Good news this week as Somerset County Council has agreed to a full review of gritting and increasing the budget for next year. Obviously there have been some problems this year and thanks to everyone who got in touch to let me know about their experiences. I will be making sure these are accurately fed into the review process, and indeed I wrote to the Council as soon as the cold snap was with us, to encourage them to review the situation. The programme had been scaled back and although it is too late to reverse the changes for this year the funding cuts are to be reversed and more money made available on top for next year.
There is nothing wrong with trying to save public money and the County Council has made great strides in this respect at a time of rising demand in the areas of social care and Children’s Services. In this case though the lack of gritting in some areas has caused problems that outweigh the savings, and if schools are having to close temporarily it’s a serious situation as I have conveyed to them. The broader picture at the County Council is encouraging. After a lot of pressure from all of the Somerset MPs the financial settlement from central Government is better than expected and there are other potential funding streams that we are looking at. We will also be part of the Business Rate Retention scheme which is something I have been campaigning hard for in Westminster.
A combination of rising demand and inherited debts left the administration facing challenges and there were reports last year that it may be heading towards a Northamptonshire style situation but the picture is now far better and all credit to them for that. I will keep working in Westminster to look at ways to boost our finances further particularly in reversing years of underfunding of rural areas.
On Tuesday Royal Assent was granted to The Voyeurism Bill, meaning that so called ‘upskirting’ is now a criminal offence attracting a prison sentence of up to two years. In some cases the guilty party may also be added to the sex offenders register. This is a good example of the law catching up with technology and will send a clear message that such behaviour is criminal and not to be tolerated.
Next week there was due to be a short recess but this has been cancelled due to pressure on Parliamentary time and Brexit. I had been looking forward to more time here in Somerset and seeing my family but it’s the right decision when there is still uncertainty to be dispelled. I am continuing to work as part of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group to look at ways of solving the Irish border and related issues and hope that these practical solutions can be part of bringing the House of Commons and, to an extent, the country as a whole to a consensus on how to move forward.
As always, if you would like to get in touch, if you have a problem I may be able to help with or if you would like to make an appointment at one of my advice surgeries please do call 01935314321 or email Marcus.firstname.lastname@example.org