The long awaited announcement over the rail franchises was made last week. This decided on who will provide the rail services on the lines servicing the High Peak. The Northern franchise covers the service into both Buxton and Glossop from Manchester and the Trans-Pennine Franchise includes the line between Manchester and Sheffield that takes in the Hope Valley and also Chinley. These franchises will start in April 2016. The Northern franchise will run for nine years until 2025 and the Trans-Pennine for 7 years until 2023. Both of them have an optional extension at the discretion of the Secretary of State at the time. The Northern franchise was awarded to Arriva Rail North Ltd. and the Trans-Pennine to First TransPennine Express Ltd.

Both these awards are hugely significant for the High Peak as there have been serious concerns over the rail services we receive in the High Peak and, like many, I have been awaiting this announcement with keen anticipation. I am pleased to see improvements included in the new franchises; journey times between Buxton and Manchester will reduce, there will be longer trains on the Glossop line by 2017, which in turn will be replaced with new trains by 2020. There will be over £1 billion worth of investment into the Northern franchise, and there will be more capacity introduced on the Manchester – Sheffield line as part of the Trans-Pennine arrangements.

I am encouraged by the new franchises and there is much to be welcomed in them; greater capacity, more trains, significant investment across both franchises, new trains, introduction of free Wifi and the removal of the Pacer trains. There are also challenging targets on cancellations which the operators will have to meet.

It is early days and I, like others, am studying all the proposals closely and will be meeting with both the successful bidding companies early in the new year to go through all their plans in more detail, to ensure that we can look forward to a service that is fit for purpose and delivers what we need across the High Peak. There are questions that I have and also some initial concerns over the plans, but with the new franchises being more rigorous than the previous ones and with the companies holding them for at least 7 years they have the time to ensure that the investment can go into the rail services, and I want to be certain that investment benefits the rail users of the High Peak.

The vote last week on military action on Syria has caused a huge amount of discussion and naturally I received a large amount of emails and letters on the subject - making arguments both for and against.

My opposition two years ago is well documented, but last week we were being asked to vote on something very different. This wasn’t military action to effect regime change in a foreign country, it was to extend existing action across an international border not recognised by those we are seeking to confront. The words of the Motion put before the House were very specific; it referred to the UN Security Resolution that stated ISIL constituted an ‘unprecedented threat to international peace and security’, it also highlighted the humanitarian support, post conflict stabilisation and reconstruction, the request for support from allies such as France and the United States and importantly clearly said that any strikes would be exclusively against ISIL.

I thought long and hard before voting on this matter. I supported the Motion, not out of any Party loyalty, but because I felt that it was the right thing to do. As we see ISIL carrying out their atrocities across Europe, we know that they are already targeting the UK, and from the barbaric way they treat people in their own strongholds – the beheadings, the murder and acts such as throwing people of buildings – it is clear that they are completely fanatical and will stop at nothing.

I have read every email that has been sent to me, whether they be a template email or individually written, because I know it is an incredibly serious matter. I understand people’s concerns, and previous experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan have made us all sceptical of the use of military force in any situation like this, but I felt that we had to act. We have to confront the evil that is ISIL otherwise they will grow and gain strength, continuing their barbaric actions and bringing that to our own shores. As the Motion said, military action ‘is only one component of a broader strategy’ and that is as it has to be. Action is already being taken against ISIL in Iraq, and what was approved last week means that when ISIL move across the border they can no longer find sanctuary in Syria.

We live in very difficult times, the whole situation in the Middle East is complex and uncertain but there is a very clear and present danger facing us in our own country, so I felt that we had to act and the Motion as it was worded was worthy of my support - but out of necessity and pragmatism, not out of thirst for conflict or at the behest of any of my political colleagues.

Whilst the debate around military action against ISIS continues to go on and concerns are expressed by many people on both sides of the argument, at the time of writing there is no confirmed date for the vote in Parliament. Indeed by the time this column is published it may even have taken place. The debate has in many ways overshadowed the Autumn Statement delivered by The Chancellor last Wednesday.

The main talking point was the Chancellor’s cancelling of the proposed changes to Tax Credits. Following a defeat in the Lords, the Chancellor did say he would look again at the proposals. I received a good number of emails on the subject and I undertook to convey people’s concerns in the High Peak to Ministers while considerations were being given to possible changes to tax credits.

Like everyone else, I did not know what those changes were prior to the Chancellor’s speech, as is the case with the whole of the Autumn Statement, and indeed the Budget. I was expecting changes, because the Chancellor said that he would listen and take people’s views into account and respond accordingly. However I was, as were many others, surprised when he cancelled the changes completely. I was expecting that he may reduce the top level up to which tax credits are receivable. (For a couple/lone parent with two children, one full time earner and no childcare costs, that stands at £32,960 gross earnings). Due to better than expected economic figures it gave him some leeway and he took the decision to cancel the changes completely which I know has pleased many. He also decided against any reductions in Police funding. The Opposition urged that any cuts be limited to 10% but the Chancellor has found the funds to rule out any cuts to the Police budget.

There were cuts to other Government departments which are necessary to bring the budget back into balance, but I do want assure constituents - particularly in the Glossop area - that the cuts to the Dept. of Transport budget do not jeopardise the committed scheme for the road solution or the ongoing consultation to extend the agreed scheme to take in Tintwistle. I am in regular contact with Transport Ministers to urge this project forward with the greatest possible speed, as the need is great and, in my view, ever-increasing.

Prior to the General Election, I was asked by a constituent what the two most immediate local issues were that would face whoever won in the High Peak. Whilst there are always ongoing issues across the High Peak, at the time we were awaiting a decision on the Healthier Together consultation that had been carried out last year. I felt that this would be one of the first things to face the winner in May.

The consultation was about re-organising the hospitals in Greater Manchester and concentrating emergency and high risk surgery within four or five specialist hospitals. There was much debate at the time and many of us locally contributed to the debate, because one of the candidates was Stepping Hill which serves much of the High Peak. Initially I was very critical of the consultation as, in my opinion, it wasn’t taking sufficient notice of our views in the High Peak, seemingly because they felt we weren’t in Greater Manchester so we weren’t concerned. Consequently there were events then held in the High Peak to give us all a voice and from that point on I felt that the process was well run.

Having been re-elected in May, I was then delighted when the decision was made and it designated Stepping Hill as one of the specialist hospitals. I felt, and still do, very strongly that Stepping Hill was the right choice because the alternative, Wythenshawe, would be impractical for many of our residents here in the High Peak. 

With the decision made, I was very disappointed to hear that a judicial review has been granted for supporters of Wythenshawe who are claiming that the decision was wrong. I have spoken to the key organisations affected by this and I am pleased to see that everyone is determined to defend the decision. I know High Peak Borough Council are looking to play their part to stand up for the residents of the High Peak. The review will be done in early December and I hope that the judge will see that the process was properly conducted and the correct decision was made.

By the time this column is published the Chancellor will have made his Autumn Statement. In next week’s column I will concentrate on the contents of that statement and the measures that are outlined.

The events in Paris last week have overshadowed all other news. Westminster only sat for Monday and Tuesday but the events of Friday evening have shaken not just France but the whole of Europe. The sheer indiscriminatory nature of the attacks launched against people going about their everyday lives, enjoying theatre, football or just out socialising on a Friday night, has added to the shock and horror felt by many over the attacks. I know many people will be concerned and indeed frightened by the attacks, fearing that the UK could be the next target for ISIL, and spending time in London as the job of Member of Parliament necessitates, it really brings home the clear and immediate danger of such a possibility. The Government is clear though, that the protection of the British people is its number one priority. In response to this increasing threat of terrorism, new funding will be invested in the intelligence agencies to help provide an additional 1,900 officers at MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. There will also be an increase in funding for airport security seeing the amount spent double over the course of this Parliament.

As I said in last week’s column, I know that people are concerned about powers given to the security services but the events of last week show, that we need to give them all the powers available to ensure that the chance of any similar attacks in our country are minimal. We are facing a kind of terrorism not seen before and also in a world of instant communication. We have to use all the tools at our disposal to deal with these threats. When technology is being used against us then we have to use the same technology to respond.

In Westminster I secured a debate focusing on the recent consultation looking at potential closures of courts, including the Court that serves the High Peak. I reiterated many of the points I’d made in previous debates about the errors in the consultation, but also stressed the flaws in the suggestion to relocate the High Peak court work to Chesterfield. I particularly highlighted the difficulties of getting to Chesterfield by public transport from Glossop as well as from other parts of the High Peak. I will be having a further meeting with the Minister to keep the situation in the High Peak in the forefront of his mind.

However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the scale of the human tragedy in Paris last week, and our thoughts should go out to all the victims and their families.

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