Constituency Fridays are a high point of my week. They keep you grounded. You find a reality often missing at Westminster. Last Friday started with a meeting with a locally based scientist who wanted to share with me some brilliant work she was doing at the National Oceanographic Centre at Southampton. Oceans are a passion of mine and I could have spent all day talking to her. Next came a meeting with Thames Valley Community Rehabilitation Company, the organisation tasked by the Minister of Justice to deliver a probation service for Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Unlike in the past they get paid by results. They manage about 5,000 offenders and their job is to make sure they don’t reoffend. Obviously this is a massive issue, even in a low crime area like West Berkshire. For every criminal who does not reoffend there are more law-abiding people who do not become the victims of crime.
I then spent an hour in Newbury’s Jobcentre. I went to hear how the first month of the roll-out of Universal Credit (UC) had gone. UC is nothing short of a revolution in welfare. It replaces six means-tested benefits and tax credits. UC has been rolled out slowly to iron out as many problems as possible along the way. The good news is it has so far had a soft landing in West Berkshire with Jobcentre staff, many of whom who have worked in welfare for decades, saying that it is better for their clients and better for those who administer it. I was impressed that they are working closely with West Berkshire Council and Citizens Advice and that their work coaches are getting people into proper well-paid jobs. This sometimes involves home visits.
In the afternoon I met with the leadership team at Newbury Town Council. We discussed the improvements being made to Victoria Park and the imminent publication of their Town Plan. It sounds as though this will be an ambitious and forward-thinking plan that will guide the development of Newbury for decades. You can have your say in a consultation which will start when the plan is agreed by Councillors.
Then back to my office for a meeting with Berkshire’s Chief Fire Officer and the Chairman of the Fire Authority. It was an opportunity to ask about the tri-service centre at Hungerford where the Fire and Rescue service sits alongside the Police and Ambulance services. At the other end of my patch they are building a new fire station at Theale close to where the Newbury, Wokingham and Reading West constituencies all meet. In closing two stations and replacing them with this state-of-the-art facility response times will improve. Good news from west to east.