A view from Parliament

The first of MP John Howell's columns
The first of MP John Howell's columns

HE was voted in to fight the cause for the people of Thame and so now, local MP John Howell has agreed to lift the lid on the daily challenges he faces.

Starting today, the conservative politician will provide a monthly column for the readers of The Thame Gazette, which will appear in the last edition of every month.

I had to think twice about the title of this column. Being an MP is a rare job where you have two principal places of work. You need to be able to have a view both from Westminster and from the constituency. They are also two very different jobs – one making laws for the country; the other dealing with a range of personal cases through to community issues.

This past week I had a perfect example of how the one job affects the other. On Monday, the Localism Bill had its successful second reading in the House of Commons. It is a Bill in which I’ve invested a lot of my parliamentary time over the past two years as it contains the planning reforms I want to make to our broken planning system.

Few MPs get the chance to take forward a radical proposal whilst an opposition back-bencher and then see it through as a full-blown Bill in Government and I’m conscious of the privilege that is.

The Bill is a good example of how what I do in Westminster has a direct impact in Thame where planning has not exactly been uncontroversial recently. The current system simply does not work and has minimised local engagement – but that is no more!

When the Bill finally becomes law, local residents will be part of the solution not the problem and local communities will have new rights as well as very clear new responsibilities. I suspect we will want to return to this at a later date.

This constituency is now some 260 square miles in size. It has two towns and not that far short of 100 parishes. It is fortunate compared to many other constituencies; the number unemployed and on Job Seekers Allowance, for example, is not great - around 690.

But whilst we may not share others’ problems we have our own. This is a constituency with an enormous number of not-spots for broadband and mobile coverage – a facility essential now not just for being sociable but for jobs and study. I’m trying to improve that. On a positive note, I never fail to be amazed at the enormous contribution made by volunteers as I saw when I helped cut the 10th birthday cake for Thame’s Oxfam bookshop recently; run by some 60-70 volunteers.

This is going to be a tough year, as we try to get the economy back on its feet and reduce the deficit. I hope this column will give you the chance to find out what I am doing in all this and for us to stay in touch in the difficult times ahead.