Thanks to everyone who voted in the Police and Crime Commissioner election last week. I’m disappointed for Mark Weston who is a good man and hardworking councillor but was very encouraged by his vote in South Somerset where he topped the poll, getting more than double the votes of the Lib Dem candidate. The turnout in Bristol, where Labour did well, was boosted by council elections on the same day which was unlucky for Mark. Congratulations to Sue Mountstevens on her re-election though and I shall look forward to continuing to work with her. The result in South Somerset shows how important the issue of a full-service Police Station is in Yeovil and I hope that message is received loud and clear.
Recent days have seen two changes to Government policy which I think are right and which I hope demonstrate that backbenchers like me are not just making up the numbers here in Westminster. Firstly the Department of Education has softened its position on schools becoming academies. I was among a number of MPs who voiced concerns about the forced academisation suggested in the Government White Paper, particularly regarding small rural schools of which we have many excellent examples in Somerset. Becoming an academy, sharing skills and gaining autonomy, can be a really positive step for struggling schools but there should not be a one-size-fits-all approach to education.
The other change is to the policy on Syrian child refugees in Europe following the vote on the ‘Dubs’ amendment. Again there were enough of us questioning the Government line to cause a rethink including by abstaining from the vote, as I did, to help secure that. I certainly received a lot of correspondence on the issue and I was pleased to reflect the feeling in that.
This week a lot of the business in Westminster has been dealing with amendments to Government Bills and it’s a sign of strength that the Government is in listening mode; confident to proposing reform but also sensible enough to listen to professionals, to public opinion and MPs from all parties and admit where a suggestion isn’t quite right. Despite changes to some proposals this is still a Government that is getting things done, creating jobs and raising the minimum wage whilst putting public finances in order.
Finally, as we’ve at last enjoyed some good weather I’d like to reflect on how important sporting facilities are to our sense of wellbeing. Whether it’s getting along to support Yeovil Town, playing some cricket or just taking a jog or a walk, everyone feels better for being outside and taking part. The Sugar Tax on fizzy drinks has proved quite controversial and it’s very rare for me to support a tax, but if the funds go towards children getting fit and having fun outside it can’t be a bad thing. With the Olympics coming up it’s a great time to try a new sport and get behind the GB team in Rio.