We’ve had another difficult season with stormy weather impacting the coast, towns and villages. As I write this column in the constituency, the wind is beating fiercely and the rain is lashing down courtesy of Storm Ciarán. It’s a great worry for everyone and I hope that constituents are safe and damage to property is kept to a minimum.
It was the storms in early 2022 which caused me to press for change from our utility companies and local resilience forum partners to press them to be more prepared and joined up. You may recall that many parts of the constituency were knocked out of power and this impacted the water supply for hundreds more residential homes and businesses. The power network company did not prioritise the remote water pumping stations because they were focussed on restoring power to highly populated areas.
Since then, I have been on a mission to ensure we handle these matters better. This caused me to call on the organisations involved, as well as Cabinet Ministers and Regulators. I wasn’t convinced that the immediate promises were being met with action. However, in fairness, I was impressed to receive, on Wednesday, a day before this storm hit, an email from UK Power Networks. In it, they promised me that, if the storms caused power cuts, they would protect the water pumping stations as a priority. This is exactly what I asked for. The ultimate answer is that South East Water have back-up generators in their pumping stations. I have been told that they have added a generator to the station at Powdermill Lane. I am meeting South East Water next week and will want to get a map showing all of their stations and how each is prepared.
As for the Sussex Resilience Forum, the body which comprises local authorities, police and fire, NHS, utility companies and other essential service providers, they have also been in touch proactively and set out their preparations. Southern Water, DEFRA and the Environment Agency did likewise. This is welcomed; it’s essential all bodies work together to build resilience and communicate.
Of course, preparation cannot guarantee protection but it instils confidence that damage can be mitigated. I’m very grateful for the change of approach. We rightly criticise, and I get criticised, when hindsight demonstrates more can be done. It’s therefore right to welcome the work from these bodies. I obviously hope that I don’t have to amend these words. I do know that the workforce will be out in these appalling conditions to fix supplies, remove trees from the road and railway line, patch up damaged roofs and help people in distress. They do so whilst putting themselves at harm of the elements and deserve much praise.
In case you wonder why I am in the constituency on a Thursday, and not in Parliament and the Department for Transport, it’s because Parliament has been ‘prorogued’. This term means that the Parliamentary law-making year has come to a close and a new session is about to begin. A Parliamentary year typically begins in the Spring with the State Opening. Here, the monarch formally opens Parliament and, in what will this year be the first King’s Speech in 70 years, outlines the Government’s proposed policies for the year ahead. This is the only routine occasion where the three constituent parts of Parliament – Commons, Lords, and Crown – gather in the same place.
The most recent session lasted slightly longer than normal, having started back in May 2022, and now that it has ended, Parliament is currently in period of prorogation. This is the formal name given to the gap between the end of one session of Parliament, and the State Opening and the start of the next. Prorogation usually lasts a few days and begins following an announcement read out on behalf of the monarch in the House of Lords, which took place last Thursday.
The pomp of the State Opening coincides with UK Parliament Week this year. This special week always takes place in November. Across the Bexhill and Battle constituency, a diverse range of groups (of all ages) and schools register to take part in UK Parliament Week. I will be visiting a number of schools next Friday to talk politics. I always enjoy visits from schools to Parliament or my own visits across our schools and colleges. If you would like to come and learn more about Parliament and see it for yourself then do contact my office and we will help you to explore the centuries of democracy and freedom which it represents.