We are all finding events in Ukraine extremely distressing. The situation remains deeply concerning and is changing by the day. As a family, we have many friends in Kyiv and have been in touch with them about the tragic events unfolding over the past few weeks.
I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people locally. It is a times like this when communities really pull together. It is brilliant to see the Polish community in Banbury set up a collection for food, bedding and other necessary supplies for Ukrainians who have sought refuge on the border. Likewise, the John Paul Centre attached to the Catholic Church and K2 Recruitment in Bicester have organised their own collections. There will be many more opportunities to help I suspect and I will advertise those local ones where I can.
This situation is undoubtedly developing rapidly. My team and I are working hard to support constituents with loved ones caught up in the conflict where we can. It’s clearly taking time to create these the new Visa schemes, however measures are being introduced to make the process quicker and simpler. I have been involved in discussions at all levels with the Home Office and have been relaying constituents’ concerns directly with the Home Secretary. I will continue to do this.
After nearly two years of living under restrictions, there was always going to be a certain point when the government would set out how we would move to the next phase of living with Covid. Last month, we heard just that. As expected, our response has moved from one of restrictions to taking back personal responsibility.
I know that some constituents who are most vulnerable are finding this difficult, so I am glad that the government has committed to continuing protecting those most at risk with targeted vaccines and treatments. The future path of the pandemic remains uncertain which is why it is so important that our resilience to manage and respond to any new waves or variants is maintained.
I continue to make my ministerial colleagues aware of constituents concerns with living costs during this challenging time. With reduced variety of supply globally and much higher than anticipated demand as the world returns to life after lockdown, high wholesale gas prices have subsequently driven an increase in wholesale power prices. Households will need to be accustomed to these higher costs. In the short- and medium-term, it is important that the government continues to listen and ensures that policies in place do help those who need it most. Looking to the future, we must work towards ending our reliance on fossil fuels, and investing further in green renewable energies and technologies.
The latest data on Covid is encouraging and it does seem that there is light at the end tunnel. I look forward to hearing the Prime Minister set out the government’s strategy for how we will live with the virus going forward, in particular how those more at risk are considered.
We will now be able to focus on other aspects of public health. It is good to see that plans for a Bicester Health Hub have been given the green light by Cherwell District Council. Montgomery House Surgery and the Alchester Medical Group will co-exist on one large site where they will benefit from more joined-up thinking, develop expertise and share resources. The new hub will be purpose-fit, providing a flexible, integrated and sustainable model of healthcare provision that will serve our growing population for many years to come.
It’s really good to be back out visiting our local schools. It is one of the most rewarding parts of being an MP and I'm always surprised by how deeply children care about politics. I recently called into Fritwell Church of England Primary to catch up with headteacher Jonathan Hart. While it has understandably been a difficult time for our primary schools, I was pleased to hear that school life is steadily returning to normal at Fritwell. While I was there, pupils were enjoying one of their regular forest school sessions. It is so important that our children are able to experience nature and learn about the environment around them.
Last week was Children’s Mental Health Week, a time to reflect on the importance of young people’s wellbeing. On Friday, I visited the fantastic Nai’s House in Bicester founded by Gem Barrett. Set in Garth Park, they run a blended youth and wellbeing service for those under the age of 30. A brilliant team of volunteers provide a safe space, tailored one-to-one support, counselling, holistic treatments and activities. I enjoyed talking to Gem about her experiences and her vision for the future of Nai’s House.
Earlier in the month, I made a trip to the wonderful Heyford Park Farmer’s and Open Market. I popped in to the Heyford Park Pantry, which is a brilliant, charitable organisation run by local volunteers. They provide a fantastic, low-cost food service for people in the community which aims to reduce food waste.
We will shortly all be able to do our bit to tackle food waste. From March 1, Cherwell households will be required to split food waste from garden waste which will then be collected weekly. The reason for this is that it will then go to an anaerobic digestion plant where it will turn food waste into two valuable resources: bio-fertilisers that farmers will be able to use on their fields to grow food and green electricity to power local homes and businesses.
For the eighth year in a row, Oxfordshire has come out on top of the nationwide table for recycling, reusing and composting. A total of 58.8 per cent of all household waste was composted, compared to 45.5 per cent nationally. This is a really good start.
I’d like to wish all of my constituents a happy and healthy 2022.
Over the Christmas holidays, my team and I worked hard to support those who have contacted my office. Lots were getting in touch with me with COVID-related concerns, including local vaccination and testing provision. It is good to hear from local public health officials that our vaccine programme has accelerated in the past few weeks with record doses being administered. We now have one of the highest vaccine coverage rates in the country and there continues to be ample capacity across the system. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all those involved for working with us on this issue.
A fair amount of my time recently has been spent supporting constituents with DVLA renewals, UK Visas and Immigration matters, and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) applications. I was pleased to speak to local residents at my constituency surgery last week. We discussed everything from planning and loan charges to parking and healthcare provision. I always enjoy speaking to constituents and if you have any problems that need resolving, please do get in touch with my office by emailing: email@example.com. It is often quicker to resolve problems virtually or on the phone during the Parliamentary week; don't wait for a surgery.
January can be a challenging time for many businesses in hospitality and leisure as sales slow after the Christmas period. The rapid spread of the Omicron variant has caused added uncertainty for business owners. I have been signposting those who have got in touch to the additional support made available by the Chancellor last month. One-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises will be awarded to businesses in hospitality and leisure. The cost of Statutory Sick Pay for Covid-related absences for small and medium-sized employers will also be covered.
As the weather gets colder and more time is spent inside, it is important that everyone is able to keep warm and well. Vulnerable households can receive financial support through the Winter Fuel Payment and Cold Weather Payments. Additionally, most energy providers offer a Warm Home Discount to those eligible. Residents who need any energy-related advice can get in touch with Better House Better Health, a longstanding and local service in Oxfordshire, on 0800 107 0044.
The New Year can bring great optimism, but it can equally be a lonely and difficult time for some. People can reach out to the Bicester Community Support Service on 01865 897 105 should they need support. They provide a range of activities and services to help people to stay healthy, independent and engaged.
For older residents, a friendly chat on the phone can make all the difference. Age UK Oxfordshire’s Phone Friends telephone service is a brilliant way for those who are isolated to stay connected. 20,000 phone calls are made each year to over 400 isolated people in our community. Constituents can get in touch by ringing 0345 450 1276.
Before Christmas, I had the pleasure of calling in to David and Lesley Thompson’s coffee morning in Launton. The morning was organised to raise funds and awareness for the Bicester Good Neighbour Scheme. This fantastic voluntary organisation arranges free support and friendship for older people in Bicester and nearby villages. The group are always looking for more volunteers. If you have time and are interested in volunteering, do call them on 07849 799 530.
The past 23 months have been an incredibly challenging time for us all. But, it has shown us how important community really is. Thank to you all of my constituents who continue to care and support their friends and neighbours. It is wonderful to read constituents’ emails when they share these positive community stories with me and I hope this spirit of kindness continues.
2021 has been the year of the COVID-19 vaccination rollout: a medical achievement we should all be very proud of. Thanks to the efforts of so many, it has helped restore some sense of normality to our lives. I would like to take this opportunity to thank the NHS, the Armed Forces, and all those who have worked around the clock to deploy this vaccine across the UK. When I have the time, I have been enjoying reading the book “Vaxxers” by Professor Sarah Gilbert and Dr Catherine Green which tells the story of the cutting-edge science and hard work behind the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. It really is remarkable science.
Despite the huge progress in vaccine deployment, I know that many constituents will share my disappointment that we are now having to deal with the emergence of a new variant and the challenges it has brought us. Getting a booster jab is more important than ever. Not only does it offer you protection, but it also protects friends and family and offers us the best chance to continue living without the restrictions we all had to deal with earlier on in the pandemic. It is a setback, but one we can all manage by getting our booster. Please get your jab for your own sake and for others in your community. I know the majority of my constituents are contacting my office to share they’ve had their jabs and I am so grateful to hear this.
In the spirit of the pandemic, we all have a part to play in fighting coronavirus and easing the pressure on our NHS. While I fully appreciate the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives, and that many constituents are tired of living with restrictions, we have a duty to protect our communities.
For my own part, I have been doing what I can to ensure that booster provision is accessible for all my constituents across North Oxfordshire. I organised a recent meeting with my Oxfordshire Conservative colleagues and our public health officials to discuss local vaccine and testing provision. I was reassured to hear that a working strategy is in place to meet what is estimated to be a 2.5x expansion in capacity, with an aim to deliver approximately 230,000 vaccines across the county in three weeks. I remain in contact with our public health officials and will continue to monitor the situation over the holiday period.
On a lighter note, it has been brilliant to see our town and village centres busy once again ahead of Christmas. I have been busy writing Christmas cards to hundreds of people including family, friends, and parliamentary colleagues. Each year, I use the design created by the winner of my card competition which is open to all primary aged school children across North Oxfordshire. I always get really excited receiving all of the entries through the post. Although, it is always so hard to pick a winner!
After much deliberation, the winning card this year was designed by Isabelle from Bure Park Primary School. Her creative and colourful design depicting a festive Houses of Parliament really caught my eye. A huge well done also to my Runner Ups, including Lucy, Mollie-Mae, and Macie who submitted some brilliant designs.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all Happy Holidays, have a lovely Christmas, and here’s to a brighter 2022.
The news that Sir David Amess MP had been killed was devastating to us all. David died doing what he loved most; helping his constituents. He served the people of Essex for 38 years and was a wonderful champion of Southend.
When I got the news that David had been attacked, I was in the middle of my own surgery in Bicester Sainsbury’s. I can’t imagine doing my job without regular and fairly open access to my constituents. I’ll continue to think about how to manage this best and take advice where appropriate.
Only the evening before, I was at The Red Cow at Chesterton as part of my really successful Pub Tour. I always enjoy speaking to constituents in their local pub. We discussed everything from the Great Wolf development and the proposed Siemens development, to local care homes and women’s safety.
This month I’ve had some really good visits in Bicester. I visited Skills Beyond School who are a leading education specialist organisation. I first met Director Jock and Marketing Coordinator Hannah back in the summer at the Banbury temporary job centre. Hannah is currently employed on the Government’s brilliant Kickstart Scheme. It is a way for businesses of all sizes to provide a 6-month fully funded job opportunity for young people aged 16 to 24. It was great to catch up again and I particularly enjoyed discussing their work on prisoner education and rehabilitation.
I was pleased that all pupils were able to return to schools for the new academic year. During a visit to Bicester School this month, I spoke with students about the impact of lockdowns on their mental wellbeing. The pandemic has been particularly tough on our young people and their development. I understand concerns about knowledge gaps for Year 11 students which is why I welcome that a £3 billion academic catch-up programme has been put together by the Department for Education.
I also enjoyed visiting St Mary’s Catholic Primary School. I met children in the reception class and also those in Years 5 and 6, who all told me they were glad to be back at school. I was so impressed with their knowledge of an MP’s role, and they all asked such fantastic questions.
As I write this, the approval of the Heyford Park Pharmacy has just been announced. This is a well-deserved victory for the local community who have campaigned tirelessly. The pharmacy will become an important point of local primary care, serving the growing community of Heyford Park. Residents will be able to pick up their prescriptions closer to home, rather than having to make trips to Bicester or Deddington. The plans also include for the pharmacy to offer seasonal flu jabs, as well as some GP consultations and nursing appointments on-site. The pharmacy should open sometime next year.
September has been a particularly busy month. Just as schools have returned after a summer break, MPs have also returned to Parliament after summer recess. I was delighted to be appointed Minister of State at Defra by the Prime Minister during the recent reshuffle. It is a great honour to be in this role at such an important time for UK agriculture, fisheries and food.
Throughout the pandemic, I have held regular surgeries with my constituents via Zoom. I am very excited that this week I will be holding my first in-person surgery in eighteen-months at Banbury Sainsbury’s. I am also looking forward to a further surgery in Bicester next week. Appointments are not necessary - just turn up! For those interested, please email my office for further details.
You can also meet me for a chat in a local pub. I have always felt strongly about the importance of pubs to our local community and the wider economy. That is why I launched my Pub Tour when I was first elected. This week I am stopping by at The Brasenose Arms in Cropredy. I have lots of future dates planned so keep an eye out on my website and social media if you would like to meet me. What better place to have a chat than a pub?
I’m so pleased to have been able to get out and about more now that restrictions have eased, meeting more constituents in-person. In the past six-months, the country has made a tremendous amount of progress down the road to recovery, carefully and cautiously moving closer to our ‘new normal’. As the weather gets colder and with winter approaching, it is vital we do all we can to protect our progress and further bolster our collective defences against coronavirus.
Locally, over 225,000 vaccine doses have been administered, with over 76 per cent of those aged 16 and above now fully vaccinated. We know that vaccinations are our best possible line of defence against this virus. It is vital that people continue to come forward to get the jab: it protects us all and saves lives. I want us all to see the full return of all our freedoms – as so many of us do. To achieve this, we must continue to be vigilant.
Our local response in the constituency to the situation in Afghanistan has been overwhelming. Communities in North Oxfordshire have come together with generous donations and offers of support to help those in need. New arrivals under the Afghan Citizens Resettlement Scheme have been welcomed with open arms. Cherwell District Council have already identified 10 properties to house eligible Afghan families. These people did so much to support UK Forces in Afghanistan and now I hope our constituency can support them. I am pleased that a bespoke, local package of support has been organised to help with language skills, access to healthcare and education, voluntary sector support and advice, and employment.
I know that veterans have found the situation in Afghanistan extremely distressing. We are forever grateful to our 23,000 veterans in Oxfordshire for their courage and commitment and are proud of what they achieved. I am really pleased to see the Government’s commitment to enhancing health and wellbeing for veterans through Operation Courage. It is important we recognise our own collective responsibility in offering the best support we can during these challenging times, and I am aware of the impact of these recent months on veterans, serving members of our Forces, and their families. Our Armed Forces and veterans represent the very best of us, and their sacrifice will never be forgotten.
The summer has flown by: it only seems like yesterday that students were breaking up from school. I was so pleased to see how well pupils did in their A-Levels and GCSEs last month. I know how difficult the past 18-months has been for them all. I’d like to thank every parent, teacher, tutor, school and college leader for their efforts to support learning in these unprecedented times.
I’ve been keen to keep in touch with schools throughout the pandemic and am looking forward to getting out and visiting them again in the new term. Over the summer holidays, I enjoyed taking part in a National Citizens Service programme at Wykham Park Academy. It was great to see students participating and developing their critical thinking skills. I also hosted pupils from a number of local schools for a virtual work experience session, where they got to catch a glimpse of a typical day in the life of an MP. I always enjoy speaking to students who are enthusiastic about local issues.
This year’s UK Parliament Week will run from 1 to 7 November. It is an opportunity for young people to learn more about Parliament, take action and make an impact on local issues. Last year, North Oxfordshire was the most engaged constituency in the country. More schools, groups and young people signed up to take part in the activities locally than in any other constituency. It was brilliant to see so many actively involved and I hope we can carry that momentum through to this year.
As part of Parliament Week 2021, I will be hosting my seventh annual democracy challenge, sponsored by Cherwell District Council. This debating competition is always a lot of fun and something I look forward to. Despite last year’s challenge taking place virtually, all the teams did a brilliant job. I’m always impressed by local pupils’ awareness of issues and debating skills. I will be writing to all schools this month with further details and hope that lots of teams will take part.
With schools returning in the coming days, all 16 and 17-year-olds in England have now been invited for a jab. It is important that teenagers come forward as soon as possible. Vaccination is still the best possible line of defence against coronavirus. I understand that safety precautions will still be in place inside schools this term to help manage the risks as best we can. As we learn to live with COVID, it is vital that we minimise disruption to young people’s education.
I hope that the autumn term gets off to a great start and wish pupils, parents and teachers the very best.
Earlier this month, the country moved to Step 4 in the roadmap which marked the start of a new phase of continued caution, managing the risks we are aware of and taking responsibility for our choices.
I have had a number of constituents get in contact with me raising their concerns over the lifting of restrictions. I have explained to them that while there is no perfect time to relax the existing restrictions, moving to Step 4 during the summer means pressures on the NHS are less significant than in the autumn and winter months. I have reassured those with concerns that I will continue to monitor the situation in our area closely.
The lifting of restrictions coincided with the resumption of my pub tour last week. Lots of constituents turned up to the Bell in Lower Heyford and asked me questions on a whole host of issues from the climate change agenda to the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange proposal at Ardley.
I’m proud that we are known for our modern industry here in Bicester as we continue to grow and attract global business. Earlier in the month, I visited Hardide’s new and larger premises in Launton. Hardide is the leading global innovator and provider of advanced tungsten carbide/tungsten metal matrix composite coatings. They coat critical parts used in high-wear applications for major companies in the aerospace, defence, energy and precision engineering sectors. It was great to meet Chief Executive Officer Philip Kirkham who showed me the giant coating reactors in action.
I also enjoyed my visit to Saietta Electric Drive, who deliver axial-flux motor technology to the electric vehicle mass market from scooters to buses, in Upper Heyford. I met Chief Commercial Officer Graham Lenden who explained their plans to bring more engineering jobs to the area and how they intend to make their operation carbon neutral. I got time to test drive the Twizy, powered by Saietta’s proprietary AFT elective motor innovation.
I was delighted to also visit David Wilson Homes’ development site at Kingsmere. I was especially pleased to meet Site Manager Scott Harris to congratulate him on his success in this year’s NHBC Pride in the Job Quality awards. During my visit I was given a tour of The Chelworth and The Avondale show homes which I really enjoyed. It was good to see first-hand the level of skill and workmanship that goes into creating a new development.
With vaccination rollout continuing across North Oxfordshire, I popped in to the Bicester Vaccination Centre to mark its 6-month anniversary. I met Tracey Bishop, new Montgomery House Practice Manager as well as Dr Sara Askew. Nearly 50,000 jabs have been administered there alone which is all down to the tremendous hard work of the many volunteers. I was told that Goss Butchers have been bringing food supplies to keep the volunteers going which is testament to the superb community spirit we have here in Bicester.
Over the past year, emails from constituents have been at their peak. Lots of people have written to me in search of advice to help them through the pandemic. My team and I have been working hard to signpost and support those in need. Alongside coronavirus-related casework, I have continued to deal with issues as varied as housing situations, overdue hospital appointments and benefits-related claims. While cases are not always straightforward, solving problems for constituents is one of the most rewarding parts of being a Member of Parliament.
In recent months I have also heard from many of you with views about local issues. There is a lot going on in Bicester at the moment. This week, the Planning Inspectorate was scheduled to start its hearing on Bicester Sports Association’s plans to extend the Chesterton sports facilities following the sale of the Oxford Road site to Value Retail. It is clear that we need to do more to identify appropriate sites for Bicester’s sports teams; I have held a couple of meetings with clubs and local Councillors to discuss future sporting provision in the town, particularly as we continue to grow. The sale of the Oxford Road site could also impact the Bicester Community Garden, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to pop down there last week to meet local volunteers to discuss their future plans.
Chesterton also remains at the forefront of my mind given the recent decision by the Planning Inspectorate to allow the Great Wolf Lodge appeal. The news came as a shock to us all, particularly after the District Council had rejected the application unanimously and had put considerable resources into the appeal process. Since then, I have had a meeting with representatives from Chesterton Parish Council and the Parishes Against Wolf campaign group. I know that they were looking at whether there might be grounds for a judicial review, but that does not seem likely. Going forward, it is clearly important to understand how we mitigate the impact of the development on Chesterton. I have met Highways representatives from Oxfordshire County Council to discuss just that and also had a virtual meeting with Great Wolf to discuss the situation directly with them. I have encouraged the need for community engagement and discussion going forward.
Initial plans for the possible construction a Strategic Rail Freight Interchange at Ardley have also become public recently. I have significant concerns about the location of the development but will wait to see what mitigation measures are proposed. Preliminary meetings with local parish councils as well as the District and County Council about the plans have proven useful and I am hoping to meet Network Rail in the weeks ahead.
While it all these issues will need to be assessed on their own individual merits and constraints, it is clear that consideration must be given to their collective impact on Bicester and the surrounding villages. I am determined to make sure my constituents’ voices are heard throughout.