David Warburton MP
Your Member of Parliament for Somerton & Frome
11th October 2018
"It's been a while since I have been directly in touch: this has been, as ever, both an enormously hectic and a hugely rewarding time. I wanted to drop you a line and give you an idea of what I've been up to both in Westminster and in Somerset. I apologise if it's a little long. As always, this is by no means exhaustive, but I do hope that - in the extraordinary times in which we live - I may be able to give you a little insight into what has kept me occupied while working to represent our splendid constituency.”
- Having been promoted In January to Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to the Department for Education, in September I was moved across by the Government's Chief Whip to become PPS to the Department for International Development. I'm delighted by this move. When within the DfE, I was unable to campaign on education matters, something about which I feel rather strongly. This leaves me freer to hold the government to account in this area, and affords the opportunity to work within a new department concentrating on the enhancement of British 'soft power': the diplomatic and cultural reach that has been so important and successful for the country.
- As PPS to the DfE, I much enjoyed being close to the machinery of government, getting to know the department and ministers, supporting ministers in the Chamber and debates and taking part in discussions both with them and civil servants around policies, communications and programmes. I'm now enjoying beginning the same process in a new department with new challenges and priorities.
- It would take rather too long to describe each in detail I hope you'll agree, but In the few weeks before the summer parliamentary recess and during the September session, I've been delighted to support events, panel and roundtable discussions on everything from English Tourism, Arthritis, low carbon vehicles, families with children in early year education, wildlife management and family farmers, to Blockchain, the Hinkley supply-chain, the Blue Belt, flood prevention, AgeUK champions, single use plastic, Diabetes support, green building regulations, nurses day support, apprenticeships, Parkinson's, the Somerset and Dorset Air Ambulance, the Scouts, skills for life, the Red Cross, Cancer Research, rural business growth, financial crime, clean air day, defence and security equipment, UK inbound tourism, the reading challenge, farmers' markets, breast cancer care, the 4th Industrial Revolution, kidney care, Equitable Life victims, national cider makers support, and British venture capital.
- I've had productive meetings discussing the licensing of young people for work with minister Nadhim Zahawi and his officials. Different local authorities treat the regulations around young people working, for example in theatres or concerts, in a multitude of different ways as there is no official clear guidance. The minister will now look to issue guidance which will be an enormous help to the many organisations which have lobbied me on the subject.
- Having been vice-chair of the Music All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for some years, I was recently elected as its chair. In the past few weeks we have been campaigning on secondary ticketing, the talent pipeline and for members of the EU parliament to back an amendment supporting the music industry.
- I met with the BBC several times, to discuss issues ranging from Countryfile's representation of rural living to the future of broadcasting in the UK. Some very interesting discussions.
- As the retiring chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the British Council, we completed the report of the Inquiry I was fortunate enough to chair: Building Young People's Resilience to Violent Extremism. The inquiry report was launched in Washington and London.
- At No.10 Downing Street, I met with other MPs and the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff to discuss policies and our representation of them to the country. A fascinating conversation and an area in which I have a great deal to say. I continue to meet with those from the No.10 policy and communications team.
- I continue to sit on the European Scrutiny Select Committee, and its importance as a committee as the Brexit process unfolds is hard to overemphasise. Recently we took evidence from the PM's Europe Adviser Olly Robbins, who I'm afraid had to be impelled to attend, and Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab. An interesting session indeed and I must admit I was pleased to be impressed by our new Secretary of State.
- In recent days, alongside my fellow Somerset MPs, I have met with and corresponded with ministers to try and resolve the ongoing problems facing Somerset County Council. We have now written to ministers to ask for a lift on the council tax cap, an additional children's precept, favourable consideration for the next business rates retention pilot and fairer funding for rural areas. This issue is alive, fluid and very much ongoing. As parliament convenes this week there is much to do.
- There have been far too many meetings with MPs and ministers, discussions and debates to mention on the subject of Brexit, as well as on Government legislation, to press for alterations, amendments and more. I'm glad to say that some of this pressure has even proved fruitful!
- My Private Member's Bill continues to come before Parliament. The Rivers Authorities and Land Drainage Bill which I have set out and has had its First Reading, would allow the Secretary of State for the Environment to give the Somerset Rivers Authority (SRA) a statutory footing. This would allow it to raise its own precept and plan ahead properly. Thereby the SRA would be able to take our flood and water management to the next level and provide a safer and more secure future for Somerset. Unfortunately, the Bill has been objected to several times at Second Reading by an MP who does not object to the Bill, nor the measures within it, but to the parliamentary process which enables me to get it onto the statute book. As a result of this bizarrely short-sighted behaviour, I have not so far managed to move the Bill forward. It will be before the House again in the next couple of weeks. I am, at the same time, trying to persuade the government to take the Bill forward as a government Bill, which will help to ensure safe passage.
- Slightly outside parliament, I was delighted to be appointed chair of the National Youth Orchestra's Development Board and to join its main Board. The orchestra, which has many members in Somerset and the South West, does a great deal not only for its astonishingly talented members but also for the image and standing of the UK abroad. I am leading the fundraising for the orchestra's forthcoming trip to the USA which includes a concert at Carnegie Hall. My NYO work is, I hope, complemented by my other work as a Board Trustee of Music for Youth UK and also British Youth Music Theatre.
- In addition, there are several other APPGs and parliamentary organisations with which I'm currently involved. These include the British-American Parliamentary Group and the Conservative Environment Network.
- I currently am Co-Chair, APPG for Music Education; Vice-Chair, APPG for Blockchain; Vice-Chair, APPG for Small and Micro Businesses; Vice Chair, APPG for the British Council; Vice-Chair, APPG for Greece; Vice-Chair, APPG for British Turks and Kurds; Secretary, APPG for Eggs, Pigs and Poultry; Secretary, APPG for Mining and Quarrying; Treasurer, APPG for Taxation; Treasurer, APPG for Bullying; and Officer, APPG for Motor Manufacturers.
- As ever, I continue to visit many schools in the constituency, from Nunney First School, St. John's First School and Bishops Henderson School, Bruton Primary, Upton Noble School, the Steiner Academy and Beckington First School, to the Steiner Academy, King's Bruton School and many more. Often, I also rather disturb the school day by talking to the pupils. It's always terribly valuable and, particularly given my experience at the DfE, useful I hope too for the schools themselves.
- My regular surgeries up and down the area seem to be overflowing and this is a hugely rewarding part of my job. In recent weeks I've held numerous surgeries in Martock, Sparkford, Castle Cary, Langport, Wincanton and of course Somerton and Frome.
- I tend to meet with local farmers and the NFU every six months or so, which is an enormously valuable exercise for me. Most recently we met in South Camelot and in Trudoxhill and naturally Brexit was the biggest talking point at both. Thank you also to the many farmers who've recently invite me to visit their farms, from Hadspen to Compton Dundon. Always hugely enjoyable and productive for me.
- It was a treat to visit the adult skills learning team at the Cheese & Grain in Frome and to talk to many of those taking advantage of their services. Following this, I met with those who run the session and I hope to be able to help them in various ways.
- There are ongoing meetings and correspondence with local people, Highways England and our councillors around the dualling of the A303, and especially on the subject of its route to the north of the village of West Camel. I hope that there's some progress being made in addressing the concerns felt by residents about the work. The dualling of course is underway, in that we will see cones on the road in just over a year's time. Until then it's being planned in un-smoke-filled rooms...
- Lovely to meet with Frome Dementia Alliance, who are re-launching their service, with initiatives across the town. I will be supporting these and attending wherever possible, as well as spreading the word to enable our area to become more dementia-friendly. Their work follows groups I've met in Langport, Somerton and a growing number of towns and villages.
- Thank you to the superb Somerset Wildlife Trust for showing me round the Green Down Nature Reserve at Charlton Mackrell to see the rare Large Blue butterflies, which were out in force! It was a fascinating visit and terrific to learn of the success of the programme to bring them back in numbers to this part of the country.
- Thanks also to the Royal British Legion who, despite having to listen to my after-dinner speaking last year, invited me to a splendid reception in Curry Rivel.
- I meet with Somerset's Police Superintendent regularly, alongside visits to see the Police and Crime Commissioner. Our meeting recently in Bruton was been about rural crime, particularly of livestock, plus a growing concern about the 'County lines' system used by city drug gangs to try and reach even as far as Somerset.
- It's always a pleasure to visit businesses across the constituency most weeks to see not only the success stories but also hear about the challenges and hurdles faced by those at the coal face of our local economy. I've recently visited dozens of local companies: last week Storm Boards in Frome (below) and Seahives in Long Sutton near Langport.
- I've had the pleasure of speaking at lunches, breakfasts, dinners and receptions in Queen Camel, Castle Cary and Compton Pauncefoot, and have recently also enjoyed visiting Jacob Rees-Mogg's and Oliver Letwin's constituency Associations in North East Somerset and North Dorset to hold forth to them.
- Thank you to Sexey's Hospital for elderly independent living. I'm grateful for them meeting me, showing me round their beautiful estate and buildings in Bruton and allowing me to talk to and answer questions from their residents in a variety of interesting subjects. A wonderful visit for me.
- I was fortunate enough to meet with several nursery funding providers in Beckington and in Milborne Port and hear about the issues they face in the current challenging financial environment and see how best I might be able to support them. Much to do.
- My regular meetings with Somerset's Clinical Commissioning Group continue and I'm glad to see there's significant work going into reviewing and reorganising their work and remit across the county.
- As ever, it was terrific to join Frome Branch members at their stand at the Frome Cheese Show and meet many people from the constituency and beyond. It was great to see the level of support felt by people of all walks of life for the hard work being undertaken by the government and locally by MPs.
- I'm grateful to the principal and chair of governors of Yeovil College for showing me round their very successful college. Though being just outside our constituency, the college serves a large number of young people from Somerton and Frome and is performing an exemplary role in bringing a technical education and hands-on practical skills to the area.
- I meet with the leaders and lead officers of South Somerset District Council every few months. This month we looked at issues with housing and the benefit system and how I might be able to help in a great many ways to improve and streamline the procedures and outcomes for those most in need.
- It's always fabulous to meet with constituents across the 900 square mile constituency, recently I've met those in Isle Brewers, Curry Mallet, Templecombe, Coleford, Evercreech and Butleigh to discuss matters ranging from the NHS to defence spending, transport, schools, access to services and a great deal more. If you'd like to get in touch for a chat, do please feel free to contact my office.
- My regular spot on Frome FM's: "Constituency Matters" continues and it's always fun to visit the studio and be questioned for my half an hour slot on anything under the sun. I hope I give satisfaction!
- As the readership for the Western Gazette and Frome Standard newspapers continue to decline, with barely four figures now reading these in the editions which serve my patch, I have turned to the Somerset Leveller magazine (and Somerton Sentinel and Langport Leveller) for my regular columns. Their readership now has hugely outgrown other newspapers and is growing fast, so I'm hoping that my messages are reaching more and hitting home.
- Thank you to the new CEO of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, David Ralph, for meeting with me to discuss support for Somerset and the region and how we can target support where it's needed. He has ambitious plans for the organisation and I am delighted to help him achieve those aims.
- It's always a real pleasure to join in and support local charity fundraising events, and it was terrific to take part in the colossally successful (and very tongue-in-cheek) weekend at the Cross Keys pub in Lydford, raising around £7,000 for St Margaret's Hospice. The pub declared independence from the UK for the weekend and became the "INNdependent rePUBlic of the Cross Keys", with a wall, passports, national flag and anthem, checkpoints, live music and events all weekend. I was there to accept the pub's surrender back to the UK, spend some time in the stocks (below) getting rather wet, and afterwards congratulate them on their tremendous initiative at the cheque handover evening.
- In a very different type of event, it was a privilege to take part in the unveiling and wreath laying in Wincanton of the Poppy of Honour - a huge poppy containing individual poppies handwritten with the names of all the 1.1 million who died in the Great War. An extremely moving ceremony, with the military, police, bands, military wives' choir and parade through the town. I look forward to playing my part in the centenary event in the town on the 11th November.
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