and businesses

A great victory on the A14 was finally announced last week. I was so pleased to get the confirmation that the full scheme would still be going ahead in 2016, without the threat of tolling. I want to thank readers who signed the petition, the Chamber of Commerce who did a stellar job coordinating the business community, our councils and my fellow MPs. This was a well-worked campaign and by being factual, tenacious and consistent, we together achieved a great result. I believe that the issue of tolling would not have come up at all if it had not been for the dire state the economy was left in – borrowing more and more – however, we can put that behind us now and businesses can continue to invest with confidence in our county.


The floods hit with a vengeance last Thursday and again on Friday, with many places along the coast experiencing higher tides than in 1953. The community was warned well in advance and largely, the sea defences held firm. A greater issue appeared to be inland – particularly in Snape. I have spoken to the Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson MP, to make him aware of our local situation and also to praise the response of staff from the Environment Agency. I want to pay tribute to all those who helped. The Environment Agency did a great job getting out the warnings and also adding extra defences. Our emergency services, including the coastguard and RNLI, all contributed. The councils were exemplar in coordinating relief efforts and I was mightily impressed by the extra respite centres opened up in some villages and towns to help local people. The Suffolk community spirit certainly shone through. I will be following up on the A12 closure at Blythburgh to understand what is still holding up the work to be done on raising the road. I am also pressing Greater Anglia on replacement travel services. I could not get back to Suffolk on the Thursday due to disruption on the trains (perfectly understandable that night) but visited a number of places on the Friday and Saturday, including Felixstowe Ferry. Sailing club members had pulled together to sort out the ground floor and I was pleased to buy some herring from Spring Tide Fish – which had suffered considerable damage. I know how hard businesses were hit and that it will take a while for some of them to reopen. Please do support your local business when they do.


It so happened that this Saturday was also the UK's first ever Small Business Saturday- an initiative to back small and local retailers. I was delighted to visit and support a number of small businesses on Saturday. I started by formally opening a new florist – Lilac Thyme – at Woodbridge Railway Station, had a tyre fixed at Woodbridge Tyres in Martlesham as well as visit and support businesses in Felixstowe and Saxmundham. The Autumn Statement, just a few days before, brought good news for small businesses, particularly retailers on the High Street. Announcing the extension of small business rate relief, the Chancellor George Osborne also announced that for those shops and pubs with a rateable value up to £50,000 a year, they will get a discount on their business rates. Combine that with a £2,000 cut on employers' National Insurance, I think we are really helping on the frontline. Another measure I particularly welcomed was the removal of Employers NIC for employees under the age of 21. Combined with our boost for apprenticeships, this should really encourage employers to take on young people.

02 DEC 2013

Evening Star Column - 26th November 2013

"The proposed Marine Conservation Zone around the Port on the Stour & Orwell rivers is not going ahead, lifting the veil of uncertainty for the Port and marine activities and reassuring for over 300,000 jobs in this area. This welcome news was confirmed by Marine Minister, George Eustice MP, in the Commons last week. I received many representations from constituents and businesses, including local fishermen, the Harwich Haven Authority and the Port of Felixstowe, expressing strong concerns about the blanket coverage of the zone and the uncertainty of restrictions for future marine activities. I formally objected to the designations for Suffolk and pressed the case in debates and meetings with various ministers. Together we met the Secretary of State for DEFRA and I also met the Marine Minister to press the case. The excellent work already undertaken to protect our local habitat, with several areas already designated to the highest possible levels, coexisting with marine activities has been recognised. It has been a pleasure to work with Harwich MP Bernard Jenkin MP on this issue, showing Essex and Suffolk can work together in the common interest!

Day 3 in the House to debate the EU Referendum Bill. No, not a Parliamentary version of Big Brother but at times it felt as ridiculous as we suffered rather extensive filibustering by Labour and Lib Dem MPs seeking to stop this Bill going ahead. We have one more Friday, hopefully, to get this Bill through the Commons and then it goes to the Lords. It may not be for everyone the most important issue for voters but the EU has changed considerably since the last referendum 28 years ago. Now while the EU Act that I voted for in 2011 provides for referendums on future transfers of powers, David Cameron wants to get back powers from Brussels and that will take some time to negotiate. Then we can have a referendum on a better EU or withdrawal, rather than the status quo.

I was encouraged by the reforms to the NHS that Jeremy Hunt announced last week - really putting the patient at the heart of all that is done and using transparency to do that. The reforms include the publications of staffing levels for patients to Monitor, Ofsted-style ratings for hospitals and measures to prevent failed directors from walking into a job elsewhere in the NHS boosting accountability. It is important we create a culture within the NHS that leads to more openness so people can feel confident to speak up when they think something is wrong and be sure that it will be properly investigated. There is no magic formula that determines how many staff should be on a ward at any one moment but this transparency will help inform both patients and the management. One of the lessons we saw in the changes in James Paget Hospital two years ago was that within weeks of the arrival of the new Chief Executive, although numbers of clinical staff didn't change, a greater presence on the ward was seen – demonstrating that clear direction from leadership can make a big difference. I strongly welcome stopping failed directors from moving from NHS job to NHS job and I received assurances in the House that this also applies to the Ambulance Service. These checks on previous records is a good test for the CQC to apply when considering appointments of directors within the NHS.

And finally, I am delighted Suffolk Chamber of Commerce and the County Council are joining me and other Suffolk MPs to lobby the Secretary of State on Transport regarding the A14 later this week. It has been a great team effort that I hope will pay dividends."

22 NOV 2013

Evening Star Column - 20th November 2013

"I met the Chancellor of the Exchequer last week along with other Suffolk MPs to discuss the proposed toll on the A14following our meeting with the Prime Minister last month. It was another useful meeting and we put across a strong economic case that the scheme should not be a tax on the success of Suffolk businesses. East Anglia is one of the leading growth areas in the UK and we made it clear to the Chancellor that the A14 should not be the only road improvement scheme singled out for a toll. The Chancellor listened intently to our concerns. The Business Minister, Michael Fallon MP, was in Suffolk on Friday and I arranged for him to visit Felixstowe Port. We took the opportunity to put our concerns on the impact of tolling on Suffolk businesses. I am due to meet the Secretary of State for Transport next week with Suffolk Chamber of Commerce. I hope that by continuing to press the case we can get a change of mind. Thanks to readers who are still sending in the petitions. I will present them informally next week.

Over 300,000 people in the Haven Gateway are reliant on the Port for jobs and I am mindful that it is not just issues like the A14 that impact the Port. One of the main attractions of DP World recently opened in Essex is its huge logistics park – purporting to be the largest in Europe, when it is finished. That is why Ben Gummer and I convened a roundtable summit with shipping lines, the Port and the council leaders and officers. We wanted to have a closed forum which allowed for open exchange on what infrastructure we should be anticipating as support for the logistics industries. Trinity College is putting forward Innocence Farm as a future distribution centre or remanufacturing site. I know that would be the thin end of the wedge for development right along the A14 and displacing, wrongly, agricultural land. It was a very useful meeting and we will be regrouping early in the New Year.

Parliament had a short recess last week which allowed me to fit in extra meetings and also to visit two schools. The first was Felixstowe Academy to follow up with Mr Salter and Mr Chamberlain, Executive Principal, after the summer results which had proved disappointing. It so happened that Ofsted was doing its follow-up inspection. It is important to get things right as our children only have so many years at school. While re-taking exams can happen, it is a fall-back option. I know the school and its governing body are working hard to make that step change. I also visited St Mary's Primary School in Woodbridge as part of Parliament Week and enjoyed a question and answer session with pupils. It is important we engage with our young people about the political process at an early stage and I was pleased to answer their rather difficult questions.

Finally, I was delighted to name the St Cuthbert pilot boat in the Suffolk Yacht Harbour in Levington Marina to celebrate the 150th year of the Harwich Haven Authority. The new boats cost £1 million each and provide a much more spacious environment for the crew, as they transport a pilot to the enormous container ships, guiding them into their berth safely. Fortunately, the bottle of fizz did smash properly so a bout of bad luck has been averted. I am looking forward to going out on a full trip with the team and learn more about this side of the shipping industry."

14 NOV 2013

Evening Star Column - 12th November 2013

Thank you to the 2,292 people who signed and returned the A14 petition that I presented to Parliament last Friday. This is oneof the largest petitions presented in recent times and reflects the strength of feeling. The Chancellor was in Suffolk and Norfolk last week. The excellent John Dugmore of the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce posed the question if the Government was listening to the views in the consultation. A one-word answer sufficed, "Yes". After meeting the Prime Minister a fortnight ago, I have arranged for Suffolk MPs to meet the Chancellor this week. At the end of the month, a delegation from Suffolk Chamber is joining us to meet the Secretary of State for Transport. I hope we can get the decision changed but no promises have been made.

"It is Parliament Week and I am delighted to have been invited by Year 3 in St Mary's Primary School in Woodbridge to join them. Politics regularly gets a bad press and a notorious comedian suggests we should not vote at all. Of course, I disagree but last Friday in Parliament showed many MPs trying to assert the will of the public on the EU referendum with others determined to stop it. This particular stage of trying to get a Bill through the Commons is the most difficult as, sadly, we had Labour and Lib Dem MPs filibustering and trying to "talk out" the Bill. In order to minimise the time taken to debate these amendments, many of us did not speak while Labour MPs talked at length on various issues but then decided not to put their amendment to a vote. I hope we get it through, we will be back on Friday 22nd November for the next attempt. If we don't, I will remind Labour and Liberal Democrats that they blocked the people having their say.

This week is themed as Export Business Week. One of the ways we will keep growing our economy will be to export, both to Europe and beyond. I have previously held an export seminar with our government agency, UKTI, and will do so in 2014. If you want more information, contact www.ukti.gov.uk .

Ben Gummer and I met the Eastern Regional Inspector of Ofsted, Sean Harford, to discuss their findings of their school inspections with the implications for the local authority. A few schools improved or maintained their rating, which will be encouraging for parents, staff and the children. However, many inspections saw schools downgraded with the consequence that Suffolk has a higher proportion of schools rated Inadequate than the regional and national average. Raising the Bar is one opportunity for change. As important is governing bodies making appropriate, constructive challenge. If you are not a governor and want to get involved, please step up and make the difference locally.

Finally, I attended services of Remembrance in the centre and northern end of my constituency on Sunday in Southwold and Halesworth, while joining the Saxmundham Remembrance yesterday morning. I was pleased by the number of young people attending as well as veterans, proudly standing tall. We should emphasise the importance of Remembrance Sunday in every village and town to young people. It provides a special opportunity for generations to mix and to hear the; experiences of those who served our country in the World Wars. Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori. These words were first recorded in 23BC by Horace in his Odes, though better known in Wilfred Owen's war poem as "the old lie". In many Sunday services though, the words from the Gospel of St John (15:13) would have been read - "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." RIP to those brave people who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We will remember them."

05 NOV 2013

Evening Star Column - 5th November 2013

"It is National Adoption Week and I was proud to attend the launch in Suffolk on Monday. Last year, Suffolk County Council placed 74 children for adoption and now are seeking to place more children into a loving home. I was pleased to pay tribute to the council officers working in this key area, who gained an Outstanding Ofsted rating, but they are keen to do even better. There are several myths about adopting is that you need to own your own home or be working full-time. Actually, those people in a stable arrangement renting, working part-time and so on are all considered. Across the country there are 4000 children hoping to be adopted. The satisfaction it brings to have a child in a loving home must be tremendous. It was great to hear from one parent Jo who has now adopted three children. The Government is encouraging more people to come forward and is trying to make it easier to do so. Could it be you? The local number to contact for more information is 0800 389 9417 or you can look on the county council website.

I met the Customer Service Director of UK Power Networks Matt Rudling to go over the events of last week. I had already paid tribute to the company for getting in extra engineers to tackle the extraordinary number of households disconnected due to the storm. Where I had been critical was the lack of overview on affected areas or certainly what had been communicated to me. We had a constructive exchange on what actually happened, some of the lessons learned and how that could have been communicated more effectively. I didn't know that UK Power Networks had hired every available calor gas heater to put into vulnerable people's homes or, in some cases, had offered to put people up in hotels. The clear challenge was to get people reconnected. However, communicating and managing expectations is also very important as is setting up relief centres. I am pleased that UKPN is proactively contacting customers who are entitled to compensation and are doubling the statutory amount. Let's hope there isn't a next time when this level of disruption happens but if it does, I am sure both the emergency work will be done and the communication to customers will be improved.

Regular readers will know that I am passionate about educational attainment as I believe that we need to up our game to attract and take advantage of high-value jobs. Suffolk New College took on the old Chantry High School and is now the identified sponsor for Alde Valley School, which received an Inadequate rating recently. These are big challenges for the College to undertake so it was very useful to spend some time with Principal Professor Dave Muller to talk it through. I am confident that we can make significant improvements though it will make some extraordinary demands on all who contribute to making a school successful.

Finally, I met the Prime Minister to discuss the A14 last week. I was pleased that all the other Suffolk MPs were there, apart from one who could not get out of duties in the Chamber at the same time. It was a key opportunity to put across strongly the perceptions of residents and businesses in Suffolk who feel that this is a tax on their success and could damage our economic growth. Thanks to the other MPs who are working on this. I hope we can get a change of mind. On that note, I am presenting the petitions of residents this Friday. If you want to add your name, please send the petitions back to me by then."

05 NOV 2013

Evening Star Column - 29th October 2013

"The Big Storm will be top of mind for many. First, can I pay tribute to our emergency services for fixing the problems as quickly as possible. Secondly, a big thanks to the Star and other media sources as they kept us all informed on the latest. Knowledge is power they say. At least, folks could plan what they were doing. I appreciate that rail travellers may have been frustrated but I thought it sensible for Greater Anglia to announce the night before that they would not be running trains. To some extent, we have been lucky it is half-term week – which often makes for quieter roads and trains – but I know the council and others have worked hard.

One benefit which may arise is that after our storm of nothernly winds just a few weeks ago, the effect of the Southern winds could be to rebuild some of the beaches. Every cloud has a silver lining. Thanks to Bill Parker and his team for doing a great job up at Thorpeness. I hope their efforts have been helped rather than hindered by the last 24 hours. I was pondering what if more damage had been done, relating back to 1987. I understand approximately a million trees blew down in Rendlesham Forest, which were replanted. Nowadays, I have been told that we would not be allowed to replant as "nature had taken its effect". Somehow, I think we would have had a mass planting but fortunately it hasn't come to that. Up in Westminster, government didn't quite grind to a halt when a crane crashed on top of the Deputy Prime Minister's office but it led to Whitehall being closed to traffic. St Jude's Day. Hopeless cases. I'll leave it there.

I am sure readers will have been concerned to see that Ipswich Hospital has been put in Band 2 of the CQC risk register. I have been in touch with CQC on the matter. This assessment has been based on over 150 indicators. As a consequence, the Hospital will be inspected at some time during the first few months of 2014. I do support the move to have more regular, risk-based inspections focusing on patient safety, care and experience. I expect the Board and the Staff to be doing what they can to tackle the issues leading to the proposed inspection.

The Prime Minister took the fight to bin Brussels bureaucracy last week, brandishing the EU red tape review undertaken by 6 business leaders from a wide range of industries. Focusing on competitiveness, the review recommended removing unnecessary legislation, particularly for small businesses, while also adding protection for fees charged to retailers and SMEs. Access to the single market brings prosperity and jobs but we should also press on with the need to reduce complexity and remove barriers to success, not just for the UK but for all of Europe.

Following up on energy bills, I am encouraging everyone who pays by direct debit or standing order to check their account balances and get back their large credit balances in the form of cash, rather than allow their payments to drop significantly for a few months. Having payments see-saw is bad news for those budgeting on fixed incomes and at least you can earn some interest with your bank rather than it sitting in your energy account.

Finally, it is time for fireworks celebrations. I hope to be enjoying quite a few of the festivities, particularly in Felixstowe. I have been invited to do the countdown at Saxmundham Free School (the dizzy heights of duties for an MP) next Monday but I hope all those on half-term have some fun but not too much mischief in the week ahead."

29 OCT 2013

Evening Star Column - 22nd October 2013

"It was announced yesterday that the construction of Hinkley C would now progress after a very long negotiation between the Government and the EDF, as well as the co-financing by a Chinese investor. Obviously I am pleased that this important project is going ahead. Firstly, it is important for our energy mix that we continue to have a new nuclear programme for the UK, as nuclear provides the baseload of our electricity consumption. Secondly, it is also encouraging for our own Sizewell C project which was always going to be subject to the green light for Hinkley C. I hope and expect the momentum will now return. Now is also the time for contractors to register their interest in the supply chain, both in Hinkley and Sizewell. Log on to hinkleysupplychain.co.uk and sizewellc.glooberry.com for more information.

Thank you to readers who have sent in their A14 petition. I intend to present it on 8th November so there is still time to send it in. At the 30 minute debate I led in Parliament, I was pleased to have support in person from my colleagues Ben Gummer, Peter Aldous and David Ruffley. We all contributed and in essence put across our concern that this toll could impact the economy and prosperity of Suffolk. While I did not put the question fully in PMQs, I am pleased to have secured a meeting with the Prime Minister.

Another bad week for consumers as some energy companies announced large price rises. There are companies out there already offering a price freeze if consumers want to sign up. One of the reasons for pressing ahead with nuclear and investigating shale is to increase the self-reliance of energy rather than importing and being increasingly reliant on the world's wholesale markets. The other concerning factor is how monthly payments are shooting up significantly - something which I am pursuing in Parliament. Later this week I also have a meeting with Iain Duncan Smith relating to an earlier winter fuel payment for off gas grid consumers. It sounds simple but the admin of it is proving extraordinary to shape to help those who would get a better deal by buying oil in the early autumn, rather than in the thick of winter.

Last week, the Royal Engineers came twice to Parliament. First we had the Reserves being celebrated. Another MP is an officer in the RE Reserves. It was interesting to hear how the increase in reservists will be handled, particularly with this most versatile of corps. Meanwhile on Friday, it was a pleasure to meet many of the officers from Rock Barracks as my team gave them a tour, part of a day in London visiting the MoD and similar.

The commissioners of ambulance care came to speak to us in Parliament, including a Felixstowe GP. I raised my concerns that looking at the level of Ipswich and East Suffolk will continue to mask the huge variety in service that residents enjoy. While the risk of data overload may be cited, better to have transparency so outcomes can be understood.

And finally, it was a real pleasure to attend the Civic Reception for the Mayor of Felixstowe. This is an opportunity to catch up with leaders and representatives of the many groups that contribute to community life in the town."

15 OCT 2013

Evening Star Column - 15th October 2013

"The A14 consultation closed yesterday but the campaign continues. I have managed to secure a debate this Wednesday and as luck would have it, I have drawn in the weekly raffle to have a question to the Prime Minister. Thanks to the many folks shopping in Felixstowe this weekend who signed the petition that I will present to Parliament. For the avoidance of doubt, please keep sending in the petitions. I intend to present that on 8th November and the more signatures I have, the better. I do want to commend the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce on their campaign. We will keep working together on the issue as well as broader topics relevant to businesses in Suffolk.

The A14 and roads more generally were a key issue for discussion at the business dinner with the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce in Parliament last week. It was a pleasure to have a candid exchange with some of our best small businesses the length of the Suffolk Coast. Apart from the A14, we also discussed the A12 and the A47. Both are important arteries for traffic for Lowestoft, with the A12 being key for our coastal areas and a future major road for the Sizewell C power station. Skills and education were also a hot topic. I was pleased to see the level of support for Raising the Bar and the employability of our young people being a priority.

Building on education and ensuring we focus on progress for all children, I warmly welcome the enhanced school league table criteria that will focus on a broader range of subjects and the levels of progress made since leaving primary schools. This is welcome news for all children and parents. I also asked the Minister to make this data as early as possible so that parents are as well informed as they can be in deciding which secondary school their child should attend.

I met the Regional Inspector of Ofsted last week to go through some recent inspections in our area and to discuss some of the measures that are important to assess the progress of children in our schools. Ofsted is due to present its wider findings on education in Suffolk, based on its recent inspections, by half-term. It is important that we get behind Raising the Bar and keep focused on the building blocks of literacy and numeracy that are key to our future national prosperity.

The Bill to reduce Employers' National Insurance contributions by £2000 was presented in Parliament this week. This is very good news for over a quarter of businesses in that it will mean they no longer pay this tax or it may encourage them to take on one or two extra employees. Every business environment needs a mixture of large, medium and small to prosper but we know the greatest employment growth opportunities are with our very smallest businesses. This is one of many measures which I hope we will enact and you can learn more at thesmallbusinesscampaign.com

The local NHS patient watchdog is seeking your views on stroke treatment, which will allow people to leave hospital and be cared for at home more quickly than now. To respond to the questionnaire run by Healthwatch Suffolk, call 01449 703949 for a hard copy or go online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/newearlysupporteddischargeservices.

While all eyes will be on England vs Poland Tuesday night, I will be presenting a Parliamentary petition on replacement of the Blaxhall post box which has not been replaced after its theft. So far, other efforts have not borne fruit and I hope this does."

15 OCT 2013

Evening Star Column - 8th October 2013

"It was a privilege to attend the Suffolk Coastal Community Awards on Sunday. This event has been expanded from the Sports Awards and it rightly was rather a glitzy affair, recognising those who aspire to excellence and also go out of their way to help others. Council leader Ray Herring was absolutely right to say that this epitomises Suffolk and I was pleased to help celebrate their efforts.

I was very pleased that the Help to Buy scheme for all homes has been brought forward. I recall getting onto the property ladder with a 95% mortgage. I was able to pay less than on rent and started to over pay on the mortgage. When I wanted to move into a house, the deposit requirement had leapt to 10% and then just a day before I was due to exchange, the building society put up the deposit requirement to 15%. Emergency loans and credit card borrowing to get the capital sum ensued as I didn't want to miss out on the house but in many ways, I was fortunate to be able to do that. Aspiring to home ownership is a good aspiration and tradition in this country.

At Conference last week, I had the opportunity to speak briefly to Transport ministers and advisers on the A14, reiterating the reasons why we should not be singled out for a toll. The consultation closes this weekend and I encourage you to log on to the Highways agency website to have your say. I would also encourage you to sign the parliamentary petition. If a copy hasn't come through your door yet ,you can download it from my website.

Also up in Manchester, it was a good opportunity to catch up with Greater Anglia, Scottish Power and some other key players in Suffolk Coastal. The Government has already announced overall budgets on infrastructure and energy but there is still time to lobby on prioritising local projects. One of those is putting more freight on rail including electrification of Felixstowe to Nuneaton.

Energy is certainly a hot topic at the moment and proving quite a political debate, I was surprised to see that off gas grid residents appear to have been forgotten by the Opposition. Their much trumpeted policy of energy price freezes, which unravelled fairly quickly, ignores those who heat their homes with LPG or oil. I was also taken with the information regarding price rises back in 2009. Well, who was in charge of Energy then? Did he refer the Big 6 to the Competition Commission when he had the chance? No. Of course, governments have to prioritise what they do but frankly, it is difficult to understand what wasn't a priority just a short time ago now suddenly is.

This week, I am focusing on education again in Parliament. I am meeting the Regional Director of Ofsted and also having meetings on Felixstowe Academy, following meeting the relatively new Director of Education (Children's Services) for the County Council. One of the issues raised at various points on the constituency tour was our education system. I note the County Cabinet is pledging to back the Raising the Bar report. We certainly need to do what we can locally to help our youngsters grab their economic opportunities locally.

And finally, Parliament resumes this week and for me it will start with a musical note. I am delighted that the Chancellor agreed to allow No 11 Downing Street to be used for a reception to celebrate Aldeburgh Music in the centenary year of Benjamin Britten, focusing on its singing project for schools – Friday Afternoons. I attended the launch in Snape last year and the project has just grown and grown. It should be a great night."

04 OCT 2013

Evening Star Column - 1st October 2013

"I have launched a parliamentary petition on the A14 toll. Over 20,000 homes will receive a petition through their doors that can be posted free of charge to me at the House of Commons. It is important for residents and businesses to respond to the consultation and I hope that large numbers will sign the petition that I will present to Parliament. I am very annoyed that the Highways Agency is stalling on holding a consultation session in Suffolk. I will keep pressing but the consultation closes on October 13th. For more information, you can check my website theresecoffeymp.com/a14

Further good news from the Ambulance Service in that the Board has decided to withdraw its Foundation Trust application and focus its resources on resolving the internal issues. This is very encouraging and a good indication that the Board is focused itself on patients. In all the changes going through the Health Service, reinstating the patient at the heart of decision-making is the most essential. I am pleased we are seeing that in action.

The sun shone during my constituency tour last week. Thanks to the venues for hosting me and to residents who turned out for a chat. It was a good opportunity to show two new members of staff the glorious diversity of this part of the country. I made time to attend the opening speeches at the Raising the Bar conference. It was good to acknowledge pockets of excellence but also a reminder that we are in hurry-up mode. Later in the week, I met education chiefs with some councillors to focus on local schools that need to step up attainment progress. Ofsted is starting to release its reports of recent inspections. They make important reading for parents, governors, staff and local representatives alike.

The Royal Mail is being opened up for people to invest in it. Why are we doing this? The Royal Mail needs to invest in its network to improve productivity. While it is fully state-owned, it competes with schools, hospitals, roads and the railway for capital investment. Back in 2011, we enshrined in law the universal delivery service to every home in the UK. These changes will not mean an end to the Queen's head on stamps, existing arrangements for the blind and our Armed Forces will continue, there is a ten-year contract with the Post Office underway and the Royal Mail will continue to be regulated by Ofcom, as today. For more details of buying shares, log on to gov.uk/royalmailshares

My party conference is on this week in Manchester. Shoppers were disrupted by a large march on the Sunday, which was a shame for the retail sector. I was keen to ask the marchers why they hadn't been to Brighton to complain to Labour members about their cuts to the NHS in Wales where Labour has cut spending by 8%. Answer came none. With the conferences nearly over and talk already starting of TV debates, it does feel like the election campaigns are squaring up with policies being set out. I won't use this column to get into policy exchange but I enjoy conference not just for the set piece speeches but for the fringe events where people get into thorny detail of debate with think tanks that push boundaries but don't run for election! After conference, while in the North West, I am taking a few days off to catch up with family. I will be back in Suffolk on Sunday to enjoy Plough Day at Bucklesham and the Suffolk Coastal Community Awards plus am speaking to the Women's League at St Felix Church. Please do come and say hello."

04 OCT 2013

Evening Star Column - 24th September 2013

"Credit to the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce for leading a high-profile campaign against the toll on the A14 with the support of the Star and the East Anglian Daily Times. I will continue to press in Westminster and work with our local businesses and residents. Participating in the consultation is important which is why I am still pressing the Highways Agency to hold a session in Suffolk. As well as lobbying the Department for Transport, I am putting the case to the Treasury as they control the purse strings. To be clear, singling out the A14 for tolling while other road schemes are not is unfair on Suffolk residents and businesses.

A slight surprise this week in that a new permanent Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service was not appointed. I will continue to support the turnaround efforts and will trust the judgement of our new Board non-executive directors as they continue the search for the right person to lead our trust in this difficult time. Locally, I am pleased to see a new group of Community First Responders is starting on the Deben peninsula. Well done to Bev Lambert for getting over ten others involved. For more information, check out their website http://www.habss-cfr-group.org.uk/

It is good to see that Ipswich Hospital is opening its doors this coming Saturday. I think such days of welcoming the community are a great idea. I am particularly looking forward to getting a different view of the Hospital rather than the Chief Executive's office. The hospital will be open from 10-2. Higher up the coast, Leiston's exhibition of community activities is at the Victory Road Recreation Ground happens from 11-3. Also this weekend is the Aldeburgh Food Festival at Snape Maltings. This event continues to grow in size and importance. As a prelude, local tourism businesses are launching the Suffolk Coast destination. I am pleased to be joining them on Tuesday morning.

Getting around the many communities that I represent is something I try to do all year round but this week, I am making an intensive effort as I visit every parish and village during my constituency tour across the 302 square miles that comprises the constituency of Suffolk Coastal. I will be in the Felixstowe and Trimley areas on Thursday. For more details, please check my website www.theresecoffeymp.com for more details.

Primary school education results by local authority were released and while Suffolk is not in the bottom three, it is still in the bottom 20. The Raising the Bar conference is timely this week as our comparative results show that we are still struggling to help our young people achieve their best. As I suggested some time ago, making progress cannot solely be driven by teachers. However, I am concerned that next week there will be a strike in our schools. Both my parents were teachers. I know it is not an easy job but I am not sure what striking will achieve. I hope schools do their best to stay open helping children focus on some learning as well as helping hard-working families.

There is a national campaign building for Small Business Saturday on December 7th. In Felixstowe, that strategic intention of boosting the High Street was given a boost by the Council voting for an in-town supermarket but rejecting the edge and out of town supermarkets on the edge of Walton and by the port. It may seem contrary but by encouraging people to shop in a town within walking distance of small businesses, that footfall should help smaller businesses nearby. Personally, I think every Saturday should be a small business Saturday if we wish to keep our high streets vibrant as a mix of trade and leisure."

18 SEP 2013

Evening Star Column - 17th September 2013

"There was a welcome fall in unemployment again in Suffolk Coastal and across the country, including our young people too. Our part of Suffolk has the lowest employment across our LEP area of Suffolk and Norfolk but there is no room for complacency. I am following up with the County Council to understand the impact of the grant from the Coastal Communities Fund, which was to be focused on apprenticeships.

Having read in more detail the A14 consultation, it makes even more sense for there to be an exhibition in Suffolk. Some of the consultation is potentially confusing and clarity for residents and businesses is needed. I have written to the Highways Agency Chief Executive asking him to make it happen. I am also trying to arrange a meeting with the Chief Secretary to the Treasury regarding the tolling element. The Treasury is pressing hard on the tolling. While I have tabled a number of questions in Parliament, I want to push back on our area being singled out for a toll.

There is an important consultation out on Marine Planning Area, both inshore and offshore - check the Marine Management Organisation website. The plan focuses on economic growth with emphasis on offshore wind farms, though I am disappointed that shipping and the port barely gets a mention. Strictly the MPA does not include the port itself but certainly the shipping lanes are a large part of the area covered. I was also surprised that the fishing appears low down on the priority list. Please do contribute.

I was pleased to meet Annie Topping, Chief Executive of newly established Health Watch Suffolk, which is a patient watchdog that should give patients a voice on all health and social care services. Annie is taking the lead on liaison and scrutiny of the ambulance service. Membership is free. You can join online www.healthwatchsuffolk.co.uk or by calling 01449 703949.

I attended the second Ministerial round table for the Off-Gas Grid households. As residents in parts of Felixstowe know, this includes urban and rural areas. There was very good news that the main trade body has finally produced a code of conduct and customer charter. This is good progress. Ofgem also reported on its progress for a priority service register. DWP disappointingly will not shift on the Winter Fuel Allowance. I have more meetings lined up on this issue. In the mean time, September is often a good time to buy oil before the winter rush and price hike. Contact your local buying club or Suffolk ACRE.

I am very pleased to support the EADT's campaign to improve mobile phone reception. Some cash is being used to improve networks. I have already put Woodbridge Rugby Club in touch with the infrastructure company as a willing host to boost coverage. Ultimately we need companies to share masts. Some are doing that already but it is one of their points of differentiation.

Ofsted has descended on Suffolk to carry out 36 inspections. All schools were due to be inspected this term anyway. I will be keen to see the results and hope it shows significant improvement. I was pleased to be the guest speaker at Speech Day at Woodbridge School. I was very impressed by the young people at the school and those that were moving on. I know children in other local schools get a rich experience too. It is something I hope every Suffolk child enjoys.

Finally, I am doing my constituency tour next week. Over the best part of 4 days, I am criss-crossing the 302 square miles that I represent. Times and locations are online at my website (www.theresecoffeymp.com)."

18 SEP 2013

Evening Star Column - 10th September 2013

"The consultation on the new A14 bypass, local roads and tolling options were finally published this week. I have had a short time to look at the consultation document which confirms the toll (not 24 hour) for the through route. Importantly though, there are toll-free alternatives also included. I need to study the document in detail for the finer points and will update readers. I will continue to press the Government on this. I welcome that the improvements to the A14 will start sooner than originally planned but I do not welcome that the A14 improvements are singled out as the only road programme to have a toll element. What matters is that people and businesses across Suffolk give their views to the consultation in large numbers. I am concerned too that the Highways Agency is not holding a consultation exhibition in Suffolk. While the road changes are in Cambridgeshire and will benefit Cambridgeshire residents more than Suffolk residents, it is the through traffic that will bear the cost of tolling.

Another week in Parliament, another meeting on ambulances but on this occasion, I left the meeting considerably more upbeat though we are still awaiting some key work that is specific to the rural areas. What was different this time was that the plan presented by the Ambulance Trust (and signed off by NHS England) was more specific, action-orientated and with clear timelines. Also, the sum of the actions indicated that we should be back on track within six months - though that level of detail was not broken down at county level. We spoke in some detail on the recruitment and training of paramedics, the role of community first responders and progress on the detailed work on placement of ambulances and paramedics. For the first time, the aspirations felt backed up with detailed working and patients at the heart of the thinking. In short, it seemed credible and that is what gave MPs confidence. We expect to meet the Trust again in late October or early November. Next month, we are meeting the commissioner - the person who agrees the contract with the Trust on behalf of patients across the East of England - who happens to be a GP from the Ipswich & East Suffolk CCG. I will be keen to get his take on how he is assessing response times to areas other than major urban centres.

Syria continues to dominate much of Westminster thinking, though after the vote, a lot of attention has shifted towards the humanitarian effort on which the UK was already leading. I and some other MPs met a leading charity to discuss international development and aid more generally though unsurprisingly, most of our time was spent on the very difficult situation in Syria. I do believe readers should be proud that the UK is committed to helping others less fortunate than ourselves. Your taxpayers' money is being used to change people's lives and we should be proud of that. I do understand the sentiment that people are struggling at home so why do we help others? Actually, we see everyday that the British are a generous nation. Thinking of your taxes, you may have given £15 towards aid - that is enough to supply a person in Bangladesh with access to safe water and sanitation for life. Remember more people die of diahorrea than malaria in the developing world. More specifically on Syria, the UK government has committed over £400 million to help refugees displaced internally or to other countries and to the people still in Syria. What is proving very difficult at the moment is that charities do not have unfettered access to the country to help people - which is different to what happened in other conflicts. I know the PM is trying to get that changed. It is important that other UN Security Council members help to make that happen to stem the loss of life."

03 SEP 2013

Evening Star Column - 3rd September 2013

"Last Thursday and its build-up was a seminal moment in Parliamentary history. For the first time, Parliament voted against the wishes of the Prime Minister to back, in principle, the use of military intervention in response to the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime. There is no doubt that the memories of Iraq linger long in people's minds. As the Prime Minister said, the well had become poisoned by memories of the "dodgy dossier". That certainly came through in people's speeches. I won't use this column to become partisan as that is not how Parliament should act in these moments. However, the atmosphere was extraordinary. What constitutes "compelling" evidence, as the Opposition required? Former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind reminded the House that when finding people guilty of murder, the requirement is to be certain beyond reasonable doubt. The lack of trust in our intelligence services, our allies and NATO is something that should concern us. It is the role of Parliament to hold the Government to account. We cannot end up, though, with Parliament trying to run the country itself in microscopic detail. Parliament is back for a short time. Normally rather collegiate, I expect the atmosphere will be quite strained though the war of words will be cooled by now. The Prime Minister leaves for the G20 summit later this week, which is to be held in Russia. Much has been written about the special relationship. That continues. The UK and USA have stood together many times before and will do so again. I hope that our diplomatic efforts will bear fruit.

While this current situation is about the use of chemical weapons on civilians, we have not forgotten the millions of refugees. The UK continues to make a huge humanitarian contribution to help victims. Along with the US we are the largest donors to the UN's Humanitarian Response Programme and it's our largest ever response to a humanitarian crisis. The UK's aid contribution has already delivered food for over 155,000 and shelter for 305,000 people. This will continue. This contrasts with the relatively small contributions from China & Russia, which have so far donated much less than it costs to sustain the food programme for just one week. Charities such as the Disasters Emergency Committee & Save the Children are also making a significant contribution.

The recall to Parliament somewhat skewered my holiday but I took advantage of the presence of most of the Cabinet to press home a few points on local matters. You cannot pass up opportunities like that! I was rewarded with fine weather over the weekend to compensate. I prepared for returning to Parliament by touching different corners of the constituency on Sunday. Starting near the top, I attended Brampton Plough Day, keeping in touch with rural matters, headed to the 10th Birthday celebrations of Martlesham Ranger Guides and finished at Aldeburgh - with some culture on the coast - to celebrate the premiere screening of Peter Grimes on the Beach.

2013 is the centenary year of the birth of Benjamin Britten. Many events have been held in Suffolk and across the country celebrating this. Schools across the country and the world are involved in a project called Friday Afternoons (is your child or grandchild participating?) One of the most special events was the production of Peter Grimes on the beach at Aldeburgh. Luckily, the production was captured on film and is now to be shown in screens around the country. Yesterday also saw the launch of the 50p coin dedicated to the great composer. I recall speaking to George Osborne earlier in the year on the matter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is also Master of the Mint (no not polos but the Royal Mint). On special paper, he has to write to HM the Queen to ask for permission for designs to go on British currency. I am delighted he did so and it is finally available."

03 SEP 2013

Evening Star Column - 27th August 2013

"With just a week till we return to Parliament, it is obvious what will be heavily debated in the first days back, including tragedies here and abroad. In the UK, I am thinking in particular of the very sad helicopter crash. I was joking recently about how long it took to get into the helicopter suit when I visited Greater Gabbard but their importance was brought vividly to life. Abroad, the images from Syria continue to be very distressing to behold. President Obama's red line of use of chemical weapons appears to have been crossed and much diplomatic activity is in chain but I do understand very much the concerns of those opposed to military intervention.

GCSE results arrived and congratulations to those who got what they wanted. For those who didn't achieve what they hoped for, schools will offer good advice on next steps. Future employers look for good attainment but also for how people react to initial setbacks. Many schools will be pleased with some achieving record results, including Farlingaye in Woodbridge, but there is no room for complacency as education chiefs will be awaiting national comparisons before popping champagne corks. I am sure the leadership at Felixstowe Academy will be disappointed with their overall results and will be doing in-depth analysis. The Raising the Bar has its next conference in a month's time and will be considering Suffolk's response to the report. We have to wait longer for national comparators on our primary school achievement but for me, this stage of schooling will always be the most critical as it provides the foundations for later learning.

The visit from Transport Secretary of State Patrick McLoughlin MP was rather successful I thought. The port pulled together a good roundtable of customers, shipping lines and hauliers to discuss some key issues affecting Felixstowe and the country as a whole. The success of the port is evident and the Minister officially loaded the 70th million container onto a ship. The port is never complacent though and continues to think about next steps. That is welcome news for the many in our area whose livelihood relies on logistics.

The A14 resurfacing by the Trimleys should start soon. I understand there is local concern that it will just be patches again which I will check. An early warning for late travellers (including me) is that in late September/early October, the A14 between the Orwell Bridge and Seven Hills will be closed overnights - for about 10 days in all - for road maintenance. Much disruption is expected. Talking of travellers, well done to Suffolk Coastal District Council for pressing on quickly with the unauthorised encampment in Felixstowe. Some government changes to rules should help but it all relies on local enforcement.

I am officially on holiday this week - at last - and it kicked off well with the Thorpeness Meare Centenary Regatta. I had never attended before and it was rather special as well as spectacular. Rizzo was rather blasé about the fireworks as she had been at Aldeburgh but plenty of oohs and aahs erupted from the crowds. Holiday this year is translating into DIY as I have recently moved into my new home but those of us who are coastal MPs have the joy of popping along to the beach at a moment's notice when you have had enough of erecting flatpack wardrobes. I hope that you all took advantage of the sunny Bank Holiday and enjoy the last days of summer. It's been another special sporting summer which should inspire us all to get out and active. Tennis anyone?"

21 AUG 2013

Evening Star Column - 20th August 2013

"It will be a pleasure to welcome the Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick Mcloughlin to Suffolk Coastal this Wednesday when he visits Felixstowe Port. This week it celebrates the 70th million container (Twenty Foot Equivalent) handled at the port – a fantastic milestone – which demonstrates its long success story built on fair competition. The Port is absolutely essential for our local economy too and I will also take the opportunity to press the case on the proposed A14 toll. I don't disagree with tolling for new roads but applying tolling to just one port could have a major impact on business in Suffolk and it shouldn't be at the expense of Felixstowe Port.

Talking of business success – I attended the Great British Beer Festival last week. Adnams put on a great show and have recently had 'Ghost Ship' added to the list of 300 beers to try before you die compiled by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale). Congratulations to the Growler Brewery in Nethergate who won the speciality beer award with Umbel Magna.

Yesterday I was in Norwich to visit former Star editor Nigel Pickover. He was in good form and continuing to work on the Ambulance campaign. It was good to catch up on this key issue. With a brand new board I hope we will see continued improvements in our service especially on the key issue of response times – which I continue to press.

Whilst travelling back I paid a visit to Lowestoft College and met the Principal, Simon Summers. We discussed the importance of equipping the future workforce with the appropriate skills. They are doing some great work on developing young engineers and even have a wind turbine tower to help train people who want to take advantage of the growing number of energy jobs along our Green Coast.

Sticking with the education theme well done to students and local schools on the A level results published last week. I am sure your hard work paid off. I want to pay particular congratulations to Felixstowe Academy who made a significant improvement in results from last year. I hope all students got what they wanted but if not, schools and college are a good source of advice. As I always say at this time of year apprenticeships are an excellent earn as you learn route – http://www.thesource.me.uk. Let's hope this week we also see the start of the turnaround on attainment for GCSEs and good results for our students."

13 AUG 2013

Evening Star Column - 13th August 2013

"I had my first ever trip in a helicopter last week and it was quite a trip going out to the Greater Gabbard wind farm offthe Suffolk coast. It seemed to take longer to get into the special suit than flying out took but it was a golden opportunity to have a close-up view of this booming industry twelve miles out. Greater Galloper is under development and when it comes onstream in five years' time, that combined windfarm will have a combined output to match Sizewell B – though not as consistently, I recognise. The wind farm was officially opened by Energy Minister Michael Fallon MP (the minister I help in Parliament) and he flew down to Sizewell to meet a wide range of stakeholders, including residents, businesses and colleges, and a very quick tour of the proposed C site.

There are two very important planning applications to be considered this week by Suffolk Coastal District Council that touch on strategic areas and points of principle. Readers should know that I do not tell councillors how to vote but I do make representations, particularly on strategic issues. In Rendlesham, the parish council secured community designation of the assets of the theatre and sports centre – both of which were closed a while ago. Now the developer wants to demolish these buildings and build more houses. Developers' brochures featured these buildings when encouraging people to move there. Rendlesham needs a heart with the potential for shared space to sustain this growing village. Allowing the demolition would be a substantial knockback to that community. Higher up the A12, there appears to be a good example of the inconsistency of planning enforcement by the council leading to a retrospective planning application and the adhoc development of a traveller site – just one pitch planned at the moment. If the council had enforced, there would not be the opportunity to have developed the site to the stage it is at today. As Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP said this week, "the public want to see fair play, with planning rules enforced consistently, rather than special treatment being given to certain groups". I am pleased our government removed Labour's guidance to treat people differently according to their background. Sadly, the officers have recommended approval. The council spent many years getting the Local Plan passed, citing the need to avoid speculative planning applications. This would be a good example to deter speculators and back planning enforcement.

Where I hope we can get some common sense back into the argument in Westminster is sentencing on issues involving dogs. The Government has suggested that a sentence up to life imprisonment may be warranted if your dog attacks someone on private property. Contrast that to a maximum sentence of fourteen years if you kill someone in your car through dangerous driving or two years if through careless driving – on the grounds that horrible consequences can result from a moment's distraction due to the power of the vehicle. I would argue the same is true of animals. Normally very patient and loving, we cannot tell exactly what goes on in the mind of an animal when it attacks another animal or person with small dogs most likely to attack other dogs. Dog control notices – which are also part of the proposed legislation – are the right strategy to ultimately remove dogs from their owners if they are out of control regularly.

Much talk in the pub revolves around sports at the moment – the Ashes (men and women), the World Athletics Championships and since last weekend back to football. The FA is 150 years old and has had a number of celebrations including Saturday's national football celebration day, christened as"Sir Bobby Robson Day". I am sure Sir Bobby would rather that Ipswich win and the Blues did just that."

13 AUG 2013

Evening Star Column - 6th August 2013

"I attended the Annual Public Meeting of the Ambulance Trust last week near Cambridge. It was not particularly well attended. I was disappointed not to have more discussion on the turnaround plan. In fact, the formal part of the meeting was called the "boring" bit by the presenters. It was the reason that I was there and presumably why 2 others were, including the former Secretary of State for Health. Other presentations were interesting on how EEAST is innovating. I met the new Chief Executive of Suffolk Healthwatch. I hope she and her team will take an active interest on this.

Further on NHS performance, the first ever Friends and Family survey results were published last week. Staff at Ipswich Hospital should take some pride in the endorsement by the public. This is good news and I am happy to celebrate it. Meanwhile, with various issues being reported on 111, the service that acts as a gateway to non-emergency care for NHS treatment, it concerns me that people hoping to be elected are rubbishing it and clearly don't have a clue on how NHS finance works. The hangover legacy affecting many parts of the NHS are the badly-negotiated PFI contracts, millstones around our collective necks. Our local 111 service started several months ago and according to our local GPs is working well. One constituent contacted me; she disagrees with me on almost every policy going but was full of praise for the 111 service.

Felixstowe was really busy for the Wings and Waves spectacular on Sunday. The service was graced by the country's leading RAAF officer, who happens to live in Ipswich. There was also a likely farewell appearance from Bishop Nigel, which added to the solemnity of the celebration. Thanks to all those who participated in the parade and the air display had the special Catalina flying boat. The crowds certainly came out on such a sunny day. Well done to the Mayor and all at the Town Council for making it happen. I popped down to Landguard Point afterwards. It was good to see it so full and that the cafe has extended is opening hours. Next weekend is the traditional Felixstowe Carnival. Hope everyone has been saving their pennies.

I am pleased that the Government has launched the consultation on the childcare policy that will see families where both parents are working benefit from up to £1200 for childcare costs. This is expected to help over two million families. I welcome this as it helps tackle a significant cost in the weekly household budget. In my recent report on women rising up the corporate ladder, I welcomed this policy and wanted it to start a year earlier. That will be my input to the consultation.

Another consultation has started - that on the detailed marine planning off our shores. Our area is the first to be examined in depth. Find out more by looking on the Marine Management Organisation website. The consultation closes on October 8th.

August and the football season has already started, though sadly not with a win for Ipswich. I really hope that the Blues do well this season and are promotion contenders. Sporting success would provide major boost to local pride.

The summer is traditionally the time for "silly" stories. One such story you would not have made up. When I visited my mother recently, driving down Cattle Lane, I encountered cattle that had got out from a nearby field. No great drama. Jump forward, or should that be jump over the central reservation, to the cow that got loose on the A14 last week. I was pleased the cow was caught safely and it didn't cause too much disruption on this major route linking East Suffolk with the rest of the country."

01 AUG 2013

Evening Star Column - 30th July 2013

"I am still learning my history of Suffolk and I have been fascinated to dive into research on the role Felixstowe played in the development of aviation, particularly sea planes. A century ago, sea planes or flying boats were developed in what is now the Port. I had not realised that many of our earliest planes were called Felixstowe F2 and one model called the Fury or the Porte Baby. Undertaking reconnaissance and also launching smaller planes (pioneering in that aspect), these planes played a key role in WWI. I am really looking forward to the Wings and Waves celebration in Felixstowe this coming weekend. The service starts at 11am and the celebrations hope to finish (weather permitting) with an aerial display at 3pm. Well done to the Town Council for organising and paying most of the costs, with some good help from the Port.

The government published its recommendations for communities hosting nuclear power stations. In addition to the initial planning payments, communities will also benefit from the ongoing running of the power station up to 40 years. This is welcome change and I am sure that residents and projects will welcome this extra cash.

The Offshore Wind Strategy is due to be published this week. While we have the Green Coast on our very doorstep, we need to ensure that we also capture the initial and ongoing work contracts connected with wind energy. Our offshore wind farms could easily be serviced from the continent. We cannot afford for that to happen. To that end, I am delighted that the Department for Energy & Climate Change has pulled together government departments, councils, chamber of commerce, energy businesses and the LEP to form the Suffolk Coast Energy Board. I am pleased to be asked to chair the Board.

The Royal Baby grabbed the media's attention for much of last week. I should not be astonished at such media clamour welcoming HRH Prince George but it amazes me when such baby fever spreads abroad. It goes to show how cherished our institutional monarchy is.

Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt MP, has put forward the idea of having a named GP for every vulnerable, older person. I think this is a good idea which I hope will come into fruition next year. After 65 years of the NHS being in operation, it is always good to have a look at how we can ensure this enormous, life-saving organisation keeps its patients top of mind. To that end, I am attending the AGM of the Ambulance Trust near Cambridge this week. I hope to get an update on the latest action plan that should have the mantra of patients first – wherever they live - dotted all over it.

How secure is your computer for your family? Less than half of families have filters on their internet. The Prime Minister has pressed on with action to introduce family-friendly filters by default and to eradicate the listing of child abuse images that come up when you type in a few words into a search engine. For more information, check out http://www.protectingourchildren.co.uk/

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave a welcome boost to credit unions this week. There are two that cover East Suffolk – Rainbow Saver Anglia and Ipswich & Suffolk. These offer a different way to manage money and avoid expensive lenders.

A year on from the Olympics (is it really a year ago?), legacy is being examined and so far, so good. Not to be complacent, school sports are to receive a cash boost. In Suffolk Coastal constituency, over £340,000 will be shared out with every primary school getting at least £8,000 this September. Parents and governors should see the impact straightaway."

24 JUL 2013

Evening Star Column - 24th July 2013

"Figures released last week show that recorded crime in Suffolk fell 12% in the last year including a 25% drop in robbery,21% reduction in anti-social behaviour and 10% in violence against a person. This is encouraging news for Suffolk residents and my thanks go to our Police Commissioner, Tim Passmore, the Chief Constable, Police Officers and our PCSOs who all help to keep us safe. Whilst this is good news it is important we are not complacent and continue to do all we can to reduce crime. The Anti Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Bill that is going through Parliament will reduce bureaucracy and provide Police with more flexibility in tackling anti-social behaviour.

It would also help our Police force if they didn't have to spend their time chasing prisoners on the loose like they had to last week, especially when they have absconded before. Thankfully the prisoner was recaptured in Ipswich. I have taken this up with the Ministry of Justice to find out why he was transferred to Hollesley Bay just 7 months after being sentenced from escaping from another open prison.

Sticking with keeping us safe, it was very frustrating that British Transport Police didn't take more direct action to bring the trespasser down off the roof of Ipswich station on Friday morning - which caused massive disruption. It was reported that he was offered water but perhaps a tactic to get him down would have been to offer him water on the ground. I'm not an expert in these matters but I spoke to the Transport Minister and will follow up with my colleague Ben Gummer MP and British Transport Police. As soon as Ben arrived, the trespasser came down – impressive influence! The disruption was extraordinary, not only affecting usual travellers but also the thousands flocking to the coast and Latitude. My sister was on a train and overheard reports of taxi drivers offering to take people from Colchester to Southwold for between £200-300. A better bus replacement service in these situations is essential but I am sure many will want to know the full reasons why it took seven hours to coax someone down.

I am pleased that work has now been undertaken to tidy up the Felixstowe boating lake which many people pressed for. I met Cllr Geoff Holdcroft and Cllr Nick Barber some weeks ago to review this and a temporary solution was discussed. Good to see action in time for the summer holidays.

I visited Felixstowe Town Council on Friday concerning the proposal I backed to give local taxpayers a say on proposed tax increases from parish & town councils. Five councillors showed up and we had a reasoned, constructive discussion about balancing local needs and the pressure to keep the council tax down.

On the same day I visited Felixstowe Academy and met the senior leadership team on the site of the new building. Things are progressing really well and the new campus is due to open in Easter 2014. I think it will be an excellent learning space for children and is also being designed to allow comprehensive community use. One small feature is that there will be 99 individual toilets. This reflects AET's policy to enhance privacy and remove places of potential bullying, etc. A novel idea. I also visited Kingsfleet Primary School. I can now finally say that I have been to every school in the constituency. I will start going back to places where there have been changes.

School is now out for Summer. There is lots to do over the six week break. The Commons has also broken for the summer recess. I still have meetings in London but will be very much out and about in the constituency. See you in the sunshine."

23 JUL 2013

Evening Star Column - 16th July 2013

"The last fortnight in Parliament is always busy as government rushes through secondary legislation, meetings beingrearranged to accommodate such changes and the deadline approaches for tabling questions and so on. However, it was a great pleasure to welcome Sylvia and Colin Arnold to Parliament to thank them for all their efforts in gathering over 6,000 signatures. I was really impressed by the unrelenting efforts of this doughty couple to save a service desperately needed in our part of Suffolk. Thank you to them both. Last Monday, MPs met the Ambulance Chairman. We still don't have the action plan available (which I will pursue) but we do expect to see significantly more ambulances on our roads by the end of September.

One of the international moments of the year was the speech by Malala Yousafzai at the UN. The bravery of this young girl, who was shot by the Taliban because she was prepared to speak out for girls to go to school, is an example to us all. Unbowed by the onslaught of near death, rescued by swift action including excellent medical treatment in our country, it is testimony to her principles and indeed to her faith that her voice and actions are even more resolute than before. Our brave Armed Forces have served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a preventative effort to stop and disrupt terrorism with some devastating consequences, the most recent of which was the brutal murder of Drummer Lee Rigby. Nevertheless, to prevent terrorism at home and to fight basic injustice around the world is a worthy fight that we join, representing our values that are undimmed in the face of terrorist threats.

This week the benefits cap comes into effect around the country. No longer will a family on benefits effectively earn more than the average household income. I know this will cause disruption to the lives of some families but it also rebalances the natural injustice that you should be better off working than if you do not, unless you cannot. It also triggers the end of the injustice of being trapped into welfare dependency, daring not to take a job because of benefit withdrawal. That is madness which I am pleased our Government is correcting.

It's always interesting to see criticism of you from a constituent in the local paper, especially when they have never contacted you directly. Usually it is because I disagree with that person on something and because they believe it implicitly, I and anyone else who doesn't share that view is some terrible creature. It is important to make final policy decisions on the basis of evidence. Whether that is the effect of plain packaging for cigarettes – will it decrease take-up or will it increase the supply of cheaper counterfeit packs – or alcohol pricing – will it really stop lager louts drinking at home or punish the majority of responsible drinkers? The latest issue is so-called Chinese lanterns. DEFRA commissioned research this year which concluded that the impact on animal welfare was extremely low and the greater issue is fire. I understand that entirely. Release of lanterns a few times year off our beaches has not been shown to cause fires as natural coastal effects take the lanterns out to sea. We need to be careful when we decide to ban things and not just have knee-jerk reactions.

It was certainly hot stuff in Suffolk this weekend and not just the weather. Many events happened this weekend including the very popular Music on the Green at Martlesham Heath. Thanks to the organisers and to the bands who played their hearts out. The regatta in Woodbridge was hotly contested and keen interest was shown at Ufford Bygones. I hope the weather keeps up for the holidaymakers who will start flooding to our area shortly."

09 JUL 2013

Evening Star Column - 9th July 2013

"The hottest weekend of the year took the crowds to the coast while many chose to be indoors to watch the triumph at Wimbledon and for the Lions. It was indeed a Super Sunday for Britain as Andy Murray won, 77 years after Fred Perry and 26 years after Virginia Wade. I confidently predict the courts will be full for some time as the dreams of future glory are played out by our ambitious youngsters. It was also "super" as Abu Qatada was finally put on a plane and sent to Jordan. I will give credit to Theresa May and her team at the Home Office, with the full backing of David Cameron, to resolve this issue. The process has taken far longer than it should. The learnings and judgements en route will help tackle such deportations in the future. The extra bonus is that Jordanian justice will clearly no longer have any truck with torture in seeking convictions.

In Parliament, it was a pleasure to welcome a large contingent from Ipswich and Felixstowe to the Sport England Sportivate awards. A double gold for Suffolk as Ipswich Handball Club won Best Project and Adam French took the coveted Most Outstanding Participant. Well done to all involved including Suffolk Coastal District Council, Cllr Holdcroft, Ipswich Town Charitable Trust and Olympian Louise Jukes. Last but not least, Adam was supported by his very proud Mum.

The Ofsted report for Felixstowe Academy was not great reading, sadly in contrast to that seen for Farlingaye High School last month. The Ofsted judgement is that all categories assessed require improvement. Another report like this would see the Academy in special measures. There is hope though in that the Executive Principal is seen to be providing impetus for improvement. I am impatient for more of that as soon as possible. I and other MPs met the leaders of AET at the Department for Education last week and stressed the point. I also met Executive Principal Mr Chamberlain for the best part of an hour. I have no doubts that Mr Chamberlain is stretched across too many schools that are in a fragile status. I want the Academy to do well. I am sure it can.

I enjoyed visiting young people who had just finished their GCSEs and were now involved in the National Citizen Service programme. This involves a team-building outward-bound type course, followed by citizenship, CV-building, skills development and planning for the main outcome – the social action project. It was good to see 16 year olds from across Suffolk coming together to use their existing skills and to be thinking of others. The programme is being rolled out on a school by school basis. Farlingaye and Woodbridge should be included for next summer. For more information, look online at http://www.ncsyes.co.uk/

The hot weekend also brought out the crowds for the round of fetes and carnivals. I dropped in to see the Felixstowe and District Fuschia Society. I didn't know there were so many varieties! I also went to the fete run by the Felixstowe Hospital League of Friends. Celebrating the 65th birthday of the NHS, it is good to see our nurses and matron in such good form. The Woodbridge Carnival looked splendid and I finally got a bit of colour at Wings and Wheels at Heveningham. More fun to be had over the summer.

Finally, after the vote on the Second Reading of the EU Referendum Bill (won by 304 votes to nil), I launched a petition online at www.theresecoffeymp.com/petitions to gather support for this. At time of writing, nearly 600 people had signed up. To be fair, I have had a handful of responses opposing but this is a bigger reaction than I have had on most issues. There is some way to go yet but I hope we can deliver the referendum in 2017. Please sign up and add your support."

04 JUL 2013

Evening Star Column - 2nd July 2013

"The Spending Review and Infrastructure announcements were the highlights in the Chamber last week, with the additional news from the independent Office for National Statistics that in fact there had not been a double-dip recession in 2012. There is still no room for complacency so it was good news to hear that the A14 road improvements will start in 2016. It is not good news on the tolling front. I will continue to pursue this issue. While we are still not at the stage of balancing the books, the Chancellor set out further steps to bridge the gap in terms of spending. Of the £11.5 billion cuts, over £5 billion of those will come from efficiency savings on government contracts – from the overly expensive PFI contracts signed up to under the Labour government to making taxpayers' funds stretch further in buying stationery. Every little helps and it certainly all adds up. Of particular interest for me was the recognition that the school funding formula is to be revised. For historic reasons, formulas have become entrenched to the point and unfair. There is no reason for a child from Ipswich or Felixstowe to have nearly £500 less funding than a child in Liverpool. Results don't automatically follow funding but for a school of 200 children, that is on average a difference of nearly £100k per year.

Phase 1 of the Ambulance Recovery Plan is now complete as every previous non-executive director has now resigned. Why does this matter? It is the role of non-executive directors to hold the leadership to account and to be the voice of the patient, while ensuring the service is managed efficiently. The issue of inconsistent ambulance arrival times in Suffolk has been evident for some time and that is why MPs have been pressing the case for over two years. I have always said that the majority of people enjoy a good service but we need to champion those who do not. Promises of changes were made but not delivered. In fact, it got worse. Sadly, scrutiny seemed to be at a very high level and little questioning seemed to happen, rather than digging below the surface to uncover issues – that had been pointed out on various occasions by MPs and complaints from patients. It did not seem to be a problem for the Board as long as regional targets were met. Transparency has to be better. Use of resources has to be better. Both are possible to continue the journey for a consistently good ambulance service which all readers should rightly enjoy. Advertisements for replacements are underway.

I have now heard from Barclays about Martlesham. While it is always disappointing to see branches close, it appears they have done a thorough job with communicating to customers and the local post office will accept deposits and issue money. If anyone is experiencing problems, please let me know.

The well known landmark of Orfordness lighthouse, standing tall in its current position for the last 221 years, was finally switched off on Friday. The lighthouse will now be left to the elements while Southwold will continue to shine brightly.

This Friday, MPs will be voting at the Second Reading of the Referendum Bill of the European Union. Many will welcome the start of this lengthy process to give the people of Britain their chance to say whether or not they want to stay in. The Bill proposes that we have the referendum in 2017 – 42 years after the last referendum. Why wait till 2017? I think we need to renegotiate the terms of membership for all EU countries as well as the UK. The Dutch Government joined David Cameron in establishing its own review of the split of powers between the national governments and Europe. I am playing my role in visiting MPs of other countries to put the case for this review."

26 JUN 2013

Evening Star Column - 25th June 2013

"We are debating the East of England Ambulance Service in Parliament this week. I will be highlighting the ongoing issues and the lack of confidence that we have in the non-executive directors. On Thursday, I am having a general meeting on healthcare services with the CQC. I shall be raising my concerns again on these and other matters, particularly with regard to improving their transparency and also speed on reporting on health matters. The N&N was inspected in April. The report still isn't out.

Another key issue for the county is the level of educational attainment. I certainly hope that we move out of the bottom three for 11-year old assessment and the bottom ten for GCSE levels. The issue was brought to the fore by a report called "Unseen Children" from OFSTED Chief Inspector, Sir Michael Wilshaw. The report was not happy reading. Sir Michael suggests that underachievement has shifted from inner cities to deprived coastal towns and rural areas, especially in South and Eastern England, including areas of relative affluence. Across the East of England, we have slipped from 4th best in GCSE performance in 2007 to 3rd worst. In particular, helping deprived children is one of our biggest challenges. I want to pay tribute to the work my colleague Ben Gummer MP is doing in Ipswich on young children. I also would recommend every parent, governor, grandparent, teacher, etc. reads the Raising the Bar report recently issued by the RSA. It was commissioned by the County Council as one of its actions to address the problems we have. To read more, see www.suffolk.gov.uk/raisingthebar . It is a shared problem that we all must tackle.

I have not yet heard from Barclays on their plans to close its branch in Martlesham. I am pressing to see how they are helping their customers with the transition. The same is true of awaiting an update on buses. While I have heard calls for re-regulating the buses, I don't agree that state regulation is required. However, if bus companies continue to mess customers around, then it will be a self-perpetuating vicious circle of a decline in passengers.

This week we have the Spending Review and announcements of Infrastructure Projects. The keynote statement by the Chancellor outlines the budgets for departments for the next three years, including after the next general election. Within that, I will continue to press for fairer funding for Suffolk on healthcare and education. On infrastructure projects, I do not know what will be highlighted for our area but I hope that there will be good news on the A14, railways and also on energy.

I hotfooted it back to Suffolk last Thursday. While I did not make it in time for the Home Start celebration, I was able to join the High Sheriff. One of these special offices that stretches right across our county. Most events the High Sheriff may be rather genteel affairs but Sir Edward gave his ring-side perspective of being next to the judge who was attacked in Ipswich Court recently. While the formal office may include a sword, I expect he never planned to actually use it! With less than a month till Parliament rises, the diary is getting rather packed. I hope to do another tour this summer going to villages and towns. The devil is in the detail of finding good venues at different times of day but it is always a pleasure getting out and about."

19 JUN 2013

Evening Star Column - 18th June 2013

"The Ambulance Meeting in Parliament last week did not quite hit the expectation that MPs had. The publication of the Marsh Report (which you can see online at http://www.theresecoffeymp.com/downloads/governance-report.pdf) exposed starkly the deterioration of the Ambulance Trust's performance in serving the people of Suffolk and beyond. I want to thank Dr Marsh for his report - it was thorough and has come up with recommendations which I assume will be adopted. It was also a damning indictment of the poor governance in recent years. What was disappointing is that the current non-executive directors of the Trust had not resigned and that we have to wait another four weeks at least for the Trust's response. I say at least because we expect another plan to be ready by then but it may not have been assessed by NHS England. I will continue to press on all fronts on this.

I attended an interesting presentation at HMP YOI Warren Hill on the Anne Frank project. This programme is touring prisons and engages the prisoners in the issues of the Holocaust and brings it into today's context of violence against people who are different - be they goths, of a different race and so on. I was impressed by the young people and I hope it makes a difference to their lives. I would also like to thank people from HMP Hollesley Bay who helped in the restoration of Butley Village Hall. A huge team effort, ably led by David McGinity, has resulted in a lovely "new" hall which I had the pleasure of re-opening last week.

Tourists continue to pour into our area as the Aldeburgh Music festival is in full swing. I attended the dress rehearsal of "Peter Grimes on the Beach" which was remarkable. The complaint I did get was about the lack of mobile phone signal. I know that O2 works ok there but it is a general problem across Suffolk. I used to carry two mobiles to try to keep covered. The Government did give some extra money to tackle phone notspots. The Countryside Alliance is pushing a mobile phone app to gather more data on this issue. I hope you can join in. Go to rootmetrics.com/uk for more information and a link to the app. The more data we have, the more we can press for action. In other news for rural readers, OFCOM is extending protection for post boxes to the entire country ensuring we will continue to be able to use our Royal Mail.

I am still working hard to change Government thinking on the A14 toll. While I do think tolling may have a part to play in funding large improvements to our roads, I do not believe the A14 should be singled out as the only new road scheme with a toll. It is a key road for business growth and should be improved.

My tug of war performance made a surprise appearance in a national newspaper this week. Sadly we lost but, how can I put it, I certainly felt as if I pulled my weight. It was a jolly evening all in all and a lot of money raised for the good cause of Macmillan Cancer Care.

And finally, I am happy to meet Felixstowe Town Council. My views on this are now well known. We are not quite at the stage where precepts are higher than the district council but in some areas it is getting close. If any council wants to increase its precept or council tax significantly, it should require an extra mandate from the people for it. In the case of a parish or town council, this could take place at a Special General Meeting or at the Annual Assembly."

13 JUN 2013

Evening Star Column - 11th June 2013

"It was a great pleasure to attend the Civic Service for Felixstowe Town Council on Sunday. New Mayor Cllr Jan Garfieldchose some rousing hymns as well as a special prayer said by those Town Councillors present. Jan has chosen St Elizabeth's Hospice and Guide Dogs for the Blind as her charities. It was useful to catch up with the Clerk and the Vicar as well, mindful of starting preparations for WWI memorial next year. I had no idea that there were War Graves in various Felixstowe cemeteries. I must take a look next time I am down. I may get a chance next weekend when I am back for the first Felixstowe Book Festival. While I was in Felixstowe, I popped along to Landguard Point. The new cafe and visitor centre looks nice from the outside but it had closed at 4. I wasn't the only person showing up disappointed at not getting a cup of tea or ice cream in the late afternoon. Perhaps we need longer hours in the summer?

People were certainly enjoying themselves at the Kirton and Falkenham fete on Saturday. Maddy Rhodes looked very good as Pudsey, Edna Collins recreated the "Call the Midwife" look while Cllr Susan Harvey was rather brave dressed as Delia Smith with a green and yellow wig. That really is going beyond the call of duty.

Earlier on Saturday, I had joined the Beavers, Cubs and 1st Orwell Sea Scouts for some gardening in Bucklesham Churchyard. I went equipped with long gloves so was able to join the older children as we chopped through nettles and weeds that had grown over many of the graves. It was quite a pleasant task revealing headstones which I assume family members are far away and cannot visit often. Thanks to the leaders who work with these youngsters in their spare time. I am sure it is very rewarding but also well done to the children who put themselves out to help others.

I seemed to be in church a lot this weekend as the Archbishop of Canterbury visited Aldeburgh and led the Festival service. The church was packed. I was very impressed by his weaving of the magic of Britten with the war poets that proved his inspiration for some of his great works. The Secretary of State for Culture, Maria Miller MP, had been at Snape Maltings on Friday. I caught up with her briefly as we had a sneak preview of the new Red House exhibition and archives. I thought it stunning and interactive.

The Core Strategy or Local Plan has been determined as "sound". It remains for the Council to vote on the final version but essentially, it sets out our housing and development road map for the foreseeable future. It is now for local communities to come forward with neighbourhood plans that will not override housing numbers in each area but can provide guidelines for the shape and feel of development that the Council must include in their deliberations on future planning applications. Rendlesham has already started. Their "Show Me Rendlesham" on Saturday was great testimony to this village pulling together to shape their own future.

In Westminster, on Tuesday MPs will be briefed on our Ambulance Trust review. I expect the report out this week. I hope it will give us a clearer way forward else the headline will be MPs' fury at damp squib. Later that day, I am participating for the first time in the Ladies' Tug of War raising money for Macmillan Cancer. Despite being "comfortably built" as I was described recently, I have never been asked before. We did some training this week which I am sure provided some" laughs for spectators. It's all in a good cause and I will report next week."

05 JUN 2013

Evening Star Column - 4th June 2013

"I enjoyed the Beating the Retreat ceremony of the Royal Anglian Regiment held at the Royal Hospital School in Holbrook.It was quite a magnificent setting for this most traditional of ceremonies and a good chance to hear from General Phil and his COs on regimental news. It was very nice to meet officers and soldiers from B (Suffolk) Company. They are moving to Woolwich Barracks next year, which while bringing many closer to their family in East Anglia will undoubtedly bring some concern at this time. British justice is underway as the two suspects have been charged with murder. The sooner the case is brought and justice delivered, the better. While we get called to help many charities, it is worth sparing a thought for the Regiment's own Benevolent fund. Not the eye-catching Help for Heroes, it provides ongoing support www.justgiving.com/rarbc .

Attending the opening of new Flagship homes in Aldeburgh gave me the chance to catch up with Chairman and Felixstowe resident Peter Lakey. He was telling me of their plans to start building again and a key step of bringing maintenance for its properties back in-house. He estimates it will improve customer service and save a lot of money that can be used for more homes. I am glad to see Flagship back on the right track and will keep encouraging it to turn around its empty homes more quickly.

Thank you to the villagers of Shottisham who made me very welcome at their Big Lunch and the opening of the new playground equipment. We certainly enjoyed the new swings. I know across Suffolk, there are always people ready to step forward and shape new projects in their village or town. I am sure a few more willing hands would be welcome. Thank you to those who volunteer already and for those who don't but want to, a good place to start is volunteersweek.org .

During recess, I visited Warsaw and Prague with 4 other MPs for intensive discussions on European reforms. I am part of the Fresh Start Group (www.eufreshstart.org) and if we want to get treaty changes and other reforms to curtail the European Commission's appetite for centralisation, we need the support of MPs from other member states. It was somewhat tiring and discussion via interpreters is mentally hard work but the visit was worthwhile, particularly in Warsaw. The briefings from our Ambassadors in each country were also very impressive.

Back in Westminster, I will be busy with the Energy Bill this week. This should be a further step in giving investors certainty on the big projects for renewable and low-carbon energy. It is a vital Bill for Suffolk businesses as on it rests the future of the offshore wind farms and Sizewell C as well as household and local community projects.

The other topic bound to be at the fore is the issue of lobbying. I rarely meet lobbyists but I do meet companies, government agencies, charities, trade associations and pressure groups to discuss issues. Sometimes that's over a cup of tea. Other times it may be over a nice dinner. That is the way I find out more about what they do and their issues, particularly with the direction of Government policy. If we solely relied on think tanks and the Civil Service, I think parliamentary debate would be the poorer for it. Of course MPs and Peers should not expect to be paid for these meetings or to be "for hire" on any issue. A register of lobbyists would not have prevented a fellow MP falling for the sting. I shouldn't comment further on specific case while the investigation is ongoing but continuing to be transparent is important."

05 JUN 2013

Evening Star Column - 28th May 2013

"The Suffolk coast featured in national news bulletins for the best of reasons. I am referring to the mass swim off Southwold which could have turned into a tragedy but fortunately, thanks in particular to the work of our local coastguard and RNLI at Southwold and Aldeburgh working with the RAF and emergency services, everyone was safe. Our local coastguard and the RNLI are comprised of volunteers. I am sure this is the biggest event in which they have participated for many years. While Southwold RNLI celebrates its 150th anniversary, a timely reminder for us all to think about volunteering.

Off the coast, a new wind farm has been given planning permission. Greater Galloper will adjoin Greater Gabbard. While the firm that runs it has not yet finalised its investment decision, it is expected to start generating electricity in 2017. The two sites combined would make it the largest windfarm in the world. This continues to boost the reputation of our coast as the Green Coast. From that, we need to keep encouraging our schools, teachers, parents and children to consider careers in this industry on our doorstep. I still find it surprising that this is not seen as a golden employment opportunity for our young people.

Also off the coast are proposed marine conservation zones. I took the opportunity of a debate in Parliament to reiterate the concerns of residents and businesses about the potential impact of these new designations. Residents are already feeling the impact of such rules which seem heavy handed. We already have large industry co-existing harmoniously with nature. The proposed zones seem a step too far.

The Commons voted on the third reading of the same sex marriage Bill. Consistent with second reading, I voted against. I have written before that I do support the traditional view of marriage with the companionship of a man and woman being the bedrock of family through procreation. I also supported some amendments to reinforce the protections against future legal action. On all cases, readers will know that we lost the day. While I expect the Lords to also pass the legislation, I hope that they will have more success inserting such protections into legislation.

Also in Parliament, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was asked questions about A&E and the debate moved onto out of hours care. As I discussed last week, this is an important issue for many residents. While politicians do not expect GPs to all start doing their own out of hours calls again, something is not right with the system now and it would be fulfilling our manifesto commitment in giving responsibility back to GPs for out of hours care. That has in effect already happened as the new CCG is led by GPs and they will make the decision on this.

Over the weekend, I went to Wales for the Hay Literary Festival. It has inspired me to dig out a few more books to enjoy but large parts of it are dedicated to new thinking on mathematics and science interacting with society. It was not quite what I was expecting and I think they have visited Latitude to get some inspiration (coloured flags, sheep, etc) but a useful look at how festivals can be run. Felixstowe has its first book festival next month. I hope it will be as successful as Hay in years to come.

Finally, I hope readers enjoy the Suffolk Show - a great celebration of our county. After the terrible weather last year, I know organisers will be praying for sunshine and little wind. While the forecast doesn't bode well on sun front, it will still be a big hit with the crowds."

22 MAY 2013

Evening Star Column - 21st May 2013

"I met Cabinet member Cllr Geoff Holdcroft and Felixstowe's County Councillor Nick Barber to discuss the Spa pavilion and Felixstowe seafront. Cllr Holdcroft confirmed that the council is still seeking an entertainment-based solution for the Spa. The new marketing material will be ready by the end of May. It is important that any new solution has to be economically viable. Regarding the seafront and the boating lake, the land by the pier including the boating lake is needed during the construction phase of the pier, which is expected to start later this year. The council is considering carefully whether to spend £40-50,000 of your taxpayers' money just for one season. Cllr Holdcroft said he is considering a creative solution to alleviate the eyesore. Further along the seafront, the building of new homes is accelerating. I think they are a welcome addition alongside new hotel and restaurants. Without a positive vision, investors will be reluctant to spend scarce capital. Felixstowe has a bright future - let's do all that we can to bring it on.

I met the Mayor of Felixstowe, Cllr Mrs Jan Garfield, with her super consort, three times in three days. Friday, we were at a music concert with the Community Light Orchestra fundraising for the Town Pastors and Hope Trust; Saturday morning, she was starting the Walk Suffolk Festival at Landguard Point (accompanied by the firing of three muskets) and Sunday, we saw each other at two civic services. I thought I worked hard! Talking of the walk, well done to Cllr Caroline Page doing the Walk and raising over £1000 for Just 42.

Thank you to Maidstone Road Infants' School for my visit. It was a good opportunity to see the school as it seeks to improve its attainment levels prior to transfer to other junior schools. Esun was particularly polite getting me a chair after I had undertaken post-lunch Reactivate with him and his school mates. Parts of school seem a lot more fun now than I remember!

I met representatives from the four Patient Participation Groups from Felixstowe with 2 GPs and practice managers discussing some of the issues. I endeavoured to find out more about how these groups can link up with the new NHS structure, principally the Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG and the patient forum Healthwatch. The questions were wide-ranging. There is no doubt, given the age profile of our county particularly in the East, that we do not get enough funding from central Government. That is on my agenda and just last week, 8 MPs from different counties convened to decide how best to change the minds of the NHS and Health Ministers. Ministers don't decide the funding. That is done by the NHS Commissioning Body - a more independent arm of the Department of Health. We will work hard to get the funding Suffolk residents deserve.

Woodbridge residents now have a ticket machine at which they can buy tickets for the day or pick up tickets they have ordered. For security reasons, it is card only. The screens are intuitive but Greater Anglia will be having a few sessions introducing people to the new technology.

And finally, one of my fellow Conservative MPs topped the ballot for the Private Members' Bill, so Friday 5th July, I will be supporting him in his efforts to secure a referendum on membership of the European Union. This reinforces the agenda of David Cameron in offering in his 2015 manifesto an in/out referendum based on renegotiated terms. Readers will probably be pleased to know that I will not be devoting the columns of the next two years on this subject but I am amazed that both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties refuse to offer the same choice to the people in 2015 (with a referendum for 2017)."

17 MAY 2013

Evening Star Column - 14th May 2013

"Last week's Queen's speech set out the Government's programme for the next 12 months. When I spoke at recent business breakfast in Felixstowe, about half the audience thought the new Employment Allowance that we are introducing would encourage them to take on an extra employee. Suffolk Coastal is now 11th in the table of the proportion of people aged over 65, up from 15th in the last census at 25.3%. The introduction of the Care Bill will therefore be particularly relevant for this part of Suffolk. The Bill will cap care costs at £72,000 and extend the means test threshold to £118,000 for financial assistance to ensure that no-one has to sell their home in their lifetime to pay for residential care.

This week is National Export Week, focusing on High Growth Markets. UKTI is the government arm that supports businesses who want to export goods, services and franchise opportunities. At an export event I held last year, UKTI showcased the success of a wheelie-bin cleaning franchise which has gone around the world. Their Suffolk office is in Ipswich and for more details, go online to www.ukti.gov.uk. While our own Felixstowe Port is the biggest importer of goods, many of the containers that go out are of low value items (including fresh air). Dr John Meredith CBE is Managing Director of all of Hutchison Whampoa's ports globally. He has vast experience in business and has decided to intervene personally to help businesses of all sizes to get exporting. He has launched Project Bulldog to help British exporters break into new markets in Asia and Latin America and has pledged to offer free advice. The Bulldog spirit is what helped Britain become the trading, sea-faring nation it is. We need to sustain that. I want to commend Dr Meredith for backing British business exports. For more help, email him at bulldog.assist@hph.com .

Suffolk Coastal District Council is proposing to reduce the number of councillors and the Boundary Commission is looking for your views on this. Currently there are 55 councillors and there is a move to reduce this by just over 20% to 43. It makes sense to me. We tried to reduce our numbers in Parliament recently from 650 to 600 MPs but other party politics got in the way. For more information log on to http://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/eastern/suffolk/suffolk-coastal-fer/. You can respond directly over the web, by e-mail or post.

Our young people are starting their GCSE exams. I wish them well in their endeavours. Many will decide to continue with A levels or college courses. There is the option to learn and work through the apprenticeship scheme. This is a well established route and I highlighted a couple of months ago the range of opportunities available. The website giving you more information locally is www.thesource.me.uk. The government is also starting traineeships. These are designed for our young people who do not have the skills ready to start a job or an apprenticeship. The core content of traineeships will be a high quality work placement, work preparation training and English and Maths. Traineeships will give our young people the opportunity to develop the workplace skills that employer require. Look online for more information.

And finally, there has been some change around at Endeavour House. I want to congratulate Graham Newman who is moving to the Transport portfolio. Graham is a passionate railways man. He is ideally placed to take forward the Suffolk and East Anglia rail manifestos. He also knows how key the A14 is for the vitality of much of the Suffolk economy, not just our ports. The next few years are critical for embedding the factors for increased prosperity and quality of life in our county. Good luck to Cllr Mark Bee and his team as they continue this journey."

09 MAY 2013

Evening Star Column - 7th May 2013

"Congratulations to all those elected to Suffolk County Council including Nick Barber, Graham Newman, Patricia O'Brienand Caroline Page. Naturally I am pleased that Suffolk County Council remains in Conservative control and we can continue the momentum on economic development and education improvements. It was good to get out on the doorstep to see people and fortunately for me, most of the casework was for our councillors - who are getting on with the job already.

I dropped in at the Diabetes UK roadshow in Great Eastern Square. There was a steady queue of people wanting to be checked. Proactive events like this are a reminder that preventing disease or at least discovering it earlier is better than late diagnosis. MPs regularly get prompted to be tested by various charities when we are in Parliament. Last time I checked, I was fine but I am conscious that my lifestyle has to change. I already cycle a fair amount in London but I will be onto ebay to get that folding bike.

I visited the Centre for Integrated Photonics in Adastral Park, now part of the Huawei Technologies empire. Also part of the visit were 3 university students and a civil servant from BIS. It was a useful reminder of the ground-breaking technology pioneered and developed in Suffolk, now being taken to further levels by investment from Huawei. The aim of their work is to improve the broadband experience along optic fibres. Many residents would welcome that!

Back in Westminster, with the sun beating down, it seemed counter-intuitive to be at a ministerial roundtable meeting focusing on helping people who rely on oil and LPG to heat their homes. This arose from the ongoing work that I have been leading in Parliament to help residents who pay far more to heat their homes than most of those on gas and do not enjoy the same consumer protections. It was very useful to have trade bodies, ACRE, buying groups and the Ministers in the same room as it is difficult for trade bodies to say no to the Minister for reasonable requests - like ensuring that in their new code of conduct, the price that you are quoted on a Monday is the price you pay when your oil is delivered on the Friday. While I do not want overblown regulation, we need better protection than now and it is finally on the Whitehall agenda.

Parliament resumes this week with the Queen's Speech, laying out all the issues on which the Government intends to legislate. I am surprised at quite how much the Government cannot do without legislation however, nor should we legislate just for the sake of making a statement - actions speak louder than words. I expect we will see some tidying up legislation on Consumer Rights, bringing together a number of old laws that at times contradict each other, Prison Offender Rehabilitation and more on Immigration. The usual pageantry is a big draw for the crowds with Her Majesty resplendent. After Diamond Jubilee, some people are getting pageantry withdrawal symptoms!

I am pleased Ipswich were not involved in end of season relegation battles. Mick McCarthy has a chance to regroup for next year though the Canaries are not safe yet. After 2012, the sporting summer is not quite so glamorous this year but there is ongoing commitment to get people involved. Visit www.suffolksport.com to get going. Let's just hope the sun stays out to keep us all in the mood."

01 MAY 2013

Evening Star Column - 30th April 2013

"Universal Credit starts rolling out this week. It is the first step in changing our welfare system to a place where you will be better off in work than out of work, unless you cannot work. This is a very big change technically so the Government is doing a small trial to iron out the bugs. By the end of this year, all new claimants should have moved onto the system and it will take another 4 years to include everyone who is entitled. This is not an attempt to save money specifically but to shift the pendulum. The significant change of the benefit cap we introduced last October is having an effect as more people are getting themselves into work. They may still get significant benefits but the principle is there.

Parliament rose earlier than expected as we got through the remaining legislation in quick time. The end of the session is adorned by the ancient ceremony of Prorogation – a lot of cap doffing and Norman French ("La Reine le vault – The Queen wishes it"). It is the Queen's Speech in reverse as the Government reads out its list of achievements. I don't think we need to have a lot of laws to say we have done a lot of work; their outcomes are more important. A low point last week was the refusal by our judges to allow the deportation of Abu Qatada. I don't know anyone who would ever agree with torture-induced evidence convicting someone, which is why the Government has gone out of its way to make agreements with the Jordanian Government that this would not be the case. Our judges did not believe Jordanian assurances. Theresa May is trying her best to get this sorted and I hope her additional strategy of an inter-government treaty will make this happen.

At the Sizewell Community Forum, EDF gave a summary of the consultation responses. Nearly 1300 people and councils participated; double that at Hinkley, the other proposed nuclear site. For the southern Suffolk, the two big issues are lorries and the southern park and ride. The majority of respondents preferred the Orwell West lorry park and the Wickham Market park and ride. Woodbridge Town Council has been added to the Forum as the impact on the A12, particularly at the Woods Lane roundabout, has not been given the prominence so far that it merited. I would expect Deputy Mayor, Patti Mulcahy, to liaise with Melton and Martlesham councils to voice their specific concerns. The next meeting is not till October, reflecting the need to go through the responses in more detail and the progress of EDF's negotiations with the Government.

Following expressions of concern about some academy schools from parents, I am meeting Education Minister Lord Nash in a fortnight to follow up. County Councillor Graham Newman is seeing some schools locally on this too. While the County no longer controls academies, it still has a role on behalf of parents to express concern directly to the management. If anyone has any thoughts on their local school, please get in touch.

Growth returned to the economy which is welcome but we still have some way to go yet. There is a key role for councils to help in growth and local government finance funding has changed to reflect that. Councils will keep more of the business rates that set up here. New housing again attracts a financial bonus. So, making Suffolk more attractive to set up or relocate a business is vital. One element of that is ensuring that its future directors and employees have a great place to live, work and play. Councils are vital in making the difference on the quality of life that people enjoy. That is why voting this Thursday in the County council elections is so important."

25 APR 2013

Evening Star Column - 23rd April 2013

"Every constituency is unique but in their constituency roles, right across the country, the key issues for MPs are usuallybased on infrastructure, education and skills plus health and social care, in addition to the usual casework of housing, benefits, tax and similar. Health and rail dominated our Suffolk MPs catch-up this month, while rail, the A14 and broadband were the main agenda items for our meeting with business organisations in Ipswich on Friday. We were given an update on broadband rollout. Readers will know 85% of Suffolk residents will have super-fast broadband by 2015, all residents will have a minimum of 2MB/s and we were told that 90% will see an uplift of at least 10MB from their current speed. Of course, not everyone can be upgraded at the same time and it will not be done neighbouring parish by parish but in chunks across the county. The final plan should be out by the end of May / early June.

On education, I was pleased to meet the RSA team including Matthew Taylor to discuss the "Raising the Bar" initiative. Matthew was keen to stress that this would be a report to Suffolk giving analysis, making some concrete suggestions on first steps that could be done to increase the attainment in our schools including curriculum development, governance of schools and external interaction. Again, this report is not due out till May and it will be for the County Council to accept, reject or modify its recommendations but I hope and expect that everyone across Suffolk will want to read it and give their views to their councillors.

MPs have been sent the East of England Ambulance Service plan to improve its performance and it was published yesterday. There are good aspirations, but it does read like a long list of recommendations with few specific time-dated commitments rather than a plan that can actually be followed and tracked. I will be giving my views to the Board.

Last week, I was due to lead a debate on Off-Gas Grid Households in Parliament. My new role meant I could not do that but I attended the debate. Our report was warmly received by the Government Minister (it probably helped it was the same Minister that I help). I will do what I can to carry through some of the recommendations that would not cost the Government extra money to improve consumer protection, pay pensioners their winter fuel allowance when they can buy oil with it and encourage more families to better their insulate their homes effectively.

I attended the funeral of Lady Thatcher at St Paul's. The previous evening I had attended the short service in the chapel at Parliament. This was rather more intimate with family and close friends in a much smaller venue with simple prayers with no hymns or ceremony. The following day, roads were closed and many lined the streets. I thought it was a fitting tribute. Later in the week, London roads were closed off again for the Marathon. Well done to our local runners who will have raised thousands for charity. 7 MPs also did the course as did one of my assistants. The weather was perhaps a little too hot for the Marathon but it bathed our glorious coast, attracting many visitors. Felixstowe looked very much at ease with many young families taking advantage and hitting the beaches. I hope the good weather continues. I picked up the charity bet winnings from Ladbrokes in Felixstowe and decided to give them to a charity for old and retired horses up near Halesworth - Heartbeat Home for Horses. It felt appropriate for a Grand National charity bet."

18 APR 2013

Evening Star Column - 16th April 2013

"I was very pleased that Felixstowe & Walton United secured permission for their modern football lights. I visited the ground recently to see first hand the issues. The constant raising and lowering was not straightforward. I am glad the council used its judgement apporpriately. I hope the council will also use its judgement carefully on planning decisions regarding supermarkets in Felixstowe. As I have written before, the National Planning Policy framework is clear that in-town development has to be exhausted before considering edge of and out of town shopping centres.

Spring has nearly sprung it seems. The extended cold weather is wreaking havoc on our roads with potholes suddenly appearing. I welcome the proactivity of the council and would encourage people to report potholes. I prefer to take a photo and email that in but you can report online at www.csduk.com/csd/reportonline.htm , clicking on Highways Maintenance.

I have had a brief update from the Highways Agency on our A14 summit. The laybys and slip road from the petrol station have not been deemed contributory factors to issues but they are looking into overtaking restrictions and possibly a lower speed limit. I should hear more in a few weeks' time and will update readers then.

Both Houses of Parliament were recalled to pay tributes to Lady Thatcher on Wednesday. I was one of the last to speak in the Commons. John Gummer spoke movingly with anecdotes, including the immediate aftermath of the Brighton bombing when he was Party Chairman and in a room on the same floor as the PM. I thought Ed Miliband gave a courteous tribute and got the tone right. While many current MPs had never served with or under Mrs T, as I cited last week, she was an inspiration to many. David Cameron listened to many of the speeches and also visited the Lords. I think one or two scores were settled at that end. Moving to the funeral, I think the honour accorded is appropriate. I shall be attending and paying my respects. The cost of the funeral is high but it pales into comparison to the £75 billion rebate she secured from the EU (and that figure will keep rising).

I used the time in Parliament to follow up on our ambulance issues and met the adviser who is currently reviewing the Trust. His report is due out in the next few weeks. The Minister is visiting the Trust at the end of this month. I am organising more sessions in Parliament following up on the action plan and further recommendations.

We will spend much time this week discussing the Finance Bill - marathon sessions that by convention can go on till any hour. The income tax basic threshold increases, with 24 million taxpayers getting a tax cut. The headline rate for very high earners is also falling to 45%. Labour had a higher rate tax of 40% for all but 37 days of their 13 years in Government. It is clear why - the higher rate doesn't work and the predicted tax income hasn't materialised. The Government is also removing some unrestricted tax reliefs which allowed some high earners to pay nearly no tax at all. This is about fairness and also about ensuring we continue to have people living here paying taxes for our public services.

Talking of marathon sessions, while one of my team is running the London Marathon this Sunday, I want to congratulate members of Felixstowe Swimming Club who swam a marathon this weekend in aid of St Elizabeth Hospice. It was a heroic effort and I know they are still collecting money online. I was also delighted that the Hospice received a £678k from the Government which it will use to improve the day unit at Foxhall Road."

11 APR 2013

Evening Star Column - 9th April 2013

"Good news for Woodbridge train users as the ticket machine should be installed by the end of the month. This is welcome news. I have just started using the smartphone app but it feels odd to many to not have a paper ticket. I visited the new Tourism Information Service Point in Woodbridge Library and the staff hope to help people to use the internet to purchase tickets, if they so wish. The staff are settling into their new home but want some more leaflet holders.

I contributed to the consultation on Marine Conservation Zones. There are 2 immediately proposed in our area – the Orwell and Stour estuaries and the Alde & Ore. There are many protected areas in and around our coast, however, none as extensive as this. I am greatly concerned about the impact on shipping lanes and future dredging works, as is the Harwich Haven Authority. I also received many emails from users of the Alde and Ore who expressed great doubt on the evidence provided for the special designation. Our seas are precious. We can look after them and continue our maritime activities. These extra protections proposed are concerning.

I visited Warren Hill Youth Offenders' Institution, accompanying our Secretary of State for Justice, Chris Grayling MP. Sitting in on a discussion about learning opportunities and what it would take to stop re-offending was informative. Of the young people who spoke, there were varied reasons and motivations. Family. Money. Jobs. Barriers included coming out of prison and mixing with the same crowd or seeing the drug dealer earn more than you do right now. No question this is a tough nut to crack but I will continue to support reforms to get people working while in prison so they are in the habit and have skills and qualifications to access work once they leave.

Parliament is still in recess but I popped in to get some work done and catch up on my new responsibilities I mentioned last week. It's a hot topic. I have already a number of calls from MPs and organisations keen to see the Minister or get an insight. The negotiations with EDF are at a key stage. The consultation on the emergency planning zone has just concluded. My main role is to help him in Parliament and I will formally have to declare my interests but it will be an interesting time to be of help.

It was an outside bet for the Grand National. Well done to anyone brave enough to put a bet on. I got 2 places personally and managed to win some money for charity on TeaforThree, thanks to Ladbrokes. I visited their new store in Felixstowe. The staff made me and Rizzo feel very welcome. I am sure many will be pleased that the redesigned fences resulted in no casualties for the big race. The National continues to thrill the nation. I just hope next year that the bookies don't do quite so well.

Finally, I was very saddened by the news that Margaret Thatcher had died. RIP. In my view, she was our greatest peacetime Prime Minister who transformed the country – helping people to buy their own homes, opening up enterprise, took on the unions to improve services and backed our police and Armed Forces. Our first woman PM, the longest serving and the only PM to be a science graduate (a fellow Chemist at that). She was certainly my inspiration and for that of many politicians, not just Conservatives, in that she had strong values and ideas backed with clear leadership. Not everyone will have agreed with what she did but she was certainly respected. Her legacy is strong and will be a long-lasting one."

03 APR 2013

Evening Star Column - 2nd April 2013

"You should be better off working than if you don't work, unless you cannot work. That is the philosophy of a welfare system which I expect most people would support. The British public are no fools so I expect the cries from Labour of a "brutal" society after the welfare changes introduced yesterday will raise eyebrows in reaction to these false howls of protest. Families and young people have often ended up being trapped on welfare - not wanting to take up a job as they lose more money. That is the wrong choice attitude and more importantly, it is wrong of the welfare system to make that choice, actually, the rational decision to make - till now. All this coming from the Labour Minister who wrote the note to the new Government that there was no money left. In these difficult times, it is right that we look at every aspect of how we help those struggling. For someone being asked to pay towards their spare room or move to another property, there are plenty of families in over-crowded properties who want a bit more space. It makes sense to make this change.

Patient-centred care should be at the heart of the NHS. No decision about me, without me. Yesterday also saw local GPs take the driving seat on working with their patients to direct health funding locally. Overnight, patients will not see much change but in time, what you may start to experience is that instead of heading to the hospital for X rays, blood tests or similar, you may end up doing this in your local surgery. This is a shift in direction of the NHS which traditionally has focused on hospitals as the principal provider of care, even though it is often better for much care to be delivered in the community via your local GP or district nurses. I was struck by the language of Dr Clare Gerada, head of the GP Royal College, on Friday alluding to the end of the NHS and privatisation, etc. Frankly, it's nonsense. This is the same GP who is one of just four partners who has built up a practice of 13 surgeries and more walk-in centres. I expect that by acquiring these surgeries and competing for contracts she is simply seeking to acquire new contracts in the NHS rather than have just the one surgery where she works. Nothing wrong with that but again, such scare-mongering is quite extraordinary. I wish Dr Shenton and the rest of the Clinical Commissioning Group well on this next phase of patient-centred care - exactly what the NHS should be.

With MPs from Norfolk, I met the Rail Minister Simon Burns to stress the importance of the Ely Junction works in the next year. It may be a long way from Ipswich and Felixstowe but opening up this junction is key to increasing the freight traffic on rail.

A quick update from the A14 meeting. Thanks to persistence by Cllr Harding and Cllr Goodwin, the regional director drove along the A14 by the Trimleys. He has recognised that stretches of the surfacing is not of the quality it should be and that we should see parts re-done later this year.

Finally, I hope you all enjoyed an Easter break. As a churchgoer, it is the most demanding and the most special time of year. It started with a surprise though. The Minister I help in Parliament, Michael Fallon MP, has taken on the energy portfolio. Fortunately, I am well briefed on nuclear and offshore wind given our Green Coast prominence. This means an increase in my Parliamentary workload. However with the help of my excellent team, constituents should still contact me with issues that we hope to help resolve."

26 MAR 2013

Evening Star Column - 26th March 2013

"The CQC report on our Ambulance Service was finally published last week. It was not good reading for the Board as it confirmed what many of the people in this area know - that response times are not good enough and that service for patients outside the main towns is getting worse. There were positive aspects to the report including care of patients and other clinical factors which again reflects most people's experience once paramedics and ambulance staff have arrived. I will continue to keep up the pressure on the Board and we await this Wednesday, the publication of their action plan. I did speak to the advisor drafted in by Government. Little of what I said was, sadly, news to him but I am confident he will be able to help, especially as he used to run Essex Ambulance Service.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Off-Gas Grid, which I co-chair, published its report into the market yesterday. It was particularly timely due to the recent snow. A typical off-gas grid household faces bills 60-120% higher than one on mains gas, particularly suffering from price spikes during cold snaps. Our report includes a number of practical recommendations to improve the lives of those off the gas-grid including extending the same level of consumer protection as exists for those on mains gas. It also calls for the Office of Fair Trading to redo its inquiry into the market as the methodology was highly flawed. Further recommendations include earlier payment of the Winter Fuel Payment to allow off-gas grid pensioners to buy more heating oil in the summer and autumn to take advantage of cheaper prices, as well as a dedicated Government Minister. The full report can be found on our website - http://appgonoffgasgrid.wordpress.com

Last week, the Prime Minister made a landmark announcement on introduction of tax-free childcare. For those families where both parents want and decide to work, the Government has recognised how the high cost of childcare can be a barrier. From Autumn 2015, the Government will meet 20 per cent of childcare costs for working families saving a typical family with two children under 12 up to £2,400 a year. From the first year of operation, all children under 5 will be eligible, initially opening the scheme to 1.3 million families and the scheme will build up over time to include children under 12. We are committed to helping families and support parents back into work. Too many families find paying for childcare tough and are often stopped from working the hours they'd like. This is a boost direct to the pockets of hard-working families and will be one of the biggest measures ever introduced to help parents with childcare costs. This was just one of the good news items from last week's Budget. Over 35,000 people in Suffolk Coastal alone will have a tax cut in their April pay packet. By next year, over 4,000 people will not pay any income tax whatsoever due to our changes.

I visited Woodbridge Tide Mill as part of Science & Engineering Week showcasing an event about harnessing tidal power. The children of Kyson Primary School displayed on their fantastic drawings and excellent ceramics as part of the project - a credit to their teachers and parents."

21 MAR 2013

Evening Star Column - 19th March 2013

"It is apprenticeship week and there is more good news in Suffolk Coastal as more and more people (850 to be precise) are starting apprenticeships than ever before. These roles are open to people of any age though you will not be surprised if I encourage our young people to consider this route into the world of work. On Friday, I am visiting several work places to highlight this route into work. After increasing the numbers of employers participating, Suffolk MP and skills Minister Matt Hancock is now focussed on raising the quality of apprenticeships, including the training courses. I hope that anyone considering a fresh start will look on-line at www.thesource.me.uk for information on Suffolk apprentice opportunities.

We are making some progress on ambulances but I am impatient for patients. I met the Chair and Chief Executive last week and there is a broader regional meeting this Thursday. I was encouraged by some of the initial activities by the interim Chief Exec. This seemed to be reflected by a group of Norfolk paramedics who came to Parliament at the invitation of Norman Lamb. They made a plea for a change to the definition of a particular target. I don't pretend to be qualified to decide that but for most of the meeting, Ambulances Minister Earl Howe was present. These are challenging times and I know all the issues cannot be tackled in a week but we need the Trust to start fixing them one by one. I was disappointed with the initial timeline it was suggested it would take to fix. Frankly, we need to see clear direction of travel within 2-3 months and be sorted by year-end. I will continue to press for this at every level.

I spoke to both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor concerning current negotiations with EDF for Hinkley Point. What happens at Hinkley Point is a very important indicator for Sizewell. I am still highly confident that this project will go ahead, though as has been stated before, not at any price for the taxpayer.

Next Monday, I am co-chairing an A14 summit with Ben Gummer MP at Endeavour House focusing on the traffic delays and diversions when the Orwell Bridge is closed. Thanks to the many constituents who have contacted me and please do so this week if you have more thoughts. Also present will be Councillor McGregor, East of England Highways Agency Director David Gingell and Joint Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Hall. Ben and I are looking for analysis of what goes wrong and particularly why it takes so long to sort out. The traffic impact on Ipswich is horrendous and it does not help the free flow of trade, commuters and other road users when the bridge is shut for hours at a time. I hope to report more next week.

While the Highways Agency is in town, I will also be following up on the noise for Trimley residents. The noise mitigation works have either not happened everywhere they should or have failed to help residents enjoy relative peace and quiet. Councillors John Goodwin and Graham Harding will be putting the local perspective.

Finally, I hope mothers got some time off to enjoy Mother's Day. I hopped down to Hampshire to celebrate with my mother, which involved a bit of shopping and DIY. Although I do not have children, there is almost certainly no greater role than to bring a life into this world, nurture it, cherish it and share values. The Beatles had their own version - "All you need is Love" but St Paul puts it best, "Love is patient, love is kind, love is not selfish....love never fails."

14 MAR 2013

Evening Star Column - 12th March 2013

"It is apprenticeship week and there is more good news in Suffolk Coastal as more and more people (850 to be precise) are starting apprenticeships than ever before. These roles are open to people of any age though you will not be surprised if I encourage our young people to consider this route into the world of work. On Friday, I am visiting several work places to highlight this route into work. After increasing the numbers of employers participating, Suffolk MP and skills Minister Matt Hancock is now focussed on raising the quality of apprenticeships, including the training courses. I hope that anyone considering a fresh start will look on-line at www.thesource.me.uk for information on Suffolk apprentice opportunities.

We are making some progress on ambulances but I am impatient for patients. I met the Chair and Chief Executive last week and there is a broader regional meeting this Thursday. I was encouraged by some of the initial activities by the interim Chief Exec. This seemed to be reflected by a group of Norfolk paramedics who came to Parliament at the invitation of Norman Lamb. They made a plea for a change to the definition of a particular target. I don't pretend to be qualified to decide that but for most of the meeting, Ambulances Minister Earl Howe was present. These are challenging times and I know all the issues cannot be tackled in a week but we need the Trust to start fixing them one by one. I was disappointed with the initial timeline it was suggested it would take to fix. Frankly, we need to see clear direction of travel within 2-3 months and be sorted by year-end. I will continue to press for this at every level.

I spoke to both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor concerning current negotiations with EDF for Hinkley Point. What happens at Hinkley Point is a very important indicator for Sizewell. I am still highly confident that this project will go ahead, though as has been stated before, not at any price for the taxpayer.

Next Monday, I am co-chairing an A14 summit with Ben Gummer MP at Endeavour House focusing on the traffic delays and diversions when the Orwell Bridge is closed. Thanks to the many constituents who have contacted me and please do so this week if you have more thoughts. Also present will be Councillor McGregor, East of England Highways Agency Director David Gingell and Joint Assistant Chief Constable Charlie Hall. Ben and I are looking for analysis of what goes wrong and particularly why it takes so long to sort out. The traffic impact on Ipswich is horrendous and it does not help the free flow of trade, commuters and other road users when the bridge is shut for hours at a time. I hope to report more next week.

While the Highways Agency is in town, I will also be following up on the noise for Trimley residents. The noise mitigation works have either not happened everywhere they should or have failed to help residents enjoy relative peace and quiet. Councillors John Goodwin and Graham Harding will be putting the local perspective.

Finally, I hope mothers got some time off to enjoy Mother's Day. I hopped down to Hampshire to celebrate with my mother, which involved a bit of shopping and DIY. Although I do not have children, there is almost certainly no greater role than to bring a life into this world, nurture it, cherish it and share values. The Beatles had their own version - "All you need is Love" but St Paul puts it best, "Love is patient, love is kind, love is not selfish....love never fails."

06 MAR 2013

Evening Star Column - 5th March 2013

"If I talk about governance, people normally glaze over. However, good governance is important to any organisation -holding the top bosses to account, monitoring performance, using controls - to achieve its aims. This is true for any business as it is for charities, schools, councils, hospitals and indeed, national government. Particularly in the public sector, we rely on our board directors and governors to undertake that scrutiny role as indeed as your MP, I must do the same of the Government.

I have two areas I am actively monitoring - our local schools, our ambulance service and a new issue which I am taking up - health funding allocation.

The new Health and Social Care Act made a significant change to how funding should be allocated - passing public health money to councils and the money for everyday NHS needs, primarily to the GP groups. Public health is often determined by wider social issues like good quality housing and employment. It is right, as has happened, that poorer areas in the country should get more money. Going further though, the other funding should be allocated according to needs and access. The Commissioning Board, responsible for this, has decided not to make any changes. That isn't fair for people in Suffolk with our sparsely populated population, with a high proportion of elderly people. Watch this space.

I am due to meet ambulance Board members and serving staff in separate meetings this week. The Board had to respond to CQC by Friday so I would hope the report will be published very soon. We know there are a number of factors that affect performance but it is the role of the Board to assess and ensure it is improved. I hope to update you in full next week.

Our schools rely significantly on the leadership of headteachers, who in turn are held to account by governors on behalf of parents, the council and the wider community. I recall from my time as governor (about ten years on and off) that too often we spent times talking on policies rather than focusing on the children and teaching. Interpreting the various data produced by the school could be challenging. However, help is now on hand for governors and indeed parents and local councillors with a new dashboard. It gives a quick snapshot, including looking at results in more detail, progress made, attendance, a split between infants and juniors - the first time this has been done for primary schools. This was launched by the Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, last week. I have already looked up many local schools which adds to my insight. I recommend it to all readers. You can check your school online via dashboard.ofsted.gov.uk . I am glad Suffolk County Council has appointed a new head of Children's Services and I hope she will bring an increased focus on attainment working with our headteachers and governors. If you want to be a governor, contact your school or the county council.

At the weekend, I dropped in to Woodbridge Town Hall for the Eve Appeal - which raises money for research into various gynaecological cancers. I had no idea of the extent of the issue and how many women are diagnosed, often too late for successful treatment. Congratulations to Gay Neal and her extensive committee on raising awareness and for baking all those beautiful cupcakes (one of which was my Saturday morning breakfast!)

Finally, I had hoped to be passing on the good wishes of Suffolk residents to Her Majesty in person. The Queen holds a reception for MPs once during a Parliament but for obvious reasons, that is not possible this week. I wish her all the best for a full recovery."

26 FEB 2013

Evening Star Column - 26th February 2013

"It was back to school for many yesterday, including MPs returning to Parliament after recess. Although I spent much of the week campaigning in the Eastleigh by-election, I took the chance to catch up with progress on our high streets of the Portas initiative.

Last year, Ipswich was awarded £100,000 of Portas Plus cash; Lowestoft received £100,000 too while 5 other town groups in my constituency received £10,000 to stimulate activity and footfall. It was very helpful meeting Tanya Cable from Waveney Council, Simon Charlesworth and Joseph James from Suffolk Coastal to review the smaller projects. Aided by the rigour of the Lowestoft process, I was particularly impressed by the projects in Southwold and Halesworth which have very specific measures to bring in trade and track their success. For our heritage towns, there had certainly been some progress. However, in Felixstowe and Woodbridge, no money has yet been used. I know that should happen in Felixstowe from April to help pay for the events coordinator but I do want to see more rigour on the key measure of success - namely, people walking up and down Hamilton Road. As for Woodbridge, I hope that the council will bring similar rigour to the plan for the town. Our independent stores on our high streets can have a good future by working together and providing excellent service. I am sure that the Suffolk Coastal end can learn from Waveney officials in regards to monitoring and supporting our traders.

There is a lot of focus on growth at the moment. While over a million jobs have been created in the private sector since the last election, we need to ensure we keep our focus on domestic and export growth. The Greater Ipswich City Deal bid to be negotiated with Government offers a great opportunity for Suffolk. The Local Enterprise Partnership - with business and local councils involved - is also consulting on its growth strategy. It is right to add IT, finance and life sciences as growth sectors. We have world-beating IT research on our doorstep in Martlesham that could be even stronger. Meanwhile, all our schools and colleges have a role to play in guiding students to future job opportunities locally while maximising their talents. Colleges, in particular, really have to assess whether their courses are helping people into work. We already know in Suffolk that we have a big mismatch between course participants and job vacancies. This means careful choices of subjects for GCSE and getting the basics right in our primary schools. The County Council also has its part to play in connecting the links fruitfully. It is possible. It needs focus.

At last, the General Medical Council is tackling the issue of European doctors speaking and understanding English. I first asked about this in Parliament in July 2010. Now it seems the GMC wants a law. I would hope our out of hours care providers and Primary Care Trusts could assess this without legislation but if it helps, let's do it pronto.

Finally, in Parliament this week, we debate the important Children and Families Bill. Key points include speeding up adoption processes, extending Special Educational Needs system to young adulthood and two particularly important areas for working parents - flexible working, particularly shared parental leave, and childcare. Shared parental leave give parents the choice on how they will care for their child in the first months after birth. I welcome this change and it may also remove the unconscious bias in recruitment. The cost of childcare is very high, 2nd highest in Europe after Switzerland. Under the last government, the number of providers halved while the cost doubled. We will tackle this, making it worthwhile for parents to go back to work."

19 FEB 2013

Evening Star Column - 19th February 2013

"I met Network Rail supremo Dave Ward with Felixstowe County Councillor Graham Newman and Jonathan Denby fromGreater Anglia to press the case for improvements to the Ipswich to Felixstowe line, including the need to retain a full passenger service.

Former Port boss, David Gledhill, last March suggested that day-time trains should be replaced by a bus. Immediately, Cllr Newman and I said we would oppose that. If rail services disappear for parts of the day, so can passengers switch off the rail habit entirely. I am pleased to say that the Port confirmed to me recently that they were no longer calling for an end to daytime services but we still have to fix the issue of passenger services being held up by delays or over-running of the freight trains. We all want to see more freight on rail but that must not mean a reduction in the quality of the passenger service.

Dave Ward was very keen to stress that Network Rail wants to keep if not add passenger services across the network. One of the reasons we met Dave was to discuss the issue of the freight trains affecting passengers and to hear his plans on this line. It was a very positive meeting. While the port is still legally committed to dualling the line, the time frame for this has been extended. In the meantime, Network Rail is also keen to ensure passenger services are kept and Dave Ward's team is actively looking for solutions. He told Graham and I about the progress Network Rail is making on a scheme for the Felixstowe line that will relieve the current capacity crunch, designed to protect both the vital freight services from the port and the passenger service. I cannot give details yet but hope an official announcement will be made soon.

Understandably, Jonathan Denby from Greater Anglia was also pleased with the update, seeking an outcome that protects passengers' interests as well as enabling freight services to expand. Jonathan has been key to the Greater Anglia manifesto and recent wins like the Beccles Loop. It was good to have him involved in this meeting. I also want to thank local councillor Graham Newman who has been a constant advocate for the trains and it has been a pleasure to work with him closely to secure these expected improvements.

I raised the issue of level crossings. Dave confirmed the planned crossing upgrade at Melton. He also shared early thoughts on new technology from Norway that could help improve safety and speed at many other crossings along the East Suffolk lines.

After a steady campaign of 18 months and particularly after stepping up the pressure significantly over the last 3, I am pleased that the Bosses of the Ambulance Service are finally listening to the concerns of patients, staff and MPs. After meetings with Monitor, CQC and the Board, I will give credit to the Chief Exec for taking some corrective action and making 15 more ambulances available across the region. Some of those will be in Felixstowe, Sudbury and Saxmundham. CQC will publish its report in March but from our meeting with them last week, they revealed their concerns on response times in rural areas and for emergencies that are not life-threatening. These 15 ambulances will initially be crewed on an overtime basis but new staff are being recruited. Suffolk is a rural county but so are Cornwall, Devon and Cumbria which are keeping up their services to all patients. As I said, praise should be given for this initial action but the campaign continues."

12 FEB 2013

Evening Star Column - 12th February 2013

"The Prime Minister pulled off a triumph in Brussels last week as he worked hard with allies to secure a cut in the EUbudget. Sadly due to the Blair/Brown surrender of part of our rebate some years ago, that may still mean contributions going up but this was a fundamental change in thinking of national leaders - recognising that while we are all trying to live within our means, so should the EU bureaucracy. 10/10 to the Boss - I am glad he was doing the deal for us this time.

I was encouraged that the number of student applications for university continued to rise, despite the increase in fees. I think students have realised that there need be no fees upfront and that they are investing in their future. At the same time, universities need to become more responsive to students and will be publishing statistics including employment gained for each course. We all know, though, that university is not the only path to success. I am proud this Government has increased the quantity of apprenticeships. Quite rightly, we should make sure they are of very good quality which is the focus now. Next month we enjoy National Apprenticeship Week and I hope to visit several of our businesses who have taken on their future talent. By the way - a warm welcome to Sue Cook, new director of Children's Services. She has quite a task on her hands but shared ambitions and support to reverse the trend on educational attainment in our county.

Last week, I met the Chief Executive of the Post Office, Paula Vennells, with other MPs. It was refreshing to get some straight answers to some straight questions on issues we face here in Suffolk, particularly in the rural areas. The government subsidy to the Post Office is substantial and we increased it in 2011. I was impressed that the Chief Executive said she needs to get her town centre post offices on at least a break-even status so that she can focus on the service in those offices in more deprived and rural areas.

The Francis Report and its recommendations on the NHS made for some uncomfortable reading for members of the last government and those making operational decisions. I think we have to be careful to look at all the recommendations. We should not knee-jerk regulate but continue to hold to account those in leadership positions and on the Boards of our health services. That will be a new experience for those doctors taking on leadership roles in the new CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups). Having met the two new Chairmen of each covering my constituency, I am confident that they will keep a focus on patient care as well as patient treatment. I met CQC again yesterday regarding ambulance services. I cannot give details at the moment but I am glad that our concerns are being taken seriously.

It was National Libraries' Day on Saturday. I was in Felixstowe on Friday night and I also popped into Woodbridge on Saturday to join their celebrations. With Deputy Mayor of Woodbridge, Patti Mulcahy, I met Library manager Helen Scrivener, Community Library Manager Diane Moore, Library Assistants Elspeth Hilson and Ann Halliday. All the libraries in Suffolk are now part of a separate body dedicated to solely running our libraries. So far, it seems to have been a success with some branches opening longer hours and bringing in more volunteers. There is an expectation that each library will raise 5% of its funding needs through either services like catering, room hire or other events, often involving a Friends' Group. This is not all about fundraising though, it is an open invitation to hear from users and potential users what is wanted in your libraries."

07 FEB 2013

Evening Star Column - 5th February 2013

"It is National Marriage Week this week. I am not sure if No.10 knew about this when the 2nd Reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill was timetabled but it is certainly a matter on which many constituents have contacted me, almost all of whom pressing me to vote against the Bill. I had already decided, some time ago, to not support the Bill and I have decided to vote against. While I know this will lead to cries of homophobia on my behalf, which is certainly not the case, I will be voting to preserve the traditional form of marriage, the union of one man and one woman together becoming one, sealing their commitment to each other and becoming the bedrock of family. It is the family element that is vital to marriage. The Government has not been able to solve this particular issue so we end up with a Marriage Bill that is not actually equal – e.g. cannot divorce on grounds of adultery.

While the Government is trying to include safeguards in the Bill for religious institutions, I am concerned that they will not withstand further legal challenges. It is particularly difficult for the Church of England as their religious laws are intertwined so finely with English law on this matter. Recently a bill was tabled in Parliament to remove dispensations from the Church of England on the equality act after the Synod's vote on women bishops. I have no doubt that amendments will be tabled now and in the future in regard to marriages in churches as well. The Government has sought to put into law that it will be illegal for the Church of England to undertake such marriages as a way to protect the Church but that seems a rather cumbersome way of achieving this. Furthermore, I can foresee defending marriage laws against polygamous arrangements could start to become very difficult. This issue will run for some time.

The other big news in Westminster is that the Liberal Democrat MP, Chris Huhne, has pleaded guilty to the charge of perverting the course of justice. This is a serious offence committed when he was an MEP and relates to the issue of points for speeding. For someone who very nearly became the leader of the Liberal Democrats, it is truly shocking and brings shame on politicians. He is likely to receive a prison sentence. Some of this may well originate from the perverse financial incentives at the time when MEPs received a flat rate travel and could pocket the difference between the air fare paid and the allowance – which could be a few hundred pounds if you flew on a cheap airline to Stansted and then drove to your constituency base even though other airports were closer. This has now changed and rightly so but it is another shameful reminder of how perverse financial incentives can lead to greed and fraudulent behaviour.

Meanwhile, I continue to focus on issues like ambulances, rail services, jobs, growth and Sizewell C. The Sizewell C consultation closes tomorrow so please get your thoughts in. This may include issues which EDF has not considered. I have now had ten public meetings on this as well as meeting EDF, councillors and other parties directly. Free phone 0800 197 6102 or email sizewell@edfconsultation.info

Later this week, the final details of the Francis Report into the Mid Staffs Hospital scandal are published. Readers should know that I continue to press the management and Boards of our local health services to ensure they keep their eye on care of patients, not just the targets or numbers. The ambulance service in particular has to up its game and I will keep pressing them to do just that."

29 JAN 2013

Evening Star Column - 29th January 2013

"It was a great pleasure to attend the first annual parade of our Suffolk Police Cadets at Woodbridge School. Run by Felixstowe's Inspector Gallant, there are 4 units run from Bury, Ipswich, Lowestoft and Martlesham. I was delighted to see Senior Cadet Luke Hall from the Martlesham branch win Cadet of the Year award. He's a young man going places. Thanks to all the police officers, staff and PCSOs who volunteer to support these young people. Parents and families seemed very proud of the young cadets and so they should be.

I visited the informal consultation for the Whisstocks and Nunn's Mill sites in Woodbridge. I was very impressed by the vision and overall design, turning what is now an eyesore into a good public space, training facility and new homes. I don't like the dark grey colour and there are concerns on height. Apparently, it is grey so as not to disrupt the prominence of the Tide Mill and the Granary but I hope something not quite so gloomy will arise. You can look on their website for more.

I am still keen to hear people's views on the EDF proposals on the park and ride with lorry freight park. The councils believe they should be separate and I agree. However, we certainly need more analysis of the impact on both the Seven Hills and Woods Lane roundabouts. Option 1 at Wickham Market is EDF's preferred site which does make a lot of sense. The reason for option 2 is that it would reduce the number of vehicles going up the single carriageway beyond the Woods Lane roundabout. That is the key question on this scheme. Continue to send your thoughts directly to EDF by February 6th but copy me in with your thoughts.

I visited Felixstowe & Walton United Football Club to learn more about their plans on lighting the ground. They want to change their archaic temporary lights that are moved after every game and practice session to permanent lighting. Seeing up close what is involved, I can understand their point. We also touched on a former vision, originally proposed by the council, of a football hub at Eastward Ho / The Grove. I think this is worth pursuing so will commit to restarting this conversation with the club and the FA.

School results were back in the local headlines as Suffolk slumped into the bottom ten of attainment at national level. Most if not all areas of the country were affected by the English grade boundaries so we should not be looking for excuses not unique to Suffolk. I looked carefully at the value added score. All the secondary schools in my constituency were below the national average. Regardless of the other issues, that is where governors and parents may wish to focus their attention.

A week certainly is a long time in Westminster. David Cameron's big speech on Europe was very welcome. The choice is clear- before 2015, we will prepare legislation for a referendum; our next manifesto in 2015 will have more details of what we want for a reformed Europe as a whole and for the UK. If we win the election, we will start that negotiation and put it to a referendum. So far, our opposition has said no to this choice by the people. I am sure they will change their minds. In the meantime, with the negotiation of the European budget, all the EU has to get real about focusing on competitiveness, growth and jobs. The Eurozone's economy shrank in Q3 2012. The Bank of England predicted that the UK economy would shrink again in Q4 and so it has been confirmed. That said, all previous quarters have had their growth revised upwards. I hope that will be the case now and that we finish the year with slight overall growth."

23 JAN 2013

Evening Star Column - 22nd January 2013

"Snow hit our county this week with a vengeance. I want to thank our County Council workers for gritting so well such that much of the county could keep going to work and school. It's a difficult time for headteachers assessing whether it is safe to open, exacerbated by the number of children taking exams at this time. I understand the fracture clinic is particularly busy. Snow is a lot of fun and we should enjoy it but keep a bit of common sense in play. Please also check on your neighbours. Offering to get an extra pint of milk or bread when you are at the shops so Mrs Jones doesn't need to risk going out would be very welcome, I'm sure.

Snow didn't stop me going ahead with my Sizewell C meetings on Friday and Saturday. I had 8 such meetings on Friday with the largest attendance at Yoxford. I will be holding a final informal meeting this Saturday at 10am at the Orwell Crossing Lorry Park.

We debated the Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill which has all benefits and credits going up by 1%, the same as public sector pay, except for those for carers and disabled people unable to work. Pensions will be rising by 2.5% in line with the law we introduced. At the same time, child benefit is being withdrawn entirely for those a person with a net income before tax over £60,000. These are all difficult choices for a Government to make but while we are continuing to borrow £1 billion pounds every three days, it is only by closing the gap between what we spend and take in tax will we every start to pay off debt. Borrowing more and more without a clear plan to break even is just not fair on the next generation.

The consultation closed on the Fire Service merger proposals. I have opposed it as I am concerned that Suffolk could be squeezed. Already a lower cost authority than Cambridgeshire, I can imagine that any further savings would be demanded equally which would have a higher impact on our county. I do think they should work together closely and there are some functions which could be merged. The Fire Service is recruiting for volunteer firefighters. We rely across much of Suffolk for this help and I would encourage people to put themselves forward.

It was useful to meet Clemence Cheng and Paul Davey of Felixstowe Port last week and catch up on some recent developments. They are applying for a change of condition on starting rail works connected to them starting work on the longer berth. Having looked at it, it seems reasonable so I won't be flagging any concerns. That said, East Anglian MPs had a very fruitful meeting with Network Rail bosses for our area on the progress of works and future plans, including how we can continue to press the case. We touched briefly on the potential for the Felixstowe line and I pressed the case for continued passenger services. I have a specific meeting with Network Rail involving Councillor Graham Newman next week to discuss the issue of trains to / from Felixstowe as well as level crossings. I will continue to work to safeguard the hourly service. On transport, Roads Minister is in Bury St Edmunds this week. I am joining the meeting to continue to highlight the potential impact of tolling on our Port and logistics industry.

Finally, I attended a Suffolk Leaders' Discussion on Friday, which was held at Portman Road. The ground staff were working hard to get the pitch ready for the game. I am sure Ipswich fans were disappointed by the late goal conceded but were compensated for this by my team Liverpool thrashing the Canaries. Every cloud..."

15 JAN 2013

Evening Star Column - 15th January 2013

"Another fast paced week drew to a close with our Norfolk/Suffolk banking forum. I co-chaired this with Norfolk MPElizabeth Truss and my Suffolk colleague Peter Aldous also attended. This provided the opportunity for banks and MPs to be held to account by businesses and business organisations. Since last year, there does seem to have been an increase in net lending in our region though the picture is not as strong in Suffolk as in Norfolk and particularly Cambridgeshire. There was good news that our area is the second best for growth of new businesses but half of all new start-ups are not being given loans by the banks. That is not so surprising and there are other routes to finance like private investors or Foundation East is our Community Finance Organisation. They are also an access point for the start-up loans I mentioned last week. The New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership of councils and businesses has recognised the need to develop better business plans. Plans are already afoot for our next conference in 2014.

Highlight of the Parliamentary week was the statement by the Fisheries Minister, on his annual quota negotiations. Every MP who spoke congratulated him. Overturning quota reductions, keeping same number of days at sea and meanwhile he is fighting to get more share of the quota for our smallest, sustainable boats. I really think he has done more for the UK than any other in the last twenty years. It was a brilliant move by the PM to keep him in place in the run up to 2012 negotiations and deserves a future promotion.

Many people have a "dry" January to recover from festive excess. There are popular deals in supermarkets which could disappear if the government goes ahead with its minimum alcohol pricing strategy. The expectation is that people will not tank up before hitting the pubs and clubs. Pubs are welcoming the policy but will minimum pricing actually be sufficient to make people choose the pub over home? This is well intentioned policy though I fully understand the concerns about its effectiveness or the "nanny state nonsense" as it has also been described. The consultation is available on the Home Office website and closes on 6th February. Also this week, the government announced a legal code of conduct for pub landlords and the companies or breweries that own the pubs. Our Suffolk breweries are good owners but there have been too many bad examples across the country which is now sadly leading to regulation.

More details of the mid-term review came out during the week. Before the last election, I wrote that people should be careful what they wished for when the phrase balanced (rather than hung) parliament was bandied about. This coalition came about because that is what people voted for and because two parties took a chance to work together in the national interest. Cynics say the rose garden magic has gone. Actually it is still there. Just we have had two years of it and there has been a lot of grafting in between. It's a gloves off government getting stuck in. Any gardener knows the occasional prick from a thorn doesn't deter from enjoying a priceless bloom.

Keeping busy this Friday, I am hosting several community meetings on the EDF proposals for Sizewell C. I haven't yet organised one in the Felixstowe or Nacton area but have been asked to do so. EDF is holding its own consultation in Felixstowe Town Hall on 23rd January from 3-6pm. I will post more detail next week or you can look on my website."

08 JAN 2013

Evening Star Column - 8th January 2013

"A New Year Message from the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister also carries a look back on the first half of a Coalition Government. I try not to be particularly partisan in these columns so I won't dwell on the 100 achievements highlighted but instead focus on the future. Don't doubt we will be pressing every lever to get growth and jobs, nationally and locally, while spending precious taxpayers' money carefully. The government has put an extra £30 million into the Start-Up Loan scheme for young people, encouraging them to be entrepreneurs. The scheme has had a very low take-up rate in our area so far. The age range has been extended to 30 year olds. More information is available online at http://www.startuploans.co.uk/ Some significant decisions are being made on elderly care, child care, pensions and transport. I will report back as the policies develop further but on transport, I popped across the Orwell to Harwich to meet new Transport Minister Stephen Hammond MP. Responsible for shipping, rail freight and Highways Agency roads, with businesses and councillors, I took the opportunity to raise the issues we have on the A14 and A12.

The Felixstowe Spa Pavilion closed its doors on Sunday after the last showing of the traditional pantomime. I know it was a very sad day for many who have tread the boards and indeed the theatre-goers. I want to pay tribute to the group that has tried to keep the Spa open. I know they worked hard and had some setbacks en route. There is no doubting their dedication to the theatre and its role in the community.
The Council decided it could not continue subsidising the theatre by £250k every year, especially when performances and visitors were not growing. Although there was the prospect of some subsidy, initial approaches were not fruitful. My request to some local businesses to step in proved a step too far for them with the current setup.
The Spa prominently features in a Felixstowe painting hanging in my Westminster office. It is a cultural icon of the town. I know this is an important asset for the town that needs exploiting. There are still some interested parties who are thinking about its use, starting with a clean slate. I will continue to encourage them and the Council so that the doors can reopen and really make this part of Felixstowe days out by the sea.

2013 brings a number of new developments in our area, the biggest of which will be the Suffolk broadband rollout. I was at Endeavour House just before Christmas for an MP-Cabinet meeting and stayed for the signing of the broadband contract. This is a great triumph for the Better Broadband team – particular credit to programme leader Peter Ingram and County Council leader Mark Bee. BT now has to do some detailed planning work in the next three months and spades should go in the ground by the summer. While we were there, we discussed various matters affecting Suffolk but mainly on education. I have written on this before but it was useful to hear that the new director of children's services will start soon and brings a track record of improvement. Meanwhile, I support the council's action plan and am encouraging them to be even more proactive in schools that are struggling and actually coasting.

My other hopes for 2013? Ipswich to stay up. Better primary school results in Suffolk schools, helped by completion of SOR. Ambulance service improves. Growth locally and even lower unemployment. Britten Centenary festival a roaring success (including spectacular 22nd November for the Friday Afternoons project). Not too much to ask for..."

02 JAN 2013

Evening Star Column - 1st January 2013

"Happy New Year. I hope you all enjoyed a restful Christmas if not a damp one. Given it has been the wettest year ever recorded, there should be little chance of a drought in 2013 - thank heavens.

A quick look back over 2012. I spoke in Parliament 87 times asking questions, making speeches and contributions to debates. I asked 35 written questions. I signed 15 Early Day Motions. An additional 2000 constituents contacted me for the first time. My team and I have handled over 5000 queries. I held two surgeries most months and staged nine public meetings. I ran my first villages tour, going to 30 different villages in the February half term. I have visited all but three schools and have proactively contacted schools and charities on various opportunities, particularly concerning the Olympics. I received a mini-promotion in September. Thanks to my team (those who are still here and those who have moved on) for their support.

2012 required focus on a few key issues. I have continued to focus on ambulances and will do so again in 2013. With a new interim chief executive and dialogue opened up directly with the Board. The contract for better broadband was signed just before Christmas. Hourly rail services from Ipswich to Lowestoft, improvements to rail junctions to help get freight onto rail and the development of a Anglian rail manifesto. My parliamentary inquiry on off-gas grid issues is underway.

Work on the Select Committee continued with further inquiries on racism in football, gambling and libraries. We noted in our report the new model that Suffolk is using which gives leadership to a body independent of the County Council that focuses just on libraries, with the backstop of the council retaining overall ownership of the assets and it keeps its duty. Our councils are continuing to make every penny of taxpayers' money work hard. Investment in infrastructure is key as is the focus on education. That is a county-wide challenge which has long-term impacts to ensure future prosperity.

In 2012, I spent more time on supporting businesses. Last January, MPs from Suffolk and Norfolk hosted a banking forum. Liz Truss MP and I had a further update in the Autumn and will be hosting another forum this month. I hosted a business surgery and an export breakfast. I visited our largest employers again - the Port, BT and EDF - but I am conscious that most employers are SMEs. Sizewell C offers great opportunity to all sizes of businesses and you can register through the portal organised by the Chamber of Commerce with EDF - http://www.sizewellcsupplychain.co.uk/ . Our LEP is doing some very good work and we need to keep focus on helping businesses develop. I hope to do even more on this in 2013.

2012 has been a very special year on which I will look back with a lot of fondness. The Olympics and Paralympics extravaganzas surpassed all expectations. The Games Makers made the difference as we welcomed the world. The torch relay covered a lot of coastal Suffolk bringing the crowds out. The Cultural Olympiad played a special role in Snape Maltings with the launch of the World Youth Orchestra and a fine performance by the Paraorchestra. The Diamond Jubilee was another special time for the nation - recognising years of service and another good excuse for a public holiday and a party. 2013 has a lot to live up to but there will be the rollout of the broadband programme, the Britten Centenary Festival and more economic development on our green coast. Building on the 2012 legacy gives us great opportunity for us all to up our game and keep Britain great."

20 DEC 2012

Evening Star Column - 18th December 2012

"That is a phrase many of us recognise from our school reports when our teachers wanted us to try harder in our school work. The same has to be said about many Suffolk primary schools. I have been constant in voicing my concern about our poor performance of our primary schools - the foundation of education for our children, Suffolk's future. Last year, Suffolk was in the bottom 10%. This year, we were third worst. While Raising the Bar is an interesting initiative, it has only just started addressing the challenge in our primary schools. Congratulations should go to schools in my area who have either continued their excellent performance or seen significant improvement - in my area, I am thinking of Birchwood, Martlesham Beacon Hill, Bawdsey and the 3 schools in Woodbridge.

I just have a handful of schools in my constituency still to visit. For me there are some clearly outstanding examples of success while in others, the struggle is evident. I have discussed every school at length with the county council. There are two signficant changes they introduced which will help. Children are now expected (though not compelled) to start school at the start of the academic year when they will be 5. The move to two tier schools is shown to improve attainment. I do think the County should intervene more proactively in struggling schools but I recognise they have to focus their efforts. I was surprised by opposition voices blaming poor education attainment on some historic myth or on the county council though, rather than being prepared to challenge the core of the issue.

Aspiration to be the best and not just good enough is the step change in psyche which we need to see in all our schools in Suffolk, not just the few. Ultimately, our school governors have to work with our headteachers to improve standards and attainment. Our headteachers can only accept the best from their teachers. This has to be done with the support of the parents. Both my parents were teachers. I know it can be a very difficult job. They need the full backing of parents. It works both ways. Parents are right to challenge our schools to focus on the fundamentals and only accept excellence.

I do believe that everyone has a talent and not everyone is going to be a brain surgeon. But as our best athletes in this glorious year of 2012 have shown, our Olympians and Paralympians do extraordinary things by complete dedication, trying hard every day to do what they do best. The same must be true in our schools. 2012 has been an amazing year and capturing that world-beating spirit is the legacy we must all embrace.

I had a very good meeting with the BT Director of Adastral Park discussing Innovation Martlesham. Earlier in the week, it had been visited by Lord Green, Minister for Trade and Investment. I do think this site is one of Suffolk's best kept secrets and epitomises Curious Suffolk with its research and development of solutions for daily challenges as well as ground-breaking technology. BT is the UK's largest investor in R&D for technology. Many extraordinary things happen on our doorstep but I am ambitious for even more. Cambridge Science Park has the advantage of a global, leading university on its doorstep but we should still exploit this asset.

While I was at BT, I saw Hollesley Primary School singing and playing carols, generating festive spirits. I also enjoyed the Service of Nine Lessons at St Mary's Walton joining Felixstowe Town Council for its Carol Service. Christmas is always a very special time. Celebrations, parties, annual rituals and traditions are part of what makes it so special as is thinking of others. This year, Christmas and New Year fall on a Tuesday so I want to wish all Star readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

12 DEC 2012

Evening Star Column - 11th December 2012

"Snow made a fleeting appearance - enough to have wet play when I visited Langer Primary School last week. The school is part of the Felixstowe Academy group, sponsored by AET. It was a pleasure to meet the children and teachers. I also dropped in again to see Mrs Reynish and her team at Grange Primary School. We talked in more detail about changes to funding. The total pot for schools in Suffolk is the same but the Government has reduced the number of criteria for allocation of funding. Headteachers on the Schools Forum have then decided the weighting of the criteria. This has led to some highly significant changes for schools but have a breathing space for 2 years as there will be a transitional arrangement. This does not stop the efforts to increase the average per pupil funding for Suffolk as a whole. While the pupil premium is welcome, it does not fully address the ongoing challenge in our county.

At a briefing on the East Anglia Offshore Wind project, it was useful to learn from Vattenfall and Scottish Power of the forthcoming opportunities and risks on construction of the huge windfarm. The route is now well established for bringing the electricity onshore via Bawdsey and across to Bramford. While the prize for UK manufacturing is commonly thought to have a turbine manufacturer in the country, actually, the feedback from the EAOW team was that it is the construction of the foundations and underpinnings where the biggest jobs prize is. We are in competition with ports and construction bases on the continent. While I made the point firmly that British taxpayers would want to see their generous subsidies result in construction jobs here rather than in Holland, we also need to ensure that we have the supply of skills and companies ready for the opportunity.

Residents of Woodbridge and up to Saxmundham have enjoyed an hourly service for the last year and now the entire East Suffolk line up to Ipswich will have the benefit. I remember the celebration we had 2 years ago in the House of Commons when it was announced. We won't be stopping there though. Next stop improve line speed and an hourly service for Ipswich to Peterborough. Suffolk MPs are united in getting a better service for all passengers - and that includes the important line to Felixstowe.

I met a delegation of Trimley St Martin Parish Council with Cllr Graham Harding to discuss the A14. The noise from the road is a constant humdrum with occasional bangs due to road surface changes. For whatever reason, the sound barriers have not been erected that were promised. We seem to have got stuck. I will do what I can to bring forward the improvements and the resurfacing of the A14 but I won't pretend it will be easy. Vanity projects like the A14 signs could have been spent on improving the quality of the road, not on signs with no or little information.

Cancelling 3p fuel duty rise, increasing the personal tax-free allowance to £9440 and a further council tax freeze possible were key measures announced in the Autumn statement by George Osborne. Pensioners benefit from the triple lock (that we legislated for) with a 2.5% rise, higher than inflation or average earnings increase. At the same time, we have decided to keep rises in working-age benefits (excluding those with disabilities or carers) in line with the rise in public sector pay. Corporation tax will fall to 21% - good news for encouraging businesses. Standing up for hard working families, helping with the cost of living, putting more money into people's pockets - priorities for the Government that I fully support."

04 DEC 2012

Evening Star Column - 4th December 2012

"The festive season is well underway and it's only just December. I think Hamilton Road in Felixstowe is lookingparticularly colourful and the opening ceremony was very jolly. I hope to be meeting our Portas Partner teams early in the New Year to understand the effects of the £10,000 recently secured. It is often said that some of the large retail chains make all their money in this time of the year. For smaller businesses, keeping the cashflow going throughout the year is vital. So do shop local this Christmas and secure an extra brownie point for supporting our High Streets.

I attended the Oath Taking ceremony for the new Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore. While the turnout was low, not too surprising for a cold November day, it is still an important step towards improving accountability – replacing an appointed police authority with a directly elected commissioner who will have a one to one relationship with the Chief Constable. Now that Chief Constable Simon Ash has confirmed that he will be leaving Suffolk Constabulary, Commissioner Passmore has a key decision to make as we know that the leadership of any organisation is a great factor in its success.

The end of the ticketing service at Woodbridge Rail station is due early next year. That is why I have teamed up with Woodbridge's Deputy Mayor, Patti Mulcahy, to press Greater Anglia to install a ticket machine as quickly as possible. I welcome the rail company's initiative on printing tickets at home and their app for mobile devices is excellent but they cannot rely on local councils to provide facilities to purchase good deal tickets. I understand not every station has the ready infrastructure to support a machine but Woodbridge does.

The big talking point in Parliament and the national press currently is the Leveson Report. I write this article before we actually have had the formal debate. I am with the Prime Minister in being very nervous about introducing any statutory legislation. A nice phrase is being put out by the pro-legislation people and indeed Sir Brian Leveson himself – statutory underpinning. A free press is the hallmark of a free society. It holds politicians and the Establishment to account. Press self-regulation has always evolved and it is a longstanding threat of politicians to legislate. I do not accept that a new law is required and even the specific law mentioned by Leveson will not satisfy most complainants' desire for a privacy law. I will write more next week, after the debate.

There was much relief as the Energy Bill was finally published. While some detail is still needed, it was welcome to get the process underway as it is key for investors to know the financial details of this significant investment. Sizewell C is important for long-term energy security and it is a low carbon energy. Meanwhile, support for renewable energy is included. I am conscious that this is adding to people's bills now but we cannot rely forever on fossil fuels coming from abroad. I met the Prime Minister with Peter Aldous, Ben Gummer and other MPs to press the case for the Energy Bill and a consistent message on green energy for potential investors. If we are spending a lot of money on this, we should be maximising the job opportunities for UK plc as well.

Good news for Ipswich and the announcement by the Treasury that it is in the running for funding for the tidal barrier. It was news to me that Ipswich was a flood risk but it if it helps regenerate more sites in our county town, that is great for our county town. By building up the profile of Ipswich, we will accelerate inward investment for Suffolk."

29 NOV 2012

Evening Star Column - 27th November 2012

"EDF launched its consultation on planning options for the new power station at Sizewell and all the associated development. The significant impact on the south end of Suffolk will be the proposed freight park, consolidating deliveries of materials into fewer lorry movements up the A12, and the park and ride scheme near Woodbridge. The freight park sites near the Orwell Crossing and off Seven Hills have their advantages and drawbacks. From the three options, I think Seven Hills is more likely due to concerns about the potential holdups on the bridge - which would be damaging for the wider Ipswich economy.

Higher up the A12, I have already spoken with the Mayor of Woodbridge on further improvements that may help traffic flow and the siting of the park and rides. I think that more than one option may be needed. Of course, you may want to suggest new options in the process. More information is available online. http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info/ The only exhibition currently planned in South Suffolk is at Melton (The Lindos Centre) on the 8th December from 10-4. I will try to persuade EDF to hold an exhibition closer to Bucklesham due to the impact of the freight park. I will hold some public meetings in January as well, to gauge local thoughts.

I was pleased to speak at the joint dinner of the two Woodbridge Rotary groups last week. Groups like Rotary epitomise the vision behind the Big Society. It may well be alive and kicking in Suffolk but that is not true in all parts of the UK. Service above self is their motto - a fine aspiration for all of us. Every day, prayers are said in Parliament at the start of business. They are not compulsory to attend but are a special time when only MPs, the Serjeant at Arms and the Chaplain are present with no press nor public. During them we are reminded to put others above ourselves. I like to think that is the purpose of going into public life. Our current chaplain is a woman vicar, Rev Rose Hudson-Wilkin. She may well have agreed with the raucous debate last week in Parliament on women bishops. As a Catholic, I am loathe to intervene in Church of England matters. However, I was struck by the frankly un-Christian comments made against opponents and also pondered on the desire of MPs to speak who never attend church. It all had the tone of grandstanding and then a Bill was introduced to change the Equality Act for the Church of England on this matter. If it can happen on this, what happens to the assurances on same-sex marriages in churches?

The Prime Minister was in the Chamber after being in Brussels for EU budget negotiations. Quite simply, he didn't get the deal he wanted so he refused to sign. Simples as Alexander the Meerkat might say. Every national leader will of course be trying to get the best deal for their country. This particular process happens every seven years and sets the ultimate budget ceiling. There are annual modifications but this particular process is key. Last time, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair gave away a lot of our rebate which had been hard won by Margaret Thatcher and protected by John Major. I know David Cameron is committed to keeping the rebate and will be working hard for months to come to ensure we get the deal that's best for Britain. Another opportunity for vigorous debate comes with the publication of the Leveson Report. The full debate will be on Monday next but the Prime Minister will make a statement this Thursday. I will write more next week when the full details are out but essentially, I am opposed to statutory regulation.

Last week marked the launch of the Britten Centenary Celebrations. A number of schools, including Farlingaye High, sang at Snape Maltings as part of an ambitious project called "Friday Afternoons". It was great fun and I hope all our local schools join in."

20 NOV 2012

Evening Star Column - 20th November 2012

As an MP, it feels like every week is a themed week... Breast Cancer, Exports, Sausages, etc. Well this week is Parliament Week. I have communicated with all the schools, including resources that may be helpful for children understanding our democratic process. I am looking forward to visiting Alde Valley 6th Form on Friday to discuss the role of Parliament.

"I am usually in London during the week but I have persuaded the powers that be for me to attend three key constituency events.

Yesterday, I observed an exercise relating to disaster recovery in the event of an oil spill off the Southwold coast in a ship to ship oil transfer. There has been a spill of 5 litres in recent history but the exercise was based on a spill of over 200 tonnes of oil. I observed the initial coordination in the council offices in Woodbridge and then decamped to Southwold to see what has happening on the ground. The "hard" debrief happens next month. I will report on its success or otherwise then.

The Sizewell C initial consultation gets underway tomorrow. This will be the largest construction project for the East of England yet. I have been pre-briefed but promised not to break divulge so you will have to wait for tomorrow's paper for the detail. It does matter that the community responds to the initial proposals in the next few weeks. There is still about another 18 months to two years before EDF submits its planning application but this first phase is important. Please attend the exhibitions, look online and respond. I am happy to be copied in on any responses or you can write to me directly for me to express your view.

Also tomorrow is the turf-cutting for the new Felixstowe Academy. It has been some time coming. I still recall the crunch meeting with the Minister in Whitehall with the three of us (me, Cllr Graham Newman and the then principal Rob Cawley) working hard to persuade why in times of economic challenge, we needed a new building. Though the construction will take another year, it is good to see this project finally underway with AET. Thanks also to Suffolk County Council for their help in resolving the project and planning issues. Later in the day, I hope to be meeting Serco on their community health plans. I am confident that Felixstowe Community Hospital continues to be a key part of their services.

Congratulations to Tim Passmore who won the election to be Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner after a close fought contest. Some may say apathy was the winner but in 2016, I expect there will be far more interest. Elsewhere, a fair number of independents won. I wasn't surprised by that, particularly when candidates had previously been members of the Police Authority. When we were discussing our selection process, I had advocated to my party the way it happens in the USA where judges are elected. Rarely do these judges stand on a party ticket but the Democrats and Republicans will endorse a candidate on the basis of their approach to law and order matters.

Finally, as the leaves fall, it is still important to be vigilant on ash dieback. I have met the Secretary of State twice as this constituency has over eight breakouts in mature woodland. The advice is now clear that mature trees will not be felled but allowed to die naturally. The disease weakens the tree but does not kill it. This is because older trees are more resilient while recently planted trees will be uprooted. This is in contrast to what happened 25 years with dutch elm disease but the scientists believe this is the best way to handle this problem without eliminating every ash tree in the country."

14 NOV 2012

Evening Star Column - 14th November 2012

"Thank you to everyone who turned out up and down our county for Remembrance Services. It is right for our nation topause and reflect on the brave, ultimate sacrifice made by so many in the pursuit of defence of our country and for peace. I was in Woodbridge this year and it was heartening to see our local 23 Engineeers regiment as well as the many young cadet groups represented. The CO, Lt Col Hones, was reminding us that while most of the NCOs had seen action several times in Afghanistan, actually many of the privates had not yet seen action, though the regiment is part of the ever-ready team that can be deployed within 5 days. The Government announced its new strategy for the Armed Forces Reserves, including renaming the TA. Doubling the number of reservists in the Army with increasing training days to 40 per year is a key element.

There are key elections this week as Suffolk elects its first police and crime commissioner. Replacing the Police Authority that met monthly with a single, directly-elected, full-time individual will give more focus and accountability for the cross-county focus on crime. While crime has gone down, there is still more to be done and that prioritisation of issues is a key factor for the new PCC. This is not about politicising the police. Operationally, the Chief Constable will operate as now. For those who are standing on behalf of political parties (Conservative, Labour and UKIP), voters can have confidence that they will have already been through some vetting and prior selection process with a rough idea of their approach to law and order issues. There is also an independent standing and a bit of googling can be done on their issues and what journalists may have investigated. Information on all the candidates can be found online at http://www.choosemypcc.org.uk/candidates/area/suffolk

I was delighted that Felixstowe Councillor Andy Smith was in Parliament this week with officers Phil Ridley and David Wheeler joining Volker Stevin and MottMcDonald at the prize ceremony of the Green Apple Awards. The flood defences work in Central Felixstowe has been a great success, unexpectedly creating new beach stretches - another plus for our resort. The award was given for innovative ways of re-using the waste in other parts of the scheme rather than going to landfill and it also reduced lorry movements. That is good for the environment, good for local residents and good for the wallet avoiding paying landfill tax.

This is Export Week. Earlier in the year I staged a breakfast meeting with UKTI to encourage small businesses in the area to export. Our nation has long had a proud record of exporting but for too long now, we have imported more than we exported. UKTI is well regarded by our continental competitors and are focused more than ever on helping businesses of all sizes on capturing business abroad. I will be visiting Brafe Engineering, a great local success story, that exports most of its products. If any local business wants some sign-posting on this, please do get in touch.

And finally, some MPs are watching a certain jungle reality show for the first time as one of our colleagues undertakes the bushtucker trials. Nadine is a mate in Parliament but I don't agree with her going in the jungle when she should be in the House. I know other MPs are away from time to time but usually in pursuit of specific parliamentary matters, not broadcasting to the world. I think she will do ok if she stays off party politics. Certainly many MPs are voting for her to stay in!"

07 NOV 2012

Evening Star Column - 6th November 2012

"I was in Parliament for the statement on the terrorist murder of prison officer David Black, killed last Thursday in Northern Ireland. Such a shocking, callous act reminds us that we can never let our guard down in areas where dissidents are prepared to maim and kill. Our brave soldiers from the Royal Anglian Regiment who paraded in Ipswich yesterday are a reminder of that, having lost fourteen comrades in action in Afghanistan. This coming Sunday we remember all those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their fellow country men.

I had a very productive meeting with county officers concerning preparation in education, skills and training for the employment opportunity to be offered by Sizewell C. While there will be many opportunities in the service industries, it is key that we capture as many of the higher value, skilled technical roles for Suffolk people as possible. Separately, I was pleased to be joined in a briefing from EDF by one of our MEPs, Vicky Ford. She visited our area last week to see some of the projects that were partly funded by EU cash. It is important that we seek to get a lot of money back from the EU through these projects and ensure the money is spent carefully. The Sizewell C will be, if approved, the largest construction project ever seen in the East of England.

Talking of construction, Parliament debated the Growth and Infrastructure Bill yesterday, part of which allows direct application for planning permission to the Secretary of State for major developments. The intention of the Bill is not for the Government to ride roughshod over local councils but to provide a fast track mechanism for assets that are clearly needed for the growth of our Country.

There is a part of the Bill that stops the revaluation of business rates until 2017. More than anyone, the shop owners of Felixstowe know to their cost the sensitivity of business rates revaluation but this aspect will be debated in greater detail. Hamilton Road should receive a boost from the £10,000 announced as Felixstowe becomes a Portas Partner. I was pleased to support this bid and to recommend it to central Government as I do believe the High Street matters to every town. In particular driving footfall is key for this particular shopping thoroughfare. At the same time there are applications for supermarkets at the top of town near the station and indeed on the edge of Walton for housing and a supermarket. Planning is primarily the concern of our local Council and I do not tell our Councillors how to vote on any occasion however, I do think the Council has to be mindful of the National Planning Policy Framework on out of town shopping centres. If it is deemed there are not enough sites in town, then out of town centres and edge of town centres are assessed in terms of whether they are appropriately connected. The new proposal at the station has been welcomed by many however, I know householders are concerned at the height of the development. Looking at the plans there is a significant visual impact from the high road which I am sure Council officers and councillors will observe.

Finally, I had the long-awaited, crunch meeting with the Ambulance Service yesterday. The key messages were clear - get a grip of what's happening on the ground, stop the hand-wringing and finger-pointing at the hospitals but sort it out together and give a better service to all residents, not just those in cities and major towns. I will be pressing for updates on a regular basis."

30 OCT 2012

Evening Star Column - 30th October 2012

"Last week I led a delegation of Suffolk MP's to meet the new roads minister, Stephen Hammond MP, to discuss the A14.The A14 is so important to residents and businesses across Suffolk, including the Port of Felixstowe. Significant investment including the widening of parts of the carriageway on the strategic route to Felixstowe is very welcome and long needed. There are issues concerning tolling that need to be fully thought through and the Minister took this on board. It was a constructive meeting and the Minister has committed to coming to Suffolk so he can discuss the plans further. We also took the opportunity to discuss with the Minister the recent closures and delays caused by accidents on the Orwell Bridge, including the 7 hour closure caused by a lorry load of onions. He told us that the Department of Transport gave money to police forces for new equipment to enable them to speed up their post crash road analysis. He committed to following this up with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Highways Agency.

Last week's GDP figures showed that we have now come out of recession. Whilst these are very welcome figures there is still more to do to make sure our economy continues to grow.

On that note my new Ministerial boss, Michael Fallon MP was in Ipswich last week for the LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) conference on whether East Anglia can become the California of Europe. Quite rightly the New Anglia LEP should perhaps aspire to be the New England of Europe but the opportunity is certainly there to exploit our significant innovation bases in Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich. Adastral Park is a truly global centre of innovation not just dwelling on past achievements the creation of optic fibre or the very first text message but working on solutions for the technical challenges ahead. I am keen that the LEP adds this area to become the third leg of its growth strategy in addition to energy (the green economy) and tourism.

I am delighted that the building work for the new Felixstowe Academy building started yesterday. The academy, run by the Academies Enterprise Trust has already made great strides in providing a great education for our young people. The £18 million investment will mean a well deserved state of the art building for students and staff.

I am disappointed by the County Council's decision on the retention of full time fire-fighters. I will be writing again to Councillor Spence to reflect the public's concerns. The County Council is sighting that it needs to save money while at the same time is proposing a merger with Cambridgeshire Fire Authority. The cost per head in Suffolk is considerably lower than that in Cambridgeshire and I will be seeking to understand why we are merging with a higher cost service and that Suffolk will not get short changed as a consequence of the potential decision. At the same time, higher up in my constituency in Southwold the current fire station is due to be closed and a brand new one built just a mile away. I understand this is down to the building no longer being fit for purpose but it seems odd to me to increase the amount of money spent on bricks and mortar rather than on professionals delivering a service.

Finally my 13 year old rescue dog, Rizzo won a Special Recognition Award in the prestigious Westminster Dog of the Year show last week. Thank you to all those readers who voted. Showing Rizzo off to the judges was a lot of fun and was a great way of raising awareness of the great work of the Dogs Trust."

23 OCT 2012

Evening Star Column - 23rd October 2012

"Tuesday will be my last day as a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee as a new Conservative MP isbeing elected to replace me, as I am now a PPS to Michael Fallon, the new Minister for Business (who spoke at the LEP conference yesterday). I am writing this in advance of the final session with George Entwistle, the new Director General of the BBC to discuss the Savile allegations. It has been a privilege to serve on this Committee for the last two and half years during which our most famous inquiry was perhaps that of phone hacking but in terms of relevance to constituents, I think our work on broadband has had the most impact on policy and has pressed both companies and the Government to accelerate the deployment of broadband, both fixed and mobile. I did enjoy one final moment of sporting history, watching Frankel race to victory. Racing is the only other sport where you hear the sustained roar from the crowd in the closing straight that comes anywhere close to the sound generated in the Olympic Stadium this year. Racing is an important part of Suffolk's economy. Thrilled to have Sir Henry's stables here in our fair county, seeking out the next star on the flat.

Amidst all the Westminster drama over resignations and continued press speculation about whether the BBC covered up or didn't cover up, there was actually good news for the British and Suffolk economy. Unemployment fell, the number of people in work went up to a record high of almost 30 million and the number of women in work is also at a record level. Locally in Suffolk Coastal unemployment (including our youth) has continued to fall after an unwelcome rise earlier in the year. Inflation also continued its downward trend that is to be welcomed by all of us. Incidentally this is where we will see the triple lock for pensions kick in. Although the average earning figures have not yet been released I would be surprised if they were higher than 2.5% and with CPI at 2.2%, pensions will be increased by 2.5% that third leg of the triple lock. At the same time this Government knows that increasing energy bills are another concern for households. That is why in the forthcoming Energy Bill, combined with the Ofgem review on tariffs, fairness for consumers will be at the heart of the legislation as well as providing for new electricity generation capability - which we will see locally in Sizewell. In spite of all the financial turmoil around us, I am proud that the Government continues to focus on helping households at this difficult time. Another Council Tax freeze, increasing tax thresholds so fewer people pay tax in the first place and supporting our pensioners. Let's hope later this week the GDP figures show that we have come out of recession.

Finally I was persuaded to enter my dog Rizzo into the Westminster dog of the year show. I had planned to retire Rizzo from this annual parade that highlights important issues on animal welfare and legislation including dangerous dogs and micro-chipping. Rizzo now has full cataracts, can't really see and as a 13 year old is slowing down immeasurably. This will be her last hurrah, and dear readers, if you feel so inclined you can vote online for her at - http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/westminsterdogoftheyear. While she may not be able to see she can certainly still sniff, bark and play. All the lovely characteristics that anyone that has a pet will recognise."

16 OCT 2012

Evening Star Column - 16th October 2012

"I did welcome the news that the Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service has announced his retirement. This willprovide an opportunity for the Board to bring in new leadership with a fresh pair of eyes to tackle the inconsistency experienced by residents in Suffolk on their emergency service. I do not pretend the matter can be solved overnight, nor can it be solved alone but nevertheless, we simply have to have better. I finally received some answers on outstanding casework but to me, getting responses to patients' complaints should not take months but weeks. Tomorrow I am meeting Monitor, the regulator of ambulance foundation trusts. The East of England Ambulance Service is applying for foundation trust status. I am concerned that this transition is progressing while the service is not consistently good for residents of Suffolk Coastal. That is not to say it should never happen but consistent quality of service for patients should come first.

I understand residents will be annoyed about the increase in heating fuel prices announced by British Gas last week. Not all energy companies are putting up their prices. British Gas is still offering free insulation, which will help reduce bills, but if you want to switch, you can go online to uswitch.com or you can send in your energy bill to them via FREEPOST USwitch. Include your phone number so they can call you back with the results. We still have the cheapest unit prices in Europe but our homes are in need of energy efficiency improvements. The forthcoming Green Deal will help homeowners change some of their older appliances to help. The Home Heat helpline 0800 336699 is available to all for help and advice on your energy bills.

Felixstowe received a welcome boost with planning permission granted for a new Pier. With some details to be ironed out, I want to thank Stan Threadwell for this investment in the Seafront. In particular, this should give confidence to others that Felixstowe is a good place to invest. I am thinking of the Spa just a few hundred yards away from the Pier. The Council is now marketing this. While I know that there is a group looking at this, I do think it the right move to have wider expressions of interest for the building. The council has stated it is not looking for a residential development. Meanwhile, the Spa continues to host events including BBC Suffolk's Big Night Out.

After the conference season, Parliament has returned. This week, in my new role, I am supporting the Government through the legislation on enterprise regulatory reform – essentially more to help on red tape, introduction of the Green Investment Bank and other key matters. Tomorrow though, I am speaking in a debate on the "Effect of domestic land use planning policy on food prices". With certain food prices already spiking due to a terrible combination of both drought and downpours, there are worrying signs of high grade farmland starting to be used for other purposes in our own area – particularly for energy production and housing. Speculative applications are being made for solar farms on arable farmland. Not all of it may be Grade I but reducing the amount of good arable farmland can reduce supply of domestically produced food which can adversely impact food prices and reduce our food security.

This Friday evening, I have the next session of Coffey Direct in Felixstowe. It is in the Library from 645 to 730 and no appointment needed. My surgery is in the same place in the preceding hours, so if you have an issue that you feel needs a face to face meeting, please contact my office on 01394 610045."

11 OCT 2012

Evening Star Column - 9th October 2012

"The Star is doing a great job on its Ambulance Watch campaign. Readers will have been shocked by the story last week. I have been trying to get an answer for Mr Dennington and other Suffolk residents for a few months and it finally arrived. The service, in my view, is not consistently good enough. The excuse that we live in a rural area does not stack up. We only have to look around the country to see how it can be done. In the North West, the ambulance service caters for a diverse metropolitan and rural area just like here in the East. In Cumbria, they still consistently manage to meet the national standards on response times. We don't here. I have convened a summit with the Chair and Chief Executive in a few weeks' time and have other meetings in between where I will be banging the table for Suffolk residents with MPs from across the county and region.

It is Conference season and so I am in Birmingham for a few days. I have always enjoyed party conference. If I use the analogy of a music fan, it is like going to a concert rather than just listening to the radio, download or CD. You become for a short time part of a wide community united in your passion of politics. Growing up in Liverpool politics, being a Conservative was not always the easiest of training grounds but going to conference was my holiday to indulge my passion. Now as an MP, I think it important to keep attending and speak to members from around the country. I rarely spend any time in the formal sessions that are broadcast on TV but attend the fringe events for the discussions and exchanges of ideas. It is also a sociable time as well but even when relaxing, you are always on duty.

Today I have been privileged to attend the opening of St George's Park - the new training facility for the Football Association. It will be home to the England teams but in particular it will become a brand new centre of excellence for football and sports coaching. For too long, there has been a reliance of importing talent in players, coaches and managers. By focusing on improving coaching at every level from the under 9s to the qualifications to be a Premier League coach. Prince William and Princess Catherine did the formal opening. However, a great tribute needs to be paid to a Suffolk resident who is well known to Ipswich Town fans - David Sheepshanks. It is a great credit to David that he gave up many other things to drive this project to completion. He may have pinched Town's groundsman (who has done wonders in recreating the Wembley pitch) but David was kind enough to show me the centre earlier in the year. The facilities are world class and will be open to more sports, not just football. By the way, anyone can stay at the 2 hotels there. Of course when the England team is training, there will be some restrictions but it is still an exciting place to visit.

Finally I will be back in Suffolk for further meetings on Sizewell. It is welcome news that the first steps of the project have started. There is a long way to go including the Energy Bill in Parliament and EDF confirming its investment decision. But for the children just starting secondary school in Suffolk, working in the energy industry can be a great career. Studying the difficult sciences like physics is key to an engineering future. I will continue to encourage our youngsters to take the hard road as the end result will be worthwhile and vital for their and our future prosperity."

04 OCT 2012

Evening Star Column - 2nd October 2012

"Yesterday saw a lot of changes on the local and national scene. Serco is now in charge of running Community Hospitalsincluding that at Felixstowe. Patients should see no changes though staff may as Serco changes some of the management processes and operations. Serco already runs Braintree Community Hospital. It won the contract on the judgement of healthcare professionals. While any period of change is unsettling for those right in the middle of that change, there is no reason why we will not continue to receive 5 star service as patients. The other big change was the introduction of auto-enrolment into pensions. This is a big shift where everyone will be contributing to a pension for the future, unless they choose to opt out. It also removes the burden of deciding which pension provider you will use as employers will make that choice working with the new agency. We all know it makes sense to save for when we are older and to lead as independent a life as possible. Contributions will be made from both the employee and employer.

Yesterday was also Freedom Day as more regulations were removed in the battle against red tape. One of the biggest changes is to Another new thing was to remove the restrictions on requiring licensing live music in small venues. This has great potential for many of our pubs in the area. Instead of a landlord or landlady rushing to stop someone playing a guitar that they brought with them that evening, now our small venues can use this as a business opportunity without the hassle of applying for costly licences. If there are problems with noise, residents can continue to use Environmental Health and proactive solutions can be enforced on persistent offenders.

I am continuing to visit schools in the recess and I was pleased to drop in on primary schools in Melton and Trimley St Mary. While in Trimley, we celebrated World School Milk Day. The older children sang a marvellous rendition of Milk, Glorious Milk to the classic tune of Food, Glorious Food from Oliver! The youngsters certainly seemed to enjoy their milk and of course, it is important for healthy development of children. One of the key priorities for the new Health and Wellbeing Board has to be focusing on that through schools and homes. My assistant attended the Suffolk conference last week as the responsibility for public health has moved from the NHS Primary Care Trust to the County Council. There is no doubt that our councils can have a long term positive impact on public health with better housing, focused programmes in schools and healthier lifestyle programmes in our leisure centres. Talking of Trimley, it was good to catch up with Councillor Graham Harding for an update on the A14 noise situation. Praise is due to him for continuing to press the case for noise mitigation measures for local residents and I will continue to work with him lobbying the Highways Agency.

It was a pleasure to meet journalists from Hong Kong last week and show them around the House of Commons. Brought over to England by the Port of Felixstowe, they were in London for meetings with our Government Minister for exports, Lord Green, and I enjoyed my interaction with them. It impressed them (or perhaps amused them) to learn that my mother was born in Kowloon and lived in Sham Sha Tsui for a while - courtesy of an Army father. More importantly, though, we spoke about how Britain was open for business and in particular, the importance of Felixstowe as the Gateway to Britain. I commend the port on its initiative and you can read more on www.portofbritain.com"

25 SEP 2012

Evening Star Column - 25th September 2012

"Fast Forward for Broadband

Yesterday, I was at the council cabinet meeting that chose BT to be the provider of broadband infrastructure acrossSuffolk. It was a key day for our county and now, subject to Brussels clearing the state aid issue, we should start to see spades going into the ground and the rollout of fibre across the county. This has been a long awaited moment and I was proud to be there as the councillors voted it through. The lack of good quality broadband across our county has been cited as the reason for barrier to growth, to gaining skills and to people missing out on the digital dividend. We are not there yet, this is the first step but I look forward to getting my own broadband in due course.

Last week I attended the reception at the fifth floor of the Eastern Enterprise Hub at UCS. This is a huge success story within our county town and one that deserves to be trumpeted. Acting as an incubator for various businesses, particularly focusing on social enterprises, it already has a good record and is seeking more support from existing business people to act as mentors or ambassadors. You may wonder what a social enterprise is. Broadly defined, it is a business that serves a social need, it can and should make a profit but essentially it is not driven by the owner wanting significant dividends or taking its brand worldwide. Just like any other very successful business, it is often built off a small, common sense idea. I was very impressed to meet Olive Quinton. Olive used to work in the NHS and has now set up a business clearing lofts. She has employed some young people who have been struggling to get employment. She also doesn't just take the stuff in the loft away but effectively organised for the householder to go through. This sounds all well and good but is there really any business in it? Actually, one of the biggest barriers to insulating your home is clearing the loft so that existing insulation can be removed and replaced with better insulation or indeed where there has been no insulation at all. In fact, British Gas recognises this to be one of the key steps to reducing fuel poverty as they find it very difficult to almost give away loft insulation. Olive has only been trading for a few weeks but is getting some good support and deserves to do well and go far. I hope to follow up on some of my contacts with national energy companies so that they can be connected with this distinctive enterprise.

As Parliament is now in recess for the Party Conference season, it is an important time for me to get around the Constituency and continue in my goal of visiting every school in Suffolk Coastal. In the last week I visited Colneis Junior School and Martlesham Beacon Hill Primary School and was impressed by the high quality atmosphere. I had detailed discussions with the head teacher of another school that I visited last week about the marking of the English GCSE results and the impact this has had on some students. I will be following up this discussion with Ofqual."

18 SEP 2012

Evening Star Column - 18th September 2012

"Infrastructure is a key theme of this government as we recognise that trying to patch and mend old assets can only take you so far. While I am proud that my 12-year old British-built Toyota has just passed 199,000 miles and is still going strong, I expect that if I had a newer model my petrol and oil consumption would be somewhat less. Yesterday in Parliament, we had the second reading of the Infrastructure Bill. The Government is setting aside up to £50 billion as guarantees to give companies the confidence to invest and develop critical infrastructure - water, gas, telecoms, broadband, healthcare, schools, housing, railways or prison facilities.

With the government reshuffle complete, now is the time to set up meetings with new ministers and start the lobbying again on key points that the civil servants may not always include on a briefing. I am rebooking the A14 meeting in October but there was an early opportunity to meet the new Transport Secretary of State, Patrick McLoughlin MP. He was impressed by the quality of the rail manifesto and has indicated his officials will go through it in detail and held out the offer of another meeting in the near future. MPs from East Anglia are united in pressing for investment in our rail – for commuters, for branch lines, for connecting our county centres and for freight. While there is a general taxation principle of wealthier areas supporting poorer areas, the reality is that there has been hardly any investment in our bit of the rail network and it is creaking at the knees. Subsidising the South Eastern network is not on when our service is unreliable.

As Co-Chair of the All Party Group on Off-Gas Grid households, I launched a fresh inquiry into issues affecting these residents. In the heart of Felixstowe and Ipswich, no-one is affected by this issue however, in between on the peninsula and in mobile home parks, relying on heating your home by LPG or oil is very expensive and has very limited consumer protection. The OFT inquiry focused on competition between oil companies. Not all MPs were satisfied by that but the remit was also rather narrow. We will look at social tariffs, contractual issues (particularly on mobile home parks) and fuel poverty. You can find out more on my website. We intend to receive evidence, interview witnesses and make recommendations – though the final report may not come out till after Christmas.

A week is a long time in politics. Since last week, the Prime Minister has asked me to be a PPS (Parliamentary Private Secretary) to the new Minister of State for Business, Michael Fallon MP. This does not mean that I am a minister but will act as an aide to the Minister and be a liaison with MPs from every party. It means that I will no longer serve on my Select Committee as of next month but I will continue to take a keen interest in this very important area. It now also means that I cannot sign any EDMs (early day motions) on any Government policy matters. Most importantly though, I am free to publicly campaign on issues affecting the constituency and to speak freely in Parliament in debates on matters outside the BIS portfolio."

12 SEP 2012

Evening Star Column - 11th September 2012

London 2012 ended with a spectacular closing ceremony for the Paralympic Games and the tremendous parade through London celebrating our Olympians and Paralympians, medallists, competitors and our volunteer Games Makers. My select committee is scrutinising delivery of the Games next month and in time, we will scrutinise the legacy. Mayor Boris Johnson and the GLA takes on the mantle of legacy and the future ownership of the stadium is still undecided. Most of the Park will now close for a year as the work starts to transition this into a new community of London.

"Suffolk enjoyed its own spotlight with the start of the Tour of Britain race. The crowds turning out were a great reflection on our appetite for such events and to cheer on our Olympians now back into their professional careers. It was not quite blink and you miss it but gosh they were going fast.

Although we have only been back in Parliament for a week, it felt like a month - probably exaggerated by the excitement and intrigue of the government reshuffle. The first casualty of the day was the Suffolk MPs' meeting with the Transport Minister on the A14. The next significant loss was the nuclear energy minister Charles Hendry, though he has a good replacement. One of the challenges of a reshuffle is establishing links afresh and ensuring new ministers understand the constituency perspective, before they get "indoctrinated" by the continuity civil service. At least we do have continuity with the DEFRA minister on coastal erosion and fishing. Locally, well done to my neighbour Dr Dan Poulter, who has the public health brief. Across the county, Matt Hancock will now lead on apprenticeships and further education. It is always good to have friends in government, though there are strict rules on what ministers can decide on their own local or neighbouring areas, so they cannot be perceived to be biased. As for me? I am happy to continue my role free from the constraints of being part of the government payroll. I am not saying that I never want to be a minister but just at the moment, there are a few areas affecting Suffolk Coastal where I want to be able to stand up strongly for constituency interests and change some current government thinking. Of course, I will continue to do my select committee work and other roles like leading the Parliament group on Coastal and Marine matters as well as launch a fresh inquiry into issues affecting off-gas grid households.

Finally, one of the things you learn very quickly as an MP is not to always take lobbying emails or campaigns at face value but to do some digging both on the facts or arguments and on who is involved in the organisation. The CEO of Sainsburys this weekend suggested he hadn't changed his top team much in the last 8 years and a big reshuffle in the middle of a turnaround was risky - but in reality his directors of HR, finance, retail and marketing are all new in the last few years. The air passenger duty campaign via frequent flyer club members omits to say that many countries charge VAT on tickets (we don't). Then we get on to questions of potential political motivation adding spice to a campaign - e.g. CPRE suggesting we will build over green belt has an ex-Labour MEP as its Chief Exec. Save the Children appeal for UK children condeming Government welfare changes suggesting children go hungry or have holes in their shoes is launched by their chief executive who till June 2010 worked as close aide to Gordon Brown (the same chap who was sitting next to and talking to the former PM as he was branding Gillian Duffy a bigot). I don't suggest their campaigns should not be considered but beware the hyperbole of spin when a former spin doctor is involved."

05 SEP 2012

Evening Star Column - 4th September 2012

"A fond farewell to Nigel Pickover - editor of the Star for 16 years with his most recent triumph of gaining the title of Regional Daily Newspaper of the Year. Suffolk's loss is Norfolk's gain, though I will still encounter Nigel at the EDP from time time at the top end of my constituency, north of the river Blyth. My first encounter with Nigel was a very wet day on Felixstowe Prom marching for the Blue Cross. He told me then that it was staying. It did - marking another successful Pickover/Star victory. A true campaigner who has done a lot for Ipswich and Felixstowe. An honest journalist who will work with people to do the right thing. I will miss him.

Back to Parliament and back to school this week. A key moment linking the two will have happened after I write this column but before it is published - an unfortunate timing difference. Of course, I am talking about the GCSE English results. I referred to this last week. Ofqual has undertaken its interim review and decided that the boundaries for the June exams are correct and the results should stand. Predictably, this led to uproar and some very upset schools. As I have said previously, well done to all involved and if you didn't get what you want, this is not the end. Our teachers and lecturers will provide advice to students in the weeks ahead.

Parliament resumes its consideration of Private Members' Bills. For many pensioners who heat their homes using oil or LPG, the cheapest time to buy fuel is in the summer - not in winter. The Bill (that I am co-sponsoring) brings forward the winter fuel payment for those who want to take advantage of cheaper prices. Other important issues in the last week include tough action on immigration and squatting. So called joyriding is dealt with as a criminal offence so that police can take action straight away. The same will now be true of squatting. Homeowners currently have to apply to court to retake possession of their houses, which costs a lot of money and can take some considerable time. That is now changed and police can be involved straightaway. A key route for illegal immigrants is via a student visa - either bogus colleges and courses or overstaying after completing a degree. The Border Agency and Ministers have been probing several colleges and decided to rescind a university's power to get a visa. That is the right thing to do. As for the current students, they can transfer to another college to continue studying.

I am still working on local issues including keeping the daytime passenger rail service between Ipswich and Felixstowe. There is a group meeting to put in a bid for the Felixstowe Spa and I am on hand to help. However, this Saturday, there is a special performance called "One Night Only" with many regular entertainers and groups coming together to raise funds for the theatre. Please give it your support.

My hands were nearly raw on Saturday night clapping so many medals and world records in the athletics stadium, also listening to a really diverse range of anthems. Tremendous to see and still several more days to go to watch the "superhumans". Well done to Channel 4 on its coverage. Our own sporting legacy continues with the start of the Tour of Britain in Ipswich this coming Sunday. Wending through Suffolk, it will be a great chance to see some Team GB heroes ("On yer bike, Bradders!"). I am still trying to work out how the King of the Mountains series will fare around Snape, though the second climb is in my village. If they had arrived a couple of weeks ago, they could have helped push a few barrels up the hill."

03 SEP 2012

Evening Star Column - 29th August 2012

"Well done to children from our schools on their GCSE results. While there was significant outcry about the drop in passes in English (1.5% fall on last year), there is still much to celebrate and decisions to be made on next steps. The regulator Ofqual has agreed to review the marking. A lot of stuff has been talked about political motivation to do down children. What nonsense. It is right that politicians say we want good standard qualifications and achievement but daft to suggest that one word from a politician translates into 10,000 children failing an exam. The review will look in detail at what has happened and will likely accelerate the transition to removing the modular way of taking exams. One aspect highlighted is the change in marks required for the controlled assessment from January to June, though only 7% of students were examined in January. Perhaps the exams were marked too leniently? I don't think it would be fair to go back and change those grades now.

The celebrations for the Paralympic lantern did not disappoint. The special Suffolk flame arrived in Needham Market Friday night and made its way to Levington Marina to EAST to be greeted by the regular sailors, hard working volunteers and friends of the organisation. Double gold-medal winning sailor Paralympian Kevin Curtis from Kesgrave brought in the flame. I saw it later again in the day at Snape Maltings with a tremendous performance from the British Paraorchestra. I am really looking forward to seeing the Paralympics with Channel 4 and attending some of the events. It all starts again tomorrow.

It's a jungle out there or it is at least for some of our Essex neighbours. New Essex jokes have sprouted but seriously, let's hope that the lion is caught before any harm is done both to people and the animal itself. The extraordinary story really did seem to end the August silly season with a roar. That also means recess is nearly at an end and Parliament will be back in action on Monday but that does not mean that MPs do no work in the summer. Just like me, I am sure my colleagues will have been doing all sorts. Recess provides a bit more time to look at constituency matters in more depth, undertake research and have those key meetings across industry and with local councils rather than trying to cram it in on a Friday morning. One such key meeting this week is preparing for a meeting with the Highways Minister concerning the A14. A telephone conference this week with such people will help me get our facts and points straight to ensure we put the case for Suffolk across strongly and not allow barriers to our economic prosperity.

Finally, one of my small goals was achieved this weekend as I completed my visit to every pub in the constitutency - a great satisfaction for a CAMRA member! My last few visits took in two seafront pubs in Felixstowe. It may seem a trivial goal but it took me round the entire constituency, listening and speaking to both landlords and regulars. I never announced myself as such but did unveil myself if it came up in conversation. Discretion means I won't name my top 5/bottom 5 but I must admit it took so long as I did often return to my particular favourites in an area and had to push myself to finish the list. My next goal to finish is visiting all the schools. I have been to 33 of 46 state schools and hope to see the rest in the next two terms."

21 AUG 2012

Evening Star Column - 21st August 2012

"It was Carnival and festival weekend with both Felixstowe and Ipswich celebrating. The weather (mainly) blessed us alland I hope that continues, making up for the deluges earlier in the summer. That is particularly true for September 9th when the Tour of Britain starts from Ipswich Waterfront with cycling hero Bradley Wiggins participating.

Before then, the Paralympics will have started and Suffolk is welcoming the Paralympic torch next weekend. Friday afternoon and evening, there will be a celebration in Needham Market. Saturday morning, the torch moves to EAST at Levington Marina and again to Snape Maltings, where the Paraorchestra will perform in the evening. Many sports clubs opened up this weekend to capture the sporting surge after our Olympic success. Check out www.joininuk.org and www.sportmakers.co.uk for further information.

The Council is undertaking a very important consultation concerning potential changes to council tax benefit. There will be no changes at all for pensioners. However, the sum given to councils will be reduced by 10% of its current grant. This is being done partly to incentivise councils to encourage businesses into their area and to reduce unemployment. Of course, low-paid working people can also get council tax benefit. Given the high number of pensioners in our area, there were concerns that this could badly impact other benefit recipients. However, to offset this, the Local Government Finance Act brought in some changes so that no council tax discount needs to be given for second home owners (currently 10%) and to allow a 50% surcharge on empty homes. With over a thousand empty homes, this should encourage empty homes to be brought back into use. The revenue from this could be enough to offset the change in council tax benefit grant but the Council is consulting on various options that may see everyone, including those currently unemployed, being asked to pay a share of the council tax with the obvious incentive of getting into work. Contact the council for more details or look online.

There was a debate on this change in Parliament recently which got rather heated. I support the change and suggested it was quite a blunt stick with a juicy carrot. For areas where unemployment is very low but the average wage is also low, like Suffolk, this could motivate the councils to pursue businesses seeking higher skills (and paying higher wages) to set up here. That puts onus on us to ensure our school leavers are well educated and ready for work. That will include some of the sixteen year olds who get their GCSE results this week. Fingers crossed and well done to those who got their A level results last week. Whether university, college, an apprenticeship or a job are your next steps, enjoy the next few weeks of your youth before the hard graft starts.

Finally, I had the pleasure of going out with WRVS volunteers Diana Barrett and Margaret Marshall who deliver books from Felixstowe Library to elderly readers around the town. Margaret has been doing this service for 18 years and Diana for 11. They know their customers very well and certainly bring some joy into others' lives. Their last customer was Barbara Gilson who has been using libraries for 84 years now. It was also good to hear of the summer reading scheme for children, Story Lab, hosting over 200 children in Felixstowe. Diana and Margaret are looking for more customers, particularly in Old Felixstowe; please contact them through the library. I won't share the ages of these golden girls but they deserve a gold medal and our thanks for what they do."

21 AUG 2012

Evening Star Column - 14th August 2012

"I hope all enjoyed the Olympics as much as I did. Seeing our extraordinary athletes roared on by supportive crowds andhelped by brilliant volunteers and games makers has led to what I believe to be, the greatest Games ever held. After an exhausting two and bit weeks (mainly from an armchair) it is a great time to participate in sport ourselves. This weekend we have the join in UK programme - https://www.joininuk.org/ - and there are a lot of activities on regularly in both Felixstowe and Ipswich. If you thought the extraordinary sports spectacle is over, you are very much wrong. The Paralympics start on the 29th August and I believe they will prove to be as extraordinary. Channel 4 is already trailing a blaze with its broadcasting, calling our Paralympians super human. Truly I think we will all be wowed by their striving to overcome life's adversities but still be supreme athletes. Closer to home the Paralympic torch will be in Needham Market on the 24th August and also on our own peninsular on the 25th. After the Cultural Olympiad success of the Aldeburgh World Orchestra, the Paraorchestra will be at Snape Maltings for a spectacular concert on the evening of the 25th August with the torch present.

Readers from the Trimley villages will be concerned to hear that the Highways Agency is not using the noise reducing tarmac on its repairs to the A14. When the expansion of the port was agreed, the noise barriers were put in as a condition with an allocated budget. For whatever reason this now seems to not be enough and I know the Council is working to try and find a solution. I am contacting the Highways Agency and the Council to try and ensure that residents get the fair deal which they were promised. The Parish Council is also working hard on the matter as is local councillor Graham Harding. This issue will not go away and we need a proper solution.

This week brings A-level results which I hope for all readers, their children or grand-children brings great joy and the passport to the next steps in their lives. While there has been a small drop in university applications, there is still the second highest number of applicants on record and more people applied then there are university places. I know that some students have had problems with access to student finance. If you are having any problems with the loans company please do contact me so we can help get a swift response for you. For those people who are not fortunate enough to secure all the grades they wanted good advice will be available from schools and colleges. Do remember that apprenticeships are an excellent way of securing a fantastic career. Both BT and EDF have hotly-contested apprenticeship schemes and employers recognise apprenticeships to be a sound platform for long term economic prosperity. For further details of apprenticeship places log on to – www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Talking of training I was delighted to visit Innovation Martlesham earlier this month to look in on the "Festival of Code 2012". The Young Rewired State (YRS) national coding event is designed to foster and challenge young children and teenagers how to code. Not only are they offered support from mentors to boost their technical skills in ICT they are introduced to a network of like-minded peers so they can carry on learning."

07 AUG 2012

Evening Star Column - 7th August 2012

"I was privileged to go the Olympic Stadium on Sunday night, courtesy of BT. In the afternoon, a few of us convened at the iconic BT tower to learn more about BT's contribution specifically to the successful running of our Olympics and more about their role in TV broadcasting. I had not appreciated that the BT Tower is still key to us all seeing TV in the UK whether on BBC, ITV or satellite like Sky. BT is a key part of the transmission network taking in feeds from different studios, every football stadium, news from around the world and then linking them into broadcasters. I was so proud to learn about what BT has done to help London 2012 be not only a visually outstanding spectacle but to help make life easier and pleasanter for the athletes, helpers and spectators.

In 2008 in Beijing, ipads didn't exist, twitter barely registered, smartphones were not quite so smart. In contrast in 2012, all these are commonplace, races recorded, shots snapped and shared with millions on social media and friends, Skype connects remote families. BT has provided all the internet infrastructure for the 2012 Games and without the creation of fibre (in Martlesham) none of this would be possible. In the Olympic Village, every apartment has fibre broadband. Athletes can stay in touch with families and fans far easier than ever before. Every Olympic venue has had an upgrade so that the visual spectacle is far better (every camera has its own fibre line for HD TV) and more importantly, all the timing systems work. The Olympic stadium itself has the biggest capacity wifi network in the world so every shot, every video can be sent almost instantaneously. Many sophisticated attempts have been made to hack the Olympics website but with BT's help, none have got through. The employees of BT have all made an outstanding contribution to making this the most successful Games ever, including several from our very own Martlesham. We should be proud to have them as part of our business community here in Suffolk.

Before entering the Stadium, we visited Team GB house – a bit like an airport lounge for the British Olympic Association with the added attraction of hosting all the medal winners. A particularly nice touch was the very private space set aside for athletes to meet their families and share a special moment together. I met the Coxless Four gold medal winners and got to hold one of their medals – really heavy! My lasting impression of Sunday though was the enthusiasm of the volunteer Games Makers, smiling and providing help every step of the way, the constant noise and cheering for athletes of all nations in every event from the spectators, though it was particularly loud for the British athletes with a special roar in the home straight. Any gaps were populated by short bursts of the best of British music. It was a really engaging night, singing the National Anthem when Mo Farrah and Greg Rutherford. It felt very international - Portuguese fans behind us, Chinese athletes in front, hearing the anthem of Kazakhstan. The big event globally was the 100m final with the extraordinary Usain Bolt. My two big cheers though were for Christine Ohorogu in the 400m who battled from 5th in the closing straight to grab the silver and for GB athlete Robert Grabarz who soared at the High Jump, clearing the bar on the first attempt each time and should do well in the final. Later this week, I am representing the Government at an event and will also visit the Athletes' Village – an important part of our scrutiny on the success of the games. UK Sport has delivered, LOCOG has done a great job, Lottery tickets contributed over £2bn, the British public has made the Games, has cheered long and loud . We should be proud of putting on a great Games."

07 AUG 2012

Evening Star Column - 31st July 2012

"Congratulations to the clinical and support staff of Felixstowe Community Hospital for their excellent rating yet again. We in Felixstowe are so fortunate to have such dedicated and professional staff. This comes at the time just as the transfer of community healthcare is going across to SERCO. Anytime transition can often be worrying for staff but on the basis of this performance, we should all be wishing them well in this new venture.

Last week I visited Somerset to see the preparations for the other EDF nuclear site, Hinkley C. I was invited down by the MP for Bridgewater in West Somerset, Ian Liddell-Grainger MP, as we had been discussing the forthcoming Energy Bill and the construction already underway. Sizewell C will be the largest construction project this county has ever seen. The impact will be along the A12 primarily but there also impacts, positive and negative, for many in East Suffolk. There is a lot to learn from Hinkley for both EDF and the wider community. The scale of the initial groundworks was huge and gave me a feel for what lies ahead. I really encourage firms in Suffolk to consider applying for work in Somerset and not just await the opportunity up here.

What was particularly useful on my trip was to visit Bridgwater College. The former principal had clear vision to focus the college on the forthcoming opportunities, in combination with the existing manufacturing base within the town. This is a key element for Suffolk in that we must do what we can to capture any training and re-training opportunities for young people and established workforce.

I met Scottish Power and to discuss the phase two consultation of the onshore works for the East Anglia One Offshore Windfarm. This will be coming onshore at Bawsey, going across the River Deben near Kirton and heading up the peninsula under the railway line and A12 arching round Ipswich into Ramford. I have been particularly keen to understand the impact it would have on local residents, the ongoing activities on the River Deben and the traffic movements in and around the consolidation sites. It was a very helpful meeting to clear up some questions from the document. In particular, the decision has been made not to use Felixstowe Ferry but instead to bring in material substantially by barge up the Deben. Of course, there will need to be some road movements and it is right that residents give their views on their concerns, which I understand includes the bridge at Shottisham. For major crossing points, the intention is to drill underneath the river, the railway line and the A12 which will lead to encampments on each side but should not substantially affect the river, the road or the railway in its operation. If you wish to add your views in the consultation, please respond by this Friday, August 3rd.

Finally, the Olympics started with the extraordinary opening ceremony. I am delighted that we have medals under our belt already and that our Suffolk Olympians ,including Ipswich based Elena Baltacha and Lowestoft boxer Anthony Ogogo, have made a good start. While there are still tickets available for various events online, I am pleased that LOCOG is working with the IOC to ensure that tickets not needed, especially in these early days of the Olympics, are released so that people can buy them. I expect that the seats will be fully occupied in days to come as we are witnessing already a number of world records being made at what I hope will be the greatest games ever."

19 JUL 2012

Evening Star Column - 17th July 2012

"The East Anglian Rail Manifesto has had its first success with the announcement of the upgrade of the junction at Ely. I lost count of how many times that same junction was mentioned in the debate I secured in Parliament and certainly Rail Minister Theresa Villiers MP got the message. Yesterday in Parliament the Transport Secretary Justine Greening MP backed our call to remove bottlenecks on our system and upgrade the Ely Junction. This is great news for getting freight onto rail and for increasing the frequency of services for passengers between our counties in the East. In addition to the work on the Ipswich chord, this additional investment goes a long way to helping free up capacity on the line to London and improving reliability for freight to get from our port of Felixstowe up to the Midlands and the North. With these two pieces of work that help freight onto rail, it is more important than ever that the Port of Felixstowe works with residents, the council and Network Rail to ensure that the Felixstowe to Ipswich passenger service is retained throughout the day and does not just become a commuter route. The other key announcement is the continuing investment into Crossrail which, when completed, frees up more capacity at Liverpool Street. By removing that bottleneck, we can then press for and secure the additional investment on more track for the main line. That will be in the next spending round. It just shows that working together as MPs, Councillors and with our business community partners that we can get stuff done under this Coalition Government.

Last week I and a group of other MPs came up with some policy ideas of how to inject some new thinking on growth, jobs and regulation. I initiated an idea which resulted in asking working pensioners to pay National Insurance just like everyone else who works and use some of that money to help our young unemployed into jobs. You have to earn £146 a week before you pay any NI so for the two constituents who have contacted me saying that this is attacking people doing a few extra hours on the minimum wage, this policy would not apply. However so far no one has come up with a justification of why fellow MPs like Dennis Skinner or father of the House Sir Peter Tapsell should have a higher take home pay than me because they are considerably older. Politics is about debating ideas not just the day to day delivery of services and one of the reasons why I wanted to be an MP. I am happy to hear from Star readers email me and let me know what your ideas to get the economy growing.

A couple of weeks ago I ran a competition in the Ipswich and Felixstowe Star to attend the Cultural Olympiad event of the specially-formed Aldeburgh World Youth Orchestra at Snape Maltings. Congratulations go to Star reader Mrs Haskell with her poem. I also was delighted to visit Melton Primary School yesterday and present certificates to children in Year 4 who entered the competition. I look forward to seeing the 3 lucky winners this Sunday at the concert. After the excitement of the torch relay, attention turns to the main event itself. The security situation with G4S has been a complete mess. Our armed forces have stepped into the breach to provide an extra top up of troops to support the games. As I have written before, 23 Engineers – our local regiment from Sutton Heath – has long been involved in the preparations for the Olympics. This is the biggest peacetime operation our country has staged. Forty years ago the Olympics was blighted by the murder of Israeli athletes. Our country, along with its NATO allies, has been active over the last decade in trying to prevent terrorism. Undoubtedly malevolent forces will see this Olympics as an opportunity to cause disruption, just as they did the day after London success in the bid was announced. I distinctly remember that awful day. I was in London when the bombs went off hosting American visitors to our company. They were somewhat surprised by our 'keep calm and carry on' attitude but I explained as had happened with previous IRA attacks you cannot allow terrorism to win in any form. So what matters now is that the games proceed in a safe secure way and that the questions for G4S can be postponed until the autumn by when financial penalties will have been applied. As I have written before in this column, I am very excited about the Olympics, the chance to attend through winning tickets in the ballot, through being an Olympic Ambassador and also through being an MP on my select committee that has primary responsibility in Parliament for scrutiny of the Olympics and Paralympics. During this special summer, my involvement in the games will not all be just fun but also monitoring the workings of the games with LOCOG, as well as hoping to win my bet that we will win 23 gold medals.

I attended Darrell's Day at Landguard Fort commemorating the last attempted invasion of our country, which was bravely seen off by Captain Darrell and his company, which later became the Royal Marines. I was able to meet members of the Royal Marines, the Cadets and former Green Berets active in the Royal Marines Association. I'm always learning about marvellous history of Suffolk on our very doorstep. Combining the past and the present with a great event of military pride for our nation is a great formula for engaging interest in our local history and an appreciation of the armed forces. I understand this is going to become an annual event and I hope many more will support it next year on July 7th 2013."

11 JUL 2012

Evening Star Column - 10th July 2012

"Wasn't the Torch magnificent? I managed to see it on a few occasions as it travelled through Suffolk but I did not join in the celebration in Felixstowe, as I had to return to Westminster to vote on the banking inquiry. I hope you all had a chance to see it and well done to the press, radio and TV for showing off our county so beautifully. Not only did it lead to a feel good factor, the benefits are there for tourism in the future.

This coming week, we will be voting on Lords reform and our sitting hours. Most MPs I know are in favour of changes to the Lords, though not all that is in the Bill. Constitutional reform is important but turning over 800 years of history should be considered carefully, not rushed through in a few days. It is possible that the Government will suffer its first defeat on this question of timetabling -known as a programme motion. The following day we get to vote on hours that the Chamber in Parliament is routinely used for debate and legislation. Some colleagues want to finish earlier on Tuesdays, giving more "family friendly" hours. We are usually in Parliament till after 10pm on both Monday and Tuesday. I will listen to the debate but I am quite happy with the hours now as it allows my select committee to meet and not miss goings on in the Chamber.

Last week I met the Chief Executive of Ipswich Hospital, Nigel Beverley. It was useful to catch up on his early assessment, some of the changes underway and to discuss the next steps on securing foundation status. There will be consultation once again on the strategic vision later this year.

Another busy week in Parliament with a debate on rail and three meetings with Ministers - first on e-bikes with a Leiston business, on biomass plants with the Energy Minister and finally as part of a delegation meeting the Secretary of State of Transport to outline our rail plans for East Anglia. Working together with councils, businesses as well as other MPs is key on strategic matters.

Finally, the Government announced the reduction in the permanent numbers of Army troops. Locally there is no impact as 23 Engineers based in Sutton Heath is part of our always-ready 16 Air Assault Brigade, headquartered at Colchester. The UK's defence budget will still be the fourth largest in the world and there will be a bigger role for our TA."

09 JUL 2012

Evening Star Column - 3rd July 2012

"The big news of the week was yesterday's rail prospectus launch. This vision for better rail services across our countyand beyond was pulled togther with a lot of hard work. Thanks to all involved in our councils, rail user groups and the LEP, as well as our other MPs. Timing was perfect as I managed to secure for today a debate on rail to press the point further for our cause. I am sure many MPs will chip in to reinforce the case for investment to Theresa Villiers MP, the Rail Minister. Tomorrow, we will also be speaking to the Secretary of State for Transport, Justine Greening MP. Both of these have visited Suffolk on the train so are painfully aware of our challenges. Last week I met the same Rail Minister with Ben Gummer to highlight the threat to passenger services on the Ipswich to Felixstowe line. It is certainly not on the Government's agenda to reduce services.

In the Star last week, Richard Cornwell suggested the Localism Act was not working and that local councils had powers anyway. If only that were the case. Even now, the Government has not been able to scrap all the top-down Whitehall planning targets via the Regional Space Strategy though it should happen very soon. Despite their imminent demise, sadly, Suffolk Coastal officers chose to cite such policies as one of the reasons to grant planning permission to wind turbines sited in our AONB. After pressure from MPs, the Government agreed for councils to produce special supplementary planning documents on renewable energy. I really hope our councillors will take that option. The Localism Act gave our district council the discretion on housing numbers and location. It also gave neighbourhoods and parishes the option to have neighbourhood plans that determine the shape and feel of any development. I encourage people to come together and develop these. To have effect, they have to be passed in a referendum.

The Olympic torch is on its way to Suffolk this Thursday and I am delighted it has so many stops in my own constituency, highlighting the tourist hotspots on our coast and market towns and villages. I expect it will be gone in a flash but I hope you see your bit of the Olympics. I am delighted to have been asked to be an Ambassador during the Games. I will host domestic and international dignitaries at one event. I may also be called upon to greet a foreign Minister at 5am at Stansted Airport so it won't be all glamorous but I will be proud to have played a small part in the best Games ever staged."

28 JUN 2012

Evening Star Column - 26th June 2012

"This weekend had a nautical feel as I visited the Woodbridge Regatta, the family fun day at Felixstowe Ferry Sailing Cluband yesterday saw the launch of International Seafarers' Week. The river and the sea are always great draws for landlubbers like myself (though I did do my RYA Level 1 sometime ago on a very windless River Trent). I was particularly impressed by Captain Rod Shaw and his crew who gave me a tour of the RNLI boat, the largest in the RNLI fleet, that covers our local rivers and a long way out into the Southern North Sea. Captain Rod explained about it takes five years training to really get up to scratch. I admire the commitment and dedication of those who service in the RNLI. I know it is a well supported charity and deservedly so. Yesterday, I visited the seafarers' centre in Felixstowe Port. After a short post-mortem on the England football game, we discussed ongoing issues about the welfare of seafarers. Shipping is a truly international business and when ships visit our shores, the seafarers' centre provides a valuable haven. We discussed the Maritime Labour Convention which focuses on the welfare and wages of seafarers and I will follow up with the Shipping Minister.

Back on track, so to speak, with Ben Gummer MP I met the Rail Minister Theresa Villiers MP regarding the Felixstowe to Ipswich passenger service. Together we made the case for the passenger service to continue off-peak. We all want to see more freight on the rail and that can still happen with a regular passenger service. The Port is obliged to dual the line legally However, if there is an opportunity to meet the needs of both passenger and freight services by partial dualling and having passing loops, I will support that. Earlier in the week, I had met Felixstowe County Councillor John Goodwin, Trimleys Councillor Graham Harding and Brian Frost to discuss this matter. I appreciate this may not be the busiest branch service but once you start to lose services then people will use the train even less than perhaps they do now. Derby Road is an important station for many Ipswich commuters and I know that Ben Gummer does not want to see this service reduced there either. On the bigger picture, the MPs have been working hard together across four counties with our County Councils and LEP to draft a manifesto for the future of rail in our counties. East Anglia has such great opportunity for economic growth, as well as housing growth. I am sure that the Government recognises this and we need to take every opportunity to press the case for better infrastructure.

I was surprised as anyone when Suffolk Coastal District Council Planning Committee agreed, on a divided vote, to allow wind turbines at Levington, right in the middle of our AONB. It is important that we become more self reliant on in terms of energy production rather than depending on the flick of a switch from a Russian gas field or a Middle Eastern oil well. We are doing that in Suffolk with building another nuclear power station at Sizewell and the extensive number of wind farms off our coast. These individual decisions will, I believe, set a precedence that makes it harder to resist such applications in the future, contrary to what is being suggested by Council Officers. I and other MPs lobbied the Government hard on this matter as it felt that decisions were being made by the Planning Inspectorate or by Councillors saying they had no choice, as seems to be the case here. The District Council can propose a supplement to the Local Development Framework focusing on renewal energy. I have privately encouraged the council to do this and I really do want to see Councillors making a positive decision on this matter rather than reacting to the latest application.

We were all disappointed by the early exit of England from Euro 2012. That disappointment did not put off many of our schools hosting World Schools Sports day yesterday. Sport is an important part of any child's life – both participation and competition. Many in the White Horse will of heard me saying stop kicking the ball out roll it out but it is easy to be an arm chair pundit. Suffolk resident David Sheepshanks will rightly be proud when the FA's St George's Park opens later this year – putting coaching at the heart of football development in this country. Never mind, it's strawberry fortnight aka Wimbledon. Anyone for tennis?"

25 JUN 2012

Evening Star Column - 19th June 2012

"This week in Westminster was a busy one back with many meetings focusing on Suffolk and East Anglia. I met the Minister for Highways, Mike Penning MP, with 2 other MPs to discuss the A14 proposals. These are now online and include the work done on rail and public transport. The key bottleneck is between Huntingdon and Cambridge. I do have concerns that lorries may be compelled to use the toll road planned (in 5 of the 6 road options) which would be unprecedented and could put our Port at a disadvantage. Yes a lot of HGVs do use the road but remarkably small percentage actually from our ports. I want to see lorries to be incented to use the toll road – quick, cheap and a clear value for money advantage to using existing roads. Getting more containers onto trains is an important part of the solution. The freight line through to Nuneaton is a key artery and one being highlighted in our rail prospectus that is keeping all East Anglian MPs busy. Abellio & Network Rail met MPs mid-week and it was a chance to pick up on some local issues including the level crossing at Melton.

Other meetings in the week included joining fellow Suffolk MPs Dr Dan Poulter and Ben Gummer to see the Secretary of State, Andrew Lansley MP. We were joined by officials to discuss the steps the Hospital has to take to achieve foundation status. There is the issue of debt which, if it stays at its current level, could be set aside when considering the bid for foundation trust. More importantly, the hospital has to focus on its productivity and working with GPs and community care. These are both critical as the hospital develops its strategic vision.

We are right in the middle of the Aldeburgh Festival – an annual pilgrimage to our coast for classical music lovers. We are blessed with our local arts provision. The future of the Felixstowe Spa of course still hangs in the balance, as the deadline for bidders was extended for just a week. I have said before that it can have a rosy future but what is evident is that it needs to host at least three or four events per week every week and maximise one of the best viewpoints in Felixstowe. Meanwhile, from Friday, Eastern Angles is staging "Margaret Catchpole" at Bentwaters. I do like these locally-based plays and as a "blow-in", it inspires me to look up Suffolk history. I had never heard of this lady who was transported to Australia for horse-stealing, escaping from Ipswich Gaol and then became one of the great chroniclers of early 19th Century Australia.

I recall from my primary education how history based on Liverpool really brought the subject to life. This concept goes somewhat deeper in the Royal Society of Arts' approach to use an area-based curriculum in supporting Suffolk County Council's Raising the Bar initiative. I only made it to part of the conference but it was useful to catch up on this important work that draws on all of us to make a better outcome for attainment and aspiration in our county. Matthew Taylor, the CEO of the RSA, used to be Chief Political Strategy Adviser to Tony Blair and so is not a natural bedfellow politically but he has long been thought as an inspiring, practical thinker and his direct involvement in the Raising the Bar commission is a real boost.

The following night, I was back at Trinity Park for the Ipswich Press Ball. This combined a great night of celebrating local media achievement and raising a lot of money for local charities. Very wisely, Star editor Nigel Pickover kept us informed of the football scores while over £25,000 was raised for local charities - a tremendous result in the current climate. Just like many events I go to, it was an opportunity to mix some pleasure with a lot of constituency business. With a busy parliamentary schedule, catching up at these events is invaluable. The final point of the week where it was pure pleasure was attending Trooping of the Colour. It was splendid to see yet another traditional display of such precision and pageantry from our Armed Forces who have been called upon many times in this Jubilee season. Two tonnes of sand will soon arrive to transform Horseguards into the Beach Volleyball court for the Olympics."

13 JUN 2012

Evening Star Column - 12th June 2012

"Farming, fire & fun

It was very sad to see day 2 of the Suffolk Show cancelled due to the wind, but it was the correct decision. I found out at8.05 just as I was turning into the car park. If anyone doubted it, I am sure the clip on the local TV news that evening was very persuasive as parts of a marquee fly past. This will be a financial blow for the Agricultural Association but I am sure they will recover for 2013. For those who missed out on their agricultural fix, this coming Sunday is Open Farm Sunday. I can spot 6 nearby on the website www.farmsunday.org .

Last week, I met Cllr Spence and Chief Fire Officer Andy Fry to discuss their initial proposals on merging fire services with neighbouring Cambridgeshire. I have expressed concern previously after previous attempts to remove permanent frontline fire service in Felixstowe. The principal opportunities for savings appear to be managerial and procurement rather than frontline. For most parts of Suffolk, the service would be as now. On the borders, you may see a Cambridgeshire tender attend in Suffolk ans vice-versa. So, after my initial discussions, my concerns have been reduced but I will reserve judgement till I see the final details.

In Westminster this week, my focus is on business. MPs are receiving an update on the Suffolk broadband process and the LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) is launching its Green Economy Manifesto. In the chamber, we are debating the Enterprise & Regulatory Reform Bill which includes the setting up of the Green Investment Bank and cracks on with deregulation, cutting red tape. The results of my business survey are still being compiled but the visibility of the Red Tape Challenge is very low. You can still log on to put forward your suggestions www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk

Finally, after Jubile week and getting round 8 events on Monday, I had a bit of fun at Wembley for a pop concert when I surveyed the 50,000 Bieber babes. I know I am old but I still do not "get it", though there were more cheers for his friend Carly Rae singing the catchy "Call Me Maybe". The biggest cheers were for Suffolk's own Ed Sheeran. It is amazing that just one man can produce so much sound. Though the night finished with Katy Perry, there was a sing-along to "Tonight We Are Young" which again felt a bit odd belting out but invigorated me to book my next Muse concert tickets."

13 JUN 2012

Evening Star Column - 5th June 2012

"I hope you all enjoyed the Jubilee celebrations and that rain did not stop play in your area. I was in London for the Thames flotilla. I have recorded it and will put it online soon. I dashed up Sunday night to enjoy Proms by the Sea at Aldeburgh and spent most of yesterday at various celebrations around the constituency. Suffolk looked spectacular decked out in red, white and blue. The fireworks and beacon lightings were very special crowning a very community-focused few days.

Following the consultation on VAT, the Government has listened and made some changes. For holiday home static caravan owners, the reduced rate of VAT is to be applied, more akin to stamp duty, rather than the full VAT on touring caravans. On hot baked or cooked goods, food kept hot will have VAT. That makes sense and ensures our fish and chip and takeaway shops are not at a disadvantage with the supermarkets nearby which can sell goods without VAT. Finally, on charities, donations will be exempt from the capping of tax relief. Locally, the only charity that contacted me with concerns was Aldeburgh Music, as it relies on substantial donations, unlike most others that enjoy small donations from a wider group of people. The press calls this U turns. I call it genuine consultation. The Budget is unusual in that you cannot consult in advance. The fundamentals have not changed in that 24 million people received a tax cut, 2 million people will be taken out of tax altogether.

Parliament recess last week allowed me to attend the council's Sizewell C community event and visit Causton Junior School. I met Cllr Spence and Chief Fire Officer Andy Fry to discuss the possible merger with Cambridgeshire. I am not fundamentally opposed but I am concerned that our rural areas do not suffer, as I feel has happened with the ambulance service. I also joined a Parliamentary group visiting the Italian Parliament and the Holy See. We discussed various issues including the economic situation in Italy nd the Eurozone, the challenges of working with a technocratic government and a discussion on faith and secularism. The surprise highlight (and special memory) of the event was during the Papal audience when I met the Pope!

Half-term of course changed to this week and we have all enjoyed an extra bank holiday thanks to the Jubilee. For those going, enjoy the Suffolk Show and I may see you around the events and stalls on Friday. Before then, I have more meetings on nuclear, with the Army and am catching up on some policy and project work. I hope the weather cheers up so that we all can get a glimpse of summer in this Diamond Jubilee week."

31 MAY 2012

Evening Star Column - 29th May 2012

"I attended last week's Ipswich Hospital Staff Awards, reported in last Friday's edition. It was wonderful to observe the clinical and support staff celebrate each other's achievements. Star Editor Nigel Pickover and outgoing Chief Executive Andrew Reed were the amusing comperes. Ben Gummer gave a moving tribute to Andrew and we wish him well in his new role. Earlier in the day, I spoke to the new Hospital Chairman, Mrs Ann Tate. There are a few changes in management to be handled while she gets settled into the new role. I look forward to our next meeting in July.

Just up the A12, a new free school will be established in Saxmundham this September to be run by the Seckford Foundation, which also runs the independent Woodbridge School. I do not dispute that this will have an impact on nearby schools but the introduction of these new schools based on parental demand is a shake-up to the status quo which I am happy to support as just one element of raising the bar in Suffolk. I am however objecting to the County Council's school transport proposals. They are not appropriate at so early a stage.

The Joint Council Sizewell group organised a community engagement event yesterday, bringing in representatives of local parish and town councils to update and discuss the planning process for the largest infrastructure project this area has ever seen. Unlike Sizewell B, a Government minister will make the final planning decision but EDF will still need to undertake a consultation of the whole community. The size of the project means all of East Suffolk will be impacted so I will keep Star readers informed. Business should look at www.sizewellcsupplychain.co.uk.

With less than a week to go to the Jubilee, I hope you have your party plans sorted and the bunting untangled from last year. Last Sunday I enjoyed the special evensong service in Bury St Edmunds, organised by the Lord Lieutenant and the Diocese. I will be in London for the Thames flotilla but am heading back for various celebrations in the constituency. The beacon lighting is a very special tradition. Doing some research, I understand that Felixstowe did not join the Golden Jubilee relay, but I know plans are ready to ensure our beacon will burn brightly. Wherever you are, whatever you do, have fun and enjoy the extra bank holiday."

24 MAY 2012

Evening Star Column - 22nd May 2012

"How much do you spend on childcare every week? Latest research indicates it is between a quarter and a third of afamily's income. Fellow MP Liz Truss has looked at this in depth. Costs of childcare have doubled while the number of childminders has halved. OFSTED spends 3 times as much time/money inspecting childminders as schools. Local authorities assess every place of childcare. The amount of government subsidy has increased substantially. Overly bureaucratic regulation is what is hurting. If a childminder can only look after 3 children - including at handover times - while on the continent, the average is 5, then costs will be higher. Let's change that. How many different inspections are needed? Just one. Of course, safety is paramount and quality is key - we can achieve that through parental choices and just one external inspection.

MPs and councillors from the 4 East Anglia counties joined togther in Parliament to review the rail prospectus for Anglia. It was a useful session to get a shared understanding on the key issues, decisions to be made and timing. It is key for us to be united so that we secure the much needed investment not only for to and from London but also for travel across our counties. From Ipswich, having more trains to Cambridge and Peterborough connect important economic centres and ease rail travel north. Readers will know I am committed to keeping the Felixstowe to Ipswich line - an important route for workers and fun-seekers.

Lasr week, I hosted a business breakfast for advice on exports. Felixstowe is the gateway to the world, though it is mainly imports coming through our port. UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) ran the workshop showing how they have helped businesses already and provided 1-2-1 appointments. The case study focused on a Norfolk business that has set up a global franchise company on cleaning wheelie bins - with UKTI's help. 4C Offshore showcased its exports, again saying how it had been helped. For more information, look online at www.ukti.gov.uk .

As part of getting round schools, my latest stop was at Fairfield Infants. I was interviewed by 7 year-olds for the Fairview Star! Watch out Nigel Pickover. I am heading soon to Causton Juniors.

Finally, I had a briefing from the Environment Agency on the drought (yes, the wettest drought in history). Water levels are rather good but the Crag aquifer has not recovered as the water still needs to seep in. If we continue to have showers, we should be okay. If we have sustained dry weather, the impact on farmers will increase."

17 MAY 2012

Evening Star Column - 15th May 2012

"Raising the Bar

I am pleased that the County Council is organising a conference on attainment and aspiration in Suffolk. Following my column last week, I was assured that BT had taken on some apprentices from Suffolk but I am awaiting detailed information. Some of the information I am starting to receive in the survey does suggest a lack of science and engineering skills - jobs that often bring higher wages. Work ethic is given as another attribute in short supply. If I can be away from Parliament that day, I will be listening and adding my bit. Focusing on education, including preparing our young people for the jobs available locally, is one of the best gifts we can give to the next generation.

Last week's Queen's Speech covered a number of areas. In terms of jobs and growth, the two most important for me are the Energy Bill and the Red Tape Bill. The first will give consumers help with energy bills and also companies more certainty on low-carbon electricity prices. That is key for EDF and Centrica for Sizewell C. The Red Tape Bill will bring forward a number of rules and regulations to be scrapped, leading on from the Red Tape Challenge (which is still running online). Complying with regulations takes up time that could be used elsewhere in the business. The challenge has looked at whether those rules are still necessary, could there be fewer but better? The other significant bill focuses on children and families, switching the focus from maternity to parental leave so that families can decide for themselves how best to care for their baby and also looking at the costs of childcare. The government may put more and more money into childcare but actually, it will be tackling why it has got so much more expensive in the last few years - primarily due to government regulation.

I spoke at a local Rotary event last week. As elsewhere, the people there give up their time to do good for others. I have always said that the Big Society already existed in many parts of our country and that the bigger challenge was to stop various bodies, including central and local government, getting in the way of the good work they do. One example was the coordination of a big event. For the first time, scrutiny by a big cross-council-police committee was involved with a number of officials and the one organiser. The outcome involved one small action. For the amount of extra work involved in compliance, there is a risk that the event will not happen after this year. I will make local councillors aware so that the application of rules stops being an industry in itself. Common sense should prevail more.

Raising the roof is a phrase more associated with nightclubs and pop concerts but the screams accompanying the winners of Britain's Got Talent final on Saturday and the cannon of confetti spooked the winner. Being a dog lover, of course I voted for Pudsey & Ashleigh. 3 amazing routines during the series made them hard to beat. The other acts did themselves proud and boosted the show back to the top and really did prove that Britain's Got Talent."

17 MAY 2012

Evening Star Column - 8th May 2012

"Jobs for the Boys and Girls - Education, Education, Education

I heard last week that of the 50 apprentices taken on by BT recently, not a single one was from Suffolk. I don't blame BT for that - if not enough people apply or the calibre is not high enough, then just having a local address does not merit getting a job. What to do? This problem has not arisen overnight but needs some very specific analysis and focuse. In a report out from Parliament, there are 3 critical phases of intervention for a child - from 0-3, the time during primary school and the final choices after leaving school. Although the County Council does not control all the secondary schools in Suffolk as many have become academies, there is still a strategic role it can play, particularly at primary school level. Consistently, our secondary schools as a whole have not performed though there are some stellar exceptions. Last year on GCSE basis, Suffolk was rated 121st of 152 authorities though did better on A levels. The Government and OFSTED (the schools inspection agency) is playing its part in several ways - reducing paperwork, reducing and focusing the compulsory elements of the national curriculum, increasing standards for new teachers, introducing new schools where there is parental demand, accelerating the academies programme and stepping up the inspection regime and standards for each rating. The age for leaving education or training is rising and government has also played its part in increasing the number of apprenticeships it funds (an increase locally of 55% last year). This can continue to rise. There are big opportunities now and in the future with energy growth - let's make sure together that we grab these chances.

That is one of the reasons why I wrote to businesses in Suffolk Coastal to survey general conditions but also to ask about plans on growth, exporting, skills,recruitment and raise awareness of apprenticeships. Once I have the results of that survey I will share results with readers and also our business groups. I sent surveys to registered addresses so your accountant may have your letter but please contact my office on 01394 610045 if you have not received a survey.

Another Parliamentary report grabbed the headlines for mainly the wrong reason. My select committee agreed last week that senior managers from News International had misled Parliament. We could not agree on whether Rupert Murdoch was fit to run a business. For a start, we had not looked into that as part of our investigation, it is not Commons convention to assess selections of evidence that have not been presented to Parliament and the independent regulator OFCOM is busy making that assessment. Just as the committee was careful not to make conclusions on individuals who have been arrrested and are under investigation, a bit more thought on the impact on the statutory process would have been more sensible. As such the strength of the report was somewhat diluted for a few global headlines. We will return to this in Parliament. First up though is the Queen's Speech that sets the agenda for the next year."

02 MAY 2012

Evening Star Column - 1st May 2012

"First, a very hearty congratulations to Nigel Pickover and all his team on the Star for their achievement on winning the Regional Newspaper of the Year award. Local reporting with a campaigning element are key ingredients in making the Star a must-buy paper. I hope the team gets a nice party to celebrate, Ed.

Today should also see the publication of my select committee's report on phone-hacking and News International. It comes right in the middle of the intriguing sessions on the relationships between press and the politicians. Our inquiry has had a narrow focus, assessing whether or not executives of News International have misled Parliament. It has not sought to investigate the broad topic of media ethics though some comments are likely to be made to that effect. For the record, yes, I do proactively speak to journalists here in Suffolk and vice-versa. I think you would be surprised otherwise. Contrast that to national media though where I am the one who gets called to go on TV or radio or write something for the press. I have turned down every media bid in the last few days on that to avoid straying into the conclusions of our report which we only agreed yesterday. We are not quasi-judicial and it is a peer group of MPs who have had a chance to look at something in detail and form a view. It has been over nine months since we started our enquiry and it has been pain-staking but it has shown the power of Parliament to pursue investigations, which has helped lead to the Leveson inquiry.

I bought a lot of stamps at the weekend before the prices shot up. I have complained to OFCOM - the independent regulator - about the rise. They assure me that Royal Mail did renegotiate the contracts with other private mail companies anad that consumers were not subsidising other businesses. The privilege of receiving post daily straight into our homes is certainly not enjoyed in every country. I do not accept it is still the cheapest in Europe but there is nothing more special than receiving a letter or a card from a friend through the post - certainly means a lot more than email. I also took the opportunity to forward buy some of the envelopes we use in Parliament.

Finally, I want to wish those taking exams at the moment the best of luck. It has been a while since I took mine and I recall them being a bit later in May and June while at school. As such, I occasionally made the mistake of watching the World Cup or Euro Cup in Mexico and West Germany rather than doing that bit of revision or simply having a good night's sleep. I am sure it is even easier to be distracted now but this crucial time is too important. I know advice from an adult is not always received well but honestly, take the TV out of your room and leave your phone downstairs - it will be worth it."

26 APR 2012

Evening Star Column - 25th April 2012

It never rains, it only pours

"Some may wonder if a drought order was really necessary after the April showers that have hit Suffolk with a vengeance. I cannot help think that we should announce droughts a little earlier in order to encourage the elements a little further and I hope that a lot of this rain is being gathered by farmers and gardeners for when the sun hopefully returns.

The showers did not put off people attending the Open Day at Landguard Fort or the volunteering roadshow. If you missed it, you can contact the local volunteer centre at 108 Queens Road or call 284770.

Stormy showers also spring to mind with the ongoing debate on the Budget last week. While many of us will have dragged out the umbrella, you still always feel a little damp afterwards. That could sum up part of the mood at Westminster that the broad brushes of the Budget were right - raising the tax threshold and giving 24 million people a tax cut when people need that bit extra in their pockets. Meanwhile, looking at tax harmonisation on VAT, I have been following up on issues relating to static caravans. Perhaps not an issue specifically for Suffolk Coastal residents but it may have an impact on our caravan parks that provide jobs and trade for surrounding businesses. I don't think the Treasury civil servants understand the business model and I will be asking our local holiday home and caravan parks to submit to the Treasury consultation on this. I wonder how many high-flying Treasury folk spent their summer holidays in a static caravan. I recall Combe Martin in Devon being a regular haunt for the Coffey family with the excitement of a new caravan each time.

My column's title this week also reminds me of the nursery rhyme, "It's raining, it's pouring, ..." triggering the reflection of the power of story telling. History is brought alive by passing common stories from one generation to the next - in the formality of lessons, in heroic poetry, in art and cinema detailing great feats of our forefathers (and mothers). Politicians have to share their vision, their story of what they want the future to look like, often drawing on stories of the past (perhaps the Grimm Brothers' Tales). That is also necessary in the vision for our towns of Ipswich and Felixstowe in South East Suffolk. With that vision comes belief and self-confidence. There is a lot to look forward to in the next few months - the Tour Britain Cycle race starting in Ipswich, the Diamond Jubilee and of course, the Olympics/Paralympics including the Torch Relay. Let's ensure our towns grab the opportunity to propel ourselves forward."

18 APR 2012

Evening Star Column - 17th April 2012

"Parliament is back in session and we are going through the Finance Bill in some detail. Some of the more news-worthy changes are not due to take effect till next year. One of the changes is to put a limit on tax relief and so limiting how much you can reduce your tax bill. Reliefs are granted in many different forms – e.g. writing off business losses, repair or mortgage interest charges on rental properties and similar. There are more popular ways of reducing your tax bill if you are a higher rate tax payer. If you save into a pension, you can get some tax relief. Some time ago, the Government moved to cap pension tax relief. Now, instead of trying to capture all other reliefs individually, the Treasury decided to put it together. To be fair, in the Budget, specific mention was made that there would be discussions with philanthropists on this particular point and they will happen. A formal consultation will be launched in May. Locally how will this impact? The children's hospice (EACH) has already suggested it will have no impact as they do not get such big donations of half a million pounds or so from individuals. I know the Suffolk Foundation is concerned on the impact on donors. Essentially, we need to get the balance right on this. It is good to encourage significant donations to charities and to universities. We also need to make sure we keep the tax coming in to the Treasury to pay for the NHS, schools, armed forces and police.

I am pleased that we are getting movement on the new site on Felixstowe seafront. As part of a package of continued investment in the town, it is important that all areas are looked at, not just the Spa Gardens or Hamilton Road. Talking of the main shopping area, I hope the Portas pilot bid is successful. I was not asked to support it unlike four other towns in the constituency, but I expect it will have a good shout. Ipswich has already benefited from this fund as it already has a high proportion of closed shops.

Later this week, I am due to meet the Housing Minister to follow up on concerns about the situation with Flagship Housing Association. I will also be discussing the Coastal Communities Fund as I believe that our area should get a good deal out of this, rather than the funds go to places where no revenues are generated from the Crown Estates. Local council leader Ray Herring will be with me in Westminster to make the case.

Finally, as an early warning call, I am hosting a "Coffey Direct" in Felixstowe Town Hall on Friday 4th May from 1115am till noon. You can come and ask me anything you like about any topic (well within reason!) Of course there is a space limit but don't arrive too early as I will be finishing my surgery there at about 11."

11 APR 2012

Evening Star Column - 10th April 2012

"I hope you enjoyed a break over Easter, even if the rain did somewhat spoil it but as I will inform the Head of the Civil Service who holidayed here, we all know we desperately need the rain. Some gardens will have been happy for it after the hosepipe ban came into effect for some parts of Suffolk. I expect our farmers will be even happier as it gives a chance to capture some water into reservoirs and allow the rivers to recover. Thinking of water, the restored Tide Mill in Woodbridge looks fantastic. I had a sneak preview and it has been an impressive job. Well done to Tony Hubbard and his team.

The other thing I enjoyed was that on Easter Sunday, it was nice to see families out and about together. This is the one Sunday of the year that big stores cannot open at all. The world didn't stop. No great panic buying of milk or bread but a welcome chance to be together. The Government is bringing in a Bill to allow all-day Sunday shopping from before the Olympics till after the Paralympics. I can understand it for those stores right by Olympic venues but does everywhere need to be open? I do not think so.

Of course, I do want to help businesses prosper and I hosted a business surgery focusing on banking and mentoring. Thanks to those who came along. I am hosting a breakfast meeting with Peter Aldous MP and UKTI on 18th May focusing on exporting. If you are interested, please contact my office on 01394 610045.

Finally, with fellow MPs Dr Dan Poulter and Peter Aldous, I met councillors and officials from the County and District councils to discuss transport issues re:Sizewell C and the A12. We are united in seeking a bypass to solve the 4 village problem, particularly that bend at Farnham, but I am keen that all the pinchpoints on the A12 are fixed and that the issue is not just shunted elsewhere. This is important to get right before approval goes ahead. I am pleased we are having constructive talks on it."

03 APR 2012

Evening Star Column - 3rd April 2012

"Last week, with a group of other East Anglian MPs, I met the Prime Minister in Downing Street to discuss challenges andopportunities for our counties. The message of investing in infrastructure was a constant message. We covered a number of topics usually coming back to rail and road, as well as challenges of rurality on health and education as well as broadband. It was a very positive meeting. I was last in the Cabinet Room about 18 years ago. Then we got tea in a cup and saucer. This time we got tea in a nice mug. Shows in a small way how life has moved on.

Talking of broadband, the Suffolk sign-up has been split up by parish and town. Near the very bottom of expressions of interest are Felixstowe (0.5% households) Trimley St Mary 0.5%, Trimley St Martin 1.0, Martlesham 1.1, Nacton 1.1 and it starts to get considerably better with Levington, Brightwell, Foxhall& Purdis Farm over 4%. The deadline has been extended to mid-April. It is important that we get as many expressions of interest as possible. Sign up at www.suffolk.gov.uk/broadband or call my office 01394 610045 for a paper copy.

One of the main issues of the week was the threatened fuel strike and the advice given by Government to fill our tanks. Last Monday, drivers voted to strike. The big concern was having a strike over Easter - which would hurt tourism in Suffolk. There was plenty of fuel in the depots and the only way to facilitate getting it out to our stations with a full delivery is to encourage us all to fill up. I know locally that led to some queues. I always try to buy my fuel in the Suffolk - spending money locally - so with 3 miles left on the tripometer I had to join the queue in Woodbridge. However, it was about 15 minutes and then on my way. The outcome? Unite called off threat of an Easter strike within 24 hours of government's call to fill up. It is difficult to understand exactly what the issue is. The average salary for a tanker driver is £45,000 in case anyone is thinking of re-training.

Finally, momentum towards the Olympics continues. I was at a meeting of local businesses assessing the final steps towards this summer and the years beyond. Then on Saturday, instead of attending the opening of the Harry Potter studio tour, I was at the Olympic Park for the National Lottery run. A great public event to christen the new running track. The day before, I had the joy of presenting two £50,000 cheques to Deben Yacht Club and Woodbridge Rugby Club on behalf of Sports England - who get a lot of cash from the Lottery. The legacy is developing. Do you have a sports project that needs some capital? Be inspired and go for gold."

27 MAR 2012

Evening Star Column - 27th March 2012

"After the fairytale opening of the Treehouse by HRH The Duchess of Cambridge and the exchange of speeches with HM The Queen with Parliament to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee, business in Parliament resumed with the final passing of the Health and Social Care Bill. The Government accepted the last batch of Lords Amendments and so passed into law the Bill which puts patients in charge of their healthcare with GPs as their co-pilots. I have not yet met the new chair of the East Suffolk group but have met other GPs. I have also had one letter from a dissenting GP. There is some genuine excitement on how to improve patient care and experience with more treatments in surgeries or closer to home instead of travelling to hospital. I still have not had any complaints concerning the move to Saxmundham of the out of hours base. The information forthcoming shows more home visits have been done but this has worked well with more staff in one base, instead of two.

The other big event of the Parliamentary week was the Budget. I am delighted that over two million more people will now not pay income tax. This is a big step for helping the lowest paid in society. This is a balanced budget and very clearly a budget to help business, entrepreneurs and innovation. The Government does not magic jobs out of thin air but it can make the UK an attractive place to set up and grow businesses, which are necessary for jobs. As for pensioners, no pensioner pays more out in tax due to the changes announced for the income they receive now. I have had some emails in from pensioners concerned about this. What I have said to them is that they will not lose out in cash terms on income they earn now and that over half of pensioners already pay no tax now. This Government kept all the benefits and put into law the triple pensions lock guaranteeing the highest rate of inflation, average earnings increase and 2.5%. Gone are the days of 75p a week increase and in the last two years, the two pension increases total £9.80 per week. The latest increase of £5.30 reflects inflation of 5.2% last September. Inflation has already fallen to 3.4% last month. For some pensioners who contacted me and are still working, the combination of not paying National Insurance and the higher tax allowance meant that compared to people under 65 who they worked alongside, their take-home pay was over 15% higher for doing the same job. I am not sure that is exactly fair. Intergenerational challenges face us. Younger people have far lower expectations of pensions, it is more difficult to buy a house and if there is something that can be done to help lift two million people out of paying tax, I am sure their grandparents would be the first to volunteer.

This week, Parliament debates assisted suicide. It is this kind of ethical debate that can see Parliament at its best and at its worst. The latter may surprise you but very strongly held views can be castigated as being irrational, heartless, bigoted and so on. I strongly believe we should not legalise assisted suicide. I know from my postbag there are some who feel strongly we should. I have supported an amendment that promotes palliative and end of life care, just as we see at St Elizabeth's and the Treehouse. There is no doubt that life can be hard, especially with long-lasting illnesses. However, nor do we want the situation as in Holland where mobile "end of life" units chalk up over 3000 accelerated deaths a year. The current legal guidance sets out clearly the grounds for prosecution and at no point does it legalise assisted suicide. To be clear, I do not suggest that life has to be prolonged indefinitely. Indeed, relatives and friends have chosen not to have treatment that could cure or be resuscitated but instead decided to end their days as peacefully and as pain free as possible. The glimpse of love, of care, of peace that epitomise the Treehouse approach to life are ones that we should all enjoy."

21 MAR 2012

Evening Star Column - 20th March 2012

"The Port of Felixstowe gave a warm welcome to Minister Mike Penning MP as he triggered the ground-breaking for thenew rail terminal. As MD David Gledhill reminded us, for every container on a train, there is one fewer lorry required to transport goods up the A14. This is another welcome investment from Hutchison. What may not be so welcome is the start of the campaign to remove off-peak trains on the Felixstowe to Ipswich line. With my business hat on, I fully understand why the Port wants to do this. It will be far cheaper to lay on buses than to dual the line. My concern is that this could mark the eventual stopping of the train line, that we should encourage the Port to continue to dual the line and if the strapline of Felixstowe is Days Out by the Sea, then removing a reliable rail link for a bus may not be attractive for on-spec shoppers and tourists. It seems ironic that putting more containers onto freight means more people on the road. Please let me know your views.

Last week, I enjoyed the East of England Co-op's event for sourcing goods locally. The Co-op does well in promoting local suppliers and Suffolk has a good story to tell (even better to taste). The other thing we do well is tourism. I popped over to Sutton Hoo for English Tourism week. The exhibition hall has been open for 10 years and over a million visitors in that time. It re-opens this week and I hope it will do well with Olympic tourism. I am looking forward to a conference next month on World War 2 tourism, in cooperation with other countries on the North Sea border. I wonder if people realise how much happened here in Suffolk. Sad tales on the Orwell, the take-off points for Joe Kennedy Jr - the Kennedy being groomed for President rather than JFK- and I believe Glen Miller, the role of Landguard Fort, the sad canoeist memorial at Sizewell, further development of radar and pill boxes everywhere. There is much for us to share particularly with American tourists whose forefathers fought alongside us.

I have got used to brushing with royalty this week. After the Humble Address in Parliament, Her Majesty the Queen is visiting Parliament today (Tuesday) and will give an address in Westminster Hall. Afterwards, I am lucky to have been drawn in the ballot for after-speech drinks in the Royal Gallery. Of course, yesterday, we had the delightful HRH Duchess of Cambridge formally open the Treehouse. EACH is a splendid charity and Suffolk foik were tremendous last year in raising so much money. I am sure that the people who met the Duchess will treasure that for a long time."

13 MAR 2012

Evening Star Column - 13th March 2012

"Want Super-fast Broadband in Suffolk? Register your Interest today

Last week, I attended the Broadband Conference organised by Suffolk County Council. Various points were made by speakers and audience participants about speeds, technologies and coverage. The point I wanted to stress and do so again today is that we must show our interest by registering. This is not about signing a contract but an indication of interest that you want faster broadband and wider coverage. So far only just over 5000 households across all of Suffolk have done this and some more businesses. I think our target of 10,000 is not particularly ambitious. The County has set up In the Race to Infinity, where I used to live in Hampshire, over 90% of households registered their interest and they were one of the six winners. So come on – ask your neighbours, ask your friends – have you signed up? Register online at www.suffolk.gov.uk/broadband or you can call my office for a hard copy on 01394 610045.

It is great news that Rendlesham Parish Council is one of the early pace-setters in developing its Neighbourhood Plan. The Localism Act allows for plans devised and voted on by local communities to be a key input to planning policy. The plan cannot stop the Council deciding where housing can go or how many houses, however, it can give real teeth on how you want the shape and feel of your community to look. For example, if your village has 50% bungalows now and a community decides that is a key element of the village, then it can put forward that future development must also have 50% bungalows.

Consultation has just closed on the changes to red diesel to be used in cruising boats. Due to various European laws, the Government has acted to only allow red diesel to be used in UK waters. Several constituents have written to me on this as it will stop currently legal trips if a boat is powered by red diesel. The knock-on impact will add more cost to marinas and to boat users. Why does this matter? Duty is paid. It seems Belgium is getting officious. I want to see our Government push back on this so it is not a further cost on businesses or a tax on leisure activities.

I was delighted to attend the First Light Awards in London last week – set up to recognise young film-making talent. One of the finalists was Ipswich's Outreach Youth with Sticks and Stones. A very powerful short film addressing that what is said (or indeed not said) can be as wounding as being punched and attacked physically.

At the end of this month, I am hosting a business banking surgery in Melton for any business in the constituency. The Banking Association, a bank manager and a mentor will be there to answer questions. Places are limited but please email or contact my office (number above) to register.

Finally, Parliament debated its Humble Address relating to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. Tributes were paid to the many years of service, including that of Prince Philip, and her commitment to duty. Many MPs shared their insight and amusing anecdotes of their direct interaction. I gave a short speech paying my own tribute. I have never met the Queen but remember queuing for my mug at school for the Silver Jubilee, the follow-on parties and more celebrations back in 2002. Of course, the Queen has a privileged life and, in my view, she has repaid that in full."

07 MAR 2012

Evening Star Column - 6th March 2012

"The iconic buildings of the Bartlett and the Spa in Felixstowe are now at different stages in their lives. The planning committee has given the go-ahead to convert the Bartlett into homes without any social housing contribution under the strict advice of planning officers. I hope this does not become a precedent for other developments in the town or nearby as we do need to keep up the number of lower-priced homes to be built. At least, there is some clarity now on the way forward for healthcare in the area and for cash to be released from its sale for the new, larger surgery in Felixstowe accommodating GPs and other healthcare provision from the Central Surgery. This will free up a new site for development at the top of town once the GPs sell it. Regarding the Spa, I am keen to see a solution for this building that will maintain its leisure use but it will need to be able to stand largely on its own feet. I have had very brief conversations with other parties on its viability. With such a venue, it is clear that having just one or two events per week is not enough to run a building of that size. A minimum of three events and considerably more in the peak summer periods would need to be supported. I think there is an opportunity there and I will do what I can to make it happen.

I was thrilled that the new Academy Building has secured its planning permission. This is another important step. There is another barrier to be overcome - literally - in the crossing point across the railway tracks. Safety is key for our children. I hope we can secure a common-sense solution. As I pointed out in a recent debate on Network Rail, its currency seems to be units of half a million pounds. I hope we can get the work done for a lot less rather than be bussing children from all over the place.

I spoke at a conference last week on the South North Sea and opportunities for jobs. Around this area, the obvious opportunities are in Sizewell and across the water at Harwich, an important port for assembly of turbines. More can be done to boost training and re-training opportunities. This is currently focused in the Lowestoft end of Suffolk. Currently UCS is not offering such opportunities locally and to be fair, it takes a fair amount of investment to give appopriate training but I wonder if the Haven area is unnecessarily missing out. I will follow up with the Haven Gateway to see what we can realistically do locally.

Finally, the Welfare Reform Bill became an Act of Parliament last week. It will still take some years to get all the reforms through the system till we end up with universal credit. This policy is one of the most popular on the doorstep - you will earn more if you work than if you don't work, unless you cannot work. Some further reforms added to this will start to unravel some of the daft situation of people working here for a few years and being able to export child benefit and similar benefits across Europe. There is still a lot of unravelling to get through. There are some people who never seem to want to leave the benefits trap. Most do. With this change and the Work Programme, including the Work Experience programme, we have made a good start."

29 FEB 2012

Evening Star Column - 28th February 2012

"Rock the House!

I attended two music spectacular events this week – the final of Felixstowe's Got Talent and the Brit Awards. Both were entertaining and both showed what talent Suffolk has. I felt very proud as Framlingham's own Ed Sheeran played on stage and received two awards. There was an array of talent – domestic and home-grown – that saw the Brits as being really important ceremony to showcase their acts. The music business is a huge export business worth £1.25 billion pounds to the UK economy. That is why I was glad to recognise this in the House of Commons last week, seeking a debate and recognising Adele's great achievements in winning six Grammys (the US music awards). Adele got her big international break at the Brits last year. So who knows, it could be Suffolk's Sheeran taking the US by storm this year.On a slightly different stage, I did enjoy Felixstowe's Got Talent. The winner was young Connie Lamb who belted out impressive song from Les Miserables, really bringing it to life on stage – very impressive and still only 11 years old. I also enjoyed "Awesome Foursome" – a guitar band – who got the crowd singing along. I have encouraged them and am now encouraging others to enter a competition called "Rock the House". I have to nominate a singer, a band, an under-18 act and a rock venue (under 500 people) for a nationwide competition organised by MPs in the House of Commons. For more details, look online at my website http://www.theresecoffeymp.com/rth-2012/ or directly on http://www.rockthehouse2012.com/about.html .

This has been a golden year for Music in Parliament as legislation, now just awaiting Royal Assent, will come in shortly to allow live music to be back in pubs without specific licensing if unamplified or amplified if in a small venue. Bands just starting out need venues and it is good for pubs. I hope it will be enacted shortly.

The creative economy is not just about music though – all sorts of culture adds to our leisure industry, domestically and internationally. The Oscars and the BAFTAs were united in many of their choices on stellar performances with a French film, "The Artist", taking most of the honours. Meryl Streep deserved her Oscar and while the UK had many nominations, capturing best short film, I hope we are more successful next year.

The Health Bill continues in the House. There was a debate on Wednesday which shed much heat rather than light. I welcome the changes to the NHS that will put patients in the driving seat with GPs as co-patients. By putting decisions on where you are treated in your hands with your doctor's advice, I think we will see many daily healthcare decisions being made closer to home. Of course, not every local hospital can give you treatment for every specific ailment. However, I do think it will increase the chances of facilities like the excellent Felixstowe Community Hospital being kept open and it will once again make out of hours' care the responsibility of our GPs. Our GP commissioning groups in Suffolk are already being formed. I am looking forward to meeting the Ipswich & East Suffolk group in the next week, having already met the Waveney group before who are well underway with the changes."

22 FEB 2012

Evening Star Column - 21st February 2012

"Last week was Parliamentary recess, coinciding with half-term, which allowed me to spend a few weekdays in theconstituency. I decided to try a tour to get round to some of the villages where I will not be holding a surgery. Some of the session venues worked, others didn't so I will learn from that. Across the constituency, planning and roads were probably the most prevalent. Planning usually is a hot topic but for 90% of it, Members of Parliament are not involved at all in the planning process. The only exception is the setting of new policies or guidelines in Westminster that are rolled out across the country. Almost all the roads in the area are also County Council responsibility with the exception of the A14. Nevertheless, the information will be shared with the appropriate bodies and people to try to get some solutions for local residents. Some of the areas where I can help will be acted upon – restoring post office facilities, questions on tax and red tape. One area raised that is a joint area of initiative is affordable housing. There I will work with our local council and see what I can do in Westminster to get things moving.

Affordable housing was the topic of a joint meeting with Council leader Ray Herring, Housing Portfolio Councillor T-J Haworth and the Chairman and Chief Executive of Flagship Housing. There are a lot of empty homes in Suffolk Coastal and a significant number are with Flagship. Finance arrangements have changed in recent years but I felt it important to understand where we are with getting these houses and homes back into circulation. The Council was criticised recently for selling off some houses but better to get the homes back into use than standing empty. Empty homes also cost the council (and therefore YOU)money with the New Homes Bonus as they reduce the amount of money the council receives. That is why the Government has legislated to allow councils to charge an extra 50% council tax to owners of empty homes so there is additional incentive for using them. I was pleased that the Chief Executive accepted that a recent issue involving removal of snow in sheltered housing areas will be addressed in the future by their community rangers. This issue is not going away and I will keep readers updated.

Helping people back to work is an important priority for this Government. We are in an interesting situation where both the level of employment and unemployment have risen. There are more people working than two years ago. There are more people unemployed. This seeming contradiction is that the number of people who have put themselves forward to work has risen. Sometimes people may have stopped working and not claimed any job-related benefits, e.g. retired before the state pension age or stay-at-home parents. That has changed so more are registered as looking for work. I reported last week on National Apprenticeship Week, the programme which has gone from strength to strength. These are real jobs that don't stop once the training has finished. The Government is also trying work experience schemes to give people a chance to show what they can do. The latest scheme that is coming under criticism is to say to people who have been on benefits for some time is to say that we will arrange some work for you to keep you or get you in the work habit while you are getting your benefits. If you don't do that, you don't get your benefits. In my selection meeting, I advocated this "workfare" as it is known. Getting people up and ready every day, turning into work on time, doing a real job, working with other people are all positive steps towards getting that elusive regular job. JSA for over 25 is £67 per week. That's approximately 10 hours on the minimum wage. I have no problem saying to people that this is the right thing to do. I had suggested that a similar number of hours could be worked in public companies, in the public sector, in charities and in third sector organisations. Other time during the week can still be spent on the job hunt. Workfare is not a return to the workhouse; it is actually a progressive way forward to help people back on the job escalator."

17 FEB 2012

Evening Star Column - 14th February 2012

"It was National Apprenticeships Week last week. In Suffolk Coastal, 790 people were in apprenticeships up 55% fromthe year before. I took the opportunity to visit the Adam and Eve salon to meet young Antonio Tella who was doing the tricky task of colouring the hair of Laura Brightman, under the careful tutelage of co-owner Reginaldo and WS Training. Apprenticeships are not confined to the service sectors. Both BT and EDF have hotly-contested apprenticeship schemes, Itron in Felixstowe and Brafe Engineering in Woodbridge have all taken on apprentices in the last 12 months. National Apprenticeship Week is a great opportunity to congratulate apprentices across Suffolk Coastal on the fantastic work they are doing and to highlight the huge benefits apprenticeships bring.

Last week also saw National Libraries Day on the Saturday. I visited two libraries and the experience was very different. One was pretty dead, the other had been thriving throughout most of the day with the support of community groups. Around the same time, the new structure for all libraries across Suffolk came into being. It so happened my select committee started its inquiry on library closures. I could not be there for the evidence session but watched it again on BBC Parliament. It was an interesting discussion with footfall down, spending on IT growing and being more than that spent on books. It begged the question what does the library do? If the biggest growth is in reading and library campaigners felt they had a vital role in supporting the reading of children then the question then grows about the role of literacy in our schools, nurseries and Sure Start. There were also views expressed about the balance between books and buildings – what is more important? Clive Fox from Aldeburgh is the Chairman of the new IPS for Suffolk libraries and I wish him great success. I think that the combination of community involvement while keeping the mobile library service going is a model that may well be copied across the country.

I am continuing to visit schools across the constituency, though I need to visit a few more in Felixstowe, and to hear about the success and challenges in our schools. We all have to work hard to increase the aspiration of our youth and to step up attatinment levels across the board. Though I don't think money is the only solution to helping that, I do think Suffolk schools should get a fair share on funding. Over time, the rurality element of school funding (reflecting the population sparsity) has declined and I think it is time to reverse that trend. I spoke up for Suffolk schools last week in a debate on the future of small rural schools. Suffolk chose to keep small schools open. It can lead to wide age ranges within a class but I support the wishes of parents and local communities. Some schools like Peasenhall and Middleton share a headteacher and also move children about during the day on one or two days of the week to support learning. Both have outstanding Ofsted grades. I am doing more research on this at the moment and I accept that if Suffolk schools again, other areas will lose out. Well, I do believe in fairness and have contributed to the consultation on funding formula."

10 FEB 2012

Evening Star Column - 7th February 2012

"I think all of Suffolk saw the snow this weekend. It is vital for us all to keep warm but please look in on your neighboursto ensure they are ok. I understand people may be worried about bills but the free Home Heat Helpline 0800 336699 can offer advice on keeping your home warm and on fuel bills. It was so cold this weekend that, for those eligible, the cold weather payments have kicked in for many Suffolk postcodes. After the successful Surviving Winter appeal, I have written to the Suffolk Foundation and Age UK to ask them to prioritise residents who are off the gas grid. Heating your home via oil, LPG or coal is so much more expensive than using gas and if last winter is anything to go by, the oil price will shoot up (just as I need to order some). I recently met Suffolk ACRE to discuss their new oil-buying club. I think this is a useful idea but we discussed the challenge of people signing up without having a quoted price or really an indicative price. Bulk-buying should lead to lower prices and the prices since the scheme started have shown a reduction compared to smaller buying groups and price comparison websites. I have challenged them to think how this aspect of the otherwise excellent service could be improved. Credit to our council workers and the emergency services for ploughing on regardless. The bin was collected Monday morning like usual (but I wish the lorry hadn't gone quite so quickly down the hill –cue prayers that the brakes would work properly). The gritters were out and good job all round I think.

The debate I had helped secure on Network Rail was held last week. Most MPs who contributed were dissatisfied with the performance of Network Rail. Clearly there are concerns that large bonuses may be awarded when the Rail Regulator has served a breach of notice for failures. The corporate setup was patched together ten years ago and it is time for a review. I want Network Rail to succeed and as I discussed last week, some changes seem to be underway. One significant change is the deeper partnership with Abellio, who took over running our Suffolk trains on Sunday. After a good Sunday, the snow turning to ice led to some delays as trains reduced their speed slightly. If journeys to work in our cars took considerably longer, I think we can forgive an extra ten minutes' time to London, but it is key that a new tone is set straightaway and that we do see a change under Abellio.

After a week when Sir Fred became Mr Goodwin, a Cabinet Minister resigned after being charged with the serious offence of perverting the course of justice. Now it is sub-judice, I will not offer my views on this matter but no doubt, it is another blow to the public perception of politicians. The alleged offence is serious as it undermines the very nature of our justice system. These changes bring new opportunities though and through the reshuffle, the new Minister in charge of the Post Office is MP for North Norfolk, Norman Lamb. A Liberal Democrat yes but critically a rural MP who will understand the frustration of dealing with the Post Office in trying to protect small post offices and Outreach services.

Finally, Her Majesty has been our Queen for sixty years and what a wonderful sixty years it has been. Undoubtedly she has enjoyed a life of privilege and may not have faced financial problems but her family life is not atypical from many of us – losing her father when still quite young, shepherding her own family through their own troubles – actually three out of four children divorcing is probably higher than average – while she enjoys the steadfast support of the Duke of Edinburgh. To think she has seen more than ten Prime Ministers come and go, is Head of State for a quarter of the global population and embraces the Commonwealth. Queen Elizabeth is attending Parliament in March to celebrate the occasion. It is a few months off yet but I expect the celebrations in June will be an opportunity to reflect on her service and another glorious excuse for a good party."

01 FEB 2012

Evening Star Column - 31st January 2012

One of the unpublicised (and deemed unglamorous) aspects of Parliamentary life is sitting through delegated legislation committees. These are to review Statutory Instruments which, in my experience so far, are voted through with no opposition. The meetings usually last all of about 20-30 minutes and only 2 people speak - the Minister and his/her Shadow - so they can be seen as a bit of a chore. Two memorable ones were the increase in the minimum wage and the raising of the subsidy for Post Offices to £500 million. This week, I substituted for a colleague and arrived to be told it would go the full scheduled 90 minutes. (I knew I would be seeking a large glass of wine from my colleague in compensation.) However, it proved to be very interesting as it concerned the arrangements for the new Police and Crime Commissioner. This is the role taking over from the Police Authority and will be elected this November. It is going to be a full-time leadership role and will play a key role in the strategy and prioritisation of tackling crime. It is important to include safeguards to ensure there is no interference with the Chief Constable and his leadership of the police force. If anyone is interested in standing for this role, do get in touch but there is some more information - www.homeoffice.gov.uk/police/police-crime-commissioners/

Having secured a debate on Network Rail with other colleagues, no surprise then that senior management were keen to meet me in advance of the debate. It was a useful exchange and it seems changes are underway already both on internal operations and also preparing with the new franchisee Abellio. I took the opportunity to discuss the issue of Network Rail's objections to the Academy and the insistence on siting a footbridge off Runnacles Way. I hope that these difficulties can be overcome and that Network Rail will continue to improve the service for all users.

The big political story of the weekend was the decision by the Chief Executive of RBS (Stephen Hester) to not claim his bonus. He also waived his bonus last year. I am supportive of paying appropriate rewards for success - which may well be considerably more money than you and I both earn in a lifetime. I think what is difficult to understand is that bonuses are being awarded when the value of the bank (both its asset value and equity values) have dropped significantly - which does not obviously indicate success. When it comes to profit and loss, in 2010, RBS made a loss of £1.1 billion, better than the loss in 2009 of £3.6 billion and far better than the £24.3 biillion loss in 2008. 2011 full year results are not yet out but it seems that for the first time since the crash that RBS will make a substantial profit. That is why the RBS board felt justified in awarding a bonus, according to Stephen Hester's contract. Of course, Labour have gone for the kill on this and to a large extent has won. However, who set up the contract? Labour. Who negotiated the effective take-over and chose not to change other contracts? Labour. Who was in power when Stephen Hester was awarded a potential bonus of £6 million? Labour. Dealing with paradox is something all politicians have to do but sadly, this smacks of hypocrisy. What's the solution? I think Stephen Hester should get his big bonus when the bank has been profitable for some times and the government has sold its shares. By then, RBS will have been turned around and he will truly deserve a bonus. Otherwise, the taxpayer is unlikely to ever see a financial return on the RBS bail-out.

It was a great close to the week at Felixstowe Spa with a charity concert organised by Felixstowe Radio in aid of EACH. The theatre was packed out which was no surprise with the attraction of X Factor winner Matt Cardle. I spotted Matt arriving in a small car to be greeted by some hardy Felixstowe fans who gave a bit of a whoop rather than a full-on scream. The rest of the line-up also performed well with some toe-tapping stuff. In addition to talent already known around Felixstowe, Cediq Havana got the crowd going and a lot of interaction.

25 JAN 2012

Evening Star Column - 24th January 2012

A "warm welcome to the new Ipswich Star and Felixstowe Star. My very first article for the Evening Star was just a year ago and credit to the Evening Star for 126 years. Of course, I am fully expecting the new Stars to continue bringing local news and views as well as campaign on the issues that matter to local residents.

Congratulations are due to everyone at Felixstowe Community Hospital on their excellent review by CQC. I am sure all users of the hospital will be delighted. This review strengthens the case for keeping community hospitals.

I spoke up for our port on two occasions in Parliament last week. The first was in a debate when a group of Southampton MPs were complaining that legal action concerning their planning application brought by Hutchison Ports was a commercial spoiler. The fact is that the Southampton port did not do the proper assessment and when the MMO decided to give consent anyway, I would have been astonished if our Port had not intervened. Of course, Hutchison won its case. The point of this is that companies should expect consistency from the Government and its agencies. If there is a desire for less regulation, it should apply across the board. I used the analogy of football rules applying to one club and not their rivals. Uproar would ensue! I also spoke in the main debate on Ports, asking for careful consideration of joining up policies on rail and roads, as well as much more careful consideration of marine conservation zones.

Finally, after visiting retailers on Hamilton Road, I enjoyed an afternoon of bingo at the Palace. My select committee is doing an inquiry on gambling at the moment and I raised the issue of inconsistent tax rates with the Treasury Minister, Chloe Smith. Bingo pays 20% while betting shops pay 15%. There seems to be no reason apart from history. The Minister used to work for a consulting firm who recently produced research to show that by bringing down the rate, the Government would get more revenue. I had a warm welcome on Saturday and saw it was well-priced entertainment but it also provided a friendly community. People travelled from Woodbridge and it was good to see that companionship across the tables. I didn't win but I am sure I will be back another time."

18 JAN 2012

Evening Star Column - 17th January 2012

"I joined a Norfolk/Suffolk banking summit with MPs and regional directors of the big banks last week. It is vital that businesses with good business plans can access finance to keep their businesses running and for investment. The summit offered opportunities for members of the Federation of Small Business to interact with those bank managers that can make decisions and for MPs to press the case for accessibility to finance, not always through your local bank. Credit unions have just been given powers to extend small loans to businesses. Foundation East is a community foundation that can also help. Finally, the British Banking Association are setting up a network of mentors who can help businesses review their business plans. I hope to set up a surgery soon. Having a Treasury Minister at the summit, Chloe Smith, was a bonus and she can take that message directly to George Osborne.

This is Big Energy Week – focusing on how you can pay less for your heating while still staying warm. Some quite simple changes to your home can reduce your heating bills while keeping you warm. All the energy companies are doing something. British Gas is offering free loft or cavity wall insulation for all existing customers. People in target groups canall get help. I bought insulating tape for my windows and door frames which cost less than £4 and will make a difference. The best innovation though comes from uswitch.com for those of us who don't have internet access. Simply send them your latest bill via Freepost Uswitch or call for free to 0800 0930607.

I raised the issue of rural Post Offices in Parliament with the Prime Minister last week. I am pursuing this as it is a classic case of a government agency being given plenty of money to do a job (it has increased substantially under this Government) that is wanted by the public but somehow, it just doesn't get done. I was also able to praise the postmaster, Tony Whatling, who has served for over 60 years and is still carrying on. My debate on deregulation went well. The Minister agreed that we need to go further. Regulation is something that affects many people. I spoke about a variety of examples but an obvious one for us to look at is the regulation of childcare. The cost of childcare doubled under the last Labour government, while the number of childminders halved. A lot of this was regulation required to be a childminder. I am sure we all remember those policewomen who were threatened with prosecution for looking after each other's children. It turns out OFSTED spends the majority of its budget on inspecting childcare facilities while the number of inspections has reduced. Why does this matter? Cost. The amount of subsidy for childcare has increased. More hours are offered "free" though costs continue to spiral. We need to change this.

It was very disappointing that the ambulance targets were again not met in the East of England. I will continue to put pressure on the Board and our local NHS so that Suffolk residents do not get forgotten. The week ahead brings further debate on the NHS, high streets and ports. All important topics for readers in Felixstowe, Ipswich and east Suffolk."

11 JAN 2012

Evening Star Column - 10th January 2012

"Parliament resumes this week. First day back, I have secured a short debate on deregulation - the famous red tape thatwe are keen to cut back, reducing its stranglehold on business and growth. Deregulation is happening - you can check out the "red tape challenge" online but we need to go quicker and faster, as it is a low-cost way of stimulating growth. Less cost on business can equal cheaper goods, cheaper to employ someone, easier to make or sell something. Of course, some regulation is required in many areas, enforcing the civic bonds that we have to each other, that employers have for their employees and businesses for their customers - car insurance, basic health and safety, consumer protection and so on. Europe generates a lot of regulation enacting the single market but also for the the environment. There was controversy recently when the Chancellor called for a review of the Habitats Directive. I support that as I do the Water Directive. We need to strike a balance between the environment and keeping our daily life going, including businesses and farming. I met local farmers last week concerned with the regulations on water and abstraction. This is a genuine threat to farming in east Suffolk which I will take up.

Also last week, amidst other engagements, I visited Sizewell A. It is quite unusual to be in a business that you are intentionally running down but still needs to be closed well. The radioactive material left within the building is now very-low powered but still needs to be removed, which should happen by 2014, though this building will be around for a long time to come.

Two films have been out in the last week, both likely to feature in the Oscars - War Horse and The Iron Lady. I enjoyed Meryl Streeps' portrayal of Margaret Thatcher (as you may expect) but the story is told using flashbacks, events are not in chronological order and certain key scenes of the film did not happen in real life. This last dramatisation technique is widespread - I can think of Cry Freedom for Steve Biko (the ANC activist) or In The Name of the Father for the alleged IRA Guildford Four - where pivotal, emotional and dramatic scenes did not actually occur but are added to deepen connections with the audience in a short space of time. Real life might be a bit dull if told second by second (not all our lives can be as exciting as 24's Jack Bauer). Some current MPs are in the film, helping to liven up the extras in the Chamber scenes and I still remember when Ms Streep visited Parliament to watch Prime Minister's Questions.

I am really looking forward to seeing War Horse, which I have seen on the stage and I know to pack the tissues. I am sure the horse must have been based on the sturdy, loyal Suffolk punch; fitting then that the screenplay (the dramatisation) is written by Suffolk resident Richard Curtis."

06 JAN 2012

Evening Star Column - 3rd January 2012

"Happy New Year

2012 got off to a cracking start with the fireworks in London, showcasing Big Ben right from the start and focusing on theOlympics. Fellow Conservative MP Mark Lancaster was heavily involved as it was his family firm that staged the firework display. I believe Mark was involved in laying the fireworks in Parliament - a bit different from Guy Fawkes.

2012 will bring a number of exciting moments in Suffolk. The Olympic torch relay on July 5th stops at ten places in my constituency including Woodbridge and Felixstowe. I was delighted that at the last moment, a large number of schools in the constituency became full members of the Olympics Get Set network. This opens up greater chances for our schoolchildren to become more involved in the national event. I am sure there will also be many street parties across the area for the Diamond Jubilee. Planning for both is already underway by our local councils.

The New Year's honours list brought recognition to some local people who have been pioneering in helping others. The New Year also brought some new initiatives from the Government. Probably the most headline-catching was the plan to stop council or housing association tenants from sub-letting their homes and for those wealthy enough to make them pay market rents. I think this is common sense. Union leaders getting subsidised accommodation? People who live abroad for part of the year or move in with someone else? That will free up either homes or money to help those who really need help to get a roof over their heads.

Another initiative is some extra money to help councils get older people out of hospital and back to their own homes when they are well. This seems to be a particular problem in the north of my constituency and I hope we can make progress on that. The focus of healthcare is changing so more routine activities can be done at your GP surgery or at home rather than travelling to hospital. This usually produces better outcomes at a lower cost. This is one of the reasons why the Government is pressing on with its reforms to put your local GP as your co-pilot on your healthcare.

I don't tend to set New Year resolutions but there are some important targets for the year ahead. More progress on broadband (have you signed up to show your support?), localised targets on ambulance responses, the A12, restoration of hourly rail services from Ipswich to Lowestoft, new marine plans, the starting of free schools and hopefully, greater opportunities for high value jobs in our part of Suffolk. 2012 will continue to be a challenging year economically but there will be plenty to keep us smiling with moments of national and local joy. An extra bank holiday. Suffolk Olympians and Paralympians? Even England might win Euro 2012!"

29 DEC 2011

Evening Star Column - 28th December 2011

"I hope you all enjoyed a merry Christmas. The weather was certainly mild, a contrast to Christmas 2010, and it seems that the High Streets had some Christmas cheer. Relaxing, enjoying a few more channels since the switchover, Dr Who was a modern take while Downton Abbey harked back to a classic age and had the best one-liners, particularly from Maggie Smith. Like many TV shows, it is time to do a Christmas special and a review of the year. Quite a daunting task given what a busy place Suffolk Coastal is (and I will not cover everything) but a few statistics first.

I spoke in Parliament 82 times asking questions, making speeches and contributions to debates. I asked 36 written questions. I signed 31 Early Day Motions, proposing three on War Memorials, BBC Local Radio and IT Skills Launch. In July, my Private Members' Bill (on shipwreck removal costs) received Royal Assent and is now an Act of Parliament. An additional 3400 constituents contacted me for the first time. My team and I have handled over 6000 queries. I have continued to hold two surgeries every month, except August when I am out and about across the constituency. I visited nine schools (and will visit many more in 2012) and have proactively contacted schools and charities on various opportunities, particularly concerning the Olympics. Thanks to my team (those who are still here and those who have moved on) for their support.

A year ago, the unwelcome Christmas present was that the Environment Agency had dropped the Felixstowe seafront coastal defence works. Quickly into action, working with Cllr Andy Smith, we managed to get the works restored and I am delighted that they have progressed so well. A welcome Christmas present higher up the coast for Thorpeness residents who came together with the EA and council to defend their shoreline in an innovative approach, which I think will act as a blueprint across the country for partnership working. More work is needed though on Marine Conservation Zones which is part of an attempt to bring some planning structure to our marine environment. The case still is being made for our fishermen and trying to increase quotas. I appreciate the proposals are not wholly popular but I think they provide an opportunity to ensure fishing stays within our small communities from the Ferry upwards.

Later in the year, the Port celebrated its 125th Birthday. The party was spectacular at the Port and on the seafront. With a touch of magic from Princess Anne and a visit later in the year from the new Secretary of State for Transport, helping the Port is one of my key activities as it is so important for the prosperity of Felixstowe. That is why I serve as Vice-Chairman of the Parliamentary Group for Ports and Maritime, as well as Co-Chairman of Coastal and Marine which focuses more on erosion, conservation zones and coastal communities. I was pleased to be re-elected to both those posts this year.

Another key national infrastructure asset is Sizewell. Much progress was made in the year to move this project on which again is good nationally for our energy resilience and locally for new jobs and potential contracts. EDF has submitted its planning application for its Somerset plant and soon, we should see the same for Sizewell. A key part of that will be resolving the A12 situation for the 4 villages. Offshore, the wind turbines have started turning and more are due in 2012. The Green Coast of Suffolk is becoming THE energy centre for the UK and that was recognised by the Prime Minister.

Further recognition from the Prime Minister came to the people of Suffolk for their role in raising over £3 million for the Treehouse Appeal. I really saw how people came together across the county to support those less fortunate than ourselves. I appreciate this happens regularly and that is another aspect of Suffolk life that makes the county very special. I was delighted later in the year to welcome David Cameron and the Cabinet to Suffolk. It was a welcome boost for members of the Cabinet to get out and about in East Anglia to see our successes and our challenges.

One of my proudest moments in the year was to welcome the Commanding Officer (CO) and RSM of 23 Engineers to Parliament. This followed the Parliamentary Welcome of 16 Air Assault Brigade with our own CO leading the parade with the RSM bringing up the rear. Under Lt Colonel Ross' leadership, the regiment continues to be a source of pride for the local community. Long may that continue with the new CO due in the spring. Endorsing our military engagement in Libya was a key moment in the year. I am proud the UK did involve itself and am even more pleased that the campaign is now over. Of course more can be done in other states but we will only press on if we get the whole UN Security Council endorsement for such action.

A significant issue for any rural MP is healthcare. The CQC failure at Ipswich was an unwelcome note but I was pleased that the Hospital staff recognised the challenge and fixed it. I never take our hard working nurses, doctors and support staff for granted but nor will I stand back from focusing attention where it is needed. That is also true of ambulances. Working with other Suffolk MPs, we have put the spotlight on the Ambulance Trust and it is starting to pay dividends. While most call-outs do not require people to go to hospital, it is important that rural constituents receive a very good service when they dial 999. I have also taken up concerns on the Out of Hours service and pressed the case for a new surgery for Felixstowe. Other emergency services also had to be protected and I was delighted to campaign with the Evening Star on keeping a permanent fire service in Felixstowe.

A few things where I have not made as progress as I would like are on post offices. There are a number of constituents not getting the service they should and I will keep fighting their corner in the New Year. Ditto for the businesses in Hamilton Road who had a terrible shock with business rates increases that were completely unplanned. I will support any individual appeals made. Something which I have been working on for a while has been the cost of fuel for those living away from the gas grid. The cost of heating oil is still very high but the OFT study I helped secure did not lead to concerns on competition grounds, though the same could not be said for those using LPG. I will continue to work on this in 2012. More meetings with the Minister were held in December and I have now set up a Parliamentary group on the matter. I am looking to secure greater consumer protection for such residents as well as focusing help on those houses hardest to insulate. Fuel poverty is highly acute in Suffolk Coastal and perhaps a forgotten issue in Westminster.

The beautiful surroundings in which we live should never be taken for granted. Our farmers do a lot to keep our country fed as well as preserve the countryside. A big issue early in 2011 was the Government's proposals concerning forests. I held a lively public meeting in Rendlesham where questions and opinions were addressed. I took a lot of these back to Westminster and was pleased to see significant changes to the policy. I still think there are changes to be made to help improve biodiversity and stop the daft situation where we still import most of the wood we used but hopefully addressed in a more considered way. The issues surrounding Sutton Heath's change in habitat as well as tackling issues on noise were also contentious issues. It is true that finding a balance to conserving the environment and everyday practicalities (like the A12 issues) can be quite a tightrope but one on which we must gain consensus. The lack of rain early in the year contributed to a scorched looking Suffolk with genuine concerns for our farmers, many of whom rely on abstraction from aquifers and rivers in order to irrigate crops. No sooner had I raised this with the Prime Minister and the rain shortly followed but still there is work to be done on building up reservoirs and modifying licences to allow abstraction around the year, as well as allowing our rivers to recover.

My ongoing work on the Select Committee for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport has continued to be very enjoyable and, I think, worthwhile. The headlines went to our inquiry on phone-hacking, including the grilling of the Murdochs. Other reports included the Arts, FIFA and Football Governance. The most important inquiry we undertook though was for the Spectrum Auction. This probably has the most direct relevance to Suffolk Coastal residents in improving mobile broadband access with the next generation of spectrum being lined up for auction. I was pressing for coverage that would include Suffolk residents. This is not to go against the fixed-line broadband programme (which after a difficult start is progressing well) but to supplement it. All Suffolk MPs are working hard to ensure that we have much better broadband alongside the County Council and our LEP.

I know that 2011 has been a difficult year financially for many and there is no getting away from 2012 being another challenge. I do think the Government is right to tackle the deficit, to redirect funds to schemes which it believes will produce better results for children and youngsters. I also think it is right to push more decision-making down to local level away from Whitehall. There are a number of reforms concerning welfare, employment, education, health and local government that will have long-lasting, beneficial effects for us all.

I look back with a lot of fondness on 2011 (including turning the big 40) and am looking forward to 2012. More to say on that next week – dreams of Olympics and Paralympics glory, the Diamond Jubilee (God willing) and much more progress on broadband and trains."

19 DEC 2011

Evening Star Column - 20th December 2011

"It is good news to see that the sea defences along Felixstowe seafront are so far advanced, especially given the recent weather. Perhaps more worrying on first hearing was the news about the Spa Pavilion. However, I do think that these moments allow for better solutions to come forward. Save the Spa is a good rallying cry and that includes encouraging the people of Felixstowe to come forward and say what they want at the Spa, what will encourage you to go there more often if at all? I met Tourism Minister John Penrose last week for a briefing on tourism matters. John's constituency of Weston-super-Mare faces similar challenges but there have been moves to remove unnecessary legislation and renewed focus on coastal towns.

The A14 challenge has been started to bring forward thoughts on how the A14 can be improved, particularly with key bottlenecks. You do not need a full-blown motorway to keep traffic moving - anyone stuck on the M25 or other motorways can tell you the junctions where they usually get stuck at peak times as cars queue to get on and off.

Of course, one of the other disruptions that we have seen more of than we should recently are the mindless, criminal acts of dropping or throwing stones at cars. Heaven knows what possesses someone to do that but it is absolutely right that the Police put their full efforts into finding these thugs, hopefully before someone is killed.

We all know how important the A14 is but the other popular form of travel in Felixstowe and East Suffolk is the train. I met Felixstowe Travelwatch (Richard Holland and Bryan Frost) last week to discuss their concerns and it was opportune as I met Abellio on Monday. The rail summit later in the work where my excellent colleague Ben Gummer MP pressed the case for investment on the main line. Concerning our branch lines, Abellio will not be able to make significant investment but they are planning to give a facelift to existing carriages and to improve the customer experience through better information available particularly on delays and to make it easier to buy tickets. That includes better deals available online which till now you would need to pick up at a ticket office or upgraded ticket machine. Instead, you can print out at home or buy on your smartphone. One of the key reasons for delays are issues with signalling or disruption to the track. In the short term, Abellio cannot fix that but they also hope to be able to bid for work which would provide useful competition to Network Rail.

Finally, can I wish all readers of the Evening Star a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year."

15 DEC 2011

Evening Star Column - 13th December 2011

"Last week, the Prime Minister and the Cabinet were in Suffolk for the second of their regional meetings. It was really useful for Suffolk to showcase its qualities, the opportunities available and the challenges it faces. The task remains for us as MPs to keep the flag flying for our county. One of the most useful conversations was with Dr Vince Cable, Business Secretary, on the opportunities for IT companies at Adastral Park itself and it is well set up to be a Technology Innovation Centre. It will be for the LEP to decide whether to champion this bid but I think that this innovation cluster is well placed. The trip to Felixstowe Port was also important and the teams down there did a great job of making the new Transport Secretary, Justine Greening, aware of the great history but also the great future that lies ahead. That requires support from the Government to ensure a fair platform for all port operators. The investment undertaken by Hutchison Whampoa convinces me that Felixstowe will continue to be the premier container port but only the basis of fair competition.

Ambulance response times are a constant thorn in the side of many rural residents in and around Ipswich and Felixstowe. The situation gets significantly worse as you move further away from the hospital. I was pleased to meet the Health Minister Simon Burns MP last week and to raise this matter at the heart of government. Unfortunately, due to the rearranged time, my neighbouring MP Dr Dan Poulter was unable to join that specific meeting but we are united in seeking a fairer deal for all our constituents. The issue at the moment is that targets only have to be met entirely across the East of England. Neither of us think that is good enough. At the meeting were the Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service, the Chief Executive of NHS Norfolk, Great Yarmouth & Waveney and the commissioning director of NHS Suffolk. I am pleased to report that there are changes afoot to start in April next year so that we will start to see targets by county, which is a step in the right direction. When the commissioning groups of doctors take on the responsibility, I hope the targets will be met area by area.

I am sad to report that the Attorney General has decided not to press to appeal for a longer sentence for Jacob Dunne, who was convicted for the manslaughter of James Hodgkinson. I am sure his family and friends will be upset by that decision. I do trust the judgement of Dominic Grieve (the Attorney General) who is an experienced lawyer and has sought advice. The view is that it is unlikely that another judge would significantly increase the sentence and so it is not appropriate to appeal. Nothing can replace the life of this young man who did so much and who was taken from them in such a cruel way. I appreciate it is not much solace but I will contact the Ministry of Justice on the matter of sentencing guidelines. A review has been undertaken and it is worth pointing out examples where it seems a travesty of justice.

Ready? Get Set? Go? Last plug for children and parents to encourage their schools to be full members of the Olympics Get Set Network. This is a great opportunity for the Olympics to touch every child across Suffolk and for the chance to win some tickets. The closing date is this Friday. Separately, the County Council has announced a small grants programme to encourage communities to celebrate London 2012. With 10 torch stops in my constituency, there will be no excuse to roll out the bunting. More information online at www.risingtothechallenge.org"

07 DEC 2011

Evening Star Column - 6th December 2011

"In between our scrutiny of the Murdochs and News International, my Select Committee has been reviewing gambling. I am sure many of us have a flutter on the National or buy National Lottery tickets. Some readers will be regular bingo players or will have entertained themselves on Felixstowe seafront at one of the amusement arcades. In 2005, the then Labour government rushed through the Gambling Act, in negotiation with other parties, just before that General Election. 6 years on, the view is that it has pretty much failed to achieve what it set out to do. Costs and regulation rose, online betting firms took their operations offshore so tax revenue fell, limited liberalisation appears to have distorted the market between venues and many bingo halls have struggled to survive and very few casinos have started - certainly not the super-casino envisaged in Manchester.

The committee has heard evidence from a variety of sources - from bookmakers to the Salvation Army to the trade body for amusements and piers. Of course, Felixstowe has its own seafront with assorted entertainments and arcades. I have not yet added the Felixstowe Palace bingo hall to my list of visits but will do so soon. I know that locally there is frustration about the tight controls on number of machines in the arcades and that it is inconsistent with other high street betting shops. Of course, we have to be mindful of problem gambling and how people can be identified and helped. The financial impact can be very significant for families.

The committee has visited a number of outlets in and around London to get a feel of the different experiences offered. It is standard practice for Select Committees to look at how other countries have adopted or changed laws. That is why last week, I was abroad with the Select Committee as part of our gambling inquiry. We have already met politicians and civil servants from other European countries understanding the differing regimes, usually reflecting cultural or ethical practices. For example, it is illegal to gamble online in Germany while in France, you can only bet on horseracing through one state-owned monopoly. Further afield, the USA has very specific laws state by state on gambling. Las Vegas is eponymous for casinos. I have visited there before with my work at Mars (we had a chocolate plant 20 minutes away). I am not sure that something as big as Vegas is what we would be looking for in our country but it is interesting to see how the local economy thrives as well as potentially significant crime. One of the largest buildings in the world is a casino in Macao, a very small region of China, not much bigger than Felixstowe and Walton. Australia has a similar culture and legislative climate to the UK and has liberalised gambling. Not-for-profit social clubs are numerous in Australia - people are picked up by the club and taken in for a meal and socialising as well as perhaps a bit of gambling on a fruit machine. A senator was elected to the Australian Parliament on a "No Pokie" ticket. A pokie is a generic term for what we would call a fruit machine. He is still there and Australia is looking at its own reforms now both for high street and online gambling. Japan is well known for its pachinko parlours (think vertical pin ball crossed with a fruit machine).

Like all inquiries, I cannot pre-judge the outcome but so far, I think there are some obvious changes including measures to bring online betting back to Britain. Changing the inequity of the different percentage of tax paid by betting shops and bingo halls. Till now, the Government has decided where new casinos can be sited so why not let local councils say that they are happy to host one? Would a casino be a good, fun idea for Felixstowe? Or would it be folly?"

30 NOV 2011

Evening Star Column - 29th November 2011

"The Suffolk coast was battered by a tidal surge on Sunday night. As of writing, it seems no serious damage has been done and only minor flooding occurred. None of this is new but stresses why we need to ensure flood defences are maintained and to continue to build resilience into properties. There is no doubt that there is less money available than in the last few years but we know from local experience that such money can be stretched