January is named after Janus, the Roman God of beginning and endings. It’s a time when it’s right to look back over the past year and also forward to what’s to come. More of that shortly but I think in many ways what we need is stability and progress. Part of that is about our national security and making sure our Police and Armed Forces are given every means of support possible. It’s also about education and training, apprenticeships and other ways of building for the future.
Confidence is important at every level, from the Government investing in major infrastructure projects to a family deciding they will have an extension built or take a holiday, and people are feeling more confident about the future. Looking back on 2015 there were some good achievements for the South West and the Country as a whole. The minimum wage has gone up as has the threshold at which you start paying income tax; both key measures to help those on lower incomes. A National Living Wage will be introduced to help further with this.
Funding for the A303/358 dualling has been secured - this massive engineering project is being delivered with work packages starting over 10 years with all of the first 3 slated in the first 5 years improving our area's connections. Yeovil Pen Mill and Yeovil Junction train stations have been reconnected and frequency of trains to London is increasing. Whilst still getting spending down to get national finances in order, budgets for the Police and Education have been protected and Defence spending secured. Also the Broadband rollout has made huge progress with thousands of homes and businesses connected including some blackspots in Yeovil like Wyndham Park.
Three themes will be central to 2016. First, localism, empowering people to make decisions about their communities, will be something happening in a number of ways. I campaigned for changes to allow Councils full control and retention of business rates which have now been agreed, and will keep pressing for that to happen as soon as possible.Second, perhaps getting most media space, will be the referendum on EU membership. Whilst the date is not yet set it may well be this year. It is one of the most important questions facing the country for years and I will try to help people understand the facts and choices. Finally, integration of health and social care with more understanding of mental health issues will be a big theme for the NHS. The Government is funding this very thoroughly and I will keep supporting and promoting Somerset as leading the way in this.
I’m looking forward to what will be a challenging and interesting year and doing my part by representing the Yeovil constituency in Westminster. I’ll continue to use all tools available to hear people’s thoughts, hopes and concerns, including social media with all the variety that brings and opportunity for constructive engagement about the future.