I’ve been speaking up for smokers and students

This week I had the opportunity to deliver a speech in Parliament as part of the Tobacco Control Debate. Smoking can have a devastating impact not only on the smoker, but also on family and friends and I was able to draw on my own mum’s experience, with her many attempts to quit, to add a human dimension to a debate which can so easily get lost in the facts and figures.

I know from my own family experience how hard giving up can be, so I called for additional resources, information and support to be made available, especially for expectant mothers where the impact of smoking is even more profound. Whilst much more work is needed to reduce smoking rates, I am thrilled that recent figures show smoking related deaths across Wiltshire have fallen 25% in 10 years, showing action taken by successive governments is working and sparing families the grief of losing a loved one, but the momentum must continue.

I also had the opportunity to speak about ensuring that there is value for money in higher education funding. Too often the debate is framed around whether to have or to remove tuition fees, failing to look at whether under the current system, universities are offering value for the fees they charge. The majority of universities now charge the maximum allowed fees, but the weekly tuition provided can range from four to 30 hours. This cannot be right nor can the astronomical fees we pay University Chancellors or their inflated marketing budgets. We have a duty to ensure British students receive value for money and that there is transparency over where their money goes. Getting the interest rate down is also essential so I will continue to challenge this as part of my role on the Education Select Committee.

Back in the constituency we are just one week away from the start of the Wiltshire Festival of Engineering and with over 30 businesses confirmed and 3,000 students attending it promises to be even bigger and better than last year. I am also thrilled that the Schools Minister Nick Gibb will be joining us, to speak to schools and businesses about what we can do to inspire more young adults into science and engineering and see first hand the innovation here in Wiltshire. For too long people have talked about needing to inspire young people and plug the skills gaps. I am immensely proud that I and the fantastic local businesses taking part have taken action and will ensure Wiltshire children have a full range of career options and businesses will have the skills they need.