There has been a lot of discussion in the media over the past week about what we MPs actually do in Parliament. I am going to tell you about something which you definitely will not have seen on the rolling news coverage, but is something of which we Stokies should be incredibly proud.
Tomorrow, I am joining trustees of Lidice Shall Live, along with representatives of the Czech and US embassies, to celebrate a movement which began right here in Stoke-on-Trent, in September 1942. I thank Alan & Cheryl Gerrard, of Fenton, for their dedication in bringing this event to fruition.
The Czech town of Lidice, around 15 miles west of Prague, was, in the 40s, a medium-sized mining town. It was not well-known beyond its own region, and its people went about their business very much as members of our families did in Stoke-on-Trent. That was until Reinhard Heydrich, a senior Nazi, was assassinated by the Czech resistance. Hitler ordered that the village of Lidice should be flattened, with all its men and boys shot, and its women and girls sent to concentration camps.
Sir Barnett Stross, the Stoke-on-Trent MP at the time, took up their cause; you can see footage of him addressing crowds of hundreds in Hanley on 6th September 1942 on the internet – it is well worth a watch. The campaign spread to other cities across the UK, even amidst our own nation’s struggle, and the funds raised rebuilt the village after the war. We must never forget what happened and continue to remember the valiant efforts of those who have ensured Lidice Shall Live on.
We should be more aware and prouder of our city’s role in this fantastic response. Two things strike me about this story; firstly, what a sense of justice we in the Potteries possess, and secondly, how it is an MP’s role to steer this sense of justice to more practical ends. We are very fortunate that we do not face the situation today that our forebears faced in the 40s, and so we can focus our efforts closer to home. I would like to share just a couple of examples of this.
Firstly, we all know the reasons behind the struggles of our town centres. Online and out-of-town shopping are taking trade away from bricks-and-mortar retailers, and yet our high streets are still vital centres of our communities – as we should know in a city of not one, but six town centres. But why should our town centres just be centres for retail. We have hundreds of dedicated groups and charities bringing people together who need space to do so. We have an incredible range of small businesses and start-ups many of which could also make great use of some of the space in our town centres.
The Government has spied an opportunity to help, and recently announced that it would support five empty shops, pubs and the like across the country, to become community spaces. One of these ‘Open Doors’ shops is right here on City Road in Fenton and recently opened its doors for the first time. The space will be used by a different community group or charity each day of the week, with a fantastic range of activities scheduled over the next few months. What boost this will be to our high street if we can build on this in Fenton and the success is rolled out across the country. I will be continuing to push Government to do more for our town centres and ensure we get the investment we need locally.
The second example is that of our hospital. We are a city, an urban area, with all of the health problems which go with it. Meanwhile, our hospital offers complex services to people from all across the Midlands, and I have seen for myself the world-class care provided locally in things like stroke and trauma. You could not get better treatment anywhere else in the world. Yes, we have our challenges, but we must commend the excellence we see provided by our doctors and nurses every day. It is quite right to base major hospitals in cities, but it has not been appreciated in the past that the health needs of people in Stoke-on-Trent are more complex and costlier than those from the somewhat more affluent rural areas.
I have been making this point to the Government since I was elected, and I am thrilled that we can now see the results of this: The Royal Stoke has been given a further £17.6 million to provide the additional acute beds we need. This is on top of the £8 million delivered last year that has already added an additional 64 new acute beds. This is helping to reduce unnecessary delays for patients and ensuring people can experience the best standards of care throughout entire hospital.
I will continue to ensure the Government prioritises these vital services and ensure our healthcare continues to improve. Our city deserves nothing less.
This article appeared originally in The Sentinel, 2nd September 2019.