Delivering on levelling-up promises a priority | Antony Higginbotham
On Thursday last week the 2019-2021 Parliamentary session came to a close, with Parliament prorogued until next week.
This is an important moment in any political calendar as it allows us to step back and look at what’s been done in the session but for me it’s particularly important as it is marks the end of my first session.
I still remember the moment at about 2am on 13th December 2019 when the general election result was announced in the St Peter’s Centre. And so much has happened since then with the Parliamentary session dominated by two big items – Brexit, and responding to Covid-19.
The very first vote I ever took part in was on Brexit, and it remains my proudest.
Not just because I believe we have a bright future ahead of us, but because it symbolises what politics is for me. It’s about representing people and doing the right thing.
That wasn’t the only vote though – there has been lots of additional legislation needed to get us ready for our future as an independent trading nation.
One of those was the Trade Act, which was given Royal Assent just a few weeks ago. This sets us up for the future, providing the means through which we can set our trade policy, and protect ourselves against countries who seek to undercut us through state subsidy.
The Agriculture Act has freed British farmers from the unfair and bureaucratic Common Agricultural Policy; the historic Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Act has allowed the UK to take back control of its borders; and the Fisheries Act allows the UK to decide who fishes in our waters and under what terms.
Supporting our NHS has always been a key priority of mine too – it was something I spoke about consistently on the campaign trail and is shaped by my own experiences of growing up in a family of nurses and NHS professionals.
We began that work before Coronavirus was something we were talking about, when record funding of an addition £33.9 billion was committed to through the NHS Funding Act; and with the Medicines and Medical Devices Act that has secured faster and safer access to innovative medicines for patients.
Coronavirus then showed why that was so important and throughout the pandemic we have given the NHS what it needs.
From the Coronavirus Act which allowed retired nurses to come back to practice to the huge financial support provided by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to fund vaccines, testing, grants, furlough and more.
In Burnley and Padiham we’ve seen that investment too. Thousands of businesses and families supported, and almost £2 million provided to Burnley General Hospital for upgrade work, and I continue to speak to the Health Secretary about what more we can do with our fantastic facilities.
It has always been important to me that we don’t allow the pandemic to stop us delivering on your priorities though, because as we emerge from this period we want to build back better, and deliver on the levelling-up promises I made.
In the last 12 months we have made great in-roads into that, and whilst they may only be green shoots for now it won’t be long until we start to see the physical evidence.
One of the very first things I ever raised with Government was Padiham’s flood defence scheme and this summer, thanks to an additional £2 million of government funding, construction of that scheme will start.
But we also need to get Burnley town centre fit-for-purpose as a mixed-use retail and leisure destination, supporting our economy and creating jobs.
Last year that took a big step forward when the Prime Minister announced that Pioneer Place would become one of his shovel-ready construction schemes, benefiting from £2 million of government funding and working with me to ensure it was financially viable.
And then earlier this year we got a further boost when the Chancellor announced that Burnley was in priority group one for the Levelling-Up Fund and Community Renewal Fund, bringing the potential for more than £20 million of government investment and the town also now being supported by the Future High Streets Task Force.
As we look ahead to the Queen’s Speech on 11th May, when the Government will set-out its upcoming legislative programme, it looks equally as busy.
We need to make more progress on strengthening our borders, fixing the criminal justice system, and ensuring we are laser focused on building back better from Covid-19.