I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and are looking forward, like me, to a better 2022.
2021 and 2020 beset by Covid -19, have been tough years, and I know that many businesses and industries remain uncertain of their futures.
However, virus evolution means that a successful virus mutates to stop killing its host and also become more infectious.
The evidence for proving this is growing with Omicron.
I am confident that the Government is determined to return us to normality as soon as possible and allow our economy to boom again.
Despite plenty of criticism, the restrictions we currently face in England are far less compared to those imposed on the rest of the United Kingdom.
By reintroducing some measures like facemasks in shops, the Government resisted a kneejerk response to the Omicron variant and managed to keep our society open over Christmas.
Let us hope that by the end of 2022 Covid 19, facemasks, lockdowns and restrictions will be a distant memory.
In Herefordshire I have been working with colleagues to resolve the issue of phosphates polluting the River Wye, and I co-signed a letter to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, making the case for funding to address this issue be included in the Spending review.
I have also been a co-sponsor to The Sewage (Inland Waters) Bill, put forward by Rt Hon. Phillip Dunne MP,
The Government have since announced an additional amendment to the Environment Bill which will place a duty on water companies to secure a progressive reduction in the adverse impacts of discharges from storm overflows. If you would like to read more about this, you can do so by clicking the link below:
This is welcome news, and I will continue to follow this matter closely to ensure the issue of pollution in our rivers and waterways is thoroughly addressed.
The Government have also recently announced a new six-year £5.2bn capital investment programme to build new flood defences, something I know will be a pressing issue for many Herefordians who have had to endure the misery that flooding brings.
It was therefore a delight and a privilege for me to open of the new Leominster flood risk management scheme last month.
This massive earth works around the town means that the Environment Agency estimate that 400 Leominster homes will be protected from flooding.
Normally this sort of work only happens after a disaster and so this extra resilience arriving before a flood was a result of the Government funding and is both unusual and very welcome.
Elsewhere I was pleased to support the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill. This Bill covers various key pieces of legislation that will protect animals in the future, and I know from the volume of correspondence I receive from constituents on animal welfare matters, that this is something our communities care deeply about.
I also wholly welcome part 2 of the Bill, which relates to dogs attacking or worrying livestock.
This will protect our hard-working farmers from incurring financial costs and ease the burden of uncertainty.
This is sadly a regular occurrence in North Herefordshire and something that causes great distress to both the animals and of course farmers who care deeply for their livestock.
I welcomed the Chancellors budget which provided great news for our Cider makers and hop growers who will see the alcohol duty system become simpler and fairer.
Until this new system is in place, we see all alcohol duties frozen for the third year in a row which translates to a tax cut for families worth £500 million every year.
The new Draught Relief will apply a new, lower rate of duty on draught beer and cider sold in large kegs over 40 litres – cutting duty by 5 per cent.
This will be the biggest cut to cider duty since 1923 and the biggest cut to beer duty for 50 years boosting British pubs by nearly £100 million a year
New cider makers will also benefit from a small craft producers’ relief.
Duty is due to be cut and cider will now be taxed on alcohol content equal to beer. This will cause some big changes but now we are on equal terms.
Cider was always at a 2p a pint disadvantage to beer previously.
There are of course challenges to producing cider and becoming profitable however, I believe this budget announcement will help promote the entrepreneurial spirit of drinks manufacturers that Herefordshire is famous for.
There were also some key announcements that will directly aid those in North Herefordshire.
This includes a significant tax cut for low-income families by reducing the Universal Credit taper rate from 63 per cent to 55 per cent and a 6.6 per cent increase in the National Living Wage to £9.50 an hour.
This will be giving a £1,000 pay rise to 2 million of the lowest paid as well as increasing pay for public sector workers.
Tax payers want to know that those on the lowest incomes are benefiting and people on Universal Credit will now find it even more worth their while to find work than before. I would like to see the taper continue down so that every extra pound earned made even more of a difference.
The Government have also provided more than £15 million to Herefordshire Council for road maintenance this financial year, and I am hopeful that crises such as the Fownhope road closure will not be repeated by the coalition that run the Council.
I also welcomed the Government announcement that the licencing of the towing of trailers will be changing.
Drivers will now automatically be able to tow a trailer weighing up to 3,500 kg no matter when they passed their test.
This is great news and a boost for young people, particularly young farmers in North Herefordshire, who will no longer need to take these costly and time-consuming trailer tests.
Although with this freedom comes responsibility and driving carefully especially when towing is essential for all our sakes.
This Conservative manifesto promised to get Brexit done, fund the NHS, recruit 20,000 more police officers, invest in education, and reach Net Zero by 2050.
The UK left the EU with a deal in January 2020, and the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, signed in December 2020.
This Parliament has seen record investment in the NHS, with the Spending Review 2021 committing to a £43.9 billion funding uplift for the Department for Health and Social Care.
There are now record numbers of doctors and nurses working in the NHS, with almost 10,000 more nurses and 5,500 more doctors compared to last year.
We also have 1,800 more GPs working in the NHS than we did in September 2019 and a record number who have started training.
More than 11,000 police officers have been recruited, over halfway to the target of 20,000.
£14.4 billion was invested in education in 2019, the biggest investment in a decade, and a further £4.7 billion was committed in the Spending Review 2021.
This translates to a total cash increase of £1,500 per pupil by 2024-25.
After hosting, COP26, the UK’s leadership in the climate transition has meant that we have kept the 1.5 degrees target alive and over 90 per cent of the world’s economy is now covered by a net zero goal.
The UK’s own Net Zero Strategy has mobilised £26 billion of government capital investment in the green industrial revolution, which will support up to 440,000 jobs by 2030.
Despite the pressure of a global pandemic our economy was the fastest growing in the G6 and all being well in 2022 I am optimistic that this will continue.
I hope you have a very Happy New Year.
Bill Wiggin MP