Reporting back from Dartford and Westminster - now reaching over 5,000 people in the local area
Visit to Dartford Jobcentre plus
I was delighted to visit Dartford Jobcentre plus to thank staff for all their hard work during the pandemic.
When the first lockdown began in March 2020, there were huge challenges for the Department for Work and Pensions with so many people unable to work and additional work coaches were needed in Dartford to support the increase in Universal Credit customers.
Most recently, staff have been focussed on helping people get back into work using the Government's Kickstart scheme and the Restart programme.
The Kickstart scheme provides funding to create new jobs for 16 to 24 year olds on Universal Credit who are at risk of long-term unemployment. Employers of all sizes can apply for funding which covers 100% of the National Minimum Wage (or the National Living Wage, depending on the age of the participant) for 25 hours per week for a total of 6 months. It also covers employer NI contributions and minimum automatic enrolment pension contributions.
For customers facing long-term unemployment, the Restart programme gives Universal Credit claimants who have been out of work for 12-18 months, enhanced support to find jobs.
A new DWP marketing campaign aimed at raising awareness of Kickstart among employers and young people has launched. A link to the campaign website can be found below.
Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust
The new Urgent Treatment Centre at Gravesend Community Hospital works as a walk-in NHS service for patients whose condition is urgent enough that they cannot wait for the next GP appointment (usually within 48 hours) but who do not need emergency treatment at the emergency department (A&E).
Your local A&E department remains open for those who have a life-threatening emergency. However, to ensure patients have the fastest access to the treatment they need, anyone with a non life-threatening condition who would usually go to A&E should call 111 first, day or night, to be directed to the right NHS service.
The new Urgent Treatment Centre at Gravesend Community Hospital will help ensure those people with more serious or life-threatening emergency care needs receive treatment in centres with the right facilities and expertise – and that no patient stays in the emergency department or in hospital longer than is clinically necessary.
For alternatives to A&E locally, please visit: [link removed]
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Health and Social Care Levy debate
I took part in the Health and Social Care Levy debate recently and to listen to my contribution, please click on the photo above to play the video.
The decision to raise taxes was not taken lightly and having spoken with colleagues at the Treasury, I understand they viewed this measure as a difficult but necessary one.
The Health and Social Care Levy (HSCL) will be introduced from April 2022 when NI contributions for working age employees, self-employed and employers will increase by 1.25%. The Levy will be legislatively separated from 2023 when NI contribution rates will return to 2021-22 levels. Dividend tax rates will also be increased by 1.25% to fund the Plan for Health and Social Care.
There are some exemptions to the Levy and it will not apply to Class 2 or 3 NI contributions. This means the highest 14% of earners will be paying around half the revenues of the Levy and no-one earning less than £9568 will pay a penny.
I was invited to visit the refurbished branch of Barclays which moved in September last year from Lowfield Street to Copperfields in Dartford Centre.
The new branch is ‘state of the art’ with Barclays' latest technology and has a fresh, modern feel with better disability access and improved meeting rooms. There is also a digital training area and a small seminar room.
Although the new branch includes the latest self-service technology, staff are still available to support customers.
There has been a Barclays in Dartford since 1891 and this represents the bank's continued commitment to the town.
The new Amazon Fulfilment Centre, based on the former Littlebrook Power Station site, opened recently and I was given a tour of this vast facility.
The site is the eleventh Amazon Robotics Fulfilment Centre and is the largest Amazon building in volume in the UK and EU. It holds millions of items and has 3,000+ employees with 2,000 permanent jobs.
This vast building is powered by the largest solar panel installation of its kind in the UK which will power the site and the remaining energy will be transferred to the grid to help power the local community. The photo below shows the scale of the solar panels located on the roof.
In order to limit cars on site, employees are encouraged to car share and this Amazon site is the first one in the UK to have a fully functional dedicated bus route and a free cycle service to ensure there is minimal impact of transport in the locality.
Amazon has launched the first live virtual tours of its UK fulfilment centres for people curious about what happens behind the scenes when they click ‘buy’ on Amazon.co.uk. Visitors get to see the great technology and people at the centre of Amazon by registering for a free virtual tour at [link removed]
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To play the video of one of the robotics at the Amazon Fulfilment Centre, please click on the photo above.
On the roof of the Amazon Fulfilment Centre
I was recently invited to officially open a new extension at Kentec Electronics in Dartford. The company manufactures life-critical fire control systems and the new extension has enabled it to expand its manufacturing dispatch and stores capability by a third. It has also added further capability to its 'Specials' Department for niche and complex projects, such as those delivered to historic buildings or even yachts.
I was shown around the factory by the Managing Director, Kevin Swann and the Finance Director, Hiroshi Kamei, pictured below.
Kentec has grown considerably over the last thirty-five years to become one of Dartford's top 10 employers and it was fantastic to see how the new production space is furthering its business goals. Kentec is one of the big success stories of the area.
Under the Rainbow Events
Under the Rainbow Events will be holding an art exhibition at Bluewater (lower floor Rose Gallery) until 1st November. It is free to enter and will be open from 11.00 am to 7.00 pm, 7 days a week.
This voluntary, non-profit organisation was founded by Ewa Page, a restaurant manager at Bluewater, who is also an artist. It is dedicated to supporting artists and creatives in Kent through pop-up exhibitions.
Ewa realised during lockdown that many artists had struggled as they had been unable to exhibit their work. She teamed up with fellow artists Allison Ridley and Erika Notarianni and came up with the idea of holding an exhibition. Bluewater offered a free venue and donations and pledges were secured from local businesses and the community.
The exhibition will showcase 60 artists from the south-east and all the artwork is for sale.
To find out more about Under the Rainbow Events, please click on the link below.
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During the recent reshuffle, the Prime Minister asked me to serve as a Minister in the Government Whips' Office. As a Whip, I will play a vital role in ensuring the Government can pass legislation. Whips are also responsible for a wide range of parliamentary matters including Chamber operations, secondary legislation, Private Members' bills and HR issues.
Although I am unable to take part in debates, I will still be able to assist my constituents with problems they encounter as I will have enhanced access to other Ministers.
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