Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire, Victoria Prentis, has welcomed today the Secretary of State’s decision to refer the permanent downgrade of Banbury’s maternity unit to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel (IRP).
On 10 August 2017, the Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) resolved to make permanent the temporary suspension of consultant-led maternity at the Horton General Hospital. As a result, the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (JHOSC), chaired by Cllr Arash Fatemian, referred the matter to Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt.
Following on from the outcome of the recent Judicial Review hearing, which found in favour of the CCG, Victoria pressed upon the Department of Health the importance of moving forward, given widespread uncertainty about the future of the unit.
Today, the Secretary of State wrote to Victoria to let her know that he would be passing the matter onto the IRP to undertake an initial assessment before deciding whether it conducts a full review. In his referral, he drew upon the opposition of local councils and their responsibility to scrutinise decisions.
Victoria commented: “I am pleased that the Secretary of State has agreed to pass the decision to the Independent Reconfiguration Panel for consideration. It is with regret that we find ourselves in a similar position to 2008, when the IRP were last asked to look at maternity provision at the Horton General Hospital. The IRP is the independent expert on NHS service change; it takes into account all available evidence in order to advise the Secretary of State on contested proposals. I have no doubt that they will look at this matter properly, and am hopeful that they will agree to undertake a full investigation.”
Cllr Kieron Mallon, a longstanding Banbury Councillor and campaigner for the Horton also commented: “For those of us who were involved in 2008 we think it is right and proper for the Secretary of State to refer this on. We are all hopeful that the Independent Reconfiguration Panel will investigate this fully as they did the previous referral.”
2017 has been marked by its unpredictability. Navigating the uncharted waters of Brexit has dominated national headlines. At Westminster, the final few weeks of the year were spent analysing the EU Withdrawal Bill line-by-line. With 405 amendments and 85 new clauses, it meant a lot of late nights but was an extremely thorough process. I spent as much time as possible in the Chamber, listening to colleagues make often impassioned contributions. My own approach was to try to improve the Bill, particularly as I represent a constituency which voted narrowly to leave. We must respect the result and seek to secure a deal that guarantees a deep and special partnership with the EU.
While Brexit may have taken centre stage nationally, our fight to keep acute services at the Horton General Hospital has, quite rightly, been our main focus locally. We remain unhappy about the decision to remove obstetric services at the hospital but the sheer grit and determination of campaigners has been extraordinary. The judicial review may not have been successful, but Mr Justice Mostyn’s judgment only served to reinforce my profound discomfort about the way in which the Clinical Commissioning Group ran the Phase One consultation. The Secretary of State can be in no doubt about how I feel. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel must have the opportunity to conduct an investigation into the downgrade of maternity services.
A fully functioning hospital is more important than ever as we build houses at a rate three times the national average. I am not blind to the challenges of such unprecedented growth. My new Residents’ Roadshow has made it very clear that, from potholes to post boxes, a joined up approach between local authorities and developers is essential as we continue to grow. Ensuring both old and new residents feel part of the same community is paramount to the success of our new housing estates. When we work together, we really can achieve results. Nowhere is that more obvious than the Great British Spring Clean, Singing for Syrians and Refill – three campaigns I have been closely involved with in 2017.
I am hopeful that these initiatives will grow from strength to strength in the coming year. I accept that 2018 will not be easy as we continue to negotiate our departure from the EU. While I may have to spend the majority of my week at Westminster, my focus will remain on working hard for all those who live in North Oxfordshire. I may not have the solution to every problem but I could not be more committed to ensuring that all my constituents have a prosperous and peaceful New Year.
On Tuesday 12 December, Oxford West & Abingdon MP, Layla Moran sang in the choir of the 2017 flagship “Singing for Syrians” concert. Over 600 people attended the event at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, which was organised by neighbouring MP, Victoria Prentis, and raised money for the Hands Up Foundation who support a number of projects to help the most vulnerable who remain in Syria.
Alongside the choir, which was made up of fourteen Members of Parliament, a number of celebrities read at the concert, including Samuel West, Julie Christie and Martin Jarvis. Alexander Armstrong performed “Winter Wonderland”. The event raised over £32,000 through sponsorship, the retiring collection and ticket donations.
Victoria Prentis MP said: “I was delighted to recruit Layla to the MP choir. Singing together is a simple yet effective way to raise money for those most in need in Syria. It is really important to me that the choir is cross-party – it shows that we can all work together to help some of the world’s most vulnerable people. They all sang beautifully and showed that the plight of the Syrian people has not been forgotten.”
Layla Moran MP added: “It was a privilege to sing in the choir at such a magical event. In my youth I went to Damascus when my family lived in Jordan. My heart breaks for the people whose lives have been affected by the conflict, and so when Victoria told me about this event I jumped at the chance to do my little bit. I’d like to thank all those in Oxfordshire who held similar events, the Hands Up Foundation for the amazing work they do, and Victoria for putting the event together. I hope to participate again next year!”
On Saturday 9 December, Victoria Prentis, Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire, kicked off Christmas festivities in Heyford Park, opening the community’s new Youth Centre.
Heyford Park Youth Group (now a registered charity) was established in April 2017 by local residents, including Tom Beckett and Dave Beesley. It was felt that the area needed more activities for young people, particularly while it undergoes significant redevelopment. Starting out from a room in the Community Centre, it now occupies a building provided by developers Dorchester Living. The Group will eventually move into its own permanent, purpose-built facility. Activities are currently aimed at 13-18 year olds, but it is hoped that those as young as ten will soon be catered for.
Residents have come together to raise money, donate items and help the group renovate the building. In addition, Upper Heyford Parish Council has provided funds to refurbish the site and run it for the first year, with additional support available if required in the future.
After the opening, Victoria said: “It was an honour to be invited to open the new youth centre in Heyford Park. With a growing community, it is important that all age groups are provided with the necessary facilities. It’s lovely to see the community spirit that has turned this vision into a reality.”
Tom Beckett, a founder of the Youth Group and resident commented: “Dave Beesley and I are very proud of this project, not just because we are providing a new youth facility, but because the whole community has contributed in some way to get us from our initial vision to a fully funded and furnished youth facility.”
On Friday 1 December, commuters returning to their North Oxfordshire homes were surprised by a Hallelujah Chorus flash mob at London Marylebone station. Forty professional singers broke out into song during the evening rush hour in aid of Singing for Syrians, the charity initiative set up in 2015 by Member of Parliament, Victoria Prentis with the Hands Up Foundation.
Conducted by musical director, Nicholas Cleobury, and accompanied by trumpeter, Kevin Kay-Bradley, the choral flash mob followed Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus with carols on the station concourse.
Singing for Syrians is a nationwide campaign which raises money for the Hands Up Foundation who support a number of projects helping the most vulnerable who remain in Syria. They pay the medical salaries of doctors in rural southern Aleppo, run a kindergarten in Idleb and fund two prosthetic limb clinics. It is estimated that over 30,000 Syrians are amputees in need of urgent treatment.
North Oxfordshire MP Victoria Prentis, who was at the station to watch the flash mob unfold, said afterwards: “When the first singer broke into song everyone around her was completely taken aback, particularly as she was dressed in Chiltern Railways uniform. As others joined in across the station, it was an extraordinary sound and sight which really did raise the roof.
“The whole point of Singing for Syrians is to show that we all have the power to do something. By coming together in a positive and uplifting way, and singing at the tops of our voices, we can all make a difference. The flash mob could not have made that clearer. Hopefully people will be inspired to hold their own event or come along to the flagship concert at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey on Tuesday 12 December. I would encourage everyone to look at www.singingforsyrians.com.
“My thanks to Chiltern Railways, BNP Paribas and Redshift Media Production for making the flash mob possible.”
This autumn, Victoria Prentis MP ran a competition for local schoolchildren to design her Christmas card. It has proved a popular initiative since she was first elected in 2015, and this year’s theme was shepherds.
There were some high quality entries, but the eventual winner was Ethan Osborne from Bure Park Primary School for his silhouette design. The card will now be sent out to the over 250 people on Victoria’s Christmas card list. She visited Ethan at school on Monday 27 November to present him with copies of his cards and some gifts from the House of Commons. He will be visiting the Houses of Parliament early next year with his family.
Victoria commented: ‘I love running my Christmas card competition every year, and we always have some brilliant entries. Ethan’s really stood out for his clever use of the silhouette design. It’s a lovely piece of artwork and the cards look fantastic this year – I am sure everyone on my list will be very impressed!’
Ethan said: ‘I really enjoyed meeting Victoria at school and am looking forward to visiting the Houses of Parliament. I liked designing my card and was very excited that I won. I would recommend everyone to take part next year!’
On 17 November, Victoria Prentis, MP for North Oxfordshire, held her third annual Democracy Challenge, a debating competition for local secondary school pupils. Kindly hosted by Cherwell District Council at their offices in Bodicote, teams participated in two initial rounds debating social media abuse and the role of private providers in the NHS. The two highest scoring teams then battled it out in a final debate on tuition fees.
The winners for the second year running were the impressive team from The Warriner School of Emily Thompson, Lucy Dunlop, Alfie Bullus and Daniel O’Toole, although they faced stiff competition from Sibford School in the final.
Victoria was joined on the judging panel by other local elected officials and members of the community, including councillors, journalists and a Thames Valley Police inspector. While the finalists were preparing for their debate, other students participated in a Q&A session with the judges, which involved a lively discussion about student loans.
Speaking after the event, Victoria commented: ‘The Democracy Challenge is fast becoming one of the highlights of my calendar. I continue to be impressed by the high standard of debating, which improves year on year. The Warriner were a formidable team, but everyone who participated made some really excellent and thought-provoking contributions. Cherwell District Council are always so supportive in hosting us; it makes such a difference for the students to experience the atmosphere in the Chamber. Democracy has a bright future in North Oxfordshire.”
Victoria Prentis, Member of Parliament for North Oxfordshire, has welcomed plans for further restrictions on the use of pesticides harmful to bees and other pollinators.
Following advice from the UK’s pesticides advisory body, the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Rt Hon Michael Gove, has announced restrictions on neonicotinoid pesticides as part of his commitment to maintain environmental standards across the UK.
Victoria commented: “Bees have been a big issue since I was first elected. Nearly 200 constituents have taken the time to contact me to express concerns about the impact of pesticides on bees. As the proud owner of three hives, I understand the importance of ensuring the safety of pollinators across the UK and the positive environmental impact that they have. I know many of my constituents will join me in welcoming this announcement.”
On 7 November, Victoria Prentis’ cat, Midnight, was named the winner of Battersea Dogs and Cats Home’s annual ‘Purr Minister’ competition. Each candidate submitted a ‘Manifursto’, and the final winner was decided by public vote. Midnight’s pledges included a compulsory cat-related Purr Minister’s Question every Wednesday, a new Feline Select Committee, and a promise to monitor Buttons the office mouse.
Victoria said: “I am thrilled that Midnight’s dedication to the campaign has paid off. I know that he will be getting to work on implementing his manifursto commitments straightaway. Finding good homes for all the rescue cats currently living in temporary accommodation is a top priority. No doubt Midnight’s first Purr Minister’s Question Time will be a lively affair.”
Over five years since the first residents moved into the Kingsmere estate in Bicester, a post box has finally been installed following pressure from Bicester’s Member of Parliament, Victoria Prentis, and the Residents’ Association.
The Post Box, situated outside newly built St. Edburg’s Primary School, will serve locals and those using the community facilities expected to open in March 2018, including the Community Centre and shops.
Victoria Prentis has been petitioning Royal Mail for post boxes on all new estates across her constituency, including Elmsbrook and Graven Hill in Bicester, and areas such as Longford Park in Banbury, raising it during a recent exchange with the Prime Minister during questions in October. With North Oxfordshire experiencing some of the highest levels of growth in the country, it is important that community facilities such as post boxes are provided in conjunction with house building.
Yesterday (2 November 2017) marked the opening of the post box in Kingsmere, and Victoria along with Viki, Co-Chair of the Residents’ Association went along to mark the occasion. Victoria commented: “While some people may think that the issue of post boxes is a trivial matter, they really are vital for residents’ continuing their normal day to day lives after moving to a new area. I understand that a lot of correspondence is dealt with online, but my constituents still regularly send letters, particularly the elderly.
North Oxfordshire is experiencing unprecedented levels of growth and I will continue to push for services such as post boxes, adequate health care and sustainable road infrastructure. I look forward to meeting Royal Mail later this month to discuss this further with them.”