The new Community Bus Fund

November 25, 2014

I was pleased to hear of the new £25 million Community Bus Fund announced by the Transport Secretary earlier this month.

The fund will provide new minibuses for hundreds of community transport providers in the UK. These providers lie at the heart of the local communities they serve – getting children to school, people to hospital, and supporting groups like the Guides and Scouts. They are particularly important in rural and isolated areas, helping people to get around and participate in local life.

The Government wants to do all it can to support these operators who already do so much for their communities, with 50% entirely run by volunteers. That is why they are committing this significant amount of money so operators can bid for a new minibus to replace or expand their existing fleet. Priority will be given to smaller operators and those providing services in rural areas. Bidding will be open to any community transport operator running not-for-profit services of benefit to their local community with one or more permits under Section 19 of the Transport Act 1985.

Further details on the bidding process and criteria for community transport operators will be made available on the Department for Transport’s website shortly.

A record low for the gender pay gap

November 24, 2014

I was pleased with the announcement from the Office for National Statistics that the gender pay gap is now at its lowest level since records began in 1997. The difference now stands at 9.4% in April 2014, compared with 1997 when it was 17.4%. It has fallen sharply in the last year. The gap is the narrowest at the ages of 22 to 29, and this is especially heartening news as we look for progress in achieving more equality in the future.

This is another step in the right direction, but we must not be complacent. Equal pay for equal work is a principle that is so obviously correct, but we still see an imbalance in our economy. It is suggested that better paid, more flexible, part-time work opportunities, and better paid leave for fathers to encourage more equal parenting could cut the gap further, and I agree that more flexibility in the jobs market can only be a good thing.

These figure show that we have come a long way, but there is still a way to go.

My debate this afternoon on Hertfordshire’s roads

November 21, 2014

I am greatly looking forward to my adjournment debate later today in the House of Commons on roads in Hertfordshire – it’s an issue that is very important to our local economy. Adjournment debates are held at the end of a day’s sitting and they last for half-an-hour. They present an opportunity for MPs to express their opinions on matters of local importance, and they always end with a reply from a Government Minister. Hearing the Government’s reply to the issues I raise will be of huge interest to everyone in Hertfordshire.

Tomorrow afternoon, I plan to raise the three most important road issues for the people of North-East Hertfordshire. The first issue is the section of the A1(M) between Stevenage and Welwyn, which I believe needs widening from two lanes to three. The A1 serves a large number of major towns and cities from London all the way to Edinburgh, and places like Stevenage are home to many major international companies. In order to ensure that these companies can get the commuters they need and access to UK markets to sell their products, the A1 needs to be a top-quality road. Sadly, it is not, and the Hertfordshire section of it suffers tailbacks morning and evening every working day. Hertfordshire is one of the powerhouses of the UK economy, but this is damaging it. Some economic potential is being left unrealised, and local people are struggling with heavy congestion, making travel around the County more difficult.

The second of these is my campaign for a bypass on the A10 around Royston. I held a similar debate in the House during the early days of the last Government, in which I called for three bypasses to be built. Two – one around Baldock, and one from Wadesmill to Puckeridge – have now been constructed, but the third – diverting the A10 around Royston – has not. The joint successes of London, Hertfordshire, and the Midlands, the development of the town and nearby areas in South Cambridgeshire, and natural population growth are exerting ever more pressure on our road networks, and Royston’s problems are becoming more serious. The heavy traffic makes life very difficult for people trying to use Royston Hospital, and for children in getting to and from school. Royston is the only town on the A10 from London to King’s Lynn without a bypass. We need one.

Thirdly, we have been very fortunate locally in recently gaining funding from Government for a bypass on the A120 around Little Hadham and for improvements to the A602. Hertfordshire County Council is currently consulting on the detail of the schemes, but given the strategic importance of the link between the A10 and the A120 in relation to Stansted Airport and travel on the A120 east of Bishop’s Stortford, I will argue that a by-pass around Standon is needed to complement the works just recently agreed.

The debate should start at around 2.30pm, and will be shown live on BBC Parliament. It will then be available to read in Hansard and to watch online on

Positive News on Flood defence in Little Hadham

November 14, 2014

I held a very constructive Multi-Agency Flooding Meeting in Little Hadham recently. It followed my meeting in March this year and chased up the action points agreed. The meeting was held jointly with Jonathan Forgham of the Parish Council and the various public bodies.

The Environment Agency is to ensure the River Ash is kept clear of vegetation and debris. A deflector is to be installed at the Lloyd Taylor Drain by the bridge next to the A120 and a river gauge will be erected near the Village Hall by the end of this month so that people gauge and report how high the river level is. Gravel shoals and the concrete Ford north of the Village Hall are to be cleared and there is ongoing work at Green Street to see what is causing the drain blockage there.

Looking ahead and to raise awareness about possible flooding in the area, the Herts Fire and Rescue Service in conjunction with Herts County Council’s resilience team have been carrying out important work distributing leaflets to homeowners who might be at risk and this advice can be found online here.

Thames Water is planning new pumps and seeking OFWAT approval for spending of £300,000. East Herts District Council are paying thousand of pounds in repair and resilience grants and flood alleviation money.

I was pleased to hear that the Environment Agency has agreed £1.1 million flood alleviation money which forms part of the A120 Bypass Scheme. The Environment Agency has offered to take interested residents to a similar scheme which is successfully working in Upshire, Essex.

This was a very positive meeting and I appreciate the hard work of the all the local and government agencies that have been involved in dealing with Little Hadham flood defence.

The merger of Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign

November 12, 2014

I am a long-standing supporter of the fight against breast cancer. I was impressed by Breakthrough Breast Cancer’s recently-launched strategy for 2013-2025, and found that it raised some very important points about the disease.

Breast cancer is the most commonly-diagnosed cancer in women, with about 50,000 new cases every year. Combatting it is, of course, vital, and I was pleased to hear of the merger of two main breast cancer charities – Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign. From April next year, they will join to create the UK’s largest dedicated research charity committed to ending breast cancer. With projected combined revenues of around £29 million, this united organisation will, I believe, provide a strong and integrated force in the battle against the cancer, and an institution well-equipped to help people suffering from it.

A look at the NHS

November 12, 2014

You cannot have a strong NHS without a strong economy, and you cannot have a strong economy without a strong NHS.

Ed Miliband says that he is the man to save the NHS, but there is simply no evidence in favour of this. What the evidence does show is that the Conservatives in Government have rescued the economy, protected NHS funding, and improved patient care.

The Government realises the central role that the Service plays in our national life, and so made a promise to protect its budget. The Coalition examined the NHS carefully and was able to make savings, but reinvested all those savings back into the NHS, improving the quality of care that patients receive. This has been very successful. Just last year, for example, NHS spending went up by £2.7 billion in real terms, and there has been a 4.4% real terms increase in funding during this Parliament. The most important thing to realise is this: the promise that Labour is making about the NHS going into the next election is less than what the Government has actually delivered during its time in office. This is a remarkable achievement, and one of which I am very proud.

Also, the Government has put local doctors in charge of commissioning, and, because of this, the use of the private sector in the service has slowed significantly. The Shadow Health Secretary talks a lot about integrating health and social care systems, but, in 13 years in power, Labour did nothing about it. The Government has. In April, the Better Care Fund starts, and will see local authority areas coordinate care with the NHS for the first time ever. Labour’s NHS mismanagement and target-based culture allowed the disasters at Mid Staffs to take place. Labour haven’t apologised, but we Conservatives are putting things right.

At the next election, we will promise again to protect and increase the NHS budget, but we are also promising to improve GP access for millions by introducing seven-days-a-week appointments nationwide by 2020; to provide a named GP for everyone, reserving Labour’s terrible decision to scrap family doctors; and to make the UK the best country in the world for the elderly.

Labour’s position is very different:

  • Their hollow funding pledge began to unravel immediately, with the Shadow Chancellor admitting that not a penny of their £2.5 billion promise would materialise in their first year, leading the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies to describe their mansion tax proposals as ‘guesswork’.
  • Their plans to re-introduce GP access targets based on clinical grounds has been criticised by the Royal College of GPs as ‘ill thought-out’. It will stand in the way of patients getting the appointments they need.
  • In Wales, where Labour do control the NHS through the Welsh Assembly, the budget has been cut by 8%, A&E targets have not been met in any year since 2008, and the Royal College of Surgeons say that patients are dying on waiting-lists.

Labour seriously damaged the economy and the NHS. We Conservatives are rescuing both.

Some good news for small businesses

November 12, 2014

I was very happy to hear that the Department for Business, Innovation, and Skills has given independence to the British Business Bank. The Bank has been a key part of the Government’s Industrial Strategy, and its independence represents an important development in providing finance to small and medium-sized businesses.

Before being given its new independence, the Bank was run from within the Department and, in the 12 months to June 2014, helped provide £829m of lending and investment to small UK firms, taking the total number of companies helped by the Bank to over 35,000. It builds on previous government schemes of supporting venture capital and promoting lending diversity. High levels of investment are a powerful way to grow our economy and strengthen our position globally, and with nearly a billion pounds put into businesses last year, the British Business Bank is becoming ever more successful. The fact that the Dutch Parliament has recently voted to create its own institution based on our model is testament to its success.

A new information website for SMEs

November 10, 2014

I am happy to see that small businesses can now access information and advice to help them make the most of communications services, following the launch of a new dedicated online portal from Ofcom. The site – – includes advice specifically tailored for businesses on choosing or switching to a new provider, as well as information on navigating and negotiating contracts, and resolving complaints with a provider. It sets out clearly Ofcom’s role and the rules communications providers must follow when dealing with business customers, offering advice on landline telephone, broadband, mobile and postal services. A summary of the rights of businesses, both large and small, is also available.

Small and medium-sized businesses are a vital part of the economy, and their success is instrumental in securing the jobs that we need to remain prosperous and competitive in the global race. As we communicate in ever-faster, better, and more complicated ways, it is very important for businesses to be able keep pace and receive help in understanding technological developments. SMEs must be able to benefit from competition and innovation in the market wherever possible and receive regulatory protection where necessary, and I am glad that Ofcom is helping this happen with this new website.

Oliver’s website is at
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Positive uptake of Employment Allowance within the Constituency

November 7, 2014

I was pleased to hear that as many as 1,600 employers in the constituency have taken up Employment Allowance since its introduction in April this year. Employment Allowance is intended to bring down the amount of National Insurance (NI) contributions an employer is required to make. To be eligible you need to be a business or charity (or community amateur sports club) that pays employers’ Class 1 NI. Government estimates indicate that as many as 500,000 small businesses and charities will not have to pay any NI contributions this financial year and for those that do, in real terms this could amount to a reduction of their NI bill by up to £2,000 in each tax year.

It is great news that there has been such a positive uptake of this tax credit by employers. Across the country 856,000 employers have taken advantage of the scheme, which forms part of the Government’s economic plan to support businesses and job creation. For those that wish to find out more about Employment Allowance, they can do so clicking here.

The Royston and District Volunteer Centre

November 7, 2014

With Christmas not far away I am reminded of those less fortunate than ourselves, many of whom rely on charities to support them in their everyday lives. Many charities are looking for extra volunteers over the festive period and for those looking for opportunities, The Royston and District Volunteer Centre based in the constituency is an excellent place to start. The Centre which has been running since 1995 performs an invaluable function matching up organisations requiring help, with those willing to provide it. I applaud the efforts of this organisation and encourage interested constituents to visit its website to see what volunteering opportunities are available.