Although the weather could have been kinder, it was great to celebrate Easter here in Swindon; it is a time of hope, renewal and optimism, and a reminder that Spring is supposed to be with us!
The world is still coming to terms with the impact the nerve agent attack in Salisbury, and last week I was on the Front Bench to hear the PM open a debate on the issue. The Government has concluded that Russia was most likely behind the attack and under the Vienna Convention, the United Kingdom has expelled 23 Russian diplomats. The USA expelled 60 Russian diplomats and 26 countries have now put expulsions in place. I welcome last week’s cash injection of £800 million to the Ministry of Defence. £600 million will go towards building a new class of Dreadnought submarines to carry the UK’s nuclear deterrent into the 2030s and beyond. Nuclear deterrence has shown itself to be our greatest guarantor of peace and long may it continue to do so.
Cyber-threats were identified in the 2015 strategic defence and security review as one of the four main threats facing the UK and our allies this decade. Therefore, the Department for International Trade (DIT) has just launched a new export strategy for the British cybersecurity sector. This is important. not only for defence and deterrence purposes, but also for our economic growth. There are around 800 cybersecurity companies in the UK, and DIT will support these firms by introducing them to potential customers and allowing access to UK Export Finance. British cybersecurity exports are expected to rise to £2.6bn by 2021.
As a local resident and service user, I was glad to see that Swindon’s Household Waste Recycling Centre now has extended opening hours. To encourage recycling nationally, Michael Gove has confirmed a deposit return scheme to increase recycling rates and slash the amount of waste polluting our land and seas. Similar ‘reward and return’ schemes have led to increased recycling rates in Europe, Germany has a recycling rate of 97%. The Prime Minister has said that reducing plastic pollution will be a priority at this month’s Commonwealth summit in London. Ministers are also examining proposals to use British Aid money to help reduce the level of plastic waste entering the oceans.
This year is the 70th birthday of the NHS and Jeremy Hunt has promised £760 million to modernise buildings and services. The £3.5 billion NHS capital fund announced at last year’s Budget, allows for a major project equivalent to a new hospital each year for the next five years. In addition to boosting the capital budget and increasing the salaries of NHS staff, the Government will make efficiencies where possible. £100m a year will be saved by stopping routine prescriptions of over-the-counter remedies such as paracetamol and sun creams for a range of less serious medical issues. I have long been concerned about delayed discharges of patients from Great Western Hospital but am delighted that GWH have worked closely with Swindon Borough Council to improve the rate of discharge to the point that they have reached a rate of bed-blocking that is just one-tenth of the South West average. This is of real benefit to patients, families and our acute services alike.
This week, amongst other organisations and businesses, I will be meeting Open Door Swindon, the Royal British Legion and W.H. Smith. I will see residents at my regular surgery too. As ever, I’m always happy to engage with and help fellow South Swindon residents.