Winter is well upon us and in the Wiggin household the excitement is mounting ahead of the festive season. Yet at a time when temperatures are dropping, nights drawing in and families beginning to gather I believe it is more important than ever that we get our essential services right.
The Highways Agency, which forms part of the Department for Transport, has a maintenance budget of £840 million each year. On top of this Herefordshire was awarded an extra £2.4 million in funding by the Government for pothole repair last March: an astute decision which made a real difference to thousands of local motorists.
Since then significant efforts have been made across the various transport sectors – including rail – to boost readiness for wintry conditions.
Currently an integrated network of weather stations, road surface temperature monitors and other technology are helping to provide drivers in the West Midlands with up-to-the-minute information. But the weather is always full of surprises. And even when the time and location of snow is perfectly forecast, it still has to be cleared. That is why a fleet of 500 winter service vehicles are on standby across the UK alongside salt barns with a combined capacity of over a quarter of a million tonnes -25 percent more than twelve months ago.
In severe weather conditions please make sure your vehicle is in good running order before setting out; check for updates; carry an emergency kit and always plan your route carefully. Every year I try to encourage safer driving as each small precaution could make all the difference when it comes to getting home safely for Christmas.
Back at home rising utility bills threaten to increase the cost of living and squeeze household budgets at a time when disposable income matters most. Ultimately, the Government is not able to set energy prices. What we can do, however, is ensure that proper regulation is in place. Last May the Department for Energy and Climate Change concluded its review of Ofgem’s role with the result that measures are now being put in place to strengthen its position and increase accountability.
In October further progress was made when Ministers negotiated a voluntary but robust agreement with energy suppliers obliging them to provide customers with a ‘signpost’ on bills to cheaper deals: ensuring greater transparency between often confusing tariffs.
Moreover, the VAT on domestic fuel has not been raised and the Green Deal is expected to deliver savings of £550 a year to the least economical households, creating up to a quarter of a million jobs in the process.
More than 600,000 of our most vulnerable pensioners will receive a £120 rebate.
I hope that these measures demonstrate a real commitment on the part of our Government to getting the basics right.