Kent Police's drugs chief has backed my campaign for "Robert's Law" – which would toughen legislation concerning super-strength synthetic opioids.
I am working with the mum of a Deal teenager who died in November 2016 after being given fentanyl, a substance 50 times stronger than heroin. Robert Fraser, 18, was discovered unresponsive in his bedroom two days after a dealer gave him the drug, saying it was similar to ecstasy. I wrote to Kent Police asking for tougher sentencing for those who deal the deadly drug.
This week Detective Chief Superintendent Tom Richards, Kent Police's head of substance misuse, told me: "I am sure that when the Misuse of Drugs Act was written, they did not envisage having drugs that were 100/1000s times more potent than heroin.
"In essence, unless massively diluted, fentanyl acts like a poison and so consideration should be given to find a better way of regulating it."
Fentanyl killed 20,000 people in the US last year — up from just 3,000 three years before. Deaths in the UK have also increased in recent months. Robert's mum Michelle and I want to toughen laws so the American trend is not repeated here. "Robert's Law" would force police to prioritise cases involving fentanyl, and courts to impose harsher sentences on those caught supplying the drug.
Michelle is an incredibly brave woman. Robert had his whole life ahead of him, but he died from a powerful drug he did not know he was taking. Reports of Fentanyl on our streets are increasing. We need to send a strong message to dealers. You will be punished for the misery you inflict. Robert's story will frighten every parent out there. We have to tackle this head on, right now, before it gets out of control.
I have contacted several agencies to establish current positions on fentanyl, including the Crown Prosecution Service, the National Crime Agency, the National Police Chiefs Council, the Justice Secretary, the Home Secretary, and NHS England. I then plans to table a debate in the House of Commons, before going back to relevant ministers with proposals.
As the New Year begins it's time to ask: what's next for Dover and Deal?
Everyone knows the story of how far we have come since 2010. A new hospital built in Dover. Deal hospital saved. The port sell-off stopped. £400 million invested in our area. Unemployment near halved. The Calais Jungle dismantled. The fast train sweeping into our stations, all day every day.
Everyone should be proud of what we have achieved together in the past seven years. Yet we must keep moving forward.
So what are the next steps?
A new cinema, shops and restaurants are being built in the heart of Dover. The St James development will bring in yet more jobs and money to our area. When we watch a movie at Cineworld or go shopping in Next, we must never forget that barely two years ago this area was blighted by the awful multi-storey car park and Burlington House. It has taken so much hard work to get this far.
St James is going to massively improve things in Dover – yet we need our high street to flourish too. Everyone wants the entire Dover town centre to succeed. Making sure the St James development draws more visitors to our high street is our top priority.
We need plans in place to link St James and our stunning seafront. We must find a way of getting visitors to see and enjoy all our town has to offer. That means guiding them from St James to our brilliant independent cafes, shops and micropubs in town – and the amazing Roman Painted House. I would love to see a footbridge over the A20, linking Bench Street and our Banksy to the seafront. I'm really interested to hear people's views on how we can make this work.
Deal has gone from strength to strength in recent years, following the arrival of the fast train. Yet there is still more to do. Firstly, we must seize the opportunity to rejuvenate Deal Pier and ensure this iconic landmark is brought into better use.
Dover is getting a new cinema. Deal's Regent Cinema was supposed to be re-opened years ago. The owners need to shape up and get film reels rolling at the Regent once more – or sell to someone who will.
And we need better road access for Deal. The A258 from Dover is too often gridlocked – leaving no other way to get to town. And traffic heading to Thanet ends up blocking Middle Deal Road. That's why we need to look at building a dualled spur from the A256 to connect to Middle Deal and the North End.
There is so much potential in our beautiful corner of Kent. The Citadel is a site ripe for development. We could use the leisure centre site for more parking and shops. I will be pushing for more services at our hospitals, more funding for our outstanding schools and better broadband across the villages. And we must continue to do everything we can to support our brilliant small businesses.
On top of all of this we have Brexit. I have been working hard to ensure we have the right plan in place so that traffic continues to flow freely between Dover and Calais. I've been working with the French to make sure they are ready too. We are leaving the European Union in little over a year – and we must be ready on day one for every eventuality.
It's clear there will be many challenges in the 12 months ahead. Yet after we've achieved so much over the past seven years – it's now time to push on and truly build a brighter future for Dover and Deal.
I welcome news that millions of extra pounds – the equivalent of 150 nurses – is being invested in east Kent hospitals this winter.
East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust has been granted an additional £3.42 million to cope with winter pressures. Health bosses tell me Buckland Hospital has prepared earlier and more extensively than ever this year, with a focus on extra staff and community support to help discharge patients quickly.
We've been fighting hard for a fairer share of healthcare in Dover and Deal – so this extra funding is great news. We all want to know the NHS is there for us and our families whenever we need it. So I'm pleased for the extra support at this critical time, when cold weather and flu increases pressures on hardworking hospital staff.
We've just had a new cataract surgery centre open at Buckland. There are almost twice as many clinics operating at the hospital than when it first opened. Yet I still want it better utilised. Dover and Deal residents deserve first class healthcare on their doorstep, and I will keep up the fight for it this year.
A total of 32 outpatient specialities are based at Buckland Hospital in Coombe Valley Road, delivering 9,895 clinics each year. It compares to 25 departments delivering 5,020 clinics at the end of 2015. Seven new consultants have been recruited to work at the hospital in recent weeks, including in its brand new cataract surgery theatre which opened in December. And at a recent meeting, health chiefs told me "good progress" was being made on getting GP services co-located at Buckland and Deal Hospital in 2018, creating primary care hubs with extra doctors.
The extra Government funding for hospitals in east Kent is the equivalent of 150 annual nurse salaries, part of a £337m funding boost across the UK laid out in the recent Budget. It comes on top of an extra £2.8bn investment over the next two years.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our nation. They are the job creators. We must do everything we can to support them – especially in places like Dover and Deal.
The truth is that too often Britain has worked for the big cities and big corporations – while firms in the regions get overlooked. People here in Dover and Deal know how hard we have to fight for every single penny of investment. As we leave the European Union, we need to build a nation that works better for our historic regions and districts. We need a Britain that works for places like Dover and Deal.
It's been a real battle – yet since 2010 we have been doing everything we can to bring more investment to our corner of Kent, to boost jobs and to help local business. And we really have come a long way. We've secured £400 million of investment in our area. The number of people claiming Jobseeker's Allowance has halved – and more than 4,000 apprenticeships have been created.
What's more, the number of new businesses opening in Dover and Deal has nearly doubled since 2010. Figures published by the Office for National Statistics show 465 new businesses opened in Dover district last year, compared to 260 in 2010. And the numbers continue to grow, with a 17.7% rise in 2016 on the previous year. That's twice the UK average.
Meanwhile, 91% of these new businesses are still operating after at least a year, compared to 89.7% nationally. And the total number of active enterprises in Dover district is up 5.2% in the last year and 15% since 2010.
These numbers show the courage and hard work of the people of Dover and Deal in recent years. It takes real guts to set up a new business – with long hours and non-stop hard work essential to make it a success. People who take a risk and set up shop in our area need our full support.
I've been doing what I can to help. Earlier in the year I met with local business owners concerned by a rates revaluation in February. I took their views to Ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government. Over the summer, the Department set up three new relief schemes for hundreds of businesses in Dover and Deal. And last month Dover District Council confirmed 374 businesses have benefitted so far, saving more than £200,000.
We've come a long way since 2010 – yet there is still much more to do. We need to ensure that the St James development helps bring money not just to the new shops and restaurants – but also to all the brilliant businesses already set up in town. We must ensure Deal continues to thrive and that firms across our corner of Kent get the support they need.
We must keep fighting to deliver the bright future we all want for Dover and Deal.
Primary schools in Dover and Deal are performing well above the national average as reading standards in England reached record levels. This month it was announced a study of nine and 10 year-olds in 50 countries put England in joint eighth place for reading, the country's highest ranking since the test was introduced in 2001.
It comes after the Government changed the national curriculum to require schools to use and test phonics in 2010. Primary schools in Dover and Deal are performing well above average. 61.6% of pupils in the area meet the expected standard of a scaled score of 100 or more in reading and maths tests, compared to 53% nationally.
It's excellent news that standards in our schools are rising – and that pupils in Dover and Deal are outperforming their peers across the country. It's crucial that our children get the skills they need to excel later in life. The hardworking teachers in Dover and Deal deserve huge credit for the improvements made so far. We must do everything we can to ensure youngsters in Dover and Deal get the best start in life.
More official statistics released last week show 9,643 children in Dover and Deal are now attending schools rated good or outstanding – an increase of 2,432 since 2010. Across the country, 89 per cent of schools were judged to be good or outstanding at their most recent inspection. That compares with 68 per cent in 2010. The proportion of pupils meeting the expected standard in phonics has risen from 58 per cent in 2012 to 81 per cent in 2017.
I am so impressed by the progress at the St James development – which is being fitted out ahead of opening in a matter of months.
I was shown around the Cineworld complex, which is having seats and carpets fitted and has been given an opening date of February 2, 2018. The anchor shops – Marks & Spencer and Next – will be furnished after Christmas and open in a few months' time, with the latter to include a mezzanine Costa Coffee café.
These really are exciting times. We are so close to getting a first class retail experience in the heart of Dover. Some of the units are ready to go now. I was amazed with the progress. We must never forget that barely two years ago this area was blighted by the awful multi-storey car park and Burlington House.
St James is going to massively improve things in Dover – yet we need our high street to flourish too. Everyone wants the entire Dover town centre to succeed. Making sure the St James development draws more visitors to our high street is our top priority. We also need to make more of our tourist attractions like the Roman Painted House. I met with Dr Brian Philp, who runs the Roman Painted House, last month to discuss what can be done to help boost tourism.
On Friday, I also met with Dover District Council's head of investment Tim Ingleton, chief executive Nadeem Aziz and Townwall Street leisure centre owners Citycourt for a site meeting. Citycourt are working on plans to use the leisure centre site for more parking and retail provision. It would be great to see more parking with a retailer alongside, to deliver more shopping options to the people of Dover and visitors to our town.
Everyone knows we need to build more homes. It is the only way we can truly ensure the dream of owning your own home is kept alive for young people. Yes, the Help to Buy scheme and cutting stamp duty help more people get on the housing ladder. Yet it is the building of more quality and affordable homes which is most vital of all.
In Dover and Deal our hard work has been paying off. A total of 150 homes were registered in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the UK average of 60. Meanwhile, the number of new builds started last year was 434 – almost twice the national average.
Increasing supply means homes become more affordable. That is crucial, because people in Dover and Deal work hard and deserve to be able to lay down roots and secure a future for their family.
That's why I was so deeply disappointed by the decision of the Supreme Court last week to uphold an appeal which stops hundreds of new homes being built on brownfield land at Farthingloe.
Of course, we all want to protect our beautiful countryside. Yet the truth is that this case focussed on a technicality over planning process – not any genuine threat to wildlife or the environment. It's taken four years and hundreds of thousands of pounds to reach this point. Time and money which could have been invested in Dover, not wasted on legal wrangles. Moreover, it wasn't just the councillors who supported this development. The people of Dover supported it too in a consultation process.
Sadly, campaign groups like the CPRE are determined to do all they can to stop the homes we need getting built. From their comfortable homes in leafy West Kent, they think they know what's best for Dover and Deal. They think their views matter more than the people of Dover and their elected councillors. They don't care how hard we have to fight in East Kent for every single penny of investment. The Farthingloe project would have brought investment for what could be an outstanding tourist attraction at the Drop Redoubt and Western Heights. It would have given visitors even more reason to come to our corner of Kent – and it would have created more jobs.
We must put the future of Dover and our young people ahead of unelected, anti-democratic campaign groups.
We are leaving the European Union and have the opportunity to take back control of our laws and make Britain work for our young people. We cannot allow greenies and grumblers to hold us back. We need to face down the voices of the past who have let our country down time and time again.
It's time to focus on building the future. A Britain that works for our young people.
The smooth flow of traffic through the Port of Dover must be a key priority of Brexit trade talks, I told the Prime Minister. Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday (December 11th), I asked Theresa May whether she agreed that the Channel Ports are a "critical issue".
The Prime Minister said the Government recognises the importance of Dover. She said a key part of a trade deal with the European Union will be working towards "tariff free and frictionless" movement of goods through the port.
I asked: "Would the Prime Minister agree that the finding of agreed solutions is not just a critical issue to the Northern Ireland border but also the Channel Ports including the Port of Dover and will she make it a key priority of the trade talks to ensure that we have the smooth flow of trade and also the option of diversity?"
The Prime Minister replied: "My honourable friend is absolutely right, we recognise the importance of Dover as a border port and indeed other ports around the United Kingdom and as we move forward in negotiating the trade deal of course a key part of that will be the future customs relationship that we have. We've said we want to be as tariff free and frictionless as possible and that's what we'll be working to."
My question followed a statement in the Commons by Theresa May on the progress of negotiations with the EU. I have repeatedly called on the Government to invest at the border since the EU referendum result. He has raised the issue with the Prime Minister in the Commons several times and met Ministers from the Treasury and Home Office at the port.
In last month's Budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced he is setting aside £3 billion for Brexit preparations.
The cruel trade of live animal exports at ports like Dover and Ramsgate should be ended as soon as the UK leaves the European Union. I asked Ministers to ensure that the slaughter of UK animals takes places in UK abattoirs, overseen by qualified vets.
I spoke out in the House of Commons on Thursday, December 7th. Environment Secretary Michael Gove confirmed the Government's approach to live exports could change after Brexit. He also praised my campaigning on live exports.
I asked: "Would my right honourable friend agree with me that the slaughter of UK animals should place in UK abattoirs overseen by appropriately qualified vets – and will he take steps to ensure that the evil and cruel trade of live animal exports is ended when we leave the European Union?"
Mr Gove said: "Can I commend my honourable friend on his campaigning on this issue and yes, as we leave the European Union there are opportunities, as he points out, to review and change the approach we take towards live exports and to ensure higher standards of animal welfare."
In the 1990s, up to 30 lorries of live animals travelled to Europe through the Port of Dover every day, according to Kent Action Against Live Exports (KAALE). Since 2013, live exports have moved to the Port of Ramsgate and there have been 33 lorries so far this year.
In Dover and Deal we have seen the chaos, confusion and overcrowding caused by Stagecoach's poorly thought-through changes to bus services earlier this year. They rushed the changes through a two-week consultation and we have been working hard ever since to get them to reverse some of their decisions. I'm pleased that in a number of cases they have listened – and U-turned on changes to services in places like St Radigunds and Kingsdown.
Yet we cannot have a repeat of that disruption. That's why last week I organised a letter, signed by 10 other Kent MPs, to Kent County Council (KCC) leader Paul Carter. The letter set out our serious concerns over the council's plans to cut subsidies to 78 bus services across the county. These services are vital for elderly people, allowing them to get into towns to go shopping, visit relatives or attend doctor appointments. Schoolchildren, disabled people and low earners also face being cut off.
Everyone knows KCC and councils across the land have had to make considerable savings in recent years. This is because back in 2010 our nation was faced with the highest budget deficit in decades. Yet KCC need to explore other practical options that avoid cutting these vital bus services.
Bus users already feel hard done by. Many are understandably concerned that – within months of a 15% pay increase for councillors – more services are set to be axed. Indeed, by Friday more than 9,000 people had already signed a petition calling for KCC to reverse these planned cuts. Understandably, people are worried about how they will get to work – or how their children will get to school. It is vital the council listens to these concerns.
No-one wants to see their council tax go up. That's why KCC has been working so hard to make savings. With the proposed bus service subsidy cuts, the council is seeking to make a 70% reduction in its current budget. Elsewhere, Norfolk County Council has started consulting on proposals to reduce bus subsidies by £500,000 and Cheshire East Council has plans to save £1 million. People I've spoken to in Dover and Deal feel KCC's cuts of £4 million seem extreme and I strongly sympathise with their concerns.
In some areas the cuts to subsidized buses will cause significant disruption and place extra pressure on other services that are already crowded at peak times. We have already seen the problems caused by Stagecoach. People are worried that further reductions by KCC create a real risk of people having to give up work, that elderly people will be isolated and children will be unable to travel to school.
That's why KCC must listen now to the serious concerns being raised – particularly regarding school routes. People in Dover and Deal rely on these services. KCC need to rethink their plans.
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!