11 OCT 2018

Helping people around the world

We are so lucky to be British. Living in the developed world we have a level of prosperity that developing nations do not. That's why it's so important that we do our bit to help people in other nations with international aid.

That was my message to pupils at Aycliffe Community Primary School when I visited last week. I had received a letter from the school's "pupil panel" asking what was being done to help people around the globe. So I went to visit the school to discuss what is being done.

Speaking to the school assembly, I explained how aid is important – yet it must be spent in the right way. It should not go to nations that are able to afford space programmes. It should not be given to governments that make off with the cash. Instead it should go to the people who need it – to make a difference at the front line.

Our international aid budget has been doing much to help young people. Between 2011 and 2015, the UK supported more than 11 million children in schools across the world. That includes helping 430,000 Syrian children get better access to education. Meanwhile, we have helped more than 60 million people get access to clean water, better sanitation and improved hygiene conditions. These are real achievements that we should be proud of as a nation.

I was quizzed about the importance of our work around the world and whether we are supporting the United Nations too. It was impressive how the children are concerned to see that we help children in poorer countries. They also care deeply about the environment and the future of our planet – and what we are doing to tackle pollution.

Inevitably I was also asked about Brexit, with one youngster asking: "What continent will be in if we leave Europe?" This question was an incredibly important one. It was about what the future holds for him and his classmates – and what our nation's place in the world will be in the years to come.

Rightly so. For we won't be cutting along a dotted line down the English Channel and pushing ourselves out into the Atlantic. We may be leaving the EU – but we are not leaving Europe. We must remain as outward looking and concerned with continental and global affairs as we have ever been.

I was hugely impressed by how kind, caring and compassionate the pupils are. Their parents and teachers should all be really proud. The 'pupil panel' team put a lot of thought into the questions they asked – and are clearly passionate about helping others.

Executive headteacher John Dexter, head of school Jacky Cox and their team deserve great credit for the amazing job they have done at Aycliffe, which has been rated "good" and is now moving towards outstanding. We should all be proud of the children in our community – and their concern for others who are less fortunate.

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10 OCT 2018

Questioning the PM on county lines

The Prime Minister has been urged to crack down on county lines drugs gangs in Kent. During Prime Minister's Questions this afternoon, I raised "the rise of county lines operations" – where London dealers target youngsters in regional towns to run drug operations.

I asked Theresa May whether she shared my concern that drug-related deaths in Kent have doubled over the last three years, also pointing out that there are now 48 county lines in operation in Kent. I asked whether the Prime Minister agreed that "it's important for the Home Office to put more priority on making sure we win the war on drugs?"

Mrs May said Charlie had "raised a very important issue." She said the Government recognised that county lines "has been a growing problem and the Home Office is taking action".

My question to the Prime Minister comes after the Home Office axed funding for a project which has dramatically reduced child gang activity in Kent. The St Giles Trust charity has been training people with previous experience in gangs to become specialist caseworkers, who are then assigned to troubled youngsters involved in county lines across Kent.

According to a new report, the number of children reported missing due to suspected gang activity dropped by 40% in Dover and 65% in Margate in the months after the project launched in September last year. Kent Police calculated more than a quarter of a million pounds had been saved in resources, compared to £80,000 spent on the caseworkers.

After the huge success of the scheme, I wrote to Home Office asking for funding to be extended. Yet Minister Victoria Atkins said the St Giles Trust should explore other options. I asked Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott to step in – and he agreed to provide cash to keep the work going until April 2019.

But I want the Home Office to recognise how vital this project is and commit to long-term funding. Last week I ministers for "not taking county lines seriously enough" and for "proposing reviews rather than action". I have also been supporting Families United, a group of Dover parents whose children have been caught up in county lines. They are fighting to raise awareness of the issue and have been working closely with the St Giles Trust.

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09 OCT 2018

Ex-detective opens new Dover mental health base after personal battles

A former Metropolitan Police detective who suffered "manic depressive episodes" has spent the past 10 years helping others who suffer from mental health problems. Mark Kilbey is the director of Take Off, a support charity which recently opened up a new base in Dover. He invited me to come along and meet the team at Unit 1a in Granville Street last month.

Like Mark, who is bipolar, everyone in the team has experienced mental health problems. Mark says this makes the 37 "peer workers" across East Kent uniquely placed to help others. Indeed, mental health experience is "an essential qualification". Take Off, which was set up in Canterbury 20 years ago, held 840 group meetings last year.

Mark told me that he suffered a "psychotic episode" in 2005 while working for Kent County Council. He says his treatment "probably cost the NHS £100,000". He has dedicated the past decade of his life to working with Take Off to try to help others and promote awareness of mental health issues. I also met assistant director Ellie Williams, Dover co-ordinator Wayne Smith and Folkestone co-ordinator Madlin Brinton at their new Dover base.

Mark and his team are an inspiration to everyone who has suffered from mental health problems. They have battled through really difficult times and are now using their experience to help others. I would encourage anyone who feels like they need help to contact the Take Off team. I am determined to do all I can to support people in Dover and Deal struggling with mental health. Mental health is just as important as physical health – and it must be treated that way.

All the peer workers at Take Off are paid. The charity receives funding from Kent County Council, Canterbury City Council, the local clinical commissioning group and a number of local businesses. Take Off offers group therapy sessions and much more. Anyone wanting to contact the team should call 01227 788211 or email office@takeoff.works

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04 OCT 2018

Scaffolding removed the Crypt

The controversial 'Welcome to Dover' sign has been torn down – along with "dangerous" scaffolding at the former Crypt site. I met with town centre businesses and tourism chiefs in June to jointly call for the "horrible hoarding" in Townwall Street to be scrapped.

Residents also raised concerns about the Crypt site around the corner in Bench Street which has been left to ruin for decades – with the rusty scaffolding above "in danger of collapse". Just weeks later Dover District Council said a plan had been agreed with land and property owners to clean the area up. And last month the hated sign was gone and new hoardings put up.

I went to see local fish and chip shop boss Mario Macari to see how things had improved. Mr Macari, who runs Europa Fish & Chips, right next door to the former Crypt site told me he was pleased action had been taken. But he was still concerned about the "horrible and dangerous" scaffolding. I took the issue up with Dover District Council once again – and days later the scaffolding was gone.

Dover District Council deserve huge credit for listening to our community's concerns and taking action. Since our campaign started we've got rid of the embarrassing 'Welcome to Dover' sign and got the scaffolding above the Crypt site taken down too. We've made bigger steps forward in the last four months than we had for decades. Now we need to see the whole Crypt site spruced up – and to properly commemorate those whose lives were lost.

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04 OCT 2018

Fighting back in the war on drugs

Locking the doors at night. Bolting the windows. Householders going to bed ready to be up and out in the street at a moment's notice. These were the stories I heard from concerned parents of Dover. Yet this was not about keeping people out. It was about keeping their children inside – and safe.

Sitting round the table with the parents of Dover's Families United support group I heard how they are the front line in the war against drugs. Every parent wants to give their children a stable, loving home. Nothing is more important than ensuring our children our safe – whether at school, online or out and about with their friends. Yet these parents' children had been targeted by "county lines" drugs gangs and they needed help.

This is a rising problem. Drug deaths have doubled in Kent in the last three years – to the highest level in the UK. My first priority has been to seek tougher action against the drug dealers who exploit young people. Starting with more prosecutions and tougher sentences. An important milestone in this campaign has been securing Robert's Law. This means there is now stronger prosecution guidance and tougher sentences for the dangerous new drug fentanyl – in memory of Deal's Robert Fraser who was killed by the deadly opioid.

Yet we also need to take the battle to the drugs gangs. There are currently 48 county lines gang operations in Kent. All of these gangs exploit vulnerable children. I met with East Kent's police chiefs to seek further action. I set out my concerns over reports dealers were targeting children at our schools. As a result, the police have been taking firm action – with the arrest, charge, and removal of a number of accused county lines drug dealers from Dover.

We also need to support the parents. Families United told me they felt they were fighting a lonely battle. They needed back up. They had support from the St Giles Trust. This charity has been doing great work, yet only had funding until September for a pilot scheme in Dover. This project trains teenagers who had already overcome disadvantages to help other troubled youngsters. Yet their funding was uncertain, so I asked Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott to help – and he has acted to ensure they now have funding until April next year. I am working to get the Home Office to provide support too.

Families United want to found a new youth hub in Dover town centre. The group are trying to find a suitable space where young people can go after school. This is incredibly important. If you know of such a space, or can help, do get in touch with me or Families United urgently.

Beating drugs and addiction is hard. We can only help the county lines victims by coming together – families, community, government and police – to protect our children and take the battle to the London drugs gangs. That's why all of us need to do our bit to help rid our community of drugs.

Families United has asked anyone with suitable space in the Dover town centre area to contact them on familiesunited2018@gmail.com or my office on charlie.elphicke.mp@parliament.uk

Please do watch the ITV video of these brave Dover parents here: http://www.itv.com/news/2018-09-28/i-wouldnt-wish-this-on-my-worst-enemy-parents-lift-the-lid-on-the-damage-county-lines-does-to-families/

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02 OCT 2018

School kids quiz me on poverty, pollution and Brexit

Youngsters at Aycliffe Community Primary School quizzed me on tackling global poverty, protecting the environment – and what Brexit will mean for them. I answered questions in front of a whole school assembly on Thursday, September 27th.

I had been invited to come and speak in a letter from the school's "pupil panel" team. The group of up to 70 youngsters meet for 15 minutes every week to discuss issues that matter to them. On Thursday, youngsters from the panel asked Charlie about the global goals of the United Nations, what the Government is doing to help children in poorer countries – and tackling pollution. I talked about the UN's mission to end poverty and hunger and to give everyone a right to a good education.

I told them how the UK spends £13 billion a year on overseas aid – and between 2011 and 2015, had supported more than 11 million children in schools across the world. That includes helping 430,000 Syrian children get better access to education. Meanwhile, the UK helped more than 60 million people get access to clean water, better sanitation and improved hygiene conditions.

I explained how in my role as MP I have been fighting for more use of clean energy – like solar and tidal power. And I told the children of my battles with ministers for more funding for Dover and Deal's roads – and my campaign to keep lorries out of Aycliffe, which make their parents cross.

Yet I faced even more tricky questions from the children. One pupil asked: "Should we get rid of money in order to stop poverty?"

Another said: "What continent will be in if we leave Europe?"

I was then taken on a tour of the primary by head of school Jacky Cox and prefects Ella, Nirubiga, Isabelle and Naomi, hearing how out of those Year 6 pupils who took the recent SATS tests, 100% achieved the expected standard in maths and 90% in reading and in spelling, punctuation and grammar (SPAG). Ms Cox said the school has been rated "good" and is now moving towards outstanding.

I was hugely impressed by the kind, caring and compassionate pupils at Aycliffe. Their parents and teachers should all be really proud. The 'pupil panel' team put a lot of thought into the questions they asked – and are clearly passionate about helping others. This really is an excellent school. Executive headteacher John Dexter and head of school Jacky Cox and their team deserve great credit for the amazing job they have done.

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01 OCT 2018

Company donates half a billion to charity

A company has donated £500 million to a disability charity following my direct appeal in Parliament. 

Motability, a part-taxpayer funded scheme which provides adapted vehicles to disabled people, faced severe criticism earlier this year. In February a Charity Commission inquiry found it was hoarding £2.4 billion and paying huge salaries to senior staff, including £1.7 million to chief executive Mike Betts.

I argued that with its growing profits, the private firm should make a substantial donation to the associated Motability charity. Addressing Mr Betts directly at a joint select committee hearing in March, I said: "The variables all seem to be up and away every year since 2011. Don't you think you could afford to be a little more generous and give more money to good causes? Don't you think you should be doing a one-off immediate, substantial transfer to the charity so you can help its good charitable works?"

Hugh Radojev from the Civil Society, which supports the charity sector, highlighted that the donation followed this criticism. Motability Operations has now committed to making an initial £400m donation, which it said will be paid out of its profits this year. The company hopes to donate a further £100m to its charity arm next year.

Speaking at Motability's AGM this morning, Lord Sterling thanked Motability Operations for "once again delivering a splendid level of service to disabled people and their families" and said the charity governors "very much appreciate" the £400m charitable donation. He said the amount was "considerably higher than the charity was initially expecting".

It's very welcome to see that Motability have listened to our serious concerns and stumped up more cash for good causes. People were understandably angry that so much money was being hoarded. This is a big step in the right direction.

The Motability charity was first set up in 1977 by Lord Sterling of Plaistow. The Queen is its chief patron, while Theresa May and a number of former Prime Ministers are among its patrons.

Since it was set up in 1977, the scheme has provided over four and a half million vehicles for disabled people.

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27 SEP 2018

We need to believe in Britain and deliver Brexit

Leaving the EU must mean just that. That we take back control of our laws, money, borders and trade. That's why the Prime Minister must chuck Chequers and seek a free trade deal – and be fully prepared to do a World Trade deal if necessary. We must make it clear to the EU that we won't be bullied.

Why did the nation vote to leave? Because they believed in better. They believed in the kind of country we can build, where everyone has the chance to get on and succeed. Where we are free to run our own laws and our own economy in a way that works best for us – not Brussels.

The Chequers proposals put forward by the Prime Minister fail to honour the referendum mandate. We would be out of Europe yet still run by Europe. And it is now clear that Chequers doesn't work for the EU either.

What's more, the Chequers proposals would be bad for Britain. We would be tied to EU rules forever. We would never be truly independent. We would be saddled with regulations that work for other countries and protect big businesses from competition. These rules are also bad for hard working taxpayers, as they allow giant corporations to dodge taxes. They are bad for shoppers as they increase the cost of food and clothing to protect inefficient EU businesses. Nor would we be able to boost our economy through free trade deals with other nations. Chequers would not just be a bad deal. It would make our country poorer in the long term.

That's why the Prime Minister must now change course. This week the independent experts at the Institute for Economic Affairs set out the sort of free trade deal the Government should look for. A deal that honours the referendum mandate and enables us to depart the EU as friends.

That would leave us free to build a better Britain. One where we can scrap import taxes on goods we don't produce ourselves, so lowering prices for shoppers. Regulations that work for us and boost jobs and money. A fair immigration system seeking the skills we need equally from the EU or anywhere else in the world. And when it comes to Northern Ireland, we would agree to undertake all necessary investment and co-operation, so everything can be done away from the Irish border.

Last week's failed Salzburg summit underlined the disdain the EU has for us. Their insulting and immature behaviour shows it may not be possible to get an agreement before we leave. What we must not do is beg for more time. It will make us look pathetic and weak. Instead, we should be ready to leave under a World Trade deal that would save taxpayers from having the stump up the £39 billion divorce bill. To strengthen our hand, we should turbocharge preparations, so we are ready on day one, deal or no deal.

The EU referendum was the biggest vote in British history. Some 17.4 million people voted to take back control of our laws, borders, money and trade. The Government must now deliver on the referendum mandate by chucking Chequers and seeking a free trade deal with the EU.

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26 SEP 2018

Toasting the success of Kent's best pub!

I popped in for a pint at The Lanes in Dover – which has been crowned Kent's best pub.

I congratulated owner Debbie Lane for scooping yet another prize for the popular Worthington Street micropub.

The latest award from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) comes after The Lanes won East Kent pub of the year for the second year running in June.

Debbie and Keith run a great pub and have rightly been recognised for the delicious drinks on offer.

With the Mash Tun, the Breakwater Taproom and the Thirsty Scarecrow in town too, Dover has some brilliant micropubs – and I would encourage people to try them all!

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26 SEP 2018

Raising residents' concerns over Snowdown road

Residents tell me they fear it is only a matter of time before there is another fatal accident on an "incredibly dangerous" stretch of road through Snowdown.

Two young women were killed in a crash in Nethersole Road, Womenswold, on Friday, September 14.

An 18-year-old man died just weeks earlier after a car travelling from Nonington towards Snowdown crashed in Holt Street on July 29.

Residents of Weston Mews in Snowdown, whose homes are located between the two crash sites, fear "further heartbreak" unless urgent action is taken to introduce traffic calming measures.

I met with Kate Comfort and Rev Rex Morton on Thursday, September 20, after being invited to see the road for myself and discuss their concerns.

Mrs Comfort said: "We firmly believe that unless urgent action is taken to deter speeding motorists driving through Snowdown, it is only a matter of time before there is yet another fatal accident on our doorsteps.

"Cars, motorbikes and lorries speed past at 60mph on a narrow road only feet from our front doors. We all worry for our safety and for the safety of our children and pets."

The two recent fatal accidents come after a 21-year-old man died in a crash in Sandwich Road between Nonington and Chillenden in June 2016.

Rev Morton said: "I'm heartbroken at young lives being lost and ruined because of speed. This stretch of road is incredibly dangerous."

Fellow Weston Mews resident Rachel Thompson said: "Cars travel too fast outside our houses throughout the day and night. The road currently has a 60mph limit which needs reducing, alongside other speed reduction initiatives.

"Snowdown is a lovely place but we do not feel safe taking children or animals out the front."

And Gina Lipman added: "Since our houses have been built, it has been a real concern for me the speed at which the cars go along the main road at the front. Although at the end of our row of our houses there's a 40 mile sign, many drivers ignore that.

"Also because of the bridge over the train station, it makes it quite difficult to see cars coming from Nonington, as you're turning out on to main road, and that's a real potential for an accident."

The residents want the speed limit in front of their homes to be reduced to 30mph – as well as "some form of physical speed restriction" to force motorists to slow.

They told me that adjustments to traffic restrictions have not changed since the new homes were built in 2016. They are also concerned that the wooded area adjacent to their line of houses obstructs motorists' views.

I am urging Kent County Council to listen to residents' concerns.

Too many young lives are being lost on this stretch of road.

We need better street lighting, traffic calming measures and a lower speed limit – especially in front of the Weston Mews houses.

Residents fear it is only a matter of time before there is another fatal accident on their doorsteps. We must act now to make this road safe.

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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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