Update on Flooding in Royston

April 29, 2009

With all the extra building in Hertfordshire the risk of flash flooding increases, with water running off large expanses of concrete and tarmac. We have also seen changes in weather which have resulted in serious storms.

In Royston over recent years, we have seen flash floods caused by unusually heavy downpours but also contributed to by these other factors. Other parts of the Constituency have also been affected and this is a wider problem.

In Royston, fats, oils and grease had caked up the sewers making life even more difficult. I have been pressing Government to come up with a plan to tackle this increasing problem. I recently asked Questions in the House about whether storm drains could be made larger to cope with the risks of a serious storm.

It is therefore welcome that the Government has brought forward a draft Flooding Bill, but I will be examining it closely and pushing to ensure that it does tackle the sort of problems we have been having locally. I am also concerned that the government is acting too slowly and will be asking them to speed up.

St George’s Day

April 23, 2009

Between school and university I spent some time living and working in Switzerland and I always thought of this poem when I remembered home. I am posting it for St George’s Day.

Home-thoughts, from abroad

Oh to be in England
Now that April’s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England – now!

And after April, when May follows
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark! where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops – at the bent spray’s edge –
That’s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
– Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower

Robert Browning (1812 – 1889)

Early Spring

Early Spring


Office Intern Rachel blogs on the Budget

April 22, 2009
Rachel the Intern

Rachel the Intern

Today my office intern writes her reaction to today’s Budget from the House of Commons. Take it away Rachel:

“To have the opportunity to sit in the House of Commons and watch one of the most important events of the year, especially now due to the large-scale economic down-turn, was certainly something of an experience. The two things that interested me most were the large increase in borrowing and the new money the Chancellor plans to spend on young people. Just having more new 6th form places available isn’t going to bring the numbers that the Government want to see because young people are asking what this extra education will be worth at the end of it. Most of the people I know who have applied for EMA have had to wait for months to receive the benefits, if it’s not encouraging people now why will it encourage more young people after this Budget? Overall it was interesting to see the party debates over the Budget.”

Tomorrow’s budget

April 21, 2009

What the Budget must do above all is to explain how Britain will get back onto a stable financial footing in the medium term – in short, how to reduce the massive Government borrowing to a manageable level by no later than 2015. Let’s hope we do not get another disappointment like the pointless 2.5 per cent VAT cut we had in the Chancellor’s mini-budget in November. I expect they will try to put off the tough decisions until after the General Election.

Conservatives are still calling for more help for businesses and more skills training. Companies need to be able to borrow money responsibly and the Government has still not implemented a proper Business Loan Guarantee Scheme as Conservatives have urged right from the start. Job losses have a direct impact on training for the future, many apprentices now face the sack. We cannot afford to lose these skills for the future. The Government must come up with a package to help young people obtain the skills they will need and to help the apprentices, as Conservatives have pledged. We need to improve job skills during the recession so that our labour force is ready and able to meet the challenges and opportunities of the future.

The PM’s Pre-Budget Gambit

April 21, 2009

It seems to me that the decision by the Prime Minister to make an announcement about MPs’ allowances the day before the Budget is a strange coincidence. MPs’ expenses are such a big issue in the papers right now that the Prime Minister may well be hoping that this will deflect attention away from the bad news the Budget will bring. This Budget will show massive borrowing by the Government, the biggest-ever rise in unemployment, the longest recession since the War and that all previous Government predictions were wrong, so the Prime Minister will be desperate to draw people’s attention away from it.

I certainly agree that reform of the allowances’ system is needed and I have long supported more transparency and better audit, but I am surprised that his announcement has been made just 3 days before the start of the Inquiry into Allowances he requested.

Train to Gain Wake up Call to Government

April 8, 2009

The April CBI Skills’ survey is a Wake up call to Government pointing to a lack of quality in their flagship “Train to Gain” programme, which should be making more of an impact on businesses. In the House of Commons I raise regularly the need for the right quality of training and support.

Local employers tell me how vital it is to use the recession to train our workforce, because the jobs of the future will require higher levels of skill. This is true for those both in and out of work. Employers want more out of staff training during the recession to help their businesses survive.

The April CBI/Nord Anglia education and skills survey, ‘Emerging stronger: the value of education and skills in turbulent times’, shows that in response to the recession, over half of employers (51%) say that they want to target their training more effectively to “ensure they are better placed for an upturn when it comes.” (CBI’s Director-General, Richard Lambert)

42% of employers using Train to Gain say it has delivered ‘no impact’ for their business, and three-quarters rated its training brokerage service as ‘poor’ or at best ‘mixed’. While Employers support the principles behind Train to Gain – skills advice and access to funding for their staff on nationally accredited training courses – it is clearly not delivering.

Recent government figures on the performance of Train to Gain show the biggest increases in employer demand was for Level 3 training. This brings me back to the point I have made regularly in the House of Commons, that quality of training is vital. Apprenticeships used to be at Level 3, but many have been downgraded by Government to Level 2. Yet, it is the Level 3 qualifications which reduce job risk and bring higher pay.

So, the message to Government is -Wake up and raise the quality of training and “Train to Gain”.

“Back to the Future” for apprenticeships

April 6, 2009

I have been saying for some time in the House of Commons that the Government needs to wake up to the realities of the recession when it comes to employment policy. Many current policies are designed for the recent world of jobs’ growth and plenty, not the current reality of rising unemployment and sparse vacancies.

A key to this is to realise that short-term job losses in the recession will hasten the long-term process outlined in the Leitch Report by which unskilled jobs are lost. We need to use the recession to ensure that our workers are better trained and skilled, particularly in the new business areas which will expand, such as new green businesses.

Many newly unemployed workers are very employable and will be back into work quickly, but there are others who have not found job search difficult in the past, who will struggle, because their skill levels are too low in the new environment. Jobcentre Plus and the Learning and Skills Council need to integrate their activities as never before.

A particular problem will be how to keep newly-learned skills fresh while searching for work. Practising the skills is important. The government like to claim that the Conservative governments of the 1980s “did nothing” about unemployment. Whilst not all the employment initiatives were successful, it was a period when many new ideas were tried and it was the effective start of active Labour Market measures. Some schemes were simply overwhelmed by the numbers involved in the recession of the early 1980s and quality suffered, but many of the ideas tried at that time have been built on and improved.

I was therefore pleased to see that the Association of Learning Providers is putting forward a “new proposal to re-design a successful initiative utilised in a previous recession, update it and indeed improve and develop it to a significantly higher level of effectiveness.”

They are referring to the Community Programme, which they describe as “so successful in the early ’80s”. The programme created tens (probably hundreds) of thousands of real jobs, predominantly in the voluntary sector, undertaking tasks of general community benefit. Typical projects involved extensive work for the National Trust and other ‘environmental’ bodies, the development of previously unusable sites and buildings, gardening and domestic security installations for older people, etc.

They believe the availability of high quality, employer designed Apprenticeship training frameworks gives the opportunity to offer high quality, relevant vocational skills for unemployed adults, linked to programmes of general community benefit. This “upskills a large body of potential workers, ready for instant availability for employers when the economy picks up.”

I particularly like the idea that green business and energy saving skills, with their socially desirable benefits, could be taught and practised and this would be a direct investment into future profitable ‘green enterprises’.

I hope the Government will look at this innovative idea, even though it is a new take on a successful Conservative employment programme of the 1980s.

Land Creation Scheme: Total Area of English Farmland increases by 5 million hectares

April 1, 2009

As Farmers’ Weekly recently reported, Rural Affairs Minister Huw Irranca-Davies has estimated that the total agricultural holdings in England have now reached 14 million hectares. We should applaud the Minister on his success in increasing the agricultural land mass in England from its previous known size of 9.3million hectares in such a short period.

Huw Irranca-Davies was appointed Minister for Rural Affairs in October 2008. This means that on his current estimate the English farming land mass has increased by almost a million hectares per month! How long will it be before it doubles? Well, it looks as though we can confidently expect a result by Christmas.

Meanwhile in North East Herts, previous indications have been that the constituency contains 46,938 hectares. We’ll have to check to see if it has now increased in line with Huw’s estimates to a mighty 70,407! Anyone noticing significant land growth in their garden or allotment might like to comment.