I’ve just had a brilliant few days of visits and open surgeries in the constituency at the end of the Easter Recess, and would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who came along. Given the time MPs have to spend in Westminster it is a real treat for me spend some quality days in Somerset meeting new people and refreshing acquaintances. It is also a chance to pause for a moment and remind myself what a truly beautiful part of the world this is.
We covered a wide variety of topics – perhaps the most frequently raised national issue was the recent story about a Government funded leaflet on the EU. Apparently the 14 page leaflet has cost £9.3million and will be sent to millions of households. I shall be adding my voice to those concerned that this is not how taxpayers’ money should be spent. Both sides of the debate will have plenty of opportunity to make their case in advance of the referendum.
I get some interesting enquiries about how leaving the European Union might affect specific families and businesses and will continue to look into various issues as they arise. I am all for the referendum decision made by the British people being as well informed as it possibly can be but at a time when we continue to get the country’s public spending under control I think the leaflet was ill-advised.
As usual what people most want to discuss is refreshingly concrete. Pot holes are always high up the agenda. The Government has just announced that the first tranche of a £250million pothole fund is being distributed and the South West is the biggest beneficiary. It is hoped that nearly a million holes will be fixed across England in the next year including about 160,000 in our part of the country.
I met a well organised group of local residents concerned about fracking. Any application to frack would have to go through a very stringent process with the County Council before anything could happen but it was interesting to meet and I shall work through the report they gave me.
The environmental issue most frequently raised though was flooding, especially after some bad flash flooding at Misterton, and a sudden rise in water level at Mudford. I have heard from various residents about their experiences and a pattern seems to be emerging, whereby people feel they are being passed around between the Somerset Rivers Authority, the Councils, the Environment Agency and Ministers, and that problems are not really addressed. Clearly we need to be realistic and there will always be weather events, but setting up a clear pathway for accountability is something I am keen to pursue.
I have a lot of local issues to take forward following the tour and am looking forward to working on those.