"This weekend Suffolk will fall silent as we pay tribute to those who have died in the service of their country. This Sunday our traditional season of remembrance will take on added poignancy as we also commemorate the centenary of the November armistice, which ended the First World War. I will be in Felixstowe, paying my respects at St John's Church and the memorial on the seafront. Local representatives will be laying a wreath on my behalf in some other towns in Suffolk Coastal. I'd also like to thank all the villages and towns that will join the beacon-lighting on Sunday evening, which is a very special way for our county to unite. Remembrance Sunday is also an opportunity not only to remember those who died in war 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.
Last week in Parliament, the Chancellor delivered the Budget. He outlined how the economy is in a better shape than forecast, that we no longer need to borrow for day to day spending - and that thanks to the careful stewardship of the economy there are more people working than ever before. The economy is forecast to continue to grow - enabling us to deliver our election manifesto pledge one year early in allowing people to keep more of their money - as well as increasing investment in the NHS and other public services. I was especially pleased about his announcement on business rates, which will knock a third off the bills of many of our small and independent shops, pubs, restaurants and cafes. After meetings last year with the Chancellor that helped generate the £300m business rates relief fund which councils could use to help local businesses, I'm delighted that the Chancellor continues to listen to the voices of Suffolk Coastal businesses.
Finally, I attended a meeting with representatives of Saxmundham Town Council last week to hear from Greater Anglia about the future of Saxmundham station. This follows the devastating fire which took place earlier this year. The good news is that Greater Anglia intends to restore the station as a one-storey building with an indoor waiting room, which I'm sure will be welcomed by passengers and residents. At the same time Greater Anglia have also agreed to improve and resurface the car-park, which will help local traffic. Thank you to Greater Anglia for listening."
"I was delighted to attend the official opening of the new Deben Leisure recently as Chairman of the Council, Cllr Nicky Yeo, did the honours by cutting the ribbon. Congratulations to Leisure Portfolio Holder, Cllr TJ Howarth-Culf and all at Suffolk Council District Council for bringing state of the art gyms and an updated swimming pool to Woodbridge. The new facility is fabulous and I'm sure will be well used by its existing and new customers.
Talking of Woodbridge, as the Thoroughfare has been shortlisted for this year's Great British High Street award I visited a number of independent stores recently, whose owners work so hard to make the Thoroughfare such a success. 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.
As a result of my letter, the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart MP, 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. The Chairman of the Parish Council has agreed to accompany me to that meeting – and I will continue to press the case to try and effect a change on behalf of residents.
Finally, my department launched a consultation this week on banning the distribution of plastic straws, drinks stirrers and cotton buds to protect our oceans. In England, it is estimated that we use 4.7 billion plastic straws, 316 million plastic stirrers and 1.8 billion plastic-stemmed cotton buds each year. Items that are used for just a few minutes but take hundreds of years to break down. We are taking action to turn the tide on plastic pollution and ensure we leave our environment in a better state than we inherited it."
"Following objections from local residents, I'm delighted that Scottish Power Renewables are reconsidering their proposals for a substation in Friston. I previously conveyed residents' concerns to SPR and alongside local Councillors, met Energy Minister, Claire Perry, last month to lobby for changes to be made. If they had got the go-ahead at Friston it would have meant that 5-miles of countryside would needlessly have been dug up for cables to reach the substation. That and the scale of the proposal in that location was not acceptable. Instead they are looking to relocate the planned windfarm substation much closer to the coast, focusing specifically on the Broom Covert site on the Sizewell B estate. By the 2030's it is estimated that our small piece of Suffolk will be responsible for a quarter of the country's electricity supply so we need to be wary of the cumulative impact all of this has on our landscape. Scottish Power Renewables are now undertaking an extra consultation phase including four public meetings in Leiston, Friston, Knodishall and Thorpeness. For more information see here -https://www.scottishpowerrenewables.com/pages/ea_one_north_phase_3_5_consultation.aspx
This week I have been in New York, at the United Nations General Assembly, to discuss ways in which we can further protect the world's oceans. Globally, less than 10 per cent of the world's seas are currently designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) – one of the most important ways to protect precious sea life and habitats from damaging activity. 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 MPAs by 2030. Only by working together can we ensure our marine life continues to be a source of awe and wonder for future generations.
Finally, congratulations to Woodbridge which has been shortlisted for this year's Great British High Street Awards. 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 #MYHIGHSTREET and #GBHSWoodbridge to register a vote."
"New legislation to deliver a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations was introduced in Parliament this week 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.
New figures published this week show that in the past year, the unemployment rate has remained at its lowest since 1975 and real wages grew for the fifth consecutive month. Since the Conservatives came to power the number of people in work has risen by over 3.3 million meaning more people have the security of a job and are able to provide for their family. We will continue to help more people into work by reforming welfare and delivering our modern Industrial Strategy to help create more, better paying jobs across the whole country.
Following my plea to East Suffolk Extra readers to help me nominate one of our fantastic local pubs for the Parliamentary Pub of the Year Award, I'm pleased to say that we have a winner. We have so many great pubs in Suffolk Coastal (over a hundred) and as I've visited every one it was difficult for me to decide – but in the end I was convinced by the argument that it should be the Oyster Inn, Butley for all it has done in bring the community together and for providing much needed village facilities. Well done to them."
"Congratulations to all the young people who recently received their examination results for GCSEs and A levels. For those who didn't achieve what they hoped for, advice is available via the national helpline on 0800 100900, open 8am to 10pm every day. Well done too to the teachers, staff and governors in our local schools for helping our young people at this critical stage of their lives. That boost for young people will be strengthened by the opening of Suffolk New College on the Coast in Leiston. I was delighted when SNC Principal Viv Gillespie told me a few years ago of this exciting initiative. I hope it goes really well.
The summer recess has been a time for me to fully recover from my operation earlier this year, so I have not undertaken my usual constituency tour nor seen people at summer fetes. That said, the Government has continued to be busy, especially my department. For example, we have 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, bring an end to the grisly conditions found in puppy farming and tackle a range of existing animal welfare issues. After the consultation on electric shock collars, Michael Gove has announced 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.
This week, the Prime Minister has visited three countries in Africa and announced a new approach to our use of international aid. Africa needs to create millions of new jobs every year to keep pace with its rapidly growing population. It is in the interest of the UK and the rest of the world to see that those jobs are created to tackle the causes and symptoms of extremism and instability, to deal with migration flows and to encourage clean growth. To that end we will use some of our development spending to not only combat extreme poverty, but at the same time tackle global challenges and support our own national interest. It is our ambition for the UK to be the G7's number one investor in Africa."
"I have contacted the Prisons Minister, Rory Stewart MP, outlining concerns from local residents after the Prison Service confirmed that Hollesley Bay is to be among several open prisons which will be used to accommodate sex offenders. I recognise that about 18% of all prisoners are in jail for sexual offences and as prisoners approach their release date they need to be fully prepared for life on the outside. Open Prisons are extremely important in helping facilitate prisoners transition back into normal life but they should not be an easy place for potentially dangerous criminals. Considering the very close proximity of the primary school, I fully understand local residents concerns – so I have written to the Prisons Minister and asked him to reconsider.
Before Parliament broke up for recess, I had an important meeting with the Regional Director of Highways England to talk about closures on the Orwell Bridge, which cause so much disruption to residents and local business when traffic is diverted onto local roads. The Regional Director explained that they are undertaking some detailed research into wind speeds and their effects on traffic, to see if they can keep the bridge open at higher wind speeds. They are also looking to see if it would be possible to just close the bridge to HGVs only, as they do at the Severn Bridge. I also took the opportunity to lobby for improvements to the Copdock interchange, particularly for traffic trying to join the A14 from the A12.
Finally, Suffolk Coastal District Council is undertaking a consultation on the first draft of its Local Plan. This is a really important document as it sets out how land across the district will be used in planning terms. It stipulates the scale and location of growth, the infrastructure required and how certain areas will be protected from development. It is also the document in which planning applications are judged against. I urge you to have a detailed look at plan and have your say via Suffolk Coastal's website. The Local Government Boundary Commission is also consulting on warding arrangements for the new East Suffolk Council with the consultation open until 27th August."
"I wrote last time that I had secured an important meeting with Energy Minister, Claire Perry MP to convey residents' concerns on the Scottish Power Renewables proposal for a substation near the village of Friston. That meeting took place last week just as Parliament went into recess – with Councillors Geoff Holdcroft and Andrew Reid joining me 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.
Summer brings a lot of visitors to our coast and after a successful redevelopment of Bawdsey Radar and the ongoing work at Sutton Hoo, well done to the team at Aldeburgh Museum, who in partnership with Aldeburgh Town Council have received £747k from the Heritage Lottery Fund for their regeneration project. Of course, these improvements are important for local residents to enjoy what makes our part of Suffolk so special.
Finally, I'm sure the recent good weather has encouraged you to seek refreshment at your local pub, perhaps while enjoying the Felixstowe Carnival last Saturday. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org before the 7th September."
"The hot weather is bringing forward the harvest locally but it's also leading to a rather febrile atmosphere in Parliament. Some rain would be good for all of us to calm temperatures. The Chequers plan and government proposals have been much debated, as they set out our country's desired future relationship with the EU after we leave next year.
I had a very constructive meeting with Education Minister, Nick Gibb MP, to further discuss the future leadership of Felixstowe Academy. The recent 'Inadequate' Ofsted report at AET sponsored Langer Primary has strengthened the case for why AET is not an appropriate organisation to be running either school. I am confident we will get the change we are seeking, which is actively being considered by Department for Education officials. Whilst I said it would take time I hope to get some more news within the next 2 months.
I wrote last time that I had secured a meeting with Energy Minister, Claire Perry MP to convey residents' concerns on the Scottish Power Renewables proposal for a substation near the village of Friston. Unfortunately, that meeting had to be rescheduled and is due to take place next week. I want to reassure residents that I will be pressing hard for a change to what has SPR proposed. Friston is not a suitable site but in any event, wherever these substations go, they need to be smaller and built into the land.
Finally, I was delighted to welcome the SouthGen Community Group to Parliament last week to celebrate their hard-work in obtaining the former community hospital in Southwold for the benefit of the local community, including for new affordable homes. The Save Our Southwold campaign engaged local residents and its continued work as SouthGen is a great example to other local groups in Suffolk and the rest of the country. Well done to all involved."
"I have secured a meeting with Energy Minister, Claire Perry MP next week to convey resident's concerns on the Scottish Power Renewables proposal for a substation near the village of Friston. I will be joined at the meeting by councillors from both Suffolk Coastal and the County Council.
Regular readers will remember that I have written before about the potential impact on our local communities of the proposed energy projects on the Suffolk coast including impacts on the countryside and disruption to local residents. I completely understand the concern from those that live nearby about the proposals for electricity substations for the wind farms. Local resident's concerns have been exacerbated by the knowledge that National Grid is also considering the connection at Sizewell of two interconnectors, which would require further infrastructure.
I met SPR earlier this year to discuss the matter and expressed to them that the substations needed to be smaller and, if necessary, built into the land. At the public consultation, I reiterated my view that the proposed nature and size of the required buildings was unacceptable. I want to assure residents that I will be pressing hard for a change to what has SPR proposed when I meet the Minister next week.
I wrote last time 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, last week, 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 and have a follow-up meeting already scheduled with the Minister."
"It was great to celebrate Suffolk Day yesterday – the longest day of the year – to mark our status at the sunrise coast. Now in its second year, Suffolk Day aims to recognise and celebrate all that is great about Suffolk – and my goodness do we have a lot to shout about. Your seven Suffolk MPs took the celebrations nationwide as we welcomed food and drink providers to Parliament to showcase their wares to MPs and staff from across the country – with Adnams doing the honours for Suffolk Coastal with their brilliant range of beers and spirits. With the success of our local economy based on tourism, I'm sure that Suffolk Day will continue to develop as a useful fillip for our businesses and a fun-filled day for local residents.
It's been a week of celebrations really, as I was delighted to recognise another successful Suffolk firm, Rendlesham based GAH Refrigeration Ltd - who I nominated for a Parliamentary corporate responsibility award as a result of their excellent work to help reduce air pollution and climate change. The awards are being run by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Corporate Responsibility to recognise companies which go beyond mere compliance to support their local communities. When I visited them last November I was highly impressed by their innovative and responsible approach to supplying powerful and fuel efficient refrigeration systems to large supermarkets and smaller companies. What is particularly special about GAH is their ongoing passion and success for improving the environment and helping the profitability and performance of their customers by reducing fuel and emissions.
On a more sober note, I formally presented the Felixstowe Academy petition signed by 2,599 people calling for the removal of the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) to Parliament last week. I'm keen for the school to have a fresh start under new leadership for the benefit of pupils following the very disappointing Ofsted report. Earlier this year I met the National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, who informed me that he has written 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. I continue to follow up this issue with the Department of Education."
"It was great to be back in Suffolk last week as I attended the Suffolk Show. Unfortunately, I have been in hospital recently. I had 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 back out and about at the show and speak to so many people, including meeting representatives of the National Farmers Union.
Regular readers will remember that I have written before about the potential impact on our local communities of the proposed energy projects on the Suffolk coast including impacts on the countryside and disruption to local residents. I completely understand the concern from those that live in Leiston and villages nearby in regard to the proposals for electricity substations for the wind farms and interconnector cables. In addition to Sizewell C, the cumulative impact of these additional projects is substantial and will need to be very carefully assessed and it is important that relevant and robust mitigation measures are put in place. I met the Energy Secretary, Greg Clark in March to discuss this and I am in the process of setting up a meeting, including our local councillors, with Ministers and officials from the department in order to share the concerns of residents.
It is World Environment Day this week. I am really proud to be Environment Minister when we are making good progress on improving our environment – air quality, better water, nature and tackling global issues too. I am always grateful to those who volunteer (it is Volunteers' Week too) and pick up litter and plastic. We continue to bring new laws into effect which make it easier to reduce these problems and make it easier for councils to take appropriate action. I have a particular passion for reducing unnecessary use of plastic and I am pleased that businesses are responding to the calls of government and consumers to improve.
Finally, I wanted to draw reader's attention to the National Rural Crime Survey which is asking people that live or work in rural communities to feedback their experiences of rural crime. This is an issue that often comes up when I conduct my constituency tours – and so it is important that people respond. The survey will then help provide a picture of what has improved, what challenges remain and what more the police can do to support the most isolated parts of Suffolk. The survey is open until this Sunday, 10th June. You can have your say here - http://www.nationalruralcrimenetwork.net/research/internal/2018survey/"
"I'm grateful to the Clinical Commissioning Groups in East Anglia for agreeing a new six-year deal with the ambulance service which we see an investment in an extra 330 staff and 160 ambulances over the next three years. It has taken considerable leadership to increase the funding for the ambulance service and I am pleased to have worked towards this. I hope it will make a considerable difference, particularly in rural areas, though I'm conscious it can still be challenging recruiting paramedics. The main problem is still about the length of time ambulances have to wait at several hospitals to transfer patients. I have raised this issue with NHS leadership and the Health Minister.
I'm pleased that my department has this week launched our Clean Air Strategy designed to cut air pollution, save lives and leave our environment in a better state than we found it. The strategy focuses primarily on particulate matter, which affects breathing. The biggest contributor to this is the domestic burning of wood and coal which contributes 38% of UK emissions. It is important that we do all we can to reduce the use of smokey coal and wet wood, which causes damaging particulate matter but keep smokeless coal and dry, seasoned wood. As a result, we will legislate to ensure only the cleanest domestic fuels and stoves will be available for sale. The strategy will also focus on reducing ammonia from farming – which is responsible for 88% of ammonia emissions – by requiring farmers to invest in the infrastructure and equipment that will reduce emissions. Farmers will be supported to achieve this through the new system of public money for public goods. The new strategy, which is now out for consultation, is a key part of our 25 Year Plan to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.
Finally, I am continuing to press Greater Anglia to suitably re-establish Saxmundham railway station. The station building, seating and information boards continue to be fenced off following the serious fire in February. Greater Anglia are currently awaiting a surveyors report before being able to decide what they can do to repair the station but they assure me that any future options will be discussed with local stakeholders. I will update local residents when I have more information."
"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. Furthermore I recently announced a £200,000 fund for scientists to explore how tiny plastic particles from tyres and synthetic materials enter our waterways and oceans and the impact they have on marine life.
I wrote last time how proud I was as Suffolk's first female MP to attend the unveiling of the first statue of a female in Parliament Square, Suffolk's very own Millicent Fawcett. 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."
"Regular readers will recall that following Felixstowe Academy's latest Ofsted inspection which declared the school as 'Inadequate' and placed it into 'Special Measures', I called for AET to be removed as the Academy sponsor. I also set up petition, signed by 2546 local people, which I formally presented to Parliament this week. The National Schools Commissioner, Sir David Carter, has already issued a pre-termination warning letter to AET, which is the first stage of the process that can lead to securing a new organisation to run the school. 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 and I am working in Parliament to try and make sure that happens as quickly as possible.
Congratulations to the 'Renaissance of East Anglia Fishing Campaign', whose work was highlighted by neighbouring MP, Peter Aldous, in a debate in Westminster last week. It was an all Suffolk affair because as Defra Minister, I was responding on behalf of the Government. Brexit presents us with a once in a generation opportunity to reshape the future of fisheries in the UK and I am encouraged by the passion and enthusiasm of the people throughout East Anglia to build up their industry for the benefit of their community. The Government's future vision for fisheries will be laid out in a White Paper followed by a Fisheries Bill, which will give us the legal powers necessary to manage our fisheries in the future. By December 2020 the UK will be negotiating fishing opportunities as an independent coastal state outside of the Common Fisheries Policy.
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 this week. 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."
"Beach cleans are a regular feature along our special coastline. Big thanks to Adnams for again encouraging a good turn out and I know there are other regulars doing a good turn week in week out with a special mention for Alex Goodchild, a young man who paddles in his canoe collecting litter. The government is doing its bit to tackle the scourge of plastic waste and our latest initiative is to support a deposit return scheme for drinks, subject to consultation later this year. I visited Scandinavia and Germany late last year to see their schemes and understand in detail how they work. The consumer end is very similar but the processing and financing varies significantly. I really hope this will reduce littering and improve recycling with cleaner streets, countryside and seas as the result.
Reducing plastics in the marine environment is a key focus for the UK in hosting the Commonwealth Summit next week. 53 nations are coming together to consider key issues where together we can have a greater impact on reducing such pollution. I have been encouraging other Commonwealth nations, including visiting Kenya and Uganda, to join us in our ambitious proposals on reducing use of plastic bags, removing unnecessary microbeads from products and improving recycling of plastic.
I recently met the Energy Secretary of State, Greg Clark, to share concerns of the community in and near Leiston regarding the proposals for electricity substations for the wind farms and interconnector cables. In addition to Sizewell C, the cumulative impact of these additional projects is substantial and will need to be assessed very carefully. I will work closely with our councils and local communities as this progresses."
"I met the Secretary of State for Local Government, Sajid Javid last week to discuss the good news that Suffolk's bid to the Housing Infrastructure Fund has successfully reached the next stage. Late last year I wrote a letter in support of Suffolk County Council's scheme for significant improvement along the A12 corridor between the A14 and A1214. The Government will now work with the County Council to help develop the business case for these highway works. This is a clear recognition from Government that the right infrastructure improvement works need to be in place whilst we build the 2,000 much needed new homes at Adastral Park.
Talking of roads, I'm delighted that the Department of Transport has this week allocated £2.5m of extra funding to Suffolk County Council to help repair Suffolk's highways. The recent winter weather has caused numerous potholes to appear and this additional money will help ensure that they are fixed.
Our NHS staff work incredibly hard, day in, day out, to care for Suffolk patients and deserve a pay rise. Due to the Government's balanced approach to the economy, I am delighted that the Health Secretary has been able to confirm a rise of at least 6.5% - and up to 29% depending on current pay points - for our hard-working nurses and other NHS staff. As a result, the lowest earning NHS staff such as porters, cleaners and hospital caterers will see their wages rise by 15 per cent over the next three years.
Finally, I was pleased to welcome students from the University of Suffolk to Westminster recently. Following their tour of the Palace of Westminster, I spoke to them about my role as Member of Parliament for Suffolk Coastal and Defra Minister. They were keen to talk and hear more about our environment, including what we can all do to reduce our plastic consumption."
"Regular readers will know that I have been working hard with local councillors to try and minimise the length of time Woods Lane is closed - and last year I called for longer working hours to shorten the closure period. It was originally anticipated by Bloor Homes that the road would be out of action until mid-April but by the time you read this it should now be re-opened or very shortly re-opened. Ahead of the phase two closure which started in January, Bloor committed to those longing working hours, which has shortened the closure. To their credit, the County Council has been in regular contact with Bloor and their contractors to ensure they kept up with the pace of work required. Late last year I met Cllr Jane Storey about the need to assess transport infrastructure for the future. The roads into Melton, Woodbridge and the peninsula from the A12 are clearly at capacity and will need to be addressed.
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/.../publi.../coastal-communities-fund-round-5
Finally, I'm pleased to see the significant strengthening of the LINK cash machine programme, set out in their annual report, which will help ensure consumers in remote and rural areas will get access to the cash they need. Last month, the LINK Board announced a series of measures designed to maintain and rebalance the UK's ATM networks – shifting incentives from deploying multiple ATMs in city centre to rural communities. This includes protecting free ATMs one kilometre or more from the next free cash machine - important for residents along the Suffolk coast."
"I have given up something slightly different for lent this year – and have joined a group of Conservative MPs in Parliament giving up single use plastics. I have started by carrying around my reusable water bottle, which fits into my handbag, so I can make sure I don't buy any unnecessary 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 and it is my aim to reduce the use of plastics as part of the Government's 25 year Environment Plan.
Sticking with the environmental theme, it is almost time for the Great British Spring Clean, which is taking place over the weekend of the 2 – 4 March 2018. Last year's event was a nationwide triumph and I am sure this year will be just the same. As the Litter Minister my message is not to drop it in the first place but these big community cleans are a great way of bringing people together to tidy up our towns and villages. So far there are events organised in Felixstowe and Dunwich. You can find out more or register you own clean at - http://www.keepbritaintidy.org/get-involved/support-our-campaigns/great-british-spring-clean
The latest Ofsted report into Felixstowe Academy 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. It is time for AET to go. 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. I am escalating this within the Department of Education and am meeting the Regional Commissioner to accelerate changes for the school. To this end, I have started a Parliamentary Petition calling on AET to go. You can add your voice to the petition here –
"I'm delighted that the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling recently gave the go-ahead for track upgrades at the Ely North rail junction, which once completed will expand capacity right across East Anglia, meaning fewer delays for passengers and opportunities to get more freight on to the railway – crucial for the Port of Felixstowe. The railway junction at Ely, which connects East Anglia to London, has become a busy bottleneck forcing trains to wait for others to pass. Railway improvements need to happen at Ely in order to free up capacity on the rest of line – meaning more freight from the Port of Felixstowe can go via rail instead of road. Chris also visited the port to formally opened the new container yard.
Talking of the Port one of the reasons why Felixstowe won Port Operator of the Year 2017 is because of their commitment to the environment and reducing Co2 emissions. As Environment Minister, I was therefore delighted to announce the winner of the Port's Environmental Award recently, which this year went to the Glove Use Reduction Project. In the week after the Government published the 25 Year Environment Plan focussed on reducing waste, I'm delighted that here in Felixstowe we already have a company committed to taking a more thoughtful approach to the use of resources.
I have been campaigning to improve our ambulance service ever since I became your MP – and had been liaising with Ambulance Service for them to come to Parliament in March to give MPs an update on their turnaround plan. However, following the concerning dossier of response time delays I have requested a far more urgent meeting so MPs can understand the present challenges and hold the ambulance service to account. I welcome the intervention made by the Health Minister last week who has ordered a risk summit to review the recent performance of the service.
65 years ago this week - on the 31st January 1953 - the North Sea flood caused massive devastation to the East Coast. 50 people lost their lives in Suffolk as the storm gouged sand dunes in Thorpeness, breached the seawall at Aldeburgh, flooded the train station in Woodbridge and breached sea defences at Felixstowe with further impacts up and down the coast at Shingle Street, Orford and Bawdsey. I attended a service at St John's Church in Felixstowe at the weekend where I heard very moving personal testimonies from the survivors. It is important we remember those who died and recognise the courage shown by those that carried out the rescue. Since that fateful night a lot of work has been done to improve the protection along our coastline with major investment in our coastal defences and early warning systems."
"Last week the Prime Minister formally launched the Government's 25 Year Environment Plan – which outlines steps for a cleaner, greener Britain – with avoidable plastic waste eliminated by the end of 2042. In my capacity as Environment Minister, it is a plan my colleagues and I have been working on for some time and I'm grateful to the Prime Minister for reappointing me last week, which will enable me to press on and help implement the plan. I am also incredibly proud of the global leadership the Prime Minister is showing to tackle this important issue.
Waste is choking our oceans, despoiling our landscapes, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and scarring our habitats. During the recent Great British Beach Clean Up– I saw first-hand in Aldeburgh the amount of litter that blights our landscape. The Marine Conservation Society found 718 pieces of litter for every 100 metre stretch of beach surveyed and of this, rubbish from food and drink made up at least one fifth. Which is why our plan outlines proposals to reduce our use of the plastics which contribute to pollution and also includes broader steps to encourage recycling and the more thoughtful use of resources.
Our plan will extend the hugely successful 5p carrier bag charge to all retailers in England; encourage supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles to give consumers the choice to make greener decisions; and promote the use of less damaging plastic packaging. The plan will also inject new funding into plastics innovation through a bid into the government's £7 billion research and development pot; encourage industry to take more responsibility for the environmental impacts of their products; and government will also look at how the tax system or charges could further reduce the amount of waste we create. A call for evidence on how to reduce the use of single-use plastics will begin next month.
It is the Government's mission to leave our environment in a better state than we found it – but improving the environment will take individual as well as collective action – our plan will guide each and all of us to do what is right."
"Happy New Year! 2017 was certainly eventful and 2018 promises as much, though probably no elections this year! We commemorate two totemic events - 100 years since the end of the Great War and of women getting the vote. Key to achieving women getting the vote was Millicent Fawcett who was born and raised in Aldeburgh, part of the great Garrett family. She is to be immortalised with a statue in Parliament Square this year - the first statue there of a woman. The Royal Mint are commemorating this with the issuing of a special 50 pence coin.
Looking ahead for the year, moving into phase two of Brexit negotiations is key to our future prosperity. Frictionless trade is vital for consumers and businesses. I am grateful to Felixstowe Port for their advice and thoughts on how to make this happen in practice, which I am sharing with fellow ministers. The success of Felixstowe Port post-Brexit is an important strategic issue that affects not only the port itself but the many local businesses throughout Suffolk and beyond, whose business relies on it.
Locally, I would hope we move onto the third and final stage of EDF's consultation on Sizewell C. I expect EDF to have done a significant amount of work since Stage 2, especially in relation to improvements to the road network. I did not support their reserve park and ride site at Woodbridge in Stage 2 and I hope this will have been dropped for Stage 3."
The disappointing decision by Lloyds to close branches in Suffolk Coastal has led to heightened anxiety in other towns in my constituency. Following my petition several years ago Barclays gave me assurances that they had no intention of closing any of their branches in Suffolk Coastal. Despite this their Saxmundham branch closed last year so it is important we get some long term commitment
So I have again sought reassurance from Barclays Bank that they remain committed to Aldeburgh, Halesworth and Southwold, and that HSBC are committed to continuing to operate a branch in Saxmundham – all of which are the last bank standing in these market towns. I am pleased to say that HSBC have already replied saying that their branch restructuring programme is completed, so Saxmundham is safe.
A reminder during Storm Eleanor hitting power supplies locally that 105 is the contact point if you are suffering disruption. Their online site www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk has more information."
"2017 will be documented as one of the most interesting political years of the 21st Century. An unexpected election with a result that no-one expected at the outset. The Prime Minister gained 2.3m more votes than the Conservatives gained in 2015, the highest share of the vote since 1983 but still went backwards in terms of the overall number of MPs as the minor parties were squeezed. The issue that has dominated the agenda at Westminster this year has been Brexit. Earlier this month the Prime Minister secured an historic agreement with the European Union, which brings to an end the first phase of Brexit negotiations. The agreement secured the rights of the three million EU citizens living here and the million British citizens living in the EU; represented a fair settlement in terms of money; and maintains the common travel area within the island of Ireland. 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.
As we prepare to leave the EU, my department is focussing on how we maintain and enhance our natural environment through our 25 year Environment Plan and the future of our fisheries – which will continue to place science based fisheries management at the very heart. Due to the Government's commitment to sustainable fishing and the subsequent recovery in fish stocks my departmental colleague, George Eustice came back from Brussels recently with an increased quota for North Sea Cod, Haddock and Monkfish. A festive fillip for our fishermen.
Continuing the fisheries theme - I'm delighted that the Oyster Inn in Butley has been awarded a £25k grant from the Prince's Countryside Fund. The pub was awarded the grant to support the provision of essential village services – with the unused barn buildings due to be converted to provide a village shop. This will complement the community function room, cinema and micro-brewery that opened earlier this year. If you haven't visited since the Oyster re-opened then I would encourage you to check it out – as I would any of our local pubs over the Christmas period.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to wish all Coastal Scene readers a happy and peaceful Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I hope you have a great time with family and friends"
"Woods Lane has now reopened – and whilst I welcome the fact that residents will get a months respite during the Christmas period - it is due to close again in January which will be hugely frustrating for all concerned. During the November closure, I met Deputy Leader of Suffolk County Council, Cllr Jane Storey, to discuss the impact on local residents and further potential mitigation for the second closure. Clearly assumptions have been made by council officers about what working hours would be deemed acceptable without asking the residents. There is an opportunity to change this for the second phase and the County Council are working with the developer on this. I understand if residents on Woods Lane themselves and those directly affected were not content for 24/7 working but with longer working hours we should be able to shorten the second closure. The key point I raised with Cllr Storey though was about the need to assess transport infrastructure for the future. The roads into Melton, Woodbridge and the peninsula from the A12 are clearly at capacity and will need to be addressed.
There is not much festive cheer coming from Lloyds Bank who announced they intend to close both their Southwold and Halesworth bank branches. Their decision is especially disappointing considering the commitments previously made to me made to me. I have asked for more information about their mobile banking service – which they have promised will service both Halesworth and Southwold - to get clarity on where and how often it will operate. I have also asked whether they are able to keep the ATMs open.
Winter is now upon us and thanks to the Coastal Scene's sister paper the EADT – their Surviving Winter Campaign is firmly on the agenda. Early on in being MP for Suffolk Coastal, I raised the profile and need for help of residents off the gas grid. Fuel poverty is considerably higher for those who don't have mains gas to warm their home. To help prevent this the Cold Weather Priority Scheme has been introduced to identify people who may be susceptible to colder conditions and who are off the gas-grid. The scheme enables fuel suppliers to take pro-active steps to get fuel to you during times of fuel shortages or extreme cold weather. You can sign up for the CWP initiative if there are one or more residents aged 75 years or over in your household or there are one or more residents known to be chronically sick or registered disabled. For more information go to - http://www.coldweatherpriority.co.uk"
"This week in Parliament the Chancellor delivered a Budget which lays the foundations for a Britain fit for the future. It was a balanced approach that continues to reduce the deficit and pay off our debt (still £65,000 per household) while supporting families by increasing the National Living Wage, cutting income tax, freezing fuel duty and investing in public services we value. From April, the personal allowance will rise to £11,850, meaning the typical basic rate tax payer will be £1,075 a year better off compared to 2010 with a higher rate rise to £46,350. At the same time the National Living Wage will also rise by 4.4 per cent to £7.83, meaning full-time workers are £2,000 better off since it was introduced.
The careful management of the economy means that the Chancellor was able to find an additional £2.8bn for our NHS. £350 million immediately to allow trusts to plan for this winter; £1.6 billion in 2018-19, with the balance in 19-20, taking the extra resource into the NHS next year to £3.75 billion in total.
As we approach Small Business Saturday on the 2nd December, I was particularly pleased with the Chancellor's announcement on business rates – bringing forward the planned changes to uprating from RPI to CPI, worth £2.3bn to businesses over the next five years; a shorter revaluation period from 5 years to 3, which will reduce the size of future changes; and extending the £1,000 rates discount for pubs. Crucially, the Chancellor also announced progress on making our business tax system fairer with measures focussed on our digital economy and a commitment to find solutions on this internationally. This is a point many small business owners in Suffolk made to me earlier this year when the latest revaluations kicked in.
For young people - we are getting rid of stamp duty on all house purchases up to £300,000, benefitting those who are working hard to get on the housing ladder and we're introducing a new 26 – 30 rail card, giving 4.5 million more young people a third off their rail fares.
The Chancellor also committed to a package of measures, which are forecast to raise an additional £4.8bn on top of the £160bn we have already raised for public services by clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion. Opposition parties often talk about tough action on this but their previous record doesn't bear it out. We are getting on and doing it."
"As the first ever female Member of Parliament for Suffolk, I'm proud to announce that the first ever female statue will be erected in Parliament Square next year. The statue will recognise the life of one of Suffolk's most famous daughter's, Millicent Garrett-Fawcett, pioneer of women's suffrage. Millicent who was born and lived in Aldeburgh was the great-grand daughter of Richard Garrett, who founded the agricultural machinery manufacturing plant in Leiston, preserved today in the Long Shop museum and her sister, of course, was Elizabeth Garrett-Anderson, the first female doctor in Britain. The statue will mark 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. To mark the centenary the Government has announced a £5 million fund for projects to raise awareness of this crucial milestone and to inspire people to play their part in building a diverse political system for the future. Considering our heritage I would be delighted if local groups in Suffolk could prepare bids. I'll write again on how to apply when the fund officially opens.
As I referred to in my last column, the Woods Lane road closure began this week. I know this has been frustrating for local residents and I continue to work on this issue to ensure the significant disruption is mitigated as much as is possible. Following the public meeting last week, Cllr Nicoll has been following up with local residents about whether a working day longer than 10 hours can be tolerated – and I know the house builder is looking in to the possibility of 24hr working in the second phase which would shorten disruption. I have a meeting in Endeavour House today (Friday), where I hope to receive answers to some outstanding questions and issues.
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."
"I share the frustration of many local residents regarding the closure of Woods Lane in Melton in November and from January to mid-April next year. I appreciate the disruption will be significant and I have been working with local councillors and Suffolk County Council on addressing this.
Housing developer Bloor Homes have applied for the road closure after they bought the site from Christchurch Land & Estates Ltd, who obtained the planning permission. The closure is to connect the new housing development to the water and sewerage network which runs under the centre of Woods Lane and to make transport improvements as required by the planning consent.
I have expressed my concerns to Suffolk County Council and Bloor Homes directly, posing several questions on behalf of constituents. I questioned whether a one-way or traffic light system could be applied. For both phases of construction, it does not allow enough space for vehicles to safely pass but of course, access will be granted for those residents and businesses which only have entrances on Woods Lane to be accommodated. Bloor have also agreed to allow access to emergency vehicles both during the day when workmen are on site and at night.
I questioned Suffolk County Council on the length of the closure but they assure me this is a reasonable time to complete such substantial works. I still have not got to the bottom of exactly the basis of the agreement but I now understand that the county council has agreed with Bloor Homes that they make it a seven day a week operation with an extended working day of at least ten hours. I am liaising with the County Council on how this will be monitored.
I have also asked the County about reprogramming the lights at the crossroads of the A1152 and Melton Road to help traffic coming from the diverted Woodbridge route. I've been assured that the intelligent traffic control system should be able to adapt to the changing patterns. However, a County Council engineer will attend the site for the first day to ensure this is working.
There is also the opportunity to use this time to install all utilities to the development and I have already alerted BT Openreach.
I know this is frustrating for local residents and I will continue to work on this issue on behalf of constituents to ensure the significant disruption is mitigated as much as is possible."
"It's been a fortnight of incredible news for animal welfare' – that was the reaction of the UKs most well-known animal welfare charity, the RSPCA, to two pieces of Government action last week. Firstly, we will shortly publish draft legislation to increase the maximum sentence for animal cruelty, from six months to five years – giving courts the powers they have called for to punish the most abhorrent acts and deter other offenders. Secondly, the Environment Secretary and my departmental colleague, Michael Gove, announced plans for a full ban on the sale of ivory. 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. Our ban will put the UK front and centre of global efforts to end this and we will continue to press other countries to close their markets. My department have just started a 12 week consultation on the detail of the ban, to which we will respond early next year.
Earlier this week the Prime Minister published her unprecedented audit of public sector services. The audit reveals how your race affects the way you interact with public services and your employment prospects. I wrote last year about how if you're a white working class boy from coastal towns like ours, you are much less likely to go to university than any other group. The government is determined to make this a country that works for everyone and this audit is an important part of making that a reality. The message is simple: if these disparities cannot be explained then they must be changed.
Finally, two important consultations are set to close at the end of this month. The first is on the Suffolk Energy Gateway, the new road proposed to by-pass the four villages along the A12. The second is on Suffolk Coastal's review of their Local Plan. Residents are being given the chance to have their say on the options for the distribution for future development. I would urge readers to read these carefully and have their say."
"I was delighted to attend the Great British Beach Clean recently. It is incumbent on us all to help keep our beaches clean and litter free and the easiest way to do that is not to drop litter in the first place. I have taken on ministerial responsibility for this and it's a big challenge.
Following the announcement by the Education Secretary that every school in Suffolk will see an increase in their per pupil funding, indicative funding rises for each school vary from 0.5% to 18% locally. I say indicative as the council decides the final allocation with the advice of the schools forum. This big change in the new national funding formula, which I pressed for, ensures that every school has a higher basic percentage of funding for every child. Suffolk has traditionally suffered because we have very high employment rates and have far fewer children than the national average receiving free schools meals, which means money has been diverted elsewhere. However, our average levels of household income is not as high as some other places where schools have traditionally been funded more generously – so the change to the formula has started to right those wrongs. 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 but we have kept our word, improved the funding formula for Suffolk children and we are now firmly on the up for school funding
Finally, from October 2018 the communications regulator Ofcom are banning all phone companies for charging for caller display facilities, which will help more people screen nuisance calls. This should help many constituents whose lives are blighted by these types of calls – often dialled automatically by a computer. The new rules will help prevent this, confirming that phone numbers displayed to people receiving calls must be valid, dialable and identify the caller."
"Parliament has taken another step in the journey of leaving the EU with the European Union Withdrawal Bill, after some very late night voting, has passed to the next stage to receive full scrutiny. The legislation is designed to transfer all EU law into UK law – ensuring a smooth transition with legal certainty for businesses, consumers and investors. Much EU law is already incorporated. These are the laws that stems from what is called an EU directive, which we tailor according to our legal system. Some of this may need to be tweaked as, for example, we will no longer have a European regulator for something but will have a UK or England only regulator and we need to change the name within our law. There is another type of EU law called regulations, which apply automatically in exactly the same way everywhere. This could be something from the standard for the size, shape and manner of how bananas are sold to the standard operating practices for the safe operation through traffic control of aeroplanes within our airspace to what chemicals are allowed or that are to be banned. All of these need to be brought into law before we leave in March 2019. The Withdrawal Bill delivers what the British people voted for – control over our own laws after we leave, outside the control of the European Court of Justice, with Parliament then resuming its sovereignty. Some constituents contacted me asking me to vote against the Bill and the timetable motion, further delaying the Brexit process. I believe eight days on the floor of the House is sufficient to consider this straightforward Bill which is absolutely crucial to provide the continuity Britain needs to function and make a success of Brexit.
An important consultation is taking place regarding the Suffolk Energy Gateway, the new road to by-pass the four villages along the A12. The proposed improvement between Wickham Market and Saxmundham is designed to open up the entire energy coast for further economic growth and housing development, as well as mitigate against traffic issues for Sizewell C. In his March Budget the Chancellor allocated £1m for the business case to be worked up and this consultation will help Suffolk County Council in its proposal to Government. It is therefore very important that local residents, business and community groups give their views. More information can be found at www.suffolk.gov.uk/consultations . I have asked the county council to add some information on estimated cost and environmental issues to be addressed. The consultation closes on the 25th October.
Finally, this weekend sees the return of the Great British Beach Clean with events taking place up and down the Suffolk Coast in Southwold, Aldeburgh, Felixstowe, Trimley Marsh and Bawdsey. We all have a role to play in keeping our beaches clean and litter free – not just joining in with events like this but in not dropping litter in the first place. For more information on the Great British Beach Clean and to help out this weekend go to - http://www.mcsuk.org/beachwatch/greatbritishbeachclean"
"As I write I am undertaking my annual constituency tour, criss-crossing the 300-odd square miles of the Suffolk Coastal constituency, visiting every town and parish to give residents the opportunity to raise any subject they like with me. I stop at over 90 locations over the four days so thank you to all those who have given my team and I a warm welcome on what is a tiring but very worthwhile week. Many of the issues raised are the responsibility of the local councils so I will be following up on a number of issues with councillors and other organisations next week.
Before Parliament returns next week I have been busy enjoying the various fetes, festivals and carnivals which blossom across Suffolk at this time of year. Congratulations in particular to the organisers of Aldeburgh Carnival, which celebrated 75 successful years this year. At Orford Flower Show last week I visited the Alde and Ore Estuary Partnership stand to catch up with Chairman, Sir Edward Greenwell. The partnership, which was formed in 2012, has done a fantastic job coordinating the approach for maintaining and upgrading the flood defences in the estuary, to preserve this area of outstanding natural beauty.
I spent Bank Holiday Monday enjoying the Felixstowe sunshine as Sky Ocean Rescue brought its plastic whale to the seafront on the last day of its tour around the UK. Made entirely of plastic recovered from the sea, the whale is a stark visual reminder of the prevalence of plastics in everyday life and the need to dispose of such items carefully, as it is thought that 80% of marine litter comes from the land. The government introduced a 5p charge on single use plastic bags and purchases of them fell by 85%. We have now started the process to remove plastic microbeads from certain cosmetic products. We will continue to do more but we need help from everyone to consider their own individual actions on how to reduce plastic that can often end up in our oceans.
Finally, Suffolk Coastal District Council is proposing new restrictions on dogs. I encourage people to respond to consultation on their website. I'm pleased that the council has now published some of its reasons for the increased restrictions. It seems two parish councils were particularly keen for tighter controls. The council has assured me it will carefully consider every submission."
"Last week, the Environment Secretary and my departmental colleague, Michael Gove, announced plans to require all slaughterhouses in England to install CCTV, an important preventative measure to crackdown on animal cruelty. The videos that are often seen in the media showing slaughterhouse workers mistreating animals are truly shocking. These are not the conditions animals should be spending their final moments in and my department is committed to ensuring that it stops.
The Government has also confirmed it will raise standards for farm animals and domestic pets by modernising statutory animal welfare codes to reflect enhancements in medicines, technology and the latest research and advice from vets. The codes will remain enshrined in law and the first to be updated will cover chickens bred for meat. As we prepare to leave the EU, these measures show consumers around the world that our animals are protected to the very highest standards.
Congratulations to all our A-Level students who received their results yesterday (Thursday). 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.
Next week is GCSE results day. Schools will be on hand to support students and 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.
Finally, don't forget my constituency tour which kicks off 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 you to come and speak to me about any issue. You can see my tour timeline online - http://theresecoffey.co.uk/tour 2017."
"This week, the Government agreed with BT a new approach to complete the Universal Service obligation for which we legislated a few months ago. BT will be investing up to a further £600M to complete the rollout of fast broadband connections with a minimum speed of 10MB. This builds on the coverage plans already being funded by BT, Suffolk County Council and the government for superfast broadband.
Jeremy Hunt announced ambitious plans to recruit 21,000 new mental health workers to support the full integration of mental and physical health services. Under the new plans child and adolescent services will see 2,000 additional nurses, consultants and therapists, while 2,900 extra therapists and other health professionals will be involved in adult talking therapies. 4,600 posts will be added in crisis care and 4,000 psychiatrists and 30,000 trained mental health nurses currently not employed by the NHS will be encouraged to return to the profession. These measures are key for delivering the high performing and well-resourced mental health services we all want to see.
My first two weeks of recess have been dominated by ministerial work, including publication of our new air quality strategy, our Secretary of State's first major speech on the environment (which I heartily recommend to readers) and then a recess road trip taking in visits to councils, businesses and environmental schemes in Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Durham, Humberside and Lincolnshire. My own constituency tour returns this month and in bank holiday week, I will be stopping off in community halls, pubs and shops 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. From Tuesday 29th August to Friday 1st September You can find out when I'm visiting your village or town on my website - http://theresecoffey.co.uk/tour 2017.
I've already met several people at various fetes and there are plenty more this month. This weekend I'm particularly looking forward to visiting Felixstowe Pier. This has been a long time coming but from what I've seen, the owners should be proud of their investment into this regeneration. Felixstowe is really buzzing and after another successful Carnival, the town is rightly attracting more people for a great day out by the sea."
"School funding is set to increase for Suffolk schools as the Education Secretary announced £1.3bn additional funding for schools which will support the transition to a national funding formula. This additional investment in our schools will be funded in full from efficiencies and savings from within the Education Department's existing budget, rather than higher taxes or more debt. This will be welcome news to headteachers, governing bodies, students and parents as we start to address the historical imbalance in school funding per pupil across the nation.
The Government has just launched a new Transport Investment Strategy – which gives us the opportunity to put forward an excellent case for infrastructure improvements here in Suffolk. The strategy specifically refers to creating a new category of road called the major road network, which are those roads managed by councils but are key for economic prosperity. With our councils and LEP focusing on increasing growth, it is essential that we ensure the A12 becomes part of that network. The development of Sizewell C is a key catalyst for seeking infrastructure improvements and I'm pleased that the County Council is continuing to work up the Suffolk Energy Gateway scheme and expect to benefit from government investment.
With my Environment Minister hat on, I was pleased to announce £15M of funding for natural flood management projects across the country. Within Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk, over three quarters of a million pounds will be invested in projects designed to help better protect homes and businesses by slowing the flow of water. Specifically in Suffolk, work along our estuaries including the Deben and at Havergate Island will be funded which will allow proper assessment of the use of saltmarsh to support coastal defences. I am also pleased that we are able to help the Suffolk marine pioneer project with start-up costs as it works on a shingle engine project.
A new national ambulance strategy has been laid out which is expected to benefit rural residents, as ambulance trusts will be assessed on the average time it takes to send an appropriate response to the patient requiring help. I have pressed ministers for the need for reporting of performance to be undertaken not just at regional level but at least at county level so we can understand whether this new process is helping patients. I will keep up the pressure to make sure we benefit from these changes.
Finally, this July is Scams Awareness Month. As the local MP, I have seen a wide variety of scams that try to defraud people – and I thank those brave people that have become victims for coming forward. Only 5 -15% of all scams are ever reported – but there is no need to be embarrassed. There is lots of support out there, reporting not only helps to inform the work of advice and enforcement agencies it also helps prevent future scams. For more information or to report a scam or fraudulent activity visit -http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/"
"Last summer, one of my Parliamentary colleagues, Jo Cox, who a few days beforehand had been part of the team I captained in the Parliamentary Tug of War, was so tragically murdered. Before her death Jo set up the Loneliness Commission to raise awareness of the issue and to work to try and reduce the stigma of being lonely. The Commission now continues her work in her name. A recent British Red Cross survey found that one in five people said they always or often felt lonely. It's something I often see in see here in Suffolk, so I was proud to meet the Commission recently and sign a pledge to support its work to tackle loneliness. The Commission is working with Government, businesses and voluntary groups and will shortly make recommendations. However we can all play our part. Loneliness is a problem in every street and within every family. That means all of us can do something to make someone feel less lonely today. We can start a conversation with a neighbour who we know is on their own, pick up the phone to a relative or friend you haven't spoken to for a while or say hello to someone in the supermarket queue. Let's all make a pledge to tackle loneliness.
I'm highly concerned to hear more reports that the East of England Ambulance Service is pressing ahead with plans to create super hubs at Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Colchester, which would leave no ambulances stationed here in east Suffolk at all. I'm worried that the considerable and long awaited progress the Ambulance Trust has made in getting people in rural areas the appropriate medical care on time will be put at risk by this 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 outlining my significant concerns and have asked him for a full update. I am also arranging another meeting for ambulance bosses to come to Westminster so we can quiz them on their plans.
Finally, I'm looking forward to joining David Sheepshanks tomorrow (Saturday) at the official opening of the new clubhouse and changing pavilion at the Goldstar Ground, home of Felixstowe and Walton United FC. The home side are then playing an exhibition match against an Ipswich Town XI. Grassroots football is the bedrock of our national game. Let's all get behind it."
"Thank you to the people of Suffolk Coastal for again giving me the great honour to be your MP. I was delighted to be re-elected in the recent General Election with a greater share of the vote than in 2015. Whilst election night was a good night for me personally, it was a challenging one for my party. Although we didn't achieve an overall majority, the Conservatives are still, by far, the largest party in Parliament and we were able to come together in the national interest to form a Government, which culminated in the Queen's Speech on Wednesday.
I was delighted to be re-appointed by the Prime Minister as the Minister for the Environment and Rural Life Opportunities to continue to my work on coastal & flood defences, air quality and on our Environment Plan. As formal Brexit negotiations began this week, ensuring that our environment has the protection it requires as we leave the European Union is one of my top priorities and I was at the Environment Council in Luxembourg on Monday speaking to my European colleagues.
This week saw the inaugural Suffolk Day, a campaign spearheaded by BBC Radio Suffolk presenter, Mark Murphy and supported by our local newspapers. The idea came from the successful Yorkshire Day, which takes place on the 1st August every year. As Mark says, being the sunrise county on the east coast, it is fitting that our now annual Suffolk Day will take place on the longest day of the year, June 21st. 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.
Tomorrow (Saturday) sees another extremely important occasion in our calendar at it is Armed Forces Day. This year I will be in Felixstowe to mark the occasion. Our men and women in uniform do such a fantastic job for our country and showing our support for them is a much valued morale boost for our troops and their families. My message to all our serving Armed Forces personnel and veterans from the people in Suffolk Coastal is thank you for keeping us safe."
"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.
As Parliament is now in recess, I am enjoying spending much more time in Suffolk this Easter appreciating our beautiful coastline. Unfortunately, our picturesque part of the country is often blighted by fly-tippers and litter louts, which is why the Department of the Environment has just launched a new Litter Strategy. The strategy sets out our plans to help tackle to anti-social behaviour, making the Suffolk coast an even more attractive place. It includes measures to fine people who drop litter up to £150, a better provision of public bins and using offenders on community sentences to help clear up fly-tipped waste. As Environment Minister I want to leave our environment in a better state than we found it and tackling litter is an important part of that.
It's competition time with two opportunities for local communities to bid for funds - natural flood management and any project in off gas grid areas. My Department Defra has 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
Calor Gas have also launched a Rural Community Fund offering up to £5,000 for projects that will provide an on-going service for local communities that are off the mains gas grid. Go to www.calor.co.uk/communityfund to register your project.
Good news for those on the move as mobile phone operator EE has confirmed that they have completed various 4G upgrades throughout Suffolk Coastal including in Pettistree, Trimley St Martin, Saxmundham, Aldeburgh, Woodbridge and Halesworth. Mobile phone signal has been raised a lot less frequently with me in recent years as our communications infrastructure improves but there is still more to do to eradicate our not-spots."
"It has been a momentous week in Westminster as the Prime Minister triggered Article 50, the formal notification that the United Kingdom is leaving the EU. This begins the negotiation process that will lead us toward a new partnership with Europe.
Whilst the referendum last June was a vote to leave the EU, it was not a vote to leave Europe – we want to continue to be reliable partners and close friends with our neighbours. So in that spirit, we are not seeking partial membership of the EU, associate membership, or anything that leaves us half-in, half-out. The Prime Minister will seek a new and equal partnership between an independent, self-governing, Global Britain and our friends in the EU. It remains firmly in Britain's national interest that the EU should succeed after we have left.
Part of the process is to pass the Great Repeal Bill in Parliament, which the Government is preparing. The Great Repeal Bill will repeal the European Communities Act, meaning that EU law will no longer have supremacy over UK law. The Bill will also transpose all EU legislation in domestic UK law so the British Parliament will decide whether we keep, amend or repeal them as necessary.
Whilst the process of leaving the EU will inevitably mean some tough decisions the Government has a Plan for Britain which will deliver a stronger, fairer more united country. Throughout Brexit and beyond the Prime Minister has pledged that we will help people with everyday costs and bills by acting to ensure consumer markets work as they should whilst cracking down on individuals and businesses who abuse the system. She has also committed to delivering a modern industrial strategy that spreads jobs and prosperity across the country – good news for us in Suffolk.
Finally, a few words about the terrorist attack in Westminster last week. This was an attack on our democracy, which failed with a tragic loss of life. We will never give in to terrorism and our democratic institutions will never be defeated. It was business as usual the following day as MPs went about their work."
"It has been a busy couple of weeks in Parliament. The Brexit Bill received Royal Assent, which gave the Prime Minister the authority to notify the EU that the UK is leaving, by triggering Article 50. MPs voted to pass the Bill without amendment to enable the Prime Minister to get on with the job of negotiating our future relationship with the EU. Last week, the Chancellor delivered his first Budget which redoubled our commitment to a strong economy, laying the foundations of a stronger, fairer, more highly-skilled global Britain outside of the EU. Key measures included a rise in the personal allowance for the seventh year in a row meaning you don't have to pay tax on the first £11,500 you earn; an additional £2 billion to help fund social care; a boost for technical education with the introduction of T Levels; and a further freeze in fuel duty meaning that motorists save £130 a year on average compared to what they would have paid under the pre-2010 escalator. Locally, I was delighted to see measures to help our small businesses with the introduction of a £300m business rate relief fund, a £600 cap on business rate liability for those businesses previously benefitting from Small Business Rate Relief and a £1,000 discount for pubs.
I was pleased to address the Suffolk Coast Against Retreat (SCAR) AGM recently. 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, I was delighted to welcome the Walberswick branch of the Women's Institute to Parliament, on Budget Day, last week. They enjoyed a tour of the Palace of Westminster and were able to watch the proceedings in the House of Commons from the public gallery. If you would like to visit Parliament for a tour then contact me via email@example.com"
"This Wednesday is Budget day where the Chancellor will deliver his financial statement to a packed House of Commons. Before that though, I was grateful to him for taking time out of his busy schedule to meet me and a small delegation of MPs I put together to discuss business rates. Under the revaluation, three quarters of businesses nationally will either see rates fall or stay the same, however the average rise in rateable value in Aldeburgh High Street is 77% and further up the coast in Southwold High Street they are due to rise by an extraordinary 177%.
I pressed the case on behalf of our local small businesses and put across that both Aldeburgh and Southwold have a large presence of independent traders, which have made them stand out as different to the chain-only high streets. I asked him to consider the role of the mixed high street with tailored support. Without that, these thriving high streets could be much more limited in their offering to residents and tourists. The Chancellor is now very aware of the particular issue in Aldeburgh and Southwold and is considering my representation. I am pleased, as the Prime Minister highlighted in Prime Minister's Questions, that the case for helping small independent traders facing very high increases is being carefully considered.
Today (Friday), I am chairing the Suffolk Coastal Energy Delivery Board consisting of representatives from Government Departments, SCDC, Suffolk County Council and businesses including EDF and Scottish Power. The board has been put together to maximise the economic benefits to our local area from big energy projects such as Sizewell C and offshore wind with a focus on infrastructure improvements and skills.
Finally, this weekend is the Great British Spring Clean which follows on from the success of last years' Clean for the Queen. 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. Good luck to everyone who is taking part in a clean this weekend."
"The House of Commons approved the Brexit Bill, which gives the Prime Minister the authority to notify the EU that the UK is leaving, by triggering Article 50. This meant some late nights voting in the chamber but in the end it was passed, unamended, by a massive majority. I now expect the Lords to give its consent.
It was a pleasure to visit several organisations in Suffolk with my Environment Minister hat on. First stop was the EAST Suffolk Water Abstraction group, then to Slaughden to meet representatives from the District and County Council and the Manager of the Suffolk Coast & Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The Government's centre for marine science is at Lowestoft. We will be considering designations for marine conservation zones in the next year and it was good to meet the team who help us with part of that process.
I was pleased to address the Bawdsey Coastal Partnership AGM 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 as a result of the 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 replied to EDF's stage 2 consultation for Sizewell C. 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. The biggest change which has happened in responses is that the councils have finally woken up to the disruption people living along the B1122 could face, as their energy has largely been focused on the A12 Farnham issue. However the traffic issues further down the A12 still need addressing. You can read my full consultation response on my website at theresecoffey.co.uk
Finally I attended the thanksgiving service for Jim Prior who was a distinguished MP for part of the Suffolk Coast. A packed church heard a thoughtful and humorous reflection on Jim's life from his son David, who was also an MP and is now in the Lords. Never happier than when being on the farm, it was a good reminder that service sits alongside stewardship of our shared environment."
"This week in Westminster was dominated by the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill, which was given its second reading. Despite receiving a number of emails asking me to vote against the Bill I voted to enable the UK to start the process of withdrawal from the EU. I was a supporter of the referendum and as a democrat I fully accept the outcome. As soon as the Bill progresses through its remaining parliamentary stages it will give the Prime Minister the power to trigger Article 50, which she has promised to do by the end of March. Earlier this month she set out her negotiating objectives and 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.
I was pleased to join Suffolk Police and Crime Commissioner, Tim Passmore and Suffolk County Council Cabinet member responsible for Fire, Matthew Hicks for the cementing of the date stone on the new joint police and fire station in Saxmundham last week. Saxmundham follows Woodbridge in having a joint blue light station, which saves money and promotes better joint working between the emergency services. The project has been supported by a grant by the Department of Communities and Local Government.
I visited both Hollesley Bay and Warren Hill prisons last week to meet Governors, Declan Moore and Sonia Walsh. Declan is rightly proud of the Outstanding Ofsted gained by Hollesley Bay in respect to learning and skills of prisoners. Open prisons are important to help facilitate a prisoner's transition back into normal life and learning new skills is an important part of this.
Finally, today is the last day to respond to EDF's stage 2 consultation for Sizewell C. I have submitted my consultation response which outlines my concern over the proposed accommodation campus as well as the mitigation measures for the B1122, which are not good enough. You can reply online at http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info"
"Last Friday 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 last 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 dropped into the Plough and Sail 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 last 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 last 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.
I'm grateful to Theberton and Eastbridge Parish Council for organising a public meeting to discuss the second stage of public consultation on Sizewell C. Of those who accepted the need for EDF to build a power station, I heard strongly the sentiments that the proposed campus location is not acceptable nor were the proposed solutions for the B1122. I agree with that. There were some new points raised which I will look into and I recognise that there are some residents who do not want the new power station at all. I would encourage everyone to respond to the formal consultation at http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info
Turning to matters in Westminster. The Prime Minister set out her negotiating objectives for Brexit. She was clear that Brexit meant control of our immigration system, an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and ceasing our membership of the Single Market. She set out a vision to make Britain stronger and fairer – restoring national self-determination while becoming even more global. Whilst the vote last year was a vote to leave the EU, it was not a vote to leave Europe and she was clear that we want to continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with our European neighbours. 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."
"Happy New Year!
A grey 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 shortly publishing the framework of our 25 year environment plan and, in due course, the full plan itself. As the minister responsible for flood protection, I checked the flood information service twice daily and had my wellies at the ready but thankfully we had a rather dry Christmas season. In December 2013 it was rather a different story along our coast at Woodbridge, which was affected by a storm surge with water levels surpassing even the 1953 flood. I'm delighted that 3 years later and 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 UK.
May I wish all Coastal Scene readers peace and prosperity for 2017."
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. That includes a new defence in Woodbridge which should better protect 400 homes. 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 Orford 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%. Saxmundham Primary School, Aldeburgh Primary School and St Mary's Primary School in Woodbridge all performed particularly well too, 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.
With 11,000 miles of coastline to protect, UK Border Force rely on local intelligence to assist their law enforcement at sea. Since the start of 2016, there have been instances of illegal crossings and the smuggling of banned substances into the UK, including an illegal landing at Bawdsey. While maritime incidents are relatively low compared to other forms of transport, it is still a risk the government takes seriously. Those who live and work on the coast can report suspicious activity to assist Border Force by calling 101 and quoting 'Project Kraken' to the operator when doing so.
There is good news for EE customers looking to stay in touch with friends and family over Christmas. Site upgrades at Rendlesham, Pettistree, Saxmundham railway station and the ones east of Farnham and south of Yoxford will improve 4G coverage. I have encouraged the County Council to meet mobile network operators to proactively discuss suitable sites for extending coverage in the past so more people in rural areas can benefit from better mobile phone signal.
And finally, I am looking forward to spending Christmas with my family here in Suffolk (weather permitting!) and would like to wish all Coastal Scene readers the very best for the festive season. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year!
I have always taken an active interest in post offices along the Suffolk Coast. In our smallest villages, we have increasingly relied on some sub-postmasters who have been willing to provide an outreach service when owners of post offices have decided to stop or move on. Since 2010 the government has committed almost £2 billion to support this vital network and fund the transformation of stores. The services they provide to our rural areas in particular are the lifeblood of some villages and in the Conservative government's 2015 election manifesto we committed to securing the future of 3,000 rural post offices. The government now wants feedback from residents and businesses as to what their expectations are of the Post Office to inform the future funding and development of the network. This will have a particular focus on small, remote communities which means it is vital that Suffolk's voice is heard. You can respond to the consultation by visiting https://beisgovuk.citizenspace.com/ukgi/post-office-network-consultation or by calling 0207 215 4383.
Many Post Office services are embedded within local shops and these small businesses are equally important to our towns and villages. Last weekend I was out and about for Small Business Saturday, travelling from the very south of Suffolk Coastal in Felixstowe to the very north in Wrentham. There were Christmas fairs in Woodbridge, Leiston and elsewhere with some of the best of Suffolk on display. We are blessed with so many wonderful small businesses in our part of the world and it's important we support them all year round, but at this busy time of year I hope you'll join me in sending some trade their way during the festive season.
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 Woodbridge, Saxmundham and Leiston. However, businesses in Aldeburgh will see an increase in the amount of business rates they pay due to the sharp rise in the value of property in the town since the 2008 valuation. 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. I am seeking a meeting with the Treasury Minister to press the case on how our independent business will be affected by these changes.
Finally, I enjoyed the carol singing at Fromus Square in Saxmundham last weekend in what was another highly successful Christmas event to build on what happened last year. The lantern procession, Christmas market, Santa's grotto and lights switch-on outside the Market Hall went down a treat and was the perfect way for the town to get into the Christmas spirit. Congratulations to the Businesses of Saxmundham committee, the church and the council for all the hard work that went on behind the scenes.
The Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement on Wednesday and there was good news for Suffolk Coastal as £1 million has been allocated to develop the business case for the Energy Gateway on the A12. This is an important first step which we can now use to develop a convincing case to go on and secure the funding necessary to make the project a reality. 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. This funding 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.
Other welcome measures in Wednesday's statement include 100% rural rate relief for small businesses in rural areas resulting in a tax break of up to £2,900, a new National Savings and Investments (NS&I) savings bond and a freeze in fuel duty. The Chancellor also recommitted to raising the tax free personal allowance to £11,500 in April 2017 and to £12,500 by 2020.
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. The consultation is open for ten weeks and closes on 3 February. You can see the new proposals and respond by going to http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info. A number of exhibitions will also be held up and down Suffolk Coastal for residents to see plans for new infrastructure and ask any questions they may have to the EDF team. Details of these can be found on the link above and on my website.
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.
And finally, married couples and civil partners may be eligible to reduce the income tax bill by up to £220 thanks to the government's Marriage Allowance. Marriage is an important institution at the heart of a strong society and it is right that it is recognised in the tax system. You can find out if you're eligible and apply in less than seven minutes online at www.gov.uk/apply-marriage-allowance or by calling HMRC on 0300 200 3300.
Photo: Therese and Waveney MP Peter Aldous (right) with Transport Minister Robert Goodwill visiting the A12.
Rock Barracks near Woodbridge has been earmarked to close by the Ministry of Defence as part of their strategic review into their vast estate. As it stands, the base is due to close by 2027. I fully understand the local community will be upset by this decision and I am looking at the detail carefully. I will befollowing up with the MoD to review some of the criteria on which the decision has been based on. The overall strategy of the MoD has been to move to lifetime basing for the Armed Forces. 23 Parachute Engineers will likely move to Colchester to be part of the garrison 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.
Turning towards the future, I'm conscious that many local residents have bene prepared to see building works on the site because it is an army base. However, we need to think carefully as to its future use as well as what vital infrastructure might be needed to support this. I will be working with local councillors and the community to find the best way forward on how to use this facility in the future, being mindful of the societal benefits it brings, including educating children at Sandlings Primary School and the economic benefits it has bought to our community. To this end I will be looking to host a meeting for residents to discuss this issue shortly, please check my website for more details – www.theresecoffey.co.uk.
It's the time of year we pay tribute to all members of our armed forces, especially those who have died in the service of their country. I'm looking forward to attending the parade in Woodbridge on Sunday and elsewhere there are events taking place at the Parish Church in Aldeburgh, the United Reform Church in Saxmundham and in the Market Place in Southwold.
Its great news that EDF will soon begin stage 2 of the public consultation process for Sizewell C. This has been a long time coming and it's an important 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 increased 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 begin on 24 November and last for ten weeks.
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.
The East of England Ambulance Service is showing signs of improvement, 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 recently. There has been an improvement in response times for the most urgent calls where people's lives are at risk, 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 as demonstrated by the recent incident in Leiston, where an elderly woman who suffered bruising from a fall waited 2 hours for paramedics to arrive. I will persevere with my efforts to see the Turnaround Plan fully implemented.
And finally, I welcomed students from Farlingaye High School to Westminster last week. 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!
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.
I had the pleasure of addressing a conference slightly closer to home last week, the 5th Annual Suffolk Coast & Estuaries Community Conference on flood resilience at Snape Maltings, speaking not only as the local MP, but with my DEFRA ministerial hat on. Flooding is part of my remit and having represented our area in Parliament for the last six years I have had a great apprenticeship for my role at DEFRA dealing with the natural environment and all the joys and challenges it brings.
There has been continued investment in flood defences in our area and I am taking the lessons I have learned from Suffolk and East Anglia into my role at DEFRA where I have responsibility for the whole English coastline. It surprised me that we don't have shorelines management plans all around our coast, which I feel is a missed opportunity. While they were controversial when implemented here, new evidence has supported their introduction and they now serve as the standard way to protect our coast and provide clarity to people about the best way forward.
The government is continuing to help those affected by flooding. Grants of £5,000 are available to home owners, businesses and farmers who are vulnerable to flooding to make them more resilient for the future. The Flood Re scheme has now been introduced for homeowners, a scheme that will help those living in extremely vulnerable areas to get insurance who may otherwise find it impossible. I will continue to champion schemes that help all those at risk of flooding, whether you live in a large town or a small village and the 74 miles of coast line and estuaries which I am privileged to represent will be a the heart of my thinking.
This really is conference season as there was another important gathering at Trinity Park this week. The Flourishing Suffolk Conference, aimed at addressing challenges faced by those living in rural areas, has become even more important following the publication of the Hidden Needs report on rural deprivation in our county. Rural Life Chances is also part of my ministerial brief at DEFRA and I sent a 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 so this is a country that works for everyone, no matter where you live.
Prime Minister Theresa May made her first appearance at the United Nations in New York recently, 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'm looking forward to attending the Suffolk Coast & Estuaries 5th Annual Community Conference next week 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. Since the tidal surge of three years ago 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.
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.
During my constituency tour, residents in Leiston shared their concerns with me about crime in the town and the number of police officers out on patrol. In particular, they were worried about the prominence of drug dealing and outbursts of violence. I have now raised this with Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore who has assured me that while the front desk at the station is closed, there are still Police Officers in the station and working out in the town. More funding is also being put into initiatives to improve youth work in Leiston to try and tackle the causes of anti-social behaviour. Any crimes should be reported by calling 101 or 999 in an emergency.
The government has given the go-ahead for Hinkley Point C nuclear power station to be built in Somerset. This is great news for us here in Suffolk as it means the next stage of the public consultation for Sizewell C can get underway. Prime Minister Theresa May has thoroughly reviewed the proposals for Britain's first new nuclear power station in a generation and a series of measures will now be introduced to enhance security and ensure these power stations cannot change hands without the government's agreement. Nuclear is an important part ensuring we have a reliable supply of low-carbon energy and we must continue to make the most of the opportunities that Sizewell C 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.
I am concerned about reports of how a group of suspected illegal immigrants were smuggled into Suffolk on a yacht last weekend. A group of people were reportedly seen getting off a boat at Bawdsey and into a Range Rover, which was later found abandoned at the Unruly Pig. I have asked for a briefing from UK Border Force on the matter. While Suffolk is one of the closer parts of Britain to the continent you do expertise to navigate our shoreline. Border Force activity along our coast is usually intelligence led and I hope that the boating community will help to keep a careful eye out to ensure criminals aren't benefitting from the desperation of some people to get into the UK. This is what happened after the illegal landing at Orford and people went to prison as a consequence of that.
A fortnight ago I wrote about the Prime Minister's new initiative for government departments to identify and publish information showing how outcomes differ for people with different backgrounds. Another fundamental component to making sure that this is a country that works for everyone is to make sure that we have schools that give every child the best start in life, regardless of where they grow up. There has been great progress on this since 2010, with 1.4 million more children now in Good or Outstanding schools. Suffolk now has the highest number of Good or Outstanding schools on record, with 82% of schools being awarded one of the top ratings. But, we can go further still, such as relaxing restrictions around 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. Universities will also be encouraged to sponsor schools or set up 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.
As I write this I am undertaking my annual constituency tour, criss-crossing the 300 square miles of Suffolk Coastal, visiting every town and parish to give residents an opportunity to raise any problems they may have. I would like to thank all those who have given my team and me a warm welcome along the way. We do around 90 stops over three and a half days. It is a tiring week but I always find it a worthwhile experience. We finish on Friday afternoon and I will be following a number of issues up with local Councillors and others next week.
While my tour comes to an end, Suffolk's Police and Crime Commissioner Tim Passmore will be beginning his next week. Along with Chief Constable Gareth Wilson. He will be hosting a series of meetings throughout the county for people to find out more about policing in their area. There will be meetings in Woodbridge, Leiston and elsewhere. I have put more details on my website.
Well done to all our young people who have achieved the GCSE results they wanted for further education or an apprenticeship. If you haven't got the grades you wanted then I expect your school will be on hand to offer advice and help. Government now insists that students who did not achieve a pass in English or Maths will have to take it again in 2017. No one should worry as there are always positive next steps that can be taken. I was pleased to see a significant improvement at Alde Valley Academy and while there were improvements at Saxmundham Free School, more still needs to be done to bring results up to standard. Mrs Hargodan retires from Farlingaye High School with record results and she will be much missed. The government has now changed its assessment of school results, no longer looking for the percentage of children gaining 5 GCSEs but towards a measure called Progress 8 (P8) and the proportion of children passing GCSE English and Maths. P8 will look at eight subjects a child has taken and how well they have progressed from the age of 11. This gives a more insightful look on how our schools have helped children. I will write more on this when the P8 scores are published.
As we prepare for the return of Parliament next week after the summer break, Prime Minister Theresa May has launched an unprecedented audit of public sector services. The audit will reveal how your race affects the way you interact with public services and your employment prospects. For example, the employment rate for ethnic minorities is 10 points lower than the national average and if you're a white working class boy from coastal towns like ours, you are much less likely to go to university than any other group. The government is determined to make this a country that works for everyone and this is an important part of making that a reality.
And finally, there is good news for residents in Woodbridge as the post office is to be upgraded to a new main style branch, meaning longer opening hours and more services on offer. A full refurbishment is due for late September. 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 modernisations at Halesworth and Felixstowe too.
Photo: Therese with Patrick and Wendy Brick in Martlesham Heath on her constituency tour.
"The new rail franchise for East Anglia was announced last week and it's great news that there will be £1.4 billion worth of investment including in new carriages, extra services, faster journeys and free WiFi. Abellio put in a competitive bid and won the contract which will begin in October. The current fleet of trains are all now due to be refurbished before the new state of the art carriages enter into service, with this new rolling stock expected to arrive by 2020. The is a win for us here in Suffolk Coastal and all users of the East Suffolk Line as the new deal will eventually include four through trains a day to and from Lowestoft to London, once again connecting the likes of Halesworth, Saxmundham and Woodbridge directly to the capital. No more dashing across the bridge at Ipswich! While this is welcome news 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. The campaign for improved rail services began several years ago and was the first great example of MPs from the four East Anglian counties 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.
The East of England Ambulance Service was inspected by the Care Quality Commission for the first time and was given a 'Requires' Improvement rating. While this was expected at this stage of its journey it is still disappointing to see. Response times, especially in rural areas, were identified as needing major improvement. I have a meeting with the Secretary of State for Health where I plan to go into detail about the problems we face and am also planning to meet the CQC inspectors so I and other Eastern MPs can be better equipped when questioning the service bosses in the future.
As I mentioned in my previous column, I will be undertaking my annual constituency tour at the end of the month, visiting every town and village in the Suffolk Coastal constituency. We kick off on Tuesday 30th August and finish on Friday 2nd September. The schedule is now finalised so to find out when I'll be in visiting your area visit my website, www.theresecoffey.co.uk.
The phenomenal success that Team GB are enjoying at the Olympic games in Rio is fantastic. To celebrate this and to help build on the legacy of the London 2012 games the British Olympic Association are encouraging local sports clubs to get involved in their I Am Team GB event on Saturday 27th August, due to be the country's largest ever sports day. The idea is that local sports and activity clubs throw open their doors free of charge for the public to get involved and get active. A number of local clubs have already committed to taking part and this is a golden opportunity to show what they have to offer and welcome new members. To sign up and see what's on offer in Suffolk, visit http://iamteamgb.com.
The Aldeburgh Carnival was a huge success with the weather also playing its part in making the weekend a special one. The circus theme produced some fantastic costumes and it was great to see thousands of people turn out to enjoy themselves. Things ended with a bang as the fireworks announced the end of proceedings on the Monday night. Unfortunately it seems that some cars which were parked in the cordoned off zones prevented some of the larger rockets from going off, which was a shame for the crowds who had come to watch. Regardless, the bar is as high as ever for the 75th carnival next year.
I enjoyed Suffolk Summer Theatre again. It is a credit to the Jill Freud company for pulling together a series of well known plays which provide such entertainment. I really enjoyed the 39 Steps and wondered in advance how it could be produced. Step forward some great actors and a style of production verging on genius though turns this into a comedy. Next month, High Tide festival offers a more serious choice of new plays showcasing much new talent. There are plenty of shows which will challenge as well as entertain."
Last week the 23 Parachute Engineer Regiment exercised their freedom to parade through Woodbridge to celebrate being based at Rock Barracks outside the town for a decade now. 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 accompanying them. The regiment returned the wonderful support the town showed by hosting an open day at Rock Barracks over the weekend. They did themselves proud with all sorts of military gear on display including a very dynamic bridge building competition and Apache helicopter demonstration. The Band of the Parachute Regiment who were so popular the day before when marching through town made a welcome return too. It was a fantastic day out and I want to thank everyone at Rock Barracks who were so welcoming. The bond between forces at the base and the local community is as strong as ever and long may it continue.
I'm in the process of planning my constituency tour, which has become an annual event. I try and visit every town and village in the 302 square miles of the Suffolk Coastal constituency speaking to residents in village halls, shops, churches and pubs. In total there are close to one hundred stops and while it can be tiring visiting all of them over the course of a few days it is always worthwhile. The aim is to make myself as accessible as possible to constituents who may not otherwise get the chance to see or visit me at one of my surgeries. We'll be conducting the tour over four days this year beginning on the 30th August up until 2nd September. Once the schedule is finalised it will be published on my website, so please do check www.theresecoffey.co.uk for details closer to the time.
While I will be visiting Thorpeness on the tour, I'm looking forward to their village fete on Saturday. Kicking off at 2pm at the Dolphin Inn there will be games, live music and BBQ going all day so do bring the family down and enjoy what is forecast to be a lovely day! Leiston Abbey will also be hosting their Cream Tea concert series on Saturday for junior music students to showcase their talents to the public.
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.
The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, set to work straightaway putting together her new government, while visiting Edinburgh and Cardiff to engage our devolved governments as she starts the process of preparing to leave the EU. I am very pleased to be a Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 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.
The recent Heveningham Hall Country Fair was a great success with much going on. I particularly enjoyed the Sheep Show and the Concourse d'Elegance. It was very helpful that Heveningham Hall owners Lois and John Hunt were able to give me some insight. I really want to thank them for allowing their home yet again to be used, for all the effort that they and legions of volunteers put in to make it a special weekend. As usual all proceeds were donated to charity. There were many great Suffolk businesses sampling their wares at the fair. One particularly caught my eye - Roadii from Melton. Set up by entrepreneurs Marion and Simon Benton they recycle steel road wheels from cars and make them into firepits and grills for outdoor cooking. The end product looks fantastic. Roadii is a great example of an innovative Suffolk business who are finding new ways of using old materials. Have a look at www.roadii.co.uk to see what they do. Congratulations too to the Wright family who run the Cake Shop Bakery in Woodbridge and picked up the Best Family Business Award at the EADT business awards.
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.
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, 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.
Parliament was recalled this week as we paid tribute to Jo Cox, who appears to have been targeted because she was an MP and for the views she expressed. A man has been accused of her terror related murder and is to stand trial. In the chamber, fine tributes were paid as Jo's family were watching and listening in the gallery. The empty seat on the green benches, the voices of her children were a constant reminder of this awful tragedy. It was only a fortnight before that Jo and I were doing a tug of war raising thousands for charity. RIP Jo.
By the time you read this, the country will have voted in the EU referendum and the decision as to where our future lies will have been made. Whatever the result, it is only because people voted for David Cameron and a Conservative government that the British people had the vote on 23rd June. Thanks to Adnams who hosted a visit by the Chancellor highlighting the campaign. We pulled some pints and drank to the hope of success. I'm writing this ahead of the result but rest assured that the Government will deliver what the British people have decided.
Her Majesty the Queen celebrated her 90th birthday recently and there were celebrations up and down the country to 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 band performed at several stations and gave a magnificent rendition at our stop. The U3A ukulele band added to the festivities. Everyone involved in making the day such a special occasion right along our coast deserves our thanks and despite the sun not making much of an appearance it really was fit for a Queen. I would also like to congratulate Dr Charlie Beardall, the Environment Agency's Area Manager for Suffolk who has been awarded an OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours for services to flood protection and combatting coastal erosion in our area. Charlie is always a useful source of information and guidance on the issue and his passion for his work is evident. His OBE is richly deserved.
And finally, there really is life after the referendum. There are fetes on Saturday in Melton, Hollesley, Leiston and the Woodbridge Regatta on Sunday. Well done to Councillor Geoff Holdcroft and the rest of the Regatta Committee for working so hard to put this special day on with boat trips down the Deben available.
The EU referendum on June 23rd is less than a fortnight away. This is one of the most significant decisions we will make so no wonder millions of people have been applying to register to vote and I want all voters to be clear on the likely consequences of their decision. There are good points on both sides of this argument and like many others, it has not been a straightforward decision for me to make. 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 clear that on balance, 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.
There is a consensus from the majority of financial authorities, analysts and businesses that the impact of leaving the EU will bring a hit to our economy. That will likely have a knock-on impact on the government's funding available to 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.
The Out leaders seem to have decided for a model based on World Trade Organisation rules which means import tariffs for goods coming into the country and paying tariffs on exports (bad news for many manufacturers in a global economy). They have stopped suggesting the system Switzerland or Norway has as their access to the single market comes with 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. 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 and helps us be prosperous. 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, focus on 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 and the pound, staying out of the passport-free, border-free Eurozone so we can enforce our borders.
For impartial briefings on the EU, check the Commons Library website. Remember if you are away for the election, apply to the council for a proxy vote by 5pm on June 15th. Above all, do vote and don't leave the decision to others.
The Queen officially opened Parliament 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.
Half term break usually brings many visitors to our coastal villages and towns. Also coming back for the third and final time is BBC Springwatch, filming from RSPB Minsmere. It's a truly unique opportunity to showcase the best of Suffolk to a national audience and the impact of the previous two years has already been felt with an increase to the number of visitors along our coastline. RSPB Minsmere is a special place and has more species than any other RSPB reserve in Britain. I was pleased to be asked by the RSPB to become the 'Bittern Champion' in Westminster, highlighting the remarkable comeback of this rare bird which has made our part of the world its home.
I was pleased to visit the Chelsea Flower Show and see the Suffolk Retreat garden designed by local garden designer Frederic Whyte in partnership with Pro Corda Trust, the world-class ensemble training organisation based at Leiston Abbey. The garden featured local artisans and themes including pargeting and a water feature inspired by the pig troughs seen along the A12. I was very impressed and hope that the fundraising will go well to bring this garden back to Suffolk.
I'm looking forward to welcoming the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to Blythburgh today, visiting Jimmy Butler's well known farm to extol the importance of high standards in in animal welfare and the the importance to farming of staying inside a reformed EU, which employs thousands of people in Suffolk. There is now less than a month to go until the country votes in the EU referendum, probably one of the most important decisions for a generation. 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.
I was very pleased to visit Alde Valley Academy to see the executive Principal Mr Rowe and the headteacher Mr Wilson, who had just been confirmed permanently in this role. Children in other parts of the constituency are pupils at the school at which Mr Rowe and Mr Wilson used to run and where there has been generally a good level of attainment. Results of late at Alde Valley have been disappointing and in the interests of children and their futures, I sincerely hope that Mr Wilson will bring an urgency in improving the quality of teaching and learning at the school. He explained how with a strong team of maths and English teachers the school can improve its focus on outcomes and make it a centre for excellent learning. There is a huge opportunity for Alde Valley on the horizon with the proposed development of Sizewell C. It's crucial that the school is in the best position possible to take advantage of this by making sure students are able to gain the necessary skills and qualifications for a well-paid career in nuclear energy. Having been acting headteacher since January, Mr Wilson is well aware of the challenge ahead of him and I'm confident that with the right leadership and combined with students, staff and parents working together, the school can have a bright future ahead of it.
I also recently met board members of the Seckford Foundation's Free Schools Trust who run Saxmundham Free School. Like Alde Valley, the Free School's recent results are in need of improvement and they have developed an action plan to turn things around. This has been up and running for some months now. Further changes are underway which I hope will help see an increase in attainment for children there. I will continue to press for improvements both here and at Alde Valley.
Parliament has finished for this session after the Government secured important legislation in the last few days. Her Majesty the Queen will officially open Parliament for the new session on Wednesday. The end of a session is called prorogation and, different to the state opening of Parliament, is a quaint rather quiet ceremony without the Queen but instead a Royal Commission allows peers to act in her place (though not on the throne). At the end of the first year of a Conservative majority Government since 1997, I am proud of many achievements and delivery of manifesto pledges. We have legislated and introduced measures to make it easier for people to own their own home, for more childcare to help working families, guaranteed that tax and national insurance rates will not rise, increased pension rates, introduced the national living wage, established higher quality and quantity of apprenticeships, cut taxes for working people, improved life chances for children including making it easier for children in care to be adopted, increased possibilities for devolution to local government, given more powers to restrict immigration, reformed trade unions and aspects of the welfare system as well as fulfilling our vow made to the Scots after the referendum. Of course, we have also delivered our pledge to hold an In/Out referendum on our membership of the European Union on June 23rd, thanks to a Conservative government.
Finally, the White Paper of the BBC has been published setting out the Government's plans for the next Royal Charter. There has been an active discussion between the BBC leadership and ministers and I am really impressed with what is proposed. I used to work for the BBC and I cherish it, but I do think there is room for these changes which I think will keep the BBC focused on its distinctiveness and excellence, so it will continue to be a world class public service broadcaster.
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.
It was disappointing to learn 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 which will bring huge benefits to the Suffolk coast.
A Parish Council near Bristol was the subject of much controversy recently after deciding to charge a local Park Run to use their grounds. These events are organised by volunteers locally and are a great way to encourage people to take up running as a way to get and keep fit. Locally, a shining example of this is the Great Run Local event on Southwold Common held every Sunday at 9.30am. Our county council is responsible for improving public health and should encourage more of these events. I will be writing to district, town and parish councils urging them not to charge any running groups for using their local park or common. We should encourage, not deter, people getting on the move. Common sense needs to prevail otherwise the government may need to step in.
And finally, the whole country has been celebrating Her Majesty the Queen's 90th birthday recently. The Queen has been a role model of service over the last 63 years and has provided much stability both in our nation and around the Commonwealth. I believe she could be considered as Britain's greatest ever woman. Beacons were lit nationwide including up and down the Suffolk coast, I attended one of these lightings in Friston. Earlier in the day I also had the privilege of making the closing speech on behalf of Her Majesty's Government in the House of Commons, as tributes were paid to the Queen for her remarkable service. Long may she reign.
Apprenticeships are one of the great success stories of the decade with over 2.5 million having been created since 2010. Nearly 4,000 of those have been right here in Suffolk Coastal with businesses like EDF, Adnams and Hammonds Land Rover are offering opportunities for young people to learn the skills they need for a successful future. Next week I am meeting Apprenticeships Suffolk Business Service to discuss what more can be done to create apprenticeships in our area, what businesses are doing to support existing apprentices and the new apprenticeship levy. The Government has committed to delivering a further 3 million apprenticeships by the end of the decade, with nearly 270,000 having been created since the general election alone. I want to make sure young people in Suffolk aren't left out and get the chance to benefit from these life changing opportunities. Not only do apprenticeships help our young people, they also help to deliver on the bottom line for businesses. I would encourage all business to look at how hiring an apprentice could benefit them. For more information visit www.gov.uk/take-on-an-apprentice.
It is great news that the Huntingfield Hub – the new village hall – is open and already being well used. I am looking forward to its formal opening on St George's Day. The old village 'hut' as it was was originally a temporary structure has served the village for 95 years and will see out its remaining life in a First World War Museum. Benefiting from Big Lottery funding and a lot of local fundraising, the new village hall will be a welcome facility for the people of Huntingfield, Heveningham and Ubbeston. I'm looking forward to seeing it now work is complete.
I'm pleased that a new, fairer tax system for farmers announced at last year's budget has now come into effect. Around 10,000 people in Suffolk work in the agricultural industry and it's a vital part of the local economy. However, it can be beset by global volatility and this latest move by the Government will mean farmers can average their profits for Income Tax purposes from two years to five years. This will help farmers with fluctuating profits better manage their risk. There is a growing national demand for high-quality and locally sourced food which means there is real potential for Suffolk farmers to grow their businesses and this new measure by the Government will help them face the future with increased confidence.
And finally, as a dog lover I feel it is my duty to remind others that it is now compulsory to have your dog microchipped. In the event of them getting lost, 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.
I hope you had a restful and peaceful Easter and that Storm Katie did not cause too much disruption to your bank holiday weekend. The weather has improved somewhat so I hope that our small businesses are now benefiting from the school holiday tourist trade. Measures in the recent Budget will provide a welcome fillip as many small high street businesses have now been taken out of paying business rates altogether. The money saved from not having to pay these taxes could mean Suffolk businesses can take on more staff or reinvest in their businesses.
At the opening of the Sizewell B dry fuel store this week, which will provide safe storage of nuclear fuel for up to 100 years, I was also able to follow up with EDF Chief Executive, Vincent de Rivaz, about the prospects for Sizewell C. I know that the Prime Minister has taken up the issue of Hinkley C construction with the French President. It has been widely reported that a director will vote against the proposal, though this director is the union representative. The majority of the company's board are clear that this is strategically important for EDF to build.
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. The contract offers fewer hours for the 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.
There has been understandable concern regarding the federation of schools in Bramfield, Middleton, Peasenhall and Yoxford. The County Council put in place a group of experienced governors (called an Interim Executive Board) to run the federation, after the poor Ofsted inspections. I have been in contact with council officers on this matter. What matters is higher quality of teaching and learning for the children. Another interim principal is being appointed and I will stay alert to progress.
I'm on the hunt for the best curry house in Suffolk Coastal and I 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. To nominate your favourite restaurant, please get in touch. The deadline for nominations is noon on 14th April 2016.
Finally, before the Easter recess I was pleased to step in for the Leader of the House of Commons in taking Business Questions. It is like a mini PMQs as MPs can ask me about any topic and it lasts about an hour. I am back in Suffolk for the recess but members of my team are still in the office to pick up emergency cases.
As you will have seen on the news, the Chancellor delivered his Budget statement this week 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 2019/20 as Britain gets back to living within its means. Infrastructure was prioritised, including here in Suffolk as the third crossing in Lowestoft and the Wet Dock in Ipswich both received funding. Both of these projects are helpful for Suffolk Coastal. It should reduce the traffic on the A12 near the Orwell Bridge and for residents higher up the A12, getting to Lowestoft and Gorleston (I'm particularly thinking of James Paget Hospital) will be easier. We will also be getting a new directly elected Mayor for East Anglia as part of the devolution revolution and this too will bring new funding for our area. I was also pleased to see that there will be planning reform to improve mobile phone signal in rural areas like ours. Schools, savers and small businesses were also amongst those benefitting from the Chancellor's plans. A new Lifetime ISA for under 40s will be introduced, as the younger generation will no longer have to choose between saving for their first home or for retirement. The Government will help them to do both. For every £4 saved, the Government will contribute £1. So for every £4,000 saved the Government will top it up by further £1,000. Home ownership and dignity in retirement should be achievable for all and this Government will support those who are striving to get on and make this a reality. Small businesses, which are the lifeblood of our economy, will see their rate relief double and the maximum threshold for relief increase by £3,000 to £15,000. Freeing our local businesses from the burden of tax will help to them thrive and I'm delighted that entrepreneurship and enterprise is again being encouraged by this Government. Under this new measure 600,000 small businesses will never pay business rates again. The Chancellor is providing transitional funding to smooth the introduction of a national funding formula for schools. I hope the new formula will meant that children in our county receive higher funding.
Last week I met the Chair and Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Trust along with other Eastern MPs to receive an update on how their Turnaround Plan to improve ambulance response times is progressing. This is an issue I have been campaigning on for some years now. I am satisfied that ongoing issues with handover times with hospitals 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 Turnaround Plan is fully implemented.
And finally, the Melton Neighbourhood Plan has gone on to consultation. It is 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 visit www.meltonneighbourhoodplan.co.uk.
The Prime Minister concluded his renegotiation of Britain's terms of membership of the EU and has recommended people vote to remain in the referendum on June 23rd. After careful consideration and having drawn on my previous experience in business, I will also be voting to remain. This has been a really difficult political decision. I trust the Prime Minister and I think what he set out to achieve, he has largely achieved. The query in my mind was would the European Commission live up to their side of the deal. Will they really reconsider regulation and subsidiarity? I will, in due course, put more detailed reasons on my website but essentially, I am taking a pragmatic view based on prosperity for people and businesses, safety and being at the table to shape decisions. While some readers may already be suffering from referendum fatigue, the Electoral Commission will shortly designate a lead campaign for Remain and Leave (or In and Out for short). These campaign teams will offer information directly to voters to help inform your choice. The government's policy is to remain, so will be issuing government documents from time to time supporting the case. For the Conservative Party, we will have friends and colleagues on different sides, but I am very clear that our party is not defined by the EU issue. Only one party is defined by the issue 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 people of this country who have the final say.
Next week I am meeting the Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Service Trust along with other Eastern MPs to discuss the service's turnaround plan. I am unhappy with the lack of progress over the last six months and have met Health Minister Lord Prior to discuss my concerns. I have said I will hold the ambulance service to account and will continue to do so.
I was pleased to welcome children and staff from Sandlings Primary School to Westminster this week. The children were the first from Suffolk Coastal to experience the new Education Centre which opened last summer. It offers state of the art 360 degree projections and augmented reality experiences depicting both the House of Commons and House of Lords. After learning about how our democracy works, including the process for passing a Bill through both Houses, the children had the opportunity to grill me on my role as a Member of Parliament and as a Minister. I would like to encourage other schools from our area to take visit Parliament and take advantage of this fantastic new facility.
We all know about the diverse range of wildlife with which we share our coast, including a number of endangered species. The bittern, which was the star of Springwatch 2014 filmed at Minsmere, is one such endangered bird and I am delighted to have become the RSPB's bittern champion in Westminster. After being faced with extinction, the bittern has made an incredible comeback with many making our area their home. I hope we can see them flourishing in Suffolk Coastal for generations to come.
Finally, next week is English Tourism Week and to mark the occasion I will be visiting Meare Shop and Tearoom in Thorpeness, one of our tourist hotspots. The industry is crucial to our local economy and it is up to all of us to lend our support to make sure it thrives and the Suffolk coast continues to be an attractive destination for visitors.
There has been some disappointing news on ambulance response times recently with new 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 and have met Health Minister Lord Prior to discuss my concerns. I appreciate that the new Chief Executive has to bed in, but patience on behalf of patients is beginning to wear thin. I have said that I will hold the East of England Ambulance Service to account and will do so 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 emergencies while paramedics are on their way. I urge the Chief Executive of the Ambulance Trust, Rob Morton, to reconsider the policy of not paying for the mileage undertaken by these lifesaving volunteers like they do in many other parts of the country.
Continuing with local healthcare, I am delighted that the Sole Bay Health centre in Reydon has been rated as 'Outstanding' by the Care Quality Commission in recognition of the excellent care it offers to patients. During the inspection the CQC recognised that patients were treated with compassion, dignity and respect. This is fantastic news and my thanks go to the staff for the excellent service they provide.
Nationally, the Government has announced that an additional billion pounds will be invested in mental health care by 2021 which should help more than a million people get the mental health support they need. A quarter of the population will experience mental health problems in their lifetimes 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.
I am pleased that the issue of the Drummer Boy statue has finally been resolved, with the public voting overwhelmingly in favour of relocating it to the cobbled area of the market square in front of the Shire Hall in Woodbridge. The entrance to Elmhurst Park, off Lime Kiln Quay Road was the runner up, but I am looking forwarding to seeing it in its new home before long.
Finally, I had the pleasure of being quizmistress at the Old Mariner in Woodbridge as they took part in the World's Biggest Pub Quiz, organised by PubAid. Thousands of pubs up and down the country took part in order to raise money for local causes. I felt the questions were rather hard, but we had some impressive scores from our local teams. I would like to thank the Old Mariner for being such hospitable hosts, particularly Gemma and Mark. Over £100 was raised for St Elizabeth Hospice and a good time had by all.
The next fortnight 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. National newspaper headlines weren't welcoming of the proposals set out in a typically dry text circulated on Tuesday. 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. 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.
I welcomed business and civic leaders through the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce to Westminster last week 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 we have much to be proud of with our expanding energy sector along our coastline and the country's largest container port further down the coast at Felixstowe.
On the subject of the energy coast, Suffolk Chamber held an informal consultation event in Ufford 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 business 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, which would also include new housing, 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 full bypass project a reality.
Following on from my previous column, a number of Leiston residents have informed me about a lack of EE signal in the town. There has been a similar problem in Felixstowe and I am following up with EE about the matter as it is completely unacceptable and I can understand residents' frustrations. This is important for personal convenience, confidence in our phone networks and for business productivity.
There has been some good news in Leiston as the Heritage Lottery Fund announcing a grant of £69,700 to Dig Ventures for their Leistons' Origins project. They are carrying out a community archaeological project on the site of the first Leiston Abbey, where members of the public are funders and participants and everything excavated from the trenches in shared online in real time.
I would like to congratulate Farlingaye High School in Woodbridge after it was ranked as the second best performing school in Suffolk for GCSE results last summer. 73% of students gained at least five A* to C grades, the highest ever figure in the school's history. A fitting tribute to retiring Headteacher Sue Harrogate, her staff and especially the pupils who worked so hard.
I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the Suffolk Punch pop-up restaurant in Central London. 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 Pump Street Bakery in Orford, Pinneys of Orford and The Cake Shop Bakery in Woodbridge. It's open till March 6th.
Finally, I am joining the Old Mariner in Woodbridge as their quizmistress this Sunday night. This is part of a world record attempt for pub quizzes and raising money for charity. Please do come along to support a good cause and have some fun.
The Prime Minister recently delivered a speech on life chances, explaining how the Government intends to transform the lives of the poorest in Britain. He was right when he said that 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 family stay together. This is why the Government have committed to doubling the funding for relationship support from £35m to £79m 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 number of health visitors has been expanded, but the Government recognises 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 at 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 the additional traffic on this key route, as well as up the A12 and junctions along the A14. I intend to meet 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. During the meeting I also raised the issue of the Orwell Bridge road works and resurfacing of roads, particularly for noise reduction.
The rollout of superfast broadband is making good progress. Over 20,000 more households can connect to superfast broadband thanks to government and council investment. However there will be no more fibre cabinets installed in the Suffolk Coastal constituency during the next nine months. The second phase will proceed once state aid clearance is granted from the EU which I believe will come through shortly. For those who still have a download speed of under 2MB the best option for the time being is to apply for a satellite broadband voucher, which will pay for the installation costs of a satellite dish in order to receive better speeds. Visit www.betterbroadbandsuffolk.com to find out more about the vouchers.
The Environment Agency will be carrying out repair work on flood defences at Slaughden Beach, just south of Aldeburgh. The beach level at Slaughden has lowered significantly recently and is not naturally recovering which in turn increases the vulnerability of the sea wall there. The footpath will be closing but I understand all properties will remain accessible during the works.
Finally I have had reports about a loss of EE signal in Leiston. This follows on from reports I have had about similar issues further down the coast in Felixstowe and I am following up with networks to see what has happened for action to get signal restored. Please get in contact if you have experienced similar problems with phone signal in the town.
Photo: Therese and Digital Economy Minister Ed Vaizey examining Suffolk broadband statistics.
Happy New Year to all Coastal Scene readers. I hope you had a relaxing and peaceful Christmas. I welcomed in the New Year on the beach in Aldeburgh, with the Brudenell Hotel providing a firework display to almost rival that in London. Other impromptu displays appeared over the town, much to the satisfaction of the crowd. The New Years Honours list has seen a wide range of people recognised, including here in Suffolk. 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 while Tony received the MBE for everything he has contributed in Woodbridge. Congratulations to both recipients.
Unfortunately this normally joyful season has been ruined for many people living across Northern England as flooding forced many from their homes. Locally, it has been a couple of years since we had devastating floods. We were given a reminder of just how vulnerable parts of our coastline can be with the partial collapse of a river defence at Slaughden. This was due to strong winds and waves which had scoured away the shingle behind the bank. The Environment Agency will be undertaking repairs this week and £400,000 worth of reinforcement which was planned will take place in mid-February.
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 floods and coastal defences with the budget to local hands. While the Environment Agency works hard 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 with Internal Drainage Boards – organisations which many readers may not be familiar with. I do not know the reason why the presence of IDBs is quite so limited in other parts of the country, but as we learn the lessons of how to cope with such unusual weather, I hope that IDBs being set up right across our country might form part of the answer.
In our local schools, I want to thank Mrs Gayler who was headteacher for Aldeburgh Primary and Orford Primary. She made a step change particularly in Aldeburgh and we will miss her as she returns to Essex. I also want to welcome Jeremy Rowe, an experienced headteacher at Sir John Leman High School in Beccles, who will act as Executive Principal at Alde Valley. Mrs Laflin deserves our thanks for stepping up as headteacher there.
Looking forward to the year ahead, I forecast that we will have better mobile phone signal across Suffolk Coastal, although it will require help from our district council to achieve this. We already know that we will have a new train provider in place, which will hopefully result in a significant improvement in services and will include an all through train from Lowestoft to London. I am also confident that more schools will be rated Good or Outstanding by Ofsted, which is great 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 we will continue to fulfil our manifesto, providing security for people at every stage of their lives.
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.
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.
There was great news for Rockford in Rendlesham recently who have secured a new contract with American defence firm Lockheed Martin. One of the UK's largest independent defence contractors, Rockford will supply electrical cables and wiring for the British Army's AJAX and Warrior fighting vehicles in a £20 million deal. This will help to keep high skilled jobs right here in Suffolk for years to come.
I was also delighted to attend the re-opening of the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell. Unfortunately a fire caused it to close for six months. While still relatively new it has already been mentioned in the Sunday Times and has made it into the 2016 Good Food Guide. Congratulations should go to owners Brendan and Claire Padfield and their team who have worked incredibly hard to get it back on its trotters!
Finally I would like to wish all readers a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I hope 2016 brings peace and prosperity to you and your family.
Last week MPs voted to endorse the Prime Minister's strategy on how to tackle ISIL, also known as Daesh. There will be a three pronged approach focussing on diplomacy, humanitarian aid and military action. This approach was adopted with a substantial majority and means the airstrikes currently being conducted in Iraq will now be extended across into Syria as well. I am pleased that there have been significant steps recently on the diplomatic front with both Russia and Iran agreeing to join talks in Vienna. The West is not alone in wanting to get rid of ISIL and Britain is part of an international coalition of 63 nations who are actively involved. Our French allies have asked for our assistance and there is a UN resolution urging us to act now. I am proud that Britain is living up to its reputation as a responsible global actor in seeking to protect both ourselves and the civilians in Iraq and Syria who are subjected to this vile death cult.
In contrast to the vote to authorise military action in Iraq last year, MPs have been subjected to a lot of abuse when making this decision, including me. Some is anonymous and some very open, but frankly receiving this gratuitous abuse makes me think even more that I have done the right thing. The RAF have already been deployed from Norfolk and I believe our military capabilities will play an important role in the fight ahead.
I recently facilitated a delegation from the Theberton and Eastbridge Action Group on Sizewell and the B1122 Action Group to meet Ministers from the Energy and Transport departments. This was a useful opportunity for local residents to raise issues directly, though the lead negotiators are still the county and district councils. Thanks to the residents from Theberton, Yoxford and Middleton Moor who vividly portrayed their concerns on the impact from the construction of Sizewell C. Ministers were keen to engage with the group about what can be done to help.
I visited Alde Valley Academy in Leiston and met Principal Emma Laflin and members of the Bright Tribe Trust who run the academy. We discussed the action plan currently being implemented in light of their exam results this summer and I am keen to see them succeed on their journey to improve standards for students. Also on the agenda was future steps for Sizewell C and how the academy can take advantage of the huge opportunity this presents for the local area. It is crucial that students are able to gain the necessary skills and qualifications for a well-paid career in nuclear energy.
Last weekend was Small Business Saturday and we are blessed to have an abundance of great local businesses in our area. I was pleased to get a plug for Fishers Hardware into Business Questions in the House of Commons last week and had the pleasure of opening another Saxmundham business, Sax Velo recently. Although I know all shops will agree with me when I say our local small businesses should be supported all year round, not just on one Saturday a year!
There were three big events this 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, which was very timely as Governments continue to respond to the surge of terrorist attacks and threats. 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.
The Chancellor delivered the Autumn Statement and Comprehensive 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 that a full commitment was given to create a new funding formula for schools, which should address the historic imbalance between how much funding different schools around the country receive which puts us here in Suffolk at a particular disadvantage compared to other, especially urban, areas. 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.
I was delighted that Sutton Hoo have been successful in obtaining a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a new interactive experience. This will showcase the story of this hugely important excavation and hopefully help to attract many more visitors to Suffolk.
The Prime Minister this week laid out the objectives of Britain's renegotiation of its relationship with the European Union. Four areas will be at the heart of the renegotiation; protecting the single market for those countries outside the Eurozone, cutting red tape for businesses, exempting Britain from 'ever closer union' while strengthening national parliaments and enabling us to control migration from the EU. These important renegotiations can now begin in earnest and I am confident the Prime Minister will deliver for Britain. The British people will of course ultimately decide on the issue in the referendum by the end of 2017.
I was pleased to take part in British Sausage Week 2015 by supporting our local pig industry. Along with local Suffolk pig farmers I attended the David Black Award breakfast in Parliament, which recognised individuals who have made a significant contribution to the pig industry. I was delighted that the breakfast included sausages and bacon made from Blythburgh Free Range Pork. Afterwards I led a delegation with Jimmy and Alistair Butler of Blythburgh Free Range Pork and representatives of the National Pig Association to meet Norfolk MP and Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Elizabeth Truss. We discussed the promotion of pork, including how to celebrate and market British pork. Blythburgh Free Range Pork is very well known and the Butlers are heavily involved in the national effort to encourage more people to eat pork. Pulled pork is certainly in fashion now and long may that continue. Given how blessed we are with the number of high quality pig farms along our coast I encourage people to support them by eating more pork.
Suffolk Coastal has again bolstered its credentials as the green energy coast with the announcement that the Greater Galloper offshore windfarm will now progress. RWE have secured the necessary investment, including from the Government's Green Investment Bank, meaning construction on the new array has begun this month. This is good news for construction jobs, followed by well-paid and ongoing employment opportunities.
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, a big step forward from the Requires Improvement category. This bodes well for the future of our local children. I also visited Saxmundham Free School and met the leadership of the school. Their action plan has been developed and is up and running. The results they've achieved so far are below expectation and I will keep pressing for improvements.
I also had the pleasure of welcoming Farlingaye High School to Parliament. A mixed group of students came down to Westminster and received a tour around both Houses of Parliament as well as the opportunity to grill me on local and national issues. It was great to see some budding young politicians in the group and I hope those who came got enjoyed their visit and left feeling a little more engaged in the political process. I would also like to pay tribute to Falingaye's headteacher, Sue Hargadon, who after 20 years as announced she will be retiring at the end of the current academic year. She has led the school to record exam successes, outstanding Ofsted ratings and has made Farlingaye one of the most consistently top performing schools in the county. She will be greatly missed.
With the visit of the Chinese President to the UK last week, the big announcement was that EDF has secured Chinese investment for their future power stations at Hinkley and Sizewell. I hope EDF will formally announce their final investment decision so we can get on with the next stage of consultation locally. While there is still much to discuss concerning infrastructure and accommodation, this is great news which will bring new jobs, skills and education opportunities to Suffolk Coastal for many years to come. Some people have voiced concerns about Chinese investment but we should welcome it, not fear it. Chinese investors already own and run the Port of Felixstowe, Huawei at Martlesham Heath, our electricity transmission via UK Power Networks, 3 Telecom and possibly soon O2. All of this supports local jobs. It seems that Chinese investors are willing to put their money into UK assets. I would like to see more of our UK pension funds do the same. As for designing a nuclear power station further down the coast at Bradwell, the Chinese design will have to go through the same accreditation process run by the Office for Nuclear Regulation, which is the toughest nuclear regulator in the world.
The House of Commons has passed the Government's proposals for English Votes for English Laws, fulfilling our manifesto commitment. This will strengthen the Union and create a fairer arrangement which ensure the English have more of a say over matters which only affect us. As part of my role as Deputy Leader of the House of Commons, I replied to the debate on behalf of the Government. A year ago, the SNP representative made clear that he sympathised with English MPs who he said "should have English Votes for English Laws". A year on, he is suggesting that this idea would brandish other MPs to be second class. The proposals are actually rather modest. After devolving more powers across the United Kingdom, it is only right that the English have more of a say over our own destiny.
The new procedure being put in place will see English, or sometimes English and Welsh, MPs being asked for their consent on matters which only affect England, or England and Wales. This will happen 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. It is only right that English matters are approved by a majority of English MPs, and I believe this change will strengthen England's voice in the Union, just as devolution as strengthened the voice of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In passing these proposals, we have finally addressed the so-called West Lothian question. Political textbooks will need to be updated!
Halloween is on the horizon, and I hope those who are planning to celebrate are in the process of planning their costumes. I would ask those who do go out trick or treating, whether for themselves or with their children, to be considerate as older residents may not wish to take part and can find the whole evening quite distressing. Recent statistics have also shown that over the last few years, there has been a spike in crime on Halloween, with the amount of arrests increasing by 36%. Please be extra vigilant and stay safe. With November around the corner as well, I'm sure many of us will be making our way to a local fireworks display to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. My first dog was quite relaxed but our current dog Jess is absolutely petrified by the whizzes and bangs. Explosions of fireworks can be quite distressing for our pets, many of whom have far more sensitive hearing than we do. I want to remind people who think of setting off firecrackers in the streets of neighbourhoods to think of our four-legged friends before they do so.
I organised a meeting in Parliament this week for East of England MP's to hear from the new Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Service, Rob Morton. The meeting was the latest in a series of updates on the Turnaround Plan to improve response times, put in place by Interim Chief Executive Anthony Marsh and was the first opportunity for MPs to speak to the new Chief Executive. I am determined to see that the Turnaround Plan is implemented and the service continues to improve for patients. Suffolk is still the county in the region with the worst response rate. I am particularly concerned about patients suffering with a stroke who need to get to hospital within 60 minutes, which maximises their ability to recover. I pressed the case again with the new Chief Executive. He has promised to send me more information on how they are performing. I also pushed for support for Community First Responders, with the East of England being only one of three non-metropolitan ambulance trusts not to offer mileage for volunteers who play a vital role in saving lives.
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. He set out the government's plans to help more people, particularly young families, onto the housing ladder. 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. The Chancellor also fired the starting gun on a new 'devolution revolution' aimed at empowering local councils and promoting growth and prosperity. The big shift was to move towards removing central grants but allowing councils to retain business rates, which will be very beneficial to Suffolk as we are a pro-business county.
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 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 services sometimes struggle to survive.
The Prime Minister has been speaking at the United Nations in New York this week, about the new Global Goals. 17 goals have been set up with the ambitious target of eradicating poverty in all its forms, everywhere. Britain has taken a lead role in developing these new goals, and we should be proud that has a developed nation we are taking our responsibilities to the poorest in our world seriously.
Walberswick's very own Emma Freud and Richard Curtis 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.
The specification for the new rail for East Anglia was finally published. Three companies are bidding to provide these services, which includes the criterion of meeting the Suffolk in 60 pledge for which Suffolk MPs have been lobbying. 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. The announcement will be made next year, with the new franchise to start next October.
There was more good news for the local economy with unemployment in Suffolk Coastal falling again. 353 people are currently claiming Job Seekers Allowance, which is a record low. I would like to congratulate those now receiving a regular pay packet again and the security that it provides.
I will be at the Conservative Party Conference next week, which will be the first time the whole party has met since the General Election in May. I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces and to hearing what the Prime Minister has to say about how we as a Government can continue to help the hardworking people of this country get on and be successful.
"Last week, along with 329 other MPs I voted against the Assisted Dying Bill, which is more than half the MPs in the House of Commons. There are many reasons why I voted against the Bill, including 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 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 a 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.
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 bring 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 now been resolved. I will continue to support our local hospices, St Elizabeth's and the EACH Treehouse, with the palliative care they offer.
The Prime Minister's pledge to take 20,000 refugees directly from camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey received a lot of coverage, and I think this is the right approach to take. We will focus on taking in the most vulnerable, including orphaned children.
Germany have now re-instated border controls on their Austrian frontier after originally offering asylum to hundreds of thousands of people. Many left the safety of Turkey, Hungary and Austria to try and reach Germany which further re-emphasises why our approach of taking people directly from refugee camps is the right one to take, considering how treacherous the journey can often be.
I was delighted to learn that the Government's Help to Buy scheme has helped 126 families in Suffolk Coastal buy their own home. Supporting the aspiration of home ownership is a key part of our economic plan and is all part of rewarding people who want to work hard and get on in life.
I'd like to thank the 214 people who came to see me on my constituency tour a couple of weeks ago. I stopped at 90 different places across Suffolk Coastal, where a variety of different issues were raised. Thanks should also go to the pubs, shops and village hall keepers who hosted some of the stops along the way."
"School results came out and well done to those young people for all the effort made. I hope you got what you wanted. If you didn't, then your school can offer advice or you can contact the Department for Education helpline on 0808 100 8000. Congratulations to Farlingaye High where for the second year in a row, more than 70% of children gained 5 GCSE passes including English and Maths. However, the results at Saxmundham Free School were particularly disappointing, as they were at Alde Valley. While I do not know the levels of progress made by children while at the school, I have already been in touch with the school leadership and a review is already underway. I do not know if Bright Tribe has yet started a review at Alde Valley. I have also spoken to the Regional Commissioner, Tim Coulson. What gives me confidence for the future of the free school is its recent Ofsted inspection but it is right that they re-inspect this coming term. On primary schools, it is encouraging to see an improvement in SATS levels, though still below national average. It will always be challenging for secondary schools to make up the gap and progress at primary will be a boost to them.
This week I have been conducting my constituency tour, visiting every town and village in the 302 square miles of Suffolk Coastal, speaking to residents in village halls, shops, churches and pubs. This has become an annual event with residents able to see me in their village to talk about any subject they want. Many of the issues fall within the remit of our local Councils and I will be liaising with Councillors to try and solve them. Two major issues stood out- broadband/mobile phone coverage and infrastructure relating to Sizewell C.
On Broadband, the target is to upgrade 95% of premises to superfast by 2018. This is progressing well and I understand that Suffolk County Council will announce the next tranche of upgrades next month. As I mentioned in my last column I will shortly be following up with Telefonica, who won the contract to provide 4G coverage nationally, for an update on progress. This is one of my major priorities.
On Sizewell C, we are still waiting for the second stage of consultation. Clearly there is still a lot mitigation work required for the roads and accommodation which I previously made clear to EDF when I met the Head of Nuclear New Build, Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson. We will hear more about this during the consultation period. The County Council is the lead negotiator concerning highways improvements which are needed to ease potential congestion in our towns and villages. A big thank you to everybody that has hosted our visits and for everyone that turned up.
I was pleased to see the launch of a new Victims' Information Service. Being a victim of crime can be a horrific experience and the Government puts the highest emphasis on the needs of victims. The service will mean, that for the first time, all victims of crime can go to one place for advice on what support is available to them and how to access it. This includes emotional support, advocacy services and specialist advice for victims of sexual violence or domestic support. The new service can be accessed online at https://www.victimsinformationservice.org.uk or by calling the Freephone helpline on 0808 168 9293.
We are back to the serious business of Parliament on Monday following a fun packed summer of village fetes, festivals and fairs. The dog races at Orford Fete was one of the funniest things I've seen. Thanks to all the organisers who ensure their villages come together often raising money for good causes."
"I was proud to take part in the VJ Day commemoration at the Leiston Long Shop Museum with the Suffolk Regiment of the Old Comrades Association last weekend, as we marked the 70th anniversary of the allied victory which ended the Second World War and brought peace after a war which, it is estimated, sixty million people were killed – that's the entire population of our country today. It was fascinating to see the Union Jack flag, which provided the backdrop to the service that had been brought back from a prisoner of war camp where Suffolk men had been held by the Japanese. It is now housed in the Long Shop Museum. It was a very poignant occasion as we remembered those who gave their lives for freedom, 70 years after a packed service in Leiston church. The Westleton Barrel Fair and the Aldeburgh Carnival rounded off my weekend.
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 and GCSE students who received their results yesterday. I hope you got the grades you wanted. Whilst many students are thinking about Further Education or 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. You can also phone the Education hotline for free on 0808 100 8000.
I wrote in my column last time about 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.
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.
Finally, a reminder about my Constituency Tour which is taking place in the first week of September where I'll be visiting town and village in the constituency. This is an invitation for residents to come and talk to me about any issue they would like. Details of where I will be each day are available on my website www.theresecoffey.co.uk."
"One of the pledges I made during the election was to try to make Suffolk Coastal a dementia-friendly constituency. Last weekmy team and I took the first step to achieving that goal by training as 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 and practical measures that can be put in place to help people that live with dementia. I know that there are some groups already and I want to work with them to see if we can establish others. If you want to know more, or would like to become a Dementia Friend, please visit www.dementiafriends.org.uk or contact me.
New pension freedoms were introduced in April giving people more power over their own savings. However, concerns have been expressed about the level of fees being imposed when savers have tried to access their funds. The Government has responded by launching a consultation on proposals to cap exit charges and make the process quicker. The aim of the reform was to give people more control over their money, not to create a new way of charging people which some pension providers are doing. You can respond to the consultation on the Gov.uk website.
In a previous Coastal Scene column I raised the plight of some children from Orford have been told that transport will no longer be available to Farlingaye School, which they had been attending, for A-Level studies and instead transport will only be provided to Alde Valley High School. Last week I met County Council Leader, Colin Noble and Transport Portfolio Holder, James Finch to press the case on behalf of pupils and parents. I know that there is not a lot of money around for helping with transport costs for people over the age of 16. However, it seems extraordinary to me that the catchment school for people on the peninsula is Farlingaye from the ages of 11-16 but then they're expected to move school after their GCSEs. It was a very constructive discussion and I know they're looking at an exception policy for individual applications. I hope a long term solution is found.
I'm enjoying the Suffolk summer whilst Parliament is in recess and am taking the opportunity to visit the many village get togethers across the constituency. Snape Fun Day and Thorpeness Village Fete were particularly enjoyable whilst the refreshment on offer at the Hollesley Beer Festival (all Suffolk beers) at the Shepherd & Dog quenched the thirst. I'm also looking forward to the traditional Westleton Barrel Fair, Aldeburgh Carnival, Alderton Fete and Thorpeness Regatta which are fast approaching.
Finally, I will once again be visiting every town and village in Suffolk Coastal as I embark on my annual constituency tour with my team during the first week of September. This is an invitation for residents to come and talk to me about any issue they would like. Details of where I will be each day are available on my website www.theresecoffey.co.uk"
"I was delighted to welcomed Coastal Communities Minister, Mark Francois MP, to Suffolk last week as he launched the Coastal Communities project in Felixstowe. Whilst Felixstowe had already been nominated as a Coastal Team, the Deben Peninsula has also been added. They will each receive an initial grant of £10,000 and will now be able to bid for up to £50,000 from the Coastal Revival Fund to support or restore local heritage and facilities which will benefit the wider community and the local economy. This links to the Prime Minister's tourism plan to increase the number of international visitors already coming to London to continue their stay outside the capital. Tourism is a key sector for us locally and I'm pleased that the Government is providing funds to help revive key assets so we can sustain this important part of our economy and create jobs.
I was pleased to attend the Royal British Legion Rally, commemorating the 70th anniversary of WW2 at Kingston Park in Woodbridge last weekend. I was made even more special as I was able to present a second Woodbridge resident in a matter of weeks, Mr Frederick King, with the Ushakov meal, awarded by the Russian government to sailors who were part of the Arctic convoys during World War Two. Woodbridge celebrated its close links with the 23 Parachute Engineers this week by granting them access to march through the town. I attended their celebration in the evening with the Band of the Brigade of Gurkhas providing the entertainment. It is a pleasure to spend time with Suffolk's servicemen.
I visited Suffolk New College to meet new Principal Viv Gillespie. Fresh into the role since the start of July, there is a lot for her to do and I wish her well. There is a lot of choice for young people in the Ipswich area and the college needs to be successful and distinctive to attract students. I called for fresh leadership at the college earlier this year following the decision to no longer offer A-levels, which seemed like an over-reaction to an adverse Ofsted inspection rather than a determination to fix the problems. I will do my bit to support Mrs Gillespie as she moves forward.
On that note, I also met representatives of Bright Tribe, the sponsors of Alde Valley Academy to talk about the action plan for improving standards. Alde Valley has started its journey to make improvements in learning for children and I really want them to succeed.
Parliament has now gone into recess for the summer but that doesn't mean the work ends. I will be spending more time in the constituency as well as returning to Parliament to crack in with all the projects I'm working on. I'm currently in the middle of organising my annual constituency tour, stopping off in every town and village in Suffolk Coastal to talk with residents in community halls, pubs and shops. This year it will take place in early September. Details to be revealed soon."
"The big event of the week was the Summer Budget which the Chancellor presented in Parliament on Wednesday. In this column, 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 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. It's 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 our local firms – 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 will means all money raised through the vehicle excise duty will be invested into roads. Important for my campaign for greater investment in the A14 which I met the new Roads Minister, Andrew Jones MP, to discuss last week.
The theme of security throughout the Budget was underlined by the commitment from the Chancellor to spend 2% of our national income on defence – 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.
Some constituents have contacted me to express their concern that children who have been attending Farlingaye High school have now been told that transport will no longer be available to that school for A-Level students and instead transport will only be provided to Alde Valley High School. I am really concerned by this proposal by the County Council and I am taking up the issue on behalf of the children and parents. I know that there is not a lot of money around for helping with transport costs for people over the age of 16. However, it seems extraordinary to me that the catchment school for people on the peninsular is Farlingaye from the ages of 11-16 but then they're expected to move school after their GCSEs.
After a busy week in Parliament - I am hoping to enjoy some Suffolk sunshine this weekend as I drop in to various events in the constituency. I'm hoping that the good weather extends to next weekend too for the Eyke Fete and Latitude Festival."
The Education and Adoption Bill started its journey in Parliament this week and is one of the most important pieces of legislation this year. The aim of the Bill is to raise standards in schools and introduce new powers to speed up the process of improving schools whether that is changing leadership, quicker conversion into academies and indeed, powers to challenge academies which do not make the necessary changes quickly. Children get one real chance with their education and while I support life-long learning, that should not be because children were let down when they were at school and have to catch up once adults. This is part of our commitment to deliver real social justice with the belief that every pupil deserves an excellent education and that no child should spend a single day in a failing school.
Parliament has also been in the news this week for not only what we're debating, but where we are having those debates. The magnificent Palace of Westminster has been showing its age for some time now and needs some fundamental repairs. The initial report came out last week with a variety of options on the table, all of which need careful scrutiny. While there will be considerable debate and many different opinions flying about we must be careful to get the best value for money for the taxpayer. My short time working in BBC property finance may finally come in handy!
I had the pleasure of welcoming Saint Felix School to Westminster on Monday. They had travelled from Southwold to have a look round Parliament and grill me on my stance on a number of local and national issues. We talked about local healthcare and the need for new housing as well as my thoughts on the upcoming EU referendum, it's always great to meet so many young people who are engaged with our political process. I am looking forward to seeing some primary school children next week.
This week is Armed Forces week and there will be celebrations up and down the country to pay tribute to our fantastic men and women in uniform. The only event that I am aware of in the Coastal scene area is a SSAFA coffee morning but there will be a parade of military vehicles through Halesworth, before moving onto an exhibition and 1940s style dance in Holton village hall. Please lend your support to this fantastic cause if you can.
I met DEFRA Minister Rory Stewart with local representatives about water abstraction. I hope we can make some sensible progress. The Suffolk 7 also met county council leader when we covered and am soon to meet with the Suffolk 7 MPs about the challenges we face with the A14.
Aldeburgh Music Festival is still ongoing and bringing the usual sense of excitement to the town and Snape Maltings. I was also pleased to support Independent Bookshops Week and, though he doesn't need the plug, purchased Nick Robinson's latest book. Now we just need sustained good weather this weekend, not only for the many fetes on including Melton and Hollesley, but also for me to get the deckchair out and enjoy reading a good book.
"This week in Parliament has been dominated by the EU Referendum Bill, that I'm delighted to report passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Tuesday. This is the Bill that my party tried to pass in the last Parliament - to let Britain decide whether or not we should remain a member of the European Union - but was blocked by opposition parties. Following the election Labour and the Lib Dems now support our call for referendum and the vote passed unanimously with only the SNP voting against. Once the Bill has gone through its remaining stages the legislation will require the Government to hold a referendum on our membership of the European Union by the end of 2017.
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.
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.
Sticking with the sporting theme, I'm sure many of you are looking forward to the Women's Cycling Tour of Britain that kicks off next Wednesday – with the first stage winding its way from Bury St Edmunds to Aldeburgh going through Woodbridge, Snape, Saxmundham and Leiston on its way. I was privileged to see the tour pass through our part of Suffolk last year and would recommend you watch it if you can. 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.
Summer has arrived – and we are well and truly into fete season. I'm particularly looking forward to attending the Rendlesham Show today (Friday) as well as the other fairs, carnivals and fetes dotted around East Suffolk in the next few months. I hope to see you there."
"Parliament was officially opened by the Queen this week and her speech set out the Government's programme for the next year. As Deputy Leader of the House, I have been involved this time in putting the speech together. The content is essentially the manifesto that I stood behind at the general election. An EU Referendum Bill, tax cuts for low earners, an increase in free childcare, 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.
Following the reshuffle, I am seeking an early meeting with new Defra Minister, Rory Stewart MP, to press the case on some key local issues including flood defences and water abstraction. Our previous Fisheries Minister, George Eustice, was promoted to Minister of State and is now effectively responsible for all food and farming matter so I will be seeking regular updates from him.
I'm already back in the swing of things locally. I attended the civic service in Aldeburgh to welcome the new Mayor, Cllr Kiff. Congratulations to all our councillors, especially our new district Councillor Maureen Jones and welcome back to re-elected Councillor TJ Haworth-Culf. Whilst I was in Aldeburgh I took opportunity to visit the Martello Tower, open as part of the Landmark Trust celebrations. It also gave me a chance to get up close to the new statue atop the tower by Sir Anthony Gormley.
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 .
Springwatch is back on our screens. Last year I had the pleasure of a behind the scenes tour of the set and I know first-hand the passion the presenters and production team have for nature. It is great opportunity to once again show off the fruits of our coast and is good news for our tourism sector.
Finally, I'm delighted to have been asked to become the captain of the Parliamentary tug-of-war team when we take on a team from Macmillan Cancer Support in a tussle on Tuesday. Last year the event raised over £130,000 for Macmillan so it is well worth the mildly embarrassing but fun spectacle. I'm hoping for a better result than in previous years though!"
"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. Turnout increased in the constituency and there were reports of queues at polling stations. Congratulations also to the councillors elected to Suffolk Coastal District Council. I look forward to continuing our good working relationship.
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.
I am absolutely delighted to be have been asked by the Prime Minister to become Deputy Leader of the House of Commons – helping Leader of the House, Chris Grayling, implement the Government's manifesto by getting legislation through the House of Commons. Rest assured I will still be batting for Suffolk - lobbying other Ministers on behalf of constituents and on constituency issues.
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. The new Parliament will have a distinctive tartan touch to it as the new SNP MPs settle in. 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. I will continue to focus on getting a better deal for Suffolk residents on health and education funding, keep a laser like focus to make sure our ambulance service continues to improve and, of course, press the case for local residents in the next stage of the consultation for Sizewell C.
Whilst Parliament was dissolved so was my Coastal Scene column but I would particularly like to mention the very moving commemoration that I attended in April to mark the centenary of the death of Dick Doughty Wylie, 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 commemorated VE Day last 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."
"The Chancellor presented the final Coalition Budget last week. It was steady as she goes but thanks to careful stewardship ofthe economy of the last five years, there was plenty to encourage people who work, save and want to own their own homes. The big news was the rise in the personal allowance, cutting taxes for 27 million people, with the benefit also passed on to higher rate tax payers. It means the typical working taxpayer will be over £900 a year better off. Another important measure which stood out for me was the Help to Buy ISA for first time buyers where for every £200 you save, the Government will chip in £50 for your deposit. We have almost come to expect 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 you fill up are equally welcome. The budget is online at www.gov.uk/budget2015.
The good news from the Budget accompanied the news that unemployment in Suffolk Coastal fell again this month, as more people get into work. Unemployment in the constituency is down by 310 from last year and 733 since the election in 2010. The long term economic plan is working, getting more people into work with the security to support their families. We now have the highest employment rate in history.
Last week, I visited Leiston Primary School. It was a pleasure to be shown round by the young children, who had mentioned positive changes since becoming part of the Avocet academy group. I am visiting Alde Valley Academy this week which is now being run by Bright Tribe – a new academy sponsor. Headteacher Emma Laflin is still in charge and I look forward to catching up on progress for the students.
Last Friday I visited Rade Digital, a high-tech business based in Hinton. I spoke with Managing Director, Jake Barton and Finance Director Andrew Blois who are working hard to bring wi-fi 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. So far there are hustings in Aldeburgh on the 13th April at Saints Peter and Paul and in Woodbridge on 20th April at St John's. Don't forget we are also choosing our local councillors on May 7th. In the meantime, I am still taking casework and you can contact me in the usual way. Till next time!"
"I met the Managing Director of Nuclear New Build for EdF, Humphrey Cadoux-Hudson, to discuss Sizewell C focusing on infrastructure, accommodation, education and skills as well as the possible timeline for the project. Our consultation process will resume once the deal is finalised for Hinkley Point C in Somerset. While I hope this will be early summer, I understand why EDF is taking this approach. We discussed the nature of the site and potential accommodation site with the impact on nearby communities, as well as the challenges on local roads. We spent some time discussing more broadly the demand for education and skills to ensure that the school children of today have the chance to be the nuclear engineers of the future.
The first phase of the East Anglia One offshore wind farm has now been given the green light by the Government with the award of a contract to Scottish Power. This 100 turbine project will be the "best value" wind farm anywhere in the UK, if not the world. I was pleased to join a conference call last week to congratulate the firm and to discuss next steps. They will be joining the Suffolk Coast Energy Delivery Board, which I chair, to maximise the potential for community benefit. With Sizewell and successful offshore wind, Suffolk really is the green energy coast.
I organised the last meeting of this Parliament with the Chief Executive and Chairman of the East of England Ambulance Service on progress with the turnaround plan to improve rural response times. Steady progress continues but I am pushing hard on the local focus, not just the regional statistics. There is a shortage of paramedics applying from East Suffolk so please consider the student paramedic programme, which could lead to a very fulfilling career. 244 new ambulances have been delivered to replace old ones and by the end of this month there will be no ambulances older than 5 years on the frontline. There are reasons to be cheerful but the board has a clear message that we are impatient for all the changes to be delivered.
Congratulations to Rendlesham, as Suffolk's first ever Neighbourhood Plan was backed by an overwhelming majority of voters last week. The document will now form part of SCDC's planning policy and outlines how the local community want the shape and feel of Rendlesham to develop. The very presence of the Neighbourhood Plan, even before it was voted on, was one of the reasons Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, turned down the appeal to demolish the Sports Centre and Angel Theatre for housing. Instead the plan contains the ambition to bring both these buildings back into use. Neighbourhood Plans have real teeth, which is why I'm delighted the Government has announced a £22.5m fund to help local communities to put their plans together.
Finally, I attended the service to commemorate the centenary of the battle of Neuve Chapelle, when H Company of the Suffolk Regiment were in action. This was held at St Margaret's Church in Leiston, as H Company recruited from the town. As ever with these services, it was very poignant and respectful."
"I was delighted to welcome the Prime Minister to the constituency last week to launch the government's long term economicplan for the East of England. 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. The Prime Minister also announced the launch of the passenger train long-term franchise which should see a better service for passengers with brand new carriages. There was specific reference to ensuring 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.
Talking of jobs and investment - 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.
I have responded to the first stage consultation on the site allocations for the Suffolk Coastal District Council Local Plan – pressing the case to protect our green local gaps and for sensible sustainable development making sure local people are as close as possible to existing and proposed facilities and that our existing villages aren't dwarfed by overdevelopment. I had a meeting with planning officers last month to discuss this in detail. It is absolutely key to get this right as it will affect the way our area develops over the next decade or so. There will be a further consultation on development options in the summer.
Finally, the Parliamentary recess last week meant I had time for more meetings in the constituency. I did managed one day off which involved a trip to Aldeburgh 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."
"I backed plans to increase capacity on our rail service, speed up journey times and improve the quality of trains in my submission to the Anglia Route Study consultation last week. I do have significant concerns about the proposals to skip Ipswich station on some services to deliver this. Norwich in ninety has to be compatible with Suffolk in sixty. In order to aid this – we need to fully electrify the Felixstowe to Nuneaton line, to divert freight off the mainline and essential for the expansion of Felixstowe Port, which supports our local economy. I also pushed for an increase in the capacity of the East Suffolk branch line and Felixstowe passenger line –to enable half-hourly services. It was an opportunity to once again push for brand new carriages with air conditioning, automatic doors, Wi-fi and plug sockets – which I will also be fighting for in the new franchise consultation.
I met the Business Secretary, Vince Cable MP, this week to raise the issue of reduced Post Office operating hours in Yoxford. When the Yoxford Post Office closed recently, there was an opportunity for local Horners store to operate the Local Post Office model. Sadly, the Post Office decreed it could not happen as they were insisting that the post office services be open the entire time that the shop is open. This is an astonishing situation. The store owner was happy to provide many more hours of services but did not want to open the Post Office counter on a Sunday. Due to the dogged inflexibility of the Post Office Yoxford residents are now faced with a service for just two hours a week rather than sixty hours a week. It is disgraceful. I have given the Post Office several opportunities to reverse this decision which they have failed to do. The Government rightly provides a lot of public subsidy to support Post Offices and the Secretary of State has promised to raise this with the Chief Executive of the Post Office, Paula Vennells. It is essential that the Post Office changes its stance for the benefit of local residents and businesses. I will keep pressing the case.
The latest figures show that crime is continuing to fall in Suffolk, which is excellent news for residents and businesses. Thanks to the Government's tough plan and the hard work of Suffolk police officers the Independent Office for National Statistics has confirmed that recorded crime is down by 22% since 2010.
Another week, another chance to celebrate our 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."
"This week got off to a great start with the news that our part of Suffolk had received a £490,000 boost to improve the tourism sector along the Suffolk Coast, obtained through the Government's Coastal Communities Fund. The money which will help create 18 new jobs whilst sustaining many more through our successful tourism sector, extending the season. This funding will have a real and lasting positive impact on our local economy. We have now been successful with our bids from the Coastal Communities Fund three years in a row. Well done to Suffolk Coastal and Waveney councils on securing this funding. The money will help with improvements to a section of the Suffolk Coast Path Network between Southwold and Covehithe, installing a sculptural viewing platform at Snape Maltings, the development of food tourism and the creation of a film festival amongst others. The view from Snape Maltings is already delightful but I look forward to the new perspective on the new platform.
Recognising the success of registering pubs as assets of community value (600 locals across the UK so far), we plan 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 proposals 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.
I re-visited Coldfair Green, Rendlesham and Eyke Primary Schools last week and enjoyed meeting their new headteachers as well as the children. 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.
In my last column I promised to update readers on the worrying report about the downgrading of 999 calls by our ambulance service following the conference call that I arranged for East of England MPs to speak with the Chief Executive, Anthony Marsh. Of the 57 patients affected all were terminal ill and had do 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. Rest assured this all happened a year ago and was stopped last February. I continue to keep a watchful eye on our ambulance service to make sure the turnaround plan is seen through."
"As this is my first column of 2015 it is not too late to wish all Coastal Scene readers a Happy New Year. I hope 2015 brings you and your family peace and prosperity.
Just before Christmas we were handed an early present with a landmark deal reached with the four major mobile phone networks to improve mobile coverage across the UK. We are affected by these "partial not-spots" here in Suffolk which are bad for residents, businesses, health and care workers as well as tourists. I'm therefore delighted the Government has secured this binding agreement which will ensure EE, O2, Three and Vodafone tackle poor signal issues in these areas. Under the agreement the four 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'; call 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. We are taking the legislation to enable this through Parliament now. Surprisingly, Labour seems to be cutting up rough about it which is disappointing.
The New Year brought good news for fish lovers as fish discards were formally banned for pelagic species in European seas. It has been a long fight to reform the Common Fisheries Policy but this ban marks a significant milestone in our commitment to fish more sustainably by ending the shameful practice of discarding perfectly good fish. 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.
2015 also marks a new start for Alde Valley School as it converts to an academy under the Bright Tribe umbrella. Following the latest Ofsted inspection Alde Valley is on an improvement journey and I hope this will provide a step-change in this process, ensuring pupils have the learning experience they need and deserve. Having already visited every school in the constituency, I am returning to those schools where the headteacher has changed. Today, I am heading to Coldfair Green, Eyke and Rendlesham Primary schools.
Finally, there was a report published this 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. I will write more next time as there are a couple of questions still to be answered but rest assured this all happened a year ago and was stopped last February."
"Parliament has started its Christmas holidays so it is nice to be back in Suffolk for the next fortnight. Parliament kept me busy right till yesterday as I was debating the Infrastructure Bill in detail. I also made my debut at the despatch box answering a debate on rail. We also continued the debate this week on the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill which will strengthen our capabilities to prevent people travelling abroad to fight as well as enabling our law enforcement and intelligence agencies to counter those in the UK who pose a threat. The awful incidents in Australia and Pakistan this week are a reminder why we need to be vigilant at all times.
Secondly, the Government published proposals for English Votes for English Laws. Devolution to other parts of the United Kingdom has created the situation in which MPs representing constituencies outside England may vote on legislation which does not affect their constituents while English MPs are not able to influence these policies in other nations where they are devolved. Further powers devolved to Scotland as a result of the recent independence referendum campaign has added to this. The situation is fundamentally unfair and has got to change. For further information including a chance to have your say on the proposals please see the command paper published here - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/implications-of-devolution-for-england
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 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 visited Leiston sorting office to thank our posties for their hard work in bringing Christmas cheer to our doorsteps. The number of parcels seem to increase year on year and the cards continue to be all shapes and sizes. I would like to wish readers a very Merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year."
"The big Parliamentary event of the week was the Autumn Statement where the Chancellor set out Government plans to help taxpayers, back business and invest in both infrastructure and the NHS.
It was a statement for enterprise and aspiration which included a big reduction in stamp duty for 98% of buyers, an increase in the tax free allowance for everyone to £10,600, the abolition of employer National Insurance contributions for young apprentices, an increase in business rate relief for our high street, pubs and restaurants by up to £1500 and allowing inherited ISA savings to keep the tax-free allowance. The deficit inherited from the previous Government has now been cut in half and measures will be brought in to ensure banks can't avoid future tax by offsetting against historic losses. The Autumn Statement also included tax relief for businesses helping to pay for flood defences - a Suffolk initiative and which could be very helpful for us along the Suffolk coast. Those who help EACH and St. Elizabeth Hospice will welcome the VAT refund for hospices to bring them in line with NHS institutions. These changes are only possible due to the long term economic plan, that is delivering but still has some way to go before we can all reap the benefits.
The Autumn statement added to the earlier good news in the week for Suffolk with big announcements and investments in road and rail that will really help our county. This investment has been primarily in roads and junctions that are part of the highways network, which the A12 is only up from Essex to Ipswich and part of the final stretch from Lowestoft to Norfolk. The Great Eastern Mainline will also see big investment as the Government backed the key recommendations of the Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce report totalling almost £500m as part of the National Infrastructure Plan. This will mean a major upgrade to the track and new trains with the new franchise in 2016. The Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, thanked our campaign made up of MPs working hard with New Anglia LEP, our councils and local businesses for putting the proposal together. Investing in East Anglia will benefit residents locally and the economy nationally connecting our economic hubs. This plan will transform the rail service for the East of England – helping passengers, commuters and local businesses.
There was also a welcome £2bn extra funding for the NHS frontline and a specific £1bn to help GP practices. I have already written to the Chairman of NHS England to ask him 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. If you are looking to set up and new enterprise or 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/
And finally, I'm looking forward to Small Business Saturday tomorrow and will be in various places dropping into the Christmas Fayre at Leiston too. 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."
"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. When I was on the Culture and Media committee, we pressed the case for better mobile 4G broadband in rural areas and that will come but we also need better phone coverage. 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 new 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 encourage Coastal Scene readers to respond to the consultation which you can find at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/tackling-partial-not-spots-in-mobile-phone-coverage.
Regular readers will know that I have been working hard alongside my colleague Ben Gummer MP, to get to the bottom of how potential changes in GP contracts could impact on individual practices. I am pleased to confirm that Suffolk GPs holding PMS contracts will continue to receive payments for additional services they provide. It is so important for patients especially in rural and coastal communities to be able to access services like blood tests through their local GP rather than having to travel to the nearest hospital.
I was contacted by Aldeburgh local Councillor, Terry-Jill Haworth-Culf, about plans by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) to licence the 'trimming' of Aldeburgh beach. Under the proposals local fishermen and lifeboat crew would have had to notify the regulator every time they moved shingle to launch their boats, despite them doing it for many years. Following my intervention the MMO has backtracked. The more government agencies do things like this, the less seriously they may be taken on matters that can really help improve the marine environment that we all enjoy.
Sticking with the fishing theme, I pressed the case with the Fisheries Minister this week to see if we can get some quota for skate by swapping unused amounts elsewhere, as happened a few years ago. I have been told that with the recent clement weather skate stocks are increasing so I will see what I can do.
It is great news that unemployment has reached another record low here in Suffolk Coastal, now down by over 60% since the General Election in 2010. 446 people are currently claiming Job Seekers Allowance, down from 461 last month and 1,182 in May 2010. The figures show the Government's long term economic plan is working, getting more people into work with the security to support their families.
Finally, Parliament debated the European Arrest Warrant recently. The House 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. 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!"
"The whole country will come together this Sunday in remembrance for all those who have lost their lives in war. This Remembrance Sunday takes on special significance as we commemorate 100 years since the outbreak of The Great War. I have visited several WW1 commemoration exhibitions and events across the constituency including in Leiston, Melton and Orford. Theberton will unveil a special paving stone next year to commemorate Charles Doughty–Wylie who was awarded a Victoria Cross in the Gallipoli conflict. This part of Suffolk has really embraced the commemorations ensuring the stories, bravery and horrors of that war are passed on to the next generation, who will remember them.
The Great Eastern Main Line Taskforce presented their report to the Chancellor this week which outlines the business case for nearly £500m of investment into trains and track from East Anglia to London. I'm delighted to support this report put together by MPs, working hard with New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, our councils and local businesses. This is the next stage of a long-term campaign started back in 2011 to put our rail needs on the map. The business case is compelling. I will continue to press the case with my colleagues in Parliament for the people of Suffolk and East Anglia.
The planning appeal concerning the proposal to convert the former Angel theatre and sports centre in Rendlesham into housing got underway yesterday. Following my intervention the final decision will now be made by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, rather than the Planning Inspectorate. I have made a submission to the appeal. Importantly for Rendlesham they have led the way in developing their Neighbourhood Plan – and have clearly shown that these two buildings can have a viable future. The application goes completely against the spirit of the Neighbourhood Plan and I hope it will be turned down.
The Government announced this week that £23m of new funding has been set aside to provide community groups with grant funding and the expert advice needed to put their Neighbourhood Plans together. The plans enable communities to have a greater say over the future of their parish. And are used in determining planning applications. They can't block reasonable sustainable development but they do give real teeth on how you want the shape and feel of your community to look as we are seeing right now in Rendlesham.
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 strength of other countries' economies. 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.
Finally, I want to congratulate St Elizabeth Hospice which celebrated their 25th Anniversary this week. Since it opened in November 1989 the hospice has cared for 20,000 patients in our region. Congratulations to all the staff and those who work hard to raise funds for this worthwhile cause. The community thanks you. Here is to the next 25 years."
"I met representatives of EDF last week to discuss next steps on the consultation for Sizewell C and to reiterate my concerns onaccommodation and roads. EDF has added an extra consultation phase recognising the long gap since the last consultation. I made clear to them that there is still much to do on the mitigation needed regarding roads and accommodation and I hope positive progress will be made on this throughout the next phase. I also raised the point about local jobs and ensuring that we train the workforce now. I was pleased to hear that the Principal of West Suffolk College (the only nuclear-accredited college in our county), Nikos Savvas, will be spending some time in Hinkley talking with the heads of the Somerset colleges to ensure people in Suffolk get the opportunity to take advantage of the extra jobs created.
Sticking with the education theme, 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. We really do need a step change so that our youth can take full advantage of the skilled, well-paid work available in Suffolk. I am also keeping up the pressure on the County Council regarding Alde Valley School. The recent Ofsted visit was not encouraging and we have to do what we can to support the new acting Headteacher Emma Laflin to accelerate improvements for the children at that school.
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. I am conscious though of potential redundancies in Leiston and I am pleased that the DWP has mobilised a special response team to support people. Unemployment is falling 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 by the government 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, though. I hope that all the town and parish councils will follow suit in their budget planning for 2014-15. The increases in precepts in the last few years have been staggeringly high in certain parts of Suffolk.
Last 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 have a referendum. I hope the other parties will not block it this time and allow the British public to have their say.
Finally, I visited the Flagship Foyer and special bike project in Leiston recently which is helping former homeless people across Suffolk to get their lives back on track. The project, run by Flagship Young People's Services, offers the chance to learn how to renovate old and broken and it's hoped the project will lead to residents being able to complete accredited qualifications in bike repair. It's great to see young people being helped to move on in their lives and to have greater independence."
"This week I have been conducting my constituency tour, criss crossing the 302 square miles of Suffolk Coastal speaking to residents in village halls, shops, churches and pubs. This has become an annual event and is one of my favourite weeks of the year. Two issues clearly stand out - broadband/mobile phone coverage and infrastructure of Sizewell C. Suffolk is actually ahead of the game on broadband as over 50,000 premises are now able to upgrade. I'm delighted that another £20m will become available to increase access to superfast broadband to 95% of residents and businesses by 2018, up from the current 85% target. On Sizewell C, clearly there is still much to do on the mitigation needed regarding roads and accomodation but I welcome the announcement from the EU for Hinkley that gives us encouragement for Sizewell. A big thank you to everybody that has hosted our visits and for everyone that turned up. My team particularly enjoyed our very tasty lunch at The Bell in Middleton and
David James made us feel very welcome with tea and scones at the Thorpeness Village Stores.
I have long thought that while we have human rights, they come with responsibilities. Last week the Justice Secretary, 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. There has 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 overule our Parliament. British Rights and the Rule of Law are central to our country's history and we have exported these across the world. It is not case that we are planning to water down rights but to ensure against judicial activism.
The planning application to convert the Angel theatre and sports centre in Rendlesham into housing will now be decided by the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, rather than the Planning Inspectorate. Following a meeting with Cllr Kay Nash and the Parish Clerk, Heather Heelis I spoke to local Government Ministers about this and I'm delighted my request was agreed to. There will still be an inquiry next month and encourage residents to participate. I think the application goes completely against the spirit of the Neighbourhood Plan and I hope it will be turned down.
Finally, I was delighted to drop in on Bucklesham Plough Day which was brilliantly organised by the Adcock family which showed the Suffolk Punches at their best. Thanks to the Ramsays for hosting the event and the Suffolk Horse Society for their support. I also enjoyed the Woodbridge Shuck Festival that highlighted the growing shellfish industry on the river Deben. Thanks to the Simper family for re-introducing me to the joy of oysters."
"Parliament has been recalled today (Friday) to discuss the situation in the Middle East and the possibility of joining in airstrikes against Isis alongside Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the UAE, Qatar and the USA. The Prime Minister has been very clear that these jihadi terrorists are a threat to us on the streets of Britain and that he backs targeted strikes against them. This is a situation that is moving very fast and it is important we do what is necessary to defend Britain and British interests.
Talking of British interests, the result of the Scottish referendum was decisive as Scots voted to stay in the UK. The next steps are to get agreement on what will be devolved and the tax raising powers to be transferred. It should not stop at Scotland though as we should secure a stronger voice for England on its own legislation. 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.
At their conference this week, I was disappointed to see Labour confirm their prejudice against parental choice of schools. Saxmundham Free School pupils, their parents and their teachers will be concerned to learn that Labour never wanted their school to exist. They have made it clear that they would block the opening of any Free School in an area where there are excess places, preventing choice for parents and pupils. Saxmundham Free School has already demonstrated it is delivering a high standard of education having been rated Good with Outstanding features in a recent Ofsted inspection.
Regular readers will know that I have been working hard alongside my colleague Ben Gummer MP, to get to the bottom of how potential changes in GP funding could impact on individual practices. I had a constructive phone call with Andrew Reed, Regional Director of NHS England, last week and stressed the destabilising effect the speculation is having on individual practices.
I was delighted to attend the WW1 exhibition at Orford Museum recently which brought out the crowds and even more stories. Well done to curator Jennifer, chairman Mike and his team for putting on a fascinating exhibition.
Finally, thank you to all the volunteers along the coast, who helped clean up our precious beaches last Saturday as part of the Marine Conservation Society's Beachwatch campaign. I joined Port of Felixstowe volunteers to help clean up the beach at Landguard Point. The National Beachwatch Big Weekend has become an important annual event. It is essential we keep our shoreline looking good for us all to enjoy. Thanks too to Adnams for the free pint as a reward. Cheers!"
"Parliament returned last week and the principal political discussion has been on the Middle East and the Scotland referendum. Unusually, the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition cancelled their appearance at Prime Minister's Questions and headed north to campaign for the Union. I spent my holiday on the Scottish seaside last month which gave me the chance to go canvassing for the cause. On the doorstep about two-thirds of those that expressed a view were going to vote No. One person told me he had just four words to say to me, "God Save the Queen", he boomed. The Union has seen 300 years of success, has shared common values and has strong family ties. I urge the people of Scotland to stay as part of the UK.
I recently carried out a survey of all Leiston residents. Thank you to those who replied. This gave me a good indication of residents' opinions on key national and local matters. Two thirds of respondents want the construction of Sizewell C to go ahead with just under half citing more jobs and apprenticeships as the key legacy outcome. Traffic, jobs for Suffolk workers and the impact on the local environment/AONB mattered to people most. I continue to work with councillors and council officials in various forums on the planning application details and will keep readers updated on the next steps. EDF is adding an extra stage of consultation this autumn. 76% of residents wanted the Government to balance the books. I will be replying to residents in the next few weeks.
I have been working hard alongside my colleague Ben Gummer MP, to get to the bottom of how potential changes in GP funding could impact on individual practices. We were first alerted about the issue in June and have been on the case since then. Nationally, a review is being done by the NHS to reduce significant variances in funding per patient between GP practices. This is a rather complex situation with GP practices across Suffolk funded in one of two ways. I recognise the discussions on these changes has had a destabilising effect on some GP practices but I believe there is a good route forward. The meeting we had with the GP leading the Ipswich & Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group was very helpful and we have followed up with NHS England. I must stress that there is no risk of any surgeries closing. More widely, I have been pushing for a fairer funding formula for patients in Suffolk for some time now. The Clinical Commissioning Group has now received slightly more than inflation but nowhere near what they should. We will continue to press the case for Suffolk patients.
Finally, I headed to Victory Road last weekend to support Non-League Saturday and watch Leiston FC take on the Met Police. Fortunately we robbed them of victory by equalising with 15 minutes to go. It was good value at a tenner to watch rather good football in a friendly atmosphere."
"I thought it fitting to open my column this week by paying tribute to the British nurse, William Pooley, from Eyke, who contracted the Ebola virus. He has been credited with saving many lives by making sure a hospital at the centre of the outbreak remained open. I am sure we all pray for his safe recovery. He is now back in the UK in the hands of the NHS and I am confident that he and his family are getting appropriate support.
Hitting the headlines for the wrong reasons were Network Rail. Yet another over-run. While I was on holiday in Scotland, I was in touch with directors. I was on the phone for some time to the acting director who went through the issues in some detail. Despite having their best people on the job, there was a catastrophic failure on moving from the testing stage to the actual environment. No-one can say it will happen again which is clearly very frustrating for commuters but further reviews will be done in advance of future work.
Exam results were out in the last fortnight. Congratulations to all our young people who received the grades they wanted and if you didn't get quite what you hoped, 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. For more details, check out www.apprenticeships.org.uk or via www.thesource.me.uk . Results in some schools were disappointing and require decisive action. I met our new Regional Schools Commissioner to discuss the local picture on free schools and academies, including applications to become academies.
Great news as the Waldringfield flood defence scheme was awarded £633,000 from the Government's Coastal Communities Fund and gives the green light for completion by this winter. Last December's tidal surge hit part of the village badly, affecting residents and businesses. Well done to the Waldringfield action group with excellent support from the Environment Agency as well as Cllr Veronica Falconer. This project could be a pilot for other coastal and estuary locations. Someone else who would have rejoiced would be David Andren, who worked tirelessly on the issue of erosion; he will have been warmly remembered at his memorial service in Orford.
In Rendlesham, there is understandable frustration about the ongoing planning saga with the developer and landowner wanting to demolish the listed community assets of the old sports centre and theatre to build more housing. The local community are developing their neighbourhood plan for this growing village and rightly identified it needs more facilities at its heart than it has now to complement its active and community minded residents. I have written to the Planning Inspectorate with my concerns on the process so far. I will be meeting residents again shortly and then will be asking the Secretary of State to intervene.
I met Action Sax, Saxmundham's steering group, to discuss its priorities identified through its community questionnaire. We discussed infrastructure in relation to the new houses given planning permission and being built in the town, the proposed community hub at the police station and improving cycling facilities.
Where has summer gone as schools and the Commons are both back on Monday. This summer has flown by and, I admit, I am finally getting to grips with my garden boosted by various purchases at several fetes. The Aldeburgh Carnival seemed busier than ever and the Fantasia float caused much merriment. The Snape Proms were excellent and soon we will welcome our new director at Aldeburgh Music, Roger Wright. Despite the weather, you can never say there is a dull moment on our Suffolk coast."
It's been another great month in Suffolk Coastal as the unemployment level has fallen yet again, with another record-breaking month for youth unemployment. There are still 534 on job seekers allowance still trying to get work. I met some of them when I visited a job club in Felixstowe and I know such good work happens elsewhere in the area. Congratulations to all the employers taking on staff and those who are starting new jobs and long may these trends continue.
With Parliament in recess I've been attending a number of events across the constituency as have many tourists. Part of the reason for visiting are our cultural attractions, several of which have been funded by Arts Council England in the national portfolio scheme. I am pleased to say that our local organisations have retained their funding (at a frozen rate) for another three years – which includes the High Tide festival in Halesworth, the roaming Eastern Angles, Red Rose Chain and the musical jewel in the crown of Aldeburgh Music.
It's been good to see youngsters making the most of their summer holidays. I went to Shropshire at the weekend to visit the Suffolk Army Cadet Force, who were on their Summer Army camp. 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. They attend weekly sessions in various towns across Suffolk, including Woodbridge and Leiston. The adult volunteers deserve great credit for all their hard work in making the kids' summer so enjoyable. Then on Tuesday I met the young recruits of 'Operation Camouflage', who were enjoying three days of activities at Rock Army Barracks. This was a partnership event between the Ministry of Defence, the police and Suffolk Coastal Active Communities team. Some children come for the fun, some are from military bases in Suffolk and Essex, while some come from challenging environments. It was great to see girls and boys from a wide range of ages, areas and backgrounds working together and having a great time playing basketball, quad biking, and rock climbing.
I also popped in to Tesco to check out their 'Eat Happy' project, which gives kids the opportunity to learn about eating well and preparing food from scratch. Tesco is offering free Farm to Fork Cooking classes in 50 of its stores around the country, including Saxmundham, throughout August. With the help of NFU, I was able to visit some farms to catch up on some of the issues they are experiencing. Our farming landscape is rather diverse and will continue to be so. The new version of the Common Agricultural Policy is out and there are some issues for several of our local farmers. I hope we can get them sorted as food security is important for our nation.
The ongoing scenes in Iraq and Gaza are very distressing. I am pleased that the UK has led the way with humanitarian support as well as intelligence gathering and similar. I endorse the action that the US has taken so far. As with other troubled parts of the Middle East, the quest for peace may be difficult but we cannot give up on it.
Finally, I am pleased to report a new addition to the Coffey household: my Mum has adopted Merry, a 7 year old border collie. They are both enjoying their holiday in Suffolk, although with the General Election just over six months away it won't be long before Merry joins me on the campaign trail.
"Figures published last week now confirm that the UK economy has grown above its pre-recession peak as the long termeconomic plan continues to deliver growth. We are now the fasting growing economy of all major developed countries (the G7). This is not the time to be complacent, however, 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. This good news is backed up by the Seaside Towns report published recently which suggests that Suffolk has a resilient economy and a successful tourism sector providing jobs and leading economic growth. I think we should give credit to retailers and the town teams in Aldeburgh and Southwold who are trying to stretch their season. Despite this success we constantly need to improve skills and infrastructure locally so we can continue to compete and be prosperous.
Some further positive news was announced last week that schools in Suffolk will receive an extra £10.5 M in their funding formula in 2015/16 up from the £9.2m announced back in March; an extra £120 per child for school funding. The rurality element of school funding declined under the last Government with a clear bias towards city schools and I'm pleased that this Government is reversing that trend.
This week marks the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War and I was pleased to attended the centenary commemorations in Leiston recently Thank you to the Leiston branch of the Royal British Legion and the Leiston in the Great War Group who organised the event. It was great to see so many residents both young and older enjoying the special day and remembering all those who lost their lives in the service of mankind.
From 100 years ago to 75 years ago, as I visited the special garden party and re-enactment celebrating the 75th anniversary of the discovery at Sutton Hoo. The evening was put on by the Sutton Hoo National Trust and the Sutton Hoo Society showcasing the story of the hugely important excavation which gave us so much knowledge about the Anglo-Saxon period. It was a great privilege to hold one of the original rivets (encased of course) nearly 1400 years old.
Finally, I was delighted to drop in at the Celebrating Blythburgh party last Sunday. It was good to see such fun in the garden and happy people in the sun listening to music. Thebouncy castle was as popular as ever. Well done to the Blythburgh Latitude Trust and Blythburgh Parish Council who put on the event. As Parliament is now in the summer recess I look forward to attending many more events across the constituency."
"I am absolutely delighted to be have been asked by the Prime Minister to join the Government this week as he reshuffled his team. I have now become a whip - which principally means acting as a business manager for various pieces of government legislation. The big change for me is that I will no longer be speaking in debates or asking questions but nevertheless, I will still be lobbying other ministers on behalf of individual constituents and on constituency issues. It was rather nerve-wracking undertaking the long walk down Downing Street with the press on one side, not quite sure what the Prime Minister was going to say. I was very pleased. However, the day was tinged with sadness as I also got the call that my faithful hound, Rizzo, was on her last legs and sadly, she was put to sleep. Rizzo campaigned with me in the 2010 election and got far more coverage than I did! I will miss her deeply.
Last week I hosted a meeting with the Chief Executive and the new Interim Chairman of the East of England Ambulance Service, Anthony Marsh and Sarah Boulton so they could update MPs on the turnaround plan to improve rural response times and the resilience of the service. Dr Marsh has now recruited over 300 student paramedics and is aiming for more than 400 by September, 3 months ahead of schedule. I was particularly pleased to learn that more than half of those student paramedics who had previously been recruited but were left with incomplete training have now completed that training. 147 brand new ambulances have also been deployed on the region's streets with a 120 more to be delivered by the end of March. So more staff and more ambulances are now out on the front line which is great news for patients right across East Anglia. The full turnaround won't happen for another 18 months as more paramedics are recruited and deployed but I will continue to press the case for a better service.
I met representatives from the Planning Inspectorate this week to discuss in more detail the process relating to Sizewell C. EDF are carrying out an extra stage of consultation this autumn, with the final stage next year. I continue to work with Councillors and Council officials on the planning application details. It is essential to get the associated development right and potential legacy prizes right.
I was delighted to officially open the new gardens at Snape Primary School last week which were designed and created by the pupils. This formed part of the Touching the Tide project. The children gathered inspiration from walking around the marshland & woodland on our coast and it was lovely to see how they incorporated these themes into the design.
Finally, I had the joy of being crowned Beer Parliamentarian of the Year last week. This was in recognition of me visiting every single pub in the constituency – not all on the same night I hasten to add. I pay tribute to the landlords up and down the coast who do a tough job and do an extraordinary amount for our community. As a keen supporter of CAMRA and having campaigned for the scrapping the Beer Duty Escalator I was delighted to accept the award. I won a lovely pewter tankard which gives me an excuse to revisit the pubs. Cheers!"
"At the time of writing I am due to meet the Head of Branch Networks and the Regional Director for Eastern Branches for Barclays Bank to press the case to keep our branches open here in Suffolk Coastal. Thank you to those who have already signed my parliamentary petition which has attracted over 800 signatures so far. We have seen recently with the decision to close the Needham Market branch that it is important to show the local strength of feeling before any decision is made on branch closures. You can sign the petition via my website at - http://www.theresecoffeymp.com/petitions/. It will be presented before Parliament rises on 22nd July.
There was good news for consumers last week as the energy regulator Ofgem referred the market to a full competition investigation to determine whether competition is working effectively enough for customers. This review is particularly timely after recent polling indicated over a third of consumers in the East of England do not trust their electricity supplier. This is of concern, particularly when we know that energy companies are big investors and employers in Suffolk like EDF at Sizewell and SSE with its offshore wind farms. We need to ensure that the market works for consumers and I am pleased that energy companies, such as EDF, have also welcomed the inquiry.
Next week I am hosting a meeting in Parliament with the Chief Executive of the Ambulance Trust, Anthony Marsh and the new Interim Chairman, Sarah Boulton. This follows on from the meeting we had in February when Dr Marsh outlined his strategy for turning around the performance of the service, recruiting paramedics and accelerating the ambulance replacement programme. He has promised to give us an update how many paramedics and how many ambulances have been deployed in each county. I welcome the 2014/15 Quality Account report which the service have just published which focuses on 7 key areas to improve quality. I am particularly pleased to see that the time critical, stroke and heart attack care feature so highly as it is something I have been campaigning on. I will keep pressing the case for better response times for patients on the coast.
Last week 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. I am also visiting the Leiston Abbey digital dig, which launches next week. The project combines a community excavation of the site with digital technology enhancing the archaeological archive. I'm not sure I will be down in the trenches but I am looking forward to lending my support to such a worthwhile project which adds to our rich cultural heritage in Suffolk Coastal.
Finally, there have been some good movements on the education front locally. The county council has appointed an experienced headteacher and Ofsted inspector as Assistant Director for Schools. Plans are advancing for both Leiston Primary School and Alde Valley High School to become academies with the primary school entering a partnership with Wickham Market and Easton schools while Bright Tribe is likely to be the new sponsor for the high school. I met the founder of Bright Tribe in Parliament recently and was impressed by his candour and vision. I hope both schools make it to the next stage of the process. Meanwhile, congratulations to our newest school in the area as Saxmundham Free School received a good rating with outstanding features. Credit to the children, the teachers, the governing body, the foundation and indeed to the parents who placed their trust in this new school."
"June has brought further good news on the economy. Unemployment fell yet again in Suffolk Coastal and in particular youth unemployment, which is at its lowest since records were kept with 130 young people now seeking work in a total of 604 people unemployed, which is the lowest number since December 2007. Well done to all those employers for taking on new staff. I don't know if the employers' national insurance rebate of £2000 was the sole trigger but reducing the taxation on employing people encourages firms to take on more people and I hope unemployment will continue to fall. The news on inflation will also be a boost to all families, falling to 1.5% and a good drop in food and drink prices.
Talking about our local economy I was delighted that planning consent has now granted by the Department for Energy and Climate Change for the East Anglia One offshore windfarm. This is the largest renewable energy project ever to receive planning consent in England and Wales with permission secured for up to 240 wind turbines generating up to 1200MW, similar to Sizewell B. With Sizewell, Greater Gabbard, Galloper and now East Anglia ONE our part of Suffolk really is becoming the green coast. For the three years of construction and 20-plus years of operation the region's economy could be boosted by £500m and see nearly 1,800 jobs created.
Draft conservation area proposals have been published by Suffolk Coastal District Council for areas around Main Street and Station Road in Leiston and Snape Maltings. It is intended these will form part of the Local Plan designed to retain the special character of these areas. I recognise the distinctiveness of these areas but it is important that residents recognise the potential cost implications and the limitation on external changes that you can make to your property. More detail is available on the SCDC website at http://www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk/yourdistrict/planning/designandconservation/conservationareas/appraisals/. The consultation is open until the 12th September.
Earlier this year, the Chief Executive of Barclays Bank indicated they would be closing a quarter of their high street branches. Only this week we have seen that in Suffolk, the Needham Market branch is to close as is the Brightlingsea in Essex, while the branch in Martlesham Heath closed last year. At the Suffolk Show I launched a campaign to save the remaining branches in Suffolk Coastal including the ones here in Saxmundham, Leiston and Aldeburgh. There has not yet been any official announcement on which branches may close yet but having previously campaigned, unsuccessfully, for the HSBC branch in Aldeburgh to stay open, I know how important it is to make the local feeling clear before any decision is taken. I know we are digital age but I also know how much of a life-line local branches are for all sectors of the community, especially elderly residents and for local businesses. I would therefore urge you to download, sign and send back freepost the petition that I have posted on my website - http://www.theresecoffeymp.com/petitions/"
"The big Parliamentary event of the week was the State Opening, where the Queen read out the Government's broad legislative programme for the next year. Two Bills that stand out are the changes to our pensions system, which was announced in this year's budget, giving pensioners more discretion over their retirement funds. 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. It is your money and it should be your choice with what you do with it. We are also introducing a Modern Slavery Bill to help prevent slavery and human trafficking. This is a hidden issue and we need decisive action with new powers and penalties to tackle problem. Other measures are also being brought forward to help with the cost of childcare and to help small businesses.
Back on home turf, there was a great atmosphere at the Suffolk Show last week and it was particularly busy on the Thursday for the visit of HRH Prince Harry. It was a pleasure to welcome him to Suffolk Coastal. I am sure the decision to allow dogs back in to the Show will also have brought a few visitors back. The water bowl and plenteous supply of dog biscuits drew people to my stand were I distributed updates about what I have been getting up to as Member of Parliament as well as information about Parliament itself. It was also a good opportunity to get round and see some of our farmers who were displaying a wide variety of different livestock. Agriculture Minister Lord de Maulay visited my stand and I know he received many insights direct from our rural community. The President of the Show, Clare, Countess of Euston, also visited and 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 off gas grid areas. Re-elected MEP Vicky Ford also joined us with her children and two dogs. Congratulations to the two ladies who won the champagne prize draws.
One of the other privileges of being MP for Suffolk Coastal is being invited to special events in the constituency. 23 Engineers held their traditional Beating the Retreat at Rock Barracks. Lt Col Hones has done a great job transitioning the regiment into a fully responsive deployment force. I wish him well in his next role. I also had the pleasure of an in-depth, behind the scenes tour of Springwatch which is being filmed at RSPB's Minsmere. Booming bitterns and their chicks have grabbed the public's interest. The passion the presenters and all the production team have for nature was self-evident. The Springwatch presence has been another opportunity to show off what our county has to offer and is further good news for our tourism industry."
"Parliament prorogued (broke up) last week and will resume with the State Opening on June 4th which marks the final session of Parliament before the general election. It has been a challenging four years since 2010 with many difficult decisions having to be made as we make progress towards balancing the books and key changes for our economic recovery, including welfare reform. Figures released last week show unemployment in Suffolk Coastal is now at its lowest since June 2008, which is welcome news for those now getting the security of a pay packet and moving back into work. Before Parliament broke up, women MPs from all parties came together to support the Nigerian girls kidnapped. I can only empathise with them and their parents. I am encouraged that the UK has sent specialist teams to help the Nigerian government recover these girls before they come to further harm.
I continued to be in Parliament though to meet ministers on broadband and energy schemes as well as seeing the Chairman of NHS England, Professor Malcolm Grant, to press the case for fairer funding. I strongly believe Suffolk deserves a higher level of funding than it gets currently to recognise the increasingly demanding needs that patients have as they get older. Despite having a higher proportion of elderly people we receive over £500 per head less than areas like Liverpool. It was a useful meeting exploring the choices NHS England had made which did not help patients in Suffolk as much as they should have done. The formula is set for the next two years but I will keep at this so that in December 2015, when they next set the grant by area, we will get a better deal for patients across our county.
I am delighted that the Government have extended the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund. From June householders will be able to get up to £7,600 back through the new scheme by undertaking energy efficiency improvements to their homes. The scheme helps householders to install a range of energy efficiency measures such as solid wall insulation and new heating systems by providing you with money back on the contributions you make towards improvements. For more information go to -https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-green-deal-guide-to-the-green-deal-home-improvement-fund
I was pleased to officially open the new facilities at Orford Sailing Club last week, which were realised in part by a £50,000 grant from Sport England. Improvements have been made to the changing facilities as well as expanding the dinghy park. I know the club is keen to get even more local residents involved. Taster sessions are available and you will get a warm welcome.
Finally, the Suffolk show celebrates its centenary and the added presence of Prince Harry will certainly attract a younger crowd. I have the honour of being in the civic line-up but am also hosting a stand on 6th Avenue, off Grand Ring Avenue. If you are at the show, please come and say hello."
"Since Parliament returned from the recent recess, Sizewell C has dominated my agenda. I met the Chief Executive of theOffice of Nuclear Development (OND). I used the meeting to to highlight community concerns that EDF was not addressing their issues on various associated developments. Although not able to decide planning applications they do have the oversight of each project. The OND were also the driving force behind the creation of the new Suffolk Coast Energy Board designed to ensure that community benefit is at the heart of the new energy projects so it was useful to talk it through with them. The development of Sizewell C is a great opportunity for our area where we have to maximise the legacy. I will continue to press EDF outlining residents' concerns.
Sticking with Sizewell, residents will be pleased that the new Detailed Emergency Planning Zone has now been extended to cover all of Leiston and parts of Aldringham. The announcement means that Suffolk County Council can now get on and include it in their emergency plan. Sizewell B inherently carries a lesser risk than Sizewell A but the Emergency Zone will remain at the wider level and be extended in key areas. Extra protections have also already been brought in post Fukushima.
I am delighted that the BBC's Springwatch is going to be filmed at Minsmere starting later this month. This is a great coup for the Suffolk coast and will provide a further boost for the area. The region has already been leading the way back to growth and this is further good news for our tourism industry which employs so many people locally.
Talking of the economy the Government has this week announced a scheme to enhance growth in the science, technology and engineering sectors. The industry led-campaign backed by over 170 leading businesses and institutions including BT, are offering over 2,000 jobs and apprenticeships. As an MP with a chemistry doctorate I know the value of science to the UK economy and have been pressing the importance of our young people taking STEM subjects at school (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to take advantage of opportunities in our science sector. For more information go to www.yourlife.org.uk.
Finally, next week sees the start of Love your Local Market Fortnight. There are many vibrant markets in our part of Suffolk. I know that we should support local businesses as much as possible but I would encourage readers to make a concerted effort to support their local markets over the next fortnight."
Photo: Therese takes a liquid nitrogen shower at a Royal Society of Chemistry event in the Houses of Parliament recently to promote STEM subjects.
"The Easter recess has given me the opportunity to spend some valuable time in Suffolk before Parliament resumes again next week. Saxmundham is looking particularly splendid with St George flags, ready for the annual celebrations this weekend. The town always does our Patron Saint proud and I thank all involved in making it happen.
As we edge closer to summer I know many businesses will be gearing up for the tourist season. Following the recent good news on the economy I am delighted that unemployment in Suffolk Coastal is at its lowest since July 2008. I understand that it is still difficult for those still seeking work which is why it is important that we continue to focus on setting the right environment to enable businesses to thrive and create jobs. As well as the £2,000 employment allowance for every business, encouraging them to take on more staff the Government are also trimming £1,000 off of business rates for smaller retail businesses which will help many establishments in our high streets.
There was good news for Suffolk rail passengers last week as the Department of Transport have signed a contract extension with Greater Anglia which commits them to a £20m package of service improvements for East Anglia. The deal includes a commitment to improve train service performance and reliability, including rolling stock modifications and infrastructure projects along with a promise to continue to work with the Department for Transport to make journey times faster. A major refresh to the carriages on the Great Eastern Main Line will also take place with power points, new carpets, upgraded toilets and an interior and exterior re-paint. Good news for those who use the train from Ipswich to London.
A recent survey commissioned by the Royal Mail to mark the 40th anniversary of postcodes identified Aldeburgh (or more accurately, IP15) as having the highest average age (55) of any town in the country. This reinforces the case I made in Parliament recently that further changes to the NHS funding formula are needed. Currently Suffolk receives over £400 per head less than areas like Liverpool despite having a higher proportion of elderly people who are more likely to need the NHS. I continue to press the board of NHS England to make changes.
We all know that there are significant challenges in Suffolk education at the moment and the Raising the Bar initiative is helping. I am putting a lot of attention and focus on our schools liaising with the County and the DfE to seek improvements. I particularly want to congratulate Aldeburgh Primary School who have moved the school to Good in the recent Ofsted inspection. Well done to the headteacher, Debbie Gayler and her team. Parents should be proud. Sticking with the education theme I was delighted to attend the School Farm Fair at Trinity Park yesterday. Over 4,000 from across Suffolk attended to learn more about farming and food production.
Finally, congratulations to Fishers Home Hardware in Saxmundham for winning the overall prize at the Businesses of Saxmundham awards recently. Everyone who uses the shop in Saxmundham will know that the award is richly deserved."
"This week the biggest cuts to personal and business taxes for two decades came into effect. People can now 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.
It is the changes to business taxes that will help keep sustain recovery as without successful businesses, we won't create new jobs. Corporation tax is down to 21%, now one of the lowest rates in the world - 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.
Talking of successful business, this week is Export Week - especially important for our part of the country with the success of Felixstowe Port. Today I am addressing the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce breakfast designed to give businesses some top tips on the process. Government export support arm UK Trade and Investment will also be on hand to provide advice. Our nation has a long and proud record of exporting but for too long now, we have imported more than we export. I hope events like this as well as setting the right conditions to enable business to thrive will help to turn this around.
I recently attended the Sizewell C Community Forum and expressed strong concern that EDF was pressing ahead with Eastbridge campus and appeared not be listening to the concerns of local villagers. We know from Hinkley Point in Somerset that there is more than one campus; one nearby and one in the main town about 30 minutes drive away. EDF wants to build just one campus with thousands of bed spaces. I think that the local site should be capped at a certain number of bed spaces and an additional accommodation site should be considered elsewhere. I will continue to press EDF on this matter.
FinaIly, I was pleased to formally launch the new upgraded Saxmundham broadband exchange with Cllr Mark Bee, Cllr Michael Gower and Cllr Sir Peter Batho last week. This opens up a lot more premises in Saxmundham, Kelsale, Stratford St Andrew, Snape and Knodishall. Remember you have to alert your provider or find a new provider to upgrade."
Last week the Chancellor delivered a Budget which will help continue the economic recovery; helping savers, cutting taxes, reforming pensions and supporting business. A rise in the personal allowance to £10,500 means basic rate tax payers will have had a tax cut of £800, in all will give 24.5 million people a tax cut, taking 3 million out of tax altogether. A new tax free childcare scheme was also unveiled which will benefit parents by up to £2,000 per child each year. ISAs will become simpler and the annual limit will increase to £15,000 a year. 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. For 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 will fall from 20% to 10%, exceeding the Boost Bingo call for a 5% reduction, which I backed with my Parliamentary petition. Importantly an additional £140m for flood defence schemes and an extra £200m for pothole repairs were also announced. For more information on how it may affect you, go online to your2014budget.com.
This week in Parliament I led a debate on NHS funding for an ageing population. Elderly patients are not currently 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.
Finally, I was pleased to see that the current controller of BBC Radio 3 and director of the Proms, Roger Wright, has been appointed as the new Chief Executive of Aldeburgh Music starting in September. It is testimony to the success of Aldeburgh Music that we can attract a talent like this and I am sure Roger will use his experience to ensure the organisation continues to provide top quality music, nurturing young talent through the Britten legacy.
"How people pay for care in later life has been an ongoing issue for years. Till now, elderly people were forced to sell their lifelong homes, often in a rush and so not getting the full value, to pay for their care. The Care Bill has been approved by Parliament this week and is a landmark change in that people will have certainty on care costs, as they will be capped at £72,000 in today's prices. Those who have worked hard all their lives no longer need to fear that they will lose everything just because they are unlucky enough to have care needs beyond any reasonable budget.
The Government have recently announced proposed changes to the energy efficiency programme, ECO which could mean more households in Suffolk Coastal would be eligible for funding for insulation and boiler replacement. These changes would mean reduced heating bills for more rural families. As co-chairman of the all-party group on off-gas grid, I have been advising the Government that far too few rural homes are eligible for efficiency upgrades and I am glad they are extending this. I will continue pressing the Government to increase eligibility yet further. We also need to make sure the energy companies do deliver the installations they are obliged to and that they face stern penalties if they fail.
I was pleased to chair the inaugural meeting of the Suffolk Coast Energy Board earlier this month. The board includes business, council, education and Government representatives to ensure we have a joined up approach to the investment in energy in the county. It is essential that Suffolk takes advantage of the community benefit from these schemes, whether it be from Sizewell C or the off-shore wind industry, to make sure a long lasting legacy is secured.
I am visiting West Suffolk College this week to see how they are preparing young people to be equipped with the relevant skills so they can take advantage of opportunities locally like Sizewell. West Suffolk has really prepared itself well as it is an accredited nuclear training college and is also expanding its construction offer.
It was National Apprenticeship last week and I took the chance to highlight some of the opportunities in Suffolk during Prime Minister's Questions. I was delighted the Prime Minister recognised the efforts of companies like EDF at Sizewell and BT who are creating apprenticeships in Suffolk, building the skills to improve our economy. The challenge now is to encourage our small and medium sized businesses to take on apprentices too, which is what the themed week is all about. I visited a small firm in Felixstowe who have found that taking on apprentices is hugely beneficial to their business through the earn while you learn scheme. Their two apprentices have been part funded through the Government's Coastal Communities Fund. For more information on apprenticeships in Suffolk go to www.apprenticeships.org.uk or www.thesource.me.uk/jobsandcareers.
Finally, I was delighted to attend the Celebration of Schools' Music in Snape Maltings last weekend; a collaboration between Aldeburgh Music and Suffolk County Council which showcased the extraordinary creative talent of our young people. This weekend I will attend a farewell event for Jonathan Reekie who is stepping down as Director of Aldeburgh Music. He has been instrumental in its success and the fabulous Benjamin Britten Centenary Celebrations that we enjoyed last year. I wish him every success for the future."
"The half-term recess provided me with a great opportunity to get out and about in Suffolk last week. Following the flooding before Christmas, I attended the drop-in session put on by the Environment Agency in Snape Village Hall. The details of the schemes to help prevent further breaches are still being finalised but it was an important opportunity for local residents to ask questions. Whilst at the water abstractor group meeting in the newly reopened Crown I was able 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 and I will be pressing the Prime Minister for the support we need here in Suffolk. It is also essential for parishes to ensure their emergency response plans are up to date and I have asked the District Council to assist with this. The Government have also unveiled a £10 million pound support scheme for farmers whose businesses have been directly affected by flooding which can be accessed from today. The scheme enables farmers to receive up to £5,000 ensuring they can continue growing crops and grazing livestock.
The Government announced the second tranche of Marine Conservation Zones this week, which did not include the Alde and Ore. This proposal was the second biggest issue on which constituents have contacted me with individual responses, all but one opposing the designation. Far from being a snub or a disaster, it showed that the Government has listened to local representations and looked into more detail at the evidence. There are already considerably high levels of protection and it is important that local residents and businesses are not faced with uncertainty on future marine activities. Here in Suffolk marine activities happily coexist with our already high quality environmental stewardship and will continue to do so without the need for this further designation.
Talking of our already significant protections for nature I was delighted to speak at the launch of the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) strategic management plan in Thorpeness last Friday. It is important that the local Council continues to give due regard to this outstanding area of beauty when making planning decisions including on renewable energy proposals such as solar farms. It is vital to keep the balance right to ensure we live up to the name of the green coast with renewable energy and Sizewell C whilst focusing on keeping our AONB special. I am pleased the new aspect of health both physical and mental is also included.
Lastly, I was delighted to welcome Vicky Ford MEP to Sizewell and thank her for pressing the case with the EU Competition Commissioner on State Aid for the necessary investment we need. This is the next step in unlocking the jobs and investment for the local community that Sizewell C will bring."
"Flooding has been the big issue in Westminster this week. Thankfully our part of Suffolk has escaped the floods of biblical proportions with the South West being hit particularly hard. This is now the top priority for the Prime Minister. It has opened up a 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. 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. Once the immediate problem is over I will be following up with Government and the Environment Agency to ask them for a fresh look on what we can and cannot do to help with erosion.
Sticking with the issue of flooding, I really welcome the changes the Government has made to the Bellwin Scheme, which reimburses local authorities for dealing with emergencies. The changes will extend the eligibility criteria so that local council's can claim up to 100% of the cost instead of the previous 85% which will help Suffolk people, families and businesses especially in Snape and Waldringfield who were hit badly before Christmas.
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, so much so I got pulled up by the speaker last week for my reaction when accusations of complacency were made by the Shadow Health Secretary.
For too long the Ambulance Service has been chasing national targets at the expense of rural areas, too often sending a response car which stops the clock but then the patient having to wait an unacceptable amount of time for an ambulance to transport them to hospital. The inevitable consequence is having too many cars and not enough double staffed ambulances. This coupled with a lack of paramedics have caused real issues in the Service.
I am impressed by the strong leadership Dr Marsh is already showing and he has made significant changes to the action plan. He clearly stated that with so many priorities being pursued under the old plan that there was a lack of clarity on achieving the better service we all want. We heard that he will focus on a few key actions; the recruitment of 400 new paramedics, accelerating the ambulance replacement programme, reducing the amount of response cars, maximising clinical staff on the frontline and reducing overheads to invest in more paramedics. The outcome will be that instead of focusing all resources on a few areas in an attempt to hit national targets, patients will not be left waiting so long for ambulances as they have been. Dr Marsh has committed to giving MPs quarterly updates on how many paramedics he has recruited and how many ambulances he has deployed in each County. The performance of the Service has not gone out of the spotlight of the Department of Health or NHS England and we will continue to keep up the pressure."
"Great news that the economy grew by 0.7% in the final quarter of last year - the fastest rate of growth since 2007 - and by 1.9 % for the year. Coupled with record numbers of people are now in work, I think it shows the Government's long term plan is working. This business-led recovery still needs to be nurtured and there is no room for complacency. Earlier this week I attended the Federation of Small Business Conference in London. 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. The Government now offers start-up loans of up to £10,000 at a rate of 6% and has boosted the funding for lending scheme for banks while also widening the mentoring and growth accelerator schemes. The growth vouchers initiative has also launched this week, enabling businesses to take advantage of expert advice in a variety of areas.
Earlier this week I met Charles Beardall, Area Manager for the Environment agency to discuss the response to the flooding that took place along the coast and particularly inland at Snape. The first priority of the Agency is to protect people and property and he updated me on the action the Environment Agency took to pump away the water and fix the wall at Snape. I am aware that there have been breaches in other areas and there is discussion underway to decide what to do. The Environment Agency are holding a series of community drop-ins to answer questions and concerns from residents. There are events planned for Snape, Orford, Hollesley, Waldringfield and Woodbridge throughout February. Details are available on my website.
The new Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service, Dr Anthony Marsh, will have an early opportunity to brief East of England MPs when he visits Parliament next month. He will have then been in place for 6 weeks so is an ideal time for him to give us a candid view on the challenges still facing the service. Regular readers will know that I have been working for a long time to ensure the service improves its response times, especially for rural areas. I have spoken to Dr Marsh on several occasions since his appointment and I look forward to hearing from him in more detail about how we can turnaround performance times and recruit more paramedics.
Finally, this week is Big Energy Saving Week. The Energy Saving Advice Line (0300 123 1234) is an excellent way to find out more on how you can save money on your fuel bill. The service which was set up by the Department for Energy and Climate Change will sign-post you to the latest schemes which could make your property more energy efficient."
"After a recent visit to Snape, which was hit particularly hard by the recent flooding along with flooding in Aldeburgh and Iken, I raised the issue of internal drainage boards with the Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson MP, in Parliament. Drainage boards have powers to secure water level management in specific locations up and down the country. The Secretary of State gave me assurances that their role will continued to be enhanced to ensure waterways are freed up and don't become blocked. By continuing to allow drainage boards to make local decisions work will continue apace. In previous years a scarcity of water not an excess has been an issue which has led to the water abstraction consultation as part of the Water Bill. Our local farmers are regular abstractors and it is important that we don't allow water to become an expensive tradable quota by over regulation. I asked the Minister, Dan Rogerson MP, to assure me that there will be consultation events in areas like Suffolk Coastal where there is water stress. He offered to meet with me about this so I hope we can get something organised locally.
Our economy continues to improve and this week saw the welcome news that inflation was down to just 2%, the first time since 2009 that the Bank of England has hit its target. I was in Norfolk last Friday morning for the banking summit and was pleased to see some local businesses there. The good news is that progress seems to have been made on lending as confidence increases. There is a specific issue on derivatives which is taking too long to resolve but at least compensation payments are on their way.
The funding figures for our local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) were revealed recently. I have been campaigning for a better funding formula so was pleased that the Ipswich and East Suffolk CCG has been given an increase above the national average. There is still more to do for a fairer long term funding formula but this is a good start. Sticking with the NHS, I have written to Dr Marsh to congratulate him on his appointment as new Chief Executive of the Ambulance Service. I also took the opportunity to invite him to Parliament to brief regional MPs on actions he is taking to improve response times to rural areas. I am determined to keep pressing the case on this issue.
The House of Lords have started considering the EU Referendum Bill that was passed in the House of Commons before Christmas. Despite some opposition Peers speaking against a say for the British people it cleared the first hurdle. It still has some way to go but I hope it won't be long before we can say that we will be letting Britain decide.
Finally, our cultural excellence locally has been acknowledged once again as Pro Corda at Leiston Abbey is a finalist in the Classic FM Awards for its music education. Can I encourage you to vote for them online at - http://www.classicfm.com/concerts-events/vote-best-classical-music-education-initiative/ Voting closes on 17th January."
"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 December's tidal surge was higher than in 1953. Fortunately, though not everywhere, defences largely held but power took too long to reconnect. Raising the Bar gave momentum to school improvement, which we desperately need to have a prosperous future for our local young people.
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. Faster broadband will be more widely available for Coastal Scene readers. The economy will continue to improve. We must have a laser-like focus on skills training for Sizewell C opportunities. I hope our county 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 will celebrate taking Rizzo back to the Suffolk Show. Certainly, 2014 promises to be as busy as 2013. I hope Coastal Scene readers enjoy a prosperous and peaceful New Year."
"The tidal surge hit with a vengeance earlier this month with many places experiencing higher tides than in 1953. Thankfully the community was well warned and largely, the sea defences held firm. There was some flooding in Aldeburgh with greater issues inland – particularly in Snape. I spoke in an adjournment debate in Parliament on Wednesday that my Suffolk colleague, Peter Aldous secured. It was a timely opportunity to press the Minister for full funding of any urgent works that now need to be carried out to repair the damage. The Minister said that the Bellwin Scheme which enables Government to reimburse councils for costs incurred would be looked at by the Department for Communities and Local Government and it will be discussing with councils what is necessary in this instance. I also pressed the Minister on relaxing the criteria on the Coastal Communities Fund to enable it to be used for sea defences.
I was pleased to attend the opening of the new Emergency Resource Centre for Sizewell B last week. This was constructed in response to the Weightman Report. The Minister, Baroness Verma did the honours and I look forward to welcoming her to Sizewell again in 2014.
Regular readers will know about my ongoing campaign to improve response times in our Ambulance Service. I am therefore delighted that Dr Anthony Marsh has been appointed as the new temporary Chief Executive, starting in January. Dr Marsh will be here 4 days a week as he continues to lead the very successful West Midlands Ambulance Service. It was Dr Marsh that conducted the report into the failings of the East of England Ambulance Trust and made recommendations for changes. He has a proven track record of strong leadership and I am pleased he has an opportunity to implement those recommendations. I am sure his appointment will be a key catalyst in turning around performance.
Some further good news was announced by the Government recently to invest an extra £640 million in the Post Office Modernisation programme in the 3 years up to 2018. This follows the £1.34 billion that has already been committed in this Parliament ensuring that the current size and coverage of the Post Office is maintained while improving services for customers. Importantly for the first time ever, the Government will invest in upgrading community post offices vital for rural areas.
I visited Saxmundham Delivery Office last week to say thank you to our local posties for all their hard work at this time of year. I was shown round by the Manager, Rachel Coston. Royal Mail staff are really pulling out all the stops to ensure letters and parcels are delivered in time for the big day.
Small Business Saturday was a big success earlier this month and the Autumn Statement brought some more good news for high street businesses with the Chancellor announcing a £1,000 reduction in business rates for all shops, pubs & restaurants with a rateable value up to £50,000 a year. I hope you continue to support our local retailers in the run up to Christmas.
Finally, as this is my last column of the year may I wish all readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope you have a great time with family, friends and neighbours."
"Earlier this week the Government announced in a statement to Parliament that the tolling element of the A14 upgrade will now not go-ahead. The £1.5bn upgrade to the A14 is scheduled to get underway in 2016. This is momentous news for our part of the country and shows that the Government has listened carefully to our concerns.
I would like to thank all Coastal Scene readers that added their name to the petition signed by 2,292 people, that I presented to Parliament last month. This strength of feeling was key in showing Ministers that local people weren't prepared to accept the toll.
As we set out when we made the case to the Prime Minister and Chancellor, East Anglia is one of the leading growth areas in the UK. It was really important that businesses and the County Council were able to get across their views directly that the toll would have an economically detrimental effect on Suffolk which would be bad for jobs and investment.
The campaign demonstrated what we can achieve when we all work together and I am delighted that the Chamber of Commerce, businesses and our councils joined forces with Suffolk MPs to fight the proposals. It was really important that businesses and the County Council were able to get across their views directly and had the opportunity to do this when we met the Secretary of State for Transport last week. Thank you to John Dugmore from the Suffolk Chamber of Commerce, Paul Davey from the Port, Jonathan Burke from shipping line MSC, local haulier Charles Downie of Bacton Transport and County Councillor Graham Newman, Transport Portfolio Holder who all put over a strong case that a toll in Suffolk would have been bad news for jobs and investment.
I do not think tolling would have ever been considered if our nation's finances were not left in such a poor shape by the last Labour government. Nevertheless, it was crucial to stand up to the Government and fight for Suffolk.
At the time of writing, communities along the East Coast are bracing themselves as severe flood warnings have been issued. Yesterday in Parliament I received assurances from the Leader of the House that every measure was being put in place to help those that could be affected. The Prime Minister has asked the Secretary of State for the Environment to chair a meeting of COBRA in order for a fast response to be deployed if needed. Thanks to the Environment Agency which has done a great job in issuing such warnings. Events like this stress the need to ensure flood defences are maintained and improved. On that note the National Infrastructure Plan presented to Parliament this week makes a commitment to invest a further £2.3bn in flood defences by developing a new long-term plan. I will press the case for Suffolk to receive its fair share of this money. SCDC is currently consulting on the new Shoreline Management Plan at Thorpeness. I encourage readers to have their say. For more information logon to - http://www.suffolkcoastal.gov.uk/yourdistrict/planning/coastal-management/engaging-and-enabling/thorpeness/. The closing date is next Friday 13th.
Finally, it is excellent news that the EU Referendum Bill cleared the Commons last Friday. I am very proud to play my part in voting for an in/out referendum before 2017. The Bill is now halfway through the process and will go to the House of Lords to be debated. I hope they will pass it without delay so we can let Britain decide."
"I continue to press the case to try and cancel the proposed toll on the A14. Suffolk MPs met the Chancellor last week to put the economic case for removing the toll. East Anglia is one of the leading growth areas in the UK and we made it clear to the Chancellor that this should not be put at risk by burdening Suffolk residents and businesses with this extra tax. It was another useful meeting following our previous meeting with the PM. No promises were made but we would not expect that at this time. 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.
Talking of the Chancellor, I very much welcome the announcement he made on his recent visit to East Anglia to set up an expert group tasked with finding ways to speed up rail services to the East of England. This builds on the work already underway to increase capacity on the line. Investing in the East will benefit residents locally and the economy nationally connecting our economic hubs. The Transport Department has asked the current operator to develop plans to refurbish and modernise the current fleet, update interiors and provide improved facilities, such as power sockets so commuters and business travellers can work more easily as they travel by train. By working together with our local Councils and the Local Enterprise Partnerships this is the next step in improving the service for local residents.
There was important announcement from the Health Secretary this week which will bring much needed transparency to our NHS. Regular readers will know about my ongoing campaign for a better Ambulance Service and having previously intervened when poor standards of care were identified at the James Paget Hospital. The reforms, led by the Francis Report, will 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. These changes are designed to create a culture of openness within the NHS so people can feel confident to speak up when they think something is wrong and be sure that it will be properly investigated. One of the lessons I learnt from the changes at James Paget 2 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 have received assurances from the Secretary of State that these measures will also apply to the Ambulance Service. It is good news that failed directors will no longer be able to move from NHS job to NHS job. These checks on previous records is a good test for the CQC to apply when considering appointments of directors within the health service.
Finally, I welcome the news that the proposed Stour & Orwell site will not now be designated as a Marine Conservation Zone. 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 Coastal and pressed the case to the Minister in Parliament. The excellent work already undertaken to protect our local habitat, with several areas already designated as SSSIs and Special Areas of Conservation, has been recognised by the Government and I am glad the Minister has identified that marine activities already coexist happily with our high quality environmental stewardship without the need for this further designation."
"Many of you will have been affected by the severe storms that swept across Suffolk last week. The scale of the damage was particularly bad in our part of the world with hundreds of people without power. Earlier this week I met Matt Rudling, Customer Service Director of UK Power Networks, to discuss their response. Considering the amount of people affected by the outages I think they did a reasonable job, bringing in extra engineers to try and get residents re-connected quickly. Where I was disappointed was the overall lack of communication on affected areas on and what was being done to help vulnerable people. It was news to me that the company was offering portable gas heaters or alternative accommodation and from constituents' reactions, it was news to many of them too. I am pleased that UKPN is proactively contacting customers who are entitled to compensation and are doubling the statutory amount. I am also encouraging people that need extra care and support to sign up to the Priority Service Register – which will entitle them to extra help and visits from the Red Cross. You can find more information here http://www.ukpowernetworks.co.uk/internet/en/power-cuts/priority-services-during-a-power-cut/.
On the subject of bad weather I recently joined representatives from E-ON in Parliament to find out about the help and support available for Suffolk residents ahead of winter. Many people are worried about their energy bills this winter so it is vital that energy companies make people aware of the support they're entitled to. This ranges from the Warm Home Discount Scheme, Smart Metering and guidance on home improvements through the Energy Company Obligation. For those off the grid, the buy oil early campaign is giving advice on preparation for winter and buying groups. More information here - http://www.communitybuying.org.uk/ or call 01473 345400
Earlier this week I attended the formal opening of the Saxmundham Free School and had the honour of counting down the fireworks display. The school continues to go from strength to strength and what matters is that parents and children have a wider choice of what school they want to attend. I am also doing what I can to support Alde Valley School, which received an inadequate rating recently. Suffolk New College is now the identified sponsor for the School so it was very useful to spend some time with Principal Professor Dave Muller recently 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.
I was pleased to present to Parliament the Rural Fair Share petition on behalf of constituents. Currently the amount of money our local councils receive from the Government is skewed, I believe, against rural communities where urban areas receive Government grants worth 50% more per head than those in the countryside. Delivering services in sparsely populated rural areas also tends to be more expensive, which can add to the burden. I hope the petition will give the Government the impetus to reduce this rural penalty.
Finally, today's the day I present to A14 petition to Parliament to try and get the tolling element removed. I met the Prime Minister recently alongside my Suffolk colleagues to put across the strong concerns of residents and businesses in Suffolk who feel that this is a tax on their success and could damage our economic growth. I hope we can get a change of mind."
"It was announced in Parliament this week that a deal has been struck between the Government and EDF over the strike price for Hinkley Point C. This is very welcome news and whilst this is not an announcement for Sizewell C this is an important indication that it will now go ahead. It has taken a long time to get to this stage but quite rightly the Government have been working hard to negotiate the best deal possible for bill payers and taxpayers. Some people are wary about the additional investment from China but the Chinese are big investors in Suffolk already whether it be the Port of Felixstowe, Huawei at Martlesham Heath or electricity transmission with UK Power Networks. Suffolk is a friend to China and there is nothing to fear from their investment. The development of new nuclear power stations is an important part of our green energy mix and the indication that Sizewell C will go ahead means that we can firmly call ourselves the Green Coast, whilst unlocking the thousands of jobs and economic prosperity that will come with it.
I am focusing on education still, meeting Ministers, officials, Ofsted and from the Department of Education recently to talk through the performance of some of our schools. It will have been a huge disappointment that Alde Valley School received an Inadequate rating. It is key for the Governing Body to make urgent improvements. I want the school to improve and will do what I can to help that.
I was very sorry that Rural Affairs Minister, Richard Benyon MP, has now returned to the backbenches following the recent re-shuffle. Richard was a good friend to Suffolk. He visited us on a few occasions, particularly concerning fisheries and coastal erosion. The work that he did on the EU fishing quotas was first class, fighting to get us more quota for our smallest and most sustainable under 10 metre boats. Of course under his stewardship of the fisheries brief discards were eliminated through the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. As importantly, if not more so, was his work on changing financing rules for addressing coastal erosion. That was very real in Thorpeness, which has suffered again from nature's harshness. I am pleased work is underway and credit to the council.
Finally, I intend to present the petition on the proposed A14 toll to Parliament on the 8th November. So if you haven't yet returned it you still have a chance to do so. I know the consultation has now closed but I hope with enough public support we can try to get the toll cancelled. You can download a copy of the petition at (http://www.theresecoffeymp.com/a14/) and send it back freepost."
"Parliament restarted after the Conference season and I have been continuing the campaign against the proposed A14 Toll. I am pleased to have secured a debate in Parliament this coming Wednesday when I will reiterate the reasons to the Minister why the A14 should not be singled out for a toll. There has been a good response to my petition that I will present to Parliament but if you haven't signed it, I would encourage you to download a copy from my website (http://www.theresecoffeymp.com/a14/) and send it back freepost. The actual consultation also closes on Sunday and I encourage you to log onto the Highways Agency website to have your say. I hope that with sufficient public support we can get the toll removed.
Energy prices dominated Prime Ministers Question's this week. I was disappointed to see that off gas grid residents appear to have been forgotten by Ed Miliband as their much trumpeted policy of energy price freezes, which has unravelled, ignores those who heat their homes with LPG or oil. I am pleased that we are already in the process of legislating to ensure all household bills are based on the lowest tariff appropriate to their needs, whilst a supposed price rise would put up the cost of energy just before the freeze. For the large number of people in Suffolk that rely on heating oil and LPG I want to re-iterate the buy oil early campaign that has been recently launched which encourages the use of buying groups. More information is available from Suffolk Acre or your CAB.
Several schools in our area have been inspected in the last month by Ofsted. I met the Regional Director this week and he intends for all the reports to be published by half-term. While the County Council has now formally backed the Raising the Bar report and its recommendations, I am sure that the input from Ofsted will require additional analysis and action. Improving education standards in Suffolk is a top priority and having visited every school in the constituency is something I have been focussing on. We need to do all we can locally to help our youngsters grab their economic opportunities.
Finally, I was delighted to welcome Aldeburgh Music and their guests to Downing Street this week celebrating the centenary year of Benjamin Britten and, in particular, Aldeburgh Music's special singing project for schools - Friday Afternoons. I attended the launch in Snape last year and the project has just grown and grown. It was a fantastic occasion as we listened to some fabulous music from the Britten repertoire. It was very kind of the Chancellor to allow us to use No 11 and the children sang beautifully. While I missed a not too important vote running back from Downing Street and stopping the traffic in Parliament Square, it was worth it to join in the celebrations."
"This week I am launching a Parliamentary petition calling on the Government to withdraw plans for a toll on the A14. Improvements are needed on the A14 and the £1.5bn upgrade is vital but it should not be singled out as the only road
improvement scheme to have a toll. The Government has listened to some of the representations that I and other colleagues have made as the proposed option now includes two HGV toll free alternatives, more alternatives for other vehicles and is not 24 hour. However the real concern still remains that the new road shouldn't be the only part of the country to face a new toll. This shouldn't be a tax on Suffolk's success nor for Suffolk businesses to pay to sort out commuter problems in Cambridge. I therefore urge people to sign the petition I have launched which you can download from my website and post back for
free – (http://www.theresecoffeymp.com/a14/) and to respond to the consultation at
I was pleased to speak at the addressed the Suffolk Coast Destination Management Organisation Conference on Tueday which has been set up to try to extend the tourist season in our part of the world. One in ten people have jobs in tourism along the Suffolk Coast as opposed to one in fourteen nationwide so we need to work hard to make sure our tourist economy continues to thrive. Tim Rowan–Robinson, the DMO Chairman, spoke powerfully about the need for businesses and destinations to come
together to help promote themselves and James Berresford, Chief Executive from Visit England talked about what support they can give. Well done to Tim and his team.
I recently joined representatives from the Alzheimer's Society in Parliament to make a handwritten pledge to join the fight against dementia. One in three people over 65 will develop dementia so it is a health issue that we need to focus on. I pledged to raise awareness of the condition and work for more EMI capable care homes in Suffolk Coastal. As part of the raising awareness aspect I want to draw your attention to the Dementia Friends initiative which aims to help people understand what it might be like to live with dementia and turn that understanding into action. If you are interested in becoming a Dementia
Friend or helping create more communities that are dementia friendly, go to dementiafriends.org.uk<http://dementiafriends.org.uk.
Finally, this past week I have been touring all the towns and villages across Suffolk Coastal talking with residents in community halls, pubs, shops, post offices and supermarkets as part of my constituency tour. Unsurprisingly local issues dominated the agenda and I will be liaising with local Councillors, housing associations and the Police to follow up on residents concerns. County Councillor Richard Smith joined me for part of the tour in his division and has already taken away key areas to
follow up relating to Sizewell and concerns relating to the B1122."
"Last week I met the Chairman & Chief Executive of the East of England Ambulance Service to get an update on their turnaround plan to improve emergency response times. For once I left the meeting more upbeat as their plan has now been signed off by the NHS Trust Development Authority, is action-orientated and has clear timelines. The plan recognises that the Trust needs to shift its focus onto frontline services to provide more paramedics and double staffed ambulances and the leadership is in a much better place than a few months ago. The key issues we discussed included recruitment and training of paramedics, the role of community first responders and the work being done with hospitals to reduce handover times. The next key learnings will come from the clinical capacity review being undertaken which will enable the Trust to plan better where ambulances and paramedics should be based so as to ensure good response times in our rural areas. Patients and constituents should be in no doubt that MPs will continue to monitor the situation especially assessing progress on response times at County and area level rather than regional figures. I will continue to have regular meetings with the Trust.
Since Parliament was recalled early from summer recess, the talk has been about Syria. Even after the vote the UK has a huge role to play. While this current crisis is about the use of chemical weapons on civilians and how the international community can prevent that, there is a massive humanitarian crisis that the UK is effective leading. It's our largest ever response with the UK Government committing over £400 million to help refugees. I and some other MPs recently met a leading charity to discuss international development and the very difficult situation in Syria. Whilst the concept of international aid in austere times at home is controversial I believe we can be rightly proud of our response. Whilst many have gone over the border there is difficulty about access to Syria itself for charities on the ground which is different to 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.
As co-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Off-Gas Grid I was delighted that The Buy Oil Early campaign was launched earlier this week with the Energy Minister's backing. There are many people in Suffolk who rely on heating oil to get through the winter and the message of this campaign is to stock up while it is cheaper and before it gets too cold. The campaign also recommends that consumers set up or join a buying group so they can purchase in bulk to take advantage of cheaper prices. Many villages have established buying groups but if you do not belong to one, contact Suffolk Acre online at http://www.communitybuying.org.uk/or call 01473 345400.
Finally, as Parliament goes into the conference recess I will once again be embarking on my constituency tour during the week commencing the 23rd September, stopping off in our towns and villages to talk with residents in community halls, pubs and shops. Details of where I will be each day are available on my website – www.theresecoffeymp.com."
"At time of writing, Parliament has been recalled to debate the situation in Syria, following the alleged use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Syrian government. The motion tabled condemns the use of chemical weapons and stresses the need for rapid analysis of the UN inspection findings. Importantly, if Britain is to be involved in military action, there will be another vote. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have both been clear that this is not about regime change, like in Iraq, but to respond to crimes against humanity. I am mindful of concerns after the "dodgy dossier" justifying war with Iraq ten years ago. I am also mindful of the horrific actions within Syria and the alleged use of chemical weapons - a crime against humanity.
If anyone wants to contact me with their opinions, please email, phone the office on 01394 610045 or write to me in Parliament.
During the last couple of weeks I have been able to take advantage of the Parliamentary recess to attend some first class events throughout the constituency including the famous Aldeburgh Carnival and Lantern Parade, followed by, for the first time for me, the Thorpeness Meare Regatta in its centenary year. It is events like these that really bring the community together and make Suffolk such a special place which helps our important tourist industry. Earlier this month Labour Shadow Minister, Sadiq Khan, called for the introduction of a levy on overnight accommodation, a so called 'holiday tax which could cost customers up to 10% extra per night if Labour win the next general election. This would force up the cost of living for hard-working people and could threaten jobs here in Suffolk Coastal. We should be encouraging people to enjoy our nation's unique heritage and history, but Labour's plans will make having a holiday here far more expensive, which will drive people elsewhere and damage our industry.
Last week saw the publication of the GCSE results, following the A level results the week before. Congratulations to those who got what they wanted. Many schools will be pleased with their achievements, with some gaining record results. Suffolk has been languishing near the bottom of the league table for GCSE attainment which triggered the Raising the Bar initiative by Suffolk County Council. Although on the face of it these are good results there will be no complacency and the County Council will need to see the national comparisons before they can make a significant judgement on progress. Raising the Bar has its next conference in a month's time and will be considering the County Council'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.
Finally, I wanted to add my congratulations to the East Suffolk Dementia Intensive Support Team, part of the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Trust who have been nominated as a finalist in the Health Enterprise East Innovation Competition 2013. The team aims to prevent admissions to hospitals and reduce the length of stay for older people with dementia - a direct response to the Government's dementia strategy."
"In my first ever speech in the House of Commons I said that Suffolk Coastal was ready to take the lead in the low-carbon economy and that I hoped that our coast will be able to take on the new alias of the "Green Coast". Last week was the next stage in realising that vision as I welcomed the Energy Minister to Suffolk. He was here to officially open the Greater Gabbard windfarm – which when it comes onstream in five years time will have a combined output to match that of Sizewell B. I was able to get a closer look of how the turbines work close-up from a helicopter which I thoroughly enjoyed – although it seemed to take longer to actually get the suit on then it took to fly the 12 miles out. This was followed by important discussions about the supply chain and the positive impact Greater Gabbard will have on our energy security and the local economy here in Suffolk. The Minister also took the opportunity to visit Sizewell, another important aspect of our Green Coast as he met a wide range of stakeholders, including residents, businesses and colleges, and had a very quick tour of the proposed C site.
In my previous column in the Coastal Scene I mentioned two important planning applications. Readers should know that I do not tell councillors how to vote but I do make representations, particularly on strategic issues. On both the applications that were due to be decided this week, in Rendlesham and Hinton, I did just that and attended the planning meeting, although both applications ended up being deferred. In Rendlesham the Parish Council wants to bring the former sports centre and theatre back into community use. The application for 49 homes which was recommended for refusal was unfortunately deferred by the developer. They are now looking at ways they can fulfil local demand for public amenity but I back the Parish Council's stance in protecting the current village centre. There was also a delay in the application for travellers pitch in Hinton that was recommend for approval as Councillors will now conduct a site visit before any decision is taken. The site is located within the Area of Oustanding Natural Beauty. If enforcement action had been followed through previously then it would be less likely that the application would have been presented.
Finally, as the House is still in recess I was able to pay a visit to the Smile Café, a pop-up organisation that runs out of the Fromus Centre in Saxmundham. It is run by local resident Don Tricker who leads the Pastel Community Interest Group. The Café does fantastic work in providing respite and refreshments to carers as well as adults with disabilities and it was great to meet some of the users as well as the team behind it."
"Parliament is now in summer recess which means more time in Suffolk to enjoy meetings that are otherwise crammed into a Friday, including further afield like near Cambridge for the Ambulance Annual Public Meeting. I was joined by two other MPs to hear and see more of what is happening. During question time, I picked up on issues relating to stroke response - getting to a specialist centre within 60 minutes. I am concerned that the regional target has been reduced to 56% from 62% - perhaps as the achievement last year was only 48%. With our ageing population, I am surprised at this change in direction. There was no more detail of the turnaround plan. 15% of ambulances are off the road at any one time due to mechanical repair needs. 18% of calls (approximately 160,000) are due to falls. It was encouraging to hear of some of the initiatives undertaken. We still need to see real progress on response times across the six counties.
It was revealed this week that Suffolk will soon benefit from an improvement in mobile phone coverage thanks to the Government's £150m upgrade. Great news for residents, tourists and local businesses. The improvements in Suffolk are set for phase two of the project due to take place by the middle of next year. Suffolk suffers from poor coverage in many areas and I am glad this will soon be solved in most places. The project is focused on improving 2G in the short term but will also help the future rollout of 4G in rural areas.
The Government recently announced its intention to provide community benefit money to local communities throughout the lifetime of a power station, relevant for Sizewell C. This is different from the previous one-off sum and will provide a significant amount of money over 40 years. A benefit to Sizewell and Leiston communities alongside the creation of hundreds of long-term jobs. This is a welcome change and I am sure that residents and projects will welcome this extra cash.
I am expecting the Offshore Wind Strategy to be published shortly, which should address the supply chain. 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, the chamber of commerce, energy businesses and the LEP to form the Suffolk Coast Energy Board. I am pleased to be asked to chair it.
Two key planning applications are being held at the moment. Readers may know that I rightly leave the deliberation of these to councillors. However, on strategic issues, I will follow up on concerns of residents. I did that in Adastral Park and I am doing it now in Rendlesham and Hinton. Rendlesham is a growing village, built around the legacy of the US airbase, and more growth is encouraged. However, developers want to demolish two buildings that were formerly used by the community before they were suddenly closed and have been left to their own repair, adding more housing in their place. Meanwhile the local community wants to take these buildings on and re-open them for community use. Successful areas need that shared space together to avoid becoming a dormitory village. I really hope the councillors listen to the local community, look back at previous commitments of a new vibrant village and also the developers' brochures that encouraged people to move to Rendlesham as they make their decision. Separately, now the Local Plan has been passed and in the spirit of the National Planning Policy Framework, retrospective planning applications should be discouraged including a site which seeks to establish a new traveller site near Hinton. The council will look at appropriate sites for travellers but that needs to be done in a planned way, not perchance or retrospectively as we do not want another Dale Farm on our hands.
Finally, the GDP figures released last week show that the economy grew by 0.6% in the last quarter with growth in all four sectors of the economy. This is very welcome news. Whilst there is no complacency it does show that our economy is starting to heal."
"The Keogh Report into poor care and high death rates in certain parts of our NHS was published this week. It makes sobering reading. This failure of governance requires urgent action and I am pleased the Secretary of State for Health has taken steps to turn around the failing Trusts. Colchester Hospital was one of the services investigated. It is deemed to be failing but was not put into special measures as there is confidence it is on track to improve. As a local MP I have pursued local health issues systematically – whether it be failings in care at the James Paget Hospital which have now been put right or more recently on the poor response times in our Ambulance Service. On Ambulances, MPs met the new Ambulance Trust Chairman, Dr Geoff Harris last Monday. 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.
There was great news for our local fishermen last week as the High Court ruled in favour of the Government reallocating fishing quota rights from big producers to our under-10m fleet. It was a triumph for our Fishing Minister, Richard Benyon, who has long been negotiating for a better deal for small scale fisherman who are the life-blood of our coastal communities. I know just how tough it for our fishermen who fish out of Aldeburgh, Orford & Dunwich to maintain a profitable business and this decision provides real hope to get a fairer deal and for the long term survival of the industry. Fishing is an inherent part of our culture in Suffolk and has long been an important for our sense of identity, which was reinforced recently by the production of Peter Grimes on the beach.
Talking of Benjamin Britten it was great to taste Adnams' new tipple 'Native Britten' brought out for the centenary celebrations, as I attended the All Party-Parliamentary Beer Group Awards last week. It was a great occasion as Fergus Fitzgerald the chief brewer at Adnams won the coveted 'Brewer of the Year' award. Congratulations to Fergus on a fantastic achievement. Adnams is a fine example of our successful businesses who make us all proud to live in Suffolk.
I was delighted that SSE and RWE the companies behind Greater Gabbard, are providing a £150,000 fund for community groups distributed through the Suffolk Foundation - great news for Leiston and Sizewell residents.
Finally – as Parliament heads into the summer recess I will once again be embarking on my constituency tour stopping off in our towns and villages to talk with residents in community halls, pubs and shops. Details will be published shortly."
"Today (Friday) MPs will be voting 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. Currently Labour and the Liberal Democrats have refused to give the people a say over Europe so while it is likely we will win today's vote, the Bill has many stages to go through and will probably be blocked later in the year by other parties. If that is the case, a referendum will be a key commitment in the Conservative manifesto in 2015. Why wait until 2017? I believe that we need to have a period of renegotiation and it should then be for the British people to decide whether we should accept those new terms or come out all together. If we had it now, it would be current status quo or withdrawal and I do not think that is the choice people want to make. I am playing my role in visiting MPs of other countries to put the case for this review of powers.
Last week in Parliament the Government set out its spending commitments. Key for Suffolk is the £1.5bn upgrade of the A14 which has been brought forward two years to 2016. I am still working on the issue of tolling. Important as well was the continued commitment to renewable energy and new nuclear construction, although the strike price for nuclear has yet to be agreed. What particularly stood out for me was the commitment to review the funding formula for schools which is something I have been lobbying on for a while. At the moment there is a bias towards urban schools, which is borne out of the conventional aspects of social deprivation and the indices. The fact that this is happening earlier than originally planned is great news for Suffolk schools and pupils.
The Government has also committed to spending £370m in 2015-16 on new flood defences, increasing that sum each year by inflation. This compliments the agreement reached with industry to cap flood insurance costs and give people an assurance that they will be able to insure their homes.
I continue to press for a better and more consistent Ambulance Service. The debate in Parliament last week underlined once again that East of England MP's had lost all confidence in the non-executive directors. I am pleased that they have now finally faced reality and moved on. It is their role to hold the leadership to account and to be the voice of the patient, while ensuring the service is managed efficiently. This hasn't been happening and they haven't been dealing with the poor rural response times and handover times to local hospitals. There is now a fresh opportunity to find some new directors which I hope will bring a fresh outlook and much needed challenge to the leadership and monitoring of the soon to be unveiled action plan. Advertisements for replacements are already underway. I will keep working on this issue until we all get the Ambulance service we deserve.
Finally, UK Power Networks published its business plan this week. In the period 2015 – 23 they have committed to undergrounding another 96km of cables in the East. There is an opportunity for us to submit areas in the AONB where we would like to see cables undergrounded. You can do so at - www.suffolkcoastandheaths.org/about-us/contact-us"
"This week the Fisheries Minister announced the details of the long awaited reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Thanks to the hard work of grass roots campaigns and the tireless negotiation from the British Government the reforms agreed will include a ban on discards. The legally binding agreement will also boost fishing yields in the long run – important for our local fishermen. This follows the successful negotiation to increase the quota for some of our fish stocks earlier this year.
Talking of the Aldeburgh coast - I attended the dress rehearsal of "Peter Grimes on the Beach" at the weekend, which was remarkable. The Secretary of State for Culture, Maria Miller MP, also attended the Aldeburgh Festival and joined in the Britten Centenary celebrations by congratulating those involved when I asked her a question in Parliament yesterday. Congratulations to the CEO of Aldeburgh Music, Jonathan Reekie who was awarded a well deserved CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.
I am delighted that the Touching the Tide project has recently been awarded £900,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Our coast has a special history and this project will involve many communities in our coastline all the way from Felixstowe to Southwold. The project includes provision to protect the important shingle at Shingle Street.
Back in Parliament, last week saw the publication of the Marsh Report into the failures of the East of England Ambulance Trust. It exposed starkly the deterioration of the Trust's performance in serving the people of Suffolk and was a damning indictment of the poor level of governance that has been going on for some time. 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 is disappointing that the current non-executive directors of the Trust have not yet resigned. I want to see fresh eyes alongside the new interim Chairman, taking the Ambulance Service forward. I will continue to press for a better service and am hoping for an even greater pace of change so that the service becomes what residents of Suffolk and all in the East of England rightly deserve.
The Countryside Alliance have launched a campaign to improve mobile phone reception in rural areas. I hope you can join in to help gather information. Just download the free RootMetrics app - rootmetrics.com/uk - and test the strength of your signal. The information will be used to make the case to phone companies and the Government to improve mobile reception, especially in isolated rural areas.
Finally, Ofcom is extending protection criteria for rural post boxes bring it in line with the rest of the Country. Despite the increase in electronic communication the Royal Mail is still an essential service for all of us and I am glad that people in rural areas will now be afforded greater protection against the removal of post boxes."
"The details of when broadband will be implemented in each part of Suffolk were unveiled at the County show last week. As soon as I was selected to become your Parliamentary candidate in 2010 I have campaigned for the delivery of broadband across Suffolk and I am delighted that before 2015 - 85% of areas will get a superfast connection with all areas getting at least 2mbps. The Government allocated us a grant of £11.68m to deliver this project in partnership with the County Council and it is now coming to fruition – essential for businesses and residents. The exact timescale varies across different parishes with work commencing in Saxmundham, Leiston and Aldeburgh in late 2013/early 2014. For details of when work will start in your area please see http://www.betterbroadbandsuffolk.com/LineCheck.aspx.
Back in London, Parliament returned from recess this week and the Energy Bill went through its third reading and report stage. The Bill gives investors certainty on the big projects for renewable and low-carbon energy introducing long-term contracts that pay a steady rate of return. 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 along our green coast. One key element is the 'strike price' which will be negotiated separately for each power station or project.
Sticking with the energy theme I welcome the Government's announcement on new planning guidance to ensure that decisions on on-shore wind turbines are more locally led. The guidance won't mean that communities can block every turbine but it will stop planning inspectors overriding local council's decisions on the grounds of national energy targets. I have previously urged our local council's to include guidelines about renewable energy in their local plans and I am pleased they will now be able to determine these applications without the fear of them being overturned by the inspector.
Next week East of England MP's will be meeting the Minister, Earl Howe and the Trust Development Agency to discuss Anthony Marsh's review of the East of England Ambulance Service. Mr Marsh was brought in by the Government from West Midlands Ambulance Service to help improve response times. We were due to meet the Care Quality Commission this week to informally hear their assessment of the action plan but they withdrew from the meeting. This was very disappointing as hearing from the regulator would have been very useful. At this challenging time, it is more important than ever that candid conversations and observations can be shared and I have taken this up with Ministers. Greater transparency is very important in building trust that standards are improving and I am looking forward to the meeting.
Finally, I want to add my thanks to Aldeburgh Coastguard that went to help the rescue at the Southwold Pub to Pier Community Swim. I thanked our brave volunteers and the RNLI in Parliament this week and the Prime Minister paid tribute to those that helped."
"The Department of Energy and Climate Change released figures last week indicating that 16% of Suffolk families were in fuel poverty in 2011. This was as high as 35% in some rural Suffolk Coastal wards. Locally as high as 22% in the area including Saxmundham, 27.3% for Leiston, 19.4% for Knodishall, 26.9% for Benhall and 28.8% for Aldeburgh. There are a number of reasons for this but fuel poverty levels tend to be high where a significant number of homes are off the gas grid. Since I was elected in 2010 – tackling fuel poverty especially in relation to the disparities between on and off-grid has been one of my top priorities.
As I have mentioned previously in this column the All Party Parliamentary Group on Off-Gas Grid, which I co-chair, recently published a report with a series of practical recommendations to Government. They included extending consumer protection to off-grid households, paying the winter fuel allowance earlier to allow pensioner to buy oil more cheaply as well encouraging Government to pay a higher rate for off-gas grid customers under the Warm Home Discount Scheme. The key now is to continue to press for it to be implemented and build on the recent roundtable meeting I held with Minister's, trade bodies and buying groups.
Back in Suffolk it was a busy weekend – starting off at Landguard for the launch of the Discover Suffolk Challenge Walk. Landgaurd to Lowestoft in 5 days – showcasing our historic coast. It forms part of the Suffolk Walking Festival now in its 6th year. There are lots of different walks across the whole of Suffolk including some locally. You can book your places here - http://suffolkwalkingfestival.wordpress.com/
It is that time of year where most Parish and Town Council's have their Annual Meetings. This means many new Chairman and new Mayor's and a whole host of ceremonies up and down the constituency. This weekend I was pleased to be at the Civic Service in Aldeburgh to celebrate the election of Cllr Sara Fox as first citizen of the town. There was a fantastic parade from Moot Hall to the Church and back again as we were led by Leiston Band. The weather was just perfect, sunny and no wind.
Talking of which I am looking forward to Aldeburgh Music Festival that kicks off in Snape next month. This year it has a special twist as we celebrate the centenary of Benjamin Britten, which will bring people from far and wide to our county. A boost for culture and tourism for our part of Suffolk.
Finally, there has been some changes at Endeavour House. I want to congratulate Cllr Richard Smith, for being asked to take on the Economic Development Portfolio. He will play a key role, as we focus on jobs, growth and prosperity across all levels of Government."
"Congratulations to those Councillors who were successful in the County Council elections last week. Thank you to thosethat stood and voted - participating in democracy is admirable. Naturally I am pleased that the Conservatives kept control in Suffolk and we can continue the momentum on economic development and education improvements whilst continuing to freeze the Council tax. 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 attended a ministerial roundtable meeting focusing on helping people who rely on oil and LPG to heat their homes. This arose from the work that I have been leading in Parliament to ensure residents who are off the gas grid enjoy the same consumer protections as those on the gas network. 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 firmly on the Whitehall agenda.
I enjoyed the RSPB concert at Snape Maltings. A light programme while having a good discussion on all matters of nature was a great way to round off the weekend.
I also enjoyed the visit to Snape School to celebrate their Heritage Weekend. The children gave singing and musical performances as well as presented various exhibits from their history. I look forward to welcoming children from Snape and Aldeburgh to Parliament next month.
I was back in Westminster this week as the Queen opened Parliament. Since the Civil War no Monarch has ever been allowed to set foot in the House of Commons – so we are all called to the House of Lords by the Queen's messenger, Black Rod, to hear the Government's legislative programme for this next Parliamentary year. Jobs and growth in our economy with ongoing reduction of the deficit to balance our books is still our top priority. National Insurance bills will be reduced next year by £2,000 for every business and charity. A welcome measure in Suffolk will be capping the costs of care for elderly and removing the need to sell your home in your lifetime to pay for that care."
Photo: Therese with Angela Skinner, Headteacher of Snape Primary School.
"This week saw the publication of the Ambulance Trust's action plan to turn around the performance of the service and improve response times. This is a positive step forward, particularly the recognition of past problems and the commitment to recruit more staff and deploy them in more double staffed ambulances. However while it is good to see this long list of potential improvements, there is little detail on how they will make it happen or when. For example at the moment under half of all stroke patients get to hospital within an hour. How does this long list of desired outcomes change that and when? I am pressing the Board to outline further detail that we can track to give Suffolk residents more confidence that improvements will be made and quickly.
Following the publication of our report into the Off-Gas Grid I was due to lead a debate on this matter 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 early so they can buy oil at a cheaper price and encourage more families to better their insulate their homes effectively.
Talking of Energy there has been speculation this week about the development of Sizewell C. Let me reassure readers that negotiations are continuing between the Government and EDF over the 'strike price' for Hinkley – which is vital for the go-ahead for Sizewell. I have spoken to the Prime Minister and Chancellor, who are both committed to a deal, but at a good price for bill payers and taxpayers. This is an important negotiation for both sides and as it is the first we shouldn't be surprised it is taking a long time. I am confident a deal will be done and we can unlock the jobs and investment for the local community that Sizewell will bring.
At the end of last year I pressed Greater Anglia to install ticket machines in Saxmundham and Woodbridge stations to make it easier to for passengers to purchase a tickets before using the service taking advantage of favourable advance purchase rate. I am delighted these have now been installed and people will be able to buy tickets very shortly.
Finally I was pleased to see Suffolk Coastal residents really celebrating our Patron Saint this week. St George's Day is perhaps not celebrated as much as it should be but Saxmundham looked amazing in a special weekend of celebrations. Well done to all involved in making it such a successful weekend."
"It was right that Parliament was recalled this week for Members of Parliament and the Lords to pay tribute to the late Margaret Thatcher, the longest serving Prime Minister. I believe she was our greatest peacetime Prime Minister. She 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. She challenged the status quo but was also very pragmatic. 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. She was a fan of our Port of Felixstowe - big investment and good industrial relations, quite a contrast to the industrial strife and flying pickets elsewhere. Her legacy is strong and will be long-lasting.
It has been an eventful Easter recess. The Minister I assist in Parliament has now taken on the energy portfolio alongside his Department for Business role. This means an increase in my Parliamentary workload but fortunately, I am well briefed on nuclear and offshore wind given our Green Coast prominence.
Talking of nuclear, I backed the 4km safety zone in Suffolk Coastal's Emergency Planning consultation on Sizewell C to bring it into line with international guidelines. Currently it is 2.4km. Technically, it could have reduced in size but the ONR has agreed the 4km as a minimum. A majority of the Sizewell A&B Stakeholder Group backed 4km or less. The consultation has now closed and the Council will reflect on the representations before making a decision on the Emergency Plan.
I attended the recent Suffolk Coast Against Retreat (SCAR) AGM in which Sir Bill Callaghan chairman of the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) gave a presentation about their role in protecting our coastline and on their draft marine plans that will shortly be presented to Government. Sir Bill said there are often conflicts between business and communities but that a plan should offer assurance to investors and developers whilst protecting resources and community interests. It is the role of the MMO is to gain as much sustainable economic growth as possible. I know there are concerns amongst some local groups about licensing arrangements and fees imposed by the MMO and I am following this up. Having previously pressed the Department of the Environment to get the Environment Agency and Natural England to work together better it is essential we now include MMO in those discussions.
Separately the consultation on Marine Conservation Zones ended last week and Government will consider the submissions before responding. I understand the need to protect our seas but I don't believe the zones designated for Suffolk Coastal, restricting activity off our coast is the best way to go about this. I have carefully listened and read the local evidence and as such, I have formally objected to the local designations for Suffolk Coastal on both the Alde & Ore and the Orwell & Stour rivers reflecting the concerns of local people and businesses.
Congratulations to Gedgrave resident, Sir Edward Greenwell, on his appointment by the Queen as High Sheriff of Suffolk. A splendid ceremonial role but more importantly, the High Sheriff tends to raise the profile of charitable and community service. Criss-crossing Suffolk for the next year, Sir Edward will cut a dash in his black breeches with sword.
Finally, it was a great pleasure to attend the celebrations at the Orford General Store. Penny Teale invited her suppliers and staff for a drop of fizz. Cheers to local produce and local success."
"A week after the Care Quality Commission published its report that failed the Ambulance Trust on response times, the Chairman eventually resigned. I welcome this but it should not be the last resignation from the Board. The report confirmed what many people in this area already know - that response times are not consistently met and that it is getting worse outside major urban areas. I welcome the positive parts of the report. I think most people recognise that when they have paramedic and ambulance staff with them they get a very good care. I want to thank the Chairman, Maria Ball for her 6 years of service but it is absolutely the right decision for her to step aside and is the next step to turning the performance of the service around. I have spoken to the advisor drafted in by Government from the West Midlands Ambulance Service and I am confident he will come up with some positive recommendations to change things. At our recent meeting with Health Minister, Earl Howe, MP's reiterated our concerns. I will keep pressing for a better service for my constituents.
This time last year we were basking in the Easter sunshine but as we experience this extraordinary March weather it was particularly timely to launch the All-Party Parliamentary Group's report into the Off-Gas Grid market this week. A typical off-gas grid family faces bills 60-120% higher than one on mains gas and we have seen before that bad weather creates price spikes. This is something I have been working on since late 2010 when heating oil prices shot up and many were left in freezing homes. As Co-chairman of the APPG I am pleased that we have been able to make a number of practical recommendations that if accepted will improve the lives of those off the gas-grid. These include extending the same consumer protection as for those on mains gas, The Office of Fair Trading to redo its inquiry into the market in a more thorough way and earlier payment of the Winter Fuel Payment to allow off-gas grid pensioners to buy more heating oil in the summer and autumn and take advantage of cheaper prices. The full report can be found on my website at - http://www.theresecoffeymp.com/news/westminster/appg-publishes-report-into-offgas-grid-market/712. I have secured a debate in Parliament in April to highlight this issue again.
Last week's Budget was a budget for jobs and growth. The announcement from the Chancellor that a new Employment Allowance will take the first £2,000 off the employer National Insurance bill of every company in the country was brilliant news for business and chimes with what I suggested as a member of the Conservative Free Enterprise Group. This will enable employers to create more jobs and take on more staff and is a fantastic boost for small businesses as third of all employers will no longer pay any employer National Insurance contributions at all. Although it does not come in for another 12 months, it is another welcome step.
Finally, I visited the Dunwich Cliffs Estate Caravan Park last Saturday to promote National Tourism Week. I met the proprietor, Edward King, who runs his small family business gearing up for the start of the tourist season. I know the current weather isn't great but the blustery Aldeburgh scenes last week made good news for cafes as people took shelter."
"This week is National Apprenticeship Week. To mark the occasion I am visiting three businesses (BT, Felixstowe Dock and Railway Company and Hammonds Landrover in Halesworth) and the council to learn more about their role in providing apprenticeships. Apprenticeships are open to people of any age but it is important we encourage our younger generation to consider apprenticeships as a route into work. In the last financial year, 850 people started an apprenticeship in Suffolk Coastal an increase of 73% per cent compared to the last year of the previous Government. After increasing the numbers of employers participating, Suffolk MP and skills Minister Matt Hancock is now focused on raising the quality of apprenticeships, including the training courses. For anyone considering a fresh start look on-line at www.thesource.me.uk for information on Suffolk apprentice opportunities. I also plan to visit Woodbridge Tide Mill today who are marking Science & Engineering Week by putting on an event about harnessing tidal power.
Talking of jobs and apprenticeships, plans for Sizewell C are continuing. Negotiations are ongoing between the Government and EDF about the 'strike price' for Hinkley Point – which will be an important indicator for Sizewell. Due to the huge investment and long pay-back time, the strike price will give EDF certainty on their rate of return. I spoke to both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor recently in relation to the negotiations. They are of course very aware of how important the building of Sizewell C will be in boosting the local economy and creating thousands of jobs, not least in terms of ensuring energy security. I am still highly confident that this project will go ahead, though as has been stated before, not at any price for the taxpayer. I am expecting the decision on planning permission for Hinkley to be made next week.
I continue to press for a better ambulance service, much more needs to be done but some progress is being made. I met the Chair and Chief Executive last week and there was a broader regional meeting yesterday. Issues on the table included rural response times, hospital handover times, demand for ambulances and staffing levels. I was encouraged by some of the initial activities of the Chief Executive and he has implemented a new staffing structure with local managers to have greater autonomy in Suffolk and Norfolk. I know all the issues cannot be tackled in a week but we need the Trust to start fixing them pronto. 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 and have a meeting with the Minister responsible for performance in the Health Service, Earl Howe on Monday.
I am also trying to resolve the broadband issue at Bawdsey concerning the use of the radar tower brought to my attention by Cllr Christine Block. The Coastguard Agency has insisted on BAE inspecting the compatibility of the wifi and maritime communications on the tower. The broadband operator asserts that they are on different frequencies as mandated by Ofcom and I am liaising with the Coastguard Agency and BAE to sort things out. It is over the top for such a small organisation and group of residents to bear such a high cost. Cllr Geoff Holdcroft the Economic Development Portfolio Holder has also offered to assist.
Congratulations to Penny Teale from Orford General Stores who has won the Countryside Alliance Award for the best Village Shop and Post Office of the Year the UK and Ireland. She had already won the East of England regional prize and I was proud to welcome Penny to Parliament today were she triumphed in the national award. This is another boost for Orford following the well known Pump St Bakery's BBC Best Food Producer award a few months ago. Well done Penny."
"This week I again highlighted in Parliament the poor performance from the East of England Ambulance Service for Suffolk residents and appealed to the Government for direct intervention. In the last two months fewer than 60% of ambulances have hit the target in reaching emergency cases and they have failed to hit any of their response time targets this financial year.
The Minister, Anna Soubry MP, offered reassurance that our concern was now well known at the highest levels and that Earl Howe who has responsibility overall for ambulance has agreed to meet MPs. The meeting is due to take place on the 18th March. I will continue to highlight the poor service that residents in Suffolk endure. While I am pleased that more ambulances are now available, focus needs to be maintained on response times. The report from the Care Quality Commission's snap inspection is due to be published next month which will shed more light on performance.
Last week Energy regulator Ofgem announced reforms to the energy market following the plans set out by the Prime Minister last year to ensure consumers get the cheapest deal. I know that people across Suffolk Coastal are concerned about their energy bills and it is right that action is being taken to bring them down. Ofgem's reforms are a big step in the right direction. The reforms, in place by this summer, include making the market simpler by restricting suppliers to offering four simple core tariffs per fuel type, requiring suppliers to give all their customers personalised information on the cheapest tariff they offer for them and new rules which require suppliers to send clear bills which are easier for customers to understand. Alongside this, my parliamentary inquiry on off-gas grid issues is almost complete and will report shortly. The report will suggest some serious ways to alleviate the disadvantage in of off-gas grid consumers compared to mains gas users.
Great news for rural broadband users, particularly on the move, that 4G mobile spectrum will be launched soon across the country after the successful conclusion of the 4G mobile spectrum auction. All along my Conservative colleagues and I pushed for a greater coverage making sure Ofcom extended coverage to 98% of UK homes and businesses, far better than the 90% 3G coverage. All along, I knew this would mean less money would be generated but this time not at the expense of mobile phone users in Suffolk.
I recently met the Chief Executive of the Post Office, Paula Vennells. It was refreshing to get some straight answers 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. I have been pleased to campaign for the re-opening of post offices in our villages. A lot of that is thanks to our Aldeburgh sub-postmaster Peter Anderson who does a lot of outreach work. Peter – our great thanks."
"The Francis Report into failings at the Mid Staffordshire Hospital was published last week. I welcome many of the recommendations for greater oversight and I am pleased the PM has already announced that a new post of chief inspector of hospitals will be created in the autumn. The report contained some astonishing examples of failure in care at the hospital. Failures were identified at every level - on the wards, management, the Board and the regulator. Both treatment and care should be the focus of everyone in our NHS. This is why I press the Boards on the delivery and governance of our health services locally.
On that note I invited the Care Quality Commission (CQC) to brief MP from the East of England on the initial findings of their very recent unannounced inspection of the Ambulance Service. We heard from the inspector and the national adviser on ambulances. Of particular interest to residents, the inspection looked into the delays in rural response times and turnaround times at hospital. The report will be published by mid March. I support our frontline staff and community responders. I want the leadership to succeed. It is important we get to the bottom of the issues. I think the July target is just too far away and I will continue to encourage greater transparency from the Trust. Our next meeting with all the MPs and the Board of the Ambulance Trust is on 14th March, when we can discuss the content of the CQC report.
The first stage public consultation on Sizewell C closed last week. EDF will take a lot of time now to assess all the responses. It was disappointing but unsurprising that Centrica announced its intention to withdraw as an investor but I do not expect that will derail the project. Nor do I believe the recent vote on waste storage by Cumbria County Council, overturning the views of its district councils, will halt progress. I spoke in Parliament last week, reiterating that the Energy Bill and the separate discussions with EDF and investors should give certainty. New nuclear offers the UK security of energy supply. With Sizewell, Greater Gabbard &Galloper and the East Anglia Array about a quarter of the county's electricity will be generated in our part of Suffolk. We truly are the Green Coast. Readers will know I support the Sizewell C project. I will shortly be communicating my input into the consultation. I do think that the skills and economy offer is good for Suffolk. We, our schools, our colleges, need to ensure our youngsters are taking the right courses to access this high-value employment opportunity.
Talking of new jobs I was pleased that the latest statistics show that a record number of people in Suffolk Coastal started apprenticeship in 2011/12. In the last financial year, 850 people started an apprenticeship in Suffolk Coastal - an increase of 73% compared to the last year of the previous Government, a trend that is being reflected around the Country. This is great news for our economy and most of all the people whose lives are being transformed by the opportunities they offer."
"60 years ago the North Sea flood caused massive devastation to our East Coast, killing hundreds of people, damaging property and farmland. 50 people lost their lives in Suffolk as the storm gouged sand dunes in Thorpeness, breached the seawall at Aldeburgh, flooded the train station in Woodbridge and breached sea defences in Felixstowe with further impacts up and down the coast at Shingle Street, Orford and Bawdsey. On 1st February, I am attending the launch of the '53 Flood Exhibition in Orford put on by the Alde & Ore Association. It is important we remember those who died and recognise the courage shown by those that carried out the rescue. Since that fateful night a lot of work has been done to improve the protection along our coastline with major investment in our sea defences and early warning systems. There was a similar storm surge in 2007 which was managed without the devastating consequences. I pay tribute to the RNLI and Volunteer Coastguards who continue to look after us so well today.
Tuesday 6th February is the deadline for the first round of consultation on Sizewell C. If you haven't yet responded I urge you to do so – look online for more details http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info and you can call 0800 197 6102. I held 10 community meetings across the constituency to hear back from residents about the design, their thoughts on the roads & rail proposals, as well as the park & ride and accommodation sites. I met EDF to give them an early view of that feedback and have drawn together as many of the comments into themes so that I can articulate people's views appropriately at the council meetings and community forums. The main points that residents raised were the traffic issues, the park and ride sites, the potential for rail and the sites of the accommodation campus. The suggestion of direct compensation via free electricity was very popular. Concern was also raised about some of the social issues associated with the potential behaviour of workers and contractors. EDF have assured me they carry out random drug & alcohol tests and have the ability to withdraw site passes. Further information on this will appear in Stage 2.
The Prime Minister's big speech on Europe last week was very welcome. There is now a clear choice and voters will be able to have their say. Before 2015 we will prepare legislation for a referendum and our next manifesto will have more details of what we want for a reformed Europe and for Britain. If we win the election, we will start that negotiation and put it to a referendum. You will be able to decide whether we stay in under renegotiated terms or come out. In the meantime 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.
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, for which 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.
Finally, I was able to press the Minister in Treasury questions this week about the Equitable Life Payment Scheme. I am proud that it was our Government started the payment scheme and that £500 million has already been paid to policyholders. Though some constituents entitled to compensation have still not been assessed. The Minister gave assurances that he is in regular contact with the payment scheme and will work with them to ensure things are improved. A detailed report will be published next week and the scheme will now publish quarterly progress reports."
"Friday (the 18th), I am holding 7 community meetings across the constituency on the EDF proposals for Sizewell C with a further meeting in Sizewell on Saturday at 9am at Beachview Holiday Park. I will be sharing my thoughts on the proposals and want to hear back from residents about the design, changes to roads & rail, park & ride sites and accommodation sites so I can represent constituents appropriately at the council meetings and community forum. We are at the start of a fairly lengthy process. The key job for EDF is to build a power station that will help keep the lights on in 20 years' time but as with any development, it is appropriate for the developer to minimise the impact on local residents and businesses and install essential infrastructure for the development and from which local residents can benefit. You can email me your thoughts and I will keep my website updated on this www.theresecoffeymp.com/sizewell-c/ .
Last Friday, with Norfolk MP Elizabeth Truss, I co-chaired the FSB and MPs Norfolk and Suffolk Banking Forum. I was pleased to see my Waveney colleague Peter Aldous attend. 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 or Cambridgeshire. The business survey that I conducted last year showed that 54% of respondents in Suffolk Coastal had ready access to finance, which meant that 46% did not. It was encouraging to hear East Anglia is the second best region for growth of new businesses but half of all new start-ups are not being given loans by the banks. It is important we keep pressing the banks to work with small businesses but we also need to advise business on other routes to finance like private investors or Foundation East, our Community Finance Organisation. When the Business Bank is properly underway later this year, it will provide a one-stop shop.
The consultation on the potential merger of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Fire Service ended earlier this week. I expressed the view that both fire services should work closer together but should not merge. Fire service delivery in Suffolk is already achieved at the lowest cost per head in the country. That is thanks to the many volunteer firefighters who do a superb job alongside the professional firefighters and staff of Suffolk Fire & Rescue. I am concerned that if a merger happened Council Tax payers in Suffolk would be squeezed even further. There is enormous pressure to reduce budgets, which is why they need to work together to make the best use of resources, but I am nervous that if there was a full merger then it would also be difficult to assess performance indicators across the two counties. I don't want to see the same problem that we currently have with the ambulance service in terms of poor response times. Suffolk Fire Service is currently looking for more on-call fire fighters that live within 4 minutes of your fire station. No previous experience is necessary so why not volunteer and help your community?
Talking of volunteering and community spirit. Sport England has announced new £40 million fund to support grassroots sporting activity as part of the strategy to deliver a lasting sporting legacy from last year's successful Olympic and Paralympic Games. I want to see the success of London 2012 become a catalyst for physical activity, not just distant memory. This is a great chance for local clubs and our council to encourage people to get involved in sport. Go to http://www.sportengland.org/funding for more information and details of how to apply."
"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.
Before Christmas I was pleased that the health regulator, Monitor decided to delay the decision to award Foundation Trust Status to the East of England Ambulance Service. Looking at it again in 12 months. The deferral is a result of concerns that I and others expressed to the regulator that the quality of service for residents was not consistently what it should be. I met with the Chairman recently and have asked the board to get a grip of performance. Disappointingly, they are not yet prepared to be transparent on performance by postcode and I have raised this with the Minister. The Trust have appointed a new interim Chief Executive and it is important he focuses on performance in rural areas. He used to be Chief Executive of Norfolk and Waveney Health so he is aware of the problem. A substantial review of performance is underway but not due to conclude till July. I don't think that's a quick enough response. I will be continuing to push for a better service in 2013.
The key negotiations on fishing quotas took place in Brussels last month. I have spoken to the Minister, Richard Benyon MP (who has visited our coast twice), about the importance of our small boats fishing off the Suffolk Coast. I have had assurances from him that he will be arguing against the proposed 20% cut in the cod quota and will continue to fight for Suffolk fishermen. The Government has already stopped an automatic cut in the number of days that fishermen are allowed to spend at sea following previous negotiations. The proposal to reduce the amount of time that fishermen have to catch their cod quota was bad for sustainability as it forces fishermen to catch closer to shore, often on spawning grounds. The Minister has already secured an increase in the quota for some other fish stocks and overturned reductions to others. I was disappointed by some national media comment by NUTFA, but only a few of our local fishermen are part of that organisation.
My parliamentary inquiry on off-gas grid issues is well underway and will report in the next couple of months. I hope 2013 will be the year when we can suggest some serious ways to alleviate the disadvantage in of off-gas grid consumers compared to mains gas users.
Finally I just wanted to remind you of the 7 public meetings I am holding on the 18th January in relation to Sizewell C. Details are on my website at - http://www.theresecoffeymp.com/sizewell-c/. If you intend to come along, I would be grateful if you would email my constituency assistant, Patti Mulcahy, at firstname.lastname@example.org to register."
"I have been back and forth recently on Sizewell C consultation. I have attended a number of the exhibitions and joined councillors and officers on a tour of associated development sites. I was at the first meeting of the Sizewell C Community Forum, held in Snape Maltings, last week and took the opportunity to ask EDF more questions in an open forum. Next month I am holding a series of community meetings to hear your views on Sizewell C. Meetings will take place on Friday 18th January in Woodbridge (National Hall, Sun Lane 930am), Stratford St Andrew (130pm Riverside Centre), Yoxford (3pm Village Hall), Middleton (430pm Village Hall), Leiston (6pm Sports & Social Club) and informal sessions at the pubs in Theberton (8pm) and Eastbridge (9pm). I will be setting out my thoughts on the issues but I primarily want to hear from you. If you intend to come along, I would be grateful if you would email my constituency assistant, Patti Mulcahy, at email@example.com to register.
I fully understand local concerns on the significant impact and disruption that accompanies such a large project. This is the first stage of a marathon negotiation and it is important that public opinion is conveyed to EDF. It is essential local residents benefit as much as possible from the project including maximising improvements to infrastructure. We also need to make sure our young people and existing workforce are equipped to take advantage of the job opportunities. I was pleased that the Prime Minister re-committed to continuing to invest in apprenticeships and skills training when I raised it with him in Parliament, so that Suffolk people can get the jobs that will be created along our Green Coast. I will be keeping my website www.theresecoffeymp.com updated on Sizewell C matters.
"Talking about opportunities for our young people, I was pleased that the County Council is finally starting to act with a sense of urgency on primary schools after Suffolk's performance slumped to 3rd lowest in the country after having been in the bottom 10% last year. I have been consistently voicing my concern about the overall performance of our primary schools. We need to turn this around in 2013. There are two significant changes the County have 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 has also 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 have visited nearly all our schools now (just 4 left to go). I know it can be very difficult for teachers (both my parents were teachers) and they need support of parents but nothing less than excellence should be our goal. 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.
Yesterday I spoke in a debate on health about the performance of the East of England Ambulance Trust. I have previously raised the inconsistent and often poor level of service received by Suffolk residents with the Chairman and have asked the board to get a grip of performance. Disappointingly, they are not yet prepared to be transparent on performance by postcode. I will keep pressing for this. The Trust have appointed a new interim Chief Executive and it is important he gets a grip on performance in the rural areas. He used to be Chief Executive of Norfolk and Waveney Health so he is aware of the problem. I reiterated my view to Ministers that the Trust should not receive the greater freedom that comes with Foundation Trust status until performance is improved.
I know many of you will be busy with preparations for Christmas and I wish all Coastal Scene readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope you have a great time with family, friends and neighbours."
"Cancelling the 3p petrol duty rise, increasing the personal allowance to £9440 and a further council tax freeze possiblewere key measures announced in the Autumn Statement by George Osborne. Pensioners will also benefit from the triple lock that we put into place. Pensions will go up by 2.5%, higher than inflation or the average earnings increase. At the same time, we have decided to cap rises in benefits to 1%, in line with public sector pay increases, except for those on disability benefits or with carers' responsibilities. In the last five years, benefits have increased by 20% while average earnings have gone up by just 10%. It is a tough settlement but I think it is fair and makes even clearer that you will be better off in work than out of work, unless you cannot work. Standing up for hard working families, helping with the cost of living, putting more money into the pocket of hard working people is a key priority that I am pleased to support. While it is taking longer to tackle the deficit than planned, it is keeping on the same track that has allowed mortgage rates to remain so low. There was a clear message for companies as well with corporation tax rate falling to 21p, boosting the incentives for jobs and growth. The Government is investing in measures to stop tax evasion and avoidance that will collect 7 billion pounds more a year than the previous Government but that alone will not reduce the deficit and the Chancellor announced that the richest 1% of the population will have to pay more.
Apart from the impending Royal baby (Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), the other big talking point of the week has been the Leveson Report. A free press is the hallmark of a free society. It holds politicians and the Establishment to account. I agree with the Prime Minister in being very nervous about introducing any statutory legislation. 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. Of course many of the practices undertaken by the press are already against the law. On the other hand even the specific law mentioned by Leveson will not satisfy most complainants' desire for a privacy law. Legislation brought in on the back of a national outrage usually always turns out to be a bad law. The Government has been clear all along that the status quo is not an option and Ministers will be engaging in talks with the press to determine a way for a new independent regulator.
I visited the Royal Mail sorting office in Leiston this morning to pass on best Christmas wishes to our posties at their busiest time of year. There is no doubt that receiving a letter or card is the most special form of communication. Our market towns and villages have already got into the festive spirit. The award winning 'Where's Rudolph' competition is enjoying another outing, designed to promote local businesses during Christmas shopping season. Large retailers usually make all their profit at 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 hope to be meeting our Portas Partner teams early in the New Year to understand the effects of the £10,000 recently secured.
Finally in Parliament, we celebrated National Tree Week and a reception for the Tree Council. This umbrella organisation focuses on all things trees and also coordinates the work of volunteer tree wardens, which many of our villages support. It was a pleasure to meet Paul and Loulou Cooke from Iken at the reception with trustee Matthew Greenburgh from Rendham."
"Great news this week as the UK was granted state aid clearance for rural broadband funds. This was the barrier toSuffolk County Council signing the contract with BT but now nearly £40 million of investment can be triggered. By 2015, over 85% of us will get superfast broadband, while everyone will get a minimum broadband connection speed of 2 MB - enough to enjoy iplayer without buffering. Pen poised, shovels ready, let's get Suffolk on the superhighway.
The first stage of consultation for Sizewell C started this week. The first of 12 public exhibitions is in Leiston this Friday and EDF's project office in Leiston High Street is open daily. This is the chance for all residents to speak directly to EDF, ask questions and give feedback on the proposals. Consultation for this phase formally closes on 6th February. You can see full details of the scheme and exhibitions at http://sizewell.edfenergyconsultation.info/. Parish councillors will be pleased to know that EDF is also providing funding for an independent consultant to assist their councils with responses to the consultation.
I believe the construction of Sizewell C will create thousands of jobs and will provide a massive boost the local economy. I met the County Council's lead officers on skills and education to press the importance of how we must ensure young people and existing workforce are equipped to take advantage of these opportunities. Suffolk Chamber of Commerce is already coordinating business efforts through its supplier microsite. However, with construction comes significant disruption including traffic and housing. Leiston residents have a key choice to make concerning whether the temporary housing could actually be developed into future housing. We need the best engineeering on the jetty to avoid coastal erosion. The rail loop and track may have legacy benefits. On roads, I know residents in the 4 villages will be disappointed that only a Farnham bend by-pass was proposed but this is early days in the marathon negotiation. I have particular concerns on the A12/B1122 turnoff and impact on the villages of Middleton Moor and Theberton. It is important that Suffolk residents benefit as much as possible from Sizewell C, including maximising improvements to infrastructure.
The outbreak of Ash Dieback remains a concern and over twelve cases have been identified locally in mature woodlands. I have met spoken twice to the Secretary of State on this matter. A complete survey of East Anglia triggered a nationwide survey by the Forestry Commission, assessing the diseased areas. The disease which has no known cure does not kill the tree but weakens its resilience and makes it susceptible to other diseases and fungus attacks. Given that resilient trees survived in Denmark, the decision has been taken to destroy saplings but leave the existing mature woodland. This issue is being taken very seriously by the Government. There is a clear need for a coordinated effort to protect what we still have and continue the search for a vaccine. This outbreak will inevitably lead to questioning the portability of trees, plants and saplings across Europe. I want to stress that the countryside is still open for people to enjoy but there is a limited risk of spreading the disease so it is important to be aware of cleaning boots once you have left affected sites.
Finally it is Parliament Week. While an MP was voted out of the jungle, I am visiting Alde Valley 6th Form on Friday to talk about our democratic institutions and process. I am also looking forward to the Christmas fayres in Aldeburgh and Leiston in the next fortnight."
"Earlier this week I met the Chairman and Deputy CEO of the East of England Ambulance Service to discuss theinconsistent and often poor level of service received by Suffolk residents. Response time targets for the county have consistently been missed, there have long delays in resolving complaints and I have had concerns about the Board holding the management to account. I was pleased to be joined by MPs from across the East of England though sadly with similar lists of problems on response times and handling complaints.
It was a crunch meeting and the Chairman, Maria Ball, was made aware that she and the Board need to get a grip of performance for all residents and to give confidence to MPs that they understand our concerns. There are issues on handover to hospitals that need to be resolved (and MPs are happy to help with that) but they need to sort it out together and they need to give a better service to all residents, not just those in cities and major towns. I will be pressing for updates and monitoring response times on a regular basis. Complaints will now be handled centrally and the Chair apologised that responses had taken months rather than weeks. I do believe there is a way forward and that the Board showed the desire to up their game in delivery and building confidence. The recruitment of the new Chief Executive is already underway and I welcome the fact there will soon be a fresh pair of eyes to look at the challenges and improve performance.
This week we have seen further outbreaks of Ash dieback disease in East Anglia; in 82 sites across the UK and of course closer to home the recent initial outbreak near the village of Great Glemham. The spread of this disease is concerning and I questioned the Minister in Parliament about the Government response. He gave assurances of the need to pro-actively communicate with local people who have forestry interests and gave a commitment that enough Government resources will be put in to do all we can to prevent the disease from spreading. Since then hundreds of staff from government agencies have been out checking sites across the country and plant health experts are undertaking an urgent survey of a sites which have had saplings from nurseries where Chalara has found to be present. I will be keeping a close eye on the response and will be pushing for further updates.
I was pleased to welcome East of England MEP, Vicky Ford to Suffolk Coastal last week and she joined me on a visit to Sizewell. She was able to hear first-hand an update on EDF's plans for Sizewell C and the jobs it will create. The formal community consultation is due to be published soon which will mark the first stage of the planning process.
Finally, it was a pleasure to welcome Jimmy Butler of Blythburgh Pork to Parliament for the BPEX breakfast. Jimmy is a long-standing friend and well known as a pig farmer. There are more pigs in Suffolk than there are people and it is a key industry for the British economy as well."
"I am delighted that all the Suffolk Coastal bids to become a Portas Town Team Partner have been approved by theGovernment and £50,000 will now be invested in making our high streets more vibrant. Over 400 towns applied to be a Portas Pilot in the original bidding round and the Government were determined that no town should be left behind, so they encouraged bidders to re-apply to become Town Team Partners. I was pleased to support the joint bid from Saxmundham, Leiston, Aldeburgh and Framlingham as well as other bids from Halesworth, Southwold, Woodbridge and Felixstowe. Each bid will shortly be receiving £10,000 to spend on improvements to the town, to increase the vitality and to boost footfall. The Heritage Coast Market Town initiative plans to continue to improve Saxmundham, Leiston, Aldeburgh and Framlingham by employing a dedicated member of staff to enable ongoing fundraising, increase marketing and put on events to ensure the street scene is kept vibrant.
It was great to meet Bob Foyers recently, the proprietor of the Bistro at the Deli in Saxmundham, and support his innovative initiative to have an online high street, important for tourists planning their visits to the area.
Talking of business I am enjoying my new role as PPS to BIS Minister, Michael Fallon, who spoke at the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership conference near Ipswich earlier this week. Although this has meant I have had to come off the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. My final session was on Tuesday when we questioned the new Director General of the BBC, George Entwistle about the Jimmy Savile affair. I was particularly shocked at the e-mail send by the former Newsnight editor when deciding to shelve the original programme, suggesting the sources were 'just the women'. The Police investigation and internal inquiry needs to run its course but there is also a role for the committee in scrutinising the culture at the BBC.
In my last Coastal Scene column I indicated that I was to meet the NHS Trust regulators Monitor to discuss the performance of the East of England Ambulance Service and its application for Foundation Trust Status. It is Monitor's role to assess if the Service can move to Foundation Trust status, giving it more autonomy. It was a useful meeting and while I do not have concerns on the Trusts financial performance, I do have considerable concerns on the consistency of services to patients in rural Suffolk. I outlined specific issues to Monitor on response times, complaints handling and the seeming lack of monitoring of performance delivery by the Trust Board on county by county level. Monitor is part way through its assessment and they have taken the points I raised on board. There is more to do and I will be meeting with the Chair of the Ambulance Trust early next month to further discuss constituents' concerns."
"The Ambulance Service has come under justifiable fire recently for giving an inconsistent service to patients in coastal Suffolk. I am pleased there will be new leadership, after the Chief Executive announced his retirement, with a fresh pair of eyes to look at the challenges and improve performance. The excuse that we live in a rural area does not stack up. In the North West, the ambulance service caters for a diverse metropolitan and rural area just like here in the East, in Cumbria though they still consistently manage to meet the national standards.
I am meeting with the regulators Monitor next week to outline my concerns about their maintained Foundation Trust application as service delivery needs to be improved before they have this enhanced freedom of FT status. I have convened a summit with the Chair and Chief Executive in a few weeks' time and have already asked them to make a step change in performance.
The state aid hurdle for rural broadband is a step closer to being cleared with the European Commission indicating that permission will be given shortly. Building on this good news the Secretary of State, Maria Miller has helped bring forward the 4G auction. With both fixed and mobile broadband set for imminent improvement this is great news for every home and business in Suffolk.
This week I visited Ipswich Hospital for a group meeting with the Chairman, Chief Executive, the new Chairman of the Ipswich East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group (the body of doctors making healthcare decisions in the future) and local councils. The achievement of Foundation Trust Status is still the target but this will be based on a new strategy going out to public consultation next year. The role for Ipswich Hospital as a district general hospital is key to creating excellent patient care, its clinical leadership and working together with GP's and others for better health across the County.
Conference season is over and Parliament will be returning on Monday. All three leaders gave decent speeches but readers won't be surprised to learn that I thought the Prime Minister's speech was the best. Whereas Ed Miliband ignored the financial challenges of our time David Cameron gave a good summary of what we have done, why we have done it and what needs to be done. The Government came into power in tough times and although the deficit has been cut by a quarter there are still hard decisions to be made but Government is re-building the foundations for opportunity. As David Cameron said, the Conservatives aren't the party of the better offs but the want to be better off. Rule 1 of being a Conservative is that it's not where you've come from that counts, it's where you're going."
"Earlier this week I attended the County Council Cabinet meeting that gave the go-ahead to BT to roll out the broadbandinfrastructure across Suffolk.
This has been a long awaited moment and I was proud to be there as the councillors voted it through. It is a momentous agreement and a truly game changing decision. The Government recognises that the roll out of broadband is a crucial infrastructure project to continue to compete in the modern world this is fantastic news for residents and businesses. The lack of good quality broadband across the region has been seen as a barrier to continued innovation and expanding business – this decision will ensure that Suffolk businesses can embrace the digital age.
Over 85% of households in Suffolk will get a broadband connection of over 24MB, a further 13% will have speeds upwards 5MB and the final 2% will be guaranteed speeds of at least 2MB. That will be enough to get good streaming on iPlayer and be connected for internet TV. The infrastructure will likely also improve mobile broadband coverage across our county.
I have already spoken to the new Cabinet Minister Maria Miller about the importance of securing state aid clearance and I am looking forward to working with Suffolk County Council on the next steps.
Talking of growing business and creating jobs - the first formal step towards the development of Sizewell C has started last week. EDF has sent a draft consultation to Suffolk local authorities asking for feedback on the document. The formal consultation is planned to start by the end of November, marking the first stage of the planning process.
It is not just hundreds of local jobs that will be created– earlier this month Somerset Council agreed on a £64m sum, to provide services and infrastructure to mitigate the impact of Hinkley Point C – Suffolk will be in a similar position once Sizewell C gets the go-ahead.
Last week was National Eye Health Week and to show my support I had my eyes tested in the Woodbridge branch of Specsavers. The aim is to raise awareness of the importance of eye health and the need for everyone to have sight checks. Some eye conditions may not show any symptoms so it is important to get checked at least every two years. For more information visit ww.visionmatters.org.uk".
"I was pleased to launch the All Party Parliamentary Group's inquiry into the off-gas grid this week. The inquiry will look into issues relating to fuels affecting off-grid constituents drawing on recent work on off-grid fuel poverty by the Energy and Climate Change Committee and the market study of the off-grid sector by the Office of Fair Trading. Many households in Suffolk are not connected to the mains gas grid and are reliant on much more expensive heating sources. Not only this, off-grid consumers do not enjoy the same protections as mains gas users, so this inquiry is seeking to highlight the problems and suggest measures to the Government.
I am glad that the A1120 at Yoxford has now re-opened following repairs to the sewer from Anglian Water. I visited the businesses affected last weekend and the closure has had large impact on passing trade that many of them rely on. I have been back and forth with Anglian Water and Suffolk County Council to try and get the road re-opened and I am glad the restriction was lifted as soon as it was safe to do so. I am here to help businesses with any further questions they have and have encouraged them to apply for temporary rate relief.
Following last week's government reshuffle (congratulations to Dr Dan) I was honoured to be asked by new Business, Innovation and Skills Minister, Michael Fallon MP, to become his Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS). This does not mean I become a member of the Government – my role is to provide a link between the Minister and the rest of the House of Commons, sounding opinions and feeding ideas into the Minister. In the current climate BIS is one of the most important departments in Government laying the foundations for economic growth. Michael's brief includes competiveness, small business and deregulation all important policy areas to get the economy moving again.
Lastly I wanted to let you know that the Heritage Lottery Fund is providing grants for communities to help fund projects to mark the First World War centenary. This could include researching local buildings or industries involved in the war, organising ceremonies, conserving artefacts or putting on workshops. I want to encourage communities in Suffolk to apply for the funding so we can show the way in marking this important event in our history. Organisations who apply will also get the help of the HLF local teams to provide support in putting on events. The Imperial War Museum have also produced some 'how to guides' at 1914.org. Any organisation wishing to apply should go to www.hlf.org.uk."
"The Paralympics got underway this week with an amazing display of culture based on the theme of enlightenment. It was great to see the Paralympics flame go through Suffolk Coastal stopping in Snape Maltings with a tremendous performance from the British Paraorchestra. We should be very proud of Aldeburgh resident Eva Loeffler who was selected to be Mayor of the Paralympic Village. Mrs Loeffler is the daughter of the late Sir Ludwig Guttman, the founding father of the Paralympics, who arranged for two hospitals to compete against each other which started disabled sport as a means of rehabilitation for our armed forces back in 1948. She has been a powerhouse herself in promoting sport and it was a privilege to meet her husband and two daughters at the performance of the Paraorchestra. On Wednesday morning the same flame left Stoke-Mandeville Hospital where it all began on its way to the Olympic Stadium culminating in the great opening ceremony. The Paralympics really are coming home and I am really looking forward to seeing the Games on Channel 4 and attending some events.
I enjoyed visiting Leiston Lynx basketball club as part of the Join in Weekend earlier this month and it is great to know that sports clubs across Suffolk are maintaining the Olympic legacy. The enthusiasm for sport created by the Games has encouraged so many people to turn up, take part and join in.
Following the re-tendering of bus services by Suffolk County Council, Anglian Bus has decided to run the165 service as a commercial route. In doing so they have kept most of the main route but removed certain stops, including those in Blaxhall and Friston. Following up on an initial request from a Blaxhall resident, I have contacted County Cllr. Andrew Reid, and have been working with him to see what can be done to resolve this issue. This is a disappointing situation and I understand the feelings of Blaxhall residents. The lead officer from the County Council is pressing Anglian Bus to reinstate Blaxhall on the bus route and I have also written to the managing director of to press the case for local residents. In the interim, given the timing of the change I know that Cllr. Reid is arranging for the Suffolk Link bus to be available to residents in the Blaxhall area.
Another issue I have been following up on recently is the problem with the sewers in Yoxford. Anglia Water has closed the A1120 at Little Street to carry out urgent works that they say will last 5 weeks. I fully understand the impact on local businesses as a result of this closure and have contacted Anglian Water on the urgency of the matter. I have alerted them to the material financial impact at one of the busiest times of the year and they have indicated that they will consider paying compensation.
Finally, one of my small goals was achieved this weekend as I completed a visit to every pub in the constitutency by having a drink in the Greyhound in Pettistree. It was a great satisfaction for a CAMRA member matched by the warm welcome."
"What a success the Olympic Games were. Not just our amazing medal haul but we have shown the world what anexcellent event Britain can put on. After the 200m final both Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake thanked London for such a great games and complimented the fantastic atmosphere created by the fans – there is no better endorsement in Britain than from the fastest man in the World. Over the last weekend of the Games I was asked to represent the Government by becoming an Olympics Ambassador and did my part to ensure the Games were a diplomatic success. London 2012 may now be over but there are various opportunities to capitalise on the legacy of the Games. Inspiration from the Olympics has already boosted membership of local sports clubs and I hope this will mean that Suffolk can provide the next generation of Olympians.
It is not just the sporting and cultural legacy though that will enrich our lives we have also built a reputation for infrastructure. The construction programme to build the Olympic venues is one of the biggest building projects ever delivered without a fatality. There is no doubt it has caused some disruption but the endgame has been worthwhile.
Similarly the construction of Sizewell C will create a lasting legacy for growth and jobs locally. After visiting Hinkley Point C last month I came away with some significant learning to pass on to the Sizewell project so we can mitigate the disruption and embrace the opportunity.
Last month the next steps in the 4G spectrum auction were announced by Ofcom. The 4th generation network will bring broadband speeds to mobile phones with 98% indoor coverage. Traditionally, up to 6 million people in Britain have been excluded from good mobile coverage, particularly in rural areas as mobile phone companies were only obliged to cover 95 % of the population, 90 % of the time. My Select Committee were previously very robust in describing Ofcom's 95% target as being unambitious and I am glad there is now an acceptance by Ofcom that 4G should be available to at least 98% of the UK. This is great news for residents of Suffolk Coastal and the process is likely to get underway later this year."
"Last week I visited the Hinkley Point Power Station in Somerset, where plans for the construction of Hinkley Point C arewell under way. I was invited by the local MP, Ian Liddell-Grainger, to get a sense of the impact of construction of the EDF site, ahead of the proposed development at Sizewell C. With the planning application for Hinkley submitted and much of the physical work to prepare the site already underway, it was an opportune time to visit and understand some of the issues that will affect Sizewell and the surrounding area. What was particularly useful on my trip was to visit Bridgwater College to see what it is doing in terms of training to support the employment of local people at Hinkley Point. The former principal had clear vision to focus the college on the forthcoming opportunities. The construction and operation of Sizewell C will create thousands of jobs and we need to grab that opportunity locally.
I spoke at the Leiston Business Association's AGM last month on the importance of education and training so students of the future are prepared for local job opportunities. I was also able to outline what the Government are doing to roll out high speed broadband and reduce regulation through the red tape challenge.
I was pleased to see that SCDC have taken steps to set up a special advisory panel to discuss the issues at Sutton Heath. A 1,200 signature petition shows the level of local concern about the current proposals and I welcome the fact that Suffolk Coastal have done what the Sutton Heath Users Group requested, which is to engage with users of the site. There are of course legal requirements that the Council have to fulfil but the Advisory Panel will give the Council a local body that can help with the planning and management of this important area of land.
The opening week of the Olympics have shown the world what an amazing event Britain can put on and by the time this article is published I hope we will have won our first gold medal. Before the start of the Games I was pleased to take some school children to the Cultural Olympiad event in Snape Maltings as the Aldeburgh World Youth Orchestra showcased their talent and when the Games are over the 'Join in Weekend' will keep up the sports momentum. The weekend aims to channel the enthusiasm for sport created by the Olympics by enabling people to turn up, take part and join in at their local sports facilities on 18th & 19th August. I am urging local sports clubs to sign up for the project at www.joininuk.org – which provides a place for clubs to register, advertise their event and enable them to take advantage of this moment. Events nearby are currently planned in Hollesley and Wickham Market with Leiston Lynx Basketball club also putting on an event. Every great champion started at their local club and I would love to see residents making the most of the Games by joining in, so that Suffolk can provide the next generation of Olympians."
"This week, the Government announced a huge investment in rail infrastructure as Ministers committed £9.4 billion fromnow to 2019. The Government is determined to deal with the infrastructure deficit in this Country and investing in our railways will help drive jobs and growth in our economy. As we set out in the rail prospectus which was launched earlier this month there is a strong economic case for investing in rail and improvements in East Anglia will benefit residents locally and the economy nationally. The upgrade to the Ely North junction will boost the frequency of services in the region for passengers and also help fright. Confirmation of the expenditure on Crossrail will free up capacity into Liverpool Street and the surrounding junction after 2018. This will mean that in the next round of spending beyond 2019, the Great Eastern mainline will be in a prime position to secure much-needed improvement for which we are all working.
Last week leading members of East Suffolk Water Abstractors' Group, Sir Edward Greenwell and Peter Youngs, joined me in meeting Environment Minister, Richard Benyon MP, to discuss our concerns on abstraction, water management and parts of the draft Water Bill. I welcome large parts of the Bill, recognising that water is a precious resource. Our local farmers are regular irrigators of their crops, extending the produce season and avoiding the need to import food. They are big abstractors from our rivers and the aquifer. It is important that they are not put out of food production by allowing water to become an expensive, tradeable quota, as has happened to fish. It was a productive meeting and the Minister will be following up on some of the concerns raised.
Following correspondence from a constituent from Kelsale I was pleased that the Environment Agency has now agreed to carry out the de-silting of part of the river Fromus. It is important action is taken to prevent the possible flooding danger that could arise to residents in Kelsale if it is left to continue to silt.
The Government published a White Paper on adult social care. For our county, this is one of the largest costs to the council tax payer. Some of the proposed changes are extremely welcome, including the improved transitional arrangements from childhood to adulthood and end-of-life palliative care, but we need to be careful that Suffolk does not lose out as it does attract a lot of people retiring. I will write to the Secretary of State so he is clear about my concerns.
Finally, with the Olympics only one week away, 2012 is turning into a special year for Britain. The Jubilee weekend might be over but the celebrations still continue. I was delighted to visit Melton Primary School to award prizes of tickets to the Cultural Olympiad event this weekend at Snape Maltings for the performance of the Aldeburgh Music World Youth Orchestra. WRVS, the older people's charity has launched a search for 'Diamond Champions' in communities across the UK. The Queen and the Royal Family are famous for their hard work and dedication to public duty and volunteers show a similar loyalty to the people they serve. So if you know someone that is over 60 who volunteers and improves life for others in our community then nominate them as a Diamond Champion. You can do so at www.wrvs.org.uk – the closing date is July 27th."
"Earlier this week MPs from across East Anglia came together to launch the East Anglian Rail Prospectus.
The Prospectus presents the strategic and economic case for long-term investment in the region's rail network. It has been co-authored by a multi-agency group including MPs, Local Enterprise Partnerships, County Councils, Rail Passenger Groups and Train Operating Companies.
The launch marked the start of a concerted campaign to make the strongest possible case for improvements to be made to the region's rail network. Investing in East Anglia will benefit residents locally and the economy nationally. Connecting our economic hubs, moving freight onto rail and improving our branch line service alongside better ticketing, new trains and smarter stations will make a huge difference to people in Suffolk.
The proposals were presented to Ministers at the Department for Transport I was able to back this up in a debate I secured on Tuesday outlining in Parliament the importance of investment in East Anglian rail services.
I met new interim Chief Executive of Ipswich Hospital Nigel Beverley to briefly go through the challenges and changes ahead for our hospital. Consultation on the strategic vision for the hospital will resume as part of the application for foundation trust. Some new appointments at senior manager level are being made and Mr Beverley will, I believe, be a good asset for us.
It was National Market Day recently and to celebrate I paid a visit to Orford Country Market. I met with Brian Lee and Judith Golder, Vice-Chairman and Treasurer of the Market Committee, along with the Market Manager, Maria Brenchley.
Orford Country Market is a super-successful, flagship market where everything is home-produced or hand crafted by local people. In a time where it is essential to increase the footfall in our towns the local market should be a vibrant part of the shopping experience. I am pleased they are many successful markets in Suffolk Coastal that not only provide unique goods but bring communities closer together.
Finally, I hope you all were able to see the Olympic Torch. Thankfully the sun shone and showed our coast at its best."
"There was good news in Parliament last week as the Fisheries Minister announced that the Government had achieved itslong term aim of progressively eliminating fish discards through the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Fishing discards are absolutely unacceptable and I am glad this Government has managed to get a discard ban in motion, despite the opposition of some member states. There is now an obligation to fish to a 'maximum sustainable yield' from 2015, which will mean that fish stocks will recover faster and better, so there will be more fish to be caught.
Last week I also met with Highways Minister, Mike Penning in relation to the future of the A14. It was a constructive meeting. The A14 is so important to businesses in Suffolk and the Port of Felixstowe. The Minister updated us on progress with the road and railway network. 6 options have been published with the preferred option set to be decided by the autumn.
I welcome the progress made although there are serious issues concerning tolling that need to be fully thought through. It is important that the plans do not unduly impact upon our port. I want to see lorries incentivised not compelled to use toll roads and getting containers onto trains is major part of the solution.
This week in Parliament, Schools Minister Nick Gibb MP backed Suffolk County Council's 'Raising the Bar' initiative, to improve aspiration and attainment in Suffolk. It is important our young people achieve the best they can and that they are fully prepared for the world of work.
As a supporter and speaker for the charity Wateraid, I wanted to draw your attention to the Big Dig that was launched this week. The project will transform lives of people in rural Malawi by providing the basic necessities of clean water and safe toilets. The campaign is the first of its kind because Wateraid will be discussing the progress live at www.thebigdig.org, where you can also meet locals involved with the project and watch the progress made. I am delighted that the Government will match donations pound for pound. Improving water and sanitation is absolutely vital in reducing poverty and developing the economy of the third world."
"I hope you all enjoyed the Jubilee celebrations. Suffolk looked spectacular decked out in red, white and blue. I was in London for the Thames flotilla and then managed to get to celebrations in various places in the constituency. The fireworks and beacon lightings were very special crowning a very community-focused few days.
I am pleased that Saxmundham Free School has the green light to open its doors this September. The uncertainty for parents and pupils was building, fortunately no more. That goes for the children, staff and parents at Leiston High School. I recognise this will have an impact on nearby schools but I do think the choice will be a benefit for parents and the school presence is a boost for the town of Saxmundham. I have objected to the County Council's school transport proposals. We need to improve the attainment of children in our county (in bottom quartile on GCSE results) not just allow the status quo.
I attended the community engagement event on Sizewell C, organised by Suffolk Coastal and Suffolk County Councils. This gave local parish and town councils plus organisations like RSPB and the National Trust the chance to hear about the planning process and plans of EDF. Questions arose on roads, skills, accommodation and several more topics. The formal public consultation will not start till later this year or even early 2013. This session (and another one planned) allows the councils to form a shared vision on their approach to negotiations with EDF prior to submitting their planning application.
The National Farmers Union's (NFU) new report published last week, revealed that farming is bucking the current economic trend. This sector contributed some £85 billion to the UK economy last year, while helping to keep some 3.5 million people in work. I was pleased to join more than 60 of my colleagues, including the Secretary of State Caroline Spelman MP, to back the launch of the "Farming Delivers for Britain" campaign. Britain's farmers including those here in Suffolk are producing food with less impact on the environment than was the case in the past and deliver some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world."
"This week is Local Newspaper Week and it is timely to recognise that local papers remain the single most popular print medium in the UK. Local papers are essential for local democracy and are the hallmark of a free society. I congratulate everyone that puts together the Coastal Scene as well as our other newspapers in the region for ensuring this continues.
Importantly the Energy Bill was published in Parliament this week. This is great news and is the first step to allow EDF to assess its investment in nuclear energy. The Bill will reform the market introducing long-term contracts that pay a steady rate of return for low-carbon energy, covering nuclear and offshore renewable, reinforcing our reputation as the Green Coast
There is a lot of work to do in Parliament to keep this moving along but it essential for the future of our energy supply and Sizewell C will bring jobs and investment to our part of Suffolk.
As the Diamond Jubilee weekend fast approaches it is great that the community is coming together to mark the Queen's 60 years on the throne. I am sure you will all enjoy events such as the big lunch. I was pleased that Saxmundham Town Council were successful in obtaining a grant of almost £4,500 to hold a two day festival including a family day and tea party with games, fancy dress and a disco.
Looking forward to the summer and beyond the Jubilee, there is a wide range of Cultural Olympiad events in Suffolk for everyone to enjoy – including the Aldeburgh World Orchestra in Snape just a week before the opening ceremony. Full details of events can be found at - www.risingtothechallengeeast.co.uk"
"Her Majesty the Queen opened Parliament for the 59th time of her reign this week as the Government set out its legislative programme for the new Parliamentary session.
Importantly the Queen's speech included the Energy Bill. In a week where a new President has come to power in France there has been talk about EDF's ongoing investment in Sizewell. EDF is a long term investor in Nuclear Power both in the UK and France and I would be surprised if there was any sudden change. This does stress the importance of getting on with the Energy Bill though and was pleased that it formed an integral part of the Queen's Speech. The development of Sizewell C is essential for the future of our energy supply and will bring jobs and investment to this part of Suffolk.
The Queen's Speech also included measures to cut red tape through the Regulatory Reform Bill – a key measure to help businesses grow and create jobs.
This was an area I highlighted in my recent businesses survey sent to 2,800 businesses with registered offices in the constituency, to ask about their plans on growth, exporting, skills, recruitment and raise awareness of apprenticeships. The Government cannot create jobs itself but it is important the Government sets the right conditions to allow businesses to thrive. There were some important announcements in the recent Budget, such as the cut in income and corporation tax as well as enterprise loans to help young people start their own business. However we can always do more and I want to hear from businesses about what else they require.
I am also inviting businesses to attend an Export Seminar that I am running with Peter Aldous MP, designed to give some practical advice on how to start exporting goods abroad. Representatives from UK Trade & Investment and UK Export Finance will be able to give 1-2-1 advice on doing business overseas. The breakfast seminar will take place at 7.45am on 18th May 2012 at Halesworth Golf Club, Bramfield Road, Halesworth, Suffolk, IP19 9XA. It is due to finish at 10am and places are limited in number. Companies should register, by contacting Annette Dunning, Assistant to Dr Coffey by Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Telephone: 01394 610045.
Suffolk County Council has recently launched a 3-month consultation on home to school transport in the Saxmundham and Leiston area as a result of the planned opening of the Free School. The document suggests that although parents can choose which school to send their children too they may be forced to pay to get them there depending on where they live.
It is far too early to be making proposals like this. Saxmundham Free School hasn't even been given the final go ahead yet. We need to assess the situation in a few years after things have settled down and the Free Schools have had a chance to bed in. The very reason the free school came about was parental demand for choice and that choice could be taken away by these proposals. If you would like to respond to the consultation you can do so here - www.suffolk.gov.uk/your-council/decision-making/consultations/home-to-school-consultation/. All responses should be in by Friday 1st June."
"This must be the wettest drought on record. Long may it continue for our farmers – though not too much longer! While the rain is painting a grey picture on the Suffolk seascape, the political weather in Westminster is proving a little choppy too. The mixed climate offers up the good news of more people being employed than two years ago, accompanied by high unemployment (more people have made themselves available for work), and the very disappointing news that we have now gone into recession. Certainly the problems in the Eurozone have not helped and it should be no surprise that when European countries are in recession, it is difficult to avoid the same fate given confidence and exports. It is important though to continue to tackle the deficit and debt crisis, shape the conditions for businesses to thrive and to create jobs. The recent announcements in the Budget will help this.
Talking of creating new jobs, last week I met with representatives from EDF, including the head of the project team, to talk about future plans for Sizewell C. The construction and operation of Sizewell C will create thousands of jobs and we need to grab that opportunity locally. EDF will be proactive in the local community, encouraging local people to apply for jobs and businesses for contracts. The skills prize is there and I look forward to hearing more about their local investment plans in colleges and training. Furthermore, for Sizewell B, EDF is continuing to implement all of Dr Weightman's post-Fukushima recommendations. This includes the building of an off-site energy response centre that will be going out the consultation next month.
Back in October the Secretary of State approved the initial application from the Seckford Foundation for Saxmundham Free School. That subsequently went out to public consultation earlier this year. I am pressing the Secretary of State to for the final go-ahead. The Free School will be great news for Saxmundham and well deserved for all those parents and members of the community that have championed the school.
Works to repair sewer on the A1094 in Snape have now got underway. Although inconvenient it doesn't seem to be causing massive disruption so far, I know it has potential to badly impact businesses right next to the diversion. Anglian Water have promised to do it in 7 weeks rather than the original 12 and I will keep pressing Anglian Water to do it even quicker."
"Due to emergency sewer repair work in Snape, the A1094 is due to be closed this coming Monday. Anglian Water hadoriginally planned for works to take place over a period of 3 months, which would have had a devastating impact on businesses, the communities of Aldeburgh & Snape, Aldeburgh Music and could have disrupted the Olympic Torch relay. I know this vital work has to be undertaken but along with Aldeburgh Business Association led by Naomi Tarry, I made representations to Anglia Water to reduce the amount of time it will take to make the repairs. They have listened to community concerns and will increase resources together with working for some of the weekend to reduce the planned time for the road closure to 7 weeks -still not ideal but much better than the full 12 weeks and I know we will both encourage Anglian Water to do it even quicker.
This weekend really is the last chance to show to suppliers that Suffolk is really interested in getting good broadband here, to the heart of every village. It is important that we get as many expressions of interest as possible. In Olympic year I am hoping for a sprint finish. Please see the table below with the details of your local area. Snape, Sternfield and Aldeburgh are in the rear with just 1.6 or 1.7% of households showing an interest. Well done Iken, Chillesford and Stratford St Andrew for pressing ahead. To help Suffolk go for gold, log on to www.suffolk.gov.uk/broadband in the next two days and back better broadband for Suffolk.
I visited the restored Tide Mill in Woodbridge recently. It really looks fantastic so congratulations go to Tony Hubbard and his team from the Tide Mill Trust for delivering the project. It will provide an opportunity for local and national schools to learn about the mill's important role in the industrialisation of England. Our coastal heritage is of great importance and this project is special in terms of its bridge between the sea, the river and industrial manufacturing.
Finally, I hope you all had a restful Easter. The rain may have spoiled the bank holiday for some but we needed it and it was good news for our farmers. I hope the hosepipe restrictions can be lifted sooner rather than later but we will need a few more downpours first."
"Following the recent cable theft in Rendlesham, I pursued the matter with BT Executives to get the residents re-connected. Although there was an initial delay I am pleased the situation has now been resolved. The cut off was a great disruption for residents and businesses in the area. It showed the importance of Broadband and of digital communication on which we all rely. That is why I want to encourage you all to sign up and register your interest in fast rural broadband. So far fewer than 8,000 households across all of Suffolk have done this and some more businesses. 1.8% have signed up in Aldeburgh, 2.4% in Leiston, 2.6% in Saxmundham, 2.7% in Woodbridge, 2.3% in Yoxford and 9.2% in Rendlesham. The County has set up a website to capture demand so let's show that that demand is there. Register online at www.suffolk.gov.uk/broadband or you can call my office for a hard copy on 01394 610045.
Metal theft is an increasing problem in the UK and the theft from the exchange shows we are not immune to this problem in Suffolk. The Government are bringing in a change in the law to prevent cash payments.
The Budget announced last week takes 2 million people out of income tax altogether and cuts corporation tax, incentivising job creation, employment and rewards those who work.
A new simplified planning framework was published this week which replaces over 1,300 pages of planning policy with just 52. This is an important move that gives our district councils greater say on planning policies in our part of Suffolk. It puts the views of parishes and towns on a firm footing when plans are being considered. No longer will Whitehall issue diktats for example how many parking places per house will be allowed. The new framework also allows greater discretion on criteria and possible sites for wind turbines, which has been cause for concern in rural parts of Suffolk Coastal. The good news is that departmental officials are on standby to help our councils bring in that new guidance locally.
Her Majesty the Queen visited Parliament last week to make a speech celebrating her Diamond Jubilee and to receive speeches from both the Lord Speaker and Mr Speaker. It was a privilege to be in Westminster Hall to listen to her address where she spoke about public service and the strength of family. Two things that she has constantly demonstrated during her 60 years on the throne."
"I am sure we were all concerned about the announcement from Anglia Water this week to place restrictions on the use of water from April 5th. I know most readers of the Coastal Scene use Essex & Suffolk Water who have held back from a ban for now, but it is a reminder to us all that if we don't use water wisely then we could be next.
Last year, I highlighted the issue of drought with the Prime Minister. After constant rain in early summer, I joked I would not do it again but there has been good interaction between users, ministers and agencies to plan ahead. Water companies have been asked to do their bit by stepping up their leak detection to make sure leakage is kept under control and to keep their customers informed. I think both Essex & Suffolk and Anglian have put a lot of effort into this.
Farmers have also been asked to plan ahead for their irrigation needs, including options for scheduling their irrigation, filling their winter storage reservoirs and working with others through local water abstractor groups to share water resources. I know that it is frustrating that potential restrictions could be placed on the usage of domestic water – and things will be worse if restrictions are placed on agriculture. If yields fall then food prices may increase. It is in all of our interests to use our water sparingly.
On 30th March, I am hosting a Business Surgery for small and medium sized companies. The Better Business Finance initiative aims to help businesses thrive by providing them with the support of a business mentor, access to important information and improving access to finance. Recent Government research shows that small businesses who seek external help have a greater chance of success, increase their turnover and are able to grow their business. I want businesses in Suffolk to benefit from this mentoring opportunity and help boost the local economy. The meeting will take place at Lindos Centre, Melton, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 1PP on the 30th March 2012 from 3-5pm. Spaces are limited to 20 businesses. If you want to attend please call my Constituency Office on 01394 610045 to book your place.
Earlier this week the Culture Select Committee conducted a session on libraries. I was pleased to mention Clive Fox, the Chairman of Suffolk Libraries IPS – the newly formed organisation to run Suffolk libraries. He submitted evidence about the community acquisition of libraries. I am pleased that this new model is being held up as an example of how a not for profit organisation can run library services locally with greater involvement from the community.
I also met Education Minister Nick Gibb to press the case for fairer funding for Suffolk Schools in rural areas. The Government's consultation on school funding has closed but it was useful to reinforce key points, adding to contribution that I recently made in a debate on rural schools. It was a useful discussion and I will be following up once the Government has issued its response, hopefully before Easter.
Harmoni – the out of hours GP service provider - has just published an interim report on the trial of using eight surgeries across Suffolk instead of ten. The local change was moving the service from Aldeburgh and Wickham Market to Saxmundham. So far there has been an increased level of patient contacts under this model than the comparative period last year. I have asked for signage off the A12 and in the town to make it easier for people to find the surgery and Harmoni will issue directions by text. However I would still like to hear from constituents about the success or concerns of the current trial.
Finally, I was delighted to speak in the Humble Address to Her Majesty as MP's gathered to celebrate the Queen's commitment to service, family and of true duty to the United Kingdom. Before she was Queen, her Majesty served in the armed forces during world war two, showing that what was good enough for her subjects was good enough for her. The example she set then was an important part of the national war effort and her live has been one of service ever since. I am sure that she will continue to serve us for years to come. Her Majesty comes to Parliament next week for a formal address to both Houses of Parliament."
"Following on from the constituency tour, this week I am launching Coffey Direct – a series of public meetings forresidents to come along and ask me questions about national or local matters.
The first of these meetings takes place today (Friday) at 7.45pm in the Community room of Leiston United Church. Tomorrow (Saturday) I will be in Wenhaston Village Hall at 11.15am.
It will be a case of first come, first served but no-one will be allowed into the venue till just before the scheduled time. Coffey Direct will be coming to Woodbridge on the 14th April. Details of this and future forums will be on my website - www.theresecoffeymp.com.
Springtime is almost upon us and apart from a week or two of very cold temperatures it has been a surprisingly mild winter. We have all noticed how little rain we have had, which is why, back in December, the Government started putting measures in place to counteract a summer drought. Last week saw the meeting of the drought summit which brought together key players in the water industry. They focused on the future likelihood of drought, measures that are already being implemented to tackle drought and to decide on the actions that may need to be taken to mitigate against its impact in the future.
I welcome the summit. It is good to be on the front foot. There are however, obvious concerns from consumers and especially farmers about any future plans to tackle drought. If yields fall then food prices increase, so it is in all our interest to help our farmers. It is key that farmers plan for their irrigation needs, including options for scheduling their irrigation, filling their winter storage reservoirs and working with others through local water abstractor groups to share water resources.
As part of the Government's red tape challenge (www.redtapechallenge.cabinetoffice.gov.uk) to reduce bureaucracy on individuals and businesses, water regulations are now being considered. It is a chance for local farmers to suggest how the Government can improve abstraction licensing for example or you may wish to comment on drinking water quality, flood management, inland waterways, marine conservation or fisheries. There are over 420 regulations attributed to Water & Marine – I am sure this can be reduced.
Continuing the 2012 Olympics theme, I visited the Leiston Lynx Basketball Club last weekend and a tournament they held in recognition of achieving their Sport England Clubmark Award. The Clubmark recognises the commitment made by sports clubs to develop high quality, welcoming environments for young people. It is important to keep delivering our sporting legacy even after the Olympics."
"This week I have been conducting my first constituency tour, visiting villages across Suffolk Coastal, over two days.
It was great to meet so many people to talk through a wide variety of issues, to visit businesses and sample Suffolk produce in the shops, pubs and village halls across the constituency. We were made most welcome by Howell Jenkins, along with the Chairman and Vice-chairman of Melton Parish Council, Cllr Mrs Bryony Abbott and Cllr Miss Katy Martin at Five Winds Farm at Melton Station with some delicious sausage rolls on offer. The amount of people coming to see me at my various stop off points varied from 40 to none! I wanted to visit as many villages as possible were I don't usually host regular surgeries. The main issues raised were about planning and housing, most notably flagship properties.
I have already organised an important meeting with the Chief Executive of Flagship that will take place before this article goes to print, to discuss concerns raised by residents.
Many constituents have expressed their concern about the number of empty properties (107) that exist locally, as well as comments about maintenance and repair. I will bring all of these up when I meet with them. I will also be asking why Flagship Housing hasn't bid for any grant money to build more affordable housing.
Last week saw the launch of the Coastal Communities Fund a new multi-million pound Government project to support the economic development of coastal communities.
This is great news for Suffolk Coastal and I encourage quality bids from organisations that support economic development including charities, social enterprises as well as local authorities. This has the potential to have a real and lasting impact on our local economy.
The money will be allocated using half of the revenue raised by the Crown Estate's marine activities, and is estimated to be £23.7 million in its first year. I am concerned that there is no indication that the amount of money allocated will be proportionate to the amount of money generated from Crown Estate activities in each area. Ministers previously promised this and I will be taking this up with the Secretary of State.
The big lottery fund will distribute the money and guidance on how to apply can be found at: http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/regeneration/coastalfundprospects"
The statutory consultation period has opened on East Anglia Array and will run until the 30th March. It is welcome that cabling instead of pylons is to be used to bring the power onshore but undoubtedly residents are going to have questions about the route. There is a Public Information Day in Woodbridge Library on the 21st February from 1pm – 7pm if you would like to attend."
"I have just set up the All Party Parliamentary Group on the Off-Gas Grid, working with MPs of all parties, to focus on issues affecting residents in regard to heating their homes. I have significant concern about the domestic oil market and aspects of the LPG market. Many Coastal Scene readers will have experienced difficulties with rising prices and supply problems. Prompted by my questions in Parliament the Office of Fair Trading did conduct a study into the heating oil market and found that most residents had a choice of suppliers. I accept that but I think we need a stronger voice for consumers and we hope to bring all households under the scope of OFGEM.
The consultation on the Galloper Wind Farm has started. I know many constituents are concerned about where the cables will come onshore and the further transmission via pylons or cables. As part of the consultation, there is an exhibition this weekend at Sizewell Beach Cafe on Friday from 4-8pm and on Saturday from 10am-2pm. The consultation closes on February 24th and any views should be sent direct to the IPC. More information is available online at http://infrastructure.independent.gov.uk/projects/eastern/galloper-offshore-wind-farm/.
The Marine Management Organisation is running a Marine planning drop in session on Monday 13th February from 11am-3pm at the Aldeburgh Yacht Club.
Last year I tabled an Early Day Motion and led a debate in Parliament calling for the BBC to dismiss the idea of centralising its radio programming. I was therefore pleased that the BBC has announced that they will think again about the planned cuts to local radio. The Chairman of the BBC, Lord Patten said that some aspects of their plans had a disproportionate impact on local and regional output and they are now looking at ways protect the local identity of services. Local radio is important to license fee payers and celebrating community moments is where local radio truly excels.
Parliament's recess coincides with school half-term. My team from London are coming up for a couple of days and also I will be touring villages across the constituency on 13th and 14th. Come along and say hello.
Monday 13th Friday St Farm Shop - 9am ; Campsea Ashe Auction Rooms - 9.25am; Hollesley Village Store 1105; Alderton Store 1140; Melton Station and 5 Winds Butchers -1215.
Tuesday 14th Darsham Village Hall - 9am; Middleton farm shop - 9:30am; Yoxford Post Office - 10.10am; Walpole - 11am; The Queens Head in Bramfield - 11.30am; Huntingfield Arms in Huntingfield - 12.05pm for a spot of lunch, then the Cratfield Village Hall Car Park -12:50pm and in Linstead Village Hall Car Park at 1.20pm. The programme is confirmed and although it is unlikely the timings and locations will change it cannot be guaranteed so check online to make sure (www.theresecoffeymp.com). I do hope to meet as many people as possible so if you are in the area drop by and see me."
"The long parliamentary campaign to bring proper mobile broadband to rural areas has taken a huge stride forward. Theregulator OFCOM finally announced its proposals for the auction of 4G broadband to include coverage to at least 98% of the UK population. Current 3G coverage is only about 80% of the population while mobile phone companies are only currently obliged to cover 95% of the population, 90% of the time for phone calls.
As I said in the House of Commons last May, there was a risk OFCOM is being penny wise, pound foolish and that in future it could become very expensive for this country to have truly mobile broadband. My select committee challenged OFCOM's coverage target of 95% as being unambitious back in November and we re-iterated the call for a 98% coverage obligation. Thankfully in last week's announcement, OFCOM proposed options which should ensure that 98% or more of the population receives 4G mobile broadband coverage. This means that many who currently do not have a mobile signal will now receive one, and that millions more will have their signal upgraded from a 2G 'voice' signal to a 4G signal, capable of carrying broadband data.
This investment will transform the fortune of small and medium sized businesses, currently hamstrung by inadequate mobile phone and internet coverage. Homes, schools, farms and businesses will get access to decent mobile and internet coverage for the first time. I think it is also very good news for our tourism industry and hopefully we can get going quickly on the auction and deployment of the technology.
This week is Big Energy Week, the Citizen's Advice initiative to help consumers spend less heating their home. Many residents have been hit with an increase in energy bills this year and as part of the solution, uSwitch.com has launched a service called 'Send us your bill', designed to help households that are not online to get accurate and impartial information about energy prices and to switch to a cheaper deal. Constituents interested in the 'Send us your bill' service should post a copy of their latest energy bill with a contact telephone number to: FREEPOST USWITCH. Alternatively, people can call 0800 093 06 07 to speak to a customer services adviser. Send in your bill and make sure Big Energy Week works for you.
The Saxmundham Free School is carrying out its consultation and 8th February is the last day to submit your views. Go online to www.saxmundhamfreeschool.org.uk to find out more. I am supporting the Free School as there is a clear demand from parents and from people in the town for a High School. That is not to criticise Leiston Community High School and I don't. I do believe that parents having choice is good for raising standards across the board. Change and uncertainty are unsettling but have a read and give your view.
Finally, there were further disappointing results on the Ambulance Service. With other Suffolk MPs, I will continue to press the case for patients who by definition are at their most vulnerable awaiting emergency medical support."
"We have a lot to look forward to in 2012; the Olympics, the torch relay coming to Suffolk, the Cultural Olympiad and of course Her Majesty's Diamond Jubilee. We have a once in a lifetime opportunity not just to enjoy these events but for tourism businesses to make the most of it.
Last month I met with the Minister John Penrose MP to discuss the Government's support for tourism businesses in Suffolk Coastal. The Government has introduced a series of measures to boost the hospitality and tourism industries and the Minister explained how these would impact directly on jobs in Suffolk. The tourism industry plays such a vital part in our local economy. 2.9% of local residents are employed in this sector so it was good to have the opportunity to make the case directly to the Minister.
The Tourism Regulatory Task Force Report identified more than 60 out of the 102 Government regulations affecting the hospitality sector which will be abolished including the placing of no smoking signs. The Government have also announced plans to get rid of some of the much hated bureaucracy that discourages people from organising concerts, plays and other live entertainment. All of these measures coupled with a £150 million advertising campaign to market Great Britain at home and abroad will boost growth and jobs in the tourism sector.
Another important focus for me in 2012, and something which I have been working on for some time is the cost of fuel for those off the gas grid. A recent study, which I called for, was published by the Office of Fair Trading. It did not lead to concerns on competition grounds though the cost of heating oil is still high. As a result of this I recently set up an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the matter and was elected co-chairman by my colleagues. Through the group I aim to establish greater consumer protection for residents as well as focusing help on those houses hardest to insulate.
On a similar matter Suffolk has recently received £265,000 in Government funding to run a scheme to help vulnerable people keep warm and safe during the winter months. Cold weather can cause misery, avoidable illness and even death for too many older people. I am therefore delighted to welcome the funding for Suffolk from the Warm Homes Healthy People scheme. The money will enable the local authority to work alongside charitable and community organisations to help to keep vulnerable older people well during winter and ease the strain on local NHS services. Fuel poverty is a prevalent issue in Suffolk Coastal and I want to make sure it stays on the agenda in Westminster.
Finally, it is good news that the Thorpeness defences were finished before Christmas and the savings have been put to repair additional defences. This was a good partnership between residents, the Council and the Environment Agency that will act as a blueprint in Suffolk and around the UK."
"In the Bleak Midwinter is playing on the radio yet Christmas 2011 is quite mild (if not meek) compared with last year. Nevertheless, the cost of heating can have a major impact on household expenditure.
Recent figures have revealed that in Suffolk Coastal 13% of homes are entitled to some form of assistance with their fuel bills. That help is worth an average of £250 per household. You can contact a free helpline 0800 33 66 99 and receive advice on dealing with heating bills as well as other help such as grants for insulation or a new boiler. The heating oil prices are still high, though thankfully not as high as 2010. I am delighted to announce that I have set up an All Party Group with other MPs to raise key issues for those constituents who do not have access to mains gas. More on this in the New Year.
Christmas can be a tough time for those who are ill in hospital and the impact this has on their families – but it is a time of year for hope. Before the election David Cameron promised that his priority could be summed up in 3 letters N.H.S. I am proud that this Government is absolutely committed to improving our health service. Despite difficult financial circumstances we have kept to our word and the health budget is growing nationally and in Suffolk. Suffol
k PCT will receive an increase of £26 million or 2.8% increase to take the total budget to £943 million. Even still, I will be pressing for an increase in budget to reflect the rurality and proportion of elderly in Suffolk which costs a lot to support. That may help then deliver better response care for rural patients including a better ambulance and out of hours care service. I have been pressing the case and met Health Minister Simon Burns on the challenges for constituents in the IP15 postcode particularly. The good news from that meeting was that the commissioning criteria are due to be changed from April so at least the Ambulance Service will be tasked effectively county by county to respond to emergencies, as opposed to the regional target.
An important "white paper" was published by the Government concerning water. We all know in Suffolk Coastal how precious water is for our farming industry. Most production of crops in our area is undertaken with irrigation, using water quite sparingly, while water is sourced from aquifers or from rivers. I have already raised concerns with the Minister but I need more specific evidence from farmers so please do get in touch.
Last month, many constituents were disrupted by the strikes. I am delighted therefore that many of the unions have signed a heads of agreement on changes to pensions. When we are all living longer and when the co
Finally may I wish all Coastal Scene readers a merry Christmas and I hope you have great time with family, friends and neighbours."st of public sector pensions has increased by a third to £32 billion in the last decade, again it is this Coalition Government that has grasped the nettle of reform but it has, I believe, negotiated a good deal for public sector workers and the taxpayer. Not many private sector workers enjoy a defined benefit pension scheme. A lot of those were closed down when taxation changes in 1997 and other accounting changes hit pension schemes hard. I hope that union members now vote to accept this deal which should be longer lasting than before."
"It was great to welcome the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on Monday to Suffolk Coastal as they held their regionalCabinet meeting at BT's research HQ in Martlesham. While at BT, the Prime Minister learned more about the broadband deployment underway and also visited the tele-health suite which shows how technology can help people enjoy healthcare at home.
David Cameron certainly heard the message that improving the transport infrastructure is key for our county, crossing Suffolk and connecting East Anglia with the rest of the country on rail and road. Business Secretary Dr Vince Cable was very complimentary about our LEP who he had met the week before. This was a positive day showcasing our county and I received many compliments later that evening.
The Chancellor's Autumn Statement contained some more tough medicine for the country. The crisis in the Eurozone is affecting us all but the Chancellor has promised to do whatever it takes to protect Britain from the debt storm whilst building the foundation for future growth. The potential downgrading of other Eurozone countries credit rating will hurt them but by keeping to our programme, we can maintain our low interest rates that really help home-owners.
The Chancellor also pledged that the Government will help businesses and families by cancelling the proposed 3p rise in fuel duty due to come into effect in January. This is really good news for us all living in rural Suffolk. I still think in gallon differentials and 14p per gallon will really help.
Talking about planning for the future it may surprise you that in the depths of winter measures are being put in place to try to prevent a summer drought. In a recent report published by the Environment Agency and backed by the Environment Secretary, farmers, businesses and water companies are being asked to plan carefully how they store, use and share water.
The drought that has affected eastern England this year could continue until next summer. We had a very dry spring this year – and back in May I highlighted the issue with the Prime Minister. If sustained rainfall does not replenish water levels that were depleted during that time then there is a high risk that we could be in drought next summer.
Water companies have been asked to step up their leak detection to make sure leakage is kept under control and to keep their customers informed, encouraging them to use water wisely. Anglian Water have been issued with a drought permit to refill one of its reservoirs and will continue to work to avoid any hosepipe restrictions next year."
Farmers have also been asked to plan ahead for their irrigation needs, including options for scheduling their irrigation, filling their winter storage reservoirs and working with others through local water abstractor groups to share water resources.
The Environment Agency will reassess the likelihood of a prolonged drought, along with any further recommendations and report in early 2012. I will continue to press for appropriate action for residents and our farmers in the coming months."
"The difficult time for the global economy continues apace and the unemployment figures especially amongst young people announced last week were of course a disappointment.
The Government are taking action to try and get people into work and to create jobs, through the work programme and regional growth funds. They are also delivering record numbers of apprentices.
The creation of apprenticeships are being welcomed here in Suffolk Coastal and EDF energy recruited 16 more apprentices this year taking the current level of apprentices at Sizewell B to 50. EDF have just launched their 2012 recruitment campaign to search for talented engineers for their advanced nuclear apprentice scheme.
They are organising an apprentice information day on Saturday 3rd December at Sizewell Sports and Social Club wi
th presentations given at 10.30am and 2.30pm. So if you are thinking about a career as an apprentice go along and find out more.
I have also welcomed the Government's plans to support women's enterprise. It was announced recently that funding will be provided for 5,000 mentors to support new and existing female entrepreneurs. Currently women are only half as likely as men to become entrepreneurs. Specifically trained mentors will be able to address particular concerns of female entrepreneurs such as access to finance, building confidence, achieving a work life balance and working from home.
We already have many successful businesswomen in Suffolk Coastal like Rachel Ducker from Apparition Marketing & Design, Erika Clegg from Spring and Julia Ewart from the Cotton Tree. Unleashing women's entrepreneurial abilities could add billions of pounds to our economy every year. We just can't afford to overlook the talents, skills and experience of women across Suffolk Coastal.
This week I met with Culture, Media and Sport Minister Ed Vaizey to highlight the poor freeview reception experienced by residents in some parts of Suffolk Coastal.
For those of us not on the main transmitter we have been unable to access the full freeview service. The digital switchover has provided extra channels but some residents will be left disappointed that they are unable to access services such as ITV3 or Sky News. All of us who cannot get the full service still have to pay the full license fee so I have been pushing the Minister to rectify the situation. He was sympathetic and will look into options to resolve it. He said this is a scarce time for public resources but we have to come up with some innovative solutions."
"Today is Armistice Day and at 11am the country will fall silent to commemorate the end of the Great War. It was said that it was the war to end all wars, but as I attend the service at Rock Barracks today, I will also be remembering those brave service men and women who fight for us across the world, especially in Afghanistan. British Forces fight for our freedom and liberty and it is important we pay tribute to them. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice and their memory should be respected. That is why I have tabled an Early Day Motion calling for the vigorous prosecution of those who have vandalised War Memorials up and down the country. The motion also encourages the Heritage Lottery Fund to allocate funds to restore memorials to their full glory in time for 2014.This week the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) has confirmed all the communities through which the Olympic Flame will be carried during the London 2012 Olympic Torch Relay. The exciting news is out that the Olympic Relay will stop off at 10 communities in Suffolk Coastal including Kelsale, Saxmundham, Aldeburgh, Ufford, Melton and Woodbridge. Olympics fever will be reignited with this news and shows the power of sport bringing communities and humanity together. This is a power that was evidenced by the reaction of Ipswich fans last weekend when they applauded Billy Sharp after he scored at Portman Road. His goal may have put Ipswich two-nil down but the recognition of his pride and professionalism to carry on playing in memory of his late son is something that should make the community here in Suffolk very proud.
LOCOG has this week launched a new participative programmed called the 'Local Leaders' initiative. It is an invitation to people across the East of England to take the 2012 Games into their community and create their own celebrations next year. People are encouraged to sign up to the Local Leader programme at www.london2012.com/localleaders to receive further information on a range of themed celebration ideas.
As part of my Parliamentary duties I sit on the Culture, Media & Sport Select Committee. The key function of a select committee is to scrutinise departmental policy, spending and administration. We have recently reported on football governance, yesterday we again questioned James Murdoch on the phone hacking scandal and we are about to conduct an enquiry into gambling. Importantly we also published a report last week on the spectrum auction.
The spectrum auction is highly relevant for rural areas like ours in Suffolk Coastal as it will increase broadband provision. The regulator Ofcom proposes that one of the spectrum licences should have a condition of providing mobile internet coverage to least 95% of the population. On that basis, everyone in Suffolk, Cumbria and Northern Ireland could be excluded from accessing 4G coverage. However, at my request, my Select Committee pressed for greater coverage to 98% for more than one license to encourage both collaboration and competition. Ofcom has had a very difficult job adjudicating between competing and polarised interests and they are concerned that constant disagreement and special pleading from the four mobile network operators appears to have further delayed the spectrum auction. They believe that the basic rules for the auction are sensible and fair and that further delays will result in the UK falling behind in this vital area. I am not prepared to let some parts of our community get left behind in the digital age so am pushing for this to happen as soon as possible."
"The Indian summer which we all enjoyed earlier this month is starting to ebb away and autumn has well and truly arrived. As we approach the winter months ahead it was timely that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) published its report into the off-grid supply of heating oil and its findings to enhance consumer protection.
The enquiry was prompted by questions I asked in Parliament last December at the height of the heating oil price rise.
The OFT has generally indicated that the market is competitive but there are some parts of the country where gradual consolidation of suppliers has led to an uncompetitive market. It plans to go further in specific areas and has already made changes to ensure price comparison websites are not biased towards one supplier and that more transparency on ownership is given to consumers. The greater area of concern to the OFT is the supply of LPG. Complaints that people may be locked into expensive LPG contracts following an initial introductory rate and they are working with the industry to resolve this matter.
I welcome the steps the OFT have taken to improve the transparency in the market and the action it has taken against certain heating oil companies and price comparison websites to make sure this happens. In a debate in energy prices and again in Question time last week, I called for all consumers to have the protection of OFGEM rather than rely on local trading standards officers and the Minister is willing to meet with me on this matter. I will continue to raise this issue with the Government to ensure off-gas grid households are not forgotten.
Since the application for the Saxmundham Free School gained approval for next stage of the free schools process – I have had a handful of comments suggesting that I do not support Leiston High School. I always have supported Leiston High, I have visited that school on a few occasions, including last year's Open Day, and will continue to support them in its new guise of Alde Valley High School from next year. There is no contradiction in me supporting both schools. The community came together to support the school in Saxmundham, I believe in free schools and I also believe that this will provide a choice for parents and lead to improved attainment.
Last week I had the opportunity to raise the issue of the Marine Conservation Zones in a debate in the House. The sea off Aldeburgh and the River Alde estuary area have been recommended to form part of a new type of Marine Protected Area called a Marine Conservation Zone. However it seems that designations are being slapped on top of existing special protection areas simply because the data is available, rather than evaluating other parts of the coast that could easily fulfill the criteria. I understand constituents' concerns about these areas and we need to make sure decisions on future matters are taken at a local level rather than being prevented by a national 'protection'. I will be keeping a close eye on the situation and have set out the views of constituents to the Minister."
"Parliament has now returned after Party Conference season and it was a conference dominated by the economic issues that affect us all. It is important for our economy that the Eurozone does not collapse. I support the Chancellor calling for resolution but not prescribing the precise medicine as we are outside the Eurozone. We now see what an important decision it was to keep the pound and tackling the economic problems of the day is this Governments first priority.
Since returning to Parliament however there has been more upbeat news in the form of some important announcements that affect Suffolk Coastal.
On Monday we heard the news that Saxmundham Free School has reached the next stage of the Free Schools process. The 540 place 11-16 secondary school is hoped to be opened in 2012. This is great news for Saxmundham and I am pleased that the Secretary of State has given the thumbs up to the bid. There is of course still lots of hard work to be done to take this application past the final stage but congratulations to parents and members of the community who have championed this so far. Of course the well established Leiston High school will continue to operate. I support the school as it will offer choice for parents. Choice is well known as a key driver in improving standards and that should be welcome for parents and children across East Suffolk.
On Tuesday the Energy Secretary presented to Parliament the findings of the Weightman report. The report described the current regulation of the nuclear industry in this country as satisfactory. I welcome these findings and the decision not to require significant changes to current procedures. This reflects the current safety standards that are rigorously enforced and clears another hurdle towards the construction of Sizewell C, which is good news for Suffolk Coastal and our Green Coast.
We have all seen the appalling images this week of the cargo ship leaking oil off the coast of New Zealand. Some constituents have voiced concern and linked this to Ship to Ship transfers off of Sole Bay, however it is important to remember this is a cargo ship not an oil tanker. Whilst I appreciate the concerns, Felixstowe has thousands of cargo ships going in and out of the port every year – and no-one is seriously proposing that that should stop. I will however be writing to the Marine and Coastguard Agency to see if there are any lessons to be learnt in the UK in terms of tightening up procedures as a result of the New Zealand Disaster.
Finally – I am looking forward to this year's Aldeburgh Docfest on the 11th – 13th November it is now in its 17th year and this season promises to be the best yet. This year's festival will provide a showcase for the latest documentary films and bring international, award-winning film-makers to Aldeburgh to talk about their work in audience Q & A sessions. It is being organised by Festival Director, Diana Quick, with award winning filmmaker Mark Kidel and top journalist Anna Ford amongst the special guests. Log on and book in at www.aldeburghcinema.co.uk – the exciting programme of events suggests it will be a festival to remember."
"I am writing this column following the busiest period of the Parliamentary year. The House reconvenes for just two shortweeks after Summer Recess and before Conference season, during which there is lots of business to get through. There were many important votes, most notably on the Health & Social Care Bill, together with an opportunity to ask questions in the House on areas of national importance including the state of the economy. It was also an opportunity for me to present my Ten Minute Rule Bill on the Provision of Hydration and Nutrition for the Terminally Ill.
The Bill guarantees the terminally ill access to hydration and nutrition when they are in the last days of life. Decisions to remove nutrition and hydration are, of course not easy. However end of life palliative care is about allowing people to die as painlessly as possible, withdrawing hydration and nutrition in some cases, without the family knowing does not do this. Death comes to us all and without being too morbid, we have to acknowledge it happens and actually think a little bit about how we want it to happen. I am strongly opposed to euthanasia and assisted suicide. That doesn't mean that I think someone has to be constantly resuscitated to prolong the life of someone who may have just days to live. However, I am vehemently opposed to the removal of water or food as I think it is terribly cruel for someone to starve to death or die through lack of water. The Bill went through to Second Reading unopposed and although it may not make it onto the statute book – it gives the House of Commons the opportunity to discuss this important matter.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has recently announced that work to take superfast broadband across Suffolk can begin after the local broadband plans were approved. Suffolk has been allocated £11.68m of Government funding for broadband roll-out and the county will now put the work out to tender. Secretary Hunt congratulated the Suffolk project and said that he was delighted that Suffolk shares his view of the importance of providing people with superfast broadband access. This, of course, is great news for Suffolk Coastal, the delivery of rural broadband is a key priority for the Government and it is great that the Suffolk project is being held up as an example for the rest of the country to follow.
For those who didn't see it, Ofcom also made an important recent announcement. They have resolved to ban rollover contracts, which tie landline and broadband customers into repeated minimum contract periods unless they opt out. At the moment rollover contracts automatically renew after your initial contract period has ended and roll forward to a new minimum term – with penalties for leaving. This gives a key protection for many of us who are being locked into long term deals, often without our knowledge. In essence stronger competition is being returned to the market.
Before I go to Manchester for the Party Conference, Conference recess has given me a great opportunity to spend some time away from Westminster and in the constituency. I have been celebrating the 125th anniversary of Felixstowe Port this week and was pleased to welcome Princess Anne to Suffolk Coastal who opened the new deep water berths. It was also a great pleasure to visit Woodbridge Primary School.
Finally – I am pleased to report that I completed the 7 mile charity walk between Snape and Thorpeness for WaterAid and thanks go to Patti Mulcahy, Helen Macleod and Julia Grant for keeping me company."
"As I write this I am still recovering from the 7 mile walk from Snape to Thorpeness that I completed last weekend to raisemoney for the international charity WaterAid. Okay it wasn't in the same league as David Walliam's amazing effort, but we did our bit and took on the coastal paths to raise money for the water charity.
All the money is going towards supporting WaterAid's work to improve access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene in some of the world's poorest communities.
It is not too late to sponsor me. Just log on to my just giving page www.justgiving.com/SuffolkCoastal and pledge your support.
The Alde and Ore Futures Consultation ends on the 25th September. The Suffolk Coast Futures project is a pilot project in which various partners including SCDC, SCC, Suffolk Coast and Heaths, the Environment Agency and Natural are working to develop a coordinated approach.
The project is designed to bring together all the environmental, economic and social elements to develop a co-ordinated approach to address the long issues of the coast and the estuaries.
The document entitled' Alde and Ore Futures – Managing the Coast' is available on the Environment Agency website and I would encourage you to have your say.
I recently paid a visit to the Babcock Transmitting Station in Orford Ness. It was fascinating to go round and look at how the technology has developed, from what previously were very large structures to small bedroom sized pieces of equipment which are used today. Until recently the station broadcasted the BBC World Service, it is still operational, broadcasting Dutch Radio and trying to attract further broadcasters. It is also ready should the World Service be re-enhanced.
Talking of transmitters, last week in Parliament I brought up the plight of many residents in Suffolk Coastal who will not receive some TV Channels when the Tacolneston transmitter switches over. ITV3 for example will not be available on the relay transmitter from Aldeburgh.
I raised my concerns with the Minister Ed Vaizey that and suggested that license fee payers should be the ones who choose the channels they receive if they are not to have the full range of services. I am keen to see customers asked what channels they want instead of this being left solely to broadcasters. In his response Ed Vaizey said "I am afraid that about 10% of the population does not get the full range of services, but the core 15 channels". He did however promise to meet with me to discuss the issue and I will keep you updated.
Finally this week has also seen the release of the Boundary Commission for England's initial proposals in response to the Government's commitment to cut the cost of politics. There will be 50 less MP's at the next General Election and a change in the boundaries is required to reflect this. The good news for Suffolk Coastal though is that there is no change. All of the present communities that form beautiful Suffolk Coastal will remain part of the constituency for the next General Election. I hope therefore to re-present myself for re-election in 2015."
"After conceding 12 goals in 2 games it probably wasn't the best time to go and watch Ipswich Town - but that is exactly what I did last Saturday and I must have brought them a lot of luck. As that stoppage time strike by Keith Andrews looped into the net the stadium went wild - a perfect way to show the Chairman of the FA, David Bernstein, the passion of the local fans that live here in Suffolk.
I will resist the temptation to go every week as I support the club where I grew up but what an advert for the local area and I am sure Paul Jewell will now get things moving in a positive direction.
As I am a member of the Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Select Committee I am part of a Sport England scheme partnered with the Football Association, the aim of which is to gain an understanding of some of the governance, operational and strategic issues that the FA faces on a day to day basis. This was part of that scheme and it was a pleasure to accompany the Chairman of the FA around the local area where we visited a wheelchair team and found out more about work with people that have learning difficulties.
As we approach the end of Parliamentary recess it has been a good time for me to reflect on all the events that make the Suffolk Summer so special. I have really enjoyed attending the various carnivals, fares, shows and performances over the last few months. The community spirit here makes them so wonderful.
As I head back to Westminster next week - I will continue with my campaigns to deliver fast broadband, to focus on defending our coastline, to tackle the quotas to make sure our fisherman get their fair share and to campaign against fuel poverty.
If you want to contact me about any matter please feel free to do and of course I will be back at an event near you at the weekends. I am looking forward to the Open Day at Rock Barracks and heading to Boyton for the Village fete when they will receive their award.
You can contact me by e-mail on email@example.com or by calling my Constituency Office on 01394 610045 or Westminster Office on or 0207 219 7164.
Annette is joining Patti in my Woodbridge Office and I am recruiting a new secretary to work with Phil in Westminster.
I hold two surgeries a month and you can phone the Woodbridge office to get an appointment. You can keep up to date with my activities through my website www.theresecoffeymp.com or on twitter www.twitter.com/theresecoffey.
Finally if you would like to come and visit Parliament then visit www.theresecoffeymp.com/contact/visit-parliament for more details."
"This week I have been back and forth between Suffolk and London as events have led to further Parliamentary duties in the House of Commons.
Firstly Parliament was recalled last Thursday to debate the riots that had erupted on the streets of London and other cities in our country. Suffolk Police helped the Met last week to help regain full control of the streets. I know that there was some anxiety that it would leave Suffolk exposed but I am pleased that there were no reports of any trouble locally. I completely condemn the scenes that we all saw on our television screens last week. They were sickening. This is criminality, pure and simple and it has to be confronted and defeated. We must not rush into knee-jerk responses but the Government is on the side of the law abiding people and I am pleased we are helping the businesses and communities affected get back on their feet.
Secondly as part of the Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport Select Committee we met on Tuesday to discuss the ongoing phone hacking scandal. There have been some shocking twists to this saga which appeared as the letter written by Clive Goodman was published. As a former finance director I always say 'follow the money' and the committee needs to establish why Mr Goodman received £200,000+ from the News of the World after he came out of jail. We haven't recalled James Murdoch yet - but we may need to recall him and a host of others as we proceed with our investigation.
Despite this, Parliamentary recess (apart from maybe a small holiday) is about being in the constituency talking to people, visiting businesses and charities, taking up problems on your behalf, attending events and promoting the Suffolk Coast. I have also been continuing my summer tour around the constituency and visited West End and John Woods Nurseries in Leiston and Pettistree recently along with visits to Walberswick and Aldeburgh. I'll say more about my trip to the Babcock Transmitting Station in Orford Ness another time. Many people have raised with me the spread of ragwort in parts of the constituency. It is important that we get this plant that so blights our livestock under control. I have written to the appropriate authorities and spoken to a DEFRA minister on this. If you know of anyone who owns a field full of ragwort and seems not to be doing anything about it, let me know.
Talking of promoting the Suffolk Coast – I was pleased at the announcement earlier this week that Suffolk is to receive £11.68m as part of the Government's £530 million investment in the UK's broadband network. Fast broadband is absolutely vital to our economic growth, to delivering public services effectively, and to conducting our everyday lives. However some areas of Suffolk are missing out, with many communities suffering painfully slow internet connections or no coverage at all. I am not prepared to let some parts of our community get left behind in the digital age – so welcome this investment wholeheartedly.
Finally, I have now set up my justgiving page for the Sponsored Walk I am doing for WaterAid on the 10th September. If any would like to sponsor me then I would be grateful if you could go to www.justgiving.com/SuffolkCoastal and pledge your support. For more information or if you wish to join me go to www.coastalongforwateraid.org."
It is a year to go until the greatest show on earth comes to our Capital City and despite the Mayor of London claiming that we are so ready we could have a snap Olympics, there is still much to look forward to before the Olympic clock ticks round to 27th July 2012.
London 2012 is about legacy – and in this coming year it is our chance to pass the Olympic torch to a new generation of Britons. We are committed to making London 2012 'Everyone's Games'. To date 18,500 schools are engaged in our education programme; Get Set, 10 million people have taken part in the Cultural Olympiad and Inspire programme and right around the country we are hosting events including ones in Suffolk to find our 70,000 Games Maker volunteers.
Last week I joined my London 2012 All Party Parliamentary Group colleagues with the Olympic Torch to celebrate the landmark moment on our journey to the Games and as a Member of the Culture, Olympics, Media & Sport Select Committee scrutinising the preparations for a successful Olympics and the legacy is an important part of our brief.
Whilst we can all dream of next Summer, today's work doesn't stop. A report published last week by the Treasury Select Committee has described the service provided by Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) as 'inept'. The report exposed the poor management culture which has led to only 48% of phone calls being responded to and 'endemic' delays in replying to correspondence. This of course will not surprise some constituents that contact me on these matters. This is not an acceptable state of affairs, the Government needs to get a grip on this and clearly reforms are needed. In the meantime if anyone is having a problem eliciting a response from HMRC then please do get in touch with me.
On a brighter note the Government has announced that it is launching a new multi-million pound fund to support the economic development of coastal communities. This will support a wide range of projects, including those that support charities, the environment, education and health. Examples of projects could include support for developing renewable energy, improving skills or environmental safeguarding or improvement. This is great news for the Suffolk Coast and I encourage local projects to apply. Further details can be found at www.biglotteryfund.org.uk.
The Heritage Lottery Fund also continues to help fund projects in Suffolk and following the funding to restore the Woodbridge Tide Mill earlier this year the HLF have awarded a grant of £1.4million to the Celebrating 100 years of Benjamin Britten project in Aldeburgh.
Talking of the arts, I enjoyed the Red Rose Chain's performance of Twelfth Night recently. This is one of Shakespeare's better comedies so do go along and see it you will certainly be entertained and the setting in the middle of Rendlesham Forest adds enchantment. Well done to the cast and crew for a lovely evening.
Finally, I have decided to take up the challenge of a 7 mile walk for WaterAid on the 10th September. Around the world, a staggering 884 million people do not have access to the basic necessity of safe water and 2.6 billion are forced to cope without adequate sanitation. When communities do not have clean water, the burden often falls to women and children who have to walk miles each day to collect water they know will make them ill. The distance walked by most 'Coast Along' participants will be similar to the daily routine for millions of women and children in Africa and Asia. If anyone wants to join me on the 'Coast Along' between Snape and Thorpeness then that would be great. I have picked the route that avoids the shingle? Go to www.coastalongforwateraid.org for further details
"It has been an extraordinary couple of weeks in Parliament. As a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committed I was privileged to ask questions on behalf of Suffolk Coastal and the nation of Rupert & James Murdoch, as well as Rebekah Brooks on Tuesday.
This has been an awful scandal, people have broken the law to get a particular news story, Parliament has been misled in the past and we need to get to the bottom of it. The meeting was not a trial nor were the MPs out to grandstand or to jeopardise the police inquiry. Instead, we were seeking information to put together a picture of the situation at News International for our report. MPs play different roles as inquisitors and some of it may not seem obvious at the time but have to be agile as colleagues start to go down the line of enquiry you had planned to ask.For my part and amongst other points, I quizzed Rupert Murdoch about his negative experience of being in the headlines this week and whether this would influence him when he is writing headlines about others. His sombre reaction said it all - and he said it was a matter of taste. The hacking of Milly Dowler's phone certainly wasn't tasteful and we need to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.
This week I have also been debating the National Energy Policy Statement, which was announced earlier this month.
It was an important debate on the future of energy in this Country and following my contribution in Prime Ministers Questions last week, that Suffolk had ambitions to be the greenest coast, I announced that I am fully behind the Policy Statements. In particular the one referring to Sizewell as a potential new nuclear site. I am also comforted that within the statements the Environment Agency has provided general support for Coastal Erosion mitigation plans. I do recognise however that the transmission of electricity needs to be considered carefully, considering the AONB and natural landscapes in Suffolk Coastal. Speed is now of the essence and is certainty needed to engender investor confidence.
My Wreck Removal – Private Members Bill received Royal Assent from Her Majesty last week. We have now ratified the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) convention on the removal of shipping wrecks. Shipowners not the public purse will now have the pay the full cost of removal for any of their wrecked vessels.
Talking of which the latest proposals for the Coastguard service were released this week and can be seen online at www.dft.gov.uk/mca and the Consultation has reopened. I want to emphasise that our local coastguard patrols (staffed by volunteers) continue and it is the coordination centres that have reduced in number. I am disappointed that Yarmouth was not kept open but am confident that the transition to the new system will be done professionally.
In contrast there was better news in another statement made this week. Defence Secretary Liam Fox announced RAF Marham will continue its important role as a British Military Base; Marham will now become the main home of the RAF's Tornado force. This is of course great news for the East of England and demonstrates the success of the local community coming together in the 'Make it Marham' campaign. I am pleased that our region continues to be a strong Military power house and I'm proud that we contribute so much to the defence of this nation.
On a lighter note, last Sunday, I visited the Peasenhall Pea Festival. It was a fantastic day, well organised and well attended. The highlight for me was being asked to take part in a chop stick pea eating competition. I managed to eat 23 peas in a minute which I didn't think was too bad, but that wasn't good enough for victory as the winner managed 43. It is clear your M Pea needs to get into training for next year."
"As the sun has come out again this week I have reached for my hat, this one however doesn't protect me from those warm rays - I have my campaigning hat on.
I organised a public meeting in Sutton Heath last week, which I thought was very useful. Suffolk Coastal District Council Leader Ray Herring was present and heard many of the views. He has taken away the action to look at the impact of the works undertaken so far and to reflect on the next steps on the heath restoration project. At the second meeting about concerns of noise perceived to be from travellers and others coming into the forest, it was good to hear reports from council officers and our police superintendent on what they have been able to do. The most recent intervention was seizure of equipment in early May and it does appear to have had a positive impact.
I have also launched a campaign for an integrated-barrier level crossing at Melton to replace the 'lights' only system. I met with Network Rail bosses and Cllr Bidwell earlier this week and explained to them that this crossing was dangerous. We have heard of many instances of vehicles jumping the lights and when a bus driver stopped on the crossing with a bus full of school children, the consequences could have been much worse and too terrible to think about. Network Rail were responsive to my suggestion but it is clear we are going to have to do some more lobbying on this matter as it is set to cost them about £1m. There are many level crossings that need improving across the constituency but due to the numbers of people that use this crossing - it is important we continue campaigning. I hope Coastal Scene readers and the paper will help us with that.
The Alde & Ore Futures Project kicks off this week and the organisers are launching a big conversation. They are pioneering a community-led approach to managing the challenges faced by twenty coastal communities from Thorpeness to Shingle Street. There are a series of meetings across the constituency and more information is available online. The conversation is running until the 30th September so log on and contribute your views - www.suffolkcoastfutures.org.uk. Bill Parker is the council officer and his number is 01394 444553 if you want to know more.
Finally if you are a dog lover like me, it has now become easier to take you pet abroad. Although I spend much of my time encouraging people into Suffolk I understand that a foreign holiday is sometimes desired. As of the 1st January 2012 the UK's Pet Travel Scheme will be brought into line with the most recent science. Meaning a relaxation of the outdated quarantine laws. This island has long been free of rabies and it needs to stay that way. However, given the science I welcome the new rules. It will now be easier for pets to travel with their owners at reduced cost and with more flexible timing."
"On Tuesday I had the pleasure of being part of the Parliamentary Group welcoming home 120 service men and women who have recently returned from Afghanistan including our Woodridge-based 23 Engineers who served as part of 16 Air Assault. They paraded into Westminster for a Parliamentary reception and were presented to Defence Secretary Liam Fox. Many MP's gathered outside the North Door of Westminster Hall to pay tribute to our brave soldiers but I was proudest MP of all as the parade was led by Lieutenant Colonel Frazer Ross Commanding Officer of the 23 Engineers based a Rock Barracks ably assisted by RSM Beattie.
It was Parliament that sent these men and women to Afghanistan and it is only right and proper we welcome them home.
Talking of welcoming people - I was pleased that the Minister for coastal affairs (amongst other things), Richard Benyon visited Suffolk earlier this month to attend a conference for Coastal Councils. Along with other delegates from Council's all around the country, he visited a few sites in the constituency to see for himself the excellent, sometimes pioneering work that has been done by Suffolk Coastal District Council on coastal matters. The visit included a look at a coastal farm to discuss the specific challenges that coastal farmers face; tourist sites; and wildlife conservation areas. Suffolk Coastal can be proud of hosting this conference and showcasing its work as a model for other Councils. The Minister gained a useful insight into some of the challenges we've faced, and how we've successfully overcome them.
Since my last column I have been very busy in Parliament and recently chaired the launch of two Seafarer training programmes, where young people will get paid to train for a career at sea.
At a time when 20% of young people are out of work or training, the shipping industry is creating jobs and training opportunities. The programme led by the Merchant Navy Training Board is a collaborative project with several major shipping companies, seafarer unions RMT and Nautilus, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and nautical colleges across the country to provide a series of rigorous training programmes for new recruits. I was delighted to host the launch of this new initiative, a life at sea can be a very rewarding career and this accelerated training programme providing apprenticeships for young people is a fantastic project. I am also pleased to learn of a similar scheme for tugboats, a familiar site in the Felixstowe area and would encourage companies and colleges to take full advantage. For further information please log on to www.careersatsea.org or www.maritimeskills.org.
In other news I was pleased about the Government decision on sentencing guidelines it is clear they have listened to people's concerns. We continue to send a strong message to potential criminals that they will face a substantial prison sentence if they commit a serious crime. Prison works as a deterrent, and we should not be cutting the amount of time convicted criminals spend in prison. It is a long established British tradition that those who lie about their guilt should be punished more than those who take responsibility and own up early to what they have done wrong. However we already have a maximum plea bargain 'discount' of one third and this should not and will not be increased.''
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