On the whole, I think this is a really good budget for Ipswich. Clearly there are two items that are specific to Ipswich and the local area that stand out. Firstly, the £25 million that was announced for the Ipswich Town Deal that will fund 11 projects across the Town. These projects have now been confirmed having previously gone out for public consultation and I look forward to working closely with Dr Dan Poulter and other members of the Town Deal Board to turn these projects into a reality and a positive legacy for the Town.
Having Freeport East confirmed as one of the first freeports in the country was also great news. All in all, around 6,000 of my constituents are either directly or indirectly employed by the Port of Felixstowe and I’m very excited about what the implications of the Port being a freeport could mean for skills, jobs and investment in the area.
More generally however, I was also very pleased to see the significant amount of new support for businesses. Particularly the hospitality sector that has been so badly impacted by the pandemic. The recovery grants and the positive news regarding VAT, business rates and duties may well end up being a lifeline for many.
I signed a few letters ahead of the budget with other MPs. I signed one calling for the £20 increase in Universal Credit to be extended for as long as the pandemic and its effects go on for. I’m pleased it was confirmed today that the increase has been extended for 6 months. I also signed a letter calling for fuel duty to be frozen. I’m pleased that it was confirmed today that it has been frozen for a record 10th consecutive year.
I also believe that the decision to extend the furlough scheme until the autumn is wise. Hopefully by the time it ends, the economy will have had a good few months to really kick off following the end of the restrictions and we can safeguard as many of those jobs as possible.
Clearly, over the coming years the Chancellor is going to have to make a number of tough decisions to repay the huge debts we’ve incurred fighting this pandemic. He made a start today in outlining some of the ways he plans to do this. However, I was pleased that in outlining his approach to increasing Corporation Tax over time he is acutely sensitive to the need to not hit smaller businesses.
I was pleased to be notified today that I have secured a special debate in the House of Commons Chamber on closures of the Orwell Bridge. It will take place next Thursday. This is the second time I will have led an adjournment debate since I was elected, the first one was orthopaedic services at Ipswich Hospital.
I hope this time holding the debate leads to a more positive outcome! I’m determined to keep this issue at the top of the agenda until Highways England implement the recommendations from their report and we know that having done so will mean that frequent closures of the bridge are a thing of the past. A Government Transport Minister will be present at the debate.
Highways England have completed their safety validation work so we at least now know that at some point soon we will touch wood be turning our back on frequent closures of the Orwell Bridge. However I remain dissatisfied with how long this has all taken and I will continue to push for the new measures to be implemented as soon as possible. Following pressure that has been applied it now seems likely that Highways England may be working to deliver the changes ahead of the end of March deadline they set themselves a few weeks ago.
I was promised in January that they would deliver the changes at the start of winter not the end. Next week I will be meeting with the Roads Minister to discuss the timeline for delivery. I will provide more updates soon.
Yesterday I teamed up with Jonathan Gullis, the MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, to press the Government for more funding for potholes. Ipswich and Stoke-on-Trent are similar in that they’re both urban areas but we don’t get the proportionate levels of funding for road repairs compared to larger metropolitan centres. We also lose out compared to rural areas where the current funding formula puts more emphasis on road length than it does on things like heavy traffic wearing away at our roads in urban areas.
In the debate I specifically mentioned the need for more funding to fix up our roads in parts of town like Chantry, Gainsborough and Rushmere (but I appreciate there are big issues with pavement and road quality across town). And how this isn’t just an important issue for road safety but it’s also about how we should have roads which reflect the pride people have in their local communities and our commitment as elected representatives to leave no street or neighbourhood feeling left behind.
Since I was elected I’ve been out and about across the town flagging potholes and road and pavement surfaces in need of repair with Suffolk County Council. And I’ve also been able to identify a number of road surfaces simply not up to standard through my surveys in Chantry and Ravenswood. Since the summer I’ve been meeting on a monthly basis with the County Council to get detailed updates on road repair schemes in Ipswich and lobby for further ones too. This intensified focus on road repairs in Ipswich is starting to produce results, particularly with the resurfacing of Sheldrake Drive in September. It’s also good to see resurfacing work completed on Avondale Road and Neath Drive and that resurfacing of Stone Lodge Lane West has been locked in for next year.
Clearly there is much more to do across town and that’s why my monthly meetings with the County Council’s Highways Department are crucial. And if there are any road or pavement issues in town you think need raising please email me at email@example.com and I’ll flag them in my next meeting.
I’ll keep fighting both locally and nationally for better roads and pavements for Ipswich which improve pedestrians and road users’ experience and also give local people confidence that their elected officials care as much about their areas as they do.
Written a letter today to the Transport Secretary about Highways England and their performance over the past 2 years or so regarding the Orwell Bridge. In October 2018 they launched a report into what do about bridge closures that was delayed by 6 months and now the timeline for implementing the recommendations of that report has also been significantly delayed. I was promised that a new 40mph speed limit would be introduced ahead of the 2020/2021 winter season but now they are suggesting a completion date of end of March 2021.
I have previously raised before in the House of Commons and am currently applying to hold a special debate in Parliament on the matter. As I mention in the letter I also plan to meet the Transport Secretary.
Ultimately its all of us who have to pay the price for the price for all these broken promises. Not Highways England.