This week, I was pleased to welcome Warwickshire College students and staff to Parliament, being particularly timely with much to discuss! I am always keen to meet with young people and welcome our local schools and colleges to Parliament. It is great to give our students the opportunity to gain a better understanding of our democratic process and our rich culture and heritage.
It is always a pleasure to take part in question and answer sessions with students, fielding lines of questioning on a wide range of topics. On Monday, we discussed issues from the role of a Member of Parliament to particular planning issues locally. Seeing how engaged students are with politics is extremely encouraging.
Warwickshire College has gone from strength to strength in recent years. I was recently invited to become a member of its Advisory Board and am delighted to continue my support for the institution wherever possible.
I was also pleased to welcome participants of the ParliaMentors programme who I have been working with over the last year. The ParliaMentors scheme is a UN award-winning leadership programme where teams of university students collaborate on social change projects while being mentored by an MP.
My team is from Coventry University and I have met with them both in Westminster and in Leamington previously. The group set up an allotment project, 'Breaking Barriers, Growing Green', an initiative which seeks to bring together university students and members of the local community. I attended their launch event which was a great success and I am pleased to say that the group has secured a new team to carry on their fantastic work for the next year. I wish them all the best for the project.
Our aid commitment is the right thing and the smart thing to do
As we begin to forge the UK's role outside of the European Union, the upcoming General Election provides us with an opportunity to project ourselves as an outward-looking nation; one that will continue to keep its promise to the world's poorest people, championing stability and security both at home and abroad.
British Aid Saves Lives
As a member of the International Development Committee in the last Parliament, I saw first-hand the impact of British aid abroad. In countries such as Rwanda and Burundi, torn apart by conflict that has stunted economic development and left millions in poverty, I saw how British aid has provided education to nearly 400,000 children, delivered mosquito bed nets to protect thousands of families from malaria and has helped rebuild roads, schools and hospitals.
British aid stands up for the world's poorest and most vulnerable people, it projects the values of our country abroad. In particular, Britain is a world-leader in humanitarian response – matching the generosity of the British public to emergency appeals, our aid budget ensures we are the first to respond in times of crisis: tackling humanitarian disasters and emergencies in places like Syria and Somalia with life-saving assistance. We can be very proud of our contribution in this respect.
British aid also helps countries stand on their own two feet. In Burundi, our Department for International Development helped establish an independent Revenue Authority at a time when the country's tax and customs services topped the list of East Africa's most corrupt organisations. The programme set out to transform the way taxes are collected - and it worked. In a 6-month period that year, revenue collection rose by almost 40% above the level for the same period the previous year, which helped collect millions for Burundi to spend on its own public services.
As long as people are in desperate need of help, Britain will fulfil its moral obligation to save lives and help countries build the strong foundations necessary for creating their own prosperous and sustainable futures.
British Aid Creates a Safer, Stronger United Kingdom
British aid is also a vital pillar of Britain's foreign policy. Alongside our commitment to 2% defence spending, it enables us to remain a respected and powerful global player, projecting Britain's influence and values across the globe.
The role that British aid plays in helping those less fortunate benefits us all. The UK helps support democratic elections, promotes projects that have at their core key British values of freedom, justice and tolerance as well as helping to uphold the rule of law. This is not only critical to Britain's security and prosperity, but is also essential for global stability.
Britain's commitment to overseas aid has also increased our soft power, strengthening our hand at the UN Security Council, G7 and other multilateral forums. As both Bill Gates and Dr Jim Kim, the President of the World Bank, have said this week, British aid opens up access to high-level global decision makers, increasing our economic influence and securing national security objectives without ever putting our citizens in harm's way.
Our commitment to our aid budget helps save lives and makes Britain safer and stronger. It embodies the important traditions of delivering prosperity and cherishing individual freedom. And if we are serious about building an ambitious outward-looking approach after we leave the European Union, then continuing to commit to the UN pledge to spend 0.7% of our national income on overseas aid is essential.
I am proud of what our aid budget has achieved and believe protecting Britain's aid commitment is both the smart and right thing to do.
As I am sure you are aware, the Prime Minister announced on Tuesday her intention to hold a General Election on 8th June. This was confirmed yesterday with the passing of a motion by the House of Commons for the election to be held. I voted in favour of that motion and will be seeking re-adoption as the Conservative Party candidate for Warwick and Leamington.
I supported the call for an early election as the scale of change that the country now faces means it is right that the British people have their say in who governs the country.
For nearly seven years it has been a tremendous honour and privilege to represent this most wonderful constituency. Together we have made good progress with unemployment falling, businesses investing, impressive schools and colleges and a local hospital of which we can be very proud. The list goes on...
The economy has gone from strength to strength and there is much to be optimistic about, not least through the Government's Industrial Strategy which I have been closely involved with. Building on what has been achieved and approaching the Brexit negotiations with strong leadership must be the priority.
I am immensely proud to have served our local area and if I am given the opportunity to continue to do so, I will redouble my efforts to represent the residents of Warwick and Leamington both locally and nationally to the best of my ability.
As ever, I aim to be as accessible as possible and if you have any queries, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
It was a great thrill to take part in the Regency Run on Sunday, not least to take in the magnificent views of Leamington from the top of Newbold Comyn and raise money for the 'No More Floor' campaign. More than 2,000 runners took part, supporting charities, local community projects and other good causes. Since its creation 13 years ago the event has raised more than £250,000 and as its popularity grows year on year, it's great to see such community spirit among those taking part. I look forward to the Two Castles Run in June which I am sure will also have the same enthusiastic support!
As the weather improves and the evenings get lighter we can anticipate a packed schedule of events in the coming months across the constituency. These will range from food and drink festivals, the Folk Festival, which is a particular favourite and is fast becoming one of the most highly regarded of its type national events, attracting people from all over the country and abroad, and the creativity on display at Art in the Park, amongst others. A big thank you must go to all the volunteers - the organisers and marshals – without their support these events would not take place.
These festivals play an important role, bringing together friends and family and fostering community pride. They increase in number and get larger and better each year which is surely a proud testament to the ever growing vitality of our area.
We are fortunate to live in a place that attracts and supports such a variety of sporting, gastronomic and cultural activity and by celebrating local talent and business these events promote health and wellbeing, attracting visitors and help to boost our local economy.
Last Wednesday I co-hosted a 'Policy Lab' with King's College Policy Institute on Industrial Strategy. The Policy Lab brought together a range of leading individuals in the fields of industry, academia and policy. The Policy Institute aims to form a link between academics and policy-makers, ensuring that the formulation of government policy is supported by an evidence base and can ultimately achieve its aims.
I have taken a deep interest in the Government's Industrial Strategy, having first spoken of the need for such an approach last year during the Queen's Speech debate. Through my membership of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee, I have also heard evidence from a wide range of stakeholders on how the policy should be shaped. The findings from the Policy Lab will be fed into the Government's consultation and I look forward to continuing to work with industry representatives to ensure that the strategy provides the necessary framework for our economy to grow.
In the afternoon, I returned to Westminster to vote and it was at this point that the day took such a horrific turn. The events shocked Parliament and the country, but the sense of solidarity both on the day and since shows how deep our reserves and capacity are of strength through unity. It serves as a reminder of the incredible courage and bravery shown by our emergency services. I particularly pay tribute to PC Keith Palmer, tragically killed while on duty, but also my deepest sympathy is with the family and friends of those that lost their lives on that terrible day.
The House sat again at 9.30am the following morning.
As I write on Tuesday, I hope to 'catch the Speaker's eye' and speak in the Budget debate. While I plan to raise a number of issues, one of the most pressing points included in my speech is the imminent revaluation of business rates. In recent weeks, I have canvassed opinion from local businesses on the upcoming changes and will continue to work with business groups to support those that are the most affected.
I thank all those that have got in touch with me to highlight individual cases and I would be pleased to hear from any other local enterprises on the matter. I will be raising local examples in the House of Commons and will urge the Government to keep this issue under review. £435m has been made available through the Budget to be directed towards those seeing the most significant rises but I am keen to ensure the success of small businesses remains a priority. As such, I have written to the Chancellor and would be happy to share a copy of that letter with local businesses if they would like to receive a copy. Please do get in touch if that is the case.
Elsewhere in the Budget, I welcomed the introduction of T-Levels, aimed at putting technical education on a similar footing to the A-Level system. I have long been of the opinion that parity of respect across all types of education is important. Addressing the skills gap and allowing businesses to recruit the very best talent requires our education system to provide a range of quality courses. I am very hopeful that T-Levels will go some way in achieving that goal.
Warwickshire College is a good example of an institution providing first-class courses in a range of subject areas. Building on this foundation and replicating its success across the country can bring a wide range of benefits. I thank the College for the invitation to join its Graduation Ceremony last week and was pleased to congratulate all those that have recently completed an apprenticeship. I wish them all the very best with their future careers.
In this section you can read my articles in the local press relating to my work - both in Westminster and in the constituency. Please get in touch with any comments you would like to make.