Wiltshire’s vulnerable children will benefit from free meals during October half-term after Wiltshire Council agreed to ensure families struggling with food poverty in the county are supported.

Cllr Laura Mayes, Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Skills, said: “We know that many families are feeling the financial pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we want to do all we can to support them.

“We want to ensure that children do not go hungry during these school holidays and want to ensure that Wiltshire families know that they will be supported during these difficult times by putting these measures in place. Therefore the council will be funding free meals during the October half term. This will be reviewed throughout the pandemic and we will continue to make sure that any child and family who needs help gets it. As we have done throughout, we will continue to work with our partners in the community and voluntary sector to make sure the needs of our residents are met at this unprecedented time. The work of our community groups has been, and continues to be, amazing and I must thank them for their tremendous support throughout the pandemic.

If you are entitled to free school meals or universal credit and struggling to pay for food over half term, please contact the Wiltshire Wellbeing Hub for support.”

James Gray MP welcomed the support, commenting:

“We are all facing tough times; and we must all do our bit to stop the virus and support those who need it most. The coronavirus outbreak has made the importance of good nutrition for children even clearer and I welcome the support offered by the Council to ensure that children do not go hungry during the October half term. I did not vote for the amendment in Parliament last week as I am hopeful that the Government will find an alternative solution through the benefits system rather than the educational one. I believe this is a great example of this work. Schools have enough on their plates as it is without adding this extra burden, and I know we need to look at other ways to tackle child poverty, including support through local councils.”

Yesterday James Gray MP met with the Minister for Defence Procurement, Jeremy Quin MP, to discuss the return of MoD residential properties in Wiltshire to Annington Homes Limited, and the associated notices to quit.

Mr Gray stated:

“I had an extremely productive meeting with the Minister for Defence Procurement yesterday and am delighted that the notice period for tenants has now been extended to 12 months.

I discussed Wiltshire Council’s constructive proposals with the Minister and hope to engage further on this matter over the coming weeks.”

 “I was honoured and delighted to hear from the Order of St John that I have been admitted as a Commander in the Order,” said James Gray MP, speaking after the announcement had appeared in the London Gazette.

“Her Majesty the Queen, the Sovereign Head of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem has been graciously pleased to sanction James Gray MP’s admission as a Commander in the said Most Venerable Order with effect from 24 August 2020.”

The Order of St John, as well as preserving the Mediaeval traditions of the Order, is the body which oversees the St John Ambulance.

“Quite aside from the honour itself, I am very much looking forward to doing what I can to help the Order, and St John Ambulance, both on the ground and in Parliament," said Mr Gray. "As we all know St John do great work in training First Aid, as well as providing Ambulance and Emergency services at events and elsewhere. They have been very actively involved at the frontline of the battle against the Covid Pandemic. They do great work, and I look forward to getting involved in different aspects of it.”

This weekend, James Gray MP took part in a virtual discussion at the Conservative Party Conference to discuss “The Falkland Islands in a Global Britain – respond to the challenges and taking advantage of opportunities,” examining the importance of the Falkland Islands to the UK.

As the UK reassesses its place in the world it is vital that the contribution of the Falklands is considered. Whether it is providing a South Atlantic base for the UK’s Armed Forces, playing a major role in helping the UK tackle climate change, or being the home to a high proportion of the UK’s biodiversity, the event stressed how the Falklands should be seen as an significant asset to Global Britain.

As the Chair of the Polar Regions APPG, a member of the Falkland Islands APPG and as someone who has visited the Falklands and the wider region, Mr Gray was very pleased to be able to join the panel and share his views.

In his speech, Mr Gray made the important point that the Integrated Review should not just stick to 2% of GDP for defence expenditure, since GDP is likely to fall, but that we should maintain current levels of spending. He also highlighted the importance of focusing on Antarctica, as well as the Arctic, as areas of vital strategic importance and as centres for science and peace.

Everyone will have been shocked and saddened by the appalling accident on the A-4 between Calne and Chippenham over the weekend, in which four young people were tragically killed. Their friends and family will be consumed with grief, and perhaps more gnawingly, with self-doubts as to if there was anything that they could have done to prevent it. All of our hearts go out to their parents and friends.

It would be wrong to speculate on the reasons behind the crash, and I will certainly be looking very carefully at whether improvements can be made either with regard to speed limits, or to the design of what really does seem to be a dangerous patch of road.

Young people have been disproportionately affected by the events of the last few months. Lockdown must have been a bit of nightmare for at least some of them. They want to be out and about seeing friends and doing stuff. Not having to go to school must have seemed like good fun to begin with; but I am certain that most of them now deeply regret it and are yearning to get back in the new term.

The fiasco (of policy and even more so handling) of the A Levels and now GCSE results must have made things so much worse. They were prevented from taking their exams, and now some algorithm has decided that they may not be able to go to their University of choice. The whole thing is descending into a shambles, and I have written to the Secretary of State both to raise some tragic individual cases from my constituency, but also to let him know that I cannot accept his stance on the subject.

The only way out of it now seems to me to be to accept the recommendations of the teachers, realising that that may well result in ‘grade inflation’- a matter which will make Universities’ entrance procedures  a great deal more complex- but which we can sort out in subsequent years.

Add to all of that the fact that they cannot travel overseas (do you remember the inter-railing and backpacking we used to do?); that there are still real restrictions over what they can do within  the UK; that with the Pandemic economic collapse of recent weeks, the jobs market will inevitably be affected; and that anyhow, they seem to have less clarity of direction with regard to career than we did; throw into the mix the angst and hormone changes that we all experienced in our teens and you have a pretty toxic mix.

So it may not be great getting older (although it is better than the alternative!); and as you read this I will be under the excellent surgeon’s knife putting right some bits which seem to have worn out. But it is, at least for now, a lot better than being young again. If only we could be young, but with all the wisdom and benefits, and relative wealth we now enjoy in later life. I guess it was ever thus….