What does an MP do during recess?

Back from the States I decided to keep the diary going for another two weeks in order to provide a response to the question – why do Members of Parliament have such long holidays.  Well I do hope that offering a flavour of two weeks in the recess will offer some proof that for many of us the recess period is a crucial opportunity to engage fully with issues in the constituency.

1st August

Despite keeping up to speed with my e-mails whilst away (thank you new technology) the train journey from London was a good opportunity to get on top of everything before getting back into the office tomorrow.  I knew I was back in Wales when the signs on the A55 mentioned significant traffic jams both west and east of Abergwyngregyn due to an overturned lorry.  Thanks to Radio Cymru I was informed that the road was clear and despite all the warnings from my office I managed to get through and home with no problems.  However, I now know what will be on my agenda first thing tomorrow.

2nd August

My first engagement this morning was to name a bus!  Yes, you read correctly, I was naming a bus in memory of my uncle, Dewi Bebb, the first North Walian to have played international rugby for Wales.  A Bangor boy, Dewi was fortunate to do his National Service with the Royal Marines (chosen as a result of seeing the film Cockershell Heroes at the Plaza in the mid 1950′s).  Two years in the Marines turned the promising athlete of Friars School into a winger who was selected for Wales on the wing as a student at Trinity College, Carmarthen.  A Swansea and Wales stalwart for a decade he won 34 caps, scored eleven tries and was twice selected for the British Lions being top scorer on his tour of South Africa in 1966.

It was an honour to name the bus in his memory and the next time you catch the X5 which travells between Bangor and Llandudno do check to see whether you are on the Bebb bus!

From the launch I headed to the office.  In view of the problems with the A55 yesterday I agreed to do a phone-in on Radio Wales and was delighted to be joined by my good friend David Williams, Chair of the North Wales Business Club, who spoke a lot of sense about the need for long term planning for our transport links here in North Wales.

Having caught-up with a significant amount of traditional letters rather than e-mails I finished the day visiting a Llandudno business that has been having problems with one of the nationalised banks.  It is often difficult for an MP to argue with a high street bank on behalf of a constituent but when the taxpayer owns some 94% of the bank in question I feel that I have every right to get involved.  I do hope that the meeting results in a rather more sensible approach from the bank over the next few months.

3rd August

Two surgery appointments in the office in Conwy this morning before dashing to Bangor to do an interview for Wales Today.  Back to the office to sign some letters and then up the valley to Betws y Coed to do a surgery in the Memorial Hall.  I was delighted to have a few takers and justified the cost of parking as a result!  I then headed further into the mountains to undertake a surgery at Dolwyddelan.  Whilst there was only one constituent waiting for a discussion I still find undertaking surgeries in every part of the constituency to be very rewarding.

Heading home from Dolwyddelan I stopped at a number of businesses in Betws in order to ascertain how the summer season was progressing.  Despite the odd success story it would be fair to say that the season as yet has not been as good as hoped for – we can only hope for a better end to the season if the weather holds for September and early October.

4th and 5th August

I took the weekend off to be with the family!

6th August

I had arranged to have Monday in the office in order to keep my paperwork in order and to a large extent that is what I did.  However, I do keep an open surgery at any time when I am in the office and Monday was no exception with two constituents from the Llandudno area coming into the office with issues that I might be able to help them with.  In view of the way in which the rest of the week appears to be planned it was a good thing that I was able to deal with most of the outstanding correspondence today.

7th August

This morning I had the pleasure to visit the Gorse Hill Caravan Park above Conwy.  I had met one of the directors, Rob Thomas Evelyn during the period after the budget announcement on VAT at 20% on static caravans.  I argued against this proposal meeting ministers and the Chancellor to explain why such a significant change would be damaging to hundreds of businesses across Wales and dozens in Aberconwy.  The pressure worked and the compromise of VAT at 5% seems to be acceptable to all. 

Gorse Hill is a fine example of why we were right to argue against the initial proposal.  A superb site in a stunning location it is a prime example of a long term self financing business based on serving customers well and constantly investing in the site to maintain a competitive advantage.  It is a park that cares for the locality, customers and staff and I am delighted that they have not seen their business plan trashed by an ill considered tax increase.

Back in the office I dealt with some correspondence before meeting Richard Foxall from Horizon, the joint venture company tasked with developing a second nuclear power station at the Wylfa site in Anglesey.  I am convinced that a new facility will benefit not just the economy of Anglesey but the whole of North West Wales and the work that has been done identifying the skills that will be needed is impressive.

The update was useful and without breaking confidences it can be said that there is a decent chance that Horizon will be taking over sooner rather than later.  Such a development would see Wylfa become the first option for a nuclear new build in the UK.  With the energy bill expected to be part of the legislative programme this autumn I hope to be able to contribute to ensuring that we finally start to encourage serious energy generation in this country.

8th August

Some months ago I agreed to participate in an Industry-Parliamentary exchange which aims to encourage MPs to try and gain a further understanding of industry and commerce.  I opted to use my time to understand the way supermarkets interact with local food producers and the farming community.  The first part of my programme was with Waitrose when I visited their Menai Bridge store and a farm which was in their supplier group for Welsh Lamb.  This visit took place during the Easter recess.

Today I am using one day of recess to visit the Tesco Dairy Centre of Excellence which is a partnership with Liverpool University.  Located on the Wirral the centre is a working dairy farm of some 250 acres with 200 milking cows.  To say I was impressed is an understatement.  The first fact, confirmed by the NFU, is that Tesco pays well above the market rate for their milk.  Their current price for all their liquid milk (some 1 billion litres) is over 29.5p which is some 5p per litre above the market rate which has created such headlines during the past few weeks.  To put this figure in context it means that Tesco are currently paying some £50m more for their milk than the market demands.  Not bad for a big bad supermarket!

In addition the centre of excellence undertakes research with Tesco funding in order to ascertain best practice models for a variety of farming methods whilst also underaking research into common ailments which often impact upon dairy herds.  A particularly interesting piece of work surrounded the issue of animal lamelessness which has an impact on fertility and thus reduces milk yeild.  All this research is fed back to the Tesco dairy group through a combination of supplier workshops and farm visits.  It was all, I have to admit, a far cry from the view that everything Tesco does is bad.

From this superb session I headed into Liverpool in order to visit a Tesco Partnership Regeneration store in Toxteth.  In simple terms a regeneration store is when Tesco commit to employ staff from a designated postcode area and to also recruit a certain percentage of staff who have been unemployed for twelve months or longer.  Meeting the store manager I was simply amazed at his committment and enthusiasm and when he started giving me some of the figures I started to share his pride at what Tesco have achieved in Toxteth. 

At the store in question 50% of man hours had to be offered to the long term unemployed.  Working with Job Centre Plus and a teaining company 98 members of staff were recruited from this pool and today, sixteen months later over 92% are still in work.  To put this in context that is a higher percentage than Tesco achieves through their normal recruitment process.  However, these facts did not even come close to comparing with the reality of meeting the staff.  From redundant bank workers told that they had no future at 50 but employed by Tesco four years later, to a mother of seven working for the first time in twenty years, the stories were of an opportunity grasped, a chance given to prove their worth and an opportunity to gain some self esteem.  I can tell you, it was moving stuff.  I met a shelf stacker given his first job at 24 (and since promoted) and a bakery worker who had bee “on the sick” for ten years.  She now states that she will need to be carried out ot Tesco when she hits the retirement age.

What this store proved to me was that people want to work, they want the opportunity to be part of a team, the satisfaction of proving that they have a contribution to make and the chance to show freinds, family and crucially themselves that they are productive members of society.  If this kind of success can be achieved under a system that continues to penalise work I can only feel confident that much more can be achieved once we have the Universal Credit in place which will ensure that work always pays.  As one staff member told me “I really want to work more than sixteen hours but as things stand it does not pay to do so”.  Come April it will.

This was a great day and a superb experience.  Tesco might never be flavour of the month with some people but they deserve huge recognition for these two initiatives.

9th August

I did a quick pre-recorded interview with Chris from Radio Wales this morning.  I do hope he gets to run the story but to be fair to him and his exclusive I will refrain from saying any more.

On a bright sunny day I then had a surgery at the Llandudno Junction Memorial Hall where I noticed that the Junction must be one of very few towns where the number of those lost in the Second World War is higher than in the First World War.  According to Jean, who looks after the Hall amongst a host of other community work in the area, it reflects the significant population growth that was witnessed in the Town between the wars.

From the surgery I headed to Ysbyty Gwynedd for one of my reguar sessions with Mary Burrows, the Chief Executive of the Betsi Cadwalader Health Trust.  As always it was a very good session and the proposals for the future of Llandudno are positive despite the real budget challenges faced by the Trust in the context of Assembly Government cuts.

10th August

Paperwork all morning before heading to the recently opened Welsh Food Centre in the old Home Farm buildings of the Bodnant Estate.  I met Michael McLaren and his team and it was a joy to see a £7m investment six years in the planning coming together in such a manner.  I do believe that we will see the centre grow from strength to strength. 

I was disappointed to have missed the official opening due to the Lords Reform debate commencing on the same day.  However, I am certain that I saw more on this visit not least the now completed ‘teaching kitchen’ which is a marvel!  This project received one of the very few european grants awarded to a private sector led project.  I am quite certain that Michael and his team have made more of their grant than many a public sector organisation have managed with grants of ten times greater. 

I was pleased also to meet John Walter Jones, the former Chief Executive of the Welsh Language Board, in the farm shop.  Michael immediatley asked whether John was there to check on their use of the Welsh language to which John stated (quite correctly) that if only 5% of businesses made a committment similar to that which is seen at this development then he would be a very happy man.  It is truly impressive to see the way in which both languages take their place naturally and confidently throughout the complex.  It is a real example of best practice.

Returning to the office I made a few follow-up calls and signed some letters before heading home.

11th August

Saturday but no rest for the wicked!  The Eglwysbach Show is a great event and with the sun out the Aberconwy Conservative Association stand was busy all day.  I honestly do not believe that I stopped talking between ten in the morning and five in the evening but it was great.  It was good to meet constituents from all parts of Aberconwy and I hope that the opportunity to give the local MP a good talking to was appreciated by some more vocal visitors to the stand.

I must admit that I never cease to be impressed by the way in which such a show can be put together by what remains a small rural village.  Carry on the good work.

13th August

I had a site meeting this morning at the Pen y Garnedd Forest above Dolwyddelan.  Despite forestry being a rather obvious part of the rural economy Conwy Council have been almost obstructive in their dealings with the owners and their management team in relation to the harvesting of a part of the forest.

On site I saw local plant hire and haulage contractors and the workers were all local.  Why therefore did the Council make life difficult for the venture?  Is it acceptable to hear that  Councils such as Denbigh, Gwynedd and Flintshire are much more aware of the economic impact of forestry?  It is a sorry sate of affairs.

I was back in the office just before lunch and read some paperwork in relation to my on-going work on the interest rate swap issue.

At two thirty I was in Llandudno to meet the Hoteliers who met the Council to discuss double glazing in the Conservation Area following my success in persuading the Council of the merits of such an approach.  However, the initial meeting had not gone as well as I would have hoped; I think we have a lot of work to do if we are to have a policy that protects the heritage of the town but acknowledges that the properties are, in most cases, actively trading small businesses. 

The frustration of the hoteliers is that the officers at Conwy seem reluctant to work with them and the initial meeting has not resolved this issue yet.  If we are not careful the Council will end-up with more boarded-up windows as we see at the Clarence or the St. Tudno rather than the improvements that they wish to see.  Ultimatley a town such as Llandudno will only suceed as a partnership between the private sector business community and the local authority.  The Council need to re-think their approach and to do it soon.

Back in the office I had an hour long conference call with Bully Banks, the membership organisation working with me on the interest rate swap scandal.  In view of the partial redress offeredvby the FSA we need to redouble the parliamentary efforts from September onwards in order to keep the pressure on the Banks and the FSA.

14th August

Following an hour in the office I attended a coffee morning at Cwrt St. Tudno with Anne Roberts, former Mayor of Conwy who has recently moved into the complex.  I had a warm welcome and it was good to hear some of the concerns that residents have at both a local and national level.

From Llandudno I wentvto Trefriw, Ysbyty Ifan and Penmachno for hour long surgeries which are always a good way of finding grass root issues in all parts of the constituency.  Following the Penmachno surgery I attended a Cartrefi Conwy consultation event relating to proposed new houses to meet local needs within the village.  The designs looked good and if the local demand can be proved then this could be a good development for the village.

So there you have it, two weeks of recess.  Enjoyable it has been and extremly worthwhile but I do hope that you agree that it is not a holiday!  As for a holiday, I’m glad to say that I will have twelve days with the family from tomorrow.  I am up to date with my post and e-mails and the surgeries of the past fourteen days has identified plenty of issues to keep the office busy for the next couple of weeks.

Please feel free, as always, to contact my office is there is anything, I or my staff can do to assist you.  I shall be back in the Constituency office after the Bank Holiday before the return to Parliament on 3rd September.