28 FEB 2011

Moving a debate on the Big Society

Today I secured a debate on a motion in the House of Commons on the Big Society. The aim was to seek the House's approval of the Prime Minister's vision for a Big Society. I put the case for our port to be owned by the community.

Highlights of what I said were:

"I shall take the example of Dover, my constituency, which I advance as a case study of the difference that can be made. Before the election, the previous Government were planning to sell off the port of Dover. That proposal was in the operational efficiency report, the so-called car boot sale. There was to be an allegedly voluntary privatisation, but it was pretty clear that there was a desire for the port to be sold. My constituents understood that it would almost certainly go to a buyer overseas, and there was a sense of frustration about that.

That sense of frustration in relation to the port has existed for many years, because the directors have always been appointed by Whitehall and have had very little to do with the local community in their direction or in community engagement. That connection with the community has not been in place. The port is not simply an economic and transportation facility, it is also a social facility, as anyone with a port in their constituency will know. The interconnection between a town and the port in it is deep, and there is a symbiosis between the two. That is very much the case in Dover. With a whole load of directors having been appointed in Whitehall, hundreds of miles away, the people of Dover have been unable to effect positive engagement.

If the port were sold off overseas, we would simply be swapping one remote interest for another, and the community would not be engaged with it. Part of the difficulty in that situation would be that the community would think that the port's management did nothing for the town and did not engage positively with it. Sadly, the port has gone to war with the ferry companies, which are the key port users for both berthing charges and general relations. There has been a breakdown of the relationship in the heartland of Dover's local economy. The town and the community are not happy, and the key businesses are not happy. The port is on the block, threatened with being sold off overseas.

What can the community do? Under the traditional model, the solution would be about either the big state or big business. We say that it is time to try something new and different-giving the community a chance to take charge of its future and its destiny. We have been asking why, instead of the port being sold off overseas, the community cannot buy it as a community mutual and run it in partnership with those who use the port, the ferry companies that effectively account for all the port's money."

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Charlie Elphicke

It has been an honour and privilege to serve as Member of Parliament for Dover & Deal. I hope to be re-elected to serve our community for another term. 

Many of my appearances in the House of Commons are now on Youtube. Please click the link to watch the footage.

Please email me at charlie@elphicke.com or ring my office on 01304 379669 if you need to get in touch.

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