Tuesday, 25 September 2007


One of the interesting facets of being an MP is the diversity of your constituency. In my patch I have 3 prisons (all very different), a nuclear power plant, two Severn Bridges, a major hospital and, amongst other things, several quarries. Today I visited two of them - at Wickwar and at Wick - run by Cemex (previously RMC). The photo shows me with two of Cemex's managers at the bottom of Wick quarry.

The local quarries are important employers and also provide pretty essential raw materials for things like motorways. But inevitably it is impossible to excavate large quantities of limestone without some impact on the environment, and I've had issues raised with me by residents near both quarries about things like noise, dust, smells and traffic.

One of the encouraging things about today's visit to Wickwar was to see that in the last week Cemex have responded to representations by me and by local residents and have spent significant sums on sound insulation for the 'primary crusher' - the noisiest bit of the plant. I think most local people recognise that quarries are a part of the local environment - there's been quarrying at Wick for over 100 years - and are ready for a bit of give and take, so it's encouraging to see that the company has taken steps to try to deal with one of the main complaints that I have raised with them.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Woodside Family Centre

I recently visited a very special family centre in South Gloucestershire which provides services for children and adults who are deafblind or who have a single sensory impairment together with another disability. The Woodside Family Centre is funded by donations and is run by the charity Sense. The centre provides childrens' sessions for children of different ages as well as being a great place for families to support each other and share experiences. From talking to two lovely families who kindly came along to meet me (see picture), it sounds as though the pressures of caring for a child who has multiple disabilities are compounded by the problems of dealing with officialdom of all kinds. You certainly need to be persistent and determined to get things done.

The centre has lots of rooms that are tailored for the special needs of deafblind children and adults. These include a creche with tactile toys and equipment and a very impressive sensory room (see picture). If you or your family could benefit from these services, the centre manager can be contacted on 0117 967 0008. The address of the centre is Woodside Road, Kingswood BS15 8DG. I was very impressed with the caring work that is done there and also with the resilience of the families who are giving their all to their children in very difficult circumstances.

Monday, 17 September 2007

A lively start in Brighton

It's only when you get back to the party conference that you remember quite how hectic they are! The bit that the public sees - the debates and speeches in the main hall - are just a small fraction of the activity that goes on. Between Sunday evening and the end of conference on Thursday lunchtime I'll have spoken at seven fringe meetings, made a speech in the main hall (this morning), done various interviews (today on News24, the World at One and later on 5Live), and will have had more than 20 meetings with shadow cabinet colleagues just in case we a General Election to fight in a few weeks' time. I won't say I'm coming back on Thursday for a rest, but it's certainly not a seaside holiday!

Thursday, 13 September 2007

A small step in a green direction

To the Thornbury branch of Countrywide store today for a promotional event for a new type of boiler which burns wood chip or wood pellets. We heard from Sir Ben Gill (formerly a big cheese in the NFU) and also from the manufacturers about how their new boiler has a much smaller 'carbon footprint' than the oil equivalent. Government grants are available for about 30% of the cost, and they reckoned it would also save money over a 3-4 year period. Instead of getting a periodic delivery of oil you would get a periodic delivery of wood chips or pellets. Increased use of these burners would reduced dependence on fossil fuels, and the energy involved in creating the fuel itself (eg drying and compressing the wood pellets) is much less than the energy involved in (say) extracting oil. Ultimately you could be burning wood chips or pellets from wood that had been grown locally, which sounds a lot more eco-friendly than the way that most of us heat our homes. As ever, the more people who go for these things, the larger the scale of production, so the lower the cost and so more people who take them up....

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Taking steps on Climate Change

This morning I had the privilege of meeting the team who are marching 1000 miles the length and breadth of Britain to highlight the urgent nature of the climate change challenge that we face. The group has been put together by Christian Aid and are half UK based and half from overseas, including several Africans with first-hand experience of the impact of climate change on their communities. They are speaking at schools and churches, handing out leaflets and petitions and generally spending three months of their life getting people to take climate change more seriously. The marchers will be going to the Labour party conference in Bournemouth the week after next. I was able to tell them that climate change will be a key theme of the Lib Dem conference in Brighton next week with a keynote debate on a comprehensive package of 'green' measures which I will be proud to include in the manifesto that I am putting together for the next General Election.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Frenchay - the first good news in a long time!

Just a couple of days after my last post on this topic, at last a glimmer of hope.

This morning's meeting of the South Glos. Council health scrutiny committee was to be asked simply to 'note' that Alan Johnson had responded negatively to the Council's concerns about the Bristol Health Services Plan. But my colleague Councillor Sue Hope tabled an amendment saying that the Committee should make a fresh referral of the whole thing to the new Secretary of State. The significance of this is that this committee has a statutory power to do that in a way that I as an MP do not. And Alan Johnson has said in the House of Commons that:

“…I will, as a matter of course, ask the Independent Reconfiguration Panel - our expert clinical group - for advice on any decisions made at local level which have been referred to me by Overview and Scrutiny Committees”.

This is all we have been asking for - someone independent to have a look at the whole thing.

I'm now writing to him asking him simply to keep his word when he gets the request from the Council. I'll let you know what he has to say....

Monday, 3 September 2007

Where now for Frenchay

Back to blogging after a Summer break!

Over the Summer I was on tenterhooks waiting to hear from the Parliamentary Ombudsman whether she would investigate the way the decision to downgrade Frenchay Hospital was taken. After a pretty detailed investigation she has unfortunately decided that it doesn't fall within her remit. One of the paradoxes is that the Ombudsman looks at cases where people have suffered 'injustice' because of 'maladministration'. But because Frenchay hasn't gone yet, it's hard to identify someone who has already 'suffered injustice'. And by the time we do have people suffering from Frenchay's closure it will be too late to do anything about it!

People sometimes say to me "you just want Frenchay because it's local to your constituents", but in fact I think that the 'Bristol Health Services Plan' as a whole should have gone for Frenchay. The reason is that they are trying to serve the whole of Bristol and South Glos. with two main hospitals - and in my book that means one in Bristol and one in South Glos. (ie BRI + Frenchay) works better than two in Bristol (ie BRI + Southmead).

If we follow this route, then people who live near Southmead are still fairly near a big hospital - the BRI - whereas if we go the way they plan, how are people in Yate/Sodbury and beyond meant to get to Southmead in an emergency in the rush hour. A recent study showed that time to A&E departments can be critical (not a surprise really!) .

We now have a new health secretary so I will be going back to him to call for an independent look at this decision. We can't give up without a fight.