John Howell MP Writes - November 2016


A look back at recent key issues in Westminster and the Constituency 

During the September Parliamentary recess I took the opportunity to meet up with residents in many parishes across the constituency. It is the only recess that does not coincide with school holidays and so it is easier to arrange meetings as more people tend to be around. This annual opportunity for an intensive series of meetings is one that I enjoy and find particularly helpful. Some communities have local issues that they wish to discuss but it is also interesting to see the sorts of issues that are coming up in different communities across the whole area. This year I was particularly struck that many of the issues that were raised were issues that related to local councils rather than directly to Parliament, issues such as bus services and traffic calming. Whilst I am always interested to know the issues that concern people I am limited in what I can do on these issues. I know that many people find it frustrating when it seems that national government and different councils seem to bounce things between then.

As an MP, I deal with issues such as foreign affairs, our defence policy and armed forces, the future of the NHS, changes to the planning system (not individual applications), the Budget and our public finances, the operation of the judicial system, immigration, policing, energy and the environment, prisons policy, and education. The list is not exhaustive. The things that I can best try to help with are, therefore, matters for which Parliament or central Government is responsible. Local councils, in our case County, District and Parish, have devolved responsibility for specific local issues relating to the area they cover. Most often the quickest way to resolve issues is to go to the body that has responsibility for the particular issue. However at times I know that individuals and communities feel that they are getting nowhere and it is then that I can sometimes intervene in some way but this can only be in seeking constructive discussion or creative solutions or help break through a deadlock. In the end though I do not have any power over local councils to dictate what they must do, nor was it ever thus. 

With the Localism agenda there have been significant changes in the relationship between central and local government. In order to allow local councils to run the services that their residents need more and more powers are being devolved and with it the ability to deliver more efficient service and better value for money and to raise finance. Local government spending accounts for about 40% of our national spend so it is only right that it plays its part in economic reform. The government has been asking councils to look creatively at how they can do things differently and show real innovation. In some areas this has been done by consolidating activities and joint working. In other areas sadly things have simply been cut. It is good to see that new ways of working are coming forward in some areas. I was delighted to learn that just as the Government is reviewing its capital assets and divesting of surpluses so too the County Council is now looking at its property portfolio to see what it can sell and trying to use its estate in a different way. Similarly the District Council has entered into an innovative joint contract with other District Councils for some of its key services. On the front line the difference is minimal but the cost to the tax payer greatly reduced.

The needs of our population are changing. For example our overall longevity is to be welcomed but it does mean that the cost of care and of medical services are rising hugely and the demand on a variety of other services increases. We are in a time of change and sometimes change can at first seem like something less good. A period of change turbulence can be inevitable. However if we bear with it and embrace change there are huge opportunities for growth and improvement. I am always happy to discuss issues, to explore different ways of doing things and to help access alternative funding where appropriate.

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