Gloucester can be a City of Sport

This week Parliament reconvenes, but first I had the chance to show Sports Minister Helen Grant why Sport in Gloucester is on the UP. It’s partly the coming of the Rugby World Cup to Kingsholm next year, but much more besides. There’s the planning approval for Gloucester City Football Club to return to Gloucester after 7 years in the wilderness following the floods of 2007. There’s the renovated Jubilee Athletics Track, which is now leading to a much wider partnership with The Crypt school, Gloucester Rugby & Football and the Podsmead Big Local community fund for an exciting new Sports Hub at Blackbridge. And then there’s the new Gloucester Rowing Club clubhouse, which will be completed in 2015 on the Gloucester canal, arguably the best rowing water in the land.

The Rugby World Cup: a new football stadium: a new Sports Hub and a new Rowing & Canoeing clubhouse. Not to mention our revamped and improved Ski Centre and our much expanded Warehouse Climbing Centre, which is looking terrific. The Sports Minister saw our city excited about the Rugby World Cup Games, taking pride in developing other sports and saw that we can be a great City of Sport. Sport lifts communities and builds skills for life – which is as crucial to our young as the sports results themselves: and why I want to help make Gloucester, our City of Sport, a reality.

Making buses more accessible for blind people

I recently had a chance to experience for myself why people with sight loss need audio-visual announcements (AV) on buses, through playing a memory game, at a meeting with Guide Dogs.

All disabled people should have the same access to transport services and opportunities to travel as other members of society but without AV bus passengers with sight loss have to ask the driver to remember to tell them when they have reached their stop – something that isn’t always practical and doesn’t necessarily always work: figures show that 7 in 10 bus passengers with sight loss have been forgotten by a bus driver.

All Stagecoach buses operating in Gloucester comply with the disability discrimination act – they have low floors, have side and rear numerical or destination information and the interior is fitted with special seats, accommodation for a wheelchair and plenty of hand rails. But there’s no current requirement to install AV on buses.

I’ve been in contact with Stagecoach to raise this with them and encourage them to consider it on certain routes where it would be particularly helpful eg serving Milestone School. I know that the technology is very costly but it would make a huge difference to people so I’m delighted that they are now investing in other technology, in conjunction with the RNIB, that could give people without full sight some assistance in using our buses, I’ll be checking on how progress goes with this.

Reshore UK

In January I suggested to Ministers that “there is more we can do to help reshoring, for example by making cash contributions to regional growth funds, cutting business rates locally for manufacturers bringing back jobs and adding reshoring to the UK Trade & Investment job description.” So, nine months on I’m delighted that the government has acted and that the Manufacturing Advisory Service has now joined forces with UKTI to launch Reshore UK, a new one-stop-shop service to help companies bring production back to the UK, meanwhile the Manufacturing Advisory Service are now actively working with a number of manufacturers in the South West that are looking to bring production back instead of outsourcing overseas.

Reshore UK will provide a matching and location service, access to advice and support and a named individual to help each company. The MAS’ role is to help support SMEs to be globally competitive while UKTI will use its global networks to identify and attract foreign companies to invest.

Research has shown that the UK is now the cheapest place to manufacture in Western Europe and when dealing with suppliers who are based in the same country or even county it’s easier to build stronger working relations. This combined with competitive corporate tax rates, skilled workers and strong legal protections is encouraging more and more companies to bring work back here. The trend is already happening on our doorstep with Gloucestershire-based ADEY Professional Heating Solutions recently giving a £1.5 million contract to Future Advanced Manufacture, business that was previously being done in China and this great new initiative should encourage more and more of this.

Update on train services Gloucester – London

I have heard concerns from a number of people about reduced direct rail services between London and Gloucester and whether this is an impact of the work to redouble the track between Swindon and Kemble, so I asked First Great Western to clarify the situation. This is their reply, which is broadly reassuring. The key thing is that investment in eg new trains is inevitably dependant on what happens to their franchise soon:

There has been no reduction in the number of direct services between Gloucester/Cheltenham and London Paddington at any time of the day. Some services have however been affected by temporary changes to facilitate improvement works. Many of the delays that currently occur on this route are caused by more than one train needing access to a single line. Following redoubling this will be significantly reduced.

The business case Network Rail made for the redoubling of track between Swindon and Kemble was about facilitating service changes when the InterCity Express Programme (IEP) high speed trains are introduced from 2017 onwards. The additional track improves the reliability of the railway both locally and across the network, prepares the route for meeting customer growth forecasts for the next 30 years, and opens up an important diversionary route.

As well as providing a more reliable existing train service under the current timetable the doubling creates a high capacity diversionary route between London and South Wales that doesn’t require the local Swindon – Gloucester services to be suspended and replaced by buses when running South Wales diversionary services. The enhanced diversionary capability of the route will be used extensively during 2016-2018 to support the wider Great Western route upgrade programme. We were always clear that the doubling would not mean an immediate improvement in the timetable. It is however the first stage in providing additional services. This is because while the dualling provides additional track capacity between Cheltenham and Swindon there is no change in capacity between Swindon and London; this only changes once electrification is complete. The dualling works, were sequenced for delivery now to enable the improved diversionary capacity, so that we could avoid South Cotswolds customers having to use buses. Once electrification is complete it will enable an additional train each hour to run directly between Cheltenham and London. This is the intention once the additional super express trains (already procured by the Government and now being built) are delivered from 2017 onwards. This is therefore a work in progress, with an immediate improvement in reliability, and the ability to maintain rail services throughout the remainder of the electrification works. There is absolutely no worsening of service and as you know if we can we will make some small timetable improvements next year. This is currently waiting Department for Transport approval and we will be happy to keep you informed on progress.

Latest figures show that families now have more disposable income

Research from Asda has shown an increase in spending power since the beginning of the year with disposable incomes at £5 or 2.8%  higher in August this year than the same point last year, marking the eleventh month in a row that families have had more money to spend after covering the essentials such as rent, utilities and bills. Household budgets have been helped especially by falling food and fuel prices.

This is encouraging as a fall in inflation and lower prices does make a difference to the weekly shop and people’s cost of living. The recent fall in inflation despite sterling weakness during the month before the Scottish Referendum should mean that this is sustainable as sterling strengthens again. If so that would reduce pressure on a rise in interest rates and keep mortgage payments low for longer. Both would be welcome.

Who do you turn to if you’re ex Armed Forces and need counselling?

Recently a constituent got in touch about an ex Armed Forces friend who needed counselling. Who could he turn to? So we did some research, and in case this info could help any other constituent, here’s what we came up with:

Please pass this on to anyone you know who is ex Armed Forces and needs help.

Conference Tuesday

Another sunny start, walking along the canal to the Conference. I passed 14 locks, several narrow boats, Canal river trust volunteers & a team of council guys on the path clearing ivy & brambles like Dad’s Army in camouflage. Outside the ICC I bumped into two men each disguised as a sun, who represented the Friends of the Earth plugging solar panels for schools – a good cause.

Inside the buzz was from more orthodoxly dressed ministers. Axing the pension death tax, capping benefits, ending tech companies’ tax avoidance schemes & funding another million apprenticeships. These are all important: passing on pension savings will incentivise us all to save. Meanwhile I want to understand how a freeze on working benefits and the arrival of Universal Credit will affect my constituents.

Much was Gloucester related, whether the Canal & River Trust, Heart Radio, different charities like Guide Dogs & the Citizens Advice Bureau – who were celebrating their 75th birthday. All of them play a key role in our city, and Heart is sporting some if our best good causes.

I spoke at a pensions event, never the sexiest subject but so important. I led the debate on annuities earlier this year and we got radical reform. Now I want to see more investment into infrastructure, more innovation from technology and good guidance for all to help decisions on retirement finance options – now helped by being able to pass on a pension. This government has made about 5 million people savers through Auto Enrolment, and getting the next stage of smaller employers enrolled will get us closer to having ten million new savers.

Dodging what looked like a decent Gloucester Rugby scrum of security minders around Boris, I greeted visiting party leaders from Sri Lanka, Uganda and Mongolia, all here to see our ideas for a new Parliament. Over 15,000 people from all the UK and a few hundred visitors as well – sharing key ideas on making sure the country keeps going forward. There was even time for a drink in shirtsleeves with my constituents outside at 9pm, beside the canal. It was almost as good as the Gloucester Quays.

 

Conference Sunday

Sunday. To church at St James’s Barton & catch up with many old friends. Lunch with my niece by Ross & Anthea gets me to the train to Birmingham on time. New Street permanently under re-construction. Walk from hotel to ICC along canal.

Chair session by VSO on the International Citizen Service, sister of National Citizen Service. Run by VSO and paid by the taxpayer through DIFID, this is a brilliant project that changes lives.

10,000 young so far have been on it: 25 from Gloucester & 67 from Gloucestershire. Aman and Lily were the alumni on my panel with ex DIFID Secretary Andrew Mitchell, Minister Desmond Swayne and VSO Director Brian Rockliffe.

96% of those who go (for 3 months to a developing country to do a specific project with young from there) say it has hugely helped their opportunities in return and 68% are volunteering when they come back.

Years ago I ran small aid projects for the British High Commission in Kenya and it changed my perceptions of aid, money, government, happiness, difficulty and what the individual can achieve – life in one word.

Today our youngsters can learn this at 16 through the NCS, on a great course run by Gloscol: and then later on the ICS run by the VSO. They will never forget the experience: it will change their outlook and make them great, active citizens.

These programmes will be among David Cameron’s great legacies, and EVERY family in Gloucester with children should seize this opportunity.  It’s there for all: there are no class, colour, creed or cleverness barriers at all. All you need is curiosity about the world we live in.

Great to have been able to celebrate this with two outstanding examples of active young citizens at our Conference.

How and why I will vote today

I will support the motion today to respond to the Iraqi government’s request for military help in combating the brutal invasion by ISIL. We will do so alongside a coalition of regional countries and two other permanent Members of the UN Security Council. This is legal action to defend both Iraq’s and our own citizens against a horrific threat – one which has nothing to do with Islam, as the letter from Gloucester Muslims in today’s paper makes clear. See link http://www.gloucestercitizen.co.uk/Gloucester-Muslims-express-horror-threat-Alan/story-22981032-detail/story.html

But as Ban Ki-moon said, ‘missiles will kill terrorists, governance kills terrorism’ and we will need a detailed coalition plan to help Iraq re-build a nation of tolerance for Sunnis, Shias, Kurds and Christians to live in. This will take years and that is the hard work ahead.

Devolution of Powers

The key principle at stake is no responsibility, no vote. If the UK is to give more powers to Scotland then we have also to consider what’s fair for England – and Scottish MPs voting on bills that impact England and perhaps other parts of the UK, but not Scotland, makes no sense. So a Parliament has to sort this out. Gloucester, and all of England, expects.

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Richard in Parliament

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