It was great this week to visit Panshanger Park to see the new walks and River Mimram improvements. It is an ideal environment for a range of flora and fauna. Chalk streams are rare – there are only about 35 such river systems in the World – so their plants and wildlife are special too. I hope the rest of the park will open soon. Here are two pictures showing the Mimram in full flow and a lake which it feeds. I hope the Mimram will soon flow as well further up towards Welwyn Garden City following the decisions to cut back abstraction on the Mimram and the Beane.
I was very pleased to read recently about the positive impact that the Government’s special educational needs (SEN) reforms are already having on families. An independent report which has been commissioned following the implementation of a pilot pathfinder programme of the measures (run across 31 councils) suggests that these reforms are already significantly assisting those families who have children suffering from SENs.
The Government’s new SEND package includes a number of reforms to the existing system. Importantly, one of these is the replacement of SEND statements and learning disability assessments with a new birth to 25 education, health and care plan –setting out in one place all the support families will receive. I imagine it could be confusing about the support available to families trying to look after a child who has an educational disability, but the provision of one care plan should help simplify this. Another of the reforms is for the requirement for better co-operation between councils and health services so that the provision of services are jointly commissioned; this should help with a more joined up approach and ensuring a care plan is properly implemented. Personal budgets are also to be offered to parents and young people with education and health and care plans. This way families can be in control over the support and have more of a say about the decisions affecting their child’s future.
The reforms are already being received favourably. This bodes well when the Government’s SEND reforms are rolled out across the rest of the country imminently. Those interested in finding out more can do so by clicking here.
Calling all constituents to vote for a community group shortlisted by the Lloyds Bank Community FundSeptember 18, 2014
The Lloyds Bank Community Fund which was set up to provide funds to help local groups flourish and bring communities together, has announced its shortlist of community groups which people can vote for in the constituency. Those shortlisted groups for North East Hertfordshire are:
• Growing People to vote click here
• Jackie’s Drop In Centre to vote click here
• N-Able Herts Disability Sports Association (NHDSA) to vote click here
• Anstey Carpet Bowls Club to vote click here
• The Royston Foodbank to vote click here
• Royston Speak Out Stroke Club to vote click here
There are awards of up to £3,000 available and nominations for any of the above groups can be made until 10 October. Each of these groups has a very worthwhile role in bringing people together and helping them in the community and I strongly encourage constituents to get nominating so the groups receive an award. Constituents can do so by visiting the designated voting link for each group, as shown above.
I was very pleased to hear about the Government’s expansion of free childcare which will mean that 40% of the country’s most disadvantaged two year olds will now also benefit from the 15 hours of free early education already on offer. In real terms this extends the number of two year olds who will be benefit from 116,000 to 260,000 children across the country. Locally within Hertfordshire there are 4,000 children who will be able to take advantage of this expansion in childcare.
It is very good that even more provision is being made by the Government to help disadvantaged families, including those in North East Hertfordshire. I hope that this means that those with a less privileged background within the constituency will be able to start primary school better equipped than they would have otherwise done. To see whether their child is eligible, constituents should check https://www.gov.uk/free-early-education.
Last week I attended the debate in the House of Commons on the sale of puppies and kittens. It is a matter which I know concerns many of my constituents particularly in relation to the mass commercial production of animals which are sometimes kept in appalling conditions.
The debate was extremely interesting and the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at DEFRA George Eustice gave a full reply when the debate drew to close. He referred to “backstreet breeders” being supported in puppy sales through the internet. However following the creation of a voluntary code devised by Lord de Mauley Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for natural science and environment at DEFRA, there has been a substantial reduction in the number of internet adverts offering puppies and kittens for sale. He also referred to the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999 which requires anyone carrying on a business of breeding and selling puppies to have a licence, irrespective of the number of litters they have bred. Apparently there has been some ambiguity for local authorities about this in the past, but George Eustice promised that DEFRA would write to local authorities to provide clarity so that the Act is interpreted correctly.
I was particularly pleased to hear about the work DEFRA has been doing in relation to model licence conditions which have been provided to local authorities drawing up licences for dog-breeding premises. Apparently there were 50 recommendations about the sorts of conditions which should be included in a licence for such an establishment, one of which covered the amount of contact time and social interaction a puppy should have with pet shop staff and humans. The recommendation states are that at least four times a day, a human should spend at least 20 minutes with the puppies for sale.
At the end of his response, the Minister reminded the House that we are a nation of animal lovers and although this is true, it is important that there are regulations in place to ensure kitten and puppy breeders look after their litters correctly. I hope that my constituents will take heart from the fact that DEFRA is fully committed to addressing this issue.
I notice that Royston Arts Festival which starts on 19 September and runs until 28 September is looking for volunteers to help with its busy programme. The programme includes a range of activities from nights at the Royston Picture Palace to cupcake making classes to an introductory session for interested writers wanting to get into magazine or journal writing. The various events which are taking place are taking place at locations in and around Royston. The Festival has a lot to offer and those who wish to volunteer or just want to see what is on, can do so by visiting http://www.roystonartsfestival.org/.