As we approach the festive days of Christmas, like most people, I have been looking back at the most challenging year in living memory. At the beginning of 2020, having voted to deliver Brexit as I promised during the election, I imagined the key political highlight would be navigating the country to the end of the transition period to finally become a sovereign, independent nation once more, with all the freedoms and opportunities that entailed, and to focus on how Stoke-on-Trent Central could benefit from the levelling-up agenda.
By March, it became clear that this would be a year dominated by a pandemic that would not only change our government’s immediate focus but would challenge everything that we as individuals have taken for granted for so long.
Before the pandemic we were happy to give the responsibility for our wellbeing to others – the local gym, the hairdresser, our local leisure outlets, the football club, and if we were unwell, we expected easy access to our local health and social services. Parents happily handed over their children at the school gates for teachers to take care of their most precious assets, confident that they would receive wraparound care as well as learning.
This year Coronavirus changed all that. For many months none of these elements of life which we have always taken for granted were freely available. Our daily routine was informed by the latest infection rates and our anxiety levels by warnings of outbreaks or news of friends and family suffering from Covid-19.
Amidst the uncertainty and fear, there were also positive aspects of our changing lives. Families spent more quality time together – whether as a household in the same four walls or on Zoom. We learnt how to ask, “How are you doing” to friends and neighbours over the phone or garden fence, and we really cared about the answer, because we learnt how precious life is. We stopped taking it for granted. We took time to reflect. I remember writing during Spring lockdown about the silence on the roads, improved air quality and how I noticed nature more on my daily exercise walks.
This was the year of community - of looking after each other. Through an inspiring partnership all the key agencies and voluntary sector organisations came together in Stoke-on-Trent to make sure the most vulnerable were not forgotten, an army of volunteers stepped up to deliver food and other essentials across the City and businesses supported their local communities, even as they themselves were struggling for survival. The government stepped in with an unprecedented level of financial support which to date has been over £500 million locally, either directly to organisations in the constituency or as part of the city-wide support.
My work as your Member of Parliament has been more complex because of the restrictions this year, but it has also presented new opportunities. I have been travelling between Westminster and Stoke-on-Trent every week when Parliament has been in session and have taken every opportunity in a significantly scaled-down House of Commons to lobby for our area.
It was very noticeable recently during a debate on International Trade that all three Stoke-on-Trent MPs were sitting (socially distanced) on the same bench reinforcing each other’s points during the debate. The Minister observed: “We have the entire Conservative team from Stoke lined up…. like the sort of line that Alan Hudson himself would have been proud of in the 1970s. It is Stoke City pomp... making the point again and again how important trade is going to be for the future of that great City.”
I am proud to be part of the Stoke team of Conservative Members of Parliament because together we have a stronger voice and our message is clearly landing. The newly announced £29 million Transforming Cities Fund bid took many months of hard work by all three MPs, the City Council and the Department for Transport to secure approval and it will be a game-changer for the City. We have a clear vision for the levelling up agenda of Stoke-on-Trent, and this year has seen not only significant investment in our City but also a better understanding at Westminster of what still needs to happen. As we look towards 2021, I hope that the rollout of vaccines will allow a more normal way of living – where we can be in the same room and as close as we wish to our family, friends and colleagues. Next year we can focus on building back better.
I look forward to meeting more people in local organisations in person. In the meantime, I will continue my regular online updates with NHS and education leaders, the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and Local Enterprise Partnership, as well as virtual conversations with many inspiring individuals and organisations and phone calls to those who I would normally see in person for a surgery appointment – like so many of you, my work has continued throughout the year, and a lot has been achieved. I have a great team behind me without whom it would have been impossible, and I thank them and all those unsung heroes who work behind the scenes.
I hope our resilience both locally and as a nation will stand us in good stead in 2021, and I wish you and those you care about happy and restful festive days over Christmas.
Published in The Sentinel 10th December 2020