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Bob Russell at PMQ's

  • Apr 10, 2014:
    • Cystic Fibrosis | Commons debates

      I hope that when the Minister responds she will explain why successive Governments refused to acknowledge the very strong arguments that the hon. Lady has made about how the disease was once a childhood condition whereby people never made it beyond being teenagers but now people make it to adulthood and they are having to pay prescription charges-if they are in employment-to stay alive. People who self-abuse their body and become drug addicts receive state funding, but people who have been served by mother nature in this way do not get the help. The Government should give that help.

    • Backbench Business - Easter Adjournment | Public Administration Select Committee | Commons debates

      The hon. Lady is making a powerful speech about the co-operative movement. Will she confirm that the Labour party was established some 60 years after the establishment of the Co-op, and that it is therefore in the best interests of the Co-op to embrace people of all political parties?

    • Backbench Business - Easter Adjournment | Public Administration Select Committee | Commons debates

      My right hon. Friend has a reputation for being a bit of a joker, but on this occasion, although some of my Labour opponents in Colchester feel that I have become a closet Tory, I am light years away from being a Tory of any sort, as my speech has indicated.

      Having been rumbled, it will be interesting to see whether Essex county council will continue its policy of politicising its dealings with MPs in the administrative county of Essex. Post-Lord Hanningfield, I hope that what I have disclosed today will warrant investigation by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association and the district auditor.

      I join colleagues in thanking all who work on the parliamentary estate. Their dedication to assisting Members is greatly appreciated. They do so much for us.

    • Backbench Business - Easter Adjournment | Public Administration Select Committee | Commons debates

      I have a cunning plan to get potholed streets in Colchester filled in: I will invite the organisers of the Tour de France to hold one of the stages of this great cycling event in Colchester, which, created in 49 AD, was Britain's first city and the first capital of Roman Britain. That would guarantee that the potholes in Colchester-wilfully neglected by Essex county council, by contrast with other parts of Essex-are attended to, at least on the route taken by some 200 of the world's leading racing cyclists.

      I know that that is true because regional television this week featured the part of rural Essex to which the Tour de France is going this year. Every inch, every foot, every yard, every furlong of rural road that the cyclists will speed along-probably without noticing the wonderful scenic beauty of the Essex countryside-has been surveyed for potholes. By the day of the race, every pothole will have been filled in, even those that Essex county council highways department would elsewhere deem to be of insufficient depth to need filling. The county council clearly considers that cyclists from around the world are worthy of greater attention and safety consideration than the residents of Essex whose council tax will go towards the cost of making the Tour de France route safe. It would not look good if professional cyclists topple from their machines because of an Essex pothole.

      Talking of looking good, some say that the picturesque village of Finchingfield is the most attractive village in Essex. It is assumed that the world's media will regard it as a good place to photograph and film cyclists speeding through. It is not a question of filling in potholes there-oh no-because the patchwork quilt appearance of the road surface might spoil the photographs, so at great expense the whole road has been resurfaced to ensure the kind of pristine surface that is rare in most of Essex. If I can get the Tour de France to come to Colchester, it would ensure that our potholes were filled in. I am sure that my constituents could design a route to maximise the number of roads and potholes to be attended to in their area. For example, on the Monkwick estate, I would nominate a route that included Queen Elizabeth way, Prince Philip road, Prince Charles road and Coronation avenue.

      Behind my mockery, there is a serious point-namely, the performance, or lack of performance, of highway maintenance in Colchester under the auspices of Essex county council. I raised that at Communities and Local Government questions on Monday, when I got an encouraging response from the Secretary of State. Like me, he is an Essex MP, and thus fully aware of the shortcomings of county hall at Chelmsford, where favouritism rules.

      Until a few years ago, Colchester borough council was responsible for highways maintenance and street lighting, but then the county council grabbed the work. The result is that our roads and pavements are the worst that I have ever known, and the county switches off our street lights at midnight. Although there is a case for tackling light pollution, most of my constituents do not want a total black-out. I have tried to get a meeting with the cabinet member responsible, but he will not reply to my letters. Indeed, he is on record as saying that when he gets a letter he disapproves of, he throws it in the bin. That is democratic accountability in Conservative-run Essex county council.

      Complaints about highways maintenance make it the biggest local issue that residents currently raise with me. When Colchester borough council looked after highways, pavements and street lights, complaints were few and far between. It all changed and got worse when Essex county council took over, and it has got even worse-much worse-during the past two years, following the county council's decision not to continue with nine contracts covering different parts of Essex, but to lump them together in a single contract worth £3 billion over

      10 years from 1 April 2012. That contract has been awarded to national company Ringway Jacobs, whose headquarters is in Sussex.

      While the Government and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government promote localism, which is a concept that I support, Essex county council has centralised highways to a devastatingly negative degree. In the good old days, when Colchester borough council's highways depot was opposite where I live, potholed roads and damaged pavements would be attended to in a matter of days; it is now months-if you are lucky. If we are serious about localism, let us return to how it used to be, with the local council using local people with local knowledge, people with pride and a personal commitment to the area, to undertake that important work.

      I have personally reported five times to Essex county council's highways department the dangerous condition of the pavement outside my constituency office. It is a narrow pavement to a through-traffic route used by a large number of vehicles, many of them travelling too fast for the conditions. My office has witnessed, via CCTV cameras, four occasions when youngsters on mini-scooters have tumbled after hitting a pothole. Fortunately, each youngster fell forward. My concern is that on another occasion a youngster might topple into the road and under the wheels of a passing vehicle. On two occasions I was in my office when a youngster toppled from their scooter with the resultant tears. On one occasion I administered first aid to a three-year-old boy's bleeding knee. I have reported the dangerous pavement five times. Earlier this year, I managed to get two people from the highways department to visit. The result? Nothing. My fifth letter, subsequent to their visit and following a further incident involving a little four-year-old girl, was acknowledged but, weeks later, the potholed pavement still needs attention.

      Having described Essex county council's appalling highways record, I will now draw attention to another matter: the way in which the county council engages with the 16 MPs who represent constituencies in the administrative county of Essex. I am the only MP who is not a Conservative, which clearly rankles at county hall. On 21 February, I received a letter from the council's chief executive that was headed: "Improving our correspondence and communications with Essex MPs". The letter referred to

      "the recent Essex MP quarterly meeting".

      That surprised me because I had no knowledge of quarterly meetings with Essex MPs. I submitted a freedom of information request to the chief executive. In due course, albeit later than the time specified in the Freedom of Information Act, I received a response from the person in charge of the incredibly named "your right to know" office. I am not making it up; that is what the office is called. It appears, however, that the right to know does not necessarily apply to the MP for Colchester. In the reply sent to my office on Monday, in response to my eight questions of 25 February, reference was made to

      "quarterly meetings between Essex County Council Cabinet Members and Essex Conservative MPs."

      I note that the letter I received from the council's chief executive made no mention of any party political affiliation and simply stated "Essex MPs," of which I am one, albeit the only non-Conservative MP in Essex.

      I have no problem with Essex Tory councillors having meetings with Essex Tory MPs. That is not the issue; the issue is that what are purported to be occasions for the county council to engage with the county's MPs have deliberately excluded an MP from another party, yet the council tax payers of Essex are footing the bill and council officers are being sent to what are clearly party political meetings. In cobbling together a response, county hall cannot seem to give a consistent line to justify that arrangement. Using council officers, who in accordance with the local government code of conduct should be politically neutral, is wrong. Even though the cost to the public purse represents only a fraction of the £500,000 blown by the council's former leader, Lord Hanningfield, on his political advancement within the Conservative party, it should not happen. I trust that the district auditor will investigate.

      The FOI response states that "quarterly" meetings with Essex Tory MPs commenced on 17 October 2012. There were only three meetings in 2013, on 16 April, 4 June and 3 September, and there has seemingly been just one meeting so far this year, on 14 January. The FOI response tells me that

      "the meetings are informal and not minuted".

      But that does not accord with the chief executive's letter of 21 February, in which she refers to

      "the recent Essex MP quarterly meeting when a number of concerns were raised".

      I assume that was the January meeting. She goes on to detail how such concerns will be addressed in future. After detailing action points, she tells MPs:

      "I would like to invite you to provide feedback on these improvements which can be discussed at future Essex MP quarterly meetings.

      Your concerns are recognised and I hope our intended actions assure you of our commitment to improve the current service we offer MPs."

    • Business of the House | Commons debates

      As we approach the centenary of the great war, will the Government find time for a debate on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, which does a wonderful job across the world of looking after the fallen of the first and second world wars? Unfortunately, military personnel

      who have died in the past 68 years are covered not by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission but by the Ministry of Defence, through which funding is at a much lower level.

  • Apr 7, 2014:
  • Mar 18, 2014:
  • Mar 10, 2014:
  • Mar 6, 2014:
    • Future Army 2020 | Commons debates

      I would like to place on record my appreciation of the right hon. Gentleman, who steps down as Chairman of the Defence Committee shortly. Does he agree that as the final five or six years of this decade unfold, if circumstances require it-notwithstanding the fact that civil servants determined the size of the Army-the Government should step in and increase recruitment so that the country gets the Army it should have?

    • Business of the House | Commons debates

      May we have a debate on credit rating companies, which can have a negative impact on some businesses because of false commentary? For example, a company called Experian

      claims that a company in my constituency, Fast Food Supplies (Anglia), is high risk and has a bad credit record. That is not true: the business has been operating successfully for 26 years and is expanding, moving into bigger premises and taking on more employees.

  • Mar 5, 2014:
    • Vocational Qualifications | Oral Answers to Questions - Prime Minister | Commons debates

      This morning in Colchester, I launched a campaign for local businesses to recruit 100 apprentices in 100 days. The campaign is supported by the Colchester Institute, the Colchester Daily Gazette and the National Apprenticeship Service in the part of the country that the Minister and I represent. Will he welcome this Colchester success story, which follows a fall of more than 600 in the town's unemployment figures from January 2013 to January 2014?

  • Mar 4, 2014:
  • Mar 3, 2014:

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