David Heath MP, Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Somerton and Frome

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David Heath calls for task force on Woolies job losses

David Heath has called on the government to send in an employment “task-force” to help staff losing their jobs at Woolworth’s and other major retail companies.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Heath pointed out that there is now a well-established system for providing support and advice when a large manufacturing company closes its doors, involving a “task-force” made up from jobcentre plus, local authorities and others, but no such system exists when a retail business closes down with huge job losses, but spread evenly across the country.

Mr Heath said: "We must take jobs in the retail sector every bit as seriously as those in manufacturing, and there are very many communities which are hit when a business like Woolworth’s is closed, including Frome in my constituency. The government has done well in developing a coherent response to factory closures; now it must do the same for retail before the economic crisis claims more victims.”

The suggestion was given a warm response by Leader of the House Harriet Harman who said that the government would look to see what could be done in line with Mr Heath’s request.

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David Heath calls for more help on Somerset floods

David Heath called on Environment Secretary Hilary Benn today to give more help to Somerset to help combat flooding.

And he asked for special assistance to a village school which was flooded yet again last weekend.

Mr Heath was responding to a statement from Mr Benn in the House of Commons on the Pitts report on flooding which recommended more direct action by local authorities, backed by government cash.

Mr Heath, who was himself a victim of a flash flood in the early hours of last Saturday when his car was swept away and partially submerged, said that others had not been so lucky, including, sadly, Mr Henry Collier who tragically lost his life in similar circumstances in Martock, in Mr Heath’s constituency.

Mr Heath called for funds to be allocated on a needs basis, rather than the usual formula which short-changes Somerset, and asked Mr Benn to look particularly at what help could be given to schools like Countess Gytha Primary School in Queen Camel which is likely to be out of action for weeks after flooding yet again.

Mr Heath said: “I welcome the fact that extra support is to be given to local authorities to deal with regular flooding, but it’s important that the cash gets distributed fairly and goes to the areas with the greatest need, like Somerset. Nothing will entirely prevent floods, but we can at least mitigate the effects and reduce the misery and loss of life which floods sometimes carry in their wake.

“I am grateful to Mr Benn for listening carefully to what I had to say about Countess Gytha School. He has asked me to follow this up with him, and I certainly will do so. If some schools building cash can be released to help schools like Countess Gytha to be protected better from flooding, or better still a new school to be built in a more suitable location, that would be great news. It cannot be sensible to carry on with premises which are so prone to flooding and where the education of the children is so often interrupted.”

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David Heath claims victory in A303 row

David Heath has welcomed today’s announcement by the Highways Agency that they will withdraw plans for a closure of the A303 for a full review.

The U-turn comes after Mr Heath raised the issue in the House of Commons last week , and following a meeting with the Minister of State at the Department of Transport Lord Adonis.

Mr Heath told parliament last Thursday that the plans, which would have meant the total closure of the A303 for nearly three months and extensive diversions, were “extraordinary”, and said, “ Aside from the west country, I can think of no region of the country where the main arterial route could be closed for a quarter of the year for the convenience of contractors, rather than in the economic, environmental and social interests of the people whom I represent”.

He said that the meeting with the minister had been most useful. “Lord Adonis clearly understood the issues involved, not least because unlike his predecessors he actually knows the A303 well and recognised the enormous difficulties this closure would represent. He said he would contact the Highways Agency and ask them to think again, and he has been as good as his word.

Mr Heath warned that there may still be disruption when the repairs go ahead. He said: “Obviously I am delighted the current plans have been shelved and the whole matter is now to be reviewed. But it’s almost inevitable that there will still be substantial disruption and inconvenience when an alternative scheme is considered.

"I just hope that it will take into account the interests of the people who live and work around the A303 and not just contractors. The total closure of a road as busy as the A303 for nearly a third of the year was always an absurd proposition.”

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David Heath welcomes U-turn on rural doctors

David Heath has welcomed an announcement today from Health Minister Phil Hope that the government no longer intend to go ahead with controversial changes to GP dispensing.

Mr Heath has been campaigning on the issue over the last six months in response to concerns expressed by doctors and patients in Somerset that the plans would remove dispensaries in the surgeries serving rural areas and make life difficult for patients.

Mr Heath has raised the matter repeatedly in the House of Commons and in letters to Ministers, and says he is delighted with the announcement that the current arrangements will remain unchanged.

David Heath MP said: “This is excellent news, and a victory for common sense. I do not think the consequences for rural areas such as those served by Langport and Coleford surgeries in my constituency, for instance, were understood at all when the proposals were first published, but the flood of letters from those who would have been affected has really made a difference.

"The surgery dispensaries make life a lot easier for people who need regular prescriptions, particularly if they don’t have easy access to towns where they could conveniently visit a pharmacist, and it was always a nonsense, at least in rural areas, to do away with them.

"“That threat has now been lifted, and I am pleased that the arguments I and other colleagues representing rural areas have been putting have in this instance been listened to.”

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