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I thought as 2017 comes to a close I would take this opportunity to update you on my work as your Conservative MP over the past year.
The biggest political event of this year was of course the surprise General Election, and a real surprise it was. Like many, I heard of the election’s announcement on the news. Nationally the picture was not what I was hoping for but locally it was a very different story. Here in the Chippenham constituency our campaign fought hard on local issues and bucked the national trend, increasing my majority from 10,076 to close to 17,000 and I am truly humbled that people once again put their faith in me as your Member of Parliament.
Undoubtedly the highlight of my year was the 2nd Wiltshire Festival of Engineering which I organised as a way of tackling the skills shortage which is holding back businesses and employment here in the county. Government funding is crucial in delivering education but I believe passionately that businesses also have a key role to play in inspiring and supporting children into careers. This is why I was so pleased to see 35 local Wiltshire businesses take part. Over 3,000 local children came to the event and I hope they all left feeling inspired to explore a career in engineering and also with a better understanding of the opportunities which await them with our fantastic local businesses.
We were also able to donate a proportion of the sponsorship money from the Festival to the Wiltshire Air Ambulance to help them complete their new site in Semington, a facility which is going to support the community and allow the charity to continue their quite literally lifesaving work.
Locally there remains a number of significant challenges but a real victory has been delivered on one of my 2015 election promises, which was to reduce the level of homelessness here in the constituency. I have lobbied hard alongside the charity Crisis for additional funding to help those sleeping rough to help get them into private rented accommodation. It is a real tragedy that those who turn their life around are prevented from renting their own homes due to a lack of a guarantor or money for a security deposit, leaving them with nowhere to turn. Having fought for two years to change this, the Chancellor announced in the most recent budget a £30m fund to help those who are homeless to get back on their feet and into rented accommodation. This is a real boost which will mean so much to so many who are often desperately trying to turn their lives around and it is with great pride that we can announce that this happened under a Conservative Government. In January I will be launching an appeal, working with local charity Doorway to support those who still find themselves without a home here in Wiltshire and I will keep you posted.
This year in Parliament my focus has continued to be on education and I was delighted and honoured to be re-elected to the Education Select Committee following the 2017 snap-election. There have been many hard-fought battles but I am thrilled that the Government has listened to my concerns and those of other like-minded MPs. I have pushed hard to fight for better value for money for university students, speaking in the chamber on the need to ensure that there is greater transparency of where students’ money goes, particularly the proportion which goes on research and teaching. The committee will be reviewing this in the coming year and I hope that we will see a much better correlation between cost and tuition output in our universities.
Aside from Brexit, the single biggest issue which constituents have contacted me on is that of animal rights and I have pressed Ministers and I have asked a number of questions on what the Government is going to do to strengthen the rights of animals. I was thrilled when Michael Gove was able to confirm to me that we will be increasing maximum sentencing for animal cruelty charges from the ridiculously low 6 months to 5 years. This is a fantastic outcome for all animals and will finally deliver justice to those who abuse animals, confirming to me that it is vital that we as MPs speak up for those who have no voice.
It would of course not be right to summarise the year without making reference to Brexit and the ongoing Parliamentary wrangling over the EU Withdrawal Bill. Voters made their choice in the referendum and I believe my role as an MP is to stand up for democracy and ensure that this verdict is delivered in full. The negotiations are ongoing and as I am sure you have seen, are proving challenging. However, I firmly believe a good trade deal is in the benefit of both the UK’s and the EU’s interests and we must persevere with them to safeguard local jobs and the economy. Whatever our personal views on the outcome of the referendum, I hope that in 2018 people can come together and not fight each other, instead fighting for what is best for Britain.
This year as with previous years I have sought to be as accessible as possible. I believe it is crucial that MPs reach out to their constituents, especially those less inclined to come to conventional advice surgeries. I have attended hundreds of community events, met with at least two businesses a week, completed my goal of visiting every school to do a democracy workshop within my first two years as an MP and supported and worked with various local charities. In addition, I have held supermarket open advice surgeries as well as an average of two appointment-based surgeries per week and run monthly ‘Mature Matters’ forums to discuss the specific concerns of older constituents.
I would very much like to hear from you so please do get in touch either through my office in Chippenham town centre on 01249 704465 or by email on michelle.donelan.mp@ parliament.uk
I wish you a very happy and healthy New Year.