At the end of each year, I always take a moment to pause and reflect on the highs and lows of the year past. As a local backbench MP, I have always felt it best to put people before politics and try to deliver for what is best for the South Devon constituency and its residents. If you can deliver locally, you can do so nationally. Ever increasingly I find colleagues from across the political divide coming to ask me how my team and I managed to achieve one thing or another. South Devon in so many ways is acting as the epicentre for new ideas, creative collaborations, localism and a robust sense of community spirit, all of which is envied across the country.
Take connectivity for example. Over the last four years we have dramatically improved digital connectivity, enhancing the place and method in which people work. Languishing behind the rest of the country in 2018/2019, we now find ourselves approaching the top of the UK leaderboard with new digital connectivity. In fact, by 2024 Connecting Devon and Somerset will have linked up a further 40,000 houses to full fibre as well as putting down nearly 2,500 miles of new fibre. The “not-spots” of connectivity are being eradicated and it is helping to turn on every household while also supporting high-tech businesses.
Our places of education have once again proved themselves to be top of the field. With Ofsted rating nearly all our schools either Good or Outstanding, we are providing places of education that are delivering high-quality lessons with high-quality teachers. The record levels of investment in schools mean that the Department of Education now has a budget larger than that of the Ministry of Defence. This money is being spent across the country and we are seeing that increase in budget benefitting our local schools. This has allowed places like South Devon College to create new institutions such as the Marine Academy at Noss-on-Dart, which is training the next generation of fishermen.
Our towns and high streets have battled against the pandemic and the increase in costs, and they have done so magnificently. Thanks to the strong “buy local” attitudes of residents and the desire to see our market towns flourish, they have weathered the storms. The delivery of a new banking hub in Brixham and another confirmed for Dartmouth, as well as a new chamber of commerce, means that we have the footfall on high streets and representation to support local businesses.
To further support our towns, schools and communities, we have always needed to keep a firm hand on our transport model. This is why over the past year, we have ramped up engagement with the bus companies, engaged businesses to look at new transport models for their employees, piloted new routes, joined up buses with trains and welcomed the extension of the £2 bus fare cap. We are bringing public, private and charitable groups together to ensure we have a transport model which works for towns and rural communities. This cooperation is already yielding significant results and enhancing mobility across South Devon.
These positive success stories are not complacently retold, but demonstrate to what can be achieved when working together. We have done much to modernise and create new structures, industries and organisations but we have also pulled together to support the farmers and fishermen of South Devon. They have a rich heritage which is the backbone of our way of life. Ensuring they are supported and valued has been a common theme, not just throughout this year but throughout my time in Parliament. Eating healthy food means supporting our local producers and through working with organisations like Food and Drink Devon, we are creating new distribution networks and improving access to public procurement programmes.
At the end of the year, it is refreshing to note that while trying to inject any common sense into Westminster is a tall order, there are plenty of positive and successful initiatives that have been conceived, designed and delivered across South Devon.