Penrose wants future ministerial role

PUBLISHED: 17:00 15 September 2012

MP John Penrose

MP John Penrose

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WESTON MP John Penrose has told the Mercury he would accept a future ministerial role in Government if offered.

The former tourism and heritage minister lost his position last week following a downsizing of the Department for Culture, Media and Sports.

Despite the move the 48-year-old was upbeat about the future and said there is a lot more work he wants to do in Weston before contemplating a return to the front bench in Westminster.

Given the changes, we asked Mr Penrose about what the future will hold for him and for Weston:

Q. How do you feel about losing the tourism and heritage ministerial positions?

A. Obviously I’m personally saddened by the decision – who wouldn’t be – but, even though it wasn’t great for me personally, shrinking the Department for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport is clearly the right thing for the country now the Olympics is over. The Department’s workload will be much smaller and money is tight. But if you’re going to reduce the number of ministers from three to two, you clearly can’t cut the Olympics Minister after he’s done such a brilliant job delivering the games. And I’m not eligible for the only other post, because my wife’s job would create a conflict of interest. So, very sadly but quite rightly, I’m sorry to say it was me.

Q. Did the decision come as a surprise?

A. A bit, but not nearly as much as for people in the tourism and heritage sectors. They’ve been deluging my office with loads of really kind and supportive comments ever since the news broke last week, saying they’re sad to see me go. Not something you always expect in politics!

Q. Would you like to be a minister again in the future?

A. It’s a decision for the Prime Minister, rather than me. But as a country we’ve still got so many things which need fixing that, of course, I would serve if asked. Who wouldn’t?

Q. A lot of long-running Weston topics have reared their heads over the summer (eg Tropicana, drug rehabs). Will the move allow you more time to concentrate on these issues? How difficult was it juggling a Westminster role with your work in Weston?

A. Every MP has to split their time between local constituency issues and broader, national affairs. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a minister or a backbencher, you’re still – rightly – expected to do both. For example, Westonians want an MP who will keep badgering ministers about local problems like Junction 21 of the M5, or better funding for Weston General Hospital, but they also expect their views to be represented on topics like democracy in Burma, or whether our banks are properly regulated, or the Euro crisis too. So whether I’m a minister or not, I’ve always pushed hard on Weston’s local issues in Westminster and I won’t stop now. The principle difference will be in how I represent Weston’s voice on broader topics; as Tourism Minister I had a very strong voice on a single, specific subject – I was deep but narrow, if you like – whereas now I can be more flexible and represent local people on a wider range of topics as needed.

Q. Will we see more of you in the future as a result of the change?

A. Funnily enough, being a minister didn’t make much difference to when I got home to Weston each week. The deciding factor has always been whether Parliament is sitting or not. If it is, I have to be there; partly to speak up for Westonians and partly to support the Government since, if we lose a vote, the Government would collapse. In practice this means I get home late on Thursday or early on Friday morning, before spending Friday and Saturday doing surgeries and other local activities, with Sundays as my day off. That schedule didn’t change when I became a minister, and nor will it now I’ve stopped.

Q. What do you think are the priorities facing Weston at the moment, both as a tourist resort and a hometown for thousands?

A. Oooohh – how long have you got? It’s a long list but, to summarise, the most important issues are to finish the rebirth of Weston’s seafront – it’s miles better than it was a few years ago, but we’ve still got to deal with issues like rebuilding Birnbeck Pier and finding an alternative site for a covered pool if we can’t have the Trop.

And we have to keep improving our transport links so visitors and local residents have an alternative to Junction 21 when they arrive and leave. The trains are much less crowded than they used to be and we’re expecting work to start on expanding Junction 21 and Worle station very soon, but there’s still more to do.

We need a more sustainable balance between jobs and housing, so fewer people have to travel to work in Bristol if there are more local firms to hire them instead; the new, simpler planning regulations should free us up dramatically here.

We need fairer funding for our local schools and healthcare; the cash gap between North Somerset and other parts of the country is narrower than it used to be, but the playing field isn’t fully level yet.

And finally, as the Mercury reported a few weeks ago, we’ve almost won the battle against dodgy drugs rehabs in Weston – there are many fewer than there used to be, and the ones that are left are much better – but we can’t let down our guard for a moment.

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