Latest FSB survey shows strong confidence

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) latest survey shows small business confidence at a record high. Every sector – from construction to retail – is reporting a positive outlook for the next three months. Three fifths of those surveyed are expecting to grow in the next year.

Job creation is also strong, with small firms’ hiring intentions at an all-time high. This is a very important leading indicator – if SMEs are hiring, our school and university leavers have much better prospects. In general the jobs market is much better and I hope all those looking will join me at my Blackfriars Jobs Fair on Friday 14th November.

Political parties and religious groups in the Gloucester Carnival and on Gloucester Day

This is the mail I sent to Council Leader Paul James, reflecting constituent concerns, on the parades at the Carnival and on Gloucester Day. It is for the council to decide if they debate and what they decide:

Dear Paul,

As you know both on the day of the Carnival and on Gloucester Day I received a number of complaints about the inclusion in parades of political parties and groups promoting Christianity.

One constituent put it to me that since both events are supposed to celebrate our city’s cohesion and togetherness why do we encourage or allow groups to parade who divide rather than bring together?

I’ve reflected on this because we’re a tolerant open city and want to encourage as many groups as possible to participate on these two main days. There is no reason why legitimate political parties and faith groups should not have their chance to promote their causes on both days. They should be able to – and do – have stands in the park on carnival day or on the Four Gates during Gloucester Day.

However it is also true that the parades should be fun and a cause for celebration, of real and imagined uniforms, dressing up and charities, and not necessarily an opportunity to promote particular parties or faiths.

And if the city allows one faith or party to parade it can scarcely complain if any or all want to. I do not, for example, want to see the BNP marching in our parades but if we allow one party to do so we have no easy way of preventing others. Nor currently could we object to any religion or sect under the sun wanted to parade, which might be equally controversial.

So let us avoid turning the Carnival and Gloucester Day parades into a divisive affair, with different parties and faiths competing for attention. I believe any legitimate group should be able to organise a stand to disseminate their views but only those whom the council allows should participate in the parade.
That allows you to consider banning both party political and faith promotion from the parades and I encourage you to consider a city council motion to this affect as soon as possible.

Best regards
Richard

British Armed Forces Learning Resource 2014

Here is a copy of a letter sent to all Headteachers in Gloucester to highlight new material about the role of our Armed Forces

Launch of the British Armed Forces Learning Resource 2014

Can I draw your attention to and highlight the launch of the new British Armed Forces Learning Resource 2014. This is a free, high quality resource available to all schools and aimed at educating students about the role of the British Armed Forces.

This has been developed to be used in History, English and Citizenship lessons for Key Stages 1–4, as well as older students. It will enable students and teachers alike to understand the key role our Armed Forces play both here and abroad, their current operations and what it is like to be a part of either the Royal Navy, British Army or the Royal Air Force.

It includes different perspectives, lesson ideas, areas for discussion and links to other publications and information.

I very much hope schools in Gloucester will take the opportunity to make use of this fantastic new resource and help educate the younger generation on the importance of the role of our Armed Forces.

More detail is available via: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/armed-forces-learning

No downside to switching to a water meter in Gloucester

I met with Severn Trent Water  earlier this week to learn more about the plans to reduce prices further at the same time as increasing investment to record levels.

Severn Trent has promised to keep any bill rises over the next five years below the rate of inflation, but I was interested to learn that many people could save themselves a few pounds extra by switching to a water meter – and, if they don’t save money, they can switch back at any time in the first 12 months.

Could you save money by switching to a water meter, which Severn Trent will fit free of charge?

You could get a good idea through visiting http://www.ccwater.org.uk/watermetercalculator/ or www.uswitch.com/water.  You can sign up to a 12 month trial so if it turns out you’re not saving you can always go back to unmetered charges without any questions asked.

 

My expenses

Before the last general election I pledged to cost 20% less than my predecessor.

With less than 9 months to go until the next election today’s latest release of expense figures show I have kept that pledge. My average annual expenses figure since 2010 is more than 20% less than my predecessor’s last published figure 2009-2010 and converted into today’s figures (ie with 5 years inflation) that is a saving of more than 30%.

Like everyone my bills for rent, office stationery and train tickets, as well as my staff costs (including my own apprentice), have all gone up but my office and I have worked hard to go on providing good value for my constituents. We have answered over 24,000 constituent queries since 2010 and this is my most important duty.

So keeping my costs down matters partly because of my pledge but also to set an example to all parts of government and local government. You CAN do more with less.

You can view all the information on my expenses here: http://www.parliamentary-standards.org.uk/ Do let me know if you have any questions by emailing me at richard4gloucester@gmail.com

Invictus by W E Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley was a Gloucester-born poet, educated at The Crypt School in the 1860s. After losing his left foot due to tuberculosis, he wrote Invictus. The poem has since inspired many people, notably Nelson Mandela, who had it on his cell wall for the 28 years he was in prison on Robben Island.

This weekend, the first Invictus Games is being held in London, bringing over 400 injured servicemen and women together from 13 nations, to compete across 9 sporting disciplines. As inspiration for the Games, Henley’s poem is a moving example of the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversity. We need lots more of that resilience in Gloucester and our country.

Why don’t our school children learn about our Armed Forces? They now can.

I’ve often wondered what, if anything, children learn about our Armed Forces at school. If they’re not from a Services family, what does it all mean? For a long time there was simply a vacuum – there was nothing in History or Citizenship that spelt out what our Forces do and why they exist. That’s about to change.

A great new resource has just been announced by Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary. The British Armed Forces Learning Resource is now available to schools and it really brings to life the story of our Armed Forces and the people who make them.

As well as exploring their history, students can see what it is like to work as part of the Royal Navy, British Army and Royal Air Force, both in Britain and abroad. There are many different views and perspectives from longstanding members of the Armed Forces, from Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach to Imam Asim Hafiz.

It is crammed full of information and even includes lesson ideas, so teachers can show the vital role that the Armed Forces have played in shaping the world we live in and why they still matter now and in the future.

I will be sending this fantastic resource to all schools in Gloucester and if you want to have a look yourself, just click the link below.

http://www.armedforceslearningresources.co.uk/

A still, small voice of calm – a different approach to counter-terrorism

I have read a huge amount of nonsense about the threat to the UK from the so called new caliphate Islamic State, and how to combat it.

The article by counter terrorism think tank Quilliam rightly summarises the main proposals so far as a combination of law and war: and notes they haven’t been very successful so far. We may need more tools in place to deal with committed terrorists returning to Britain – but we also need, as they suggest, much more grass roots community cohesion.

This can sound waffly unless we bring it alive with specific initiatives, and that’s our challenge in every constituency. The multi-faith chaplaincy we introduced at the Gloucester Academy (an Anglican and a Muslim working together) is one good example: the education programmes run by the madressa at Widden School, introducing young non-Muslims to the mosques, is another. Mixed club sports like the Gloucester City Winget CC teams are incredibly important too. But there is more at a community leadership level we can do too.

Do read this article as a welcome alternative to increasingly strident voices that get most media attention.

Quilliam Opposes Knee-Jerk Reactions to ISIS by Pushing for More Draconian Laws

Quilliam has long opposed knee-jerk reactions to terrorism, and continues to oppose the temptation to combine law and war as a means to tackling the issue of domestic Islamist and Far-Right extremism.

Law and war each have their respective time and place and we have already seen implementations of arbitrary rendition, detention without trial, profiling, losing the right to silence at ports of entry and exit, and occupation of certain countries. Britain has had no shortage of these measures during war times, yet our terrorism problem globally seems to have gotten worse.

Until now, what has really been missing is the inverse of using law and war: a whole-of-society approach, tying up government, media and civil institutions that work with, between and among communities to strengthen grassroots resilience against extremism and build allegiance to our core democratic values.

Approaching the issue in this manner would be the only long term solution to what is our number one domestic security challenge.

Such a civil-society led approach would require:

1) Standing strong, loud and firm, for our core democratic values and universal human rights, as the best antidote to the terror, rigidity and dogma of Islamist extremism. Watering down our values, employing short term measures, such as the stripping of citizenship or the presumption of guilt before innocence only bolsters Islamist propaganda.

2) We want clarity and cohesion in counter-extremism policy across government departments. To implement this we need a centrally appointed, counter-extremism Czar, accountable to the Prime Minister, to deliver counter-extremism Task Force recommendations and uphold the vision delivered in the Prime Minister’s 2011 Munich Speech.

3) A civil society-led push back against all forms of extremism that unites communities and utilises schools, universities, places of worship, youth clubs, music, arts and culture in order to popularise counter-narratives that discredit extremist ideology.

4) A positive national campaign focusing on what unites us, rather than what divides us, utilising leading role models who promote our democratic values and proudly declare their support for a United Kingdom that is united against extremism and united in support of democratic values. Furthermore, just as government should not disengage from disaffected communities by adopting more draconian laws, communities should not disengage by seeking forms of redress that bypass our political values. We need to encourage more interaction between those vulnerable to extremist narratives and the political mainstream, this should include encouraging a voter registration drive among vulnerable communities.

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Richard in Parliament

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