Working for the future of Bedford & Kempston

Please note: This site covers the period that I was a Member of Parliament from May 2010 to June 2017. 


Bedford has lost its leader and, in many respects, its visionary spirit.  Frank Branston wanted the best for Bedford and he went about achieving his goals with vigour and purpose. 

Over the years – and despite our political differences – Frank always had a willingness to hear a different point of view.  I valued his directness and his entrepreneurial flair – both of which I shall sorely miss.

 I met with Frank last three weeks ago, and his focus was very much on how, despite the recession, he could keep our community moving forward.  At times like these, we badly needed his sense of purpose. 

To Frank’s family and to his many friends across our town and beyond, my sincere condolences on his passing, and on this sad day, may our thoughts and prayers be with them.

Unfilled Vacancies and Job Seekers2

Conservative Parliamentary candidate, Richard Fuller, is highlighting the continuing negative trends for local people seeking work shown in the national unemployment figures released today. 

“The July unemployment figures show just how tough it is getting for people in Bedford and Kempston to get a job.  In our home town there are now nearly 10 people seeking work for each unfilled vacancy – that is fourfold increase from just two years ago.  Compared to the rest of the Eastern Region, this mismatch of job opportunities and people seeking work is getting worse, and getting worse at a faster rate.” 

Richard is undertaking a survey of local businesses to see what can be done to improve local opportunities for more employment and is reaching out to those whose families have been impacted by the recession to see what help can be provided. 

“Long term the answer has to be the creation of more local jobs for local people, but in the short term we will be providing practical help for people seeking work, wherever it can be found.”

Sunday, as the clouds cleared and the sun came out, I was happy to help open the first Bedford Mela organised by our Bangladeshi community.  An afternoon of music and family fun on the meadows near Longholme Way. Another example of how the diversity of our town enriches us all.  Well done to all the organisers and here’s to next year !

The latest dismal unemployment statistics prompted me to research the data on the personal stories that I am hearing on the doorsteps across town.  Many of these are from mid-career people who have found themselves out of work and with tough prospects of getting back a job, or getting back started running their own business.

Much of this unemployment would be hidden from the national statistics, because many do not claim Jobseeker’s Allowance, but the statistics tell the story anyway.

Midcareer Unemployment Statistics

Compared to the national average, Bedford & Kempston has a high level of people aged 25-49 seeking work.  Perhaps you are one of these people, or maybe one of your family members or friends?  If so, or if you care about how we can get people back in to work in our town, please send me your views by taking our survey, available here.

When Labour came to office in 1997, the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in Bedford and Kempston was the same as the national average – 4.3% of the working population in both case.

Today, whereas the national average is still below that June 1997 figure at 4.1%, the rate in Bedford and Kempston is much higher at 5.3%.

Why has unemployment in Bedford risen?

Employment prospects in Bedford and Kempston have suffered under Labour.  We have not capitalised on the boom period to attract new employment, promote local businesses or even to shape a coherent, consistent strategy to restore our economic health.  As a Bedfordian, and in my heart, I know we can do better.

With Karen Jackson, Head Westfield Middle School Reviewing the Ofsted Report

With Karen Jackson, Head Westfield Middle School Reviewing the Ofsted Report

I visited Westfield Middle School last week and Head, Karen Jackson kindly gave me a tour and discussed plans for the future of the school.  Like many head teachers, Karen has a passion for the education of children and a firm belief that no child should be abandoned or written off.

I really enjoyed the visit and a highlight was an early look at the Ofsted Inspection report that was completed in June and published last week.  Westfield was rated Good – up one grade from its last report.  That’s great news.  One comment that particularly caught my eye “Pupils mirror the particularly enthusiastic and characterful teaching….” – my observation too!

The provision of care for the elderly in Britain is a bit of a shambles.  There is confusion about what care should be provided, who should provide that care and who should foot the bill.  Reform is needed and I am professionally involved with two businesses in elder care, so I was eager to get a copy of the Government’s Green Paper, “Shaping the Future of Care Together” that was published today. You can get a copy here.

The Green Paper is well written and well argued, but it is disappointing in its lack of radicalism and the options that it presents.  The recommendations are mostly a mix of half-measures that would tinker at the edges of the problems but not really effect the fundamental change that is required plus one “big” idea.  It is the sort of list of options you get when you know that they want you to pick the “big” idea; a choice but not really a choice.  Of course, and as usual, there was no detail on costings from the Government and this was a serious omission.

I was hoping this would be what it should it: the launch of a compulsory scheme of individual savings accounts to cover anticipated care needs in old age.  Crucially, these would be savings accounts held individually, with any surplus, above contributions to a common pool, at the end of life added to the individual’s estate and available for their children and heirs.  This approach, if given the right tax treatment, would encourage thrift and ensure people think about their long term needs.

Alas, the Government’s big idea appears to be another government insurance scheme where you will be liable to a new tax to cover care via a new socialised pool .  Their model, obvious from the self-styled title of a “National Care Service” is to replicate the NHS.  However, there are serious reasons to doubt this model makes sense in this case.

The NHS makes sense for lots of sound reasons both on social justice and economic grounds.  Two important economic justifications are that the costs to insure against a random incidence of illnesses and accidents over a lifespan are much more cost effective on a pooled rather than an individual basis; and that the power of drug companies and other vendors means that a monopoly purchaser such as the NHS ought to be able to obtain treatments at a much lower cost.

These factors are not as apparent for a care service primarily targeted at the elderly.  Getting old is a less random process (at current levels of genetic medicine!) though the particular levels of care required at the latter stages of life can vary.  The balance, in my view, should be about encouraging individuals to make their own choices about how much – above a minimum threshold – they want to save.  This is best done via a tax-deductible savings route rather than a social insurance route.  As to the need for monopoly purchasing power, this is much less evident a need in care, where the individual qualities of caring, consideration, friendship etc are much.

Instead we have another government commitment that talks up entitlements but not responsibility, that focuses on bureaucratic state solutions rather than personalization and individual choice, and that favours short term over long term thinking.

I hope the next Conservative government will use the valuable analysis here, but change the direction of policy so that we can build a truly coherent future for care.

The real impact of the Government’s overblown borrowing hit schools in Bedford and Kempston last week.

Speaking in the House of Commons, local Conservative MPs Alistair Burt and Nadine Dorries continually challenged the Minister to guarantee the promised funding for Bedford Borough Upper Schools.

This is critical as any change from three to two tier will require major construction; expenditures that our local council cannot afford.  The Minister failed to provide the guarantee – undermining comments from local Labour MP that “The Government has committed to BSF capital investment…”

So where does this leave us?

First of all, Alistair and Nadine have done a huge service for local parents by putting the Minister on the spot and clarifying what many of us suspected all along; that the state of the country’s finances made any guarantees of funding dubious at best.

Second of all, a mighty hole has been blown in the Borough Council’s strategy for school reorganization.  They led from the front with the carrot of oodles of cash from the Government, despite the efforts of many head teachers at the public meetings, rightly in my opinion, to focus on competing visions of how our children would be educated in the two systems and the plusses and minuses of each.

This strategy has now failed and the Council needs urgently to reassess where we go from here.

I think the Council can now only take a vote in principle for a move to two tier.  It would be unwise to embark on reconstruction without the funding in place.  We don’t want a generation of kids educated in portakabins on construction sites, but we should set a direction for the future.

Bedford is already an evolving landscape of educational choices with educational trusts focused around upper schools at Wootton, Sharnbrook, Hastingsbury and Mark Rutherford and also with the new Academy at John Bunyan.  The excellent performance of Goldington Middle School has been too much overlooked in the “tiers” debate.  All these schools should be free to prosper, whatever the decision over tiers.

The next Conservative government will greatly expand choice in education – allowing greater freedom for local parents, charities and others to set up schools and play a much more direct role in how their children are educated.  Real Parent Power – Real Choice – Excellent Teachers.  In these, rather than false cash hopes for fancy buildings – there is real hope for the future of education in Bedford and Kempston.