February 29, 2012
It is alarming that there have been reports in the press recently that this summer we should expect the worst drought since 1976. We have certainly experienced a very dry winter  with some parts of Eastern England receiving as little rain as the Sahara Desert in Africa. It is essential that we start to make alternative plans to ensure there is sufficient water in the East of England. Traditionally the east of the country is drier than the west of England and I think the time has come for water companies to create some form of water grid so that the East of England is adequately provided for. Equally, if there are to be any new developments in our area, it is essential that there is an ample supply of water to service new households too.
I am already receiving reports from Friends of the Mimram and the Beane Restoration Association of very dry conditions. One Mimram supporter tells me: “I have been regularly doing visual checks of the River Mimram at various locations for about three months. I thought you should know that at the moment there is a small flow in the section of the River Mimram below Tewin, but week upon week it has been showing progressive reduction. Also because the water depths and widths in this part have, to some extent, been maintained by the presence of some shallow historical weirs, the true low flow situation may not be immediately apparent to casual viewers. Therefore when the drought really bites the change in conditions could cause some shocks when people suddenly realise their river has ‘gone’ and assume it has ‘disappeared overnight’.
The situation at Digswell is very bad. A week ago at a location immediately opposite the Digswell Pumping Station the flow in the river was, in part, little more than a metre wide. Moreover I could walk through it in my shoes and no water reached the shoelace holes. Not very scientific I know, but sufficient to illustrate the situation I trust. These observations are identical to observations I made at the same location just before the river became dry in 2006.”
I am keeping in touch with the Environment Agency and hope our SSSIs at Ashwell (Upper Rhee River) and Tewinbury (Mimram) can be protected.
February 23, 2012
Further to my blog last week about signs that the Economy is beginning to pick up, I have noticed three further indicators that show this is the case. The latest figures show:
1. “that there are more vacancies, there being 476,000 available at any one time – a rise of 11,000 on the three months to October 2011.
2. “there are less inactive people (out of work and not looking for employment) –this figure has fallen by 78,000.
3. “that retail sales volumes rose 0.9% on top of the 0.6% increase seen in December (1).
-This is all extremely encouraging…
(1). ONS, 17 February 2012
February 23, 2012
Yesterday evening there was a volley of people flooding through Parliament Square on their bicycles. Not only was this a pleasing sight because everyone there looked so cheerful but I also enjoyed witnessing the amount of support which the Cycle to Work Alliance has obviously engaged (encouraged by the Times newspaper) ahead of today’s Westminster Hall debate on the subject. I have signed EDM 2689 and 2685 and firmly embrace the principles which the two EDMs espouse. I hope the Debate this afternoon goes well. Preliminary details about the timing of the Debate can be found here:
February 8, 2012
This morning I was pleased to read the latest Jobs Report from the recruitment industry body REC. They produce this report monthly with KPMG and this month there was good news with permanent jobs’ placements increasing for the first time in four months. This is the first positive indicator for some time that employers are looking to hire staff. It is particularly encouraging that six out of eight sectors surveyed show growth in demand, including engineering, IT and office professionals.
This Report can be seen to confirm the other good news last Friday with better-than-expected services’ data from the Purchasing Managers’ Index. This suggests strengthening confidence in the UK economy from consumers as well as businesses. I believe that it also ties in with ERSA’s figures showing a good early performance by the Coalition’s Work Programme in helping the long-term unemployed into work.
I have long been concerned that many vacancies are in skill areas where we do not have enough trained workers. The REC Report seems to suggest that this is still a challenge. I agree with Skills Minister John Hayes MP that increased use of apprenticeships to get young people into employment with vocational skills development is important. REC also comment that improved careers guidance is needed too.
The recent massive increase in apprenticeships in NE Herts is a good start, but we must all hope for the continuation of these signs of the Jobs’ Market looking up.
February 6, 2012
I am receiving plenty of e-mails about wind farms, as I am one of 105 MPs from the four largest political parties who have written to the Prime Minister urging a reduction in the amount of subsidy given to onshore wind and better provision for local opinion in the planning process. One resident has asked me if I have abandoned my longstanding support for alternative sources of energy and energy efficiency. The answer is that I continue to support diversity of supply and energy efficiency, but I do think that many on-shore wind proposals are ill-judged.
Not only is onshore wind production often inefficient and intermittent, it also increases the price of energy bills to every home and business in my constituency. It is sad to see these great industrial structures – often stationary or barely moving – blighting the landscape and costing us all a fortune.
Locally, we have had a number of battles to save our special countryside and I do believe we need a change of attitude at national level. I am keen to see the amount of money available in subsidy for onshore wind reduced and this saving spread across other renewable energy types and also spent on local energy efficiency measures.
It is also important that the new planning regime the Government is introducing ensures that local peoples’ views are taken fully into account and that the system recognises the importance of the beautiful countryside and heritage assets we have.
The joint letter also asks for amendments to be made to the National Planning Policy Framework to help protect the rural landscape and heritage sites across the country.
It also asks for the Planning Inspectorate to be told that these factors, as well as the views of local residents, to been given more weight in their decisions to counter-balance recent decisions which have given more weight to regional, national and European renewable energy targets.
I hope we receive a favourable response.