New role, but focus on key issues remains
Westminster has had that '˜back to school' feeling as we return to Parliament having spent the summer recess touring the constituency, catching up with local people, charities and businesses.
I am now getting to grips with my new role assisting education ministers – I feel like the new kid at school!
I am also working out how I can best raise issues that affect Northumberland from within the Department, such as making sure our rural schools get the best deal out of the new funding formula, and continuing to bang the drum for special needs provision.
Now that our new county council administration has had time to bed in, we are starting to see differences between the new Conservative one and the old Labour one.
The first thing it did was cancel Labour’s wasteful and pointless move of County Hall from Morpeth to Ashington, which would have cost the taxpayer over £17million.
It also got cracking with a forensic audit of the troubled Arch organisation.
A particular concern for me, and other Berwick residents, was Labour’s apparent unwillingness to invest in North Northumberland. I am delighted that the Conservatives are getting things moving and investing in Berwick.
The £25million hospital programme will be built alongside a state-of-the-art leisure centre, which the council is funding with £18-20million, to create a holistic provision to support health and wellbeing.
The hospital, which is being provided by the NHS, will contain the same services as at present and there are plans to introduce new services too.
Some residents are concerned about what this will look like and how the leisure centre and hospital will interact. There are no plans yet, but I am continuing to listen and discuss with the teams to ensure we get the best provision.
We have £2million going to the jetty in Berwick, thanks to Government Coastal Communities Funding, and £290million is being invested into A1 road improvements.
I continue to receive emails asking when it will happen. I want to encourage everyone to sign up to the Highways England team updates – they really do explain why you can’t simply build a whole new road at once without planning first.
There are land acquisitions, wildlife considerations, utility and safety considerations and consultation, and that doesn’t even include choosing the route, which has now been done.
Next year the safety improvement works North of Ellingham begin, and work on the dualled stretch is on schedule to begin in 2020.
I continue to have regular meetings with Highways England’s A1 in Northumberland team, so if you have had a look at the scheme website and still have questions, drop me a line and I can ask them for you.
One of the challenges for families, schools and businesses across my rural constituency is the delivery of decent broadband.
Last year, the Chancellor announced more than £1billion to stimulate further and faster roll-out of full fibre networks and drive the next generation of mobile connectivity. As part of this, a £190million Local Full Fibre Networks (LFFN) Challenge Fund has been launched to boost commercial investment in networks.
Successful projects will enable gigabit capable connections to key public buildings and businesses, and encourage providers to create connections to homes and businesses. There is a focus on rural projects.
I have written to Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council, to encourage the council to apply. It is so important that when the Government sets up schemes with areas like ours in mind, we take advantage of them.
Finally, well done to those hardy souls who took on the Great North Run last weekend – a truly awesome feat.