I have started the year with a series of strategic meetings with key local groups including the Police, Yeovil District Hospital, South Somerset District Council and the management of Yeovil Town Football Club. It’s really important for MPs to have a strong ongoing dialogue with our public services for two reasons. They are some of the key agencies that my team and I work with every day to help constituents who are facing challenges and need a little extra support, and it is a two-way dialogue for me understand their issues and feed them into to the process in Westminster. I was delighted to hear from the Police that extra funding to fight violent crime, something I spoke to the Chancellor about directly, is having a positive effect on arrests in the Yeovil constituency.
It is sad news that the Beales department store chain has gone into administration and my thoughts are with their staff at this difficult time. I hope a viable solution can be found. Since being elected I have been calling for a radical review of the Business Rates system and there has been progress in reductions to help smaller businesses. I am now lobbying for the tax to be scrapped or replaced altogether. Shops must have a level playing field to compete with the online retail giants. If we were to move toward a local sales tax system that could at least be proportionate to the turnover of each company, yet we would need to make sure rents were not simply raised. I have also been in touch with Robert Jenrick, Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to stress how important central support is going to be in reinvigorating our High Streets and town centres on sites like the Cattle Market and Glovers’ Walk in Yeovil.
In the House of Commons we have had a few days of debate on the Queen’s Speech – in effect this is an opportunity to raise some priorities for the coming year and I took the opportunity to remind the House about our helicopter industry, the excellent work at Yeovil College and also the challenges facing our High Streets that I have just mentioned.
Open Doors is an organisation which works in over 60 countries to support Christians who face persecution for their beliefs. Each year they launch a report with a new watch list which is their analysis of countries where Christians are at risk. It is always an interesting, impressive event and well attended and this year’s last Wednesday was no different. Thanks to everyone who got in touch with me about the report. Open Doors is easy to find online and I would encourage anyone interested to look at their website. Raising awareness of the issues facing people because of their beliefs is one of their aims and we can all help with that.