First Friday with Steve Barclay

The winter weeks have been livened up this month with Phoenix companies, a Ministerial visits to the Fens and a glimpse behind the door of Number 10.

I can think of few things more dreadful in business than providing goods to a firm in good faith and not then being paid. The understandable sense of unfairness is made worse if the person who owes you money declares themselves bankrupt, sets up a new company and buys back from the insolvency practitioner the goods at a knock down rate, leaving you still unpaid or getting just pennies. I have been pursuing this quietly with Ministers in recent months and had tabled a number of Written Questions, but the progress of officials can sometimes feel very slow. So this month I brought the matter up in the Chamber of the House of Commons. It seemed to have an effect and the Minster is now meeting with me to see what actions can be taken.

Regular readers will no doubt be familiar with the longstanding campaign by Graham Chappell and Andy Walker to improve road safety on Fen roads adjacent to waterways. It was heartening therefore to be able to bring the Roads Minister up to the Fens to Bedlam Bridge to see this first hand. Just two days later yet another car went into the water near to the spot we visited and only a short distance away from where 9 year old Charlotte so tragically lost her life. I am very pleased that in response to their campaign and the support of the community, the County Council has agreed to begin work on examining the soil for targeted barriers. It shows community action can make a difference.

I think the most publicised visitor to Number 10 this month was the small furry rodent seen on television scurrying in front of the famous door. However out of the glare of the cameras, Karen and I were fortunate enough to be invited to Downing Street, along with other MP’s from our region to a reception given by the Prime Minister. I am pleased that amongst the affairs of state a decision has been taken and a cat will be returning to number 10, chosen by the Prime Minister’s children. I did point out to David Cameron that given our country’s well know tradition of affection for animals, I feared his poll ratings would fall far short of the popularity of the cat.

The Public Accounts Committee continues with its busy pace of two hearings a week. Sessions have highlighted widespread discrepancies in performance by departments, such as some NHS hospitals having three times as many staff per bed as others without any clear explanation. It is time that officials at the centre got a grip on understanding wide variations of performance if they are to satisfy taxpayers that they are delivering value for money. I am very conscious when I sit on the Committee that you as a reader are paying in tax for the decisions these officials are taking and I see it as a key part of my role to question them on this.

Just when I think the month is drawing to a quiet close, my phone erupts with calls from a range of national newspapers and television stations suggesting that the local police force are not prepared to venture out after dark. Events in Wisbech regarding the policing of the park are no doubt familiar to many readers. I spoke with the Police Minister in the House of Commons within two hours of being contacted about the story and following discussions with senior Cambridgeshire police officers, I was able to ‘shine my own torch’ on the matter and provide clarification. I am pleased the police have now confirmed that they will be continuing their good work without any no-go areas locally.

I look forward to updating you again next month on my work on your behalf at Westminster.

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