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Big wheel

The big wheel was a big success – let’s build on it

I felt a real twinge of sadness as I made my way to the train station on Monday 12th March and saw the Chesterfield Wheel being taken down. The Chesterfield Wheel has been a huge success that has brought in customers and visitors from miles around, with families coming to spend an entire day visiting our town and coaches bringing in people from across Yorkshire and the East Midlands to visit the attraction. Shops, market traders and cafes have reported higher sales and the town centre has been more bustling and busy place.

The bringing of the wheel to Chesterfield shows that we have a Borough Council that is innovative and business-focussed. Usually it is only cities that have secured the wheel and it is a real coup for the Council to bring it to our town. The Wheel raised a little money for the Council through rent charged to the operating company, but more importantly it has provided a huge boost to the town centre economy and given people a real sense of pride in the town. The views from the top of the wheel were truly stunning, giving people the chance to see the Crooked Spire like they have never seen it before and a panoramic view of the miles of beautiful countryside and hills that surround Chesterfield. Hundreds of people took a turn on the wheel, and the stunning pictures that have been shared on online have been a wonderful advertisement for our town.

I have seen many comments on social media over the last few years lamenting the reduction in the size of the market and noting that there have been fewer visitors to the town centre. Whilst there is an element of truth to this, we need to recognise how well Chesterfield is doing in these tough economic times and changing retail landscapes. The most common complaint I see is regarding vacant shops in town, but a quick ‘fact check’ shows that Chesterfield is doing better than most retail centres. Currently, 93.5% of units are let, which is a shop vacancy rate of 6.5% and far lower than the national average of 11%. Chesterfield is ranked as the seventh largest retail destination in the East Midlands, far outperforming other towns such as Mansfield, Worksop and Sutton-in-Ashfield. Chesterfield is in the top 3% of retail centres nationally and has a total annual consumer spend of £432m. We may only be a market town but we are      punching far above our weight and competing well against cities and large retail outlets.

Town centres across the country have all experienced a decline over the last decade due to due to the growth of online shopping, development of out-of-town retail parks, expanding supermarkets and an increase in budget retailers. These changes make it difficult for market traders and town centre shops to compete on price. Wages have also been stagnant for many years and people have not had the disposable income that they had before, reducing the shoppers in town. One of the reasons for Chesterfield’s resilience, and why we should remain optimistic about the future of our market and shopping centre, is the Labour-run Borough Council’s willingness to innovate and adapt to the modern retail climate.

Hopefully, the visitors who came to Chesterfield for the wheel will have seen how much our town has to offer and become regular visitors. I look forward to seeing how the Council build on this success and we should all feel optimistic about the future of our town centre.

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The Borough Council, Toby Perkins MP, Hardyal Dhindsa and various agencies, charities & businesses have joined together to discuss ways to tackle issues of homelessness and anti-social behaviour in Chesterfield town centre at a series of summit meetings.

GUEST BLOG: Cllr Helen Bagley, Cabinet Member for Homes & Customers, writes about Chesterfield Borough Council’s response to homelessness in the town

Hardly a week goes by without homelessness or rough sleeping hitting the national news.

While Chesterfield doesn’t have the same level of problems faced by some of the big cities and towns we do experience issues too – and one person homeless is one person too many.

The causes

Cllr Helen Bagley, Cabinet Member for Homes & Customers at Chesterfield Borough Council

Cllr Helen Bagley, Cabinet Member for Homes & Customers at Chesterfield Borough Council

The cause of this is a range of factors coming together. Some of the most common are drug or alcohol dependency, mental health issues or benefit changes, particularly the recent introduction of Universal Credit.

We also know that Chesterfield is attracting rough sleepers who see it as a safer option than being in some of the surrounding cities. The generosity of local people to give food, clothing and other items, combined with the lower risk of violence towards them means that some rough sleepers have specifically come to Chesterfield.

What complicates the situation further is that another group of people who are not actually homeless but are friends with people who are rough sleeping or themselves have drug or alcohol dependencies are often on the streets too.

The solutions

In the same way that there is no one cause, equally there is no one easy solution. That is why Chesterfield Borough Council is working together with all the other public bodies (eg police, Derbyshire County Council, NHS, probation), the voluntary sector and the business community to tackle all the issues as a whole.

This work is brought together through the Chesterfield town centre summits chaired by the Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa. The group’s work is focused on three linked areas:

  1. Enforcement: This focuses on tackling some of the anti-social behaviour that has been seen in Chesterfield town centre that is often associated with people who are, or appear to be, either homelessness or rough sleeping.

This area of work has already seen the police significantly increase their patrols and presence in the town centre. They have targeted some of the dealers who are supplying people on the streets with drugs, particularly the drugs that were previously known as ‘legal highs’.

As a council we have introduced a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which gives the police and our enforcement officers powers to deal with some of the anti-social behaviour experienced in the town centre over recent months. PSPOs are not aimed at people who are homeless or rough sleeping but at dealing with people who are breaking the law and creating problems for the law-abiding majority.

  1. Treatment and support: This strand of the work recognises that the only effective long-term solution is to provide people who are on the streets with the support they need to get permanent accommodation or deal with the underlying issues that aggravate their situation.

By working together the various agencies can avoid duplication and identify any areas where support is not currently provided so that both can be addressed.

Chesterfield Borough Council also supports this work through its funding of voluntary agencies. We have a strong working relationship with Pathways and others who support the hard to reach homeless.

Within the council itself our homelessness prevention team works to provide accommodation for anyone who needs it. We are also a key player in the North Derbyshire Homelessness Forum that brings together a range of agencies who are working to prevent homelessness and support people who are rough sleeping.

  1. The final area of work is lobbying the Government to make them aware of the impact that welfare reforms are having on the streets of Chesterfield. While the group is not seeking to make political points the recent welfare reform changes have undoubtedly had a visible impact on this issue.

With the support of our MP Toby Perkins we are asking the Government to be aware of what is happening and make changes to their welfare policies to help provide more assistance to the people who need it.

More information about homelessness and the support the council is able to offer can be seen at

The Borough Council, Toby Perkins MP, Hardyal Dhindsa and various agencies, charities & businesses have joined together to discuss ways to tackle issues of homelessness and anti-social behaviour in Chesterfield town centre at a series of summit meetings.

The Borough Council, Toby Perkins MP, Hardyal Dhindsa and various agencies, charities & businesses have joined together to discuss ways to tackle issues of homelessness and anti-social behaviour in Chesterfield town centre at a series of summit meetings.

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BLOG: The NHS is in crisis, and we must fight to protect it

For me, the National Health Service (NHS) represents one of the things I love most about the UK. The ideals behind its creation by the Labour Government in 1948 are quintessentially British: fairness, equality, empathy, caring for all. The basic premise that everyone should be entitled to good, free healthcare regardless of background, status or income. The NHS has had its ups-and-downs but has remained true to its founding principles and continues to be the envy of countries across the world.

It is also unique amongst political decisions in enjoying the affection of people from across the class and political spectrum.

However, the NHS is facing its biggest ever challenge to its sustainability, with pressures on services leading the Red Cross to declare that the Service is facing a “humanitarian crisis”. And with reports of patients dying from dehydration on hospital wards, vital treatments being delayed, sick people left on trolleys in corridors, children forced to use make-shift beds, patients waiting for hours on end in A&E and life-saving operations being cancelled, it is hard to disagree with this assessment.

Whilst there are political arguments to be made about the NHS, it is also true to say that many of the pressures on the NHS are societal: whichever party was in power they would be dealing with an ageing population, limited financial resources, escalating pharmaceutical costs and global competition for skills.

However if we are going to ensure that the NHS (which is approaching its 70th birthday this year) is there to serve us for another 70 years, we must ensure that the current crisis and its causes are taken seriously.

Many of my constituents will have experienced difficulties in securing a GP appointment or having to wait far longer than the 4-hour government target to be seen in A&E, or had operations postponed. For some, this will only result in inconvenience, for others it can have disastrous consequences. I have shadowed hospital staff working in the Chesterfield Royal Hospital’s A&E Department and have seen the life-or-death decisions that have to be made on a daily basis. If our A&E departments are over-capacity and understaffed, it can lead to serious, life-threatening mistakes being made.

I recently met with Mr Simon Morritt, the new Chief Executive of the Chesterfield Royal Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, to discuss the challenges the hospital is facing and how they are responding to the crisis. The Trust estimates that 30% of all patients in the A&E department shouldn’t be there and should be accessing their GP, Pharmacist or a specialist service. The Trust are working to ensure these patients are redirected to the correct services, and to improve the flow through A&E by ensuring patients are moved on to wards or discharged more quickly, to free up capacity in the department.

There are also around the same proportion of patients who are fit to leave hospital but are unable to because there is no care package ready to support them when they leave.

I am convinced that the Health and Care System must be brought closer together if that circle is to be squared. So the winter of 2017 will go down as one of the toughest in the history of our beloved Health Service. As Aneurin Bevan famously said, “The NHS will last as long as there are folk left with the faith to fight for it”. If this year is to be an anomaly, not the start of a trend, the NHS will need us all to fight for it again.

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Toby on a visit to New Beetwell Street Bus Station last year to discuss the homelessness issues in Chesterfield

How we’re tackling rough sleeping and antisocial behaviour in Chesterfield

Chesterfield is an attractive market town, but in recent months, visitors to our town have been alarmed by the amount of rough sleeping and street drinking that now diminishes that attractiveness.

This was brought into particular focus this Christmas when David Fuller, a homeless man, died in an abandoned property in Brampton.

I am writing this to lay out the issues that have led to this alarming development and the steps I, and others, are taking both to reduce rough sleeping and support the people involved.

We are seeing rough sleeping levels in Chesterfield that would previously have been expected only in a city centre location, and also experiencing increased street drinking and substance misuse that has also created antisocial behaviour.

I am regularly contacted by constituents concerned about the unacceptable behaviour they’re seeing in town, as well as dozens of emails from people wanting to help the genuine rough sleepers who are at great risk on the streets this winter. Why is it happening?

Chesterfield is by no means unique in suffering like this. A report published by the public spending watchdog, the National Audit Office, at the end of last year, showed that since 2010/11 rough sleeping has increased 134%, and the number of homeless households forced into temporary accommodation was up 60%. The report is clear that one of the driving forces behind the increase in homelessness are the Government’s welfare reforms.

Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit no longer cover the rent and Council Tax bills, which means that many people on benefits fall into arrears and are evicted from their properties.

In addition the bedroom tax caused significant rent arrears, the sanctions regime leaves people who have nothing without a weekly subsistence income and the lack of stable work means that many people’s work patterns see them falling behind on their payments.

We are currently in the longest period of static wage growth in history just when property prices continue to rise due to the lack of new affordable housing being built.

A time when Welfare Policy is leading to increased poverty and desperation is also the worst possible time to drastically cut Local Government spending, because this funding has led to the closure of homeless hostels, and cuts to funding for the charities providing homelessness prevention, and Council tenancy support services.

These cause of these social problems all reside in Westminster and are a direct result of deliberate Government policies. As Chesterfield’s representative it is my job to argue and to vote against the policies that cause this, which I am doing.

But whilst the cause may lie in Westminster the problem is ours to deal with. The cost of trying to deal with homelessness is costing local government around £1.1bn a year, at a time when the Government are continuing to slash hundreds of millions from council budgets.

Why Chesterfield?

Whilst this is a national issue with national causes, conversations that I have had, both with local homeless people and with Police and Homeless charities has identified a number of reasons why Chesterfield has seen such a noticeable increase.

Firstly, Chesterfield has a higher amount of social and Council housing than most towns of a similar size, and so the numbers affected by issues like the bedroom tax are greater.

Secondly, whilst Chesterfield’s population is around 100,000, the town centre acts as the focal point for people across a much wider section of North Derbyshire.

Thirdly, homeless people have travelled here from many larger cities due to it being both safer and the wider network of charitable support that is here than many other areas.

We also lack adequate hostel services, and the Borough Council are now looking at introducing a night shelter.

There are also clearly people who are not homeless, as such, but spend time with street sleepers, and so the numbers hanging around on the streets during the day are greater than the number sleeping rough at night.

So what are we doing locally?

Whilst many people understand why Government policy has led us to this appalling situation, they rightly expect us to take action locally.

We are adopting a multi-agency approach locally to ensure that everyone with expertise and the ability to contribute is involved in addressing the issue in Chesterfield.

One of the most important things I am doing is helping individual constituents who find themselves homeless or at the risk of homelessness.

  • I have supported homeless families living in B&Bs or other temporary accommodation to secure council housing.
  • I am helping constituents who find themselves in rent arrears to try to address these before they become homeless.
  • My office supports people every day with getting benefits back in place, accessing appropriate debt advice and liaising with landlords to try to give tenants more time before eviction proceedings are instigated.
  • I am also helping constituents to access emergency accommodation. For example, just before Christmas my office ensured two homeless men, who were sleeping in a tent during sub-zero temperatures, secured a place at a night shelter in Derby.
  • In another case, we arranged for the Council to provide a house to a family that had been evicted and had rent outstanding rent arrears, and also arranged for temporary accommodation in the period leading up to their new Council house being ready to move into.
  • I have also supported lots of constituents with their applications for housing, to ensure they are rehoused as quickly as possible.

Alongside supporting individual constituents, I work specifically across the Town to support those who support the homeless.

  • I have provided documentation to support letters for grant applications made by Pathways, which have helped them secure thousands of pounds in additional funding.
  • I also joined with Framework Housing Association and Pathways with their sofa push event in Queen’s Park, which has helped raise awareness of the ‘sofa-surfing’ problem in Chesterfield, as well as raising funds for the vital work done by both charities. I wrote to the Prime Minister in the summer to highlight my constituents’ concerns about increasing homelessness and to urge the Government to provide additional funds in the Autumn Budget to help local authorities to tackle rough sleeping.

I also wrote to the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions asking him to pause the roll-out of Universal Credit due to the heightened risk of rent arrears and eviction for UC claimants. I continue to attend summit meetings arranged by Derbyshire’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Hardyal Dhindsa. The meetings have brought together representatives from Chesterfield Borough Council, Derbyshire County Council, Derbyshire Constabulary, local businesses, homelessness support charities, health & treatment services and other agencies, to create a proactive approach to tackling rough sleeping, antisocial behaviour, street drinking and drug abuse. The majority of homeless people are victims of circumstances, and our priority will always be to ensure that everything is done to try and get people to engage with support and advice, to help them address their issues. However, for those who will not engage with offers of support the police and council officers will have powers to issue fines which could potentially lead to prosecutions.

The Council’s new Public Space Protection Orders aim to stop the behaviours we have seen in the town that are causing disruption and concern. The new powers allow police to confiscate alcohol and prevent people loitering near cash machines and shop doorways begging, allow Police to issue fixed penalty notices for urinating or defecating in public and stop people setting up tents in inappropriate areas. These new powers are about ensuring genuinely homeless people are being encouraged to engage with support, whilst helping the police and council officers to take action against those who won’t engage with help.

When I went down to Beetwell Street myself to talk to people in sleeping bags in the area, there were people who despite being offered Council flats, felt they were better off on the streets. They had been evicted before and weren’t wanting to be housed.

The Council does have one bedroom flats for rent, but that doesn’t resolve the issues with the Welfare policies that I referred to earlier.

The voluntary sector are also playing a massive role in trying to address homelessness in Chesterfield. Two church groups have set up homeless accommodation services in Chesterfield (unfortunately one has had to close temporarily due to a fire) as well as providing soup kitchens, counselling, benefits and other support in Chesterfield, we are well served with charities, church groups and voluntary organisations working with the council and police to help homeless people engage with support and move towards permanent housing and more stable lives, but the barriers that face them are substantial. I expect that there are more challenges to come with the roll-out of Universal Credit and further reductions in council funding. Because Universal Credit is paid to claimants and not to their landlords, I expect arrears and evictions to increase but I can assure you that in Chesterfield we are doing all we can to weather the storm. What we need now is the Government to wake up to the homelessness crisis they have created and to provide people and councils with the resources they need to ensure homelessness reduces to the levels it was before they came to power in 2010.

Toby on a visit to New Beetwell Street Bus Station last year to discuss the homelessness issues in Chesterfield

Toby on a visit to New Beetwell Street Bus Station last year to discuss the homelessness issues in Chesterfield

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Chesterfield FC Takeover Response

Over the course of the last three to four months, Chesterfield FC secretary Ashley Carson and others have been updating me on a possible takeover of Chesterfield FC. That takeover appears to have broken down irrevocably. I am aware that there has been some distrust of the updates being provided by the Club on this subject so I have, with the assistance of the club, done some investigations to provide a third-party oversight of what has occurred.

Chesterfield FC is absolutely crucial to the health of the town and I don’t underestimate the threat that the club’s current League position poses to the success of the club and the town. Therefore, I wanted to provide clarity to fans about the history of this aborted deal.

In addition to being shown the documents that demonstrate that two offers were made (one rejected, and one, in principle accepted). I have also seen the responses from the club, and the final email concluding that the deal would not go ahead. I have also spoken to the potential buyer and got their perspective as to why the deal did not go through.

It is clear that there was an interest in buying the club by investors, that there was an agreement struck on the overall amount the club was to be sold for. It appears that there was some mutual scepticism between the buyer and the club, and that the buyer had reservations about the payment schedule being outlined, although they didn’t come back and negotiate further to alter that payment schedule, nor were the two parties very far apart on the subject of the payment schedule.

I believe that alongside the potential unease about the payment schedule, and the mutual scepticism, that the downturn in results in December which saw relegation from the Football League become more of a possibility that it looked at the time of the initial offer, was another factor that prevented the relatively small gap between the two sides to be bridged or negotiated.

There was no communication achieved between the two parties from the offer acceptance to the offer collapsing, which I think is revealing of the lack of certainty that both sides felt in the likely success of the negotiations.

I have entered into this rather unusual role of verifier of the facts of the case in order to provide clarity that fans deserve. Fans will have their own view as to how things have been handled and the wider history of how the club have fallen so far, so rapidly. From my point of view, the investigations I have made and having spoken to both sides, I think what I had been told about the negotiations over the last few months was basically true from the club’s standpoint.

There has been further speculation about alternative bidders. I am of the view that the Football Club needs to be run by people who want to be there, and thus, it is in the interests of the club to be sold as soon as practicably possible to people who have the long term health of the club at heart, but there are many more Football clubs for sale than there are people wanting and able to buy them. The club is definitely for sale.

In the meantime it falls to those who currently own it to do all they can to preserve the Club’s League status, and there have been a good number of new arrivals to try and achieve that. Whilst entirely understanding the fans desire for news, I would urge the Club to ensure that the public focus is on improving results on the pitch and that announcements about any takeover are made once things have reached a tangible stage and not before. I agree with Mr Carson that this episode has been distracting and unsettling and hope that any future negotiations that can be achieved for the good of the club can be completed, as quickly and quietly as possible.

Finally, I would say, in Football, owners, players, Managers and Directors come and go, the only constant is the fans. The Football League status of the club is one of the most crucial issues facing the town right now, and everyone uniting behind the team for the next 15 games will be absolutely vital. I know how grateful everyone at the club has been of the vocal support that the team have had in recent games, and I hope that this update provides the clarity that fans sought, I will answer any questions that I can without breaching confidences, but I believe that the pertinent facts that I am aware of are all included in this blog.

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Evelina is currently doing work experience one afternoon a week in Toby’s constituency office

GUEST BLOG: Evelina Griniute, sixth form student at St Mary’s Catholic High School, gives her views on the impact of automation on the workforce for the next generation

In a world of astounding technological advances, where only a few years are required for previous technology to become viewed as outdated, automation and the development of AI are leading to questions: am I at risk of being replaced by a robot? Will my next taxi be a self-driving car? Should I start campaigning for a universal base income to guard against an ‘automation apocalypse’?

A report released by Citibank collaborating with the university of Oxford in February 2016 found it probable that computer capital would replace 35% of jobs in the UK, and we are lucky when the prodigious proportion of 77% of jobs in China are considered. The most vulnerable have been labelled across many industries and surprisingly, they are not the low-skilled workers in manual jobs as opposed to the highly-qualified white-collar employees, but those with the most routinely work. An example is offered in the field of radiology, where Enlitic’s computer system is 50% better at classifying malignant tumours from CT scans than the most specialised radiologists and has a false-negative rate of zero compared to a human’s 7%. In light of this, Andrew Ng – a highly trained radiologist – has claimed he is at a greater risk of replacement than his executive assistant due to the extensive variety in her role. Alongside radiologists, the most susceptible to ‘technological unemployment’ have been identified as loan officers, information clerks, receptionists, taxi drivers, legal assistants, security guards and fast food cooks, all due to the fact their jobs are routine enough to be completed by AI. Alternatively, employment requiring creativity, social perception and manipulation are deemed the most secure, involving choreographers, make-up artists, mental health workers, surgeons, lawyers and primary school teachers.

Initially, this information seems alarming, socially destructive and immoral. We may accept that progress is inevitable and the pursuit of higher productivity will force humanity to further develop technologies that are infinitely more capable of tasks than humans, but that does not constitute the moral arguments against AI. What does employing a robot over a human being signal about a person’s worth? Is a world of extensive unemployment and minimal salaries due to an oversupply of labour worth the increased economic growth? Should we really have the right to tell a person they cannot strive for a certain vocation, despite obvious talent, because a robot is more efficient?

However, before panicking over mass redundancy and becoming incensed over the imminent reduction of employment opportunities, it is important to consider the opposing side of the argument.

Evelina is currently doing work experience one afternoon a week in Toby’s constituency office

Evelina is currently doing work experience one afternoon a week in Toby’s constituency office

Most people, especially the younger generation, welcome and embrace technology into their everyday lives. Generally, we consider it to be fascinating, helpful and enhancing of productivity and quality of life. Some direct attention to the fact that the same threat appeared during the industrial revolution and worries mirroring those we have today never became realised. AI is also more likely to increase the amount of available jobs instead of deplete options, especially in the field of technology, and one could even consider Amazon: they use machines to maintain low prices, meaning the company can continue to grow which in turn creates more jobs.

Ultimately, while the rapid development of technology can be overwhelming and make the future appear uncertain, preparation for a time when job advertisements have the label ‘Humans need not apply’ is somewhat excessive and unwarranted. All evidence suggests technology complements our work, making it easier and more efficient to the point where some jobs are unimaginable without it. As a student with the prospects of university hanging heavily over my head, I would not base my decisions of a possible career on how likely it is to become automated. Instead, embracing technology and its benefits as supplements to employment appears the most sensible course of action.

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For each of the last 15 years I have taken tremendous pride and satisfaction in Chesterfield’s commitment to the Remembrance Sunday ceremony that takes place here. This year’s was made all the more poignant having just attended the 3 Para Remembrance service with them at the British Army Training Unit in Kenya where I had stayed for 6 days.

I had the opportunity to attend as part of my role in the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. I and several colleagues volunteer to spend a minimum of 15 days in a year witnessing our Armed Forces in action. The scheme is designed to increase the knowledge base of MPs about Service life and give serving soldiers, sailors and Airmen the opportunity to question MPs too.

The most recent week was with our soldiers at the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK).  This was one in a series of deployments I have done as part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme. I spent time with a battle group of around 700 members of 3 Company of the Paratroop regiment, as they conducted some of their 8 week battle ready exercise. Alongside witnessing a live firing light infantry exercise, I also a live simulation where the 3 Paras were defending their camp from an onslaught delivered by a foreign army (played by members of the Ghurka regiment).

Over the course of the 6 days we learnt about what life is like for those members of BATUK who live permanently in Kenya, and for those who had set up camp in the Kenyan outback, lived in the battlefield.

We also saw two of the Community projects that the British Army had helped with in a Kenyan school and orphanage, and saw the joint work that our Army is doing working alongside and developing the Kenyan Army. Sleeping in the field with the Army, and living on ration packs, and washing in a bucket was a world away from normal life, but it certainly brings home the reality of life in the field for our soldiers.

Last year I spent time with the Navy, sailing to Amsterdam on a Type 23 frigate, HMS Sutherland and on our new destroyers, as well as witnessing the new Aircraft Carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth.

It all added to the poignancy of our Remembrance Day ceremony here, which I believe was as well attended as any have been in Chesterfield.

I think that so many attend because there is a growing awareness of both the contribution that has been made in the past and as a way of showing support to today’s generation of Servicemen and women.

Having spent time with the Army and Navy at all levels, I was very struck by the proper context that is given to the need to utilise the Armed Forces. They are keen to be trained and to be available to be used when the situation demands it. They were neither gung-ho nor daunted by the demands made of them, they simply recognise operations and deployments as a necessary part of service life.

Their commitment reinforces why the decision around whether to send our troops into hostile arenas is one that weighs heavier than any other on Parliament. For my part I will continue to do all I can to be the best informed that I can be, and to push for our Armed Service personnel to have the equipment and support they need to be  world class now and in the future.

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Lilly is currently doing work experience one afternoon a week in Toby's constituency office

GUEST BLOG: Lilly Beards, sixth form student at Brookfield Community School, gives her views on the ‘Votes at 16’ campaign

On Friday November 3rd, Labour MP Jim McMahon will introduce his Private Members’ Bill – aiming to lower voting age in UK elections and referendums to 16 – into Parliament.

I’ve been a follower of the Votes At 16 campaign since 2014, when voting age was lowered for the Scottish independence referendum. Surveys and interviews suggest that young people and MPs alike agree that lowering the voting age for the referendum hugely increased Scottish young people’s interest and engagement in politics, as they were finally being given the opportunity to have their say in a vote that would hugely affect them.

This is why I believe 16- and 17-year-olds should be given the vote; issues voted on in elections and referendums will affect their lives directly. For example, a prominent topic in the 2017 general election was tuition fees, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn vowing to scrap tuition fees for both current and future university students. To me, it seems ridiculous that 16- and 17- year olds, an age bracket that alteration of tuition fees and other educational topics hugely affect, were not allowed to vote to help determine the outcome of the election.

The average government term in the UK is 3 years and 10 months, and can be up to 5 years; this means that, most likely, 16-17 year olds will have become adult members of society in the midst of a governmental term, but will not have had the opportunity to choose which party will dictate their early adult years; this is unfair, surely?

A common argument for not lowering the voting age is that 16- and 17-year-olds aren’t “educated” enough to vote knowledgeably and sensibly; surely, then, the government should be taking steps to bring better political education into our schools.

Before September of this year, when I started my A-Level in Government & Politics, I had received little to no education in school regarding anything to do with current affairs or how the UK’s political and voting systems work. I had PSHE lessons once a week, which followed a hugely ineffective specification and did not teach anything of transferrable use, especially not regarding the world of politics. It is my strong belief that, in order to combat the Conservative Party’s supposed belief that young people are not socio-politically aware enough to vote in elections and referendums, political education should be improved and made compulsory, in order to prepare them for voting at a younger age; this would be both beneficial to young people, who can have a say in their future, but also to the country as a whole – equipping the country’s citizens with a wider political knowledge can do nothing but good.

241 out of 261 Labour MPs support the Votes At 16 campaign, a movement founded in 2003 in the hope that the franchise would be expanded to young people in the UK aged 16 and 17. Whilst a 14-year battle without success seems quite a long time, it’s important to note that it took 41 years since the 1928 Representation of the People Act – in which it was stated that all eligible citizens over 21 could vote – that the voting age was lowered to 18, in 1969. In today’s era of powerful social media lobbying, campaigning, and e-petitions, however, it is easy to imagine that it would not take as long to lower voting age to 16; it is only a matter of expanding political education, awareness, and responsibility to the young people who are the near-future of the UK. Friday November 3rd could be the catalyst for change in the journey to lowering the voting age in the UK to 16.

Lilly is currently doing work experience one afternoon a week in Toby's constituency office

Lilly is currently doing work experience one afternoon a week in Toby’s constituency office



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I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

Contact Toby

Tel: 01246 386286
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF


I hold regular surgeries for my constituents.
Please call 01246 386286 or email to make a booking.

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