No one can deny that 2022 has been a very challenging year politically, socially and economically, but I thought I might highlight some of the positives that have happened across Hastings and Rye over the past year.
As some readers might know, I entered into the national political fray because of my role as a local Justice of the Peace (JP). Working as a JP in both the family proceedings and adult criminal courts in Hastings, I could see first-hand how important it is to get children and families right, and how important a good education is to enable people to have choices.
Many parents need the right support at the right time to help them adequately parent their children – this is a fact of life, not a judgment on these parents. Early intervention and prevention and proper, sustained support for parents are fundamental to strong, stable families, communities and society as a whole. As a society, we need to place greater value on family life and the role of the family unit.
When I was elected to Parliament, I worked with colleagues in championing the Strengthening Families Manifesto and Family Hubs model, both nationally and locally, with East Sussex County Council (ESCC), which is the responsible authority for Children’s Services. A year ago, ESCC submitted its bid for the Family Hubs funding, and in March 2022 we found out that the bid was successful.
Alison Jeffrey, director of Children’s Services at ESCC, must take huge credit for her vision of family hubs and the immense work she has done to ensure that we have the best services available locally. Family hubs are a one-stop shop where families can access important services, making it easier for them to get the support they need. They are for families with children of all ages but have a great Start for Life offer at their core.
The programme will fund a network of Family Hubs, Start for Life and family help services, including breast feeding services, parenting programmes and parent-infant mental health support across East Sussex. I am currently lobbying ministers to ensure that ESCC is one of the handful of local authorities that will be trailblazers for the programme and awarded funds to start delivering services earlier than anticipated.
The Government also increased funding into its Supporting Families programme and ESCC received £1.5 million for the Supporting Families Programme 2022/23, which provides targeted interventions for vulnerable families with complex interconnected issues including unemployment, poor school attendance, domestic abuse, crime and anti-social behaviour and at-risk children.
It is a programme which delivers real results.
In addition to the funding for schools announced in the autumn – £4.4 billion over the next two years to protect schools from rising costs – as well as the boost in school budgets per pupil, the Holiday Activity and Food Programmes across Hastings and Rye and the extra catch-up funding for school children, I was also pleased that earlier in the year, East Sussex was designated an Education Investment Area (EIA), with Hastings a Priority Education Investment Area, building on the Hastings Opportunity Area funding.
EIAs receive targeted intensive investment in areas where school outcomes are weakest, including retention payments to help schools keep the best teachers and new reading, writing and maths achievement targets. Along with my East Sussex MP colleagues, we fight hard to ensure that levelling up delivers for our local residents. I continue to fight for extra investment in education in Hastings and Rye – coastal communities need targeted support to ensure that our children and young people have the opportunities in order to unleash their potential.
Of course, education is not only about learning and skills, and I was delighted to support a private members bill, the Education (Careers Guidance in Schools) Act 2022. Good career guidance is vital, showing young people, whatever their family or social background, the options open to them, helping them make the right choices, and setting them on the path to a rewarding future.
We saw the opening of a new Job Centre Plus in Hastings Town Centre in January 2022, with funding provided by the Government as part of its “Plan for Jobs”. The new centre provides much needed support to local jobseekers as well as employers.
Skills, education and families are priorities that this Government has shown it is committed to and I will continue to champion all these for the residents and businesses of Hastings and Rye.
We are all feeling the bite of the rising food and energy costs. I know this situation is really tough for many local residents and it is important that the Government is honest with the public about the causes behind these pressures, as well as about the limited levers it has at its disposal to tackle them. Where such levers exist, it is critical that the Government uses them to best effect, and I have been constant in my lobbying of both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor to this end.
Earlier this year, we saw support targeted at both low- and middle-income households, including a £150 council tax rebate for people in properties in bands A to D. Later in the year, as the effects of the war in Ukraine bit us harder, local residents and businesses have been helped with the cost of living through a number of Government measures including protecting the triple lock on pensions; local households saving on average £900 off energy bills through the Energy Price Guarantee; and the cutting of National Insurance for 30 million people across the UK thus putting £330 back into their pockets. We have also seen the National Living Wage boosted by £1,600 per annum – the largest ever increase. Local businesses, voluntary and public sector organisations are also being supported by the Energy Bill Relief Scheme.
Protecting our environment has continued to be be a priority of mine this year, particularly as regards water quality and pollution. Whilst the Environment Act 2021 is a significant step in the right direction in empowering ministers to better hold water companies to account, we needed to step up the pace of this. Working with colleagues we pushed ministers to publish the new “Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan” earlier than planned.
This Plan includes a requirement for water companies – including Southern Water – to significantly reduce and improve the quality of all storm overflows discharging into or near bathing waters. It is important that I work with Southern Water on the issue of water pollution, and I am pleased that the company has set up a dedicated Task Force to deal with the issue of Combined Sewer Overflows and reduce their impact on our sea and rivers by 80% by 2023.
Southern Water is one of the six water companies which have come together to develop a Water Resources South East (WRSE) plan for 2025 to 2075. This involves the six water companies who supply the south east, including Southern Water, working together to secure future water supplies whilst also supporting and enabling economic growth as well as protecting and improving our shared environment. I am very happy to support this endeavour.
As a member of the Conservative Environment Network (CEN), we came up with a manifesto published in November, detailing a number of recommendations to Government to restore the health of our rivers, waterways and sea – “Changing Course: A manifesto for our rivers, seas and waterways’”
We have already had two wins; firstly, that money from fines handed out to water companies that pollute our rivers and seas will be re-invested in schemes that benefit our natural environment rather than go into Treasury coffers and secondly, that there will be a public consultation on whether water companies should be statutory consultees on planning applications.
As a member of CEN, I also worked with two other colleagues to secure the introduction of a Natural History GCSE, which was announced by the Education Secretary in Spring last year. The announcement formed a part of the DfE’s Sustainability and Climate Change Strategy launch.
Young people locally and across the UK will benefit from this new GCSE as it will enable them to explore the world by learning about organisms and environments, environmental and sustainability issues, and gain a deeper knowledge of the natural world around them.
I helped establish the new All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Ocean and was pleased to be elected its Chair. This APPG is in partnership with the National Oceanography Centre and it will provide a unified and more effective voice to raise ocean-related matters with all those stakeholders who are in a position to make a positive difference. We published our first Parliamentary inquiry report on blue carbon and ocean-based solutions to climate change in December – “The Ocean: Turning the tide on climate change”. This report outlines several key recommendations to the Government and is worth a read!
I cannot finish this piece without mentioning the families and individuals in Rye and the surrounding villages who have openly welcomed Ukrainian refugees into their homes and lives – offering much needed support. Local people have provided a light in the darkness to Ukrainians and this has been awe-inspiring to witness.
We have so much to be positive about here in Hastings and Rye. 2023 will be a bumpy ride, but if we maintain our positive attitude, continue to provide help to those most in need, and give our very best effort to each other, we will overcome these bumps. These challenges are inevitable but being defeated by these challenges is optional.
Image Credits: Chris Lawson .