Where in the world is Rehman Chishti this time?
Plus another mysterious donation for Kelly Tolhurst, M2 motorway bridge path closure extended, and all the action from the first Medway Matters Live
How many foreign-funded trips should an MP from Gillingham take in a year? Rehman Chishti has clocked up five weeks of foreign trips within a nine month period, including one to the US where he was paid over £8,000 for giving three lectures. Has the MP taken the eye off of his constituency? Further down, we have a totally fine donation to Kelly Tolhurst from a secretive organisation, news on the M2 motorway bridge, and our summary of the first Medway Matters Live events.
Where in the world is Rehman Chishti this time?
It’s easy to lose track of the gifted foreign trips of Rehman Chishti, the MP for Gillingham and Rainham.
Just in the past year alone, we’ve written about jaunts to Saudi Arabia to the tune of £11,000 and the US (£12,000 funded by, er, Saudi Arabia). Last month, he was in Saudi Arabia once again, and presumably we’ll find out in a few months whether or not that was another funded trip.
To keep us going for now though, Chishti has recently updated his register of interests to declare two further foreign trips paid for by overseas organisations. Even better, one of them even paid him directly this time.
The first trip was a two-week trip to the US, funded by the University of Oklahoma School of Arts & Sciences, who wanted Chishti to give three lectures to students for some reason. He didn’t have to do this out of the goodness of his heart though, as the university paid him over £8,200 for the two lectures, as well as providing accommodation and hospitality valued at £4,000. Nice work if you can get it.
The Oklahoma trip was between 23 September and 7 October. To avoid having to spend much time back in his constituency though, he also registered another trip mere days later. Between 10 and 14 October, he visited Kuwait on a trip worth £6,800.
This trip does at least have some (tenuous) connection to his MP role. Chishti is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Kuwait, though these groups are self-selecting and have no formal role. His trip to Kuwait saw him meet businesses and faith leaders in Kuwait, as well as give a lecture while there.
By our count, Chishti has now declared five weeks of foreign-funded trips in a nine month period. It feels like quite a lot for a backbench MP for a north Kent constituency with no governmental role.
Still, with a General Election looming, it’s probably not a bad idea for Chishti to be investigating potential future opportunities out in the world.
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Secretive organisation donates £15,000 to Kelly Tolhurst
Businessfore is an ‘unincorporated association’, meaning there is no way to know who is behind it. Happily though, there’s nothing to stop such organisations from donating significant sums of money to MPs. Hooray democracy!
A recent addition to the register of interest for MPs shows that Tolhurst has once again benefitted from the organisation to the tune of £15,000.
The amount comes on top of a further £25,000 received in the past two years, meaning Tolhurst has now received £40,000 from an organisation with no public directors or stakeholders. Cool cool.
Businessfore donates similar sums to a number of Conservative MPs and have come into the spotlight after a government whip they donated to failed to declare an interest when hosting them for a parliamentary event. A parliamentary event that had one Kelly Tolhurst MP as a guest speaker.
The organisation faced an investigation this year by the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists to see if they carried out unregistered lobbying. The organisation apparently gave the required information to the registrar and was deemed to be in the clear, but none of the information disclosed is in the public domain.
As ever, there is nothing to suggest that Kelly Tolhurst or Businessfore have done anything wrong. The issue once again is that an opaque organisation with no paper trail can donate significant sums to an MP with no public information about who they are or what their aims are.
Motorway bridge path to remain closed into next year
There are very few ways to cross the River Medway in our towns as a pedestrian or cyclist. Just two, in fact. With the Medway Tunnel off limits, the only options that remain are Rochester Bridge and across the M2 motorway bridge.
For the past six months, the motorway bridge option has been off the table, as Highways England has been undertaking work to make the route safer, by which they mean raising the height of the barriers between the path and the water below.
Highways England is mitigating the closure by providing an hourly shuttle bus between each side of the bridge, but this only runs between 6am and 7pm, leaving anyone outside of those hours facing a several-mile detour through Rochester and Strood town centres. They also make it clear that the service is liable to change at any time, hardly leaving it as a reliable option. Residents we’ve spoken to who have attempted to use the service have seemingly faced mixed experiences on whether or not the bus turns up at the scheduled time.
Work was due to be completed before the end of the year, but this has now been updated to the worryingly vague ‘spring 2024’. It is a reality that certain works will inevitably overrun due to unforeseen events, but it is unfortunate that a key route for those not in a car will be out of action for so long.
Medway Matters, apparently
Ahead of the local elections back in May, Labour pledged to make democracy more accessible. And so it was that we found ourselves in the hall of The Howard School with around 100 residents and 20 council staff members on a Tuesday night for the inaugural Medway Matters Live.
Taking the name from the weird Medway Council promotional magazine that comes through your door every few months (and that Labour once rightly pledged to scrap), the event featured presentations from Medway Council Leader Vince Maple and Chief Executive Richard Hicks before an opportunity for the public to ask questions.
The evening itself was a bit of a mixed bag, with the presentations being fairly mundane, with Maple talking about the challenges facing the administration, and Hicks cheerleading the potential of Medway. All interesting enough if you haven’t heard it before, but these are the usual subjects.
Around halfway through the night, we moved to the question time part of proceedings, not to be confused with our own Medway Question Time events.
Maple and Hicks were surprisingly open and happy to tackle any issue thrown at them, and while written questions can be checked in advance, questions from the floor were delightfully unvetted. This led to a number of ‘more of a comment than a question’ interventions, some incredibly mixed offerings, such as when one questioner managed to ask about cars driving on pedestrianised streets, shop displays, staff being abused in Asda (and only Asda), and also people using supermarkets as a cash and carry. Maple and Hicks attempted to tackle such questions in good humour and held their own well.
More serious questions were also on the agenda, with one mother asking about care services and how it was too late for her son, leading to heartfelt apologies from Maple and Hicks. The least convincing answer of the night came when Maple was challenged to re-affirm his commitment to keeping Chatham Docks open, but would only go so far as to try and arrange a meeting between stakeholders next year.
On a technical level, the night was a bit of a mess, with microphones frequently failing, and screeching feedback coming through the PA system. These kinds of things do happen though, and hopefully they’ll have the issues ironed out by the time they dare to do a second one of these events.
🚘 Residents of a street in Strood have been told they are no longer allowed parking permits despite Medway Council issuing them for 20 years. It is clear from the piece that they were never eligible and the curious thing is how it took the council two decades to notice the issue.
🏥 A new cafe and shop operated by Medway League of Friends has opened at Medway Hospital. The new outlet offers a wider range of food and items, and a better coffee shop area.
🧾 Medway Council has hired an investigator to find people wrongly claiming council tax discounts. The move is predicted to claw back £800,000 for the struggling council.
🏦 Lloyds are set to close their Strood branch in April. Their own data for closure says that 252 people regularly use the branch, which they claim isn’t enough.
🍺 The Crown in Rochester has reopened following an extensive refit. The pub next to Rochester Bridge will now be known as The Royal Crown.
🦆 KentOnline has spoken to Mark Colyner, who can often be seen wandering around Rochester with a pet duck on his arm. The ducks are called Dog and Goldie, apparently.
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We also published our monthly event guide, highlighting what’s going on in Medway through December. These pieces don’t usually elicit big responses, but it all kicked off in the comments after I dared to point out that Die Hard isn’t a Christmas film:
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