Sir Winston Churchill once said that “Politics is the ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month and next year. And to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen”. 2023 was a year of significant events locally, nationally and globally. These events were unexpected and unprecedented and had Sir Winston Churchill been in office, I doubt even he could have predicted them. 2023 reminds us that the world is unpredictable and constantly changing, and that politicians must be prepared to respond and adapt to changes.
I thought it might be worth highlighting my A to Z of 2023.
A for Action across Hastings and Rye, with many visits including to schools, businesses, and charities, as well as surgeries held across the constituency, and my second Rural Rother Planning Roundtable, jointly held with Huw Merriman, MP for Bexhill and Battle.
B is for Boundary changes which means that sadly 2024 is my last year as MP for Brede Valley and Westfield, which goes into the Bexhill and Battle constituency at the next general election. I will be gaining Rye Foreign and Peasmarsh. I was district councillor for these two villages and surrounding areas briefly in 2019, and I look forward to reconnecting with residents and businesses and working hard for them.
C brought my Christmas card competition with the theme this year being ‘What does Christmas mean to you’. I received some wonderful drawings – we have so many talented youngsters! The two winners were from Robsack Wood and Hollington Primary Academies, and I look forward to welcoming the children and their parents or carers for tea in parliament.
D dealt with 29,924 emails, including thousands of cases on behalf of constituents. My team are incredible, and I am indebted to them.
E is for our economy which, after a challenging few years following COVID and the war in Ukraine, is set to grow faster than France and Germany in the long term (Centre for Economics and Business Research). Those who negatively talk down the U.K. should get a grip; the U.K. economy has grown faster than any other major European economy since 2010, and with tax cuts for hard working people and businesses who invest, the government is ensuring that the U.K. is the best place to start and grow a business.
F for Free childcare which will be available for 2-year-old children of working parents from April and 9-months-old from September. There are also 2 million parents on Universal Credit who could be eligible for up to £1,630 per month from the DWP to cover childcare costs. Once fully rolled out, expanded free childcare will save families up to £6,500 each year. F is also for Family Hubs and the Start for Life Programme – which I campaigned for – benefitting thousands of Hastings and Rye families, including help with breast and infant feeding, parenting programmes and mental health and relationship building.
G is for GPs and the NHS Long Term Workforce Plan and providing more doctors and safe staffing levels through a doubling of medical school training places and increasing training places for GPS, dentists and nurses as well as dentists and nurses as well as quadrupling the number of medical apprenticeships.
H for Hospitality, retail and leisure businesses which are so vital to our local economy, freezing business rates for small businesses, saving the average business £1,650, and extending the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Relief are helping businesses most commonly found on our high streets.
I for Inflation, which has been more than halved – now at a 2-year low – helping local households and putting our economy on a more stable footing. A year ago, inflation was 11.1 per cent; now it is 3.9 per cent.
J is for Jobs with employment at near record levels with nearly 33 million people in employed – 4 million more than in 2010. The employment rate in Hastings and Rye is 76.5 per cent, up from 70 per cent in 2010. There is clearly more to do, which leads me on to K and Keeping the pressure on people who are fit to fit to work, go to work, with the Back to Work Plan. This biggest welfare shake-up for a decade will radically expand the support for people to help them into work, whilst ensuring that fairness is at the heart of the welfare system. Work is good for people and government reforms mean families are now at least £6,000 a year better off in full-time jobs than unemployed on benefits.
L is for Levelling-up with funding of £60 million – £20 million each for Hastings and Rother through the Levelling-up Partnerships and £20 million over 10 years for Hastings through the Long-term Plan for Towns – on top of the £24.3 million received for Hastings Town Deal.
M is for improvement in maths. Since 2010 the Conservatives have transformed school standards with 89 per cent of schools now rated good or outstanding, up from 68 per cent under Labour. Under Labour, England was ranked 27th in the world for maths, now we are ranked 11th, and our primary school children are ranked 4th in the world for reading – the best in the western world.
N for National Insurance contributions being cut by 2 per cent, giving an average tax cut of £450 for 27 million working people, including thousands across Hastings and Rye.
O is for the Online Safety Act, which I worked on with colleagues especially to protect children and young people from online harms and pornography and hold tech companies to account.
P for an increase of 1,067 police officers in Sussex Police since 2019 through the government’s initiative to increase police officers, as well an additional 250 officers funded by the precept. Now Sussex Police has 3,166 police officers – more than the force had in 2012 – tackling crime and keeping us safe. P is also for for pensions, which are going up by 8.7 per cent in April.
Q is for the flooding in Queens Square and Hastings Town Centre. I called for a further investigation using a catchment-based approach, considering all sources of flood risk and the potential for action across the whole of the Hastings catchment, upstream and downstream, by the relevant bodies. We need to find out what caused the flooding and to look at what measures can be taken to reduce the risk of such flooding in the future. One of my first meetings in 2024 is with the relevant agencies to work together on a long-term, permanent solution.
R is for saving our Railway ticket offices, resulting in the train operators withdrawing their proposals to cut our local ticket office services in Rye, St Leonard’s Warrior Square and West St Leonard’s stations.
S is for Southern Water and my continuing commitment to work with them on your behalf to address issues relating to water quality, flooding and outages. Sustainable, achievable and maintainable goals do not only extend to Southern Water, but also as regards T, for Trains and my enduring campaign for better, faster more reliable train services for Hastings and Rye. S is also for Strikes and having seen the impact of strikes locally, I wholly supported the Strikes (Minimum Services Levels) Act which is necessary to keep our local fire services and trains running and our ambulances on the road.
U is for Universal Credit which will increase by 6.7 per cent helping some of our most disadvantaged people locally.
V is for our priceless volunteers with a special invite to No.10 for Col. Anthony Kimber (Rye Mutual Aid) and Alastair Fairley (Hastings Emergency Action Response Team) to celebrate all that they did for Rye and Hastings during COVID and continue to do so.
W for Wages. The National Living Wage will be £11.44 from April, meaning working people on the lowest wages will be 25 per cent better off after tax and inflation than they were in 2010.
X is for Stopping illegal boats crossings, which are down by a third compared to last year. I expect a further drop in 2024.
Y has to be Young people, who are our future, and for whom there are better opportunities to look forward to, including many more apprenticeships and training courses.
And lastly, Z is for Zeitgeist; I have been key in leading the growing awareness in parliament of the need to address climate change through nature-based solutions through the restoration of ocean and land habitats and ecosystems which reflects a shift in the zeitgeist of our time. This shift is characterised by a greater emphasis on sustainability, environmental stewardship, and the recognition of the delicate web of life. For an MP who champions blue carbon, I was delighted with the government’s announcements at COP 28 of significant investment into blue carbon in addition to other nature restoration initiatives.
Image Credits: Sally-Ann Hart .