Monthly Update

It can never be said that MPs don’t know how to look after their spouses and partners on Valentine’s Day. I treated Mrs M to a couple of days in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire in support of the Conservative candidate at the recent by-election, staying overnight in the beautiful spa town of Buxton where I had cause years ago to spend many enjoyable months when training for professional exams. No particular surprise that the Labour candidate won in a true Labour heartland, but notable that the UKIP leader failed to make any real impact. It has to be asked, with Brexit being delivered by the Conservatives, what the point of UKIP now is given that its ‘raison d’etre’ is being fulfilled. The real news from the by-elections of last week was the historic win by Trudy Harrison for the Conservatives in Copeland, Cumbria. The first by-election win for a party in government since 1982, and even more significant that the seat had not been held by us since 1935.

Conservative MPs had the opportunity for a private meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in advance of the Budget. I could easily have dominated the meeting as a Chartered Accountant and Chartered Tax Adviser explaining what is wrong with our overly complex tax system, but I kept my observations to the need for a Stamp Duty downsizing relief for pensioners to move to more suitable retirement accommodation without paying for the privilege to do so, the inequity of the little known 62% tax band payable by higher earners and the unfairness of new tax rules for landlords, together with a note of caution against unexpected rises to local businesses under the business rates revaluation.

The Brexit select Committee is now meeting twice per week as we examine various aspects to be considered as part of our departure from the EU. The UK’s ex-ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers gave evidence last week. I was struck how, once out of the EU machine, ex-officials become more thoughtful and positive in their analysis of the opportunities that await us.

I’ve had numerous local meetings to advance my plans for Thanet, including ideas for something fundamentally different for Ramsgate’s commercial port. Also with Cliftonville residents as eager as I am to see real regeneration there. I visited Bromstone school in Broadstairs and performed the official re-opening of the revamped Windmill Pub in Newington Road, Ramsgate.

I’ve also taken evidence from investors and architects who are facing excessive delays, frustrations and an over-zealous approach by Thanet District Council planners, particularly regarding Conservation area and listed property applications. My fear is that the flow of private regeneration money will simply dry up when other authorities behave more rationally and speedily with encouragement and enthusiasm to investment on offer. TDC please do take note.

Open to return to Sandwich

I am delighted to announce that The Open will officially be returning to Sandwich in 2020! The 149th open will be played once again Royal St George’s.

It was last played at Royal St George’s in 2011 when Darren Clarke showed his mastery of links golf in challenging weather conditions to hold off Americans Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson to become Champion Golfer of the Year.

In 2011 there were over 180,000 visitors to The Open, bringing in an estimated £64 million to the local economy. In 2020 it is expected that The Open will generate over £100 million for our local area.

This is a fantastic opportunity to showcase exactly what East Kent has to offer. I am looking forward to working with others to ensure that it is a huge success, not just for Sandwich, but for all of Thanet as well.

January Update

There was nothing gentle about returning to Parliament this week: straight back into the various Select Committees that I serve upon. The Exiting the EU Select Committee took seven hours to reach agreement on our first official report. Apparently the record across the history of Parliament is fourteen hours, so we did quite well. With the most mixed membership of any committee – two SNP members, one Plaid Cymru, a nationalist and a unionist amongst the Northern Ireland members, five Labour members and ten Conservatives with different views within our own group on the process of exiting the EU, it was never going to be easy to reach consensus.

In my view, perhaps simplistically, there need be nothing complicated about leaving the EU. We ideally want reciprocal free-trade but have nothing to fear from ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status under WTO rules, we’d like co-operation on security but cannot submit in the future to the control by the European Court of Justice and must have our own rules to control trade and our own borders. All asks are mutually beneficial to both parties and simply a normal state of affairs that most countries enjoy.

Next stop in a whirlwind week was Birmingham University, where I studied, in the late 1980’s, Zoology and Comparative Physiology of all things, for a Work and Pensions Select Committee evidence taking session on Universal Basic Income. This is a concept that has been around for many years, and now being trialled in various parts of the world. In summary it proposes that all citizens, no matter if they are employed or unemployed receive the same amount from the state, reducing the complexity of other benefits, form-filling, means-testing and all that goes with it.  An interesting concept, however we were not fully persuaded with the obvious encouragement to lifelong economic inactivity and penal levels of tax rates that would need to underpin such a system too serious as impediments to make it work.

 There are numerous local issues that residents should be aware of - Vattenfall are proposing an extension to their windfarm which would see new, larger turbines closer to shore and could cause impediment to inshore shipping lanes. Thanet District Council will be launching their consultation period on the Local Plan from this week. This plan will be with us until 2031 and will cover land use, development policy and housing strategies. Rarely popular when presented by any council, Thanet’s proposes the final death knell of Manston and more of the same for the Port of Ramsgate. You can feed in your own thoughts via my website www.craigmackinlay.com. All contributions will be sent to TDC.

 

My December Update

Last week saw a significant Parliamentary milestone passed with a motion to trigger Article 50 passed by a huge margin by MPs. This is the first stage as required under EU treaties for Britain to leave the EU. I hope that the Supreme Court judges note the motion so clearly carried. Although not carrying the definitive weight of an Act of Parliament, the intent is clear: that the Government should trigger the Article in accordance with their plan under Crown Prerogative. In my mind this is the clear and logical instruction by the electorate following the June 23rd referendum.

I have been following the various land assets on Thanet District Council's disposal register. I encouraged the public to make comments during the consultation period on the proposal to sell Cliff Field and Philpott field in Broadstairs, which have now, sensibly, been removed from possible threat. My attention now turns to Dane Valley Enterprise Units. An eclectic mix of businesses from blacksmiths to boat repairers and upholsterers occupying 22 small low cost workshops. Opportunities abound for new apprenticeships and for turning ideas into thriving new businesses within Broadstairs. I am now working to bring TDC around the table with the businesses, who have a credible plan to either take ownership or management of the site. If the site goes to auction, as planned, these great businesses could be turfed out and the site demolished.

I was pleased to speak at another hugely attended public meeting in Ramsgate to further discuss industrialisation of Ramsgate Port. The initial threat posed by Bretts Aggregates expansion may have receded, but one has to consider sand and aggregate extraction from the Goodwin Sands for the expansion of Dover. The port of Ramsgate is conveniently close for processing activities. It is time for residents to advance their ideas for the Port, which are more sympathetic to regeneration.

On a brighter note, it was my true pleasure to welcome representatives of the Taiwan representation to the UK (diplomatic wrangling with China over decades prevents the representation being called an embassy) to the constituency. Primarily to investigate the world leading renewable energy technologies we have locally as Taiwan seeks to reduce CO2 emissions, become less reliant on imported coal, gas and oil and wind down its nuclear energy, but I did take the opportunity to show the delegation other assets that we have, notably the port, Manston and Discovery Park.

My next article will be a New Year one. Have a very enjoyable Christmas.

 

My regular update

I will always support Thanet District Council in trying to do the right thing. Indeed with my experience of local government as a former councillor on a larger authority in Kent, and as the former Chairman of its Audit Committee, dry as that sounds, this has given me experience of the problems faced by councils in balancing their budgets, and the complex issues of reserve and capital accounting. It is therefore worrying that TDC now has few reserves, particularly a general reserve now at just £2m. Any unforeseen shocks, like the fine by the Health and Safety executive of £250,000 just last week, and uncertainty as to how the future of Dreamland and the potential liability for the Compulsory Purchase Order of the land due to previous owners will pan out means that the Council is under extreme financial pressure.

 Manston continues to rear its head. There are numerous reports that communication between potential investors and TDC are frosty if not glacial. There seems to me a clear attempt by the council, UKIP run, and elected on a promise to save Manston for aviation use, to re-designate the land for mixed use aka ‘housing’. I hope and indeed expect Councillors to reject this slow creep as part of the consideration of the emerging Local Plan. The so called evidence against aviation being provided by a report (the Avia report) which has been poorly written and takes no account of the needs of the South East, the potential aviation market, nor the inherent delays running into years in expansion at Heathrow.

 Unfortunately, my Private Member’s Bill second reading to stop live animal exports through Ramsgate had insufficient time to progress, but is back on the order paper for this Friday 25th November. In presenting Bills on a Friday, the true oddities of Parliament are laid bare; the Bill prior to mine was artfully (annoyingly) talked out, using up all of the day’s Parliamentary time. My most sincere thanks for the letters, emails and social media messages of support. This is an issue that I have got my teeth into and I will not stop.

 Last week was the annual ‘Parliament Week’ which is very much aimed at younger voters to get involved and understand the democratic process and the role of MPs and how Parliament works. I have made a particular effort in getting local schools up to the Palace of Westminster which now boasts a new state of the art education centre. As part of Parliament week I visited local schools for Q&A sessions and was impressed with the quality of questions which ranged from gun control in the US, the nuclear ambitions of North Korea to whether welfare and benefits should be expanded at the extent of our armed services. Fascinating, considered questions which were tough to answer!

 

My Week in Westminster

Despite a long break away from the Palace of Westminster, once back it’s as if you’ve never been away. I’m sure students returning to school feel much the same. We commenced the first week back with consideration of the Finance Bill 2016 and move onto the Wales Bill this week. I took part in an extended Westminster Hall debate on the effect of “Fly-parking” of lorries in Kent. We don’t suffer the same amount of blight in South Thanet as other constituencies nearby the M20 and A2 corridors to the Channel crossings, but it is clear that overnight parking is a particular problem in Kent, and with it the rubbish and filth that inconsiderate drivers leave. The minister John Hayes MP was left in no doubt as to the level of dissatisfaction by Kent MPs. The new lorry parking and Operation stack facility propose for Stanford West in Shepway will help enormously.

Over the summer break I visited as many events and businesses as possible: I had a formal visit to Instro Precision in Broadstairs following the well reported disruptive activities by protesters. I state again how much I welcome Instro Precision in the area and hope that their plans for a new purpose-built 46,000 square foot facility at Discovery Park come to fruition bringing more high-level and well paid specialist jobs to the area as they pitch for new Ministry of Defence contracts.

At the other end of the spectrum, but similarly fascinating, I visited Southern Water’s Richborough treatment site which is home to two facilities, one dealing with waste from Sandwich and Deal, the other which deals with sewage from Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. As well as an extensive tour and explanation of how the process works from your sink (or loo) to finished clean water for outfall, there was a detailed discussion on the water quality around our beaches which are better than ever. One event that I wished I never had to witness however was the unwelcome live animal export movement through Ramsgate which continue through the Eid festival. I joined protesters to see for myself as I’d promise that I would. I want to see this trade stopped and have further Parliamentary time in November to progress my Bill to achieve that end.

The highlight of the last week of Parliamentary recess was a trip on HMS Diamond, one of the six new Type 45 state of the art Royal Navy Destroyers. It was an extended trip over four days from Portsmouth to Gibraltar across the Bay of Biscay. A rare privilege to be allowed such a detailed and lengthy trip as part of my year on the Armed Services Parliamentary Scheme attached to the Royal Navy. It was an opportunity to get fully versed on the full systems of the ship from propulsion, through radar and navigation to weapons, which are truly awe-inspiring in their defensive and offensive capabilities. The professionalism, commitment and dedication of the sailors puts us all to shame as they pursue their work 24/7, 365 days a year to protect the country’s strategic interests. Gibraltar was, as ever, fascinating, a vital outpost of British influence that controls the entry to the Mediterranean.