News broke late last week that it appears East Sussex Music Service instrumental lessons have been saved. I'm absolutely delighted that East Sussex County Council have, finally, made a right decision!
For many months now I and others have been lobbying for them to row back from their initial proposal - to cut this much-loved and important music service.
I’m aware that many of the staff were convinced money could be saved whilst retaining the musical instrument service, because a number had written to me with this information, so we’ve been nonplussed why it appeared that County Hall simply wouldn’t listen to them.
And that ESCC just seemed intent on closure.....
Consequently I wrote again only a few weeks ago, urging Cllr Bob Standley, the Tory Cabinet Lead, to drop his and the Senior Officer’s opposition to the proposals put forward by his own employees. It’s good that he and his colleagues have finally listened to reason, and to the many thousands of members of the public who’ve begged the County Council ‘not’ to shut the much-loved musical tuition service for the county’s children.
It is appalling though that all the other key areas which have been so savagely cut recently by East Sussex County Council such as Firwood House, Home Works, Children's and Adult Social Services, 25% of the counties library network, single parent support, after-school support for disabled children and so much more - could not also have been spared.
Good news for ESMS though. Right decision all round....
No doubt you’ll have read that Parliament is consumed at the minute with the ongoing saga of Brexit - is the PM’s Chequers plan a dead duck or not - Jeremy Corbyn’s seemingly interminable battle over allegations of anti-semitism, my own Party Leader's proposal to potentially open up the future leadership of the Lib Dems to outsiders, and former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond’s trials and tribulations in Scotland.
Then I see this morning that Boris Johnson is back on the front page of The Sun for the other activity he’s well known for!!
A lot going on frankly.
As I said to a young man who was keen to study politics at A-level now that he’s successfully completed his GCSE’s, at least politics can’t be said to be boring at the minute. And that doesn’t even include the ongoing shenanigans across the pond of one Donald J Trump.
To misquote Matt Chorley from The Times - “This is not. Normal”
Nonetheless, other matters still progress in Westminster and this week one of my colleagues got her upskirting bill through to third reading, which is an important step. This will make it illegal for someone to use their mobile phone to clandestinely take a photo up a woman’s skirt. Something I and many others were horrified to learn has become reasonably common. An awful mix of prurience and technology.
Well done Bath Lib Dem MP Wera Hobhouse. It’ll be on the statute books soon.
Local resident, Mrs Gillian McKenzie, came to me a decade ago with shocking allegations about what she believed had gone on at the Gosport War Memorial NHS Hospital, particularly on the Ward run by Dr Jane Barton. The subsequent Gosport Inquiry, led by Bishop James Jones, into those claims concluded last month that at least 460 patients died after being given opiate drugs which led to their untimely death. Following the report's release, I immediately wrote to the Prime Minister, Theresa May, urging her government begin the process of starting a criminal inquiry. This was 5 weeks ago.
Parliamentary protocol demands that the Prime Minister responds to an MP's letter within 20 working days and it is now 25 days since I wrote to No 10 but still, at the time of writing, have not received a response. Consequently I raised it in Parliament on Monday as a point of order (See video below). I was pleased the Speaker, John Bercow, shared my dissatisfaction that a reply had not been received, and hoped that by raising it in the House, the government would respond to my letter as a matter of urgency.
Mrs McKenzie, and all the other relatives, demand and deserve justice.
I believe the government has an absolute responsibility to take the necessary steps so that a criminal inquiry can be implemented into what went on at the hospital. Let’s be absolutely clear here - these people were unlawfully killed and those responsible must face the consequences of their actions. I will continue pushing the PM and her government until they do the right thing.
As regular readers of my e-newsletter will know, I recently sat down with the Parliamentary Ombudsman to discuss those issues around the age changes for women to receive their state pension. They confirmed to me they’d be beginning their preliminary procedural checks in the coming weeks, and that the key outcome available to them, if that is what's found, would be maladministration. Along with a set of recommendations which could include financial compensation.
I’m pleased to inform you that, even more recently, I secured the commitment of my Party's Leader, Sir Vince Cable to support - as Liberal Democrat policy - whatever findings and recommendations are made by the Parliamentary Ombudsman. This is important because their conclusions are not binding. We now need to build a groundswell of political support at Westminster to ensure the Conservative government implement the Ombudsman’s conclusions in the way we have committed.
As a Party of just 12 MPs this may not sound as though it will carry much weight in parliament but with the help of WASPi women in Eastbourne and beyond we can hopefully persuade the other political parties to do the same. So, if you know an affected WASPi woman living in a Labour, SNP or DUP constituency, I urge you to ask they write to their MP pressing them to join the Lib Dems in backing the Ombudsman's eventual recommendations. If Labour in particular join our call, as the Official Opposition, it will put the government in the spotlight and make it much harder for them to ignore the Ombudsman’s proposals.
Working together in Parliament on this will, I hope, lead to genuine progress for affected women across the United Kingdom.
The profoundly disappointing news from County Hall this week at the closure of our outstanding rehab care home, Firwood House, in Hampden Park, has caused shockwaves across the town. I am pleased East Sussex County Council at least listened to my pleas and those of the 10,000 residents who signed a petition opposing the original proposal to close ‘both’ Milton Grange and Firwood House, and that Milton Grange was spared but their decision to shut Firwood House is awful. Apparently all it’s rehabilitation services are to be squeezed into Milton Grange, which is also a nonsense. There is simply not enough space available. It’s an absolutely shocking decision to close such a first-class care home with an enviable reputation for ensuring patients maintain their lives independently in their own homes, as well as aiding their recovery, post-admittance to the DGH. This also reduced the bed-blocking we had so much of a few years ago.
I have asked the three Eastbourne Conservative County Councillors; Cllrs David Elkin, Colin Belsey and Barry Taylor to consider their position as a consequence of their utterly deplorable decision. It is clear to me and to many others that by either voting in favour as Cabinet Members or not opposing it publicly, they’ve put Party allegiance ahead of the needs of our town. I am not impressed.
I was also contacted earlier in the week by a constituent who told my office - word for word - that our campaign had received support from the Duke of Devonshire himself. His appreciation and links to Eastbourne go back over 100 years. They told me he’d written ‘I have every sympathy with your great concern about the possible closure of Milton Grange and Firwood House. I know how valuable they are to Eastbourne and how well used and much loved they are. I am delighted to see that Stephen Lloyd MP is actively campaigning for the saving of the two care homes. I only hope that East Sussex County Council will be able to find the money to allow the homes to continue their great work.’
I was grateful for this intervention and have written back to the Duke informing him of the woeful decision by ESCC.
I’ll also be writing to the Chief Executive of the CQC (Care Quality Commission) and the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, urging they commission an independent audit into the County Council’s proposal, so that we can at least be sure the safety of patients will not be compromised by this shortsighted cost-saving measure. A sad day for Eastbourne.
Last week saw the publication of Bishop James Jones' enquiry into what took place decades ago at the Gosport War Memorial Hospital.
The Report concluded that more than 450 patients had died early and unnecessarily after being given opiate drugs. It went on to say there was a "disregard for human life" of a large number of patients from 1989 to 2000. I welcomed the Report, shocking that it was, as I’d been supporting a local constituent Mrs Gillian Mackenzie, who lost her mother Gladys Richards suddenly in 1998 after she was transferred to the Hospital following a hip operation. Mrs Mackenzie first raised the alarm twenty years ago but was fobbed off, and let’s be clear what really happened here, over 450 people on one Ward in the Gosport War Memorial Hospital were unlawfully killed. No if’s nor buts. The relatives got the truth, at last, from Bishop Jones’ Report but they now demand, and deserve, justice.
I have written to the Prime Minister asking her Government appoint a police force to begin a criminal investigation into the Report’s findings. Mrs McKenzie, brought to me her suspicions and research into the deaths at Gosport ten years ago and I’ve been campaigning on her behalf ever since.
Now a decade later the truth has come out but it must not end here. The relatives deserve their day in court, and those who perpetuated these shocking, awful deeds must face the consequences of their actions.
On Thursday, 7th June I visited No 10 Downing Street to hand over a petition asking the government clarify the rules around county councils providing transport for disabled children over 16. You may remember a year of so ago a local woman, Leanna Forse, who was a teacher, had been put into an invidious situation by East Sussex County Council, when they refused to pay the transport costs for her son Billy to stay at school after he turned 16 years. This despite the government changing the law so that everyone now has to either be in education or training ‘up to’ the age of 18.
The problem is that they didn’t change the statutory regulations for councils to provide the transport for severely disabled children. It was discretionary. Some councils do this, such as West Sussex whilst others don’t. East Sussex being one of them!
Tragically this lead to Leanna having to give up her job as a teacher so that she could take Billy to school. An absolutely crazy situation which simply must be addressed so other parents don’t have to go down the same road.
Consequently I joined Leanna, her son Billy, the excellent disability charity whose been supporting them, Contact, and another Mum with her disabled daughter from Coventry. It’s clearly a national issue!
We all delivered the petition to Theresa May at No 10 Downing Street this week.
I sincerely hope the PM listens and does the right thing.....
I’ve been very impressed by the Eastbourne Heart Beat Campaign, which has so far installed more than 50 new public access defibrillators across town.
The initiative has been a really brilliant one for Eastbourne. I had the privilege of speaking in Parliament on the need for more defibrillators across the country, particularly in schools, asking the education minister in Parliament whether his department would commit to putting a defibrillator in every school. I did so after meeting the father of a young lad called Oliver King in Parliament whose son had a cardiac arrest, suddenly, whilst at school. Sadly he passed away, and since then his father has been campaigning to get a defibrillator in every school in the UK.
Medical advice says many young lives could be saved if this simple, low cost appliance was available and awareness training given. I’m proud that the Eastbourne Heart Beat Campaign team, led by leading Lib Dem Councillor, Alan Shuttleworth, has worked successfully to install more than 50 lifesaving public access defibrillators (PADs) across Eastbourne.
PAD SNAP is encouraging people to take interesting or funny photos with their nearest defibrillator.
The best photos will win amazing prizes – including a Grand Afternoon Tea at the Langham Hotel, and £50 to spend at Prezzo. All you have to do is email your snaps to email@example.com
Click here to view an up-to-date map with all the public access defibrillators available in Eastbourne and beyond. And click here to read more about the competition.
On Monday in Parliament, Chris Grayling MP, the Secretary of State for Transport, was being used for football practice, figuratively speaking, and was kicked around the Chamber by players from all sides as he defended his utterly shambolic oversight of the new timetable chaos.
What made it so different this time was that MPs from all sides lined up to lambast him and the rail timetable fiasco. Including the former Minister for Defence Sir Michael Fallon and Nicolas Soames. Neither of whom are anything but loyal Conservatives. They were also joined by a dozen or so of their own colleagues so I think the end may be nigh for Mr Grayling. He started his ministerial statement a little earlier than we had anticipated so by the time I got to the Chamber he’d just sat down, so I asked another MP to sum up what he’d said in his ministerial statement: he obliged pithily with “It's all a complete shambles - but none of it is my fault.”
The House was not impressed frankly. It is clear action needs to be taken quickly to address the more absurd changes to the timetable, which many of you have notified me about. So over the last few days I’ve been busy to try and resolve this for Eastbourne.
I've already had meetings with the Rail Minister, Jo Johnson, Southern Rail/GTR and Network Rail. All have promised to get back to me with steps they will be taking to improve our local situation. I’ll keep up the pressure.
Click below to watch Stephen being interviewed about Southern Rail -
The sensitive issue of abortion in Northern Ireland also came up this week. Labour MP Stella Creasy applied and won something called a SO24 debate. This is a legislative tool which, if granted by the Speaker, allows an issue to be debated, albeit not voted on. There were a number of outstanding contributions including from Stella herself. It was also obvious there was cross-party support for Northern Ireland to re-address current legislation on abortion. It is almost wholly impossible for instance to have a termination in NI under virtually any circumstances, which is why 700+ woman came to England in 2016 to have an abortion. I can only imagine how desperate that must have been for all of them.
Northern Ireland remains an outlier compared to the rest of the U.K. For instance, if a woman who was a rape victim were to order online and use a pill which subsequently terminated her pregnancy, her sentence would be longer than her rapist. This cannot be right. Even Tory Secretary of State for International Development, Penny Mordaunt, tweeted her support afterwards: “Message from NI Secretary of State today: NI should take that responsibility. Message from the House of Commons: if you don't, we will #trustwomen”. Mordaunt clearly believes the DUP should not be allowed to block change. It was also reported the following day that Theresa May supports reform.