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Fiona Bruce MP calls on Rail Minister to improve Alsager Rail Services



In a speech in Parliament, addressing Rail Minister Andrew Jones MP, Fiona Bruce said:
“As a Cheshire MP, I speak on behalf of residents of the town of Alsager, which my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) mentioned in his excellent speech.
Alsager station is just a mile from the Staffordshire border. The rail route from it passes through Staffordshire, runs to Stoke-on-Trent and beyond, and is served by the same rail companies: East Midlands Trains, London Northwestern Railway and West Midlands Railway. In his speech, my hon. Friend harked back to the days when many of the workers in the pottery manufacturing companies travelled conveniently to their jobs in the Stoke area, including from Alsager. I think trains are particularly valued by Alsager residents for that reason. One wrote to me that
“Alsager residents value their trains, particularly as bus services aren’t brilliant, but there needs to be better communication between train companies and better links between stations.”
I will come on to the detail of that in a moment.
Earlier this month, I held a surgery late one evening at Congleton station. I was impressed, though not entirely surprised, that no less than 30 to 40 residents came along on a dark wintry evening. I know from my postbag that there are considerable concerns in my constituency about train services. Many of the points raised by residents at that meeting are echoed by residents in Alsager. They include a lack of joined-up thinking by rail companies on the services and timing of trains; trains are too infrequent and often overcrowded, and they stop too early in the evening; and there is some confusion and a perception of unfairness about charges. Having held that surgery with Congleton residents, I now contribute to this debate on behalf of my Alsager residents.
I have four points, and I apologise if some appear to be somewhat technical in detail, but the detail of timing can make all the difference to a daily commuter, and the detail of charges can make all the difference to young people for whom finances are a big consideration. The main issue is that, with only two trains an hour each way from Alsager, they are timetabled too closely together—only five minutes apart. I have raised that with train operators to no avail, so I hope that the Minister might be able to do something. I know he is a very hard-working and earnest Minister, always smiling, whatever is put before him.
Here is an example of the problem: the 11.11 am from Alsager to Stoke is followed by the 11.16 am from Alsager to Stoke, provided by a different service. The next train is at 12.11 pm. The trains that arrive close together from Crewe can also cause problems for cars and congestion at the barriers at Alsager, because the barriers can be down for 10 minutes or more. Passengers who aim for the later of the two trains, but arrive a little short of time, albeit with enough time to make their train, can be stuck on the other side of a barrier that has been down since the earlier train, and they miss their train.
My second point is on ticket pricing. An advance single ticket from Stoke to Manchester can cost as little as £6.10, but an anytime ticket from Alsager via Crewe, which is two stops closer to Manchester, costs £12.70. I asked the young person who raised this with me, “Can you not buy an advance ticket from Alsager?” They said, “Yes, technically you can buy an advance ticket from Alsager to Manchester, but it is not economical. You buy the £6.10 advance ticket from Stoke to Manchester, and to make use of that, you pay £5.10 to travel two stops back on the line from Alsager to Stoke.” The difference in price for a young person travelling regularly is a big one.
My third point is about the lack of connectivity and joined-up thinking. To get from Alsager to Congleton on the train, a passenger would have to go via Stoke or Kidsgrove. I drive that in about 10 minutes by car, but travelling by rail can involve long waits for connecting trains. The connecting trains are not well timed or organised. I apologise for the figures here, but to get to Manchester, National Rail recommends the 11.16 am to Kidsgrove, which is one stop further away from Manchester, which gets in at 11.21 am; there is then a 40-minute wait for the 12.03 pm to Manchester. The passenger might as well drive to Kidsgrove and park there—if they have a car. Again, that is not always practical for young people. Alternatively, there is a 24-minute wait at Crewe station, but the ticket is about £1 more expensive, so it is cheapest and quickest to pay £5.10 to go two stops back to Stoke, then catch a quicker and cheaper £6.10 train to Manchester from there. That is all too confusing unless someone is very familiar with the way the trains work.
My fourth and final point relates to a promise made in August 2017, when a West Midlands Rail spokesman said:
“The new franchisee, West Midlands Trains Limited, will continue to run direct services to London from Stone, Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent and Alsager.”
Alsager passengers all hope that they will still be getting the service in December this year—three days’ time—as suggested then. The franchisee representative continued:
“The only difference from December 2018 is that these services will go to Euston via...Birmingham...rather than Tamworth and Lichfield on the Trent Valley Line. The change of route for London bound services so they run through the heart of the West Midlands Conurbation follows a major public consultation in 2015 where the majority of passengers said they wanted more trains from Stone, Kidsgrove, Stoke-on-Trent and Alsager to Birmingham.”
My constituents tell me that not much has been said about that since then. It would be very helpful to know whether the service to London is going to go ahead in three days’ time.”

Andrew Jones MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport responded:
One particular feature of colleague concern has been communication and collaboration between the different parts of our rail network, whether on the detail of the 12.11 and the 12.16 at Alsager, or on the services to London—which I believe will continue but, from May next year, are likely to go via New Street station in Birmingham. My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) highlighted a number of other questions, as have a lot of colleagues, and I will go through the record of the debate to ensure that I write to everyone with the detailed answers they sought. From May next year, however, she may at least expect an attractive service via New Street.”

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Alsager Parade


FIONA BRUCE MP AND VICE LORD LIEUTENANT OF CHESHIRE ATTEND WREATH LAYING AND COMMEMORATION OF THE ARMISTICE
Fiona Bruce MP and Joëlle Warren DL, Vice Lord Lieutenant of Cheshire, joined the parade through Alsager to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day, on Sunday 11thNovember, and led the wreath laying by many representatives from the local community at the Cenotaph.
After a service at St Mary’s Church, led by Rev. Michelle Goodrich, a commemorative afternoon tea party was held at Alsager Civic.
Fiona Bruce MP said:
‘Year on year, on Remembrance Sunday, more and more local people come out onto the streets to remember the sacrifice of those brave men who fought and died to secure our peace.’
‘This year, on the 100thAnniversary, it was quite remarkable to see how many people and community groups attended not only the wreath laying but also the church service at St Mary’s. Afterwards, it was a delight to see Alsager Civic so full for the Commemorative Afternoon Tea Party to celebrate the peace.’
‘It was particularly good to see all different ages represented, and those from the services, such as the Fire Officers from Alsager Station, and the young Alsager Air Cadets, whose band both led the parade to the Cenotaph strongly and then entertained us impressively during afternoon tea. It was also a pleasure to look at the lovely tributes in the exhibition in the Civic created by local school children.’

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Cheshire Fire and Rescue

Fiona Bruce meets new Chief Fire Officer for Cheshire
Fiona Bruce MP met with Chief Fire Officer and Chief Executive of Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service to hear about the Fire Authority’s “planning for a safer Cheshire”.
Fiona Bruce saidI was tremendously encouraged to hear that following the success of the new fire station in Alsager which is so well used by community groups all four fire stations in Congleton, Sandbach, Middlewich and Holmes Chapel will be renovated over the next 3-4 years. It was also good to hear that continuous improvements across the area mean that call out times have been improved with 87% of attendances to incidents by fire officers now arriving in under ten minutes. Similarly, the success of Cheshire Fire Authority’s prevention strategy over many years now has reduced the need for call outs by 50%.”
Mark Cashin became Chief Fire Officer in July and was previously the Deputy Chief Fire Officer, having joined Cheshire Fire in 2007. He saidWe are well known for our innovative approach to reducing the risks facing out residents and businesses and I want to put on record my 100% commitment to further improving the safety and wellbeing of the communities we serve.”
Fiona Bruce heard about the voluntary work of fire cadets supported by the Authority which has involved 5 schools in Ghana and 4 schools in Nepal being built over recent years with Cheshire Fire Cadets raising funding for these and to cover the costs of their own trips out there.
Fiona addedI was also very interested to hear of the opportunity for young people to visit the new fire safety centre at Lymm and would encourage all schools to take up the opportunity of a fascinating day out for pupils which can be arranged by contacting Lymm Fire Safety Centre or going on the Fire Authority’s website www.cheshirefire.gov.uk.”
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Holmes Chapel Remembrance and Royal British Legion Parade

FIONA BRUCE ATTENDS HOLMES CHAPEL BRANCH OF THE ROYAL BRITISH LEGION PARADE AND SERVICE OF REMEMBRANCE

Fiona Bruce MP attended the annual Remembrance Service at St. Luke’s, Holmes Chapel, and the annual parade and wreath-laying. The service was conducted by Rev. Paul Mason, Vicar of St Luke’s.

Fiona Bruce MP said:
‘It was a privilege to be a part of the 100th Year Commemoration of the Armistice, in Holmes Chapel, so well organised by the Holmes Chapel Branch of the Royal British Legion. The service in St Luke’s Church, which was full, was very moving, sensitively led by Rev. Mason, and it was wonderful to see how beautifully the church had been decorated, with hundreds of hand-knitted poppies from members of the community, organised by the U3A.’
‘Equally impressive were the number of young people attending, particularly from the local Guides and Scouts. The amazing number of people who lined the streets of the village, both for the parade before the service and for the salute afterwards, was quite remarkable and a real testimony to the respect with which Holmes Chapel people hold those who have served us in conflict.’
‘The exhibition is St Luke’s Church Hall, about life in Holmes Chapel during the Great War, and commemorating the 31 men from the local area who gave their lives, was both enjoyable and educational, particularly for school children – as the lovely thank you card from Hermitage Primary School children, who had visited just the day before, showed.’
‘The commitment and dedication of Holmes Chapel Local History Group in researching and providing so much information about the lives of the men who went to fight, and their families, and the sacrifices they made, is to be highly commended, and will, I am sure, serve to strengthen the already strong community life within Holmes Chapel.’
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Prisoner Artwork


Fiona Bruce MP attends launch of prisoner artwork with Middlewich Mother’s Union
Fiona Bruce MP attended the launch at Chester Cathedral with Joan Colwell of Middlewich Mothers’ Union and Vivien Ley, President of Chester Diocese Mothers’ Union, of a year long roving exhibition of artwork by prisoners which will be hosted in communities across Cheshire, which the Mothers’ Union has helped facilitate. Fiona Bruce has been a member of Middlewich Mothers’ Union since becoming MP for the town in 2010.
The exhibition ‘Journey into Light’ was launched at Chester Cathedral and exhibits artwork created by inmates from Styal and Thorn Cross prisons. The aim of the exhibition is to demonstrate the experiences of prisoners and the stories behind their convictions and sentences.
Debbie Dalby, Director of Social Responsibility in the Church of England Diocese of Chester saidThe hope is by seeing the creativity of prisoners and hearing their stories people will be able to better understand and even identify with some of the choices, mistakes and circumstance that prisoners have faced.”
Vincent Whitehead, Chair of the Criminal Justice Group at the Diocese of Chester said“Through their art, prisoners have discovered new ways to explore and express their emotions and thoughts.”
Fiona Bruce saidI found the exhibition deeply moving with many of the paintings highly complex, but one positive theme ran through it all which is the hope for a changed and better future, as many artists stated underneath their paintings  - here are just a few; “to make positive steps to a positive future on release” and another “no living in the past, I can change like the caterpillar to the butterfly, bright and free from drugs and negative people” or “ hope of a happy future where the lone figure moves from darkness into light”.”

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Funding for Cheshire East Roads


FIONA BRUCE WELCOMES NEW FUNDING FOR ROAD REPAIRS IN CHESHIRE EAST
Fiona Bruce MP has welcomed the allocation of a further £420 million of new money for local highways maintenance in the recent Budget.
This includes £4.6 million for Cheshire East.
Fiona Bruce MP said:
‘It was a tough, long and particularly wet winter which exacerbated road surface challenges, which is why I am very pleased that the Government announced in the Budget the biggest ever single cash injection for road maintenance in England. £420 million of new money was allocated for local highways maintenance, including £4.6 million for Cheshire East, which will help repair potholes and improve road surfaces across this area, something I know is a high priority for residents.’
This new funding represents a significant boost in road maintenance, on top of the £950 million which had already been provided by central Government to councils across the country this year for local highways maintenance.

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Brereton Exhibition


MP VISITS WORLD WAR ONE EXHIBITION IN BRERETON
Fiona Bruce visited the exhibition held in St. Oswald’s Church, Brereton, near Sandbach, to commemorate the centenary of the end of World War One.
Fiona Bruce MP said:
‘It was a pleasure to see the church so full of exhibits regarding different aspects of life during World War One, such as about rationing and food – it was interesting, though not necessarily tasty, to sample some of the biscuits from a recipe used during the food shortages then! The variety of aspects of both daily life and broader national issues, such as the display about the birth of the RAF, were impressive, particularly bearing in mind that the whole exhibition had been put together by a small but dedicated group of Brereton folk.’
‘These displays had so much to offer on interest, particularly to young people, and I was pleased to hear that groups of school children have been invited this week to look around this exhibition.’
‘Particularly moving were the nine perspex life-size silhouette figures positioned in different pews across the church, commemorating the ‘Brereton Nine’ – the men and boys from the village who sacrificed their lives during the conflict.’

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Religious Education and the BBC

TITLE: Fiona Bruce MP Hosts Event in Parliament on Religious Education in the classroom and religious content on the BBC

Fiona Bruce MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Religious Education, recently hosted an event in Parliament on the relevance of faith-focused Religious Education and the BBC’s coverage of religious material. Speakers considered how the study of different religious faiths can be used to inform national life and improve community cohesion. Speakers also considered the role that broadcasting agencies, like the BBC, can play in improving religious literacy across the nation, and reducing local community tensions. 

Fiona received a room of over fifty guests, including Parliamentarians and representatives from a range of religious and non-religious groups. Keynote speakers included Jonathan Arkush, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews – representing the UK’s Jewish community - who spoke powerfully about the role that religious education can play in improving social cohesion. Steve Clifford, General Director of Evangelical Alliance – the voice for evangelical Christians in the UK – also gave a moving address about the ongoing relevance of the Christian faith within an increasingly secular society. Examples he gave included faith-inspired social action, such as prison visiting, youth work, job clubs and Street Pastors.
Providing a fresh perspective on the issue, Mark Friend - BBC controller leader of the BBC’s recent Religion and Ethics Review - discussed the role that the nation-wide broadcaster can play, both in presenting religious groups positively and accurately in their programmes and in improving the public’s religious literacy, and spoke of how carefully the BBC consider comments from members of the public – which was encouraging as a sparky question time followed his presentation!
Fiona Bruce MP said:
“When living in a society which prides itself on its cultural and religious diversity – a society in which over half the population hold a faith, according to the most recent census, - understanding the different religious beliefs which shape and motivate us and those in our communities is of utmost importance. This promotes community cohesion and reduces misunderstandings, which in a worst case scenario, can lead to damaging community friction and even disturbances. Religious Education both in and out of the classroom is, for this reason, invaluable and ought to be maintained. Events, such as this one, highlighting good practice in RE, play an integral role in ensuring that this goal is achieved.
It was particularly interesting to hear how the BBC is addressing contemporary challenges as they try to meet the needs and demands of a diverse and complex UK – and indeed international – audience, who hold so many disparate views. The BBC’s work, when well done, should help us all understand the important role that faith plays for many people in their everyday lives, the beliefs that define us and the certainties that guide people in today’s uncertain times.”
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Alcohol Treatment


TITLE: Fiona Bruce MP Chairs a seminar on ‘tackling the crisis in alcohol treatment’.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Alcohol Harm, of which Fiona Bruce is Chair, hosted a seminar in the House of Commons to discuss the acute challenges now facing alcohol treatment services. Treatment providers, researchers and charities were represented by panel of leading experts who discussed the nuances of the challenges faced by treatment services to support individuals, their families and wider community.

Fiona Bruce MP:

I welcome the recent announcement that £6 million is to be committed to supporting the 200,000 children in the UK who live in a family with a dependent drinker. However, without effective wider treatment services, including engaging the whole family where there is a dependent drinker, it will not be possible to achieve the goals of this policy. This meeting set out to discuss workable policy solutions and look at best practice examples across the country to provide the best service provision which will give more help and support to dependent drinkers who want to give up drinking or drink responsibly.

Alcohol problems feed into homelessness, mental health, cancer, pressure on A&E wards, antisocial behaviour and domestic violence. Therefore, it is really important to ensure that every local area has support services which effectively address alcohol problems and this is much more important than realised, especially among older people – the charity Drinkaware claim that 10 million people are drinking above the Chief Medical Officers’ safe drinking guidelines.”


The panel included:
        Dr Emily Finch, Consultant addiction psychiatrist and member of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.
        Mike Ward, Senior Consultant at Alcohol Concern and Alcohol Research UK
        Paul Hayes, Chair of Collective Voice – a group of treatment providers, working effectively to represent the voices of the drug and alcohol treatment sector and of services users.
        Professor Colin Drummond, Professor of addiction psychiatry at Kings College London and Chair of the Public Health England Alcohol Leadership Board.
        Vivienne Evans OBE, CEO of Adfam and Oliver Standing, Director of Policy and Communications at Adfam. Adfam is the national charity working to improve life for families affected by drugs and alcohol.

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High Flying Apprentices



Fiona Bruce welcomes local apprentice, Alexander Benez, to House of Commons.
An apprentice from Congleton was joined by Fiona in the House of Commons to celebrate the 12,000 apprenticeships provided by the UK’s Aerospace, Defence, Security and Space industries.
There were over 100 apprentices from some of Britain’s leading aerospace, defence, security and space companies who attended the ADS Parliamentary Reception.
Organised by the trade organisation ADS Group, and sponsored by United Technologies Aerospace Systems, the event recognised the valuable contribution apprentices make to our important, high-skill manufacturing industries, and highlighted the world-leading technologies that many of the apprentices are working to develop.
Fiona Bruce said:
“I was delighted to welcome Alexander Benez, a second-year Senior Aerospace Bird Bellows Apprentice from Congleton, to the House of Commons and to hear from him about how rewarding he is finding his role. The reception was an excellent opportunity to meet young people working towards highly-skilled and rewarding careers and to celebrate the huge talent working in these world-leading sectors. Young apprentices, like Alexander, are great ambassadors for our local area and the UK’s advanced manufacturing industries.”
Alex said:
“The ADS reception was a great opportunity to exchange experience and build my network with others in the aerospace industry. I was also pleased to meet Fiona Bruce and discuss my experience of working in the aerospace industry and the contribution Bird Bellows makes to the local economy. Fiona clearly appreciates the work of apprentices in our local area and the important role that apprenticeships play in preparing the future leaders of our industries. Currently on rotation, I look forward to gaining experience of all corners of the company before deciding where to specialise.” 

Paul Everitt, Chief Executive of ADS Group, said:
“Apprentices represent the future for our industries, which is why providing an opportunity for them to celebrate their contribution with their MP is so important. The aerospace, defence, security and space industries invest in training in every part of the UK and I am delighted that this reception provides a chance to celebrate the achievements of those working hard at the start of their careers.”

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