THE week in Westminster began with legislation that seeks to change the current tuition fees structure for higher education courses, by giving people a lifetime allowance to upskill and retrain. The Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill will provide individuals with a loan entitlement that can be used on full-time or part-time study towards qualifications.

Our nation’s workforce requires the skills for tomorrow, whether that is in the tech sector, the life science industries, or other industries which will help us to reach net zero. Giving people the opportunity to retrain and upskill throughout their lifetime is the right thing to do. 

This week the Prime Minister’s Windsor Framework was unveiled setting out a new future for Northern Ireland addressing as promised trade, sovereignty and the role of European law. While generally well received, until the detail has been digested by MPs, and the DUP in particular, it is not clear whether it will be enough to persuade the DUP to return to power sharing and end the void which has necessitated direct rule from London. It is clear that it’s not perfect but it is a huge step forward. Sometimes perfection can be the enemy of the good.

Local pubs are at the heart of our community, providing many jobs for locals and contributing a whopping £34.8m to the local economy in Devon. I was delighted to support the Long Live the Local Campaign last week, lobbying government to give pubs the support they need to recover and thrive after the double shock of the pandemic and sky-high energy bills -including extending VAT relief!

Shockingly, while Ofgem have power to regulate domestic energy bill prices they have no similar role for businesses. The government has realised this has to change and has set up an inquiry to look at the best way of creating fairness in this market as between businesses, energy suppliers and energy producers. That can’t come soon enough.

Support for the Great South West was the message I wanted to get across to the Chancellor when I met him last week as he prepares for the budget. We need to look again at how funding formulae are applied to rural areas like ours across government departments. Currently the result is significant underfunding. I also asked for more help in our social care sector. While money has been made available it’s far from clear where and how it’s being spent. Care provides are still being paid below the agreed national rates. That must change.  And allocating an additional pot of money to councils to fill in the potholes should also be in the budget. 

Investment in our water and sewerage infrastructure is crucial, and I was pleased to be able to call out the significant underinvestment by South West Water in a Westminster Hall debate this week. South West water had the second lowest investment in improvements of any water company across England in the latest Ofwat report. 

Why has only 46 per cent of South West Water’s investment allowance been used? I am meeting their chief executive this coming week to ask for an explanation and a change. While we know we inherited a huge infrastructure on privatisation which was in desperate need of upgrade and that the payment to the company was not then enough – which is why we are the only water bill payers who receive a government subsidy – we need to find a way of super charging the much needed investment. 

But the most fun I had this week was at the newly opened play park in Dawlish on Saturday, when the Mayor formally opened the site. It is already acclaimed as the best play park in Devon – and I can see why! Itincludes a wooden train donated by Network Rail and a pirate ship with a slide – which I thoroughly enjoyed sliding down - into the ‘sea’.  A bit like walking the plank!

As always, if you would like to book a surgery appointment (in-person or virtual) or raise a specific issue, please call my office on 01626 368277 or email [email protected] to arrange an appointment.