/ Parish Council / Rebecca Pow / Oct 2015



Hello again from a very busy Westminster. The last 4 weeks have been absolutely jam packed with constituency events and the hectic, yet thoroughly enjoyable, Conservative Party Conference in Manchester squeezed in too.

A few of my constituency highlights have included opening 64 new properties developed by the Yarlington Housing Association at Victoria Gate in Taunton (developed from 32 sub-standard Council properties,) attending the vibrant Wellington and Taunton carnivals together with fact finding updates with many local organisations including the police and fire services. However, my personal favourite event was watching 10 top quality Texel sheep invade Castle Green in the centre of Taunton as part of the fabulous farming to fashion initiative. It’s all part of a tie up between Fox Brothers wool enterprise in Wellington and Bridgwater College. The idea being to strengthen the link between farmers who produce the wool and the fashion industry that is increasingly using high quality British wool. Hurrah! For too long UK wool has been

 

 

Under valued. There’s a big skills gap too in the related industries including the manufacturing and the buying of textiles. A bid to Innovate UK for funding through the government’s agricultural technology strategy to develop a West Country Wool Centre in Wellington could help fill a niche in the market. I’m all for it and who knows this might provide some new opportunities for our Neroche sheep farmers.

 

Broadband Progress

Firstly, I know many of you will be interested in an update on the situation with superfast broadband, having only just been connected myself I fully understand the frustration of residents and businesses who do not have the appropriate access. I have had meetings with people from all over the area on SFB, including Stoke St Gregory, Heathfield, Ashpriors, parts of Wellington and even the ‘not spots’ in the heart of Taunton.

I recently held a community meeting in the Blackdown Hills, at Bishopswood, to gather feedback about the SFB situation in this part of the world. It was very well attended with people coming from all over the constituency to attend. We had an excellent panel with representatives from BT and Connecting Devon & Somerset. A number of valid points and suggestions were raised and I was pleased to feed these points back to Ministers in a recent speech to the House of Commons during a debate on the rollout superfast broadband. Finding a contractor for Phase 2 (90 -95% connectivity) remains a priority for CD&S but at the meeting Cllr David Hall, who is on the CD & S board intimated that whilst discussions are underway with a range of potential bidders, tenders will not open until the New Year which suggests no actual work will start until June. I am keen to see connectivity all around the constituency happen sooner rather than later, especially as we are the only region in the country that does not have our Phase 2 contract in place. Whilst I cannot instruct CD&S I can of course highlight the appropriate issues on behalf of residents and I will continue to lobby Ministers in parliament so that as much assistance as possible is provided.

What communities really want is clearer information so that should they be out-side the rollout they can pursue other options like satellite; but they want every possible option considered whether broadband via poles, wireless, satellite, fibre to the remote node or any other appropriate technology although fibre optic is the method of choice. An understanding of the value of connectivity to the local economy would be useful too rather than decisions on who and where to connect being based purely on ‘value to the tax payer’ and ‘numbers of premises passed.’

Above all I have called for rural areas to be given equal weighting with their urban counterparts so that a kind of have and have not culture does not develop exacerbating the gap between town and country.

Fairer Funding for Schools

Another issue that affects so many of us is that of fair funding for our schools and children. The current system creates large inconsistencies in funding across the country, with Somerset pupils receiving around £3000 less per child than the 10 best funded areas. Having met with head teachers and governors of local schools I have launched a campaign to correct this historical injustice. I have spoken to the Chancellor personally about this issue (which indeed is something he himself has campaigned on over the years) and I will shortly meet with Ministers in the Department for Education to really hammer home how this is affecting schools in Taunton Deane on a day to day basis. The teachers, staff and governors of schools across Somerset do a fantastic job with limited resources and I can only imagine what they would be able to achieve if they were to receive more funding.

After the Floods

You may have heard about the setting up of the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) the body being established to deal with flood management, protection and maintenance work not just on the Somerset Levels but across the wider catchment area too. I have just received an update from the Secretary of State and thought that I would pass on the information. As is so often the case, finding the necessary funding is the main hurdle to overcome. A proposal has been submitted to DEFRA that would give the SRA legal powers to raise income, with the preferred method of a precept being applied to all Council Tax bills. We need to find a long-term, sustainable funding solution for the SRA to help reduce the frequency, duration and severity of any future flooding.

Helping Village Halls

Some of you may have heard of a recent summit I held relating to VAT relief on village hall building and construction works. There’s a general feeling that village halls ought to be treated in the same way as church buildings in terms of claiming back the VAT on any building works. As an essential facility for holding community events and activities especially in our remote rural areas village halls need every support. Appropriately I held this ‘summit’ in my own village hall in Stoke St Mary. I have already raised the VAT matter with the Treasury and as the vice-chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Rural Services I will be sure to raise this with other Members of both Houses too.

Finally, contrary to popular belief Taunton Police Station is still fully operational and open 24/7. Ultimately, once the site is sold a response centre and neighbourhood policing team will operate from County Hall with the HQ remaining in Bridgwater as is the situation now.

I hope that this has provided a brief update on a few areas of interest but, as ever, please feel free to contact me or a member of my team if you would like more information or to raise a particular issue.