Two summer opportunities for budding young journalists

July 1, 2015

I am pleased to see that the News Academy is running two free summer-time activities for budding young journalists to get a flavour of the profession and hone their skills.

The News Academy Summer School is a free week-long journalism training programme for students aged 16 to 18 from across the UK and Ireland. Based at the London headquarters of The Times, Sunday Times, and The Sun, 15 students will get the opportunity to write, edit, and publish their own newspaper, with the help of some top journalists. Accommodation, travel, and food in London are included for the duration of the Summer School.

Students can apply on the News Academy website with the submission of an essay of up to 500 words on something they are passionate about. Applications close at midnight on 19th July.

Secondly, the Great British Sound Off is a programme for 18 to 24 year olds for which the News Academy has teamed up with The Sun newspaper to run a competition seeking out promising young columnists. Five 18 to 24 year-old finalists will see their column appear in The Sun Newspaper.

To apply, entrants need to write about why they deserve to win and submit 200 words on something they feel passionate about at

Both of these are excellent opportunities, and I urge all aspiring journalists in North East Hertfordshire to apply.

The National Citizen Service in Hertfordshire

March 26, 2015

It’s good to hear news that, during the February half-term, 220 young people participated in the National Citizen Service with Youth Connexions Hertfordshire. As a strong supporter of the NCS, seeing that these young people have spent 6,600 hours volunteering on social action projects to help their local areas is very encouraging. The NCS aims to provide 16- and 17-year-olds with the skills needed for work, life, and the transition to adulthood, and I’m delighted that so many young people are taking full advantage of it.

The NCS’s programmes with Youth Connexions Hertfordshire continue throughout 2015 with opportunities for another 1,000 young people. I urge young people across North East Hertfordshire to get involved with this excellent scheme.

Speaking to Lancaster University Conservative Future

October 31, 2013

I am often asked to speak to audiences outside North East Herts. On Saturday I was invited by Leighton Hughes, a constituent who is the Chairman of Lancaster University Conservative Future, to an evening of “Port and Policy.” Also attending was local MP Eric Ollerenshaw MP. The event was held in the ballroom at the Royal Kings Arms in Lancaster and was extremely well attended by over 50 young Conservatives. We discussed a range of policy issues ranging from the Human Rights Act to the political positioning of the Conservative Party. We had a very enjoyable time and it was interesting to hear the views of students who are politically active and whom the Conservative Party should be listening to. It was good to see students in action debating the issues. There was a chocolate fountain too which coupled with the port made for a great combination and very positive evening.

On Sunday I met a group of Lancaster solicitors over coffee. We discussed a range of legal issues and it was very helpful to hear their views.

Apprenticeships Week -Visit to Palazzo Restaurant

February 15, 2011

On Friday I visited Palazzo restaurant in Royston, to support National Apprenticeships Week. Palazzo has a good record of taking apprentices and the Manager, Laura Hadley-Charter, has herself undertaken an apprenticeship. I was able to meet Apprentice Chef Stephen Cook and talk to him about his apprenticeship, which he is enjoying, before he cooked a delicious three course Italian meal. He has certainly come a long way over the last few months and he is my tip as a future “Master Chef”. Stephen is soon to move into Royston which will make life easier for him and I certainly wish him well for the future.

The photograph shows Stephen Cook, me, Cathryn Henry from the National Apprenticeships Service and Laura Hadley-Charter.

Today’s figures on Youth Unemployment

December 16, 2009

Today’s figures on youth unemployment are shocking. Almost 1 million young people are looking for work in the UK. This is much higher than in 1998. Our young people should not become strangers to the World of Work. The loss they suffer is not just the lack of money from wages, but also the sapping of morale and aspiration.

Locally youth unemployment is almost double what it was a year ago. Conservatives propose to reward small and medium sized businesses for taking on new employees and to improve the quality and number of apprenticeships. We need a stronger response to the recession too with a sound approach to public spending and an effective loan guarantee scheme to help business survive. Let’s hope we have a better year in 2010.

Opening of the All Weather Pitch for Royston at Meridian School

September 21, 2009

What a treat it was today to meet the great Peter Shilton on the opening of the All Weather Pitch for Royston at Meridian School. It was also kind of him to keep the fixture on the same day as Sir Bobby Robson’s Memorial at Durham Cathedral. Peter played England football for 8 years under Sir Bobby, often as Captain, but he explained that he had played a testimonial at Newcastle 2 days before Sir Bobby’s death and felt he had said farewell with happy memories of a great manager.

Me with Peter Shilton

Me with Peter Shilton

School Head Mike Firth explained the decade long battle to secure the funding for the Pitch and thanked Johnson Matthey Sports and Social Club and the PLC for all their help in getting the project going with substantial funding. It was noteworthy that JM’s busy CEO Neal Carson – of (let’s not forget) a major FTSE 100 Company – personally attended the launch today. In fact it was a real Royston occasion with many leading figures – councillors, including F John Smith, Council Leader and 50 years a Royston councillor and County Councillors Hunter and Hill, as well as Royston FC chief Alan Barlow.

The students are loving the new facilities and Peter Shilton spoke of the huge improvement in the quality of all weather surfaces, since the early days when as a goalie he had to dress up with Michelin Man-style padding in the early days. I asked him who should be the current England Keeper and he politely explained that he is still available for selection to add to his 120 caps. So, watch out David Beckham, you may face a moving target in trying to overtake Peter!

Spot the ball competition
Spot the ball competition

The money for the new Pitch came from the Football Foundation and the Brian Racher Trust as well as JMSSC. I think the Foundation do a great job in improving facilities and I know the late Brian Racher would be pleased too. The facilities in Royston have been transformed in recent years and our sport is now well catered for – long may it last. What’s next – perhaps a new football ground?

Peter Shilton with leading Royston figures

Peter Shilton with leading Royston figures

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.”

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.

Teaching Our Children To Win

March 31, 2009

The Conservative Party has just launched its policy on Sport in the UK. The part I like the most is that we want to redesign the UK School Games to become a national Olympic Games-style event. Jamaica, a country which has long over-performed for its economy and population size, has just such an event for youth athletics called the VMBS Boys and Girls Athletics Championships. It’s a fantastic example of youth sport done well, and it’s attended by thousands of kids and lots of the country’s top athletes debut there. I hope a Conservative Government is able to begin such a competition here.

Its clear that after years of disastrous decline under Labour, the country’s approach to sport needs to be radically overhauled. Although we did well at the last Olympics, competitive sport at school has waned as children are taught that “it’s not the winning that counts, it’s the taking part”. Well not at the Olympics its not, and certainly not in the real world of professional sport. If we want to start winning at international events like the Football World Cup, the Rugby Six Nations or the ICC Test Cricket matches, we are going to have to start teaching our children to win.

Jamaica's Usain Bolt sprints to victory

Jamaica's Usain Bolt sprints to victory