Whitehaven News column – 13th March 2014

Lift-off for Whitehaven education campus
In my column a few weeks ago, I called for a secondary education crusade across our community. To date, I haven’t seen any crowds marching in the streets, but some rapid progress has been made nonetheless. The aim is to break ground on a new secondary school campus for Whitehaven this calendar year. This is a bold ambition and there is now real momentum behind the project. Cumbria County Council has pledged £250,000 towards a feasibility study and nuclear partners are set to match this money. A £500,000 kick-start is a real result. The campus project now has lift-off. It’s taken nine years to get to this point (I know…) but take a moment to see what can be achieved when councils, companies, public bodies and politicians work in partnership…
There will be more to say about this at a later date, but this same partnership approach will now be focused on Whitehaven town centre. I could fill the pages of this newspaper with a list of what I’d like to do…but the starting point may well be the Civic Hall. Watch this space.
To infinity and beyond?
You may have seen news reports concerning a secondary school pupil in Preston who recently built a nuclear reactor in his classroom. It’s an amazing story and an incredible feat, but instead of asking ourselves why it is that the British government can’t do in ten years what a school boy can do in a few weeks, we should raise our eyes to the skies in wonder and admiration for what is being achieved by our own secondary school pupils at the West Lakes Academy in Egremont. Project Space Eye – funded by pioneering local company REACT engineering – is the attempt of pupils at the Academy to send a weather balloon into space and then take pictures of the Earth. You read that right. Meanwhile, down the road at the National Nuclear Laboratory, we’re using americium to develop batteries for next-generation European spacecraft. The next time someone talks to you about nothing ever happening here, have a quiet word…
How Parliament works…
David Cameron’s hospital closure clause passed through the House of Commons on Tuesday night, as did the law that will see insurance companies and others being able to access your private medical records without the necessary safeguards being in place. We’ll hear a lot about this between now and the next election – it spells bad news for health economies like Cumbria – but something truly remarkable happened during the bill’s passage.
Prior to the vote, a former Lib Dem health minister co-signed an amendment to Cameron’s closure clause alongside my name and that of other MPs. This amendment had the support of over 140,000 people nationwide. As the first name on the amendment, it was down to the former Minister to move this to a vote in the Commons, but he refused to do this after being offered a job of chairing a committee by Ministers during the debate. I moved the amendment and secured the vote. All but one Lib Dem MP abstained and six Conservative MPs voted against the closure clause. The behaviour of the former minister was entirely expected, but I’ve never seen anything like it in Parliament. Some committee Chairmen in the House of Commons receive additional money, but it turns out that this new job won’t be remunerated. Tough luck, that; even Judas got paid.

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