I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy New Year and as the magazines fill with predictions for 2016, I too have pondered the next 12 months and the political matters which I suspect will keep me busy on your behalf.
My priorities for the year will be based around growing our local economy, encouraging better regional transport and supporting our public sector providers to deliver improved services. Our new link-road between Bexhill and Hastings gives us the platform to attract new jobs and new housing to the constituency. Feedback on the new road has been incredibly heartening; I was thrilled to be informed by one constituent that her usual 40 minute drive from Bexhill to the Conquest Hospital was covered in only 10 minutes. Not only will the reduction in travelling time improve our quality of life (school runs, the daily commute amongst other journeys), the improved infrastructure will also reduce costs for local businesses and contribute to their growth.
I hope this road will also help relieve congestion in other parts of the constituency, such as Battle (albeit proper parking enforcement in our towns would also help). Our new road is the first step in improving our local transport network and leaves me to focus on the ongoing campaign to deliver high-speed rail from Bexhill to London and to improve services from Battle.
Maintaining and improving our local public services is an ongoing challenge particularly as our hospital trust had a difficult time in 2015. I have every confidence that the year to come will see its overall performance match the levels of satisfaction regularly reported by patients from their interactions with frontline staff.
I look forward to continuing with my ‘School a Week’ visits. Having visited almost 50 schools so far, I recognise how passionate and inspiring our local teachers are and how we need to give them more responsibility rather than Government instructing them how to teach.
The national political landscape for 2016 should make for an interesting year to come. I suspect that the key issue dominating the media will be the European Referendum. Whilst I recognise the importance of this once-in-a-generation decision, I feel that the performance of our local schools, hospitals and new-housing currently matter more to our constituents than whether Britain remains within, or leaves, the European Union.
I have been asked by the national media how I will be voting in the EU referendum. I find it disappointing that, having granted the 45 million British voters the right to make that determination, the media are fixated on how 650 MPs will cast their own vote. Only when the Prime Minister has finished negotiations with his European counterparts will we have a realistic view of what future British membership of the EU would look like. If I were to take a punt, I would envisage that the negotiations will be concluded in February, which will cause the starting gun to go off for a June referendum.
As your MP, I see my role to provide constituents with information and the platform to air their views and I will be organising and chairing a series of public meetings across the constituency to provide this opportunity. I will ask prominent local speakers to argue the case for, and against, continued EU membership. Members of the community can then have their say and I will see it as my job to encourage discussion and give factual information as to the negotiations and provide a balanced view of the arguments. Thereafter, as Cilla would say on Blind Date, ‘the choice is yours’!