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Today is one of those days when Parliament has definitely risen above the mundane.

This morning I had an extremely useful visit to the University of Surrey. The campus is truly extraordinary, spacious, green and with enough new buildings to demonstrate that Higher Education is taken very seriously in this country and is worthy of investment.
Surrey has the one of the highest employability rates in the country.

Its students across the board do well but it is excellent at providing students with work placement opportunities and embedding entrepreneurship through the curriculum.

Its Science Park, which is one of the oldest in the UK, was technology focussed and supported successful companies as well as providing incubator units, including some for students. The new sports centre nearby also added to the sense of a well rounded campus that can truly deliver for students and the wider social and economic fabric of the UK.

I really liked the way the main entrance was draped on both sides by a theatre and performing arts centre. Whilst I think the previous Governments was right to support STEM subjects, I think the role of arts and humanities in creating employment opportunities and adding to our general sense of well being is often overlooked but this was thankfully not the case here.

I hope universities like Surrey remain open to students who wish to and have the ability to go to university and that the new fees regime does not deter them.

Thanks to Professor Snowdon and Professor Nicholls for a truly informative visit.

Back in Westminster Tessa Jowell and I held the first meeting of the civil society policy review group. We got lots of feedback on what Labour did well but also what Labour needs to learn from its time in Office. Contributors also helped us consider what future challenges face the commnunity and voluntary sector. This was a really good start and gives us much to think about for the future.

As I write, I am listening to the Budget debate as it draws to an end. I am really pleased that Labour MPs are challenging the Tories as they repeatedly say there is no alternative to huge cuts in our public services. In particular I liked the contributions from North East MPs (well I would) as they were simply excellent in pointing out the ideological choice the Government is making in pushing through such rapid and deep cuts. Tory and Lib Dem MPs simply don’t respond to this ideological critique.

Now my excellent neighbour (sort of) Alex Cunningham is pointing out how this Government is taking more money away from the poorest councils – no matter how the Lib Dem/Tories seek to define fairness the facts speak for themselves: their policies are hitting the poorest areas most.

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