Author Archives: John

From your local MP – David Johnston

I am writing this after the first full week of parliament’s return, when all MPs have been present. While I had been going down to London Monday-Thursday once it was permitted again, some MPs have not been physically in the House of Commons for nearly 18 months. All of us who were attending physically had been subject to a socially distanced chamber with only a fraction of MPs allowed in and all committee meetings were on Zoom.

The place is now transformed, with much more atmosphere; proper debates where people can ‘intervene on’ (interrupt to politely make a counterpoint) each other; and I for one felt our first Education Committee meeting was much more focussed and better for being able to put ministers and their officials under scrutiny. Virtual parliament is better than no parliament, but a lot is lost.

With the exception of a few days in Yorkshire and a couple of days in Norfolk, I spent most of recess at home in Didcot. There were some great events just before we returned. One was the Longworth Church Fete, which had a good turnout and good weather, a very competitive dog show and classics like a tombola and coconut shy. Another was a tea party at the Almshouse of Robert Stiles in Wantage, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Almshouse Association. Almshouses have existed in the UK for more than 1000 years and provide low-cost housing to the local community. They have something in common with fetes in that both are run by volunteers. And, as with the return of parliament, they give a taste of what’s been missed through Covid.

I know that the pressure on GP services continues to be a bugbear. Over the summer, I met with both the Wantage surgeries and chaired a larger meeting of the Didcot surgeries, Clinical Commissioning Group, Patient Participation Group reps and the District Council in Didcot. The long-overdue expansion of Mably Way in Wantage has just had a step forward after a meeting of the CCG: the business case has been approved and the planning application has been submitted. In Didcot, there is both the particular short-term need presented by the new houses at sites such as Great Western Park and a longer-term need given the expected population growth. In broad terms there’s agreement about what we need. My job is to do all I can to try and ensure we get it.

Other recent meetings of note were with some residents of Appleford and some residents of Sutton Courtenay. The Appleford meeting was specifically about the location of the relief road and the desire of the group to see it moved 200m to where Oxfordshire County Council were originally going to put it. I think there is a compelling case for this and have contacted the County Council with the points the group wanted raised. The Sutton Courtenay meeting was a broader one about the development that has taken place and promised improvements that have still not arrived – at my request, they’re giving me a task list of things they’d like me to do!

A final mention for a couple of charities. Adrian is an ambassador for the Stroke Association and runs a group in Grove. He can deliver free of charge presentations to groups of any age about the risk factors for having a stroke. The other is Root and Branch, near Shrivenham, which runs outdoor activities for those with mental health difficulties. I visited this month and they need volunteer blacksmiths/metal workers to help run classes for those that use the service. Do get in touch if you can help – or indeed, as ever, if you’d like to contact me about anything else: david.johnston.mp@parliament.uk

Parish Council Meeting Wednesday 8th Sept. 2021

The next Council meeting will be convened in the Village Hall at 7.30 pm on Wednesday 8th September 2021.

Residents wishing to attend may wish to contact the Clerk in advance for details with respect to the latest COVID-19 recommendations.

Here is the agenda and supporting documents.

From your local MP – David Johnston

I held a very productive pre-COP26 summit for Wantage and Didcot constituents this month. We had a great range of speakers, including the CEO of the independent Climate Change Committee. Interesting fact: the UK is currently 20 years ahead of the global average for cutting emissions, as well as cutting them faster than the other G20 countries. It won’t surprise you that the way we build houses featured regularly.

I put the event on because tackling climate change is very important to me, very important to a significant number of constituents and we have a big opportunity to demonstrate leadership when the world’s leaders come to Glasgow for the actual UN summit in November. It was also a great chance to showcase good local organisations like Greencore Construction, Westmill Wind and Solar and the Earth Trust. I am sending a summary of the concerns and ideas raised at the event to Alok Sharma, President of COP26, and will let everyone know how he responds.

As you might have seen, I held my debate in parliament on Royal Mail’s performance recently, making clear again that I don’t blame their workers for the problems. The following day I visited the Didcot Delivery Office. It’s clear that Royal Mail HQ has taken the criticisms seriously and has worked to try and improve the service – many people have told me it has. But you should let me know if you continue to encounter problems.

My first ‘10 minute rule bill’ will be on behalf of the AEAT Pension Campaign. This constituency has more of the AEAT Pensioners than any other constituency and they were all encouraged – via assurances that turned out to be false – to transfer to a pension scheme that has meant their pensions are now worth considerably less than they should be. It is a tale that sounds familiar, but a unique case in that it was advice from the Government’s Actuary Department in the 1990s that was strengthened to encourage the transfer and, at the moment, the advice can’t be investigated as the Ombudsman in question doesn’t have the powers to do so. The Bill would enable the Ombudsman to investigate the advice given and was first introduced by Ed Vaizey not long before he stood down. It is a long and difficult route to pass a law this way, but I am full of admiration for the campaigners who have been dogged in seeking to right the wrong.

Recess is fast approaching. I will be back home in Didcot for most of it, albeit working, contrary to the suggestion MPs are on holiday! In addition to regular meetings, surgery appointments and visits, I’ll be holding some roundtables on issues constituents have raised repeatedly with me (including on GP appointments) and trying to attend as many of the events that couldn’t take place last year as I can – let me know if you think there is a good one for me to attend near you.

As ever, if I can help with anything, do email me via david.johnston.mp@parliament.uk

Parish Council Meeting Wednesday 21st July 2021

The next Council meeting will be convened in the Village Hall at 7.30 pm on Wednesday 21st July.

Residents wishing to attend may wish to contact the Clerk in advance for details with respect to the latest COVID-19 recommendations.

Here is the agenda and supporting documents.

From your local MP – David Johnston

If you are reading this before 1st July, there’s still time to sign up to my Zoom pre-COP26 summit via my website.

Significant change is being proposed for Oxfordshire by the independent Boundary Commission.  They say create a seventh seat in the county at Bicester; move the Faringdon, Kingston Bagpuize, Stanford and Watchfield & Shrivenham wards from the Wantage constituency into the Witney constituency; move the Marcham division from Wantage into Oxford West and Abingdon; and move the Sandford and the Wittenhams division from Henley into Wantage, which will get an official new name: Didcot and Wantage (I have continued my predecessor’s habit of including Didcot in the name but it isn’t official!).

The purpose is to give each MP roughly the same number of electors as, at the moment, constituencies in England range from 55,000 to 100,000 people. Wantage and Didcot is 91,000, so I knew they would propose a chunk being taken off somewhere; the proposal would make it 71,000. We’re strongly urged not to give an opinion as these are proposals subject to consultation, but you can give yours up until 2nd August on their website.

I have launched a new project with my colleague, Claire Coutinho, to research and propose practical recommendations to close what we’re calling the Opportunity Gap for young people from different backgrounds and areas of the country. We’ll look at everything from the resources parents have (financial and non-financial) through to the recruitment processes employers use, praising those doing good work to help and calling out those who could do more. Readers will know my pre-politics career was entirely spent working with disadvantaged young people and in the post-Covid world, it’s a topic that is more important than ever.

One of the most valuable things I think I can do in my job is raise issues that affect constituents in the House of Commons. Recently, I’ve been pleased to raise a series of concerning issues, including the case of a constituent who has been waiting 3 years for her rape case to reach court, and what looks to be a worrying rise in the prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs to dementia patients who don’t have a diagnosis of dementia. I also took the opportunity to raise the lack of GP services to serve our growing population – and am pleased the Health Minister has agreed to meet to discuss this further. On this topic, my debate on the performance of Royal Mail is this month and I will put my speech – and other local issues I raise in the meantime – on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/davidjohnston4wantage)

A few weeks ago I was delighted to become the first patron of the Childrey charity, Team Mikayla, set up by the inspiring 14 year old Mikayla, who has had a long and difficult fight against Cancer. I was delighted to subsequently hear they received a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, alongside other great local organisations such as the Ray Collins Charitable Trust in Wantage and Farcycles in Faringdon. In other good news, Anna Richards of Maymessy in West Challow received the Prime Minister’s Points of Light award too. Congratulations to them all.

As ever, if I can help do please email me at david.johnston.mp@parliament.uk

From your local MP – David Johnston

We’ve had 2 Cabinet Ministers visit the constituency in the past month. First up was Priti Patel, Home Secretary, in support of Matt Barber’s (successful) campaign to be the Police and Crime Commissioner. She visited Great Western Park, where residents have had considerable problems with unauthorised traveller camps. This is something I have raised in the House of Commons on more than one occasion and something that Matt has campaigned against with people like Cllr Ian Snowdon. GWP residents appreciated meeting her as she is bringing forward the new laws on this problem.
The second was Kwasi Kwarteng, Secretary of State

for BEIS. This came about after I told him about Johnson Matthey’s new flagship site at Milton Park to develop and test the next generation of electric vehicle batteries; he said he’d be pleased to visit. After the official opening I took him to Greencore Construction’s Springfield Meadows development in Southmoor. I have already brought the Minister for Science, Research and Innovation to see their impressive homes and set up Greencore to meet the Government’s Net Zero Champion, too, but I am keen for as many in government as possible to see how they’ve built not just net zero but carbon-positive homes.

While on the subject of the environment, I am holding a pre-COP26 summit for constituents on 1st July at which we’ll talk about some of the key issues we need to make progress on, showcase some of the great local organisations we have locally – including Greencore – and agree ideas to send to Alok Sharma, President of COP26, ahead of the summit.

It has been good to be able to have more face to face meetings and visit more places as lockdown has eased. I have had very enjoyable visits to all sorts of shops, pubs (such as the Radnor Arms in Coleshill) and restaurants (such as the Fish in Sutton Courtenay). Other highlights have included Tom Brown’s School Museum in Uffington, still in its original 1617 school building, and Flowers from Molly in Faringdon, which allows you to nominate someone to receive a bunch of flowers or a letter of hope if you think they could do with a lift.

I have secured the cross-party support I needed to be able to hold a debate in parliament on the performance of Royal Mail; it is clear we are not the only area that has been having problems. It is now just a question of when the debate can be scheduled. I read in the paper that in Wantage and Grove some residents have just received post from up to 13 years ago as a former postal worker had it in their home this whole time, but I don’t think that accounts for the problems we’ve had!

As ever, if I can help with anything then do let me know via david.johnston.mp@parliament.uk

Parish Council Meeting and Annual Parish Assembly Wednesday 5th May

The next Council meeting will be convened around 7.15 pm for a start at 7.30 pm on Wednesday 5th May 2021. The meeting will be ‘virtual’ held over SKYPE.

Residents wishing to attend should contact the Clerk in advance for details.

Here is the agenda and supporting documents.

From your local MP – David Johnston

I was the 135th speaker for the House of Commons motion to pay tribute to Prince Philip, but they only got to the 131st MP. Had I been able to speak I would have recounted an anecdote in James Callaghan’s book in which he found himself squeezed into a small car with Prince Philip and Margaret Thatcher. Despite the fact he had been PM, he wrote “I recognised at once the force of their characters and decided that my best contribution to the general happiness would be to remain quite quiet.” Sensible man. Few people will serve their country as long and as steadfastly as Prince Philip did ours.

So far, so good, on reopening post lockdown. I spent most of the first full Friday I could visiting shops and pubs who were, as you can imagine, pleased to have reopened – despite that snow on day 1! Just before the retail visits, I’d been at the Sylva Foundation and the Earth Trust in Little Wittenham and been inspired by what both are doing. Make sure you check out the brand-new Earth Lab the latter has been building, which will open in the near future, not least to admire its construction. It is built with glulam beams and has a rammed earth wall, straw installation and a wildflower roof – I got a sneak peek and was very impressed.

I am among the MPs who has returned to parliament Monday-Thursday each week (parliament only sits on occasional Fridays). It’s not exactly lively yet – many MPs are continuing to participate virtually and there are so many restrictions in every part of the building, including the continuation of the 50 person limit in the House of Commons, that you don’t see many people in the way you used to. But important business continues to proceed, including the Domestic Abuse and Finance Bills.

Much continues to be by Zoom however. It has been a pleasure to continue to attend meetings of parish councils, most recently that of Aston Tirrold and Aston Upthorpe. I am always impressed with the dedication of people who sit on parish councils as there is not a lot of glory to the posts, but they’re vital to ensuring that very local issues get the consideration they should. And, of course, parish councils played a key role in the community’s response to Covid. I also continue to take searching questions from school children via Zoom – as I did just before Easter with Sutton Courtenay primary school. Some of the questions children ask you are tougher than the ones adults do.

The constituency and Oxfordshire have done very well from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, with Didcot Railway Centre, Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra and Origin Technical Productions receiving a combined £400,000 in the latest round and 31 organisations receiving over £5 million overall – I hope we see them all flourish when they can get back to normal.

As ever, if I can help with anything then do contact me via david.johnston.mp@parliament.uk.

From your local MP – David Johnston OBE

I was delighted that 2,620 people responded to my survey regarding Grove Station within just 2 weeks – thank you if you did. Some 98% of people respondents supported it being reopened! Over 90% said they would prefer it to a new bus service and 89% said they would use their car less if it reopened. We have stiff competition as there are 85 different bids to Government for stations or lines to reopen, but I will keep bashing away until we eventually succeed.

I continue to be frustrated with Royal Mail. Our postmen and women work hard but something is clearly not right as constituents have been complaining to me about mail deliveries for several months and the problem has been reported in the national news too. When I called a meeting with them last year they said they had gone from ‘a letter service delivering parcels to a parcel service delivering letters’ and it does seem to be the parcels they prioritise. Every fortnight I enter the ballot to have a debate in parliament about their service and hope I will be successful soon.

Unauthorised traveller camps were the subject of my speech in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill debate this month. The Bill has wrongly been accused of restricting our right to protest when actually the protest measures target actions we have seen by organised protest groups in the past year such as people gluing themselves to roads and stopping ambulances getting through, or shutting down printing presses because they don’t like the editorial line of the papers involved. It is a wide-ranging bill that increases the sentences or time served for a wide range of violent and sexual offences, but it also clamps down on unauthorised traveller camps which are a regular source of distress in the constituency. At the time of writing, in 20 of the past 34 weeks there has been at least 1 such camp somewhere in the Vale or South Oxfordshire, frequently involving mess, noise, vandalism and other anti-social behaviour. The Bill will allow the police to remove such camps more quickly and impose stiffer penalties.

I had my first appearance on the BBC’s Politics Live on 18th March, an interesting if slightly strange experience. Whereas you can see everyone’s face when you watch on television, each of us panellists look into a black screen on our computers as we can’t see anyone! We discussed various topics including the EU’s latest silly comments regarding the supply and safety of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has again been confirmed as completely safe. Despite the noise, we shouldn’t worry – we’ve now vaccinated over 25 million people, half the adult population, and remain on course to see every adult offered a jab by the end of July.

As ever, if I can help with anything then do email david.johnston.mp@parliament.uk .
David Johnston OBE MP | Member of Parliament for Wantage

Charney Manor Premises Licence Application

The Charney Bassett Parish Council wishes to advise villagers of the Premises Licence Application recently made by Charney Manor.

The officer dealing with the application has confirmed that it is acceptable to post this.