I am very pleased to hear that the Barley Playground has been shortlisted by the OneFamily Foundation to receive a grant of £25,000 for its refurbishment. The OneFamily Foundation is designed to provide funding for community projects which will benefit the local residents of an area and this money will allow for the existing rundown playground to be resurfaced and new play equipment to be installed. Barley is a lovely village within the constituency and it would be great if children were able to play safely whilst being usefully diverted as well. Voting for the project finishes on 29 June which is not far away now. As the time of writing, the project has already received 368 votes but I am sure that we can do much better. Those that wish to vote for the project can do so here.
I was pleased to hear that Hertfordshire Libraries are running a Record Breakers 2015 Summer Reading Challenge. This follows last year’s successful 2014 Summer Reading Challenge which saw as many as 19,000 children take part. Children are challenged to read six books and then talk to library staff and volunteers about them. As they do so, they collect stickers and rewards.
I think this is an excellent measure to entertain children whilst they are on their holidays and encourage those in the constituency to sign up. I understand that Hertfordshire libraries are looking for volunteers to help in libraries whilst the challenge is running. More details about this and the challenge can be found here.
East Herts District Council are offering Community Activity Grants of up to £500. This money is intended to help with new or replacement equipment, day to day running costs or one of costs for community events which benefit the people of East Hertfordshire. Parish Councils, community/voluntary groups, clubs and parish councils are all invited to apply. The deadline for applications is this Monday 2 March. For more details about how to apply please click here.
I appreciate the deadline for applications for these grants is quite soon but I strongly encourage constituents to apply for them if they can so that they can enjoy some benefit from any grants within the community.
Following the Secretary of State for Education’s speech yesterday about the money being provided by the Government to help families with mental health support, I was pleased to read that as part of “Feelin’ Good Week” which has run this week, £20,000 has also been awarded to community groups and schools in Hertfordshire by Hertfordshire County Council and the county’s two NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups.
Feelin’ Good Week is a Hertfordshire wide event which has been set up to improve the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people in the county through community events and activities. In Hertfordshire as many as 47 organisations have been given awards of up to £500 each. Within the constituency these include Icknield Walk First School, Stonehill School, Greenaway School and local authority groups and charities such as the East and North Herts NHS Trust, The Education Support Team for Medical Absence, Aspects, PHASE, the Pre-School Leaning Alliance and Step2.
I am a keen supporter of such schemes that help those with mental health needs and am glad that both on a national and local scale help is being provided to help children who need it.
I welcome news that crime has fallen by a fifth, its lowest rate on record. This means that last year there were 2.4 million fewer crimes than in the year 2009/10. Hertfordshire Constabulary has produced an 18% drop in crime since the last General Election. This is thanks to the hard work of our Police, and measures taken to improve the service.
The Government has:
- Cut red tape and scrapped unnecessary targets saving 4.5 million hours of Police time; time now used on the front line,
- Provided tougher sentences for criminals so communities are protected and justice is done,
- Given the Police the latest tools and techniques to tackle criminals,
- Stopped people from becoming criminals by tackling the root causes of crime,
- Made the Police answer to the community to help drive down crime.
Hertfordshire has traditionally been very fortunate with its low rates of crime, but we are seeing them drop even more. Across the county, the 150,000 fewer homes burgled, 317,000 fewer vehicle crimes, and 400,000 fewer violent crimes are making our street and communities safer every year. I congratulate the Police for all their hard work. There is more to do, but the plan is working.
I was very pleased to read the figures for the Government’s Start-Up Loans Scheme in North-East Hertfordshire. This programme has helped 26 people in North-East Hertfordshire set up their own business – helping to provide growth and jobs for hardworking families across the county. Across the country, 25,000 Start-Up Loans, worth nearly £130 million, have now been awarded, and more than 32,000 new jobs have been generated as a result of the scheme since it was launched in 2012.
Businesses are an essential part of building our communities, as they bring jobs and economic security to towns and cities across the UK. Encouraging business creators is a vital part of the Government’s long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain, and we want to make the UK the best place in the world to start and grow a business.
Today’s figures show that Start-Up Loans are helping us to do just that. In North-East Hertfordshire, £81,571 has been lent as part of the Scheme. If a Conservative Government is elected in May, it will triple the number of people who will get Start-Up Loans to 75,000 by 2020, so even more people have the support they need to grow their businesses and create jobs.
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 http://www.parliamentlive.tv/
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.
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.
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.