Reporting back from Dartford and Westminster - now reaching over 5,000 people in the local area
Welcome to my latest newsletter.
Delay Repay 15
It has been announced that train passengers travelling on Southeastern, who are delayed for more than 15 minutes, will now be entitled to compensation.
The improved compensation scheme, Delay Repay 15, means that passengers who are faced with a delay of 15 minutes or more, can claim a refund for part of their ticket instead of after a 30 minute or more delay, which used to apply.
I am really pleased to see this scheme has finally come into force in Dartford. Passengers throughout the constituency want a cost-effective train service they can rely on, so they can use the trains confidently and without fear of delay.
We know that since the introduction of Oyster in Dartford in September 2015, the number of passengers using rail services to and from the station has increased significantly and I hope this latest change will encourage more people to use the rail services available.
School bus services
Many parents have contacted me about a reduction in school bus services by the bus company, 1st Bus Stop. This has particularly affected those attending North Kent College and schools in Wilmington. It has resulted in children not being collected from school because the bus is too full to pick them up and therefore not even stopping. This has left some children stranded with no other way to get home.
I have been in contact with Kent County Council who subsidise bus usage by school children. I have also taken this issue up with 1st Bus Stop, who contacted my office in response and were dismissive of the problem.
This situation cannot continue. 1st Bus Stop has the contract to run these buses and if this issue continues then it may become necessary for Kent County Council to look seriously at whether that contract can continue.
Castle Hill Development, Ebbsfleet
I was recently invited to the Castle Hill Development in Ebbsfleet by David Wilson Homes, who is delivering 154 new homes.
During the visit, I was given a tour of the development and met with Project Manager, Altin Murataj, who recently won a prestigious Pride in the Job Quality award at the National House Building Council's annual awards ceremony.
David Wilson Homes is also celebrating its recent 5-star housebuilder status, after being awarded the rating in the new Home Builders Federation annual customer satisfaction survey.
I also met with Lydia Elder, a Help to Buy customer and one of the first residents to move onto the development.
It was great to visit Castle Hill to meet with the team and a resident and to find out about all the work that has been going on to deliver quality, affordable houses for residents in the Dartford area.
Currently available at Castle Hill are a range of two-bedroom apartments and two, three and four-bedroom homes, with Help to Buy available on all new homes under £600,000.
Meeting staff at David Wilson Homes.
Meeting Lydia Elder, a Help to Buy resident.
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New drone footage of progress at Ebbsfleet Garden City
Lower Thames Crossing - ground investigations
Highways England has launched a programme of ground investigations along the route of the Lower Thames Crossing. Tests will be carried out at over 700 locations, including over 400 boreholes, ground water sampling and monitoring, shallow trial pits and a wide range of unobtrusive geophysical surveys. The information will give engineers a clear picture of the type of soils, rock and groundwater along the proposed 14.5 mile route and will aid in the design of bridges, viaducts, embankments and cuttings. The studies are also vital for planning the construction of the tunnel under the Thames, which will be the world's third-largest bored road tunnel.
The video below explains what will be happening.
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Click on the photo above to play the video about the Lower Thames Crossing ground investigations.
Campaign for Safer Roadside Rescue Recovery
Earlier this year, I visited Dynes Motor Group which operates a roadside rescue and recovery business out of Dartford.
Dynes is part of the Campaign for Safer Roadside Rescue Recovery which was set up following the death of one of its employees who was tragically killed when he was carrying out a roadside recovery.
The aims of the campaign include raising awareness of the dangers posed to recovery operators and allowing workers to display prominent red lights while they are attending accidents and breakdowns, rather than the amber light they are currently able to use.
I share their view that more needs to be done to improve their safety and I was pleased to add my name to a letter to the Secretary of State for Transport calling for him to grant them the right to use red lights.
Dartford Science and Technology College - Community Day
Dartford Science and Technology College held its fifth annual community day this year. The aim of the day is to make a direct, measurable and visible impact upon the Dartford community. It is not only beneficial for the town but has a long-lasting and positive effect on the students as well.
Placements included litter picking, gardening, painting and general help, together with befriending at Age UK's Meadowside Day Centre and a senior citizens' tea party.
This year, 700 students and staff volunteered in and around Dartford.
Opening of Osterberg Visitor Centre
I was delighted to officially open the new Osterberg Visitor Centre at North Kent College earlier in the summer.
A lot of people aren't aware that netball, now played by millions around the world, was first played in Dartford at the end of the 19th Century. The new Visitor Centre celebrates the Bergman Osterberg Physical Training College which was located on the site and is where the sport was invented.
It is possibly one of the best-kept secrets that netball was first played right here in Dartford in 1895 at the Bergman Osterberg Physical Training College.
I hope this new centre, which features a treasure trove of artefacts, photos and literature about the history of the college and its sports, will become a popular attraction.
Following this official opening, the new Visitor Centre will be open to the public on Wednesdays between 10.00 am and 4.00 pm.
More information about the organisation can be found by clicking on the link below.
Bergman Osterberg Union<[link removed]>
Prince's Trust Celebration
In my last bulletin, I reported on the Prince's Trust Team Programme. This is a personal development programme providing unemployed youngsters aged 16-25 with the chance to take on new challenges, take a qualification, make friendships and develop vital skills to help them find work.
I was delighted to join a group of young people at the celebration evening to mark the end of one such programme. During the evening, they had the opportunity to give a presentation reflecting on their time on the programme, sharing their experiences and showcasing the talents they have discovered.
It has now been more than three years since Dartford resident, George Low, was murdered on the last day of his holiday in Cyprus.
George, 22, was with his friend Ben Barker in Ayia Napa when the pair were stabbed in an unprovoked attack. George was killed and Ben, who was seriously injured, survived the attack.
In July I attended the inquest into George's death, which was held in Maidstone, where the Coroner read out evidence of events on the night and recorded that George had been killed unlawfully.
Since the events in August 2016, no one has faced justice for these crimes and although some progress has been made, the two suspects are thought to be living freely in Turkey.
More recently, I met with the Turkish Ambassador and the Turkish authorities who are working with Kent Police to try to find these two men.
New police officers and visits to Kent policing teams
Last month, the Government launched a national campaign to recruit 20,000 new police officers. Millions of pounds have been pledged to support the first wave of 6,000 new police recruits who will be shared across the 43 police forces in England and Wales. A further 14,000 officers will be recruited over the following two years. I welcome this news and it should ensure more police officers will be on the streets.
Since Police and Crime Commissioner, Matthew Scott, took over in 2016, there are hundreds more police in Kent and this latest announcement will be a further boost to Kent Police.
I recently visited the Kent Police control room in Maidstone, where they deal with 999 and 101 calls. It was enlightening to see this professional operation in action and the huge logistical task it takes to manage hundreds of calls every day.
Meeting Inspector Gavin Wade from Bluewater's policing team.
News from Westminster
The Prime Minister's decision to prorogue parliament has been declared unlawful by The Supreme Court. This means Parliament has returned and will continue with its business.
This controversial decision from The Supreme Court will have significant implications but should not, in itself, directly impact on us leaving the EU.
Parliament has passed legislation aimed at stopping a No Deal Brexit and two attempts by the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to call a general election, were thwarted by the opposition parties.
Like two-thirds of people in Dartford, I voted to leave the European Union in the June 2016 referendum. I want to see the UK leave the EU on 31st October, preferably with a deal. However, if the EU refuses to change the deal currently on the table, then I believe leaving without a deal will be less damaging than continuing to delay Brexit.
I believe it is the responsibility of every Parliamentarian to implement the outcome of the referendum. I resigned from Theresa May's Government because I couldn't vote in any other way than to implement Brexit. I will continue to do all I can to deliver on the instruction we were given by the British people three years ago.
Brexit continues to dominate British politics but I hope we can soon move forward, away from this very divisive issue and get on with the job of running the country.
Dangerous Driving Debate
I took part in the above debate which arose from an e-petition calling for life sentences for causing death by dangerous driving.
The petition was started by Mr and Mrs Youens whose daughter Violet-Grace, aged 4, was with her grandmother when a car doing 83 mph in a 30 mph zone mounted the pavement. Violet died of her injuries. The driver and his passenger did not even attempt to help but fled the scene. The driver was sentenced to 9 years and 4 months. Mr and Mrs Youens said the driver and his passenger will be out after serving less time than their daughter lived.
In October 2017, the Government announced it would increase the maximum sentence for causing death by dangerous driving from 14 years to life. The Minister assured the debate it is the Government's settled intention to do this and is an issue of when.
During the debate I said I could not understand why, in the worse cases of death by dangerous driving, the Crown Prosecution Service does not bring a charge of manslaughter, thereby giving the Court the option of a life sentence for the worst types of offending.
Please click on the photo below if you would like to view the debate.
Each month I like to feature a local business, large or small and this month's is The Hug Group who are based at the Nucleus on The Bridge development.
I first visited The Hug Group in September 2017 - the company was formed earlier that year and was developing technology for schools to keep track of groups of children without the need to focus on endless headcounts. This tracking device consisted of a wristband which is linked to an app and alerts the teacher or other adult when the child strays more than a predetermined distance.
I was invited back to visit Hug to find out more about the new product they are developing, called StepITS. This is an anti-obesity intervention for primary schools that leads to a 20% increase in daily activity. It is designed to motivate non-active children and consists of a pedometer for every child which monitors, records and uploads activity data for real-time collation, analysis and display.
Challenges and rewards are then tailored to the age group and children's own interests. Targets can be set at class, year group, school or intra-school level to encourage competition. Achievement certificates are automatically produced for the children to take home. An example of the challenges that could be set is a class studying Egyptian history and the challenge would be for the class to walk the distance of the River Nile during the term.
Whilst diet clearly plays a huge part in obesity levels, we are increasingly becoming a sedentary nation. Active children are happier, do better at school and have fewer illnesses.
If you would like to find out more about the Hug Group, you can click on the link to their website below.
I was delighted to visit a new branch of Home Instead Senior Care which has opened in Swanscombe.
The company's mission is to provide personalised care packages for people in the local community and to enable them to stay in their homes as long as possible. There are no standardised packages and each home care service is tailored to the client's needs and preferences.
Home Instead has over 200 franchises in the UK.
KCC endorse plans for a tunnel linking Ebbsfleet Garden City and Bluewater
Kent County Council has endorsed plans for a £12.2 million tunnel linking the bus route between Ebbsfleet Garden City and Bluewater for the Fastrack service.
Two haulage tunnels previously used during the construction of Bluewater during the 1990's still exist but investigations into their potential use found it would be more cost effective to construct a new tunnel.
The new tunnel will run under Bean Road and go directly into Bluewater. It will also incorporate a footpath and cycleway.
The works will be delivered by KCC using investment funding from the Ebbsfleet Development Corporation and Bluewater.
Visit to John Lewis
I recently visited the John Lewis store at Bluewater and whilst there, I met with the Partner and Head of Branch and had a tour of the store.
John Lewis does great things for the local community and every three months each shop selects three community groups or charities to help. Customers then use a token to vote for the organisation they would like to support.
Each shop has £3000 per quarter to donate which is shared between the charities according to the votes they have received. Charities can then have this support either in the form of products, volunteering time from Partners, or as cash.
John Lewis is also promoting their Working Well campaign. This involves supportive employers enhancing employee well-being and investing in early clinical intervention. This can make a real difference to someone dealing with a physical or mental health condition. The campaign has at its heart that a healthy, engaged workforce can boost performance and productivity. It states that by employers, health experts and government working together, businesses in the UK can save up to £1.7 billion by 2025 from absenteeism by early clinical intervention.
The John Lewis campaign is to see occupational health services as a non-taxable benefit in kind to act as an incentive to employers to invest in clinical intervention. Currently employer-provided occupational health services are a taxable benefit and subject to NI and income tax.
NHS Urgent Treatment Centre consultation
Last month a public consultation began on where to site a new NHS Urgent Treatment Centre.
The new centre is to treat illnesses and/or injuries which are non-life threatening but do need an assessment or treatment on the same day.
Of the two options being proposed, the first is to move the services at White Horse Walk-in Centre at Fleet Health Campus, to join the Minor Injuries Unit at Gravesham Community Hospital to create the UTC. It would open for 12-hours a day between 8am and 8pm.
The second proposal is to relocate both of those services to a new Urgent Treatment Centre at Darent Valley Hospital to run alongside the current A&E Department. This centre would be open for a minimum of 12 hours and could be extended.
Here in Dartford, we have a very good A&E Department at Darent Valley Hospital with a dedicated team of doctors, nurses and hospital staff. However, our local population is growing and so too is the need for greater access to NHS services. A new Urgent Treatment Centre offering people who are ill or injured access to treatment on the same day would be very beneficial to our town. However, Darent Valley Hospital will need assistance to deal with any extra patients this decision could bring.
The consultation is open until 4th November. Please click on the link below if you wish to take part.
Urgent Treatment Centre Consultation<[link removed]>
The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill
A Bill to change the law to give tougher prison sentences for people who abuse animals has passed its second reading in the House of Commons.
If it gets the go-ahead, this law change will mean those people who are convicted of animal abuse, will face up to five years in prison, rather than six months under current legislation.
I think it is absolutely right to bring this law in to send a clear message that abuse against animals will not be tolerated. Courts will be able to take tough action against the worst offenders and I hope this law will act as a deterrent.
This Bill, along with Finn's Law and Lucy's Law, will mean the UK is leading the world in its protection of animals.
APPG for Terminal Illness
I recently attended the APPG for Terminal Illness campaign calling on the Government to change the process for terminally ill people claiming benefits and to move away from the six months definition towards a decision made by a clinician. To this end, the Secretary of State has announced an in-depth evaluation of how the benefits system supports people nearing the end of their life and those with severe conditions.
The event was organised by Rachael Martin-Smith and the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
The Government has announced it will spend an extra £14 billion on schools over the next three years. As part of this, new teachers will have a starting salary of £30,000 by 2022/23.
Every secondary school will receive a minimum of £5,000 per pupil next year and every primary school will receive a minimum of £4,000 per pupil by 2021/22. In addition, £700m extra has been allocated for children with Special Educational Needs.
I welcome this investment in our schools.
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