A mixture of Kent-wide issues as well as ones relevant to South Thanet have occupied me over the past couple of weeks.
I’ve written before about the financial pressures that Kent County Council faces as they reach for ill-conceived, low-value savings like the closure of Richborough household waste and recycling centre. The latest thoughts coming from County Hall is whether an elected Mayor for Kent might be a better formula to deliver devolution away from Whitehall decision making and with it greater control of Kent-wide funding?
Early days in the discussions and I have not yet come to a conclusion myself. Other meetings with Kent MPs have included the Lower Thames crossing. A project that was needed ten years ago to alleviate the bottleneck at the current Dartford crossing but seemingly still at first base with further community consultation required and no prospect of being completed until the 2030s. As a country we are dreadfully slow at getting on with major infrastructure projects whether it’s airports, river crossings or much needed reservoirs, bound up as we are with political and legal activism, judicial reviews, environmental reports and carbon budgets.
The Boundary Commission has finalised its nationwide review of constituency boundaries. The commission has stuck with the previously published proposal which makes quite substantial changes to the North Thanet and South Thanet seats. The Commission sensibly does a review every few years to try to keep constituencies at a similar number of electors. Canterbury had grown and so excess voters had to be accommodated in the East Kent Parliamentary seats. Myself and Sir Roger Gale had advanced a plan that would have only required 3,000 electors to be moved and the geography of the seats largely unchanged from 1983. The Boundary Commissions final plan is for over 30,000 electors to be moved. All somewhat bizarre and I have to say inexplicable and unnecessary.
The Armed Forces Day parade in Ramsgate was a superb event as we remember those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms and thank those in service today. Good crowds and glorious sunshine. Local youth organisations – scouts, sea scouts, sea cadets, cubs and similar offer youngsters teamwork, discipline and training in new skills and were well represented.
I held a Business Forum in Broadstairs last week. I advertised it as an opportunity to ‘meet, mingle and moan’. My thanks to Thanet & East Kent Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Business, Institute of Directors and Department of Work and Pensions for joining the platform. Common themes from businesses were frustrations in dealing with HM Revenue and Customs, VAT thresholds, difficulties in finding staff, the increased Corporation Tax rate and level of bureaucracy throughout the system. Lots for me to take back to Treasury Ministers in advance of the Autumn statement.
The Appeal Court’s decision of last week to overturn the High Court’s previously positive decision of the lawfulness of the Rwanda relocation policy is disappointing. Whilst I’ve maintained throughout that the Rwanda scheme was never ideal, when the tools in the box are limited one has to reach for a different measure that may work. The plan is underpinned by deterrence. The fact is that we are simply running out of temporary accommodation and the settled summer season is likely to see more attempts. I’ve long ago run out of patience. The most elegant method of stopping the lucrative trade offered by people smugglers would be for the French to stop the beach launchings by dinghy. Is that really too much to ask of our neighbours especially as we’ve been willing to pay for it?
Parliament sits for two more weeks before Summer recess. You can be sure I’ll be speaking on many issues from energy to housing and will doubtless pop up for comment on a variety of media channels.