07 DEC 2017

Bus cuts are unacceptable

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.


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06 DEC 2017

Fighting for more school funding

New buildings are needed at Dover Grammar School for Girls – and I am campaigning to secure funding. The main school building, which dates back to 1910, suffered major flooding after a water leak earlier this year.

The school, whose students achieve some of the best results in the country, deserves better facilities. I am writing to Education Secretary Justine Greening calling for the school to be considered under the Priority School Building Programme.

Headteacher Robert Benson last week showed me some of the damage caused by the leak. I also saw the "temporary" History block – which dates back to the 1960s and has clearly seen better days.

Year after year, the hard-working students at Dover Grammar School for Girls achieve some of the best results in the country. In recent years they have even got better results than Eton. The current building certainly has charm – yet it's clear they need to modernise some facilities. That's why I'm writing to Justine Greening, asking for the school to receive the boost in funding it deserves.

I have also been fighting for schools in Dover and Deal to receive an immediate cash boost from the new National Funding Formula. The new formula was demanded by headteachers and education experts who said the old one was outdated and unfair, leaving schools in places like Dover and Deal "historically underfunded". It will be phased in within two years, with Local Authorities deciding allocations until then. Charlie has asked Kent County Council for it to be adopted immediately, giving Dover Grammar School for Girls an extra £300,000 next year.

The old funding system was letting our area down. We were receiving thousands less per pupil than other parts of the country. I have raised this with ministers many times, and they were right to take action. Schools across Dover and Deal will now benefit with millions more each September for years to come.

Kent County Council is currently consulting on local funding formulas for the next two years.

If the new National Funding Formula came into effect this September, Dover Grammar School for Girls would get a cash boost of 10.4%. Astor College would get 11.1% more, Dover Grammar School for Boys 9.4% more, St Edmund's Catholic School 9.1% and Goodwin Academy 8.4% more. Across the constituency the increase would be 7.2%, or £1.54 million.


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05 DEC 2017

Housebuilding in Dover and Deal still well above UK average

Housebuilding in Dover and Deal has continued its upward trend – with the number of new homes still well above the UK average.

A total of 150 homes were registered in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the national average of 60. So far in 2017, 216 new homes were started in Dover and Deal, compared to an average of 186 nationally.

I welcome the latest figures from the National House Building Council. We need more homes across the country, so I'm proud our area is ahead of the curve.

Increasing supply means homes becoming 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.

"Developers need a reason to build houses and we have given them plenty. With more than £400 million of investment in our area in the last seven years and unemployment slashed, they know Dover and Deal are on the up.

The number of new builds started in Dover and Deal in 2016 was 434, almost double the UK average of 233. It continued a growing trend, with 312 new housing starts in 2014 and 321 in 2015.


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04 DEC 2017

MPs back my calls for more investment at the border

MPs have backed my calls for major investment at the Dover border – "whether or not a deal is reached".

In a report published on Tuesday (28 November), the House of Commons' Exiting the European Union Committee unanimously agreed about the need for investment in technology and infrastructure at the Port of Dover.

The cross-party group of MPs recommended introducing electronic customs checks and building a lorry park near the port, with no committee members objecting. Having written a detailed report on the subject, I of course welcome the news.

Committee members have done a lot of research and spoken to several industry experts. They all agree how important investing in the Dover frontline is for the UK economy. Their findings echo what I have been saying for some time now – this is 'no regrets' spending. We need to upgrade our border systems anyway.

Dover, the M20 and the whole UK economy is already at risk of gridlock by disruption in Calais. Investment is needed now. This way the EU will know we mean business. And it ensures we are ready on day one, so we can forge ahead on day two.

I have called on the Government to invest at the border several times since the referendum result, asking the Prime Minister in the Commons and meeting Treasury ministers at the port. In last month's Budget, Chancellor Phillip Hammond announced he is setting aside £3 billion for Brexit preparations.

The recent Brexit committee report states: "Whether or not a deal is reached, we believe that the Government should be investing now in improvements in technology and infrastructure to ease the passage of goods through gateways like the Port of Dover; for example, by introducing electronic customs checks and building the proposed lorry park outside the Port of Dover.

"However, such measures would not deal with all the risks of serious delays in Dover and would have to be reciprocated across the Channel in order to be effective.

"We visited the Port of Dover where we met individuals from the Port Authority, officials from executive agencies based at the Port as well as ferry operators, to learn more about how the border will be affected by the UK's withdrawal from the EU and why it is so important for the UK's trade.

"A large amount of trade passes through Dover every day and the efficiency of the processes in place at the Port, and at Calais, have helped to minimise the time it takes for goods to move from supplier to customer on both sides of the channel.

"Furthermore, it has introduced a predictability to the delivery timetable that is important for sectors with time sensitive supply chains, such as the automotive sector and the agri-food sector.

"A no deal scenario, especially if it was before any of the necessary adjustments had been made in areas such as IT systems, infrastructure, recruitment and training of staff, would cause major disruption."


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30 NOV 2017

A fitting tribute to an incredible person

It was fantastic to see so many Dovorians turn out on Friday for the funeral of Kelly Turner. This may have been a moment of mourning – yet St Mary's Church was so full of life. As Kelly's parents Martin and Linda requested, people wore bright colours to the ceremony. As well as multi-coloured outfits, there were several luminous hairstyles lighting up the aisles.

We waited in our seats while the organ played, some of us in deep thought, others taking the chance to catch up with old friends. Then we heard the revving of engines and the beeping of horns. "She's here," people whispered. Twenty or so bikes and mopeds were stationed outside to welcome Kelly and her family. Kelly's brilliantly colourful coffin was carried down the aisle by the pall bearers. Among them were Richard Esdale and John Ashman, tireless campaigners for Kelly's cause. On the back of the coffin was a photo of Kelly doing a "peace" hand gesture. I think it really hit home for many of us when we saw this picture and her beautiful smile as the coffin moved towards the altar.

The ceremony itself was a fitting tribute to an incredible girl. Kelly changed the lives of so many. She was an inspiration to us all – showing us that no matter what the odds, the most important thing of all is to take up the fight.

She inspired thousands of people to raise money to fight her rare form of cancer. More than half a million pounds was raised in two years – a stunning effort which we should all be so proud of. And we should all support Martin and Linda carry on of this funding through her legacy, the Kelly Turner Foundation.

But it's not just the money raised which inspires. It's the way Kelly brought people together. The way she made us ask questions of ourselves. "What have you done today to make you feel proud?" So asks Kelly's fundraising song, which was played at the start of the service.

We felt like we could never do enough to match Kelly's own superhuman efforts. Yet Dover did rise to the challenge – the way our town always does when struck by tragedy. Dover and its people have a unique spirit which draws them together at times like this. No matter what changes in the town, this spirit never dies. It is what keeps the town together through the toughest times.

No one epitomises this spirit greater than the Turner family. The strength Martin and Linda showed to stand in front of hundreds of people in church and talk about their beautiful daughter – their "little star" – who they lost less than two weeks ago was incredible. It was heart-breaking to hear Linda tell of how Kelly said she wasn't scared of going to heaven, but would much rather stay here with her mum and dad.

Many tears were shed during the ceremony. Yet everyone who stood up to speak showed great courage. They all talked about what Kelly meant to them. And whether in poem, song or psalm, the same words kept coming up. Angel. Light. Love. Star.

When we so cruelly lose someone like Kelly – a beautiful, kind and bright 17-year-old girl – the world in that moment feels like a dark place. Yet what the words spoken of Kelly on Friday tell us is that she leads the way in times like these. Her bright star guides us through the darkness. And when we open our eyes and look about us, we see a church full of people and full of love. We hear a spontaneous eruption of applause as Kelly is carried out of the church. We see people lining the high street and clapping as Kelly leaves Dover for the last time.

We see that we were all part of Kelly's battle. That while she may now be gone, her spirit still inspires us all. That Kelly's bright star will always shine on Dover – and always lead the way.


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27 NOV 2017

This stunning design won my Christmas card comp

The winner of my Christmas card competition has been revealed. A stunning Christmas tree drawn by Maya Maginn, 9, from Kingsdown & Ringwould CEP School claimed top spot. Maya's detailed design features candy canes and baubles – and gifts bearing messages such as "love", "hope" and "peace".

The standard of entries in this year's competition might just be the best we've ever had. I would have been proud to have any of the designs feature on my card. Yet Maya's really was truly outstanding. She clearly put a lot of thought and care into the design, which portrays the true message of Christmas.

This year's runners-up were: Nirbiga Karunakaran, 9, from Aycliffe Community Primary school; Maria Shnitnikova, 10, from St Margaret's-at-Cliffe School; and Abigail Rook, 8, from Lydden Primary School.

Maya's winning design features on the front of my Christmas card which I am sending to friends and family. The designs by the runners-up feature on the back of the card. I invited Dover District Council leader Keith Morris, as well as representatives from both Deal and Dover town councils to help judge the winner and runners-up. The judging took place at the Dover and Deal Conservatives office in Walmer on Friday, November 10th.

Deputy Mayor of Dover Roger Walker and Cllr Ann Jenner represented Dover Town Council in the judging. Cllr Keith Lee represented Deal Town Council.


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27 NOV 2017

374 firms in Dover and Deal have had rates reduced

A total of 374 businesses in Dover and Deal have had their rates reduced after I pressured ministers.

Earlier in the year I met with local business owners concerned by a rates revaluation in February. I then took their views to ministers at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Over the summer Marcus Jones MP told me he had set up three new relief schemes for hundreds of businesses in his constituency. This week Dover District Council confirmed 374 businesses have benefitted so far, saving more than £200,000.

The rate changes needed to happen – yet in some cases they put pressure on small businesses. These firms are the lifeblood of our economy. I told ministers we must support them during the transition. So I'm delighted the Government has acted.

This week Marcus Jones told me to keep encouraging businesses in Dover and Deal to apply for reduced costs, so I urge them to contact the council. The £207,003 awarded in Dover and Deal came in the form of three relief schemes – one that caps annual bill increases at £600, one that gives a £1,000 discount to pubs, and one that can be applied with discretion to any business facing higher rates.

Almost twice as many new businesses opened in Dover and Deal last year compared to 2010. Unemployment is way down and more than £400 million has been invested in the local area.

We must stay on course to build the better future we all want for our corner of Kent.


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23 NOV 2017

Fighting for better healthcare in Dover and Deal

We've been fighting hard to secure a fairer share of healthcare in Dover and Deal. And we're seeing some real improvements.

Buckland Hospital is now operating almost twice as many clinics as when it first opened. There are now 32 outpatient specialities, delivering 9,895 clinics each year. That's nearly double the amount in 2015.

What's more, seven new ophthalmic consultants have been recruited to work at the hospital, including in its brand new cataract surgery theatre. This makes a big difference to people who had to travel out of town for treatment.

And health chiefs have said good progress is being made on getting GP services co-located at Buckland and creating a primary care hub.

It's great that there are more services at Buckland. The old hospital had been decimated over a decade – yet the opposite is happening in the new one. Now we need even more services. Around 30 per cent of the new hospital remains unused. I also want to see beds commissioned at the brand new residential facility next door. Patients should be recovering as close to home as possible.

Meanwhile, in Deal our much-loved hospital – left teetering on the brink in 2010 – has seen staff numbers increase 17% since last year, from 126 to 147. Real strides are also being made in local mental healthcare. The trust in charge is closing in on being rated Outstanding overall.

Across East Kent, A&E performance has risen to 78.7% in the last fortnight in terms of patients treated within four hours of arrival. With an extra £800,000 of central government investment, our hospital trust has recruited ten new specialist emergency doctors, installed three new treatment areas and a new ambulatory care unit.

Meanwhile, an application for a brand new medical school run by Canterbury's two universities will be submitted by the end of the year. Getting a medical school will be a huge boost for Kent. It will mean we can train doctors locally and get more GPs in Dover and Deal. This is why I organised a meeting in Westminster last week with local health chiefs and Kent MPs. We are all working hard to make the medical school a reality.

I have been really encouraged by the hospital trust's new leadership team and the improvement plan they have implemented. The recent good work must continue because patients in Dover and Deal deserve the best treatment possible.

We've come a long way but there is still much more to do. An extra £10 billion in real terms is going into the NHS, bringing the budget to more than £120 billion – three times what we spend on schools. Yet locally we want more services, beds and more mental health support. That's why we must keep fighting for a fairer share of healthcare in Dover and Deal.


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22 NOV 2017

Three billion set aside for Brexit in Budget after my calls

Chancellor Philip Hammond has set aside an extra £3 billion in the Budget for Brexit preparations – following repeated calls I have made for the cash. I wanted at least £1 billion to be earmarked in Budget, making the case during Prime Minister's Questions last week and during an Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons last month.

So this is fantastic news. It's vital we are ready on day one for every eventuality of leaving the European Union, deal or no deal. Being prepared strengthens our hand in the negotiations with the EU. And our borders systems need upgrading anyway.

That's why I've been calling for the Government to invest now – particularly at the Dover frontline. We must be ready on day one of Brexit to keep traffic moving through the Channel Ports.


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22 NOV 2017

Lorry parks for customs checks should be built off M20

Lorry parking facilities which could be used for customs checks should be built off the M20, I told the House of Commons on Monday. I called for investment to ensure the right infrastructure is in place at the Port of Dover and the Channel Tunnel on day one of Brexit.

It comes after the Government last week axed its original proposals for an M20 lorry park at Stanford. A new planning application for a lorry park is not expected until 2019. I spoke up during a debate on customs where Financial Secretary to the Treasury Mel Stride faced questions from MPs.

I asked: "Does [the Minister] agree that it is really important for the Channel Ports that parking facilities and resilience are built in off the M20 so that whatever eventuality arrives with respect to needing to do checks—whether for animal health or customs purposes—we have the right kind of infrastructure and facilities in place on day one?"

Mr Stride replied: "I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention and, before I address his specific question, I also thank him for his insights and the fairly powerful lobbying he has quite rightly done on behalf of the Port of Dover and his constituents.

"On his specific question about infrastructure being ready, we certainly recognise that we need to have infrastructure there and that the port itself would generally not be able to handle a large number of stoppages at any one time.

"As I say, I have been down to the port to inspect the facilities there, so I certainly appreciate that. That is an issue that is receiving ongoing consideration."


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Charlie Elphicke

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