In what has been a year of political surprises, perhaps the biggest surprise of all was sprung by the Prime Minister, Theresa May last Tuesday morning when she announced she was going to seek the will of Parliament for a General Election on June 8th.

In previous years this would have been the Prime Minister’s choice and decision, however the Fixed Term Parliament Act now decrees that it has to be carried by at least two thirds of MPs. This was duly carried out the following day - last Wednesday - meaning that the Country will go to the polls in a few weeks time. There are question over why the Prime Minister has taken this course, indeed I myself was surprised, however it was becoming clear following statements made by Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs that they were preparing to frustrate the process of Brexit both in the Commons and the Lords. This would significantly weaken the negotiating ability of the Prime Minister, something that would harm the British interest. Faced with this scenario the Prime Minister has, reluctantly, decided that a General Election is needed.

Parliament will now dissolve on May 3rd, when the General Election campaign will begin in earnest in the run-up to June 8th when I will once again be asking for your support at the ballot box. Before then I will be carrying both my own message to continue to work hard for the whole of the High Peak, and also the Conservative message of strong stable leadership and Government against an apparently disorganised opposition, where opposing messages continue to emanate from members of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party - often in direct contradiction of their own leader.

I intend to spend the vast majority of my campaigning time knocking on as many doors as possible as, despite the opportunities afforded by social media, I firmly believe that there is no substitute for being on the doorstep speaking to people one to one. With almost 40,000 homes in the High Peak it is impossible to get to every door, but it is my aim to get to as many as humanly possible in the time available. If you would like to help my campaign, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

As ever, I view being Member of Parliament for the High Peak as a tremendous honour and a privilege, and one that I hope to be able to continue doing after June 8th.

I think it was Harold Wilson who once said, “A week is a long time in politics” and never more was this shown than last week. I usually write this column either on a Sunday or Monday morning, to ensure it is with the paper in good time for print deadlines. Last week I talked about the Budget delivered the previous Wednesday (March 8th). I said at the time that, whilst there were good things in it, I and some other colleagues were concerned about the proposed rises to National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed. I felt that, given the disquiet expressed by many of us, the issue would be re-visited before any legislation was brought forward, anticipated at the time to be in the autumn. However, in between the writing of the column and the publication of the paper, the Chancellor has responded to those concerns by cancelling the proposals.

My concerns were two fold. Whilst I understood his point of view, I thought it was a measure that hit people who by nature are entrepreneurial, ambitious and aspirational. Becoming self-employed carries huge risks, you forsake many of the securities that employment brings, as someone once said to me who was self-employed, ‘if I don’t work I don’t earn’ - things like sickness benefits are not available for the self-employed and whilst some of the disparities have been addressed through changes to the pension system, being self-employed still carries risks and challenges.

The second concern over these proposals was the apparent contradiction of the 2015 General Election manifesto promising no rises in Income Tax or National Insurance. Whilst the National Insurance Act 2015 clarified that this lock would apply only to Class 1 contributions, and therefore it could be argued that the proposals technically did not break the manifesto pledge, this seemed disingenuous. As has been said, the rise was not in the spirit of the promise and at a time when the reputation of politics needs some attention, this did nothing to enhance it.

When the Chancellor made his statement to the House, he said that he would look over the summer at ways to replace the money that the changes would have delivered, and I asked him to ensure that, whatever he decided, he would not lose sight of the fact that, as I have already said, the self-employed are the risk takers, the wealth creators and the entrepreneurs that drive our economy.

Philip Hammond delivered his first Budget as Chancellor last week and it’s fair to say that, whilst there were some good things included in it, it has also created some controversy. The previous week I had asked the Prime Minister at Prime Ministers Questions about business rates and would the Government look carefully at the impact on small firms, as I knew from discussions I'd had in the constituency that some were being hit by the new rate. Particularly hit were pubs, so I was pleased to see measures taken to mitigate the impact on companies who were being lifted out of the Small Business Rate Relief scheme. In addition the Chancellor also gave a discount to pubs also badly hit. Some may feel that pubs should not be given special treatment, but in rural areas like the High Peak the local pub is much more than just somewhere to go for a drink, they can be the centre and heart of the village in many ways.

Importantly there was more money announced for social care; £2 billion over the next three years with the first billion being made available in 2017/18. This is a significant amount of money especially when added to the precept being granted to Councils to add to their Council Tax for social care.

These were just two of the positives, however he also raised National Insurance Contributions for the self-employed. There are different classes of National Insurance Contributions (NIC's) and most people who are employed pay what's known as Class 1 contributions. However self-employed people pay what is known as a Class 4, which is a smaller amount, as self-employed people do not enjoy the same benefits as those who are employed.

The Chancellor announced that Class 4 contributions would rise by 1% from next April, then again by another 1% in April 2019 the following year. This change would benefit self-employed people earning less than £16,250 a year but cost those earning more than this amount.  His rational was with the introduction of the new state pension, since 2016 self-employed people now build up the same pension entitlement as employed people.  Whilst I can see his point of view, I am very concerned that this punishes those people who, as self-employed, forsake many of the advantages and security of employment, and very often are those with the entrepreneurial spirit to strike out in business on their own. I and other colleagues have made our concerns known, and I think it is possible that this may be re-visited before any legislation comes before the House in the autumn.

People very often ask me how Prime Minister's Questions works, who gets to ask questions and how they are chosen. It is a random selection, MPs submit an application before a deadline and then names are drawn at random in what is called the shuffle.  The first 15 MPs out of the draw then appear on the Order Paper.

In previous years this alone was not a guarantee that you would get the chance to ask your question, as the session might have run out of time, however John Bercow in his role as Speaker always ensures that all 15 get called to ask their question. This has meant that PMQs now tend to over-run its allotted half an hour - very often running for as long as 45 minutes. As well as the 15 named questions on the Order paper, the Leader of the Opposition also gets 6 questions which usually come fairly early in the session.

I am also asked why MPs are seen jumping up and down, and the reason is to try and catch the Speaker’s eye for what is known as a ‘free hit’. These opportunities arise if there is a bias in the results of the shuffle. If all the 15 names on the Order Paper were from one party then the Speaker would randomly select Members from the other Party who indicate their desire to ask a question by standing up to catch his eye.

I submit my name into the draw every week but until recently I had only once been drawn out in this parliament, in September 2015. To illustrate the true random nature of the draw I have been drawn out for the last two weeks and as readers will know my previous question to the Prime Minister was on school funding.

Last week I raised the matter of business rates with her, as I have spoken to several businesses locally who are concerned about the impact of the revaluation on their business rates. Some local businesses have been lifted out of paying business rates altogether, however there are those who are facing hefty increases. I am conscious that I am writing this column prior to the budget, but the Prime Minister responded to my question about these increases saying that the Chancellor would be looking at this as part of his 2017 budget.

Any actions taken will be apparent by the time you read this, however I will listen closely to what those actions are and whether they help address the issues that have been brought to my attention by local companies.

The issue of school funding has been the subject of much discussion for many years. I am a Member of a Group called F40 that works to lobby Government on behalf of areas where the funding for schools has been below what they feel it should be. This group has operated for many years, lobbying Governments of all persuasions for over two decades for a fairer way of allocating school funding.

Together with other MPs we have continually pressed this Government and the previous one over this issue. Whilst some progress was made a few years ago with the Coalition Government allocating some extra money, the underlying problem remained – i.e. the existing funding model was outdated and unfair and we in Derbyshire were amongst those disadvantaged.

Consequently, both I and the rest of the F40 members were pleased when the Government decided they would look to introduce a fairer funding formula for our schools and furthermore there will be extra money available for schools, and early indications are that for the F40 members that could amount to £183 million, however there are still some concerns over how this is going to work.

I have recently met with a range of head teachers from across the constituency to listen to their concerns on potential implications of the new formula. It is very important to know that at the moment no decisions have been made, as there is a Government consultation which is open until March 22nd.

There are some figures available for High Peak schools in which it shows a funding increase for 32 of our 50 schools, 2 remain the same and 16 see a fall, but I must stress that these figures are only illustrative.  I know that the schools are keen to engage with parents on this matter but I can assure everyone concerned that I am looking carefully at this issue and, in answer to some of peoples’ concerns, I took the opportunity to raise the matter with the Prime Minister in Prime Ministers Question Time last Wednesday. I will also be meeting with the Secretary of State for Education later this month (March) to have further discussions with her.

Whilst I am pleased that the old and unfair formula is being replaced at long last, I want to make sure that under any new formula our schools in the High Peak receive their fair share of funding.

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