Last Thursday I attended a meeting of the Elwick Parish Council. It was good to see so many people on a cold snowy night at the WI Hall on The Green and to listen to both the issues and ambitions people had; not just in the village but the growing conurbation at Wynyard which lies within the parish boundary.
I expected to hear about bus services, broadband and the Elwick by-pass, which I did, but other subjects I didn’t anticipate and were interesting to listen to such as a desire for affordable homes to bring new families in and regenerate the village; the view that Elwick isn’t profiled enough as part of the borough, especially in the council’s magazine, and more acutely in the film promoting Hartlepool which everyone will know from the train station. Also the desperate need to make the A689 safer around Wynyard and put in a pedestrian crossing, which I fully support.
I learnt a lot and was grateful for the invite. As I said to the meeting, I represent people from all corners of the constituency and I am proud to do so whatever people’s political persuasion; which is why on Remembrance Sunday last year, I thought it important to visit Elwick and all the outlining villages to see for myself how Hartlepool, as a whole, had commemorated the centenary of the end of the First World War.
On Saturday I was honoured to be invited to speak at a National Pensioners Convention meeting at the Avenue on Lauder Street. Guest speakers included two professors, one an expert on mental health and the other the director of Public Health England for the North East, the Regional Secretary of the Northern TUC Beth Farhat and the General Secretary of the NPC Jan Shortt.
Again there were interesting topics of conversation, but I was especially struck by three things; a desire to campaign alongside younger generations on a whole range of issues, their vehement opposition to the BBC proposing charges for TV licenses for the over 75s and their strong assertion that not only was it a mathematical impossibility that the older generation were responsible for Brexit, it was a complete myth.
On the TV licensing front I completely agree that they should remain free of charge to the over 75s and have signed a cross-party letter to the BBC pushing for the idea to be scrapped. Sadly these days for pensioners, often isolated and on their own, the TV can literally be their only friend.
The BBC were very much at the forefront of my mind when I spoke in the House this week on the subject of police funding. It was its report on the state of policing in Hartlepool which exposed the effects of years of Government cuts to police budget – 500 officers and 50 PCSOs gone from Cleveland Police since 2010 and a £39million cut in real terms.
It was its report on the news which, as I told the House, has led to a perception that there are no police in Hartlepool and has made my constituents feel less safe. Sadly the Government aren’t listening and have awarded Cleveland Police the lowest settlement in England.
As I said in my speech, our cells have been mothballed, a visible police presence on our streets is all but gone and responses to reported crimes is falling. This is not the fault of hard working officers and PCSOs; it is the fault of the Government for failing to fund our police properly and focus instead on imposing a ‘Police Tax’ on citizens through the local Council Tax police precept.
And before anybody tries to blame Cleveland Police and its leadership, it was very clear from the debate that the problem is nation-wide. It truly is worrying to hear from constituents who rightly saw the BBC broadcast as an advert to criminals, which in my opinion makes the safety of our town and it’s citizens a priority and I am working hard to hammer that message home with the Secretary of State.
Finally the bold move by the Tees Valley Combined Authority to buy Durham Tees Valley Airport is a sign of ambition and commitment to regrow our region. I hope it takes off (pardon the pun). Lots of positives are happening in Hartlepool and across Teesside in terms of future investment and the momentum must be kept going.