As we head into 2022 I am sure our wish list will be a great deal shorter and more widely held than usual. This has to be the year that we move on from the cycle of COVID restrictions and look forward again without uncertainty. It has been greatly encouraging that the reaction to Omicron has so far been measured and proportionate.
Thanks to the amazing efforts of our healthcare workers and an army of volunteers the vaccine and booster programme is racing along and dramatically reducing serious illness and hospitalisations. Capacity locally has been increased with pop-up centres and at-home vaccinations for those who need them. Do check https://www.somersetccg.nhs.uk/covid-vaccines/ for details.
The efforts of the last nearly two years have come at great cost and that is what we need to focus on catching up with; not so much in financial terms as we need to keep taxes low to encouraging growth, but in terms of education, non-COVID health issues, supporting people with special needs and disabilities and all the other areas which through no fault of anyone’s have fallen behind.
The Department for Education has just announced a £32million or 7.8% increase in schools and high needs funding for 2022/23. Along with the recent appeal for retired teachers to support schools in the coming term it’s a really strong reflection of how much we value education and also how much we recognise that our children have had a really tough time. The structure of the school environment is best for them whatever their background and wherever they are growing up.
Our High Streets were having a challenging time even before the pandemic but now we really need to build on regeneration already underway and do so in a way that produces an attractive environment for years to come due to better planning and joined up thinking between local and central government. I will keep working hard to lobby the Government for support to build on previous good news including central Government grants from the Future High Streets Fund, for heritage in Chard and for projects like the Octagon Theatre. I am also going to prioritise supporting the Police to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour which is crucial in making town centres like Yeovil and others thrive again.
Another big issue for the Government this year is going to be looking at the cost of living and energy bills. As a country it is not right for us to be making hugely expensive environmental commitments if some of our people cannot heat their homes. It is also not right to condemn some developing countries to poverty reducing their energy consumption having benefitted from hundreds of years of cheap carbon fuels ourselves. We need to make energy cheaper and cleaner rather than reducing usage and I will be fighting for this in Westminster.
Finally I am looking forward to supporting our move to a unitary authority here, meaning we will just have one Council for the area. This is not including Parish Councils whose work will be as important as ever, but will mean that residents have one port of call for their services and we will work to make that as efficient and effective as possible.
Lots to look forward to but in the meantime Happy New Year!