t: 01993 225020
e: robert@robertcourts.co.uk
24 JAN 2018

Loneliness is the sad reality of modern life

You can read my lastest monthly column for the Witney Gazette, here:

West Oxfordshire was again dusted with snow this weekend, and the pure white scene was picturesque - for as long as it lasted! Whilst for most of us snow offers a moment of picture-postcard beauty, the threat of snow and cold weather represents, for many people, real danger: falls, illness or isolation.

Unfortunately, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life for many, particularly for elderly people. Recent research has shown that more than 9 million people often feel lonely, and that around 200,000 older people have not had a conversation with a friend or relative in a month.

Nationally, I am pleased to report that the Government has responded to this challenge and is determined to make a difference, giving the Minister for Civil Society the special responsibility for loneliness, on a cross-party basis. These moves have been welcomed by Age UK and the Mental Health Foundation, and I look forward to seeing progress and seeing what more can be done.

But here in West Oxfordshire, we can help too. I am greatly impressed by our local communities who are already working together to help tackle loneliness. We must thank our wonderful Churches and charities who do so much to help. As I have toured West Oxfordshire over the last year I have been deeply moved by the strong community spirit that thrives from the smallest hamlets in our rural parishes to our market towns.

In particular, I recently enjoyed meeting many who regularly attend the Chatterbox events in Witney, organised by Age UK, and I look forward to seeing this expand over West Oxfordshire and become more popular. I have recently met with U3A, which has over 500 members in Witney and encourages our senior citizens to continue learning. Or take Guideposts, who I volunteered with in the summer, who run many programmes in West Oxfordshire to bring together those in our communities who need help with those who want to offer it. At the same time, our public sector, from local Councils to our World-beating NHS, are making the difference as only they know how. All these groups are making a real difference to this pressing social problem, right now.

But we should also consider what we might be able to do to help. Perhaps you could run an activity evening, or fundraise for research? Perhaps by clearing the snow from a path to an elderly neighbour's door, or checking to see whether that neighbour is well? There might be something that you can offer that might make their lives a little more comfortable. That might simply be some time for a chat: the gift of your time and company is in many cases worth far more than any amount of money. Let's all get together to help – these small gestures can mean so much.

If you would like to get in touch with me in the New Year on any issue, please email me at robert@robertcourts.co.uk, phone my office at 01993 225020 or write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA. I also send a fortnightly email newsletter, keeping thousands of you up to date with my work in Westminster and West Oxfordshire; if you are interested, I would love for you to sign up through my website, www.robertcourts.co.uk.

I look forward to hearing from you, but in the meantime, may I wish everyone in the wonderful constituency of West Oxfordshire a very happy, prosperous and healthy New Year.

Published on 24.01.18 in the Witney Gazette.

03 JAN 2018

Lots achieved but so much more is left to do

You can read my lastest monthly column for the Witney Gazette, here:

The past few weeks have seen progress on all fronts to improve housing for residents in West Oxfordshire.

Earlier this month, the Government's housing White Paper announced that the housing market in Britain was broken: over decades housing has become less and less affordable, something particularly felt in high-demand areas such as West Oxfordshire. I am keenly aware of the need for more affordable housing to buy and rent, which is why I made this one of my top priorities since being elected. I am working hard in Parliament to ensure that homes are built faster, the housing market becomes more competitive and that there is help for people now.

This is an issue nationwide, not just in West Oxfordshire. It is so important that young people are able to buy and rent property in the area where they have grown up, near to their families, communities and support networks.

The White Paper sets out an ambitious plan to build the homes Britain needs - so that the housing market works for all. At present, the market is broken, because for decades not enough homes have been built. That has meant that house prices are growing faster than incomes and, alongside rising rents, this has hit potential home owners across the country. This is particularly felt here in West Oxfordshire, where it is difficult to buy an affordable home in the towns and villages.

This White Paper sets out ambitious, lasting reform that covers the whole of the house building process. From finding sites, to getting planning permission, and then actually building homes, the Government will take action so that it is easier and quicker to get homes built in the places that they are needed most. I look forward to seeing these new practices put in place and for a better building climate to be created which will benefit all of us.

I do not want large, unsustainable development that destroys West Oxfordshire's unique local character or our countryside. Any new build needs the infrastructure around it to also be put in place. However, I welcome any changes which enables housing development which works for us and ensures that our children are not priced out of their own community.

I welcome plans for the new Garden Village, to be built near Eynsham. This is an example of development that is wanted and comes with the infrastructure needed to be a success for all in the area. The plan provides over 2000 new homes, which I will strongly push to include a mix of housing including starter and affordable homes. It will also include a science park which will provide valuable jobs and be a boost to the local economy. When combined with Oxfordshire County Council's plans for a park and ride bus service to Oxford, this is the kind of development which will work for the people of West Oxfordshire.

This is alongside the District Council's plans for community-led housing. By using funds from the Government's Community Housing Fund, the Council will deliver sustainable, affordable housing for those in need, on sites of little interest to commercial developers. These sites will provide shared accommodation for single under 35s on low income or out of work benefits. This is exactly the kind of programme needed to help make living in areas where you have grown up, live and work a realistic option for many young people in West Oxfordshire.

Housing, planning and development has long been a topic of debate amongst those in West Oxfordshire. Of course it is of the upmost importance to preserve the character of the area, as well as the habitats for the wildlife that call this area home. It is vital to preserve this.

That being said, West Oxfordshire is an area that continues to grow and thrive. We must therefore welcome plans which enable suitable development to take place, in a way which preserve the nature of the constituency, whilst also provides vital home, infrastructure, facilities and jobs. I will continue to find hard to ensure that this balance is achieved and the right kinds of properties are built in the right places to ensure West Oxfordshire remains a fantastic place to live.

If any readers have an issue which they want me as their MP to help with, do email me on robert.courts.mp@parliament.uk or write to me at Robert Courts MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Published on 03.01.18 in the Witney Gazette.

06 DEC 2017

Sifting through the details of the latest Budget

You can read my lastest monthly column for the Witney Gazette, here:

We have just finished one of the major events of the Parliamentary year - the Budget. This unavoidably means that there have been a lot of announcements at once, and so I would like to dedicate my column to explaining some of those that may be of most interest to West Oxfordshire residents:

1) Housing help for the young: Stamp Duty has been abolished for first-time buyers for houses up to £300,000, a significant boost;

2) NHS investment: an overall £7.5bn increase in funding, including an extra £2.8bn to the NHS over the next three years, with an immediate cash injection of £350m this year;

3) Education & Skills: The Government will invest £406m in maths and technical education, and will reward schools and colleges by giving them £600 for every extra pupil who decides to take Maths or Further Maths A levels; there will also be a further £20m to further education colleges to help them prepare for the introduction of T-levels;

4) Tax help: an increase in the personal allowance means that no income tax will be paid on the first £11,850 earned, meaning the average taxpayer will be £1,075 a year better off than they were in 2010;

5) Wages: the National Living Wage has been given a £600 increase per year for full time workers;

6) Housing & Infrastructure: a £44bn capital investment to boost the housing market, with special emphasis on a £215m deal for Oxfordshire, including £30m per year for infrastructure for five years and £60m for affordable housing as part of the focus on the wider Oxford-Milton Keynes-Cambridge high-technology growth corridor. This is a major step towards a solution to two of the biggest issues that we face: housing cost and the need for infrastructure to deal with new housing;

7) Clean Air: a new £220m fund to provide support for the implementation of local air quality plans;

8) Environment: the Government will investigate how the tax system and charges on single use plastic items can reduce waste such as plastics in our oceans;

9) Support for Small Businesses: recognising the significant pressures faced by small businesses, the Chancellor announced that he will not reduce the VAT threshold for small businesses from £85,000, and will bring forward by two years the uprating of business rates based on the CPI inflation index, saving businesses £2.3bn. As the Small Business APPG Chair in Westminster, and campaigner for small businesses, I am delighted to see more progress on this issue;

10) Support for our local pubs: the Chancellor will increase tax on low-quality alcoholic drinks but will freeze duties on other alcoholic drinks, including wine and beer. He will also extend the £1,000 discount for small pubs to March 2019 - in a major boost for our local pubs and breweries.

There is much, much more, but these are the immediate, stand-out points. I will be considering the Budget in detail, looking at the small print and assessing the impact it will have on West Oxfordshire. I would, as always, be very interested to hear your thoughts. I invite you all to contact me about the Budget – or any other issue – at robert@robertcourts.co.uk.

Published on 06.12.17 in the Witney Gazette.

08 NOV 2017

Enjoying my first year of rewarding work as MP

You can read my lastest monthly column for the Witney Gazette, here:

As I write my monthly column, I have just passed a rather important anniversary: my one year anniversary as your Member of Parliament.

I can hardly believe that a whole year has passed. Being an MP is everything I hoped it would be and more: rewarding, interesting and hugely enjoyable, and as I continue to throw myself into my role representing you both locally and in Parliament I look forward to each fresh challenge.

Over the past year, I have had the privilege of seeing West Oxfordshire throughout the seasons, seeing every aspect of the wonderful place in which we are lucky to live. From Christmas lights to Easter celebrations, from summer fetes and festivals to the Witney Feast, the sense of community spirit cannot be beaten. I have met with over 100 businesses and charities, got my hands dirty volunteering, already visited over a third of Oxfordshire schools and met many, many constituents at my weekly advice surgeries.

However, this has only been one small part of my job, much of which you cannot read about in the news or see me speak about on television. The bread and butter work of an MP is answering correspondence with my constituents and making a real difference through casework. I have corresponded with 1 in 15 constituents, about a wide range of subjects from puppies to potholes, Brexit to broadband. This is an essential part of my job which works both ways: I can help you with any personal concerns, and you can help inform me of your views so I can represent you in Parliament.

An excellent demonstration of this has been my work with schools funding. When the Government's new funding formula was announced, all agreed the current system was flawed and change was needed. However, West Oxfordshire was set to miss out in these improvements. I wrote to all headteachers, met with many schools in West Oxfordshire, relayed my concerns to the Minister for Schools, and responded to the public consultation. As a result, with the revised final formula, all schools in West Oxfordshire will see an increase in funding – an excellent result. The same is true with broadband: by working together with local residents, Council leaders and lobbying my colleagues in Government, we have been rewarded by West Oxfordshire's District Council's recent announcement of a new contract to roll out superfast broadband across West Oxfordshire. This just shows what a strong local team can achieve. There is of course more to do – and I mean to continue as I have started, working hard on everything from the A40 to small businesses and defence to housing.

In Parliament, I have spoken in 91 debates last year and voted in some 94% of votes – I am proud to say both well above average amongst MPs. Recently, I chaired a debate on the Future of Oxfordshire's Healthcare, building on my local work. Healthcare is an issue of enormous importance and, by working together, we have demonstrated West Oxfordshire's tenacity to fight for what is right for our area. I will continue to speak out on your behalf in Parliament; you can read all my contributions at www.theyworkforyou.com.

I keep many of you updated on all my work in Westminster and West Oxfordshire, as well as sending out local news and information, though my regular e-newsletter. Please subscribe through my website at www.robertcourts.co.uk. You are also very welcome to email at robert@robertcourts.co.uk should you wish to discuss anything – I look forward to hearing from you!

Published on 08.11.17 in the Witney Gazette.

11 OCT 2017

It's been a busy summer but I'm raring to go

You can read my lastest monthly column for the Witney Gazette, here:

Coming up to the end of my first year as your Member of Parliament, I have been kept extremely busy attending countless constituency events, visits, attending meetings and replying to all your letters and emails. I have had an extremely busy summer, travelling the constituency and trying to meet as many of you as possible. Parliament has now resumed for the Autumn, meaning I am back in Westminster, but will still be a very regular face around West Oxfordshire. I have greatly enjoyed the past 12 months as your MP – with a General Election in between – and look forward to getting back to Parliament this week to represent you all in the House of Commons.

Throughout the past year, I have been particularly impressed with the number of thriving businesses - large and small - we have here in West Oxfordshire. Launching this year's West Oxfordshire Business Awards recently (now open for nominations!) and through my work as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Small and Micro Businesses, I am continually working with businesses to discuss how we can support them and help them to grow. I have met with nearly 150 businesses and charities, across the whole of our area, to understand and discuss what is working for them, what can be improved, and how we can continue to be an area of world-beating industry leaders and budding, innovative start-ups.

One fantastic success is the uptake of apprenticeships across West Oxfordshire. Since 2010, 4980 new apprenticeships have been taken up in our area, helping more young people get into work, learning skills on the job, whilst getting paid and being able to support themselves. At many of the local businesses I have visited, I am delighted to have met current apprentices, as well as those who have progressed and are now making their way up the ranks of the company.

University is certainly the right path for some, but not all, young people. Real life 'on the job' experience cannot be beaten, which is something the Government and I recognise and champion. When coupled with the introduction of technical T levels, designed to simplify the process of gaining vocational qualifications, there are great strides being made towards enabling more young people to access the careers they want.

The Government has gone one step further by launching Degree Apprenticeships in 2015. These are designed in partnership with employers, universities and professional bodies, combining a full degree with practical on the job skills, allowing apprentices to earn while they learn. Already, more than 2,000 people have started degree apprenticeships since they were introduced, and now the Government's launching 27 new projects to promote and increase awareness, as well as the number of degrees available. This is a great innovative policy, which promotes a wide-range of flexible ways for young people to gain skills and qualifications to get their career off to the best start.

With many more business visits and meetings in the diary, I look forward to discussing with apprentices how they enjoy the process, as well as any changes they think might need to be made. One great part about being an MP, is that if you let me know your concerns, I can relay them here in Parliament and hopefully slowly bring about necessary improvements. If you have any issue you wish to discuss with me – local, national or international – you can contact me either by email at robert@robertcourts.co.uk or my office by phone at 01993 225020.

Published on 11.10.17 in the Witney Gazette.

06 SEP 2017

Home purchase scheme is leading the way

You can read my lastest monthly column for the Witney Gazette, here:

Moving house peaks in summertime but for many people, particularly in West Oxfordshire, the cost and availability of suitable housing is a curb on a dream that we all share: that of a place to call your own.

Since becoming your MP, I have been vocal both in West Oxfordshire and in Westminster encouraging the building of houses at affordable, realistic prices to ensure that young people do not have to leave their friends in order to get on the housing ladder.

However, housebuilding must never be at the cost of the character of our towns and villages; nor must it be without the infrastructure needed, particularly in villages where large scale development may in any event be inappropriate. We all know that we are lucky to live in a beautiful 'picture postcard' part of the world, but equally we all realise that we do not live in a postcard: this is a growing area where people live and work and we need to provide housing for our children.

We square the circle of providing affordable housing whilst protecting our rural area by looking for innovative solutions to building and financing homes, thereby creating ways young people can get onto that first rung. I am delighted to work with my Conservative colleagues on West Oxfordshire District Council and wholeheartedly welcome the their new Local Authority Partnership Purchase Scheme (LAPP), allowing individuals to buy a share of their home - with the Council purchasing the rest. This is a major help for those who are able to afford mortgage repayments, but are unable to save for a large deposit. By investing £500,000 in the scheme, West Oxfordshire is really leading the way - nationally.

On that national level, the Government has laid out creative and thoughtful ways to tackle our unsustainable housing market, consulting on ambitious, lasting reform across the whole of the housebuilding process, ensuring that we have the housing that works for us: in the right place, at the right cost, and in harmony with our area. You can read much more about this and my response at robertcourts.co.uk/housing

None of this means that housing should be built at breakneck pace wherever it can be shoehorned in. Speculative development is rarely in the best interests of communities that have to accommodate large numbers of housing without the infrastructure needed. That is why it is essential that West Oxfordshire has its Local Plan in place as soon as possible, enabling local people and their Council to plan ahead to ensure that houses are be built where they are most needed, in keeping with our area, and with the infrastructure required. We must not be obsessed with simply building numbers of houses and must remember that we are not just building houses - we are building homes, and making places.

For those wanting to get in touch (about any issue - not just housing!) please email me at robert@robertcourts.co.uk, phone my office at 01993 225020 or you are welcome to write to me at the House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Published on 06.09.17 in the Witney Gazette.

02 AUG 2017

West Oxfordshire is a great place to be active

You can read my lastest monthly column for the Witney Gazette, here:

With Parliament now in recess, I am pleased to be back in West Oxfordshire, meeting many of you, travelling around the whole constituency, and spending a little more time with my family. My one year old son is just beginning to walk and I cannot help thinking, as all parents do, about what I can do to ensure that he lives a happy and healthy life.

Unfortunately, childhood obesity is becoming endemic in our country, posing a major public health concern for the future, and for our health services. I recently met with both Cancer Research UK and the Obesity Health Alliance in Parliament, raising awareness of the clear link between obesity and cancer, and learning about what can be done to help.

Medical research has made huge strides towards beating cancer, helping doctors to recognise the early warning signs and diagnose the right treatment as soon as possible. Thanks to the excellent work of charities and the Government, everyone is aware of the link between smoking and cancer. However, the link with obesity does not have the same recognition, despite being the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK. It is a sobering fact that an obese child is around five times more likely to remain obese as an adult, with one in three children leaving primary school overweight or obese.

All parents want to protect the health of their child; the good news is that taking positive steps is neither hard, nor expensive - and is fun. By taking a little care of what we eat, what we feed our children, and trying to be a little more active, we can make a huge difference. Luckily, in beautiful West Oxfordshire, packed with interesting places to go, this is made very easy. So we can use these long summer days to get out and be active, perhaps visiting the Leys in Witney, enjoying the refurbished playground, making use of our local sports centres, swimming pools or one of over 80 public play areas in West Oxfordshire. Walking through our Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty or through the grounds of Blenheim Palace is no chore - and makes a real difference!

Tackling children's obesity requires a comprehensive approach to improve diets and increase physical activity. Every child deserves the best start in life; without getting to grips with obesity levels, we are risking their current and future health, whilst creating a time bomb for our NHS.

I will continue to work in Parliament to promote ways to tackle obesity, starting with changing attitudes to our diet and lifestyle. Initiatives such as the Sugar Smart app are already helping families understand the hidden sugar in everyday food, whilst new technology can show us how a little physical activity makes a big difference.

So, I will be getting out as much as I can with my family - and I hope to see as many of you as possible enjoying West Oxfordshire's outdoor attractions over the summer!

For those wanting to get in touch, please email me at robert@robertcourts.co.uk, phone my office at 01993 225020 or you are welcome to write to me at House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Published on 02.08.17 in the Witney Gazette.

26 APR 2017

We require a strong and stable government

The Prime Minister has announced that a General Election will be held on 8th June. Parliament has voted overwhelmingly to dissolve.

I wholeheartedly back this decision. The choice is a clear one about strong local and national leadership. The Government and our Prime Minister must receive an electoral mandate from the people of the UK as we begin our negotiations to leave the European Union. This is a crucial time in our history and it is essential that the Prime Minister's negotiating hand is strengthened, safe in the knowledge that she has the backing of the country.

I understand that, particularly in West Oxfordshire, we have had a lot of elections recently. Many of you might feel that this is an all too familiar process. However, we do need this general election now in order to secure the strong and stable leadership our country requires at this pivotal moment.

I will be standing as a hard-working local constituency MP, continuing to ensure that West Oxfordshire has influence in Government. I am excited to have the opportunity to continue to speak up for West Oxfordshire, and work tirelessly on your behalf. There is so much more we can do together to make West Oxfordshire better for everyone.

Since October, I have been campaigning on all aspects of my plan, both locally and in Parliament. Education, healthcare, businesses, transport, broadband and housing development have dominated my postbag and my diary, and I look forward to being given the chance to continue with this work after the General Election should you elect me as your Member of Parliament.

Nationally, the choice is clear: leadership in the national interest under Theresa May or a weak and unstable coalition Government with Jeremy Corbyn as our Prime Minister.

Locally, it has been an honour to serve you since the by-election and I hope very much to be able to build on the flying start I have made since then. There is so much more to achieve and I am looking forward to setting out my vision for our constituency over the next five years.

In West Oxfordshire, this election is therefore about two issues: stable, strong leadership for the country, and ensuring that West Oxfordshire has influence in and on Government and on a compassionate, forward looking, positive programme. That is what I offer, and that is what I seek. I look forward to meeting many of you around the constituency over the coming weeks, in the run-up to the 8th June.

Over the course of the campaign period, I want to reassure constituents that I stand ready to offer any help I can with casework issues; politics should not take precedence over this essential duty. As I will be based here in Witney during this time, you are welcome to contact me at robert@robertcourts.co.uk or by phone at 01993 702302.

Published on 29.03.17 in the Witney Gazette.

29 MAR 2017

Our democracy stands defiant after attack

Last Wednesday, a quarter to three. The House of Commons. A chill breeze of rumour ripples around the Chamber. Members, in the process of voting, hurry in, asking colleagues on the green benches - what has happened? Someone has been shot, or stabbed? Someone has been hit by a car - is there an attack? On us? Someone hit on the Bridge? It must be road rage, an accident, a misunderstanding. Shots fired?! The armed police, those courteously consummate professionals, are running in the corridor, telling people to get down, to stay where they are. The Prime Minister has been rushed out of the voting lobby and away? An attack? Within the Estate? Surely not? Not here, in Westminster, at the heart of our democracy?

The Deputy Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, a decent, no-nonsense northerner, stands hurriedly to his feet, arms stretched, a strained look on his usually relaxed and friendly face. "Order. I am now going to suspend the sitting. The House is now suspended, but please wait here."

The day had begun as a typical Westminster day. I attended an early briefing on the Armed Forces, handled constituency casework, attended a briefing on affordable housing innovation, before going into the House for Prime Minister's Questions. The afternoon brought the Pensions Schemes Bill. Not something that will set pulses racing, but bringing in further protections for savers; I served on this Bill and was in the Chamber for the debate. I was not one of those MPs caught in Central Lobby, or in the corridors, as the House's security swung smoothly into action: blue lights flashing above Churchill arch, doors slamming closed, wooden bars drawn across, bolts clicking shut. Lockdown.

It is sometimes easy, in the cut and thrust of politics, to lose perspective. MPs - even new ones - are used to abuse, or even threats. It is not, after all, so long since the tragic murder of MP Jo Cox. But this brings it home. An officer has lost his life. Citizens of ten countries - our friends from all over the World - are in critical condition. Blameless pedestrians on Westminster Bridge have been maimed. And so the storms of political strife subside - for a time - for what does the noise count before the cold silence of PC Palmer's grave? One of those courteous and professional men that I greet in the morning has been lost. One of those who ensure that I can do the job you have sent me to do. He leaves behind a wife and family.

His sacrifice was the epitome of duty and professionalism. The Palace was defended; the attacker did not get more than twenty yards into the estate. Every day the staff of the Palace, the police and all our emergency services do an incredible, and often unsung job. How sad that this was illustrated so vividly, so soon. I pay tribute to them all.

But back in the Chamber, there was some solace. A party of schoolchildren, kept in the public gallery, are singing to keep up their spirits. They wave at MPs, who wave back. And then it comes. A hush settles over the assembled MPs, asking for news and reading the media on creaking internet - "the Mace, the Mace!" We understand, and silently, we stand. The white-gloved Sergeant at Arms takes the Mace - the symbol of Parliament and the ability to debate the government of the country, freely, peacefully, under the Queen's protection - gently from the bench and carries it reverently from the Chamber.

Which brings me to my final point: the nature of what you have sent me to Westminster to do. In my maiden speech I quoted Winston Churchill, born and buried in this constituency, on the nature of what Parliament is about: "to substitute argument for fisticuffs." It is tragic that an individual, driven by a perversion of an honourable religion, cannot accept that lesson, but those of us who have been entrusted with the conduct of your affairs will not be cowed. We continue with our business. I spoke in a debate about Equitable Life pensioners on Thursday. The Prime Minister spoke with cool, calm, defiance. I continue to work for you regardless of party or politics. Our work, and our democratic traditions, will continue.

As I left Westminster last week to return to Witney, the flags on the Ministry of Defence outside my office, on the Palace and on the Abbey flew at half-mast. London is mourning, but there is a calm mood of steady defiance. Come what may, the UK's democracy has been here before. We have prevailed. We will again. Democracy is safe.

Published on 29.03.17 in the Witney Gazette.

01 MAR 2017

Thriving defence industries on our doorstep

When I entered into Parliament, I knew that defence was an area that I really wanted to focus on, given its central role in West Oxfordshire in industrial and military terms. I have been working to celebrate and ensure its continuing success in our constituency every week since then.

West Oxfordshire has a thriving defence industry, with world-leading companies based in and around RAF Brize Norton, the largest RAF base in the country, and beyond. Both the commercial and military sectors work together to provide invaluable skills and expertise which contribute to the local economy and provide fantastic opportunities and careers to residents. I have been involved in many different facets of the defence sector to champion the importance in ensuring our national security, and to celebrate the benefits this brings to West Oxfordshire.

In January, the Ministry of Defence negotiated a £410 million contract with Airbus Defence and Space that will secure at least 200 highly-skilled jobs here in West Oxfordshire. Airbus are based in RAF Brize Norton and will provide in-service support for the UK's Atlas A400M aircraft, securing a key part of the RAF airlift fleet until 2026. This investment is a great vote of confidence in West Oxfordshire and we should celebrate the fantastic opportunities this will continue to bring to the community.

I am sure all readers know of the key role Brize had in ensuring that troops and equipment were able to travel safely to Iraq and Afghanistan over the past fifteen years and, more solemnly, the moving repatriation ceremonies touched us all. As Britain's role in international conflicts has changed, Brize continues to be at the centre of the British Armed Forces, with troops and equipment being regularly deployed to humanitarian operations around the world.

RAF Brize Norton is situated in the heart of West Oxfordshire, and the people who live and work at the base are an integral part of our community. Its presence is an important part of the identity of our area and its impact is felt further than neighbouring Carterton.

For example, I recently visited the Airbus helicopter base in Kidlington, an important employer for many constituents. I was so interested to see all the world-leading work they are doing, in the civilian and military spheres.

I also went to see these cutting edge projects myself at RAF Brize Norton, meeting with those working hard to develop the UK's 21st century military and civilian capabilities. It was fantastic to see the day to day activities of personnel, both military and civilian. As a huge admirer of the RAF's consummate professionalism, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to see many of the fleet up close, including the A400Ms and large C17 transports and to talk with their crews. As warfare and the role of the military evolves, it is important for our armed forces to be able to adapt to these changes and stay at the cutting edge of technology.

This was clearly illustrated to me by my recent visit as part of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces visit to Scotland, where I saw the new Queen Elizabeth Class of aircraft carriers under construction.

These will be the biggest and most powerful surface warships ever constructed for the Royal Navy and will represent a step change in capability, enabling the delivery of increased strategic effect and influence around the world. This will include the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales, which are due to being sea trials later in 2017.

This was a fantastic chance to see first-hand to result of investment in our defence facilities, keeping the UK at the cutting edge of naval technology; the effect of these hugely capable ships, being felt nationwide through the extensive supply chain.

I will continue to do all I can to support and champion the defence sector and the fantastic contribution being made by West Oxfordshire. Although we are leaving the European Union, the UK continues to be a strong presence on the world stage. Britain will lead the way in our security and humanitarian work, shown through the Government's commitment to spend 0.7% and 2% of GDP on international aid and defence respectively. Here in West Oxfordshire, defence remains an essential part of our identity and economy and I will do all I can as your Member of Parliament to ensure we stay in the centre of government thinking.

If any readers have an issue which they want me as their MP to help with, do email me on robert.courts.mp@parliament.uk or write to me at Robert Courts MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.

Published on 01.03.17 in the Witney Gazette.

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