Over the weekend I was invited by the Spectator to give my latest book choice. As you will see from the link, http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/blog/7333253/bookbenchers-oliver-heald.thtml, there has been a lot of interest and my book I am currently reading which is To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron is an absolute classic travel book and I am really enjoying it as one of the comments says this is a real clash of two cultures, but Colin Thubron writes beautifully about the countryside and people of Nepal and Tibet.
Following yesterday’s walk to work, this morning I decided to get off the tube two stops early and finish the rest of my journey walking through Green Park and St James’s Park.
When walking through the respective parks, I noticed with interest quite how many people were taking part in some form of sporting activity or exercise. This is definitely a trend which we should build on and to that end I have recently discussed with the fitness industry the best way to take this forward. After all David Cameron’s “Big Society” is about encouraging social renewal and community regeneration, perhaps as a concept, it should also be about public health and promoting positive ways to improve it.
Sunday on Royston Heath, for my Annual Cricket Tournament. My son William bravely put in a team of his own, Ramblers Cricket Club, who enjoyed the Tournament a great deal and even managed to get to the semi finals. Dominic Adams was an absolute star in organizing the whole day and it was also good to see that the Town Mayor and other councillors and officials from the Royal British Legion attended. There were fewer people at the event this year as spectators because of the weather but there were always 100 hardy spectators enjoying the occasion. Babraham did very well to defend their trophy and the final was looking promising until bad light stopped play. We were just unlucky that heavy cloud cover came over. Amjad Afridi of the Market One Team really showed his paces with the bat.
Photo of Royston Town Mayor Martin Beaver, together with members the Ramblers Team, six of whom come from the Royston area:
Standing Left to Right – Adam Tozzi, Nick Waller, Guy Houghton, Will Heald, Ed Jessop
Kneeling Left to Right – Zack King and Tom Hoy
In these difficult economic times, it is important that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely. Public Sector Travel Magazine has recently highlighted some of the answers to Parliamentary Questions I have asked about departmental spending on overseas first class air travel. At the end of last year I asked each Government department how much they spent on first class flights. Many departments ducked the question and simply referred me to the list of all departmental spending on travel which does not differentiate between first, business and economy classes. However the results were still illuminating. The total departmental spend on overseas travel amounted to £2.2 million last year with three departments putting their hands up to Ministers’ first class air travel of £17,790.
The fact that an industry website has picked up on this line of questioning is good, as it shows that we have rattled a few cages. As Public Sector Travel put it: “In better times these might have been considered too small in the totality of public spending to matter much”, so it looks like someone is getting the message!
Here are the results of my Questioning, click on entries to see the links to Hansard:
|DEPARTMENT||FIRST CLASS TRAVEL 2008-09||TOTAL TRAVEL SPENDING 2008-09|
|Business Innovation and Skills||“Cabinet Office provides an annual list of overseas travel over £500 undertaken by Ministers”||£291,616.00|
|Cabinet||“See annual list”||£67,559.00|
|DCSF||“See annual list”||£40,386.00|
|DCLG||“See annual list”||£23,371.00|
|DCMS||“See annual list”||£36,373.00|
|DECC||“See annual list”||£21,700.00|
|DEFRA||“See annual list”||£34,508.00|
|FCO||“See annual list”||£886,780.00|
|Health||“See annual list”||£52,316.00|
|Home Office||“See annual list”||£109,642.00|
|DIFD||“See annual list”||£326,379.00|
|Northern Ireland||“See annual list”||£92,712.00|
|Scotland||“See annual list”||£12,114.00|
|Treasury||“See annual list”||£51,667.00|
|Transport||“See annual list”||£30,739.00|
|Wales||“See annual list”||£2,978.00|
|Women and Equality||£5,026.00||–|
|DWP||“See annual list”||£23,759.00|
This is what it says about my expenses in today’s Legg report (on page 75):
Mr Oliver Heald MP
North East Hertfordshire
Mr Heald has no issues.
Earlier this year the Save Our Bees Campaign sent me a packet of wildflower seeds. The idea was for people to sow the seeds in their gardens to encourage the growth of the bee population. I have previously blogged about the success of my researcher, Martin’s, efforts to grow his seeds on the windowsill of his London flat. I have also been pleased to see the seeds thrive in my Royston garden, although they have been late to open. But I now have a flower and would be grateful if anyone can identify it for me!
Bank Holidays are always busy for me and yesterday saw me at the Ashwell Show, Reed Festival and the Royston Town Cricket Tournament.
Ashwell Show is a firm favourite in many people’s Bank Holiday calendar and cars were queuing for some distance to get in. The Show hosts many businesses and charity stalls, who come back year after year. At the Show yesterday it was possible to scale a climbing wall, buy a saddle, admire the craftsmanship of a thatcher or buy a handbag. This is all in addition to the well-attended Horse Show and Dog Agility Competition. I was pleased to meet the Salvation Army with a display of the community work they do in our area; to talk to the local charity for the deaf about how their group has grown from small beginnings in Ashwell and to talk with the RNLI representative about the importance of their work, even in a land-locked County. I admired those tackling the climbing wall but decided I was not dressed for the occasion! Such is the success of the Ashwell Show that there is talk of spreading it over two days in the future. The photos show me with the RNLI representative at the Show and supporters of the Phoenix Group for Deaf Children.
The Reed Festival was on a far smaller scale but equally enjoyable. Again, the local charities had fundraising stalls, including Heathlands Animal Sanctuary and Dr Peter Gough’s Khandel Light Charity in India. The Royston Fire Station had sent a fire tender and visitors were offered a free fire safety check in their homes. This is excellent preventative work, which Royston Fire Station is pushing hard.
At 2 pm we gathered outside the impressive new extension to Reed Village Hall for the formal Opening by the Chairman of North Hertfordshire District Council, Cllr David Miller. The original Village Hall has lasted well but had no access for the disabled. The new front extension is wheelchair friendly and has been beautifully built by a local firm. The villagers thanked the Committee who had all worked so hard to bring about this wonderful new facility.
The photo shows me with Cllr Howard Marshall and Cllr David Miller after the Official Opening.
The Royston Town Cricket Tournament on the Heath was a far more relaxed affair. Eight teams had entered the Tournament which was being run for the first time. I am sure it will become a permanent fixture, as it was such an enjoyable occasion for the players and spectators alike.
Competition was fierce, but Babraham emerged triumphant from the final with Thriplow. Much of their success was due to the only female cricketer of the day, who bowled magnificently.
Royston Town Cricket Club was only set up recently by Dominic Adams and Steve Gwynne, with the express purpose of bringing Royston Cricket back to the Heath. It is a fantastic setting for the game and I felt greatly honoured that the Shield I presented was named “The Oliver Heald Trophy”.
On Friday, there was a Meet the MP event at Westmill in a Marquee. There was a good turn out of about 60 and I was able to answer questions about the Afghan War, the economy and immigration control. There was also concern at plans to put 25 more travellers’ pitches in East Herts, particularly as there is no history locally of a traveller tradition. I explained that this was something which I have strongly opposed as it makes no sense to force travellers into areas they do not want to be.
In fact their decline is so worrying that their case has been discussed in both Houses of Parliament and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs even has a “Bee Health Plan”. So to help do my bit I planted a packet of bee-friendly plant seeds the Save Our Bees Campaign sent me in my garden and my researcher Martin did the same in his flat, and I am very happy to report they have grown into plants and are now in full bloom! According to the campaign these flowers will help make bees healthier, help them survive infection, changing weather patterns and more! Lucky bees.
For more information, why not have a look at www.saveourbees.org.uk
At the end of the first week…
After the next few weeks…
Getting bigger the week after…
One small yellow bud appears a few weeks later…
This week in full bloom!
The past few weeks have been difficult on many levels. At Westminster, MPs feel a sense of collective shame and remorse that the expenses system could have descended into such a mess. This is coupled with shock and disappointment at those Colleagues – many of whom have had long and distinguished careers in the House – whose behaviour appears to have gone far beyond anything acceptable. Change to the expenses regime has been swift and decisive. David Cameron took a strong lead by restricting the headings under which Conservative MPs could make claims for their additional accommodation and these restrictions have now been adopted across the House. We are all now waiting for the Kelly Report, which will undoubtedly recommend an open and transparent system for the future.
I would like to see an early General Election, but out of this awful mess, we are already seeing some positive consequences. Gordon Brown made an important Statement to the House on Constitutional Reform in a number of areas. There is going to be a national debate over the coming months on fundamental issues such as the power of the Executive, the size of Parliament, the composition of the House of Lords. However, I do doubt whether now is the right time to be considering a move to Proportional Representation – at the end of a parliament and after the governing party has had its worst election results for generations, particularly just after “PR” has let in two BNP MEPs. This issue needs more measured reflection and should not be a desperate last throw of the dice.
Last night, I went to a remarkable public meeting organised by David’s Bookshop in Letchworth Garden City, where these issues and many more were discussed. It was the best political meeting I have been to for many years. Understandably, I was asked about my own expenses in detail and was happy to give clear straightforward answers. But these questions were in the minority and far more speakers wanted to talk about the fundamental issues in our democracy and how change can strengthen it. The views I heard were sincerely and passionately held and arguments were carefully and thoughtfully presented. A spotlight has been shone on Parliament and although it has highlighted shortcomings which need to be sorted out, it has also galvanised the country into thinking seriously and constructively about how the institution can be improved.
To read a copy of the speech I made at last night’s public meeting click here.