1. Helping local businesses and farming meet the challenges and seize the opportunities of Brexit
When the UK joined what is now the EU in 1973 only 21% of our trade was with the EU, 79% was with other countries – particularly those of the Commonwealth such as Australia, New Zealand and the West Indies. Research by the London School of Economics has shown that after 1973 areas such as the South West suffered as industries relocated to the South East to be nearer the EU. However, for last 13 years non EU countries have made up an increasing amount of our trade – and since 2008 the majority of our exports have been to non EU countries.
There will of course be a time of disruption as we leave the EU and some pain as we adjust – just as there was when we joined the EU 46 years ago. But we can come out stronger from this. What businesses are now saying is important is that we do not have any more delays in leaving the EU. For example, on 16 October nearly 300 business leaders, including Sir David Orde, managing Director of Bristol Port Company wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister urging that there be no more delays to Brexit.
However, in the medium term there are also great opportunities for our area. Devizes is the gateway to the South West. Geographically, we are the link between the London commuter belt and the south west, as well as being next to the science growth hub of Oxford. As our trade with non EU countries such as the USA and Canada continues to grow after Brexit we are likely to see significant growth around the west facing ports such as Bristol, Plymouth and Southampton. The point at which the rail lines between those future growth areas meet is Westbury – and if we can get a new Devizes parkway station, it will be only one stop away from this growth area.
However, I am very aware that this is going to be a particularly difficult time for farming and food businesses. The government have promised to replicate all EU farm payments in the few years after Brexit to ensure continuity for farmers. However, the EU still imposes significant tariffs (i.e. taxes) on food and drink products from outside the EU. It is therefore vitally important that we BOTH a) seek to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU so that there are no tariffs AND b) work like billyo to open up new non EU markets for our wonderful food and drink products. However, in the immediate time after Brexit:
4. Support for market towns and the rural economy including better mobile and broadband coverage across the whole constituency
We have huge potential in this area yet at the moment average wages in Devizes constituency are 12% lower than the south west as a whole even though people here are generally better qualified. Two things that will really encourage businesses to invest in the area and create more, better paying jobs are i) better rail links and ii) better broadband and mobile coverage.
You don’t need to tell me how important rural broadband is – I had to give up being an examiner for A level Geography because the internet speed in my village was so slow!
We are now thankfully seeing the roll out of superfast broad across Wiltshire (30mb per second) – but too often it feels like playing ‘catch up’ in rural areas as the rest of the country starts to get ultrafast broadband (or ‘gigabyte broadband’ because it is up to 1,000 mb per second). That’s why as well as promising full fibre broadband for everywhere we are also promising to spend £5 billion extending ultrafast broadband to the 20% of the UK that is hardest to reach – and that includes much of rural Wiltshire!
6. Supporting our armed forces, their families and veterans both in the UK and overseas
When people commit to serve our country in the armed forces we as a nation should also commit to serve them. In particular, I will campaign for improvements in housing, education and medical care including mental health support and an end to the prosecution of veterans who served in Northern Ireland.
We must ensure we provide a flexible range of good quality accommodation options so that service personnel can have the right type of accommodation for their needs. I believe it is also particularly important that we help increase the low rate of home ownership so that when people leave the forces they are not disadvantaged for having served. I will therefore campaign for a significant expansion of the forces help to buy programme.
Children and young people whose parents are in the forces also face additional challenges, including parents being moved regularly and the fears of mum or dad being away on active service. That’s why it is really important that we have a flexible range of schooling options for service families including local schools, more places at state boarding schools – like the Wellington Academy in Ludgershall whose boarding provision has been rated as ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted and MoD schools overseas.
It is also enormously important that we provide proper medical care, including specialist mental health provision specifically tailored for those who have suffered as a result of serving.
Ii is of course wholly wrong that elderly veterans who served in Northern Ireland are now being investigated when an affective amnesty has been granted to terrorists.
2. Improved rail services including extending hourly Bedwyn to London train services to include Pewsey and Westbury and a new Devizes Parkway station
Despite the fact that we are on the edge of the London commuter belt residents in our constituency have one of the lowest levels of access to rail services in the UK. 85% of people in England and Wales live within 5km of a rail station. But in our constituency more than 85% of people live MORE than 5km from a rail station – and that includes those in our main market towns of Devizes and Marlborough. We have only two stations- Bedwyn and Pewsey and even the new timetable improvements mean that there will only be a train every two hours from Pewsey. The west of the constituency has no stations at all. That is why I strongly support the creation of a new Devizes Parkway station; extending westwards the direct hourly Bedwyn to London service to also stop at Pewsey and Westbury and the new Devizes parkway station.
3. Improved local schools and health services, including ensuring the Devizes Urgent Care Centre opens on time.
For too many years Wiltshire schools have received far less per pupil than in other areas. I am therefore delighted that the government has announced a new funding formula which will mean an extra £15.5 million for schools in Wiltshire - that’s 5.3% more per child. Next year all local primary schools will now receive at least £3,750 per pupil and secondary schools at least £5,000 per student, with much bigger increases for those with special needs. However, this is just the start.
We have some fantastic caring people working in our health service – I know my wife a local health visitor is one of them! However, our local NHS is under strain. For example, the Accident and Emergency Department at Great Western Hospital (GWH) in Swindon is now having to cope with almost double the number of patients it was built for.
5. Affordable local housing – helping young people buy their first home.
I know just how frustrating it can be not being able to afford your own home. It wasn’t until I got married in my early 30s that I owned a home. When I started out as a teacher there was no way my salary would cover the cost of even a flat on the fringe of London where I then lived. However, as a former overseas aid worker I also know that owning your own home, along with having savings and a stable family who care for you – are the three most important things that reduce people’s vulnerability to poverty wherever you are in the world. When you come to retire you are not paying rent out of your pension.
That’s why I believe it is so important that we help young people get on the housing ladder. To do that we need better paying jobs, but also need more affordable homes. Nearly three quarters of people aged over 65 own their own home – most having brought it when they were young. But now less than 40% of 25-35 year olds in the south west can afford their own home. That’s mainly because house prices have increased much quicker than wages. In 1997 the average house price in Devizes constituency was £74,500 – now it is £280,000, a 266% increase. I believe it is vitally important we help people who currently cannot afford to buy their own homes – to do so through innovative schemes such as right to buy for tenants of social housing and increasing the number of shared equity home available locally i.e. where you own 25-75% of the home and rent the rest – with the option to increase your share of ownership as your income grows.
My plan for Devizes
I have been privileged to live in this beautiful area with my family for several years. Both of my children attended Devizes School and one is still in the sixth form there and the other at university. My wife is a health visitor in the local area.