Happy Easter to everyone. I hope for many it is a chance to spend time with friends and family, to have a short break from the hectic pace of life and, whether you have a Christian belief or not, to benefit from some time for yourselves. It is a great time of year, as days get longer, mornings brighter and nature reawakens. As always when there are public holidays, our thanks go to those in the emergency services and others not able to have that time off.
There has been much do here in Somerset recently. This has both been around campaigning for the very important local elections but also because there is so much to do to make sure Somerset bounces back strongly and gets through the current big challenges.
The outlook is helped by looking at the support that national Government has given Somerset over the last few years. Just last year my working with Ministers produced the £9.75 million for town centre investment from the Government’s Future High Street Fund and nearly £1.9 million in heritage funding for Chard High Street. In the last fortnight we have also delivered just under £4 million for the new Household Support Fund to allow local councils to help families in financial difficulty, and this of course adds to the massive national Government support delivered during the pandemic. In the national Budget last year we also at my request contributed £10 million towards the transformation of the Octagon Theatre, critical in enabling it to happen. This is in addition to the multi-billion pound dualling of the A303, Ilminster Bypass and link to the M5.
There are many further opportunities but it is crucial to have local government that is competent and on the same page of implementing the vision that we at national level have for levelling up Somerset, rather than for example wasting money using contractors that go bust or using council resources for private purposes, such as has been happening under the current District Council administration in Yeovil.
A couple of examples of the further vision we need to implement is my work with council candidates on taking forward the project to reopen Chard Junction Station, as well as a bid for Access for All funding support for better access at Yeovil Junction for those with mobility challenges.
Last week Leonardo secured a £360million national Government contract to provide support and training for their Wildcats. I am still pressing hard with the Ministry of Defence for an accelerated decision about the medium lift requirement and have a meeting with procurement Minister Jeremy Quin shortly after the House returns.
It’s also brilliant to see Numatic progressing plans to expand in Chard – a great reason in itself to have modern transport links there. They and Leonardo are two world leading companies and have much fantastic support in their local supply chains.
I remain in close touch with Yeovil Town FC having supported them in expanding finance options including during the very difficult pandemic period and I hope there will be good news on the club’s future soon. In the meantime I would urge all to really get behind the players and see as many games as possible. Gate receipts are directly linked to how soon fresh talent can be brought in to get back to strong performance that can take us up the leagues.