Time to deliver?
With five our of five of the Somerset constituencies covered by The Leveller® returning Conservative MPs, and the Conservatives being the party of government, what does that mean for us? We have had five Conservative MPs in the period since 2015, the first time in a couple of decades that Somerset has been completely blue.
But to date, despite the efforts of our MPs, we have precious little to show for it. All agree Somerset should get a better deal on education funding. It has had an increase, but remains among the worst funded regions in the country. Rebecca pow has campaigned for a Wellington Station, David Warburton for a Langport one – neither had materialised.
The 2019 Conservative manifesto was big on infrastructure spending, big on transport investment and big on spending pledges. What it was not big on, was obvious investment in the South West. The word Somerset did not appear in the manifesto at all, the words South West just twice. Once in connection with extending the rebate on water bills in the South West, the other a vague commitment that reads “We will also invest in improving train lines to the South West and East Anglia”. And that is it.
Given that electrification to Bristol has already happened, and that our new Prime Minister has a track record of promising things that are either
a) not true or
b) have already happened;
that certainly leaves our region looking like a pauper at the back of the queue when investment cash is handed out. The Queens speech introducing the new legislative programme made no mention of the South West at all.
The manifesto was weak on environmental issues. Plant lots of trees would be a good precis of the policy. But nothing to actually address the fundamental issue, which is we need significant lifestyle changes. And that needs thought in terms of the costs, implication for taxation and the intervention of government.
Which leaves us to ask our MPs questions. Now they have returned to power, what will they do for us? All of them could do something to help the green agenda. But without any real government support, it is debatable whether that is actually realistic.
However Each MP has some questions to answer about what they can deliver for their own constituency and here are some suggestions:
Bridgwater and South West
Ian Liddell Grainger could ensure that money is set aside for the tidal barrage we have been promised for the River Parrett. He could also lobby to get proper funding for the close to non-existent bus network in West Somerset. And some thought towards relinking Minehead and Taunton by rail would be nice.
Somerton & Frome
David Warburton became an MP on the back of his work on the Somerset floods. However in office he has championed better broadband and a station for Langport. Despite his best efforts, neither have, as yet actually happened.. With Brexit done and a Conservative majority in Westminster, it would be good to see some actual delivery on both these projects.
Staying with the floods, Rebecca Pow had failed by the time of the election to commit to incorporating the elements of Mr Warburton’s Bill to fund the SRA into the new Environment Bill. Will that now happen given that this is still part of her portfolio? Funding for the SRA is a major issue for Somerset following the 2012-14 flooding. And given that we have established that Musgrove hospital is not one of the 6 hospitals to be rebuilt in the next parliament, what exactly is she going to do with the promised £2m of seed funding, to prioritise it for the next round of major NHS projects.
James Heappey has a problem in his constituency with broadband. That and transport seem to be the big issues. With hardly any rail network (apart from Highbridge Station) bus transport is especially important. Will we see more sustained funding for buses? And will we see broadband being prioritised so we can finally get what we have been promised since 2012?
The big question for Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh is what happens to Westland. Especially when the ERG member gets his Brexit done. As we have reported here previously, British taxpayers paid for the tooling for the latest generation of Westland helicopters. To date little if anything has been done to secure the future of assets that we actually own.
So if the Brexit deal done later this month leads to Leonardo reconsidering manufacturing in the UK, and that is a serious prospect, the Conservatives have two major tasks on their hands. The first is to secure the tooling and make it clear to Leonardo that it will not be allowed to leave the UK. The second is to secure a pipeline of orders from the UK government that, it is made clear to Leonardo, are dependent on manufacturing remaining in Yeovil.