20 FEB 2019

Brexit cash boost for Dover District Council

Nearly £300,000 in Brexit preparation cash is being handed to Dover District Council (DDC). The Government funding boost is to be used to plan for the impact of leaving the European Union at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel.

DDC acts as the Port Health Authority at both the Dover docks and Channel Tunnel – and will receive £272,724 from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government. Folkestone and Hythe District Council will also receive funds.

It comes after I held crunch talks with Communities Secretary James Brokenshire earlier this month – demanding more cash for the Channel Ports. I've long been fighting for more funding to boost Brexit preparations at the Dover frontline. So I'm delighted ministers have listened and handed more than £500,000 extra cash to support our local councils' work at the Channel Ports. It's vital that we are ready on day one to leave the EU and keep trade flowing across the border.

Today's announcement is a welcome step forward. I will keep doing everything I can in Parliament to make our case – and urge transport chiefs to ensure traffic is kept out of Dover town.

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19 FEB 2019

Dozens helped into work by Dover Jobs Club

Dozens of people have been helped into employment, training and voluntary work in recent months by the Dover Jobs Club. Free weekly sessions are run by Southern Housing Group at the Big Local unit in the Charlton Centre.

Employment skills officer Sarah Hampton told me that they offer employment and benefits support, alongside free computer access. The group meets every Tuesday between 10am and 2pm on a first come, first serve basis. Eight laptops have been funded for Big Local as part of the project.

Ms Hampton said she has been running the Job Club for about three years now. In the last three months they've had around 168 people attend, helping around 10 into employment, around 10 into voluntary work and around 10 into training.

This is a really great project offering free help and support in a friendly setting. It builds on work across the country in recent years to improve employment prospects. In Dover and Deal alone there are 7,700 more people in work since 2010. As well as more jobs, in our corner of Kent we have fought hard for more investment. We tore down Burlington House and the St James shopping and cinema complex has risen in its place.

On top of that wages are now growing well ahead of inflation. And all this 'despite Brexit'. Yet it's vital we keep building on that strong economy – and deliver a brighter future for our area.

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15 FEB 2019

School standards on the rise in Dover & Deal

Every parent wants to give their children the best possible start in life. So it's great news that school standards locally have been rising, with more than two thirds of our schools now turning in Key Stage 2 results above the national average. Higher school standards are delivering better results at all ages, with three quarters of local students getting at least five GCSEs. The number of people in our community with no qualifications has halved since 2010.

Some of our schools deserve particular praise. Last week I spoke in Parliament to highlight the efforts of pupils and teachers at Eythorne Elvington Community Primary School. In last summer's SATs exams, every child met the expected standard in reading, writing and maths. Government Minister Nick Gibb MP heaped praise on this "exceptional" performance. He pointed out how more than half of the students there have qualified for Free School Meals at some point in the last six years.

Indeed our area is leading the way in quality education for youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds. A Government social mobility report has ranked Dover and Deal in the top 10 in England for primary school quality, with 98% of children eligible for Free School Meals attending schools rated "good" or outstanding". In early years education we are second best in the whole country – out of 533 constituencies.

Our teachers deserve huge credit. Whenever I visit local primary schools one thing that stands out is the positive atmosphere – the care and attention that every child receives.

Children are also getting a better start at home. An all-time high of around 9 in 10 children now live in a household where at least one adult works. That doesn't just set a strong example – it also means more money, with 300,000 fewer children now living in absolute poverty since 2010.

Resources matter too. Our schools have received a big funding boost. Dover district secondary schools received £1.23 million extra in September – an inflation-busting 3.9% increase. Sir Roger Manwood's got 5.5% more, Astor College 5.3% more, Dover Grammar for Girls 4.4% more, and the Boys Grammar and Dover Christ Church Academy 4.1% more. Total school funding in Kent has now topped £1 billion for the first time – the highest amount for any local authority area in the UK.

This investment came because we fought hard for a new and fairer funding formula. Historically our pupils were thousands of pounds worse off than their London peers. When the new formula kicks in properly in 2020, our schools will get several million more – for years to come.

Yet there is more to do. Universities get a lot of focus, while further education languishes. East Kent College teaches 13,000 of our youngsters with less cash than it got in 2010. I've been campaigning in Parliament to change that.

Every youngster in Dover and Deal deserves the best possible start in life. We're working hard to make that happen.


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12 FEB 2019

Prime Minister urged to hand Dover and Deal a Brexit boost

The Prime Minister was today urged to hand Dover and Deal a Brexit boost. I called on Theresa May to support coastal town communities who feel like they have been "left behind". Mrs May told me I had made an important point and that she wanted to ensure the Government worked for "coastal towns like Dover and Deal".

My question follows reports that the Government is considering allocating more funds to Leave-voting areas represented by Labour MPs – if they support her Brexit deal.

Speaking in the House of Commons after the Prime Minister had given a statement on Brexit negotiations, I said: "Would the Prime Minister agree that talking about helping 'left behind' areas is not something that should be seen as a tactical matter to get through the Withdrawal Agreement?

"But it should be at the very heart of what this Government is about, promoting a renaissance of the regions as part of building Brexit Britain – and that means every region, including coastal towns like Dover and Deal?"

Mrs May said: "My honourable friend has made an important point.

"When I stood on the steps of Downing Street on the first day I became Prime Minister, I was very clear that I wanted to ensure that we worked for those communities who did feel that they were left behind, who did feel that they hadn't achieved the benefits that they'd seen some other parts of the country have – and that does mean certain parts of the country.

"It also means certain types of town – like coastal towns like Dover and Deal, that my honourable friend represents and champions so well."

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11 FEB 2019

Staff say Deal Hospital managing winter pressures better

Staff at Deal Hospital say they have noticed a real improvement this year in managing extra winter pressures. I spoke to nurses during a visit to the London Road site last month.

They showed me the hospital's brand new £250,000 machine which is halving X-ray times – so more patients can be seen and faster. Staff also told me how the womb clinic at Deal is set for an overhaul in March. Paul Bentley, chief executive of Kent Community Health Trust which runs the hospital, joined me on the visit. He said that the trust has launched a £1.5 million nursing academy, with the first group of 50 students beginning training now.

I also met with patients on the wards and asked about their experiences at the hospital.

Deal Hospital continues to go from strength to strength. I was struck by how hard the staff here work and how much they care about their patients – who were full of praise for the doctors and nurses.The nurses told me they had a noticed a real improvement this year in managing the extra pressures our NHS faces at winter. It's great to see the Government's winter funding boost making a difference.

In Dover and Deal we are lucky to have such dedicated doctors, nurses and hospital staff who go above and beyond every single day, putting patients first. I am determined to keep fighting for our NHS – and to deliver a fairer share of healthcare for our area.

The Government boosted winter funding for East Kent Hospitals by £6.5 million this year. And in local A&Es the number of patients treated within the national standard of four hours has significantly improved. East Kent Hospitals NHS University Foundation Trust say the standard was met with 75.2% of A&E patients in December 2018, compared to 61.3% in December 2017.

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08 FEB 2019

Making our streets safer and more secure

Keeping our streets safe is one my key priorities. A big part of that is ensuing we have enough bobbies on the beat.

That's why I've been campaigning in Parliament to get more funding for Kent Police. Last year this enabled our Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott to recruit 200 more officers.

This year we had another battle over money. Kent Police was facing huge pressure on increased pension costs. I organised a letter from Kent MPs to the Chancellor and the Policing Minister, setting out our serious concerns.

The Government listened and agreed a £4 million increase in funding for Kent Police, along with a further grant of £3.4 million to help with the pensions. What's more, Matthew Scott's spending power was boosted by up to £17 million. I fully support his plan to use this extra cash to recruit another 180 officers. I will push hard for as many as possible to be deployed here in Dover and Deal.

More officers will help keep our streets safe – and boost the fight against drugs. We face a huge challenge. Drug deaths have doubled in Kent in the last three years.

My first priority has been to take the fight to the drug dealers. An important milestone in this campaign has been securing tougher sentences under Robert's Law – in memory of Deal's Robert Fraser who was killed by the dangerous new drug fentanyl. Last month three drug dealers were handed jail terms totalling 43 years – the first convictions for fentanyl supply since Robert's Law was introduced. We needed our justice system to recognise this particularly evil type of drug dealing. Now the culprits face decades behind bars.

We must also be relentless in our fight against London gangs who recruit and exploit youngsters here in Dover and Deal. There are currently 48 so-called "county lines" gang operations in Kent. I've met with East Kent's police chiefs, setting out my concerns over reports dealers were targeting children at our schools. As a result, the police have been taking firm action – with the arrest, charge, and removal of a number of county lines drug dealers from our community.

Yet it's not just Kent Police who are making a difference. The St Giles Trust is a charity which trains teenagers who had already overcome disadvantages to help other troubled youngsters. They have a proven track record in helping local children involved in county lines get away from the gangs. Yet their funding was uncertain, so I asked Matthew Scott to help – and he acted to ensure the St Giles Trust have funding until April.

I am now battling to ensure this funding is secured for the long-term. We must do all we can to stop young people in Dover and Deal falling into the dark world of drugs and crime. I will continue to fight for more funding and more officers in our area – so we can make our streets safer and more secure.

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07 FEB 2019

Funding boost for Kent Police

Kent Police will receive a £23.6 million cash increase from April. The 8.1% boost in funding was confirmed by Home Secretary Sajid Javid after I lobbied Ministers over recent months. 

Kent Police had been facing huge pressure on increased pension costs. I organised a letter from Kent MPs to the Chancellor Philip Hammond and the Policing Minister Nick Hurd, setting out our serious concerns. I also met with Mr Hurd, urging him to increase the force's budget so Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott could recruit more officers.

The Government listened and agreed a £4 million increase in funding for Kent Police, along with a further grant of £3.4 million to help with the pensions. Matthew Scott's spending power was boosted too – and he intends to use the extra cash to recruit another 180 officers. This year's cash increase for Kent Police follows a boost of £9.5 million in the 2018/19 financial year. This has taken Kent Police's total resources from £279.3 million in 2017/18 to £312.4 million in 2019/20.

Keeping our streets safe is one my key priorities. A big part of that is ensuring we have enough bobbies on the beat. That's why I've been campaigning in Parliament to get more funding for Kent Police. I'm delighted the Government has listened and significantly increased the force's cash two years in a row.

I'm fully backing Matthew Scott's plan to use his boosted spending power on recruiting 180 more officers, on top of the extra 200 last year. I will push hard for as many as possible to be deployed here in Dover and Deal – so we can make our streets safer and more secure.

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05 FEB 2019

Raising a glass to another fantastic Festival of Ales

I enjoyed a delicious pint of locally-brewed beer at the 26th White Cliffs Festival of Winter Ales, joining scores of punters at Dover Town Hall on Friday evening. 

This year's event – run over two days by the Campaign for Real Ale – featured around 70 real ales, of which more than half were from Kent breweries.

Nothing beats the taste of a pint of real ale at Dover beer festival. I particularly enjoyed the amazing ale on offer from the Breakwater Brewery. Despite the chilly weather, it was great to see Dover buzzing with so many people having a great time.

I will keep campaigning in Parliament to keep beer duty down. It's vital we back our local pubs and brewers.

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01 FEB 2019

Working for a fairer share of healthcare

We've battled hard to deliver a fairer share of healthcare for Dover and Deal – and we are seeing real improvements on the ground.

Deal Hospital continues to go from strength to strength. I visited just last week. I was struck by how hard the staff here work and how much they care about their patients – who were full of praise for the doctors and nurses.

The nurses told me they had a noticed a real improvement this year in managing the extra pressures our NHS faces at winter. The Government boosted winter funding for East Kent Hospitals by £6.5 million this year and it's great to see it's making a difference.

There's so much good work to celebrate at Deal. Over the past two years, the amount of time people are staying in the hospital has reduced by a third. That means people are getting off the wards and back home much sooner. The trust that runs the hospital has launched a £1.5 million nursing academy, with the first group of 50 students beginning training now. The womb clinic at Deal is set for an overhaul in March. Plus the hospital also has a brand new £250,000 machine halving X-ray times – so more patients can be seen and faster.

It's incredible to think that back in 2010 Deal Hospital had been left teetering on the brink. The progress we have made since underlines why we were right to campaign to safeguard the hospital.

Deal Hospital is not our only success. After a strong community campaign, we also delivered the £24 million Buckland Hospital, with state-of-the-art facilities. Twice as many clinics are now operating at the hospital than in 2015 – and it has GP services too.

Just next door, work is underway on a £3.5m "dementia village" – the first of its kind in the UK. Six derelict semi-detached blocks in Randolph Road are being renovated to house 30 beds for elderly residents. They will be helped to live as independently as possible – with an on-site shop, cinema, pub and hairdressers.

Meanwhile, East Kent A&E departments will soon be upgraded through investment of £200 million. Mental health is also being boosted with spending rising to more than £11 billion. The Government is also set to boost the number of mental health professionals by 21,000.

Much has been achieved. We've come a long way together since 2010. Yet more is needed. Particularly in recruiting more GPs. That's why in Parliament we fought a long and hard battle for a new £30 million East Kent medical school, so more doctors and nurses can be trained locally. Other Kent MPs joined the fight. And last year it was finally confirmed that our bid had been successful. This victory will make a massive difference in the longer term.

In Dover and Deal we are lucky to have such dedicated doctors, nurses and hospital staff who go above and beyond every single day, putting patients first. I am determined to keep fighting for our NHS – and to deliver a fairer share of healthcare for our area.

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I could not agree more about the excellence of Deal Hospital. The staff, above all, and the facilities, are first class. And it’s a stone’s throw from where. I live.
- Sydney Gibson

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29 JAN 2019

Raising the devastating Premier FX case in Parliament

Today I raised in Parliament the case of a constituent who has lost nearly £500,000 following the sudden collapse of a payment services firm. Pauline Creasey, from Dover, is one of 250 customers across the UK affected by the shutdown of Premier FX. Terri and Brian Randall from the Tonbridge & Malling area have lost £44,675. Residents in the Maidstone & the Weald area have lost a total of more than £100,000 too.

Administrators have received claims of around £10.6 million from consumers – but report that the firm only has £1.1 million in assets. Ms Creasey, single parent and responsible for three generations of her family, met with Charlie at one of his constituency surgeries earlier this month and told him she was owed £462,113 by the Portugal-based firm.

Premier FX was authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) as a money remittance firm. Yet the administrators have said that Premier FX was undertaking activities beyond that authorisation – deposit taking and potentially some trading in forward contracts.

The sole director and shareholder of the firm, Peter Rexstrew, is "said to be dead" following heart surgery at a Lisbon hospital on June 16 last year. The firm went into administration on August 13 2018 – without sufficient assets to cover its customers' claims.

Ms Creasey told me that she had intended to buy a house in the UK after selling her home in Portugal, where she had been working. But when the purchase of the UK house fell through, she had looked for a safe and secure place to put the funds and deposited it with Premier FX. Ms Creasey says the firm claimed they were authorised by the FCA and Barclays to hold escrow accounts and they were protected by the firm's compensation scheme as well as UK banking laws.

She had been using Premier FX since 2006 for foreign exchange transactions and found the service prompt and cost effective. The firm sponsored TV programme 'A Place in the Sun', was a member of the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce and recommended by a number of high profile financial and legal firms.

I vowed to take up Ms Creasey's case with the authorities – and today challenged Andrew Bailey, chief executive of the FCA, during a Treasury Select Committee hearing.

I said: "I want to ask you about cases affecting one of my constituents who's lost £500,000 in the collapse of Premier FX.

"The firm was able to misrepresent its FCA authorisation, which was for remittances, and effectively represented themselves as a deposit taker.

"How were they able to act beyond their authorisation?"

Mr Bailey replied: "Well if that is indeed what they did – and there's a strong suspicion that's what they did – then it's illegal, first of all.

"So we are, as you probably know, carrying out an investigation. I am very concerned that the money of individuals has been lost in this activity. My team so far, I can tell you, has looked at nearly 250,000 transaction records to try and trace this money – and we will not stop doing this.

"But I would say to you quite honestly, the principal involved in this activity is said to be dead. I think it is incumbent upon his relatives, his business partners, to tell us where the money is."

Charlie then raised concerns over the FCA's response to reported warnings about the activity of Premier FX.

Charlie said: "In 2017, the Bank of Portugal fined Premier FX for trading outside the regulations in compliance with its license in Portugal and reported that to the FCA. There was no follow-up by the FCA under safeguarding regulations. Why was the breach not detected?"

Mr Bailey replied: "We will look thoroughly at the record of this case. The first priority is to find the money, frankly, because that's what we owe to the victims. If we missed clues in this case, particularly in the reauthorisation process under the European Payment Services Directive, we will look at that.

"I also have to say, as you rightly point out, I don't know which jurisdiction some of this activity went on in yet, because it crosses over between the UK and Portugal – but we will look at that."

I am deeply concerned by this case and am determined to do everything I can to help Pauline and other victims of Premier FX get their money back. The FCA must treat this as a top priority. I am meeting with Mr Bailey to press him further on this matter – and I am working with fellow MPs too. Innocent people have been left in terrible financial hardship. The authorities need to get to the bottom of this urgently.

I have also written to City Minister John Glen MP, Security Minister Ben Wallace MP and Barclays CEO Jes Staley expressing my serious concerns.

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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!

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