It was a strange week in Parliament. The legislation to allow the triggering of Article 50 was passed with a large majority as everyone knew it would be. But the Prime Minister has still not started the process of leaving the EU by triggering Article 50. A bit strange given the sense of hurry created by the right wing press. Anyway parliament has shown good faith in carrying out the will of the British people expressed in the Referendum result. The harder work of making our way successfully outside the EU now begins with the negotiations to determine our future relationship.
On Tuesday the Government voted down Labour's amendments to the first Budget under Prime Minister May which passed with a large majority. On Wednesday it was the Chancellor who voted against his own Budget by announcing he was abandoning the major tax raising measure in that self same budget by withdrawing the proposals to raise National Insurance contributions on the self employed. He gave no indication of how this £2 billion hole in the budget will be filled. But I fear further cuts in services or raids on pensions or rises in VAT. Time will tell. But the fact that Tuesday's Budget didn't survive till the end of Wednesday is not a good omen!
In contrast Hornsby travel has prospered for over 100 years providing bus services to local people. I was pleased to praise them whilst serving on the Buses Bill in Committee. I also had a very busy Ask Me Anything session with a wide range of interesting questions to respond to.
I really enjoyed my morning at Frederick Gough School. I was heartened when I arrived to see them proudly displaying their Gold Award for Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance which struck a chord with the points I was making in my recent Ten Minute Rule Bill on the subject. I spoke to an attentive Year 8 assembly before being taken for a tour of the school where I saw loads of students and staff enjoying their learning. This was capped off by a challenging meeting with the School Council where they asked me a host of difficult, stimulating questions.
I was delighted to open Ongo's new estate agency venture in the town centre - Mi Living. Finally it was great to join the Scunthorpe Lions for their 53rd Charter Dinner held at Ashby Decoy Club. These are one of the many excellent local charity fundraising groups that do so much for our local community.
It was a strange week in Parliament. The legislation to allow the triggering of Article 50 was passed with a large majority as everyone knew it would be. But the...
The first Budget of the May Premiership began to fall apart even before the Chancellor sat down when it became clear that the Conservatives were brazenly breaking their manifesto promise not to raise National Insurance. For self-employed workers earning £27,000 a year this means a tax increase of over £30 a month. A full frontal attack on the living standards of people who are just about managing! And there was nothing in the Budget for steelworkers or steelmakers.
The opportunity to do something about the unfairness of huge Business Rates bills that go up if a steelmaker invests in capital improvement was once again missed by this Tory Government.
There was a huge demonstration from the Women Against State Pension Injustice (WASPI) including North Lincolnshire women. Again the Tories put their cloth ears on and ignored this massive injustice on Budget Day when it would have been so easy to do something to mitigate the negative impact of their pension changes on this group of women.
North Lincolnshire's Conservative Council was also hard of hearing this week when the heartfelt concerns of local people wanting to preserve their access to the green space adjacent to the former Brumby Resource Centre was brushed aside. There was an enormous petition against developing this land, enjoyed by local people as recreational space for over 50 years, but the Conservative Council rode roughshod over this. They seem determined to rob local families of this amenity.
On a brighter note I was delighted to present Ancora Medical Practice's Adrian Garner with his Pharmacist of the Year Award. Despite the Conservative Government's attack on Community Pharmacists, great work continues to go on locally. But I know from chatting to Paul Robinson, Chair of the Local Pharmacy Committee, as well as correspondence from local pharmacists, that the cuts to pharmacies are making life much more difficult to develop the services in the way that everybody would wish.
I had a useful meeting with Hull University about their plans for the future and their commitment to be involved in things that are going on in northern Lincolnshire. In National Apprenticeship Week it was good to meet the fantastic apprentices who are working for Booker in Scunthorpe and learn more about their work. It was good to hear how this national leader in wholesale retail is investing in their staff to good effect.
I was very impressed by the work that CJM Asset Management are doing selling a vast range of goods - from the contents of house clearances to Vietnamese steel mills - through their on line auctions. Amazing stuff! Finally it was good to catch up with the challenges and opportunities facing Total LOR when I visited their refinery.
The first Budget of the May Premiership began to fall apart even before the Chancellor sat down when it became clear that the Conservatives were brazenly breaking their manifesto promise...
I have long campaigned for funding to be increased on post-16 funding, after the last 6 years of severe cuts, so I am delighted that the Government has announced that it will be making some increases in the budget. I hope that Government will respond as positively to my Ten Minute Rule Bill. I argued for a significant improvement in the quality and consistency of Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance. It was good to meet up with the Careers Coordinator from Frederick Gough School and hear about the great work that they are doing.
It was also fantastic to visit Crossrail at Paddington Station and see the investment they are making in skills through apprenticeships as well as the Scunthorpe rail being used at the heart of the project. British Steel held a hugely positive event for stakeholders where we learnt about their progress since 1st June. There is massive good will towards the British Steel from everyone which needs to be capitalised on. Steel was an important topic of conversation amongst the people I networked with at the busy Hull and Humber Chamber Dinner in this Hull's City of Culture Year.
Visiting LAS Metals I was pleased to learn more about how this longstanding recycling business is performing. It was good to spend a couple of hours meeting staff and students at North Lindsey across a range of areas including childcare, business and higher education. Meeting with St Hugh's School Headteacher I was updated on this outstanding school's plans for the future. With pressures still being felt by our local health services I had meetings with North Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group and Northern Lincolnshire and Goole Hospital Trust. I also spent a morning going round the medical wards in Scunthorpe Hospital and met some amazing people working very hard for local people. Everyone recognises that something needs to be done to address the ongoing difficulties our health services are facing locally.
I was pleased to catch up with the local head of probation services to hear about how things have settled down since the significant reorganisation they went through. I've continued my ward walkabouts with local councillors, looking at the redevelopment of the Albert Marsden Court area with Cllr Tony Ellerby. The new homes that have been built look good and are appreciated by tenants. I went round Ashby Market with Councillors Andrea Davidson and Mick Grant. Talking to the market traders it's clear that if the Council are considering moving the market they need to engage in some thorough and genuine engagement with the people who currently use the market - traders and shoppers.
I had an extremely busy surgery at Sainsbury's before ending the week with my first ever Scunthorpe Park Run where over 400 people enjoyed themselves this Saturday and popping along to Glanford Park to see Scunthorpe United's frustrating afternoon as their run of bad results continues.
I have long campaigned for funding to be increased on post-16 funding, after the last 6 years of severe cuts, so I am delighted that the Government has announced that...
I chaired the final three evidence sessions of the All Party Parliamentary Group's enquiry into early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We heard from some really inspirational people - surgeons and clinical specialists whose dedication to their profession is awesome, survivors and carers who gave moving, inspirational personal stories, charities passionate about making a difference and policy makers determined to build on everything that's going on and find a way to transform outcomes for this disease.
In the end it was obvious that my question to the Prime Minister would shine a spotlight on this awful disease. A disease for whom outcomes have been stuck for a generation. My constituent Kevin had no brighter prospect of surviving pancreatic cancer than his mother who died 40 years earlier from the disease.
I asked the PM to champion increased spending on pancreatic cancer research that currently lags significantly behind research on other cancers. Afterwards I was overwhelmed by the volume of people getting in touch from across the country by email, facebook and twitter thanking me raising an issue so close to their hearts and sharing their personal stories of the impact of this dreadful disease on them and their families. It was a very humbling experience and a reminder that battling away on sometimes unfashionable issues is important not only in itself but for the change it can eventually bring.
In the wake of this the rest of the week looks a bit humdrum. It included a meeting of local MPs with the Humber LEP and joining a gathering of all the great and the good in manufacturing at the EEF annual conference. Both were opportunities to bang the drum for both steel and our local area.
The positive news that Peter Bernsher - someone with 30 years experience of the industry currently working for Austrian steel and industrials group Voestalpine - has been appointed Chief Executive of British Steel is another welcome sign of progress. I look forward to hearing more about British Steel's plans at a gathering of stakeholders this Wednesday at the Scunthorpe plant.
A sub-regional business with local supply chains facing current difficulties due to potential changes in Government rules for biofuel mix is Vivergo. I got the Transport Minister to agree to meet with local MPs to discuss our concerns and then had a storm-Doris-affected journey back to Scunthorpe - five hours but made it!
I chaired the final three evidence sessions of the All Party Parliamentary Group's enquiry into early diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. We heard from some really inspirational people - surgeons and...
One of the less visible things Parliament does that is build relationships with other parliaments across the world as part of a contribution to greater understanding and peace. Last week I found myself on a parliamentary delegation to Europe's newest country, Kosovo. Indeed only South Sudan has been added to the world's list of nations since Kosovo declared independence 9 years ago.
Kosovo is one of 7 countries born out of the former Yugoslavia, an entity created by the Great Powers after the Great War. Two of the countries, Slovenia and Croatia are enjoying relative prosperity as part of the EU but challenges remain for the others: Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia and Kosovo all of whom aspire to EU membership! Serbia's aggressive Balkan wars during the 1990s came to a climax in the 1998/9 armed conflict in Kosovo when our television screens were filled with the horrors of that war. It was intervention by the UK and US - bombings of Serbian forces - that led to an abrupt end to the conflict with NATO and EU peacekeepers put in to secure the peace.
Two decades are yet to pass from these awful events in which Serbs and Kosovan Albanians were both perpetrators and victims. Much has been achieved. Kosovo is a safe place - we felt very comfortable walking around Pristina its capital city. But it is only an infant state that celebrated its 9th birthday while we were there with speeches in the Parliament, banners on the street and high profile receptions attended by the Prime Minister of neighbouring Albania. Our visit meant a lot to them. It said that the UK wasn't abandoning them even though it is leaving the EU. They were extremely positive about the UK Embassy staff.
We met the President, the Prime Minister, The Foreign Secretary, the Education Secretary, the Health Secretary as well as other politicians. Every meeting began with them thanking us for our support in their hour of need and ongoing support ever since. The politicians had a decent grasp of the huge challenges their country faces. But it was also clear talking to the Chamber of Commerce and community organisations that the politicians are part of the problem as well as the solution. Corruption is at all levels of society. Universal health care might give you an entitlement to see a GP but unless you take along a 'gift' you are unlikely to get the best service. The quality of education is poor and unemployment is high, over 30%. An unusually huge contribution to the economy is from money sent back to the country by their ex pats in Switzerland, Germany, the UK and elsewhere. This shows great loyalty and enthusiasm from Kosovans worldwide for their home country.
Everyone proudly told us about successful Kosovans like singer Rita Ora and judo champion Majlinda Kelmendi who won their first Olympic gold medal at Rio. Whilst we were there they were delighted by the Kosovo-British production 'Home' winning the Best Short Film at the prestigious BAFTAs. So there is much to celebrate and much potential for this country to unlock. It has great untapped mineral wealth but that won't be realised until the environment is right for foreign investment. Pristina, its bustling capital city and beautiful Priznen along with its fantastic mountain scenery could be the springboard for successful tourism. But, although the number of NATO and EU personnel are significantly reduced and reducing they are still needed to provide support.
When we were there the bridge over the Ibar river connecting the two sides of the northern city of Mitrovica had been closed with a wall evidencing the ongoing ethnic and political tensions between the Serbs in the north and the Albanians the south. Thankfully political action by the Mayor whom we met resolved the issue quickly and reopened the bridge but the underlying tension is still there.
After all the stimulation of the different and the reflection that it provokes it was good to get back in time to hear of Scunthorpe's ten men holding on to a point at league leaders Sheffield United and to join the Mayor of Kirton in Lindsey for her excellent charity dinner on Saturday night.
One of the less visible things Parliament does that is build relationships with other parliaments across the world as part of a contribution to greater understanding and peace. Last week...