Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 14 September 2016

Parliament is now back in full swing and I have been working on local and national issues as usual.  Few families have not been touched by cancer, and mine is no exception, which is why I was pleased to support the #wearitpink campaign for Breast Cancer Now.  Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in the UK with nearly 60,000 people diagnosed every year.  Breast cancer in men is also a grave concern.  The Government is committed to improving cancer outcomes throughout the UK and recognises that investing in research is vital in order to increase survival rates. The UK is a world leader in health research and I am pleased that the science budget of £4.7 billion will be protected in real terms in this Parliament.  I welcome the ambitious plans already set out to invest £6.9 billion in the UK's scientific infrastructure up to 2021 which will mean new equipment, new laboratories and new research institutes.

On the subject of local charities, last week, I met Debbie Clark who is the Swindon and Wiltshire fundraiser for South-West based children’s charity, Jessie May. The charity is funding three specialist nurses, based at Great Western Hospital, to support families of children with life-limiting conditions. I was delighted to learn more about this unique partnership between Jessie May, Naomi House Children’s Hospice and the Great Western Hospital.  Jessie May is currently supporting 22 children in Wiltshire, offering families regular respite breaks, which allow local parents or carers to take a much-needed break.  The nurses also provide vital support for families when a child is at the end of their life, as well as continued support for the family afterwards in bereavement. It is reassuring to know that this crucial support is available locally to those who need it the most.  I look forward to working with Jessie May to help increase provision in Swindon.

Swindon Open Studios has become a regular fixture in the calendar, and this year it was bigger and better than ever.  Artists across our town opened up their homes and studios to the general public. We have some extremely talented artists in Swindon and I thoroughly enjoyed this event, which gives us the chance to view a wide range of artwork by talented local artists at varied local venues.

On Sunday, I went to the Swindon Eco Fest at Savernake Hall.  This event, now in its second year, brings residents together to learn more about gardening, growing, sharing and repairing, sustainable living and enjoying the great outdoors.  Practical advice was on offer and I could see people of all ages getting involved and having a good time.  Eastcott Community Organisation and Swindon Climate Action Network teamed up to organise an excellent event.

My week started with a visit to Lainesmead Primary School on Monday morning, where I opened the new School Nursery alongside Karen Flower, Swindon’s Advisor for Early Years.  It was lovely to meet with staff and pupils and to look around the nursery.  It is only a few years ago that I opened the Shining Stars Nursery at the school, and now this provision is being integrated fully so that Lainesmead will now take pupils from the age of three to eleven years, which is brilliant news for local parents. Lainesmead also aims to be part of the new scheme to offer working parents 30 hours of free childcare, which is currently being piloted in Swindon and which will be more fully rolled out in the coming years.   Other local schools such as Liden and Hazlewood in Toothill are now offering similar nursery provision, which will be welcome news to many parents.

In my role as Solicitor General, my work to tackle hate crime continues.  This is a subject that has long concerned me, both as a lawyer and an MP.  Since being appointed Solicitor General, I have made it one of my priorities, and dealing with the prosecution of these cases has been a particular focus of mine. Recently, a 26-year-old man was arrested in Swindon following an incident in the town centre, where a man was allegedly shouting racist abuse.  Footage of the incident went viral on Facebook and residents were seen chasing after the perpetrator.

I am particularly pleased that the number of convictions for disability hate crime has risen. In 2015/2016, the CPS completed 941 convictions for disability hate crime, an increase of 41.3% on the previous year when it completed 666 convictions. The number of convictions rose from 503 in 2014/2015 to 707 in 2015/2016, an increase of 40.6%.   I believe that as attitudes change, more and more people with disabilities are coming forward.  I think that organisations such as Swindon Advocacy Movement (SAM), which represents and empowers people with disabilities to speak up for their rights, play a key role in helping to make sure that people with disabilities do not have to suffer in silence.