If you had walked into a betting shop in January 2016 and put a wager on Britain voting to leave the EU, Leicester City winning the Premier League and Donald Trump being elected President of the United States, you would have received some funny looks and extremely long odds. As we know, all these things have come to pass, making 2016 an exceptional and tumultuous year.
The EU referendum decision was one of historic importance for our country. Although I campaigned hard for a Remain vote, as a democrat I accept the public’s decision and am working to implement it. In 2017, the Conservative Government will start the process of withdrawal and in the months ahead, we will see Parliamentary legislation and the start of the negotiating process that will culminate in our exit from the EU. Although we are leaving the institution, we are not leaving Europe, so the need to build strong international relationships as a confident and outward-looking nation has never been more important.
The vote also meant a change of leadership, and with Theresa May we have a Prime Minister who is experienced, unflappable and extremely hard working. I was delighted to have been asked to continue by the new Prime Minister in my Ministerial role as Solicitor General.
Despite the uncertainties of politics, the economic scene has continued to improve. The national rate of employment soared to a record high and there are now almost 9,000 more people in work across Swindon. The Transport Secretary has announced £5 million for improvements to the intersection of the M4 Junction 15 and the A419 near Swindon, in addition to the £11.5 million improvements to junction 16. Contracts have also been signed which will see the Corn Exchange and Old Town Hall buildings restored as part of a £35m regeneration project.
Highlights of the year for me have included organising a Dementia Summit here in Swindon that brought together local organisations from different sectors to discuss how we can make Swindon a more dementia friendly town. In 2017, I will be continuing with this important work, as well as beginning a local campaign to tackle loneliness.
Loneliness can be felt by people of all ages, but as we get older, risk factors which could lead to loneliness begin to increase and converge. The impact of loneliness can be devastating and costly to society as well as to the individual. I believe that initiatives to reduce this problem will help pressures on our NHS. in 2017, I will work with our local Council and NHS to help ensure that we do more in Swindon to being health and social care services together and to help relieve pressure on GWH.
When it comes to education, I will continue to regularly visit schools and colleges here in South Swindon in 2017. This month's announcement that historic reforms to the funding formula will go ahead was welcome, but we also face the challenge of making sure that all our pupils and students are receiving the best possible education in our town. I will continue to work closely with Justin Tomlinson MP, the Council and Government to ensure that the criticisms made by OFSTED in their recent letter are dealt with.
Finally, I would like to thank all of those members of the emergency services who have worked over the festive period, as well as those who have volunteered at projects such as Christmas Cares and at Christ Church on Christmas Day. My very best wishes for a happy, healthy and peaceful 2017.