Last week we learnt that Amazon pays just £63 million in business rates despite recording sales of a staggering £8 billion. Meanwhile small business owners here in Dover and Deal pay eye-watering amounts in business rates while working tirelessly to make ends meet. Small surprise then that they look at the unfair advantage of online retailers and demand a more level playing field for tax.
This is why I have long campaigned in Parliament for online giants to be made to pay their fair share of taxes. Of course, local stores need to adapt to the rise of internet shopping. Yet everyone needs to be able to compete fairly. That's why we need to do everything we can to support the great British high street.
This became even clearer this week when Marks & Spencer, a Deal high street fixture of 80 years, announced plans to close. I am extremely disappointed, but also very much surprised. Deal is a town clearly on the rise with a hugely successful town centre – only recently voted the UK's best. Meanwhile the store itself is busy throughout the day. I wonder if a full retail assessment has been carried out – or whether this was a decision taken by spreadsheet. I have asked for an urgent meeting with Marks and Spencer bosses where I will urge them to reconsider.
Here in Dover and Deal I'm also fighting to ensure we get a fairer share of investment. I recently invited Cllr Graham Galpin, who sits on the Government's expert panel on high streets, to come and see what our towns have to offer. Along with Dover District Council leader Keith Morris, we visited the St James development – where the hated Burlington House once stood. The new cinema, shops and restaurants have risen in its place. The once desolate car park is now packed with shoppers. The £50 million invested is paying off. We also walked down Flying Horse Lane and spoke to shopkeepers in Cannon Street and Biggin Street about the challenges they are facing – and listened to their ambitions for the future.
Meanwhile the fast trains to London we campaigned for and delivered has improved Deal and Dover. Yet our station has been left to rust. I'm battling to get it spruced up, so it properly reflects the rising success of Deal.
We also discussed bidding for the Government's Future High Streets Fund, announced in the autumn Budget. Towns can bid for up to £25 million of cash. They need to present a plan on how they will change the use of empty commercial properties, improve transport access and boost footfall. Our corner of Kent is exactly where this money should be invested.
Already much is being done. Town centre retailers are being offered grants of up to £10,000 to smarten up shop fronts and attract new customers – with Brunch in Biggin Street being the latest beneficiary. And an application for a £3 million project to "revitalise Dover's Historic Market Square and Old Town" has reached the next stage of the Government's Coastal Communities Fund.
Our town centres have such huge potential – to offer people the sort of experiences and community spirit which you just can't get online. I'm determined to see the likes of Amazon pay a fairer share. And to make our high streets the best they can be.
Pupils at Dover and Deal primaries are outscoring their peers across the UK, according to new figures. Nationally, the proportion of youngsters achieving the expected standard in reading, writing and maths has risen from 61% to 64% this year. And two thirds of primary schools in Dover and Deal bettered the national average in their 2018 Key Stage 2 performance.
Top of the class are Eythorne Elvington Community Primary School, where 100% of pupils met the expected standard, rising 23% since last year. Meanwhile, 97% at both Kingsdown and Ringwould Church of England Primary School and Sibertswold Church of England Primary School got the required grades.
Twenty-two (68.7%) of the 32 Dover and Deal primaries for which results are available achieved above the national average. A number of schools made huge strides in the proportion of pupils hitting the standard. Guston Church of England Primary School made the biggest improvement, from 57% to 92%. Meanwhile, Northbourne Church of England Primary School leapt from 46% to 76.
It's fantastic to see school standards continuing to rise in Dover and Deal. The hardworking teachers and staff at our primary schools deserve huge credit. We must keep doing everything we can to ensure our youngsters get the best start in life."
The migrant crisis in the English Channel escalated yet again over Christmas and New Year, with dozens more arriving along the Kent coast.
Here at the Dover frontline, we have been fighting hard over the past few months for Ministers to take action. In November in the House of Commons, I called on the Prime Minister to tackle the traffickers and boost our border security by increasing patrols. I'm pleased to see that our campaign is now making a difference.
Firstly, the Home Secretary acknowledged this is a major incident and appointed a Gold Commander. He then listened to our calls to return the UK's two cutters back from cruising in the Mediterranean to patrol the English Channel and take back control of our borders.
I was delighted Sajid Javid also accepted my invitation to visit Dover. He was able to see how our heroic lifeboat crews, Border Force and emergency services work tirelessly along our coast to protect the border and keep people safe.
Meanwhile, the National Crime Agency have recently made arrests in connection to the smuggling network allegedly behind the recent spike in crossings. And the deployment of HMS Mersey is a welcome first measure too – as we seek to increase the deterrent in the Channel.
Now we need to see more action from the French. It's vital they immediately increase the number of craft and police patrolling their coastline – to stop these small boats from embarking. And there is a strong case for using aircraft with thermal imagery cameras to track any attempts to make these dangerous and illegal crossings.
We cannot be complacent. Because it was a lack of swift action that led to the rise of the Calais Jungle. At its height, some 10,000 people lived in the migrant camp in misery and squalor. People traffickers roamed free exploiting the vulnerable and terrorising tourists and truckers. Only after a hard-fought campaign was the Jungle dismantled and the number of migrants being trafficked plummeted. We cannot risk allowing the bad old days to return.
The Home Secretary is right to send a strong message and remind everyone that asylum should be claimed in the first country people come to, not the last. Indeed, why are they not claiming asylum in France, which is a very safe country? To return those attempting to cross to France would be the best deterrent and I hope the French will agree to that.
For too many years, the UK has gained a reputation as a soft touch on immigration. That needs to change or else people will continue to huddle on board these unseaworthy vessels, risking their lives and those of their young children.
We cannot allow this to carry on. The key is to stop the boats before they leave the French shore – and catch the ruthless people traffickers behind this crisis.
Investing more in our border security and taking firm action on illegal immigration must be a national priority.
With all the focus on Brexit, it is easy to forget the bread and butter issues that affect our daily lives. However jobs, money, homes, better healthcare, safer streets and great schools matter to us all as well.
That's why it's such good news that jobs are at record numbers – with 32.5 million Britons in work and wages rising. Such a strong labour market is only possible with policies which support business and enterprise. That strong economy also provides the money we need to increase investment in our public services.
We have made incredible progress locally – building the new hospital in Dover that everyone said would never happen, as well as safeguarding Deal Hospital which had been left teetering on the edge. Yet the £20 billion extra investment in the NHS will enable so much more to be done, starting with a greater priority for mental healthcare. Working closely with community groups like Talk It Out, I know how much mental health support matters – and how the quality of service has not been good enough in the past. That's why the extra investment in mental health matters so much.
The extra investment in schools is paying off too. Almost two million more children are now being taught in good or outstanding schools. In Dover and Deal, 2,432 kids are now attending these higher quality schools. Goodwin Academy in Deal is making real progress under new management. The Boy's Grammar School in Dover has ambitious plans. I have been working hard to get improvements and new buildings for the Girl's Grammar School in Dover, where construction is now underway.
Meanwhile Deal's primary schools look set to come together under a head teacher with a truly outstanding record of success. Everyone knows how easy it is to play cheap politics with schools and use them as a political football. Yet what really matters to parents is getting the best possible chances in life for our children. That only comes with the best teaching and the highest school standards.
We also need to ensure our streets are safe. Tackling crime – especially county lines drugs gangs – has been coming up the agenda. For years, crime has been falling. The signs are that may be changing. Working closely with Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner I have pressed the Home Office and the Treasury for more cash. This has been successful with another £24 million being allocated to boosting policing in Kent. That is on top of the extra 200 officers currently being recruited.
We've come a long way since 2010. Yet there is much more to do. Of course we have big decisions to make on the EU and Brexit. But we mustn't let that crowd out our other priorities. A strong economy provides us not just with jobs, but the cash to invest more in public services too. It is only with a strong economy that we can deliver on those other hugely important issues that affect our daily lives.
It's every parent's worst nightmare to see their child in pain. Yet this is the awful reality Emma Appleby has faced for so long.
Her beautiful daughter Teagan was born with the rare condition Isodicentric 15, a severe form of epilepsy. She is wheelchair-bound and can suffer up to 300 seizures a day. Earlier this year she required life-saving treatment five times in just eight days.
Emma had tried everything to ease her nine-year-old daughter's suffering, as any parent would. Yet nothing seemed to work. In July she got in touch with me to see if I could help.
Emma was fighting to get a license granted for little Teagan to have cannabis oil treatment. With known medication failing, the only other alternative suggested was for her to have risky procedures on her brain.
I felt strongly that Teagan should be given a chance. We were reading in the news of other youngsters being granted cannabis oil treatment. Clinical trials showed it helped dramatically reduce seizures. My view was that if we are prescribing patients morphine – which like heroin, is sourced from opium – then why should we not prescribe cannabis for medicinal purposes? This isn't about legalising cannabis for recreational use – that is just an unwelcome distraction. This is about helping children in severe pain.
That's why I urged the Home Secretary to intervene in Teagan's case. And in October he announced cannabis could be medically-prescribed by specialist consultants. Yet Teagan's treatment was still delayed, firstly due to restrictive guidelines drawn up by the NHS and then due to supply issues.
Without the help she needed, Teagan was soon back in intensive care suffering terrible seizures. I contacted the chief executive of the Trust which runs Evelina Childen's Hospital where she was being looked after. Kent-based GW Pharmaceuticals was eventually permitted to supply cannabis-based Epidiolex to Teagan's doctors.
Last week, I visited Emma and Teagan at their home in Aylesham to see how they were getting on. Teagan sat and watched Mickey Mouse on her iPad while Emma told me how she had been able to continue on the drug since leaving hospital. Things have definitely improved but Teagan is still suffering seizures during her sleep.
Emma's next fight is to get the stronger, THC form of cannabis treatment approved for her daughter, to see if that can put a stop to the seizures altogether. Emma hopes Teagan will return to school at the brilliant Whitfield & Aspen.
I was struck by how hard Emma has to fight, day in day out, for her daughter – and at times what a lonely and exhausting battle that must be. Yet her love for Teagan shines through. She will not stop until Teagan gets the help she needs.
I am determined to help. I will do everything I can to make sure the bureaucrats do not stand in Emma and Teagan's way. Common sense must prevail.
Teagan must be given every chance for a better life.
Reinstating bus services in villages around Dover and Deal was top of the agenda during crunch talks with Stagecoach bosses. The firm's South East acting managing director Mike Watson and commercial director Matthew Arnold met with me to discuss recent changes.
Last year Stagecoach cut a number of commercial routes in rural areas. Kent County Council also announced that a further 78 subsidised services across the county were under threat. I led a campaign by Kent MPs against the plans. Council leader Paul Carter agreed to halt the proposals and launch a consultation.
Dover has now been selected as one of five areas for a new public transport pilot scheme – re-establishing regular services into Northbourne, Great Mongeham, Sholden, Ash and Staple from summer 2019.
We have had to fight incredibly hard for bus services in our corner of Kent. But it has paid off – because we are one of the few areas getting them re-instated. There is still a lot more to do. Stagecoach has been engaging well but I was clear I want to see more work done, particularly on services for Eythorne and between River and Canterbury. People in rural areas rely on buses to go to school and work and access vital services. The council must keep working with the bus companies to ensure people aren't cut off.
A new bus service will be created for Northbourne and Great Mongeham, connecting to existing services at Sholden and Ash along the main routes between Canterbury, Sandwich and Dover. New shelters will be constructed at Northbourne and Great Mongeham, with real time information departure boards. Timetables, routes and fares will be confirmed closer to the launch in 2019.
A KCC spokesman said the feeder service would be going out to public procurement. Stagecoach South East Commercial Director Matthew Arnold confirmed Stagecoach would be bidding for the contract.
Ever since the EU referendum in 2016, we have been urging the Government to make sure we are ready for Brexit, deal or no deal.
We knew Brexit would present a challenge – and that nowhere would preparations be more important than at the Dover frontline. The Channel Ports account for around a third of the UK's entire trade in goods. It's in everyone's interests – the French's as well as ours – that traffic continues to flow.
However, there is of course a risk that the likes of President Macron may seek to punish us for daring to leave the EU. He may wish to make an example of us – in order to deter anyone else from having the courage to follow our lead.
That's why back in 2016 I got together with industry experts and worked up a plan to ensure we are ready on day one. Our blueprint set out how we could be prepared for every eventuality. Yet sadly the Government has so far failed to grasp the nettle and properly prepare for 'no deal' as they should have.
We are now leaving the EU in little over three months. It's crunch time. That's why last week I organised a 'no deal' summit at the Department for Transport with the Roads Minister.
It was great to get MPs, the port, police, Highways England, Kent County Council and Dover District Council round the table. There were a few things we made very clear to the Minister.
Firstly, that the Department's priority must be to stop port traffic from causing gridlock in Dover town. Secondly, that we have serious concerns about proposals to use Manston Airport as a lorry park. And thirdly, that we must ensure Kent Police have the funding required to handle any traffic queues in the event of no deal.
It was confirmed that Highways England's so-called Operation Brock will soon become a reality. Plans to erect steel barriers along the Londonbound carriageway between Junctions 8 and 9 of the M20 for the contraflow system will go ahead in February, deal or no deal.
I urged the officials to look at whether the Dover TAP cameras could enable an automatic number place recognition system to be used. That way any trucks caught skipping the queues would be sent all the way to the back or hit with fines.
Two days later I brought fellow Kent MPs along to the Port of Dover, so they could see first-hand just how vital it is that we keep trucks moving. This follows a visit from the Transport Secretary to the docks a few weeks before.
I am determined to keep up the pressure and so we can be prepared for every eventuality. We must have a clear plan for Kent – and to make sure our police and authorities have the resources they need to keep traffic flowing.
Of course, leaving the EU presents a challenge, particularly here at the frontline. But even though they knew it would be tough, 17.4 million people still chose to accept that challenge, including two-thirds of Dover and Deal. It's our job as politicians to take up that challenge too – and use all our energies to deliver for the people.
Children are putting their lives at risk by "surfing" on trains departing from Deal station, staff have warned me. Station manager Kyle Miller said that anti-social behaviour was an increasing issue on the platform.
He said that the problem has recently escalated with teenagers "surfing" on trains on Saturday, November 17, and Sunday, November 18. The "surfing" involves the children grabbing on to the side of the carriages and holding on as the train starts moving. Mr Miller said the train drivers put the brakes on as soon as they spot the youngsters. As a result, delays are caused for passengers on board and further down the line.
This behaviour is incredibly dangerous and needs to stop now. These youngsters are putting their lives at risk. Staff are becoming increasingly worried about anti-social behaviour on the platform. British Transport Police need to increase their presence at Deal station and put a stop to it.
The surfing issue was revealed during a meeting Charlie organised with Southeastern to discuss sprucing up Deal station. I am backing the Deal Station Clean-up Crew, who he joined for a litter pick in October. He called for Southeastern and Network rail to get the station back on track.
Southeastern listened to residents' concerns and put in new bins in recent weeks – but the protective plastic covering has already been smashed. The responsibility for sprucing up the station's metal bridge and rusting signs lies with Network Rail. I am raising the issue with them once again, while also urging British Transport Police to tackle reports of anti-social behaviour.
Deal deserves better than this. We need a spruced-up station which residents can be proud of – and to crack down on anti-social behaviour.
The Port of Dover Cruise Terminal doors swung open for the White Cliffs Christmas experience on Sunday. I was among scores of visitors at the official launch of this year's event, which runs until January 1 2019.
For the third year in a row, the Old Marine Station has been transformed into a winter wonderland complete with an ice rink, traditional Christmas market and Santa's grotto. I met up with organiser Amanda Stewart to discuss the "bigger and better" offer this year.
The historic building at Cruise Terminal One, Dover Western Docks, has once again been decked out with Christmas decorations, feature rides including bumper cars, Christmas activities, a new bar managed by locals Breakwater Brewery, a tea room and several food outlets.
There was a packed programme of entertainment for the launch from 10am until 8pm, including live music from local bands and Father Christmas' arrival on his sleigh pulled by real reindeer. Adding to the seasonal mood was the undercover real ice rink, which is larger than ever this year measuring some 400m².
It was fantastic to see so many local families getting into the Christmas spirit down at the port. A real festive atmosphere with lots of activities run by fantastic local businesses have made this event a huge success. It's getting better and better each year and everyone involved deserves huge credit.
Crunch talks on how a "no deal" Brexit could impact East Kent were held at the Department for Transport this week. I organised the meeting on Tuesday (November 27th) with Roads Minister Jesse Norman so the Port of Dover and Kent Police could raise their concerns.
I told the Minister that the Department's priority must be to stop port traffic from causing gridlock in Dover town, and also raised his serious concerns about proposals to use Manston Airport as a lorry park. And I reiterated the need to ensure Kent Police have the funding required to handle any traffic queues in the event of no deal.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale, Port of Dover chairman Richard Everitt, Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott and Kent County Council leader Paul Carter also attended the meeting. We were also joined by Cllr Nigel Collor – a district councillor who also represents Dover Town at KCC – and Highways England's John Kerner, who is in charge of "Operation Brock".
The port's finance director Shaun Pottage and operations manager Emma Ward, along with Kent Police's assistant chief constable Peter Ayling and Department officials, were there as well.
We discussed the plans for the contraflow system between Junctions 8 and 9 of the M20, known as "Operation Brock". The proposals would create 2,000 on-road lorry holding spaces on the coastbound carriageway. It was confirmed that plans to erect steel barriers along the Londonbound carriageway for the contraflow will go ahead in February, deal or no deal.
Other traffic management options in the event of queues at the Channel Ports include Manston, Dover TAP and parking lorries on the M26. I suggested that the Dover TAP cameras could enable an automatic number place recognition system to be used – so any trucks caught skipping the queues would be sent all the way to the back or hit with fines.
I called this summit in order to get everyone around the table so the Minister could hear the very real concerns we have here in Dover about stopping our town from being gridlocked. If the EU seeks to cause queues at Dover and Calais in the event of no deal – we need to make sure our local roads are kept clear. People need to be able to get to work and carry on as normal.
The Minister was left in no doubt of the serious concerns many of us have about using Manston Airport as a lorry park. We need a clear plan for Kent – and to make sure our police and authorities have the resources they need to keep traffic flowing.
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!