Pretty well any opinion poll which asks the public to list the political issues which they believe are the most important throws up the same responses: the economy, health, education and crime. The ranking of those topics varies a bit depending on what is in the news at any one time and on people’s own experience. The environment usually comes rather further down the list of public priorities. Yet this is undoubtedly the subject on which I receive the greatest volume of constituency correspondence. In fact the single issue on which I have had most correspondence in the last couple of months has been the Marine Conservation Bill which has been wending its way (for the most part uncontroversially) through both Houses of Parliament. In part, the prominence of environmental issues in my correspondence reflects the organisation and activity of the various environmental pressure groups. I can usually tell when Friends of the Earth or the RSPB or the World Wide Fund for Nature are running a new campaign a new campaign and it is noticeable that the bulk of communications to be about the environment come by email rather than in hard copy. But I think there is something deeper at work too. Whenever I visit a school, I find that concern about environmental and conservation issues is widely expressed.
This is also a subject that is coming up more and more in the context of my Foreign Affairs brief for the Opposition. When I was in South Korea in June, political leaders there from the Prime Minister down wanted to talk about the efforts that they are making to encourage and develop the use of green technology. Representatives of the Maldives, over in London for a conference here, told me that their islands may vanish completely beneath the ocean if climate change continues unchecked. An enormous challenge for the global community is going to be how to bring China, India, Brazil and the other emerging economic giants into treaties to limit the impact of global warming. Those countries will almost certainly say to us and the rest of the developed world that they are very willing to use green technology but that they cannot afford to buy it at market rates and therefore expect us to transfer the technology free or almost free of charge to them. Developed countries will have to work out how to secure technology transfer without removing any incentive for companies to develop new technologies and bring them to market in the first place.
The recession is affecting Aylesbury along with the rest of the country. I have had a number of meetings with local businesses to discuss the problems that they have had over getting credit and over the cost of government regulation and I have taken these concerns up with the relevant ministers. Schools, colleges and other training providers have warned me that young people in particular face a very tough time with fewer job vacancies available for school leavers and for new graduates. Although Aylesbury College managed to gets its new buildings approved and constructed before the cuts in FE College capital expenditure, our local training providers do face a big problem over funding students for the 2009/10 academic year. I was lucky enough to be called at Prime Minister’s Questions on 20 May and was able to ask the Prime Minister about the proposals from the Learning & Skills Council (the Government’s funding agency for Sixth Forms, FE Colleges and training providers) to reduce funding for training in Aylesbury from September 2009. While Mr Brown’s reply in the Chamber was non committal, something seems to have happened behind the scenes because our local training budgets were subsequently revised upwards, even if there is still going to be a shortfall between student demand and the funding available for apprenticeships and other training course. If you want to find out more about this issue please click the link to read the Hansard from a Westminster Hall debate on 6 May about the Learning & Skills Council and funding for FE Colleges.
Another consequence of the recession has been the near collapse of the local housing market. For residents at the Grand Central development in Aylesbury, this has meant unadopted roads and car parking areas left unsurfaced and prone to flooding. I have been taking up these problems with the developer and will keep pressing until this much needed work is completed.
Over the Easter weekend, a group of travellers moved on to green belt land on the edge of Princes Risborough and began to develop it as a caravan site. This has rapidly developed into a very controversial local issue with 200 people attending a public meeting in Risborough and another 150 outside the hall. Wycombe Council has now refused a planning application from the travellers while established residents are angry that the travellers and we wait to see whether they will go to appeal. The Government has now published plans to require all the Buckinghamshire District Councils to provide extra sites for travellers and gypsies. It is very important that local people who care about this issue respond during the consultation process and constituents who wish to learn more about these plans can visit the relevant page of the Government Office for the South East website here.
It is the variety of parliamentary life that makes it so interesting. At Westminster, I have spent a lot of time on the politics of the Middle East and on the issue of nuclear proliferation, two topics which came together in the recent crisis in Iran. Locally, my constituency visits have included events as diverse as the Stokenchurch Fete, the 25th Anniversary Service for the Chilterns Christian Fellowship, ceremonies to mark Armed Forces Day and the opening of the Aylesbury Methodist Church Community Centre.
I hope that this gives you a flavour of what I have been doing over the past few months. Unless you are already reading my online blog I would encourage you to take a look at www.davidlidington.wordpress.com as I post updates on my activities there.