As 2015 draws to a close, I thought that it was worth taking a moment to look back at this tumultuous yearand also to look forward to 2016. For me, the high point came in early May when I was re-elected as your MP in South Swindon. The campaign had been a long and arduous one, but the many discussions I had out and about proved as they always do to be a source of invaluable information and inspiration. The effect wasn't purely on my mindset, but my loss of weight as a result of the huge amount of walking I did then spurred me on to train for the Swindon Half Marathon,, which I managed to complete in October despite nearly seizing up on Marlborough Road! It was great to raise money for local charities in the process.
I was delighted and relieved when the result came through that I had held the seat with an increased Conservative majority, and my thanks go to everyone who supported me. Not only was the vote a judgement on the five years since 2010, but it was also a vote for the next five years. Since my re-election, my schedule has been busier than ever and I continue to host local advice surgeries and support a huge range of organisations and events in and around Swindon. Whatever your vote may have been, I will continue to work for you.
It was an honour to have been re-appointed by he Prime Minister to my role as Solicitor General in the new Government, which allows me to put the knowledge and experience I gained in my work as a lawyer before my election as your MP to best effect in Westminster and Whitehall. I was particularly proud to have piloted reforms to the criminal law of child neglect and to have introduced the new crime of coercive control as part of a reform to domestic violence law. This offence came into force yesterday, and I hope that the lives of women and men affected by this will be improved as a result.
There has been some encouraging local news on allfronts in 2015. Youth unemployment, which remained stubbornly high in the years before 2010, continues to fall, and adult unemployment is now lower than it has been for many years. We’ve seen the creation of new jobs in companies like Honda, which recently made an exciting announcement as a result of a £200 million investment into the Swindon Honda site, which I mentioned in one of my earlier columns.
We’ve seen tired old buildings such as Aspen Housepulled down to pave the way for the continued regeneration of our Town Centre. I have had debates with some who liked the brutalist architecture of buildings like the Queenstown Car Park, but my strong feeling is that a change was badly needed. I am pleased that demolition work on the old site has nearly been finished, so that a new Bus Terminal can now be builtwith £3m of Government funding. Like many fellow residents, I have endured the traffic jams at Bruce Street Bridges, but look forward to the completion of the new roundabout in the next few months, again achieved with Government funding of nearly £3m. In 2016, we shall move even closer to the completion of the much needed electrification of the Great Western Line too.
As your MP and as someone who relies on local NHS services, I continue to work to help bring our hospital, GPs and social care providers even closer together so that further improvements can be made. I am in regular contact with local GP surgeries and patients to discuss the challenges being faced and will continue to work to help ease the situation. I am also fully supportive of moves to end the current PFI (Private Finance Initiative) deal that is costing GWH so much per year and will do whatever I can to help with this process.
2016 will see the start of work on a new Health Centre at Fleming Way, replacing the current facility at the site.The new centre will be made up of two GP practices that will serve over 20,000 patients and provide a wide range of health services. NHS England, the Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Swindon Borough Council are jointly involved in this development, which is a welcome boost for our local health services.
It has been a pleasure to personally meet and congratulate many local GCSE students on their successes this year, with schools such as Nova Hreod and Lydiard Park Academy making real progress. We have seen the construction of two new schools,including Holy Cross Primary School, and with an extra £150per pupil having been secured for Swindon schools this year, 2016 will see further progress in achieving a fair and lasting schools formula that I hope will end an unfairness that put Swindon towards the bottom of the funding league.
We’ve seen pioneering research from our town’s energy companies. And we’ve seen Swindon retain its top 30 spot in the UK’s best places to live. There is still much to do, of course, but our town is well and truly on the up, and I look forward to further successes on the horizon for Swindon in 2016.
As we prepare to celebrate the New Year, our thoughts must go out to everyone who has been affected by the recent flooding in the North of England, caused by unprecedented levels of rainfall. I am very glad that the Government, working with the Environment Agency, mobilised a full national emergency response as soon as the scale of the rainfall became clear, which included 200 military personnel and supporting assets.
Over the next six years £2.3 billion will be invested in flood defences, a real terms increase on the £1.7 billion invested in the last Parliament, which was in turn a real terms increase on the £1.5 billion spent between 2005 and 2010. Combined with previous investment, this will improve protection to 465,000 homes and businesses by the end of the decade, preventing a total of £30 billion in economic damages. I welcome the comments by my friend and colleague, Floods Minister Rory Stewart, that a new approach to a problem that seems to be happening more frequently, will be looked at urgently in 2016.
To all local organisations and groups that I represent and work with, I would like to say a huge thank you for all your hard work this year. One of the best things about representing local residents and organisations in Parliament is being able to get involved in so many different causes and meet lots of new people.
As always, please don’t hesitate to get in touch if I can help you by addressing a local or national issue that you may have. However you choose to celebrate, I wish you and all your family and friends a very Happy New Year.