Robert's Weekly Swindon Advertiser Article - 2nd December 2015

Last Friday, I hosted one of my regular Special Educational Needs (SEN) meetings in Swindon. The purpose of meetings like this is to invite local professionals, parents and carers to discuss what services and support children with Special Educational Needs and disabilities (SEND) can access in Swindon and the surrounding areas.

It is right that children and families are supported and fully informed about what is on offer for young people with special educational needs, and we had a searching and lively discussion. I would like to thank the two excellent key note speakers from Children’s Services, Peter Nathan and Lyn Frith, as well as Jurys Inn Hotel for hosting a successful and constructive evening.

I was also delighted to meet small businesses in Old Town after this session (and stop for a hot cup of tea!) ahead of Small Business Saturday on the 5th December.

Small Businesses are a vital part of our community. We have a record 5.4 million small businesses in the UK, providing jobs for about half of the private sector workforce. The success of our economy is built on the hard work and determination of the people who run and work for them. They deserve our respect and support all year round, which is why I am pleased to be taking part in this year’s campaign in the run up to Small Business Saturday on 5th December.

Now entering its third year, Small Business Saturday is a grassroots, non-commercial campaign, which highlights small business success and encourages consumers to ‘shop local’ and support small businesses in their communities. Last year, 16.5 million people shopped in a small independent business, spending more than £500 million on the day. These are big figures, which show how important small businesses are to our country.

Before the big day, I would also encourage local businesses to get involved and register on the website for promotion via the Small Business Finder: https://www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com/my-small-business.

Last week, the Chancellor announced his Spending Review and Autumn Statement to the House of Commons, which included some very welcome news indeed.

In light of recent events, namely the abhorrent attacks on neighbouring France, I have received several emails about the UK’s security and our Government’s commitment to ensuring our people our safe. I am delighted by the news that there will be no cuts to the police budget at all, in addition to state-of-the-art mobile communications for emergency services, new technology at our borders, and a 30% rise in the counter-terrorism budget.

Our Government will also meet its commitment to spend 2% of our income on defence, providing new equipment for our military, new capabilities for our special forces, new defences for our cyberspace, and new investments in our intelligence agencies.

In total, the Spending Review commits £4 trillion pounds over the next five years. The Conservative Party knows we have an obligation to make sure that a huge commitment of the hard-earned cash of British taxpayers is well spent.

Today, attention will of course be focused on the vote in the House of Commons which will decide whether the UK will join our Allies in airstrikes against ISIL targets in Syria.

The terrible events in Tunisia, France, and elsewhere have demonstrated the enormous scale of the threat that we face from ISIL. As the Prime Minister and Defence Secretary have said, there must be a full spectrum response to deal with ISIL at its source in Syria, Iraq, and Libya. However, we cannot afford to wait for a political settlement to be reached before we choose to take action. No course of action is without risk, but I think that inaction – not dealing with ISIL at source – also carries grave risk. Because of this, events in Syria are a direct concern to all of us!

The four year civil war has caused immense upheaval and has led to one of the biggest humanitarian crises in our lifetime. In 2013, Parliament decided to do nothing whatsoever to confront Assad’s regime, which sent the wrong message. Sending a land army would not have been right, but other actions could have helped save lives.

The threat posed by ISIL is further underscored by the unanimous adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 2249. The Resolution states that ISIL “constitutes a global and unprecedented threat to international peace and security” and calls for member states to take “all necessary measures” to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL and, crucially, it says that we should “eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria”.

I will be voting to support airstrikes in Syria alongside MPs on both sides of the House who believe that military strikes are a key part of eliminating ISIL and keeping our country safe. I accept that airstrikes alone will not tackle the problem, which is why I am reassured by the Prime Minister cohesive ‘four pillar’ strategy, which he outlined in his recent speech. The Prime Minister’s approach is based on the counter-extremism strategy to prevent attacks at home, the diplomatic and political process to work with our allies, humanitarian support and longer-term stabilisation, as well as military action. I am also pleased that the UK continues to be actively involved in international negotiations in Vienna, which have brought nations like Iran to the table for the first time.

I look forward to a very busy few weeks in the run up to Christmas. The atmosphere was very festive outside my office on Wood Street for the Old Town lights switch-on last Sunday despite the weather! I will be hosting surgeries on the 11th December at Lawn Community Centre (15.30-17.00) and at Ellendune Community Centre in Wroughton on the 12th December (12.00-13.30) if you would like to meet me to discuss a local or national issue. I look forward to seeing you there.