Speaking during yesterday’s Cabinet Office Questions in the House of Commons, North Wiltshire MP James Gray raised the complex nature of the Government procurement process and asked how the Cabinet Office could find better ways to ensure SMEs were able to win Government contracts.

Mr Gray said:

“The Government give a very welcome emphasis to the employing of small and medium-sized enterprises in Government contracts, and that is very good stuff, but does the Minister not agree that in reality, Government procurement processes are so complex, so difficult, so massive and so expensive that it is actually companies such as the defence primes that get the contracts and then hammer down the prices ​they pay to their subcontractors? How can we find better ways to ensure that the SMEs win some of those valuable contracts?“

Responding, the Cabinet Office Minister, Oliver Dowden CBE MP, highlighted that the Government had abolished complex pre-qualification questionnaires and added that if major companies were not paying small providers on time, they would be excluded from government schemes.

Mr Dowden said:

“My hon. Friend is absolutely right to highlight the issue of SMEs winning contracts. This is why we have abolished complex pre-qualification questionnaires on small-value contracts, for example, and in November I announced that if major strategic suppliers were not paying their small providers on time, they could face being excluded from Government contracts.”

James Gray MP has called for greater ocean protections around Ascension Island, a British Overseas Territory, as part of the government's Blue Belt programme. Ascension Island's Council is currently considering a proposal to protect 100% of its waters but needs a funding commitment from the UK Government to support their plan.

The MP for North Wiltshire said, "Ascension Island provides a vital habitat for important marine species including sea turtles and some of the largest ever recorded Atlantic Blue Marlin. 85% of the critically endangered species we are responsible for are in British Overseas Territories like Ascension, and they need to be protected.

I hope that the Government will support the Ascension Council in its plans to protect this area by committing to fund it. We've already called for 30% of the world's oceans to be protected by 2030, and Ascension is the next step in this ambitious plan."

Ascension Island is currently working on plans to designate 50% of their waters as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). However, it would cost them less to designate the entire area as an MPA due to the additional costs from policing a partially protected area, such as regulating fishing permits. Creating a 100% MPA in Ascension waters would create a sanctuary twice the size of the UK at around 440,000 square kilometres, the largest MPA in the Atlantic.

Mr Gray is a member of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN) Caucus, which works to support environmental policies including those that promote ocean conservation. They recently met with Environment Secretary Michael Gove and the BLUE Marine Foundation to hear more about Ascension's plans and how they could help.

Adrian Gahan, Director of Policy at the BLUE Marine Foundation said, "It's very encouraging to receive the support of so many Conservative MPs and to hear Michael Gove make an important commitment to secure the funding for the Ascension marine protected area. This entire area could be protected for only £120,000 per year, which is some of the best value conservation on the planet."

Sam Richards, Director of CEN said, "In the last 40 years we've lost half of our marine wildlife, and marine protected areas are vital to reversing this trend and protecting these amazing creatures. Creating this protected area in Ascension would be a great example of the UK's international leadership on ocean conservation."

Find out more about the Blue Belt programme here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-blue-belt-programme

Speaking during Questions to the Prime Minister earlier today, North Wiltshire MP James Gray asked the Prime Minister to join him in reassuring the country that despite yesterday’s announcement that Dyson was to move its corporate headquarters to Singapore, their commitment to the UK , and to North Wiltshire remains undiminished as evidenced by their £240m combined investment into the UK.

Mr Gray said:

“Will the Prime Minister join me in reassuring the people of North Wiltshire and, indeed, the nation that, despite yesterday’s announcement that he is to move his corporate headquarters and two senior executives to Singapore, the commitment of Dyson to Britain remains undiminished, as evidenced by the £200 million he is investing in his research and development site at Hullavington and by the £40 million he is investing in the engineering and design college at Malmesbury? He is totally and utterly committed to Great Britain, and yesterday’s announcement has no effect at all on that commitment.“

Responding, the Prime Minister said Dyson would continue to have a long-term future in the UK having trebled their workforce over the last five years.

Mrs May said:

“Dyson is clear that it will continue to have a long-term future in the UK, and it has trebled its workforce to 4,800 over the past five years. Of course, what matters to companies like Dyson is having a Government who are unapologetically pro-business, which this Government are, and a Government who are ensuring that our balanced economic policy sees increasing employment, exports and foreign direct investment in UK companies at record highs.”

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, has spoken of his delight that both Marsh Farm, Royal Wootton Bassett, planning appeals have been rejected.

In response to this announcement, Mr Gray said:

“I strongly welcome the good news that the application and appeals to develop the land at Marsh Farm have been rejected. I have long been opposed to these plans which would destroy the Wiltshire countryside and take business away from the thriving Royal Wootton Bassett High Street. Developments such as those proposed at Marsh Farm threaten independent shops and businesses and detract from community spirit.

We must never become an outskirt of Swindon and I will continue to fight to preserve our countryside and strong rural communities here in North Wiltshire.”

North Wiltshire MP James Gray hosted the launch of a new report, Meeting the Needs of the Serving RAF Community, from the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund in the House of Commons last week. The report finds that the biggest challenges our serving RAF personnel and their partners are experiencing include mental well-being difficulties, social isolation and partner employment opportunities.

The research reached almost 10 per cent of serving RAF personnel and was conducted with the support of the RAF. The key findings are:

  • relationship difficulties and loneliness were the top major issues reported by RAF personnel and partners;
  • 52% of RAF personnel said they had experienced community or social isolation within the past few years;
  • 42% of partners said loneliness had been a problem they had experienced;
  • 39% of RAF personnel and 48% of partners reported problems with their mental well-being within the past few years;
  • 27% of RAF personnel said they had experienced marriage or relationship difficulties in recent years;
  • 76% of RAF personnel say they tend to prefer to deal with their problems alone than seek help;
  • 39% of RAF personnel said they had been too embarrassed to ask for help in the past;
  • frequent station moves, distance from close relatives, deployments, irregular shifts, anti-social hours all contributed to feelings of social isolation.

In response to the findings, the RAF Benevolent Fund today announced a multi-million pound response to the RAF’s key needs, as highlighted by the research in the report, and is in addition to other on-going work and support already provided. Some of this will be delivered through grant funding, while other programmes will be tested via pilot schemes first to ensure that they are effective and valued before consideration is given to rolling them out further.

  • Enhancing mental well-being among individuals by funding access to the mindfulness app Headspace for RAF personnel.
  • Enhancing social engagement, increasing connectivity and reducing isolation and loneliness by piloting Station Engagement Workers, providing funding for facilities and play parks, and expanding its flagship Airplay youth support programme on RAF Stations.
  • Increasing the employability and well-being of RAF partners by piloting workshops and seminars.
  • Enhancing and strengthening family relationships by completing and evaluating a pilot providing well-being breaks for RAF families across the UK.
  • Increasing awareness of the range of support that is available to the serving RAF community, ensuring more people receive support in times of need by developing a digital tool which provides an easy-to-access source of information.

Mr Gray said: “As a Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces and the Armed Forces Parliamentary Trust, I am aware of the sacrifices our Armed Forces make every day, serving their country. I whole-heartedly support the measures announced today by the RAF Benevolent Fund and congratulate them on their wide-reaching welfare initiatives, targeting the entire RAF Family.”

Air Vice-Marshal David Murray, Chief Executive of the RAF Benevolent Fund, said: “If we didn’t know it already, this project has reminded us that RAF personnel and their families demonstrate incredible resilience on a daily basis, as they wrestle with the challenges of modern-day Service life. However, given the increasing complexity of some of the issues faced, there remains a requirement for targeted support to assist serving RAF families during periods of need.”

“Working closely with the RAF, the Fund has developed a package of practical initiatives that will make a real difference to the lives of RAF personnel and their families in the areas that have emerged from the research.”

In his foreword to the report, Secretary of State for Defence Gavin Williamson MP said: “The extensive support that the charity currently has in place is already impressive and highly regarded by both myself and the Chief of the Air Staff. But the additional projects the Fund has committed to develop in the coming years, in direct response to this report, will make a substantive difference to RAF personnel and their families in need and distress.”