19 OCT 2017

Deal or no deal - we need investment at the front line

It's vital we are ready on day one for Brexit, deal or no deal. We can't wait until the last moment to make sure we have resilient roads and strong borders.

That's why we must be prepared for every eventuality – particularly at the Dover frontline. Clearly we all hope for a deal, yet we must also be fully prepared. The Prime Minister rightly said this week, the Government is committed to spending what is needed to make sure we are ready.

What's more, investment at the border is needed anyway, so it will be a "no regrets" investment decision that is in the national interest. For why wouldn't we want to have world class customs systems and cutting edge digital border controls at the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel? Why wouldn't we want to upgrade the A2 and M20? It wouldn't just mean we are in a great position, deal or no deal – it would also mean faster, more efficient borders and roads to help boost our economy.

Everyone knows that leaving the EU is the biggest challenge our nation has faced since the Second World War. This is why I got hauliers, ports and transport experts together to set out a blueprint for the way forward. We have set out the case to plan for efficient ports. Infrastructure for customs checks and technological improvements. We need a trusted trader system for truckers and close working will be required from our partner ports like Calais, Dunkirk and Zeebrugge.

The Government has drawn heavily on this work in setting out its own plans. This includes goods being presented to customs authorities inland – away from Dover's docks where this would cause delays. This yet again underlines why the roads to the Port of Dover and Eurotunnel must be resilient, with lorry parks where checks could take place. The Department for Transport needs to act now – to make sure that the long-suffering residents of Kent don't have to put up with Operation Stack happening in the future.

It's also important we are ready for the end of uncontrolled EU immigration. That means we need to be able extend our full border control systems from the current 12.5 million to a further 25.5 million visitors to the United Kingdom.

Investment in tried and tested modern digital border systems would enable much faster checks to be made and allow most of the processing to be automated. Using systems to make all necessary checks long before people arrive at the Port of Dover would help minimise travel delays for legitimate travellers.

If we are ambitious we can be a world leader in terms of border technology and security.

Yet we can't keep waiting for the EU to get its act together. It's time to get ready on day one, so we can forge ahead on day two.

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18 OCT 2017

Industry leaders need "certainty" over Brexit

Industry leaders have called for "certainty" from Government in order to be ready on day one to make a success of Brexit at the Channel Ports.

Representatives from Eurotunnel, the Road Haulage Association and a major logistics firm last night took part in the panel discussion I organised. 

It called for the Government to engage more with businesses and operators – and to invest in upgrading the UK's border technology.

The message is clear. We need better systems at the border – and greater certainty on preparations for Brexit. We need to make this work for the people of Britain and Europe. We must put them first in all that we do.

The decisions we make as we leave the European Union must ensure trade continues to flow through Eurotunnel and the Port of Dover. We need to prepare now to ensure we are ready on day one, deal or no deal."

A number of MPs and representatives from haulage firms attended the packed panel discussion in the House of Commons on Tuesday, October 17. Former Border Force director general Tony Smith CBE, Eurotunnel director of public affairs John Keefe, Road Haulage Association chief executive Richard Burnett and Kuehne + Nagel international forwarding director Mark Johnson were on the panel, chaired by me. 

We all agreed that the Government should prioritise setting up an improved trusted trader system for haulage firms post-Brexit to reduce delays.

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13 OCT 2017

Crunch talks with bus bosses

I met Stagecoach's area chief for crunch talks on recent changes to local bus services. I told him how I had received scores of complaints regarding routes across the district.

Kent County Council's head of public transport Phil Lightowler also attended the meeting at my Westminster office. We discussed changes to bus routes implemented by Stagecoach in July. I also asked people to comment on my Facebook page so I could pass on their concerns to the bus firm – and more than 100 took the chance to have their say.

Mr Norwell, Stagecoach's South East managing director, told me he had read the comments on the Facebook page. He said many of the problems raised had been addressed.

The bus boss said Stagecoach had taken action on services to local schools. After I raised concerns last month, the firm made changes to ensure students from Kingsdown could get home from school.

Mr Norwell also said Stagecoach had worked with KCC to ensure parts of Great Mongeham and Northbourne are covered after complaints were raised. Stagecoach has also added an additional journey between Eastry and Canterbury. Mr Norwell agreed to look closer at issues resulting from changes to services in St Radigunds and River.

Thank you to everyone who has got in touch with me about changes Stagecoach has made to services in our area. Judging by the sheer amount of emails, comments and letters, it's clear the firm has many questions to answer.

It's welcome that Stagecoach say they have made changes after people raised concerns – and that they are working with KCC to help cover some areas. Yet if anyone is still experiencing problems, I urge them to get in touch with me so I can take up their case."

Residents can get in touch with me by emailing charlie.elphicke.mp@parliament.uk or messaging on Facebook.

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12 OCT 2017

Schools are getting the investment we fought for

We're working hard to build a bright future for Dover and Deal. And everyone knows a vital part of that is supporting our schools. We have some incredibly bright and talented young people in our area. Every single one of them must be given the chance to thrive.

Across Dover and Deal, incredible work is being done by some truly amazing teachers and support staff. Take the inspirational Whitfield and Aspen School, where children with special educational needs mix with youngsters in the mainstream.

I visited Whitfield and Aspen last week to hear about their fantastic outreach programme. Staff go out to nurseries across Dover and Deal and help children who have special educational needs.

One youngster they helped was Darwin Burnett at Kid Ease nursery at the Triangles Centre. His family were really pleased with his progress and wanted him to go on to Whitfield and Aspen School. Yet they were having difficulty securing school transport for him. I was delighted to help out and to persuade Kent County Council to fund his transport. It was brilliant to meet Darwin last week. He really is a charming young lad and it's great to see his confidence growing.

Yet none of this would have happened without Whitfield and Aspen's amazing outreach programme. The school is looking to expand when the new Whitfield development goes ahead – so they can help even more youngsters.

I also visited Goodwin Academy on Friday for the official opening of the school's hugely impressive new £25 million building and facilities. It was great to be shown around by two polite and well-informed pupils, who looked very smart in their new school uniform. We fought a long and hard battle to deliver the new building for the Goodwin Academy. Thanks to everyone's determined efforts, this really is a school transformed. It's so good to see Dover and Deal getting the investment in education we fought for and deserve.

Another school which has undergone a complete transformation in recent years is Dover Christ Church Academy, with brand-new facilities and ever-improving results. While our excellent grammar schools continue to deliver outstanding results.

Lots of people spoke to me about school funding during the General Election campaign. I pressed the Government for action and now our schools are set to get a huge cash boost from the Conservatives' new national funding formula. Kent County Council should introduce the new system next year – boosting secondary school funding by an average of 7.2%, or £1.54 million.

I'm passionate about giving people ladders in life. Schools must give children the support they need to climb as far as their talents can take them. That's why we're fighting for our schools in Dover and Deal. Because no matter where you come from – every child must have the chance to get on in life.

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11 OCT 2017

Calling on the Chancellor to invest in Brexit border systems

I have called on the Chancellor to invest in upgrading border and customs systems now – so Britain is ready on day one for leaving the European Union, deal or no deal.

I highlighted the need to press ahead swiftly with the M20 lorry park project as Philip Hammond faced questions from myself and fellow MPs at a Treasury Select Committee hearing. The Chancellor had earlier written in The Times that funding should not be spent yet for preparations for no deal with the EU.

At the hearing, I told him: "Uncertainty is our enemy – but resilience is our friend. Why wouldn't we want world class border systems and road infrastructure? Why don't we make this investment that we need anyway? That means we are also in a really great position – deal or no deal."

The Chancellor said any spending on Brexit preparations would be "specific", depending on whether Britain strikes a deal with the EU – and what that deal will look like. I pressed the Chancellor on the need to get the proposed M20 lorry park at Stanford built in time to ensure "resilience" for Brexit.

The Treasury's recent Customs Bill white paper says that in the event of "no deal" over Brexit – the presentation of goods to customs "would take place inland as much as possible." Mr Hammond said the M20 lorry park "is one of the factors that needs to be considered".

I asked: "How resilient do you believe our borders system and customs system are to handle leaving the single market and customs union on March 29th, 2019?"

The Chancellor said: "We need to prepare for a wide range of scenarios. The commitment we have made is that we will be ready with the necessary minimum structures to operate to system on day one. Will everything we will ever need be in place by day one? Definitely it won't. We will build over time more refined infrastructure to deal with the situation we are facing – once we know what that situation is."

The Chancellor wrote in The Times that funding for preparations for no deal with the EU should only be spent "when it is responsible to do so".

At the hearing I also asked Mr Hammond under what circumstances he envisaged it would be "responsible" to spend funds on preparing for no deal. The Chancellor said where spending is "uniquely required in a no deal scenario... we need to work backwards from March 29th 2019 and identify where we need to make the commitment decision in order to deliver on time."

It's vital that investment in infrastructure like the M20 lorry park and world class border systems begins now. Rather than wait for the EU to get its act together, we must take action now. If we are ready on day one, we can forge ahead on day two.

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10 OCT 2017

Helping a young lad get transport to school

A four-year-old boy is loving life with his new classmates after receiving help to get transport to school.

Darwin Burnett started at Whitfield and Aspen School in September. The school had been helping Darwin, who has special educational needs, as part of their outreach programme while he was still at Kid Ease nursery at the Triangles Centre in Dover.

His family were really pleased with his progress and wanted him to go on to Whitfield and Aspen School. Yet they were having difficulty securing school transport for him. I wrote to Kent County Council and persuaded them to fund Darwin's transport.

It was brilliant to meet him last week. He really is a charming young lad and it's great to see his confidence growing. When his family were struggling with school transport I was delighted to help out.

I was shown around the school, where children with special educational needs mix with youngsters in the mainstream, by headteacher Joseph Cook and outreach coordinator Annmarie Formoy. They told me how staff visit 16 nurseries across Dover and Deal as part of their outreach programme. Six children recently went on to mainstream schools straight from nursery after receiving their help.

I was also shown plans for the school's expansion when the new Whitfield development goes ahead. Incredible work is being done by some truly inspirational teachers and support staff and Whitfield and Aspen School. It's clear their outreach programme makes a huge difference to so many youngsters.

It's great that the school is expanding – so they can help even more children.

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09 OCT 2017

Opening the new Goodwin Academy building

The official opening of the new £25 million building at the Goodwin Academy in Deal was held on Friday.

The ribbon was cut by The Admiral of the Fleet the Lord Boyce after guests were given a tour of the state-of-the-art facilities.

I was delighted to see the new building up and running after fighting a long and hard battle to secure funding for the school. It was great to be shown around by two polite and well-informed pupils, who looked very smart in their new school uniform.

The new Hamilton Road site, built next door to the current 1930s buildings in Mill Road, has capacity for 1,300 pupils. Equipment from the maritime studies centre based at the former Walmer Science College site was moved to the new building. Guests also had a look at the modern gym equipment inside the new sports hall.

We fought a long and hard battle to deliver the new building for the Goodwin Academy. Now some £25 million has been invested. Thanks to everyone's determined efforts, this really is a school transformed. It's so good to see Deal getting the investment in education we fought for and deserve.

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06 OCT 2017

Discussing crime concerns with the local police chief

Residents' concerns over local crime issues were discussed at a meeting between myself and the area's police chief.

I told Chief Inspector Mark Weller that people had raised a number of issues – including anti-social behaviour, drug dealing and speeding in some areas. Residents also sought reassurances over police presence in Deal.

Ch Insp Weller told me the local force would be looking into all the issues raised.

He said a Kent Police operation during the summer had resulted in a number of street drinkers being moved out of Dover town centre.

Ch Insp Weller, who started out as a police constable covering Dover and Deal in 1996, said tackling drug dealing was a top priority. He will also look at measures to tackle speeding – particularly around Dover's one-way system and in Capel. He insisted that police officers are in Deal covering the town every day.

It's great to have an area commander who knows the Dover and Deal patch so well. Ch Insp Weller clearly cares deeply about fighting crime in our area and is happy to take on board residents' concerns.

I'm pleased the local force will look at tackling the dangerous practice of drivers speeding around Dover's one-way system – and that Ch Insp Weller confirmed there are police officers in Deal every day.

Our local force do an incredible job. And it's great our area commander is engaged with the community and listening to people's concerns.

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05 OCT 2017

Dover and Deal are on the up

We're working hard to build a brighter future in Dover and Deal. And it's clear things are on the up in our beautiful corner of Kent.

The new cinema and shops at St James are set to open in the coming months. The £120 million Western Docks development is underway. Deal continues to go from strength to strength and was recently ranked as one of Britain's top coastal towns.

There are exciting times ahead and people I speak to when I'm out and about are really positive about the future. Indeed, last week research was published which said happiness in Dover and Deal has reached its highest levels since records began.

Our level of happiness in 2016/17 was 7.69, researchers found. This is above the national average of 7.51 and a big rise locally from 7.17 last year. When the Office of National Statistics started measuring personal well-being in 2011/12, the level of happiness in Dover and Deal was 7.38.

Life satisfaction in the constituency is also up year on year, while anxiety is down. More people feel what they do in life is "worthwhile" than in 2011/12.

Too often some people talk us down. Yet the truth is that Dover and Deal are on the up. We've come a long way in the past seven years. We stopped the port sell-off, got a new hospital built in Dover and safeguarded Deal's. We secured £500 million of investment for our area and unemployment has near halved.

People said we'd never get the fast train to Deal – yet now it sweeps into the station every day. People said Burlington House would be there forever – yet we kept fighting until it was torn down. Now the former St James site is transforming before our eyes. Meanwhile the rubble from Burlington House is being used to lay the foundations of the Western Docks Revival.

Of course, there is still much more to do as we build a brighter future for Dover and Deal. The most vital issue of our times is ensuring we are ready on day one for Brexit. We cannot have a situation where there are long queues of trucks clogging up our roads. That's why I've been working with industry experts to put together a plan setting out the action we need to take now at the Dover and Deal frontline.

If we get it right, we can enjoy a real boost from Brexit. I got 40 MPs together to write to the Chancellor, calling for duty free sales on travel to Europe to return after Brexit. This could help boost visitor number and our ferries.

Things are changing. We are working relentlessly – taking action to secure investment, plan ahead and build a brighter future for Dover.

And if there's one reason above all else to be happy – it's that we finally got rid of the 40mph limit on the A20!

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05 OCT 2017

Public support has safeguarded our greatest landmark for future generations

Our iconic White Cliffs are a symbol of freedom and our nation's wartime defiance.

I'm delighted that so many people have rallied together to raise £1 million in less than three weeks.

It just goes to show how deeply people care about protecting our greatest landmark for future generations to enjoy.

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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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