On Sunday I joined hundreds at Arundel Castle for the annual sponsored walk in aid of the Sussex Snowdrop Trust. The Trust are a Walberton-based charity who provide nursing care at home for children with life-threatening and terminal illnesses. With annual running costs of £350,000, this is a regular highlight in their fundraising calendar, and tickets sold out within hours of being released with many families wanting to take part.
I started the event with the Trust’s founder, Di Levantine, and my predecessor Lord Herbert of South Downs, who is the Trust’s Patron. It was a delight to support them and the Trust at this year’s walk. They do such incredible work for local children and their families. It was a wonderful way to enjoy the open space of the Arundel Castle Estate Park and to be part of the fundraising effort for such a good cause.
Last week saw the largest set of elections for decades, with contests for county councils, mayoralties, the Scottish and Welsh assemblies and a Westminster by-election in Hartlepool. I congratulate every single candidate who took part and in particular I welcome our newly-elected West Sussex County Councillors. The County Council’s responsibilities include the vital areas of schools, roads, social services, waste collection and much else, so I look forward to working with new colleagues to focus on these real issues reflecting residents’ priorities across West Sussex.
In Parliament this week I attended the Queen’s Speech, which announces the Government’s legislative priorities for the year ahead. The Speech itself is an elaborate ceremony, with the Queen’s messenger ‘Black Rod’ having to bang on the slammed doors of the House of Commons to summon MPs to listen – an act which symbolises elected representatives’ independence from the monarch since the days of the Civil War.
This year, a centrepiece of the Government’s agenda will be the rollout of major programmes to support lifetime skills, retraining and adult education. I am personally a big fan of the ‘Lifetime Skills Guarantee’ which will offer a new ‘flexible loan’ scheme to allow wider participation in further education for all ages, and a £2.5 billion National Skills Fund.
Many adults missed out the first time round on a university or further education, and these measures will give them the chance to access loans and grants to support lifelong learning ensuring that people can train and retrain at any stage in their lives, supporting them to move into higher paid jobs and equipping the workforce with the modern skills that businesses need.