Sunday, 8 November 2009

6 Commitments to the Community

One of the challenges for your next MP is to combine a range of responsibilities: serving the constituency as a ‘community MP’; fighting your corner in Westminster; and supporting a Conservative government get to grips with the challenges Britain faces at a national level.

I have been asking local councillors, community groups and residents their views, particularly on how best to serve Esher and Walton as a community MP. I have received a lot of feedback – and welcome further views. In the meantime, here are six practical ideas I have for approaching the role.

First, I would live in Esher and Walton. I currently live less than 5 miles from the constituency. If selected, my wife, Erika, and I would move here by February and make it our family home. The main advantage is that this would enable us to live and breathe community life. If there are problems with local schools or NHS services, I would feel the same impact as residents. Just going to the shops, you pick up a sense of what is going on. Erika and I went to Esher Farmers Market last week (see below), to pick up some breakfast, and it was an opportunity to have a quick chat with local farmers about the impact of the recession on business.

Second, I would hold regular local surgeries. This allows anyone, from any part of the constituency, to have direct access to their MP with any concern of problem they might have. I believe surgeries are invaluable. They would keep me in touch with ‘bread and butter’ issues affecting local life.

Third, I would meet with our local councillors on a regular basis. I see a real advantage in having a regular dialogue with councillors. It would allow two-way feedback. Councillors could keep me up to speed on topical local issues, and I could give feedback from the debates and decision-making in Westminster that impact locally. On Saturday, I attended a council surgery in Walton to see for myself. It was a valuable insight into day-to-day issues – from street lighting to drains. These may be the responsibility of the council (not the MP), but I would want to be aware of them, because they affect people’s daily lives. So, as your MP, I would set aside a regular time every couple of months to meet our councillors, even if it is just for an informal chat in the local pub.

Fourth, I want to get more younger people involved in the local party – to boost our existing support base. I see great potential for developing the local branch of Conservative Future, and I would work with local members and councillors to achieve it.

Fifth, I would champion local democracy. I have already commented on how local democracy can help us protect the greenbelt. I would also campaign for our local council to get a greater share of the revenue from business rates, to help reduce parking charges and to invest in local business growth.

Sixth, I would support community groups. I am visiting a wide range of local community groups, because I believe the next MP should reach out to every corner of the constituency. Last week, I visited the Citizens Advice Bureau in Walton (see below), and was briefed on a range of local issues – from unreported incidents of hate crime to the rank failure of the government’s mortgage rescue scheme. I was particularly interested that the CAB picked up on excessive levels of personal debt before some financial institutions and regulators. It shows how important local organisations are as an ‘early warning radar’.

This week I visited Lower Green Community Association with Dr Helen Bowcock, author of the excellent 'Hidden Surrey report' (see below). The LGCA’s Secretary, Jenny French, has set up a toddler’s group to help young mums in the area. They also hope to set up more youth activities at the club, to help keep youngsters out of trouble. I believe it is the role of a local MP to support this kind of local organisation, and promote a strong community and civic spirit.


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