18 APR 2019

Roads to prosperity

Stronger transport links are central to delivering more jobs and money for our area. That's why I work hard to deliver road and rail improvements.

So far it's made a real difference. We fought a long battle to get the High Speed train sweeping into Deal all day, every day. This has boosted the local economy. More people than ever now commute to work and it's so much easier for tourists to visit.

This is a far cry from how things were. The previous Government had refused to extend the High Speed service to Deal, describing it as a village. Yet by working together, finally in August 2011 fast trains finally started running to Deal, Walmer and Martin Mill as a peak commuting service. This cut journey times to London by half an hour. It was an incredible success.

The next step was to extend it again – this time to an all-day service. Another campaign saw Transport Ministers announce the move from January 2015.

This background is important – because the pace of positive change to Deal's economy has increased alongside. Better transport links is one of the reasons our area has attracted more than £500 million of investment in recent years, including 7,700 extra local jobs. Having fought so hard for these successes, it's vital we build on them.

That's why I have held urgent talks with rail minister Andrew Jones after it emerged the number of direct High Speed trains between Deal and London could reduce in future. The Minister was left in no doubt about my strength of feeling on this issue – and I hope that we will now see action.

I also called on him to invest more in local stations. Led by Helen Charlton's volunteer groups Deal Station Gardeners and the Clean-up Crew, Deal station has been much more cared for recently. More investment is planned with a new deck and steps, while major improvements to the footbridge at Dover Priory are also in the pipeline. To address antisocial behaviour, a senior officer from British Transport Police has been allocated to Deal for the first time.

Our area deserves the best possible transport links. We've achieved a lot on rail. Yet our roads need investment too. We need to see the A2 dualled all the way to the port. We need a better road between Dover and Deal – because the A258 is so overcrowded and dangerous. And we need to see the M20 lorry parks that have long been promised finally delivered.

These schemes are vital to unlocking our area's potential. Because prosperity comes down a train line and a dual carriageway. Transport investment pays for itself and boosts economies in communities like ours.

We need to keep up the momentum – so we continue to speed along the road to greater prosperity in the years to come.


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17 APR 2019

M20 is now the nation's slowest motorway

The M20 has become the slowest motorway in the UK and residents across Kent are furious.

Steel barriers were put up between Junctions 8 and 9 London-bound, so traffic can flow in both directions when there are delays at the Channel ports. But it means another large section of the M20 has a reduced speed limit.

Junction 10 currently has a 50mph limit because of roadworks to complete the new Junction 10A, while Junctions 3 to 5 has one during upgrades to become a "smart motorway". Both projects are due to be completed in 2020.

In recent days a decision had been made to "deactivate" Operation Brock by returning the 70mph limit on the three coastbound lanes. But the steel barriers on the London-bound side, including the 50mph limit, will remain in place.

Residents are furious. Operation Brock is not a solution. It means yet another section of our motorway has a reduced speed limit. The M20 now has to be the slowest motorway in the country. The most frustrating part is there are solutions and they are simple. We need long-term investment – in things like lorry parks and a dualled A2. This had been needed for years. If we just got on with it, we wouldn't need these bizarre, go-slow traffic schemes.

In recent weeks I arranged for a joint letter from all east Kent MPs and council leaders to ministers at the Department for Transport. It urged them to release funding for a feasibility study to dual the A2 to the Port of Dover, and for the scheme to be included in the next Road Investment Strategy. I am due to have talks with roads minister in the coming weeks.


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15 APR 2019

Working to improve postnatal care in Kent

I am working to improve postnatal care in Kent.  A coroner has said deaths could occur unless action is taken - following the suicide of a mother whose family are my constituents. 

Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust was ordered to produce a Regulation 28 Report to explain how it will improve postnatal support. It followed the death of Rebecca Kruza, 39, from Folkestone, who took her own life at her mother's home in Alkham in June 2017.

Following a traumatic labour and breastfeeding difficulties due to her baby's tongue tie and colic, Rebecca became sleep deprived before being diagnosed with postnatal depression. At her inquest Coroner Alan Blundson initially ruled the suicide could not have been prevented, but then ordered the Regulation 28 Report to Prevent Future Deaths.

Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust has responded pointing to an eight-bed Mother and Baby Unit in Dartford which opened last year. But Rebecca's mother Lyn Richardson and sister Kate Kruza say more units and wider support are needed – because the new unit serves a population of 4.5 million across Kent, Sussex and Surrey. In the absence of beds, the alternative means sectioning to a Kent hospital psychiatric unit and forced separation from the baby until a bed becomes available.

Mental health treatment is improving but we can do more – particularly for new mothers who are under extra pressure in lots of ways. I am backing Lyn and Kates's campaign for better provision. I have contacted the chief executive of the trust and I hope we can all work on this together.

Rebecca's mother Lyn Richardson, who has fought to get the coroner to order the report, was the person who discovered her daughter in June 2017 – while holding her baby. Lyn feels a lack of professional communication, information sharing, safeguarding and risky assessment and follow procedures have been identified as responsible for failures."

Lyn added the family was also passionate about providing local Early Help and Mother and Baby Respite Homes for mild to moderate forms of postnatal depression. She feels it will prevent unnecessary escalation to severe mental health and avoid the need for psychiatric interventions and hospitalisation.

The family are carrying out a survey called "What Mums Need" to identify required improvements in perinatal mental health support Information can be found at the Facebook page "Everglow the Rebecca Kruza Foundation" where people can also donate.


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11 APR 2019

It's time to leave the EU and move on

The past week has witnessed incredible scenes in Parliament – not least the first tied vote seen for 25 years. The 2016 EU referendum deeply divided the nation. It is therefore unsurprising that there has been such strength of feeling on both sides of the debate.

Yet here in Dover and Deal there was a stronger consensus. Some two-thirds of voters backed leaving the EU. My mandate was clear. To leave the EU and take back control of our laws, trade, money and borders.

We are of course very much on the front line of this decision. So as your MP, I have worked tirelessly to make sure that our area is as ready as it can be, deal or no deal. I set out a blueprint for this Ready on Day One approach. My series of papers detailed how customs and border security systems could be overhauled and brought into a single Government department to ensure order at the border.

We formed a Brexit Task Force at Dover District Council. I have met time and again with Transport Ministers, Treasury Ministers and Ministers from the Brexit Department to press the case for early preparation and readiness. I have asked the Prime Minister in Parliament for greater investment in our borders and to make sure we are ready on day one, prepared for every eventuality. Millions of pounds have been secured for preparations – from additional resources for Kent Police and councils to investment in the Channel Ports and transport infrastructure.

Yet Brexit has now become all consuming. We need to move on and focus on the many other things that matter to us all – especially jobs, schools, hospitals, home ownership and policing. I am against a second referendum. It would simply mean endless Brexit. We need to break out of this Brexit Groundhog Day, not have another year leading up to yet another Brexit referendum. The referendum was held. The decision was made. It's been nearly three years. It's now time to move on.

So where do we go from here? In Parliament I have voted for a no deal departure and against staying in the Customs Union and Single Market that would give us no control over EU immigration and force us to accept EU laws, including EU trade policy. I have also voted against a second referendum and opposed an Article 50 extension. I believe we have talked about Brexit for long enough. We now need to leave the EU – deal or no deal – and move on.

In the meantime, I continue to focus on delivering for our community. We have been able to achieve an incredible amount here in Dover and Deal – record jobs, more cash for healthcare, over £500m of investment and so much more.

For me it's time to believe in Britain – the global trading power we can be and the economic powerhouse we can build. Let's leave the EU now and move on. Our best years are yet to come.


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08 APR 2019

Social media giants must do more to tackle trolls

A family faces waiting more than a year for police to prosecute their son's killer who it is believed has been sending them abusive messages from prison.

Chloe Bednar, 17, was targeted in January this year on Snapchat. Her brother Breck was killed in 2014 after being groomed through online gaming by Lewis Daynes, who was jailed for life after pleading guilty to murder. The sickening messages sent to Chloe recount her brother's murder in graphic detail.

Kent Police is lodging a request to Snapchat to identify the accounts which sent the messages. Yet they have been advised such a request could take 12 to 18 months to process. I met with Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright last week to argue that social media giants should be forced to act more quickly.

Following the meeting, the Government published a White Paper on Online Harms today.

It pledges to "work with law enforcement to review whether the current powers are sufficient to tackle anonymous abuse online" and that they "expect companies to do substantially more to keep their users safe and counter online abuse".

The content of these messages was vile and deeply distressing for Breck's family. Chloe is just 17 years old and still grieving her brother's death.  Social media giants like Snapchat must do more to help the police bring the culprits to justice. Otherwise sick trolls will continue to pour out this poison without fear of punishment. The social media companies provide the platform for these twisted individuals to spew their hatred. It's time they took responsibility – and put a stop to it now.


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05 APR 2019

Fighting for better train services

I held talks with rail ministers after it emerged the number of direct high speed trains between Deal and Sandwich and London could reduce in the next franchise.

New specifications state a minimum of 12 high speed trains per day in each direction must stop at Deal and Sandwich. There are currently 14 high speed calls to London and 17 in the other direction. The number of high speed trains between London and Dover will remain unaffected.

Myself and South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay demanded a meeting with rail minister Andrew Jones to call for more direct services for Deal and Sandwich.

We fought so hard to get the fast train sweeping into Deal all day, every day. Now we want to secure more trains - especially at rush hour. The minister was left in no doubt about our strength of feeling on this. I was grateful he took our concerns on board and hope that we now see action.

The high speed service to Dover was extended to Sandwich, Deal, Walmer and Martin Mill in 2011 following a long campaign. It meant journey times to London were reduced from around two hours to one-and-a-half. The Department for Transport is yet to choose an operator for the next South Eastern franchise, stating a decision will be made later this year. Current providers Govia as well as Stagecoach and Abellio have made bids.

We also called on the Department to improve station facilities. At Sandwich around £4 million is being invested ahead of The Open golf event at Royal St George's. And following a recent campaign, major refurbishment works have been agreed at Deal and Dover Priory train stations. Deal will get a new deck and steps as part of a complete refurbishment, while major improvements to the footbridge at Dover Priory have also been confirmed

To address reported antisocial behaviour at Deal including "train surfing", a senior officer from British Transport Police has been allocated to the station for the first time.

I was pleased rail bosses responded to our campaign and stepped up to get our train stations back on track. Yet I am determined to keep fighting. Our area has benefited so much from improved train services and deserves the best possible transport links.


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04 APR 2019

Getting a better deal for taxpayers' money

Too much of our taxpayer cash is wasted. Whether it's building an airport where planes can't land, or NHS trusts ordering fax machines long after they've become obsolete, these tales of fiscal farce have drawn public ridicule for years.

Next year, the Government will spend £840 billion. That's some £31,000 per household - an eye watering sum of money. Yet incredibly there is hardly any Parliamentary oversight of how this money is spent.

In fact, there's so little oversight that a month ago just under £300 billion of spending was voted through by the Commons without any debate – or even a vote. This needs to change, which is why I am making the case to establish a powerful Parliamentary spending watchdog, a Budget Committee.

In recent years, parliaments around the world have been setting up budget committees and parliamentary budget offices – such as the well-known Congressional Budget Office in the US. Yet our Parliament has not kept up. In fact we are so far behind that experts consider the Commons to have one of the weakest spending oversight systems in the developed world.

With a powerful Budget Committee, Treasury figures would be subject to independent checking. Detailed questions could be asked before projects and plans are signed off. Accordingly, before Parliament signs off on further vast sums for projects like HS2, serious work could be done on where it is going, what difference it will make and whether existing budgetary governance is adequate for that project. Taking a longer-term approach would mean risks as well as long term costs and benefits could be assessed.

The work of the Budget Committee would not just apply to the oversight of individual projects. It should also cover Government spending reviews too. All too often complex and detailed budgetary work is decided in a flurry of salami-slicing as the Treasury rushes to meet the spending review deadline. With a powerful and independent Parliamentary Budget Office, spending reviews could be made rolling, led by Parliament, with a zero-based approach focused on cutting waste and seeking efficiencies.

We have achieved so much in managing the economy. Employment is now at record highs, while wages are rising above inflation. In Dover and Deal 7,700 more jobs have been created since 2010. That has been driven by more than £500 million of investment, including a new shopping centre, a new leisure centre, the fast train and major seafront regeneration.

Now it is time to focus on spending taxpayer's hard earned money better. If we manage to save just one per cent of that £840 billion, that would mean £8.4 billion – a sum equal to 2p off basic rate tax, and not far off from the entire annual spending on policing.

It's time we got more bang for the taxpayer buck.


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03 APR 2019

Calling on ministers to step up security in the Channel

I have called on ministers to step up security in the English Channel following a recent spike in attempts by migrants to cross in small boats. The Home Office responded confirming aerial surveillance is in place to deter people trafficking and 20 migrants have been returned to France. But I insisted aerial surveillance must be 24/7 – and more migrants should be returned.

Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes responded: "My Honourable Friend is right to emphasise that it absolutely is people traffickers and organised crime gangs who are encouraging people to make these extremely perilous crossings.

"We do deploy aerial surveillance but the House will appreciate that I will not be able to discuss these covert assets in detail.

"He is right to emphasise that we are working with a number of member states including France to facilitate returns and around 20 individuals who have crossed via small boat have been returned to date. Further returns are in progress."

I am concerned the better weather will lead to even more attempts to cross the Channel.

We must focus on the ruthless people traffickers who prey on vulnerable people. The only way to stop them is ensuring they can't successfully smuggle anyone into the UK.

That's why the Channel should be made a joint security zone with aerial surveillance, so we can find and return boats safely back to the French coast.


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01 APR 2019

Another successful Jobs Fair

Hundreds of people came along to my seventh Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair on Friday. Jobseekers spoke to staff from dozens of organisations offering jobs, apprenticeships and training schemes at Dover Town Hall on March 29.

The main sponsors for this year's Jobs and Apprenticeships Fair were P&O Ferries. Dover Technical College, electricals firm Megger and food manufacturers Bakkavor also contributed to the event. Charlie spoke to workers from all the businesses who came along to meet prospective employees. A wide variety of stalls showcased opportunities including Border Force and Red Eagle Recruitment, whose spinning wheel gave people the chance to win freebies.

This is what my Jobs and Apprenticeships Fairs are all about. I'm passionate about getting people into work – and helping them find jobs which are right for them. It's so important to get employers and jobseekers together in the same room, so they can talk through opportunities face-to-face.

Our area is full of hard-working, talented people. Many want a foot on the ladder, a new challenge, or to discover ways to help others and make the most of their skills. We must ensure we give them the chance to do so.

Since 2010, more than £500 million has been invested in Dover and Deal, including a new shopping centre, a new leisure centre, the fast train and a major seafront regeneration. More than 7,700 jobs have been created as well as more than 6,000 apprenticeships. Wages are rising ahead of inflation at 3.3% on the year, the biggest increase since 2008.

Despite all the worries about Brexit, we have built a robust economy. These really are exciting times for Dover and Deal – because our beautiful corner of Kent has so much potential. I'm more determined than ever to work hard to deliver more jobs and money to our area.


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29 MAR 2019

Dover gets new funds to tackle rough sleeping

Dover will get an extra £175,000 to tackle homelessness after I held talks with the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government. The area was not in the 83 which were considered worst for rough sleeping and received part of a new £30 million fund.

But following talks with Secretary of State James Brokenshire in February, Dover was selected to receive part of an additional £12 million pot this week. Dover District Council will now receive £175,000 along with Folkestone and Hythe District Council, as part of their joint initiative. It comes after the annual central government grant for homelessness prevention in Dover increased 15.1% on the previous year – from £150,219 to £172,842.

I'm pleased the Secretary of State listened to the serious concerns I raised with him. The numbers in Dover might not have looked as high as other areas, but everyone knows it is a problem. We need to do more to tackle homelessness. People must get the help so they can eventually support themselves. It's great to see the Government investing in the services we need to help people here in Dover and Deal.

Across the country the funding will provide for over 750 new staff focused on rough sleeping. It includes outreach, specialist mental health and substance misuse workers. It will also provide for over 2,650 new bed spaces in emergency, temporary and settled accommodation.


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Charlie Elphicke

Here you can read about local news matters and what I've been up to. You can make comments too. I'd welcome your feedback, so please do feel free to comment!