8th November 2010


Last week was a busy one in Westminster, but I was pleased to be able to welcome a group of students from Yeovil College who came up on Monday afternoon to find out a bit more about how Parliament works.

I travelled back home to Somerset on Friday morning, and my first visit of the day was to Lockwood Court, on Stiby Road in Yeovil, to meet Mrs. Elizabeth Barnes whose 100th birthday was on 10th November. Mrs. Barnes has lived in Yeovil for much of her life, and I was interested to hear about her experiences in the 1930s and during the Second World War. We tend to think that we have now lost our links with the First World War, but of course Mrs. Barnes would have been 8 years of age when that dreadful conflict came to an end in 1918! That generation certainly lived through a frightening and dramatic stage in human history.
My best wishes and congratulations to Mrs. Barnes for her special day this week.
Just after midday, I called in to Westfield School in Yeovil, to see a superb new mosaic which has just been completed by the students and which is now displayed on one of the new buildings in the centre of the school site. This is a wonderful piece of work, and it was finished in only around one week. Art of this quality can really “brighten up” buildings, and the mosaic will be seen by many thousands of students, parents and teachers in the future – well done to all those involved.
In the afternoon, I travelled over to Chard, and carried out a Roving Advice Centre in the rain with local councillors. After this, I returned to Yeovil, and held another Advice Centre in my office. It is very satisfying when we are able to take up cases on behalf of individuals, and get a good result. Last week we had one of our most successful results in my time as MP, when we achieved a very good financial outcome for a constituent who was faced with a real potential injustice. Sometimes, all it takes to secure a good outcome is one stern letter to the Chief Executive of the relevant organization.
On Saturday morning I held another Advice Centre – this time in Chard. I then drove over to Crewkerne to join the Mayor and local councillors, who were campaigning to keep open the waste recycling centre in Crewkerne. The councillors had been collecting signatures on a petition, in the centre of town, and we then met at the recycling centre to highlight the risk of losing this key local facility.
We all know that both local and national government needs to find savings over the next few years, but I am very worried indeed by the “slash and burn” approach which is being taken by the Conservative leadership of Somerset County Council. They seem to be going further and faster than is necessary even to deliver the cuts which the Government wants, and I think this could have a profound effect on the quality of services for all local residents over the next few years.
Closing down the waste recycling centres seems to be a particularly foolish “economy”. If centres such as Crewkerne were closed, people would have to drive all the way to Chard or Yeovil – hardly great for the environment! Of course, the reality is that there would be more fly-tipping, and more waste going into landfill. But because landfill taxes are rising, this is a very expensive option for the County Council and for local taxpayers. I shall certainly oppose this plan, and I hope that people of all political parties and none will also unite in opposition.
This is, of course, just one more cut to add to the long list. Road maintenance, school building, housing support, mental health services, education, the arts, all seem to be targeted for crude and ill-thought out cuts. My fear is that when we finally come out of the current period of austerity, our services in Somerset will have been cut to pieces, and will take many years to restore. The Government is already having to act decisively and with speed – it makes no sense for our County Council to go even further and faster than ministers are planning.