There are many good reasons why we are leaving the European Union. And why Dover and Deal – and the nation as a whole – will be better off for it.
We will be taking back control of our money, our laws and our borders. We can put an end to uncontrolled EU immigration – and strike free trade deals across the globe. Yet there are so many more benefits of Brexit.
Take the case of David Wilsher, from Kingsdown. Because of EU rules, he could be put out of business.
David runs a firm called Mission Cycles, based in Maidstone. They sell tricycles which are imported from China and Taiwan. Because these products are specially designed for disabled people, David should be exempt from paying any import duty. Yet Mission Cycles has been hit with an £85,000 tariff bill.
I urged HMRC to put this right. Finally they agreed to reduce the bill by £25,000 and arranged to visit Mission Cycles to discuss the remaining sum. Yet a week before the visit HMRC cancelled, saying Brussels bureaucrats "would not accept any variation of Customs assessments resulting from non-statutory process."
In other words, because we are bound by EU rules, HMRC cannot cut the £85,000 bill. This means David will have to seek a tribunal ruling to overturn the charge, which he says is "a gamble that could cost more than the debt they are asking for".
I'm taking this up with HMRC again to see what can be done. Yet this case shows once more the sort of red tape which is holding British businesses back. And it shows why leaving the EU customs union is the right thing to do. It means we will honour the referendum result, set our own rules and sign trade deals with the rest of the world.
Another great benefit of Brexit is that we will at last be able to ban live animal exports. We've had to put up with this wicked trade at ports like Dover because of EU law. Everyone remembers the protests on Townwall Street and the horrible sight of lorries packed full of sheep.
The live export trade continues to this day at Ramsgate. I've been making the case in Parliament to Environment Secretary Michael Gove that we must put a stop to it as soon as we leave the EU. And now he has confirmed he is considering a ban – to help the UK become a world leader in animal welfare.
Of course, leaving the EU will present challenges. That's why I've been setting out in detail how we can be ready on day one for every eventuality – particularly at the Dover frontline.
There is still much work to be done. Yet once we take back control it's clear we can be better off after Brexit.
Health chiefs must get a grip and swiftly fix the problems delaying the opening of GP hubs in Dover and Deal.
It was announced earlier this year that up to ten rooms at Buckland Hospital and Deal Hospital would be used to provide extra GP services as part of £2.4 million investment. But IT issues have resulted in the planned opening of the Buckland hub on April 9 being delayed. The hub at Victoria Hospital in Deal is not yet open either – with work underway to make services available by the end of this month.
I have contacted bosses at the South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group to express his serious concerns. Health chiefs need to urgently get a grip of this situation and deliver the services patients were promised. These hubs will mean more people can be treated locally, taking pressure of the larger hospitals in East Kent. We need to see a fully-functioning, seven days a week service. It's vital we make the most of the facilities we have at Buckland and Deal.
The CCG announced earlier this year that the hubs would be open 8am to 8pm, seven days a week, delivering 110,000 appointments per year. For the first three months the service will run 8am to 4pm while more staff are recruited.
I am also seeking assurances on out-of-hours services available to people in Dover and Deal. The Deal out-of-hours base was closed by former provider Primecare in October last year. Charlie is asking new provider IC24 and the CCG to reassure residents about coverage in East Kent. Everyone knows that an emergency can happen at any time – not just 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. People across Dover and Deal need reassurance that they and their loved ones can get the treatment they need, no matter the time or location.
Empty houses behind Buckland Hospital will be converted into the UK’s first “dementia village” by July next year. The team behind the £3.5 million project told me about their plans on a recent visit to the site.
Residents will be helped to live as independently as possible – with an on-site shop, cinema, pub and hairdressers. The six derelict semi-detached blocks in Randolph Road will be renovated and house 30 beds for elderly residents. Each block will hold five beds in specially adapted flats – with trained healthcare assistants on site.
A community centre called “the hub” will also offer an extra six “flexible” beds which can be filled from referrals by GPs or Kent County Council, bringing the total number of beds to 36. Consultant geriatrician Philip Brighton and strategic intelligence director Henry Quinn – both from East Kent Hospitals NHS University Foundation Trust – told me the dementia village is scheduled to open in the first half of 2019. They said they had used local architects and a local contractor – and intend to employ local workers when the site is up and running.
It was great to learn more about the exciting plans for a dementia village in Dover. The team are clearly passionate about providing the best possible care for our elderly. It’s fantastic that an innovative project like this is coming to Dover and that we are seeing yet more investment in local care services.
What’s more, it’s great to see the empty houses in Randolph Road finally being brought back into use, creating a place elderly patients can call home. I’m excited to see this project become a reality next year.
Walking around Dover these days you can sense a real buzz. After many long years of hard work, people can see things are finally starting to happen.
Every week a new business is opening at the St James site. First it was Cineworld, then Nando's, then Poundland and Food Warehouse. Now Travelodge is open too – bringing more jobs and visitors to our corner of Kent.
When I first campaigned to be your Member of Parliament more than eight years ago – I promised to do everything I could to bring more jobs and money to Dover and Deal. Since then we've had more than £500 million of investment and unemployment has halved.
It's not been easy. We've faced many challenges and setbacks along the way. Yet at last things are changing.
When I parked up at St James, a man approached me shouting: "Oi, is that who I think it is?" I wondered what I might have done to upset him. But then he came running over, shook my hand and said: "It's great here, isn't it?"
The new cinema and shops were bustling with customers. Some people scoffed at the excitement surrounding the announcement that Nando's was coming to town. Yet it was very busy when I went for lunch there – so it's clearly popular.
It was great to see that lots of people were following the route from St James past the Lord Nelson pub and towards Market Square. We must do everything we can to support the hardworking small business owners in the high street. That's why I'm fully backing district council leader Keith Morris' plan to invest £500,000 in the area.
Meanwhile, at the Western Docks amazing progress in being made. I was shown up close the great steel pylons which will form the structure of the new marina curve. Concrete slabs are being laid on top before commercial units are constructed. Port chairman Richard Everitt and his team deserve great credit for the incredible work done so far.
Boosting the cargo business will help the port grow – and opens up the potential for more ferry crossings at the Eastern Docks. Yet the most exciting prospect of all is the new marina curve. Once built, bustling with bars and cafes right on the seafront, it is sure to attract visitors from all over. I can't wait to sit down and enjoy the view, watching the ferries come and go.
So, a new-look seafront is on the way and St James is up and running. Despite the doom-mongers saying that it could never be done. That Burlington House would forever tower over our town. That to have a six-screen cinema in the centre of Dover was in the realms of fantasy.
We've come a long way together since 2010 - and we're delivering investment that's making the change in Dover & Deal.
Litter clearance on roads across Dover and Deal will start this week after I kept pressuring the council.
Dover District Council has confirmed seven clean-up operations in April. Lydden Hill will be targeted on April 12, Green Lane and Whitfield Hill on April 13, the A20 on April 16, the A257 on April 19 and 23, and the A258 from rare breeds roundabout to Deal roundabout on April 27.
It follows litter-picking along the A2 – from the Whitfield roundabout to the Duke of York's roundabout and along Jubilee Way – between March 14 and 16. Council workers told me around 600kg of waste was cleared in total. They also said dates would be confirmed shortly for a litter pick of the whole length of the A2.
I'm really pleased the council have taken action on this. Roadside litter is bad for the environment and creates a terrible impression to visitors and residents. I understand road closures have to be agreed with Highways England which makes things more difficult. But it simply must take place more regularly than it has been.
We live in a beautiful part of the country, but that's not the impression you get when bottles and wrappers are strewn across verges passed by millions of motorists. That is why I have been pushing the council to clear them more regularly. There are now seven clean-ups planned this month and I'm told more will follow.
I have lobbied the council about roadside litter dozens of times in recent months. In March I also joined the Keep Britain Tidy campaign which featured a beach clean in Walmer and a litter pick in Dover.
Litter is a blight on our beautiful corner of Kent. Everyone should be able to enjoy our stunning surroundings without them being spoilt by piles of rubbish. I welcome the council's action on this but roads must not be allowed to return to the awful state they were in.
I have nominated a team of hard-working community nurses who have trained care home staff to treat diabetic residents for a special award. I met with local NHS manager Hayley Mullan and her team at Dover Health Centre in Maison Dieu Road to talk about the work they have been doing.
They told me that people in care homes – where one in four have diabetes – much prefer to have a familiar face administer treatment such as insulin injections. So the Kent Community Heath Trust nurses have been visiting care homes across East Kent and giving staff vital training. The team also helped cooks with recipes for meals that could be served to all residents – to put a stop to any disputes over desserts. They trained staff on ways to keep residents active and stimulated too.
Last month I put forward Hayley and her team for the NHS70 Parliamentary Awards – held in July to mark the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service. The team were nominated in the Person Centred Care Champion Award category.
We all want our grandparents and parents to receive the best possible care and to know they are being properly looked after. So Hayley and her team deserve great credit for the work they have done to train staff in care homes across Dover and Deal. I was delighted to nominate them for an award.
Their efforts have improved care and helped reduce hospital admissions. It's great to see innovation like this in our NHS. We need more of it.
I devoured a cheeky Nando's during a vist to the St James development last week. I took a look around the new Cineworld, Poundland and Food Warehouse at the town centre site before sitting down for lunch in the popular chicken restaurant.
It's fantastic to see the St James development become a reality – and to finally have a cheeky Nando's in Dover! Some people scoffed at the excitement surrounding the announcement that Nando's was coming to town. Yet it was very busy when I went for lunch – so it's clearly living up to the hype.
St James is now up and running – despite the doom-mongers saying that it could never be done. That Burlington House would forever tower over our town. That to have a six-screen cinema in the centre of Dover was in the realms of fantasy. Yet look where we are today. Everyone who worked so hard to deliver for Dover should be proud of what we've achieved so far."
The St James scheme had been facing delays because of problems getting the site connected to electricity. So I held crunch talks with the power suppliers and the council – and the switch-on date was rapidly moved forwards. The development is now attracting more and more people since the opening last month. Visitors are also able to walk along a clearly marked path alongside the Lord Nelson pub and into Market Square – so they can enjoy all the "old town" has to offer. I met with some of the business owners in Dover's high street, who said they wanted to see people who come to St James encouraged to explore more of the town.
It was great to see St James so busy – and that lots of people were walking between the new site and the high street. We must do everything we can to support the hardworking small business owners in the 'old town'. That's why I'm fully backing district council leader Keith Morris' plan to invest £500,000 in the area.
Construction of Dover's new marina is well underway – as I saw on a boat tour of the Western Docks. Dover Harbour Board chairman Richard Everitt and his team showed me around the multi-million pound development.
I saw up close the great steel pylons which will form the structure of the new marina curve. Concrete slabs are being laid on top before commercial units are constructed. Mr Everitt confirmed the harbour board is planning for bars and food outlets on the marina, which will be accessible from the seafront.
It was great to see up close the incredible work that's been going on at the Western Docks. Amazing progress has been made so far – and Richard Everitt and his team deserve great credit. Boosting the cargo business will help the port grow – and opens up the potential for more ferry crossings at the Eastern Docks.
Yet the most exciting prospect of all is the new marina curve. Once built, with commercial units, bars and cafes, it is sure to attract visitors from all over. I can't wait to sit down with a beer at sunset, watching the ferries come and go.
There is nothing more important than knowing you and your loved ones will receive the best possible care. That is why I'm determined to fight for a fairer share of healthcare in Dover and Deal.
Real progress is being made. Last month it was confirmed that our campaign for a new £30 million East Kent medical school had been successful. The Government is funding 107 undergraduates annually across the sites from September 2020. Everyone knows we need to recruit more GPs. Now doctors and nurses will be training and living in our beautiful corner of Kent, meaning many more will stay and work locally.
Another issue of real concern for so many families is the care their parents and grandparents receive in older age. So it's fantastic that a new "dementia village" – the first of its type in the UK – is being built right next to our hospital in Dover. The team behind the project showed me how the empty houses in Randolph Road will finally be brought back into use. They will create a place patients can call home, keep active and carry on living as independently as possible. The team are also committed to using local architects, local construction firms and to employing local workers when the dementia village opens early next year.
This month a new £2.3 million GP hub, which will run out of both Buckland and Deal hospitals, is set to open. GPs will work out of ten rooms across both sites. They will be open 8am to 8pm seven days a week, delivering 110,000 appointments per year – meaning more people can be treated locally.
We must not forget far we have come since 2010. In Deal, we saved our much-loved hospital from the brink. Now staff numbers are up 17% on 2016. In Dover, Buckland Hospital was decimated over the previous decade. We got a £24 million facility built in its place. Twice as many clinics are now operating than when it first opened.
Yet there is still more to do. I recently held talks with bosses at the South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group. I raised my serious concerns about the removal of the age-related macular degeneration treatment from Buckland. They said they are working to bring it back. They are in discussions with eye doctors and looking at training up more nurses. Dovorians were also promised a number of other services when Buckland Hospital opened two years ago which we need to see delivered now.
When I spoke to staff at Deal Hospital, they told me there is a great opportunity for more respiratory and rehab services. Although the East Kent coalfields closed some time ago, there are still people locally who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The CCG should make treatment for this available in Deal.
We've battled hard for a fairer share of healthcare in Dover and Deal. Investment is now growing. Yet we must keep fighting.
A Kent business which sells products for disabled people is under threat because of EU Customs Union rules.
Kingsdown resident David Wilsher's firm Mission Cycles, based in Maidstone, was handed an £85,000 tariff bill for importing tricycles from China and Taiwan. Products specially designed for disabled people should be exempt from import duty. Mission Cycles brands itself as "disabled specialists" and insists it only sells to that group. HM Revenue and Customs officers (HMRC) initially said the tricycles weren't "specifically designed for disabled people" and enforced a duty rate of 6%.
Following representations over 15 months – including from me – HMRC reduced the bill to around £60,000 and arranged a visit to Missions Cycles to discuss the remainder. But a week before the visit the officers cancelled, stating: "I am sorry this will be disappointing new and that it comes so late in the day. The main reason for this decision relates to the relationship between HMRC and EU auditors, who would not accept any variation of a Customs assessments resulting from non-statutory process."
It means Mission Cycles will have to seek a tribunal ruling if they want to overturn the charge. Mr Wilsher described it as "a gamble that could cost more than the debt they are asking for".
I contacted HMRC executive chair Edward Troup who told me that "goods receive a classification in accordance with the EU Common External Tariff and customs duty rates are also currently determined at EU level."
So I have now raised this directly with Treasury ministers. It cannot be right for a local business delivering a service for disabled people to be treated like this. Our officers were ready to be flexible, but then EU bureaucrats told them it all had to go through a costly legal process. But it does show what we will be taking back control of after Brexit.
This is the sort of red tape which is holding our businesses back. David told me he can't make future business decisions or even have a face-to-face meetings with anyone to get clarity.
It shows why leaving the customs union is the right thing to do. It means we will honour the referendum result, set our own rules and strike trade deals with the rest of the world.
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