MP welcomes work experience students to new local office

VP with Work Experience students

Victoria Prentis, MP for North Oxfordshire, has welcomed two young people from schools in her constituency to complete a week of work experience in her offices.

Luca Filippi (18) and Will Thompson (17) both completed a week in Victoria’s constituency office in Upper Heyford, and also spent a day in Westminster in her parliamentary office. Over the week, they were given the opportunity to prepare briefings for Victoria, draft correspondence, and prepare materials for online and internal office use. At Westminster, they had the chance to attend Select Committee hearings with speakers including Theresa May and George Osborne. They also observed a parliamentary debate in the main House of Commons chamber.

Luca, who has recently finished his A Levels at Blessed George Napier School, commented “The main reason I applied for this work experience was to gain a deeper insight into British politics, but I finished having also developed many useful office skills, which I know will be of great use in future employment. I would definitely encourage all young people to try and arrange work experience with their local MP.”

Will, who is set to continue his A Level study at The Warriner School, said “I really appreciated the more challenging and important nature of the work I was being set, as it meant I could genuinely learn and benefit from it, unlike many work experience opportunities for people my age.”

Victoria was extremely pleased with the first two students to complete work experience with her, since her election in May. “I was delighted to be able to welcome Luca and Will to my new office in Upper Heyford, to see first-hand the sheer variety of things that go on in an MP’s office over a week. I was very impressed with their dedication, and the quality of work they produced.

There will only be a few spaces available throughout the year, but I hope to welcome students from across North Oxfordshire to my offices for work experience on a regular basis. You will be able to find more information on my website.”

Victoria questions Treasury Minister about employment trends

12. Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): What assessment he has made of recent trends in the level of employment. [901123]

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Damian Hinds): Employment stands at 31 million having increased by 265,000 over the past year, driven entirely by more people being in full-time work. We are now moving into the next phase of our recovery, with high-quality employment helping to boost productivity and raise living standards across the country.

Victoria Prentis: The security of a good job and a regular pay packet are of fundamental importance to people in my constituency. Can my hon. Friend assure us that he will keep backing business across the country to create more jobs?

Damian Hinds: I can. The Government’s long-term economic plan is working. Since 2010, we have seen the creation of 1,000 new jobs a day, but the job is not yet done. The Government will continue working through the plan to secure Britain’s economic future.

Victoria asks question on fairer funding for schools

9. Rishi Sunak (Richmond (Yorks)) (Con): What progress her Department is making on providing fairer funding for schools. [901094]

 

12. Mr Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury) (Con): What progress she has made on the introduction of a national funding formula for schools. [901097]

 

13. Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): What progress her Department is making on providing fairer funding for schools. [901098]

 

17. Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): What progress her Department is making on providing fairer funding for schools. [901102]

 

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Mr Sam Gyimah): It is deeply unfair that we have a schools funding formula based on historic allocation rather than on actual need of schools and pupils. That is why the manifesto confirmed extra financial support for the least well-funded authorities for 2015-16, protected the schools budget in real terms and committed to making the system fairer. I can confirm that we will be putting proposals before the House for funding reform in due course.

 

Rishi Sunak: I warmly welcome my hon. Friend’s answer and hope that he can continue to make progress for the students in my constituency. Will he comment on the recent National Audit Office report that recommended a fairer formula so that pupils receive funding that is related “more closely to their needs, and less affected by where they live”?

 

Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. It is unfair that a primary pupil eligible for free school meals in Richmond receives £472 extra funding while a similar student in another part of Yorkshire receives almost £300 more. That is why we recently announced that the schools block funding rates for 2016-17 have been baked in the extra funding that we distributed in the last financial year to make funding fairer.

 

Mr Laurence Robertson: I welcome the fact that the Government are about to introduce a national funding formula, but may I urge the Minister to do it sooner rather than later, because the longer the unfairness goes on the more difficult it will be to correct?

 

Mr Gyimah: I know the f40 group, of which my hon. Friend is a member, has been campaigning for 19 years for a fairer funding formula, so I can understand his impatience. He is right to highlight the financial pressures that schools are under, especially those in underfunded parts of the country; this is one of the reasons why we are committed to fairer funding. As I said, we have protected per pupil funding in each authority from 2015-16, meeting the commitment to protect the national schools budget.

 

Paul Maynard: The Minister will be aware that Blackpool has amongst the lowest educational attainment in the country. What more, besides the hugely valuable pupil premium and the extra funding for nursery schools, can the Government do to increase attainment among white working-class children in seaside resorts—currently the weakest demographic in the country?

 

Mr Gyimah: I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I know he has a record of successful campaigning for schools funding. He is right to mention the pupil premium, which is designed to remove the barriers to learning faced by children from disadvantaged backgrounds. The pupil premium will provide almost £5 million in additional funding for more than 4,000 disadvantaged pupils—that is all disadvantaged children, not just white children—in Blackpool North and Cleveleys, and will help them to fulfil their potential.

 

Victoria Prentis: Following on from the previous question, 3,000 disadvantaged children in my Banbury constituency also benefit from the pupil premium. What other measures has the Minister thought about to promote targeted spending, to help to increase fairness in education?

 

Mr Gyimah: I welcome my hon. Friend to her place. She may know that her father, Lord Boswell, was extremely generous in his support to me in my early political career— indeed, he helped me to meet my wife—[Interruption.] Too much information. My hon. Friend rightly mentions targeted support. Some £3.5 million has been allocated to Banbury schools specifically to help to narrow the education gap.

 

Mr Speaker: I think we are clear that the noble Lord is a great man. He is also, famously, the author of the advice: don’t let the best be the enemy of the good. You can put a monkey on a typewriter and end up with the collected works of Shakespeare, but we will all be dead by then.

 

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): The Minister will know that the Institute for Fiscal Studies has previously raised concerns about the potential impact of a national funding formula on poorer, more disadvantaged parts of England. Although a new formula will certainly help schools in the Stockport part of my constituency, which are disadvantaged by the current arrangements, can the Minister guarantee that there will be no inadvertent impact on schools in the Tameside part of my constituency, which is a poorer borough overall?

 

Mr Gyimah: Let me be clear: our commitment is to a fairer funding formula for schools. It is not right that schools in Tower Hamlets receive 63% more funding than schools in Barnsley with the same demographic profile. We have to do something about that, but we must take our time to get it right. We will consult widely, and I hope that Opposition Front Benchers will support us in this effort.

 

Conor McGinn (St Helens North) (Lab): Figures from the Department show that per pupil funding for St Helens will be more than £150 less than the average across England this year. In addition, our local authority is being asked to take a further £23 million from its budget in the same period. Will the Minister listen to the concerns of staff in schools in my constituency, who tell me that their ability to teach and support children is being hindered and not helped by this Government and their policies?

 

Mr Gyimah: The hon. Gentleman will be aware that we have protected schools funding in real terms. If schools in his area are getting less funding, perhaps he should be speaking to the local authority, in particular the schools forums, to understand what exactly is going on.

 

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): This is a key issue, which is one of the reasons why the Education Committee will also be conducting an inquiry on the subject, but does the Minister agree that if we reform funding, we will answer the National Audit Office’s firm criticism of the system that it does not make sense for the pupil premium in some areas?

 

Mr Gyimah: I thank the Chair of the Select Committee. The point he makes is, I believe, that some areas are receiving, in effect, double deprivation funding: they are receiving it both through the schools formula and through the pupil premium. We will look at the funding formula in the round to address all those issues.

MP comments on MPs’ pay

Following IPSA’s decision following their statutory review of MPs’ pay, North Oxfordshire MP Victoria Prentis, has set out her views below:

 

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was established in response to the MP expenses scandal; MPs have absolutely no control over their pay level so I’m afraid any decision surrounding pay levels is entirely a matter for IPSA. By law, the increase must apply to all MPs; it will be applied through the usual monthly payroll process which is administered by IPSA.

 

I have thought very carefully about whether to say that I will give the pay rise to charity. For short term political gain, this might be the right thing to do. However, I do not think that how much of my earnings I give to charity, not listing which charities I support, is something I want to make public. This is not a precedent I wish to set.

 

I am a strong supporter and great believer in the charitable and voluntary sector. Indeed, it is undoubtedly volunteering which has let me to think I can make a difference and stand for Parliament. I have always been involved in raising money for charities, as are both my parents. Around fifteen years ago, I took the decision while on a fair civil service salary, that I should contribute more if I gave time as well as money. I decided to give Thursdays to a variety of charitable causes, mostly local ones.

 

I kept a list of charities who had asked me to help, and I tried to get to them in turn. I think it is important that less popular charities should get time and attention too, so I was happy to be involved with organisations such as Oxford Urology and Fine Cell Work, a charity which helps Prisoners. I had my own criteria for choosing, which I feel after much thought, I don’t want to make public; I wouldn’t want others to make assumptions as to why I did help, for example Leonard Cheshire, but not the wonderful Katharine House Hospice.

 

Of particular importance to me were setting up and chairing the Benefactors’ Board for Children’s Services across our local hospital Trust, and acting as a Trustee for NorPIP. I discovered that I loved fundraising. I don’t think it is appropriate to share my personal annual fundraising target; this is a matter for me. However, it may assist you to know that I remain the Chair of the Dorchester Abbey Christmas Concert, for children’s services, which raises around £50,000. This is just one of the many events in which I have been involved over the years, and in which, time permitting, I will of course stay involved.

 

Of course, charitable giving works both ways. I enjoy immensely a variety of other voluntary activities, such as reading in schools, running a children’s book club (which I did for several years in our village hall), acting as a church warden and leading Sunday School; I have gained a great deal from these experiences and am grateful for this. I think it is really important to give time. For example, I loved cooking supper for BYHP earlier this year. Buying the food was of course a charitable donation, but it was the time I spent cooking and chatting with the young people which meant most to all of us. Not strictly charitable, but definitely voluntary, are the events I host for my village at home three times a year. These, like all fetes and community celebrations, are about so much more than money.

 

Now that I am the Member of Parliament, I can no longer give a whole day or two a week to voluntary work. However, I will remain involved with the Children’s Services charity I started, and I still enjoy attending at the very least one charitable event each weekend.

 

I’m also enjoying putting people in touch with each other: to date I have found a new trustee for Banbury Museum, three school governors and suggested new patrons for several organisations. If anyone you know is looking to give some time, then do let me know if you can’t find anything suitable.

 

I am sorry not to give you a 140 character response suitable for Twitter; I have thought about your question in some detail and I’m afraid I am not keen to answer it in those terms.
Charitable giving is very important to me, but I do take the view that the level of commitment at any one time is a personal matter and goes beyond giving a monetary donation on a monthly basis.

 

 

Victoria Prentis
Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire

MP makes speech in Westminster Hall debate on the cremation of infants

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): Thank you, Mr Howarth, for calling me to speak. It is a pleasure to serve under you, and I will be as quick as I can.

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) for securing a debate on this important issue. On average, almost 20 very small babies die around the time of their birth every day in England and Wales. This issue is clearly significant for many families, and indeed for society as a whole.

I also have a constituent’s story to tell, which raises a related but slightly different problem. In 2009, my constituent gave birth to a baby girl who, sadly, did not survive. My constituent was told at the time by the funeral directors that there would not be any ashes, because the body of her baby was too small.

Following the media attention on this issue, which has been mentioned by several Members today, and the campaigning by Action for Ashes, my constituent was moved to contact Banbury crematorium in June. She hoped to find out details of their practice at the time when her baby was cremated. Imagine her enormous surprise and distress when she was told that her baby’s ashes were still at the crematorium, some six years on, waiting for her to collect them. She immediately went to pick up the ashes, as any mother would, and there was no difficulty in identifying them or in the crematorium handing them to her.

I understand that this is not an isolated case. I have written to crematoriums, because I understand that there are more babies whose remains are waiting to be collected; their families are simply not aware that their ashes are in crematoriums. Clearly, that is not acceptable—at the very least there has been a major breakdown in communication between the funeral directors, the crematoriums and the families. It is to be hoped that we can use these sad cases to inform debate and to consider how we can prevent such incidents from happening again.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Women and Equalities and Family Justice for meeting my constituent last week, and for the interest and sensitivity that she has shown in dealing with this difficult issue.

It is no longer necessary to have personal experience of the loss of a young baby to understand their importance in the eyes of their parents, grandparents and wider family. With recent advances in medicine, whereby some babies survive after only 22 or 23 weeks’ gestation, the perceptions of the whole of society towards these very important members of society have altered considerably. We may not be good at discussing death, but we all know that it matters how the bodies of these babies are treated.

The Scottish Government accepted all the recommendations of the Infant Cremation Commission and have established a national committee to ensure that they are implemented. I am keen that we learn from that work and move speedily to ensure that the rest of the UK does not lag behind in its provision for infant cremations.

I understand that both the leading professional organisations in the UK have adopted the wider definition of “ashes” to include remains from clothes, coffins and soft toys. This is good progress, but work must be done to ensure that the definition is applied in practice, and that small babies are always cremated in individual trays. A standard definition, and clear guidelines, would really help in this regard.

Clearly, work also needs to be done to ensure that funeral directors, crematoriums and families know exactly what is going on at each stage of the process. Care must be taken to ensure that both parents are involved in decision making. Obviously, many of the mothers who have given birth to these babies are unwell at the time, and enormous stress is placed on the families. It is very important that everybody is very clear at every stage of the process where the body of their baby is.

Sir Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): My hon. Friend is setting out the case most sensitively and powerfully. I am extremely grateful to her, as will be my constituents, Mr and Mrs Jones of Wigston Magna, whose son, Nicholas, died over 30 years ago. They have been living for the last 30 years with exactly the sorts of problems, traumas and distress that my hon. Friend is outlining. I am most grateful to her, on their behalf, for what she is saying.

Victoria Prentis: The pressures on the couple, dealing both separately and together with the loss of their child, are enormous, as all hon. Members know. Clearly, specialist staff training is needed to make sure that parents are helped in the best way. Many of us, whether we have lost children or other relatives, know that the actions of funeral directors and crematoriums can really make a difference in helping the living survive a bereavement.

Local MP asks question on tackling child abuse images online

Mr Speaker: Order. I was going to give the hon. Lady an opportunity on this question if she wants, because child abuse images online are an extremely antisocial form of behaviour.

17. [900757] Victoria Prentis: They are extremely antisocial, Mr Speaker; in fact, I can think of few more antisocial kinds of behaviour than videoing children and posting their images online. Does my right hon. Friend agree that social media and other communications companies have a responsibility to work with Government and the police to reduce access to indecent images such as these?

Mr Hayes: I do agree with that. Everyone has a role to play in combating this problem, and I welcome the groundbreaking pledges by 20 leading companies at the #WeProtect summit on global action to remove child sexual abuse images from the internet and develop new tools and techniques to tackle this crime. The Government will continue to work with companies, organisations and civil society to make it much more difficult for perpetrators of this heinous, hideous crime.

MP joins cooking classes with Brita and Kings Meadow School

Photo Credit: Ben Smith

Victoria visited Kings Meadow School in Bicester to take part in the Kids’ Cookery School session with Reception, run by Fiona Hamilton-Fairley. Fiona, a food writer and cookery teacher, set up the Kids’ Cookery School in 2000 in order to give young people the practical skills and knowledge needed to make healthy food choices.

 

Victoria commented: “I had a really good time with the reception class, who were very good cooks. I used to teach cookery in school as a volunteer, so this is very much my thing. It’s really important that children learn to cook real food and get the chance to try different things.”

 

Photo: Ben Smith

Victoria intervenes in Westminster Hall debate on the Human Rights Act

Victoria Prentis (Banbury) (Con): I am glad my right hon. and learned Friend is a optimist—he may need to be in the present circumstances. One subject we may be able to address in making any changes is extraterritoriality, under article 1, particularly with regard to the military. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr Grieve) may have touched on that when he talked about the possibility of other legislation being the way forward.

Robert Neill: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that promotion, which is unexpected and undeserved on both counts. I always look forward to the future with optimism as far as those two matters are concerned. Extraterritoriality is an important issue. It has exercised those involved in a number of recent Court judgments, and it is precisely the sort of area where we might find a proportionate and sensible way forward.

I hope we will engage with the profession on these issues, because there is a great deal of knowledge and understanding about this issue. We tend to regard what happens in the Strasbourg Court as a bit of a sideshow, and that would be a mistake, whatever side of the argument we are on.

MP encourages people to make views known on bus service

Local MP Victoria Prentis is encouraging members of the public to take part in an Oxfordshire County Council consultation on subsidised bus and Dial-a-Ride services.

 

The MP is keen that as many people as possible make their views known. The council’s public consultation can be found at www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/stconsultation, or in local libraries.

 

Victoria comments: “I am encouraging everyone to let the council know their views on the proposals. Decisions are made taking into account public comments, so it is important that we all take time to explain what these services mean to us locally.”

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