It’s been another historic week in Parliament. Starting with His Majesty King Charles III’s first Kings Speech to Parliament, setting out the Government’s new legislative agenda to deliver a positive future, growing the economy, strengthening society and keeping us safe. I was privileged to be in the Royal Gallery for the State Opening of Parliament to witness this glorious spectacle, it really brought home to me the weight of history behind our democratic system and the importance of upholding this. It was this very subject that I talked about with the pupils at North Curry Primary School recently when they invited me in to join an assembly during Parliamentary Democracy week. I stressed to the pupils that as they grow up they should always remember to use the vote they are given to have their say.
Hot on the heels of the Kings Speech came the Remembrance weekend which I was honoured as ever, to play my full part in - attending the well organised events in both Taunton and Wellington. These events both in church and outside our towns and parks were peaceful and respectful, drawing crowds of thousands to pay our respects to those who have done so much to keep us safe, some tragically paying the ultimate sacrifice. Thank you to everyone involved in staging these services. I was pleased to do my bit on the flower rota in my own local church, something I would never miss.
Following on from these events the Prime Minister has also conducted his reshuffle this week. The strong team around him will be a force to be reckoned with and fully able to deliver on his plans for change. I am delighted to remain as his Environment Minister and I am fully supportive of the inspired decision to instate the Rt Hon David Cameron as head of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office - his experience and standing on the world stage will be valuable at this time of concerning conflict across the globe not least in Israel and Ukraine. The recent changes across Government comes just as we hear positive news regarding payroll employment which is at a record high at 30.2 million – almost 400,000 higher than this time last year and 1.2 million higher than before the pandemic. Encouragingly, regular pay grew by 7.7% in July to September meaning that real pay is growing at its fastest rate for two years. While I know cost of living pressures remain a concern to many people locally I am hopeful we are now beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel.
In my capacity as Environment Minister, I’ve been immersed in delivering our effective Plan for Water, delivering more investment than ever before in our water infrastructure (£56bn) as well as stronger regulation (no dividends or bonuses can now be paid by water companies if they are found to be having any negative impact on the environment) and tougher enforcement (including unlimited fines.) As part of the Plan for Water we have committed to banning wet wipes containing plastic and we are consulting on this right now with a view to introducing the ban shortly. This is something I have personally campaigned for. Wet wipes containing plastic are detrimental to the water environment and can also cause blockages in our sewage pipes, resulting in sewage spills. A simple way to help cut this ahead of the ban is to refrain from throwing wet wipes down the loo please! I take issue with the misinformed comments made in a letter to the editor last week on the subject of water - the reality is that no other political party has a comprehensive and costed plan to improve our water environment; it is this Government that is delivering the historic change needed and it’s backed by targets and legislation.
Finally, as promised in my previous column I pledged to engage with Ministerial colleagues in Westminster after Somerset Council were recently informed by auditors that they must take action to reduce their multi-million-pound overspend or they will face bankruptcy. I met with the relevant Minister last week to discuss; it is clear however, that the current Lib Dem incumbents now running the council have already squandered the significant reserve funds built up by the previous Conservative administration and local people may suffer pressure on service delivery as a result which is unacceptable. It is something I shall be keeping a close eye on and following up and I will keep you updated.