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And so it begins. This week the Prime Minster triggered Article 50 and began the process of leaving the European Union.
The goal for everyone now must be to ensure that Britain gets the best deal possible and to make sure the Government understands the needs of places like the Potteries and has a plan to deliver for them.
Stoke-on-Trent voted decisively to leave, and today their voices have been heard. But now we need to make sure that the aspirations that people placed on Brexit are met and ensure our local jobs and services are protected.
People here voted to leave, but no one voted to get poorer or to see our jobs go. Nor did they vote for us to close ourselves off from the world or become a smaller, more isolated nation.
What they voted for was greater opportunities for them and their families, and for greater investment in our NHS and public services. And they voted to put a stop to places like Stoke-on-Trent being left at the back of the queue.
My job now is to do everything in my power to help deliver a Brexit deal for The Potteries. That's why I have already met with ministers in the departments of Business and International Trade to talk about the threats and opportunities facing the ceramics industry.
It's why I have set up and lead the All Party Group on Ceramics to give our biggest local industry a voice in Westminster.
And it's why I am using every chance I get to shout about the incredible potential of Stoke-on-Trent.
This is our opportunity to transform our country for the better. But we can only do that if we work out together and hold the Government to account as they begin the long process of negotiating Brexit.
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The events of yesterday were tragic and heart breaking. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.
This was a despicable and cowardly act by a man who sought to devastate and to divide. It is thanks only to the extraordinary courage of our Police and first responders that there were not even more casualties.
We owe all of them a debt of gratitude, but none more so than PC Keith Palmer, who lost his own life defending the lives of others. His bravery is an inspiration to all of us, and his loss is a stark reminder of the danger that the men and women of our police forces face every day in order to keep us safe.
The incredible outpouring of love and support we have seen in the last few hours is proof that those who seek to make us afraid or to destroy our way of life will fail. We will not allow this tragedy to divide us or to deter us from democracy.
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Ruth Smeeth MP has said the chancellor has no post-Brexit economic plan for Stoke-on-Trent
Ruth welcomed the chancellor’s announcement of a further £2 billion for health and social care but said that the sums were ‘too little too late’ and would not address the challenges our local NHS faces.
Ruth said: “Our health and social care system is crying out for investment so any further funding is welcome. But when our local hospital trust is facing a £100 million deficit, the investment announced today is a drop in the ocean.
“The Tories are tinkering around the edges of a health and social care system in crisis.”
“Our social care system is facing a £4.6 billion black hole. This is too little too late after years of chronic underfunding of our NHS.”
And she raised concern that the Government’s ‘small and unimaginative’ budget fails to step up to the challenges the country faces.
Ruth said: “The glaring hole in this budget is clear: there is no plan for how Stoke-on-Trent can best benefit from Brexit.
“Our city needs proper investment in schools, skills and infrastructure. But the chancellor is choking the life out of the public education system while pouring £320 million into free schools.
“Schools in my own constituency are losing an average of £400 per pupil and our childrens’ centres are facing closure. How can we expect to train our young people for the jobs of tomorrow when their opportunities are being taken from them today?”
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The new year is a time to look to the future and set aside the arguments of the past. In 2017, that outlook might be more important than ever.
If you believe what you read in the national papers, the argument about whether or not to leave the EU is still raging. But then we know nothing sells papers like a good row.
Here in Stoke-on-Trent people were clear – we voted to leave. Nationally the result may have been closer, but the truth is we are much less divided than the result might suggest.
When it comes to our country’s future, we have much more in common than we give ourselves credit for. Many of those who voted to remain agree that we need to fix our immigration system, and those who voted to leave want to see our businesses flourish.
Everyone who cast a vote last June wanted Britain to succeed. If we are going to achieve that then we need to begin by recognising that we are on the way out of the EU and start talking properly about what we want our new Britain to look like.
That’s why I voted before Christmas for the exit process to begin by the end of March, and it’s why I’ll be voting to trigger Article 50 if the decision comes to Parliament. We need to stop repeating old arguments and start working together, and we need to have a real conversation about the country we want to build.
My priority in the months ahead is to promote and protect the Potteries and to ensure the UK maintains its place in the world as a force for good with a strong and well-equipped armed forces.
I want a Brexit deal that is going to deliver for the people of Stoke-on-Trent, and I will be fighting every step of the way to ensure that’s what we get.
For the local economy, that means making sure the Government takes steps to protect our ceramics industry from Chinese dumping and getting a framework for international trade deals established as quickly as we can. It was these protections for local industry which persuaded me to vote remain last year, and we must ensure they are kept in place when we leave.
But it also means honouring the key pledge of the Leave campaign and putting the millions we will save into our NHS. Our new, independent Britain should have a healthcare system that is the envy of the world.
And it means rethinking our immigration system from the bottom up and getting control of our borders. Our immigration policy should be based first and foremost on our own needs, focusing on what people can offer our country and the skills we need to grow.
We can’t let Brexit mean closing ourselves off from the world, that’s not what any of us voted for. But we need to understand that the massive low-skill migration we have seen in recent years has simply driven down wages and reduced opportunities for our young people.
We will always need some immigration, but it needs to be based on mutual benefit and mutual respect. And we need to ensure that British residents are being trained to have the skills that we need so we are not reliant on foreign workers to fill skills gaps.
I sometimes hear about people talking about putting the ‘Great’ back in Great Britain, but I don’t believe this country ever stopped being great. Our problems are not those of a country in decline, but of a Government which too often fails to listen.
The UK is a global power and we have always punched above our weight on the world stage. It’s not our membership of the European club that will determine that in the future, it’s the decisions we take together as a country. The course we are on comes with risk, but there are huge opportunities too if we can get it right. And I’m determined we will.
So let’s make 2017 the year of finding common ground. Let’s stop the shouting and start talking to one another about what we all want our country and our city to look like. We are one nation, not two, and we need to work together to get the best deal we can.
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‘For me there is no greater privilege than representing the people of Stoke-on-Trent and I can't begin to imagine why anyone would walk away from that. I’m sorry that Tristram is stepping down but I wish him the best and I know he’ll continue to contribute greatly to public life as the new director of the V&A museum.
He leaves behind a track record of delivering for Stoke-on-Trent: saving the Wedgwood Collection, securing tax breaks for the ceramics industry, and helping to create a state of the art Maths Hub to improve our schools.
I hope the Labour Party will act quickly to select a strong, local candidate who can continue Labour's record of standing up for the Potteries. Now more than ever we need a Labour MP to champion Stoke-on-Trent Central in Westminster, to stand up for our NHS and to fight Tory plans to cut our childrens' centres.’
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Today we learnt that our friend, Lily Jayne Summers has passed away. An incredibly talented, brave and determined young woman, Lily has been an inspiration to everyone who was fortunate enough to get to know her whether that was in Stoke-on-Trent, Swansea or online. She has been taken from us too soon.
Lily was passionate about people and about the ideas that can change their lives for the better. She was determined to fight for a better world and she did that through the Labour Party. Her commitment to our community and to the ongoing fight for a Labour Government driving real change will be her legacy.
Personally I will miss her intellect, her kindness and her support. Lily was one of the first people to endorse me as the Labour candidate for Stoke-on-Trent North & Kidsgrove, she campaigned tirelessly with me during last year’s election campaign and volunteered in my office this summer.
But much more importantly she was our Lily. She was part of the family – my Labour family. She challenged me when she didn’t agree but defended both the party and local politicians with gusto. There was simply no messing with Lily. It was such an honour to see her gaining confidence and strength as she settled into University at Swansea, she was happy and that was a delight for everyone who cared about her.
Many will speak of her fearlessness both personally and politically and whilst the world is a lesser place without her, she made her mark in the short time in a way very few will accomplish. We were lucky to know her. A blogger, a campaigner, a fighter and a friend.
My thoughts and prayers are with her mum Deborah, her family and friends. She will remain in our hearts.
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Ruth met with the transport minister, Paul Maynard MP, this week to discuss the importance of redeveloping Kidsgrove Station.
The improvements, including a new pedestrian bridge, have been the aim of a long-standing local campaign to improve transport networks in the town.
And with the transport team finally listening to the concerns of local people, there may still be hope for the project.
Ruth said: ‘I had an extremely productive discussion with the transport minister this week, and I’m hopeful that we can make some progress in the near future.
Kidsgrove station is a vital transport hub for the community and these improvements would be a great boost.’
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Ruth Smeeth MP has slammed plans by Stoke-on-Trent City Council to close six children’s centres across the city.
The Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent North and Kidsgrove, fears the cuts could impact on the life chances of young people across Stoke-on-Trent.
And she said that the city’s poor performance in this years Ofsted report means we should be investing more, not less, in early years support.
It was recently revealed that the number of children in early years’ education achieving a good level of development is well below the national average.
Ruth said: ‘These cuts will have a devastating impact on our young people and on educational attainment across our city.
Childrens centres play a vital role in supporting children and parents to give our kids the best start in life. Losing this service will be a huge blow to local families and will take our city backwards.’
This is an act of educational sabotage by a reckless administration. By squandering millions of pounds in the council's reserves they have left themselves with a financial black hole, and our children are paying the price.’
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Ruth has welcomed the Government's decision this week to U-turn on initial plans to cut apprenticeship funding by up to 50%.
The decision is a major victory for the #SaveOurApprenticeships campaign, which is led by Labour and fully supported by Ruth. It aims to ensure young people have the opportunity to develop their practical and vocational skills.
The cuts were initially announced during the Summer recess without any opportunity for MPs to debate or scrutinise the decision. But thanks to fierce opposition from both the Labour Party and the British public the decision has been overturned.
Ruth said: "It's great news that the Government has caved in to public pressure and reversed their decision to slash funding for apprenticeships."
"Vocational education and training is vital to ensuring our country's prosperity and to giving our all of our young people the opportunity to succeed. We need to ensure that young people here in Stoke-on-Trent have the chance to fulfil their potential and learn the skills they need to succeed in the economy of tomorrow."
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I’m sure readers are as excited as I am about the Olympic games. As this years European City of Sport Stoke-on-Trent has a unique opportunity to use this year’s games as a springboard to a local legacy of health, fitness and sporting prowess.
But the Rio Olympics have also been a rallying point for a wider campaign to tackle one of the issues that I have been campaigning on since my election – the scourge of child poverty and holiday hunger.
Child poverty remains a serious issue here in North Staffordshire, as the government’s Index of Multiple Deprivation makes clear. Stoke-on-Trent as a whole is ranked as the 13th most deprived authority out of 326. In one school in my constituency 52% of pupils qualify for free school meals.
But this is not just a local issue. A recent survey found that almost three quarters of teachers across the UK have seen pupils coming to school hungry ad over a quarter said they had given food to hungry pupils themselves.
This problem only gets worse during the school holidays. A recent report by Kellogg’s found that a third of parents have skipped a meal so that their kids could eat during the school holidays. Seeing our children going hungry is heartbreaking, and it has real consequences for their learning and development.
We know that too many children in this country are failing to fulfil their potential simply because they do not have access to decent, nutritious food.
We can’t start to narrow this attainment gap until we recognise the gulf in opportunity between our poorest students and the rest. Nor can we expect teachers, even great teachers, to keep a child’s development on track without dealing with these inequalities. We can’t keep pretending that inspiration alone can overcome starvation.
It’s heart-breaking to see this level of hunger in our own communities, in one of the richest countries in the world. But the Making Rio Count campaign offers clear goals and fresh opportunities to improve the lives of the poorest.
In the years since the London Games the International Development Goals have been agreed by the UN General Assembly and set ambitious targets for all countries, developed and developing, rich or poor. The primary goal is simple: to end hunger in our lifetime.
It also challenges all nations, including the UK, to ensure access to safe nutritious and sufficient food all year round, especially for children and young people.
Charities and campaigners have been working hard to tackle the awful plight of our most vulnerable children, with organisations such as the Alice Charity working to highlight and alleviate the problem.
But this is a national problem and it needs a national solution. We cannot expect charities and community groups to tackle the crisis of child food poverty by themselves, the Government must recognise the problem and support plans to fix it. Making Rio Count is our opportunity to put the issue on the agenda and push the Government to act.
Now the games are upon us and the sport and the spectacle will give all of us reason to cheer. But the Olympics has always been more than just a display of athleticism.
Its message of struggle and improvement, of being the best that we can be, should inspire all of us - not just the elite athletes among us. And it is an ambition that applies as much to societies as to individuals.
So for this year’s games, lets all be inspired to Make Rio Count, and work together to help feed our kids and improve the lives of our young people.