Sunday, 27 September 2009
A week at home....
Even though my journeys to Brussels are by Eurostar the carbon footprint of a travelling MEP is frightening - so its been good to spend a week back in the UK. Just before you believe that our "green weeks" are a total waste of time here are some of the things I've been doing.
Universities - I followed up on invitations to visit both Hertfordshire and Cambridge Universities - the former is an outstanding example of skills led education: close relationships with leading local and national businesses help them to direct courses towards real employment opportunities and students talked of the desire for close ties with its community. Cambridge University retains its world leading academic status. Its graduates are still sought after across the world (Indeed a Cambridge student will be joining my team for an internship next week). I heard their deep concerns over years of declining UK exam standards, and the need to raise funds especially to encourage world class PhD students to study in the UK.
Small businesses - the Federation of Small Businesses hosted 5 of the region's MEPs for an evening discussing many different issues. We all signed up to their campaign to stop French blockades of Channel Ports. I encouraged them to work through their members to help us highlight examples of EU red tape and UK gold plating - we need the ammunition from real companies to help us fight the battle on bureaucracy. Another issue raised was a case of the EU being slow paying amounts owed to small businesses for research grants. This is the second time I have been asked to help with this sort of problem (I suspect there are many more?). I spoke to the company concerned and have offered to help follow up their case when back in Brussels next week. I also visited a small medical research company hoping to get a grant for development of a Motor Neurone disease treatment. It was very useful for me to see a real example of the bureaucracy involved.
Public Services - again in Hertfordshire I visited the fire service's training facility. I was extremely impressed to hear that Herts Fire Service is to lead the first cross European major disaster training exercise for Urban search and rescue. They will lead emergency services from the UK, Germany, Ireland and Denmark in exercises across cities and urban areas in the UK. 120 UK firefighters went to Holland this week to take part in the "storm surge" exercise to learn how they may attempt to deal with a North Sea flood disaster - if such an event were to occur it could be devastating for parts of East Anglia.
Financial matters - The next few months will see a plethora of legislation regarding financial services coming in front of the Economic and Monetary affairs committee that I sit on in the parliament. I have spent large parts of this week joining commuters from across the East of England on their way to the City of London. Meetings with industry players like the Stock Exchange and British Bankers Association are helping me to understand some of the details of the proposed legislation - its vital we focus on the impact of legislation on the end user. I'm not convinced that the UKIP heckling of the head of the FSA from behind my right shoulder at the Mansion House dinner on Tuesday evening really helped to move forward the complex debate about balancing the need for new regulations with assisting the real economy to get back on it's feet!
Fighting for jobs back at home - This week we have heard very worrying rumours of potential layoffs at the Vauxhall works in Luton. Robert Sturdy MEP, Geoffrey Van Orden MEP and I wrote a strongly worded joint letter to the Competition Commissioner back in Brussels reminding her that UK jobs should not suffer because of potential government cash sweeteners elsewhere on the continent. EU rules on "state aid" are there to prevent anti-competitive state subsidies and should be enforced!
Back in the office we've been debating the finer details of the Energy in Buildings Directive that I am now shadowing and helping with a tragic story about the difficulty of repatriating loved ones lost in accidents overseas. Meanwhile my mail box is filling up with voters' concerns about horse transport on the continent - thank goodness Newmarket is in my area so I have been able to get some helpful advice!
A varied week but I do admit that I took my birthday OFF (well mostly).