New Year Message

1st January 2018

As is custom at this time of year, I would like to wish you all a happy New Year, and hope you had a good festive break.  2017 has certainly been another unpredictable year in parliament and around the globe.

The General Election which was called in April came to many as a surprise.  I campaigned hard, and spoke to many constituents on the doorstep about the issues that mattered to them the most.  I was very pleased to have maintained support from constituents, and I hope that my record as a hardworking and dedicated constituency MP paid off.

The NHS continued to be a major priority for St Albans.  I continued my work with pharmacies and supported further integration into the health service.  I believe that pharmacies are an untapped resource that could benefit patients even more.  I led debates in the House in 2017 and called for a pharmacy-first culture for minor ailments to take pressure off frontline services.

The current proposals for configuration of the health service would see both St Albans and Watford hospitals enhanced.  Whilst there have been calls for a new hospital in a central location, I do believe that the current proposals are in the best interests of the area.  From my many discussions with stakeholders over the year, I believe that if there were to be a new hospital then there would be a great risk of losing the many good health services that we have at St Albans City Hospital.  This is not something in the interests of St Albans.   I would support a new central hospital if there were cast-iron guarantees that we would retain our hospital and all the associated services.

The decision by Herts CCG to withdraw funding the respite care centre, Nascot lawn, caused great distress to local families who used the facility in Watford.  I have spoken and written to ministers about this situation and have scheduled meetings with the minister this year.

Whilst there many challenges ahead for the West Herts trust, since 2010 there are now 110 more hospital doctors and 168 more nurses.  In A&E we have seen 2,410 more people treated in under 4 hours in 2016/17 compared to 2009/10.  And, since 2010 there have been 16,000 more operations, and 19,000 more diagnostic tests.

In 2017 I led debates in parliament, met with ministers and worked on behalf of constituents as they faced difficulties in their daily commute.  I am pleased to report that the train service has been getting better, particularly in the latter part of 2017 and should continue to see further improvements after works at London Bridge are complete - but there are still problems.  I made the point strongly to ministers over the year that St Albans residents pay huge sums for their commute and deserve a better service.

Radlett railfreight has rumbled on, and I have continued to ask the difficult questions to all stakeholders.   Throughout the year I have raised this issue in meeting after meeting and in letters.  I believe that much-needed housing in the district would be much more preferable than a disastrous railfreight, and will continue to work in whatever way I can to oppose it.

Further to my work on behalf of St Albans taxis, towards the end of 2017 I was asked to participate in a committee which looks into the issue of private hire vehicles and the future of the industry.  I look forward to the conclusions of the committee in the early part of 2018.

A major announcement at the end of 2017 was the proposed expansion of Luton airport.  The application would see a doubling of passenger numbers which would be unacceptable if there are no real attempts to mitigate the noise which residents are currently experiencing over north St Albans.  I am working with my parliamentary neighbour, Bim Afolami, in order that we see a proper process where the real concerns of constituents are taken forward and addressed.   I will be making strong representations to ministers on this issue.

One of the major issues locally has been the impact of the changes to business rates on our older and more historic pubs.  Whilst most local business are seeing a reduction in their rates older pubs were being taxed disproportionately.  In March I met with communities secretary, Sajid Javid, and argued successfully that extra support be given to pubs.  More needs to be done, and I will continue working with local publicans and lobbying ministers on their behalf.

One of the biggest challenges for the district going forward is the emerging local plan.  I believe that the choice is not whether to build but where to build.  I am clear we must get a plan in place that ensures local decision makers and local people decide where we should build.  This will protect the green belt whilst ensuring that we build the homes that local people need.
Stamp duty was a very welcomed reform in the Autumn Budget.  Whilst it will not fix the broken housing market, it certainly will help first-time buyers.  I am pleased to report that St Albans is one of the areas that will benefit most in the country from the cut.

On the continent in 2017 we witnessed some surprising results in elections, and saw increased votes for some of the more extreme European political parties, which will bring its own challenging optic to the continent. But where the subcontinent meets the Indochinese peninsular, we saw the outbreak of an awful humanitarian crisis and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingyan refugees.  Two other fellow parliamentarians and I were the first British politicians to visit the camps in September.  What we witnessed was heart-rending, shocking and awful. The conditions the camps are poorly sanitised, cramped and ill-equipped to adequately deal with the sheer numbers of people making the precarious journey across the border.  I am proud of the work that our government is doing in the region, and proud that we have not only been the biggest donors and first respondents in the region, but are prioritising this on the world stage.

Unfortunately there were some misleading headlines over a vote in parliament on animal sentience, which was reported by some media outlets suggesting that we as a country were rolling back on animal welfare.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Parliamentarians voted down a poorly worded, small and inadequate amendment that would have been meaningless.  I am extremely pleased that the environment secretary has confirmed that the government will be bringing forward primary legislation that ensures we have the highest animal welfare standards in the world.  We can now tackle cruel practices that could never be outlawed in the EU.

On the environment, I was delighted to finally see proposals to ban microbeads from cosmetic products.  More broadly, following my parliamentary question the government confirmed that we would maintain our high environmental standards and our international obligations post-Brexit.  I have always been committed to protecting our environment, and understand that further measures will be introduced over the course of the year.  Dog-fouling made many headlines following a BBC article on my debate in parliament.  The Westminster Hall debate was in advance of the government's litter strategy.  I was extremely pleased to see that following the debate, dog-fouling was included in the government's measures to tackle litter and was widely recognised as a real problem that we must deal with.

The most important issue the country dealt with in 2017 was Brexit.  MPs from across the House must support the prime minster as she is negotiating on behalf of the country, not a party.  Many have been guilty of playing parliamentary games and are concerned with simply inflicting defeat on the government.  We must come together and do what's in the best interests of the country.

The British economy is certainly not without its challenges but in 2017 we continued to outperform all expectations.  Nearly all forecasters underestimated British growth and job creation.  The pound has also stabilised over the past year after forecasters predicted further falls.  I hope that in 2018, the government can continue to strengthen the economy and provide more certainty during the Brexit process. The certainty that businesses and people need.

But, whatever your position during the 2016 referendum, we must come together in the spirit of unity, meet the challenges ahead and be confident in our future. In 2017 I published a report on the future of financial services.  One way Brexit has impacted the constituency of St Albans was the huge investment in a Kings Langley-based company.  The acquisition of Imagination Technologies was the single biggest investment in the UK technology sector post Brexit.  Canyon Bridge partner John Kao spoke to me about the strength of the UK tech sector (the biggest in Europe), and the global opportunities post Brexit.

In 2018 I will remain as committed as ever to St Albans and working on behalf of all local residents.

May I wish you all the best for the year ahead.

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Bangladesh APPG Report

Download the report by the Bangladesh All Party Parliamentary Group: ‘After Rana Plaza’: A report into the readymade garment industry in Bangladesh.

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