Life as far as possible has been getting back to ‘normal’ thanks to the laudable roll out of the vaccine programme, with, (at the time of writing) more than 92% of adults in the SW having received a first dose with 76% fully vaccinated and thank you as ever to all involved in this mammoth effort. It is still important for everybody who has not yet received their vaccine, including their second dose, to do so.
Plant for the Planet
Earlier this summer in my capacity as Environment Minister, I was delighted to launch the Government’s campaign ‘Plant for Our Planet’, to encourage businesses and communities to get planting and protect nature through green actions ahead of the international environmental summit COP26. The campaign is being supported by a variety of green organisations including the National Trust,
Woodland Trust, The Wildlife Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society.
I would encourage you all to take part where you can, whether planting flowers for pollinators, letting lawns or your local verges grow wild, or joining an existing nature project. The entire world has an extraordinary opportunity at COP26 to come together to tackle climate change and reverse biodiversity loss and through thousands of individual actions Plant for Our Planet can help to restore nature. Do have a look at the website which is packed with ideas that you could try whether individual or in a group. Just leaving a patch of lawn to grow wild or leaving roadside verges unmown can help and if space is at a premium plant up a tub or a window box. Do share with me what you have done and make some recommendations for our Natures Heroes designation.
I planted a mini wildflower meadow in my garden and it’s been a joy to watch as it has burst into flower and the insects are certainly beating a path to it to enjoy the nectar. I will also log it on the B-lines map; this is a Buglife initiative to map a series of ‘insect pathways’ running through our countryside and towns, proving corridors for our precious pollinators to move around. The more of this we can do the better.
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FUNDING FOR FARMERS TO IMPROVE WATER QUALITY
Water pollution and the impact of water quality have been the focus of much attention recently and in this respect, with my Environment Ministers’ hat on I was delighted to announce an additional £17m to expand the Catchment Sensitive Farming programme which provides many more specialist advisers to work with farmers on taking action to reduce water and air pollution from their land. I saw action in progress on a recent visit to Higher Blindmoor Farm in the Blackdown Hills where positive action on this dairy farm, including extra slurry storage, covers on dairy sheds, hard tracks to reduce run off from rain and planting of cover crops to reduce soil erosion are making a useful contribution to reducing pollution, improving water quality and importantly boosting farm profits.
ANIMAL WELFARE (KEPT ANIMALS) BILL
Many constituents have been in touch with me regarding the issue of puppy smuggling and the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill.
The UK has a long history of leading the way on animal welfare. I am pleased that now we have left the EU, the Government is committed to improving our already world-leading standards by delivering a series of ambitious reforms, outlined in the Action Plan for Animal Welfare. Building on the Action Plan, the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill will bring in some of the world’s highest and strongest protections for pets, livestock and kept wild animals.
Primates are highly intelligent animals with complex needs and require specialist care. I am pleased that through the Bill the Government will deliver on the manifesto commitment to introduce a ban on keeping them as pets, ensuring that all primates being kept privately in England are being kept at zoo-level standards and that ownership of primates at a level below these standards is phased out.
I understand that live animals can endure excessively long journeys during export, causing distress and injury. EU rules prevented any changes to these journeys, but the UK Government is now free to pursue plans which would see a ban on the export of live animals for slaughter and fattening. This Bill will ensure that the UK is the first European country to end this practice.
In addition, illegal imports of puppies are covered in the Bill. It will introduce new powers to tackle the unethical trade of puppy smuggling by reducing the number of pets, including dogs, cats and ferrets, that can travel under pet travel rules. It will also provide powers for the Government to bring in further restrictions on the movement of pets on welfare grounds and allow for enforcement measures to support these restrictions. Further restrictions could include an increase in the minimum age of imported puppies, as well as the prohibition of the import of pregnant dogs and dogs with mutilations such as cropped ears and tails.
NURSING DEGREES & APPRENTICESHIPS
I had an inspirational visit to Bridgwater and Taunton College (Somerset University Centre) recently which has become the first college in the country to be accredited to deliver Nursing Degrees and Nursing Apprenticeships. This is a really important step for Somerset; education has the power to transform lives and these programmes will unlock career pathways for students locally, which in turn, will benefit local people through the provision of highly qualified health care professionals helping to meet the historic shortage of nursing skills across the county. The collaboration between the College, the local NHS trust and the University of West England is an exemplar partnership in action. The purpose-built training facilities developed at the College are second to none; a huge well done to all involved. The next challenge will be to provide some additional accommodation for trainee nurses, a project I look forward to engaging in.
EMPLOYENT MINISTER VISITS TAUNTON
It has been a tough time for many on the job front over the last year and the highly professional and dedicated staff at our local Job Centre Plus in Taunton have been playing an invaluable role in helping to link prospective employees with local employers. I saw first-hand on an informative visit the remarkably positive results being achieved. In fact, one person was offered a job just as I arrived – his first in 18 months and he was over the moon.
It was a doubly exciting visit as our excellent Employment Minister, Mims Davies, joined me for the national launch of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Job Help Scheme. This campaign will help inspire jobseekers to seize new opportunities, including through the Government’s Plan for Jobs together with Kickstart, Job Entry Targeted Support (JETS) and more. Importantly these schemes demonstrate there are really good local jobs available with opportunities for training and progression right here in Somerset and the employers I met at the event all said the Kickstart scheme in particular was opening them up to a whole new pool of young enterprising individuals. This will help to retain a much-needed skilled workforce, including many green jobs linked to the net zero future and nature recovery.
HALSE COMMUNITY PUB
I am certainly enjoying being able to get out and about in the constituency again, visiting communities and villages from spanning from Langford Budville and Milverton across to Burrowbridge. On my travels I was delighted to call in to the New Inn, in Halse, recently taken over and being run by the local community. I was pleased to play my own part in helping out during the last year by making representations to HM Treasury over their furlough issues; the community pub, complete with café and skittle alley and five guest bedrooms has played a valuable role during the pandemic and it looks to be going from strength to strength.
AN INNOVATIVE TAUNTON BUSINESS
I mentioned a person earlier who was offered a job when I was at Job Centre Plus. This week, I went to meet the company that employed him, Phone Converters, accompanied by Amanda Milling MP, Chairman of the Conservative Party. The company has embraced the Kick Start initiative and our Levelling Up agenda, and I was delighted to formally
open their flagship store in Galmington. Phone Converters started with one man fixing and selling mobile phones and tablets from his living room. Demand was such that the first shop was opened in Taunton. Realising the demand, especially during lockdown, Phone Converters was formed, and 17 shops opened across the South West. Their shops buy, sell and exchange mobile phones and tablets directly to and from the public and also supply devices to the public and private sector; and also to Africa where they are much needed. They now have 25 shops across the South West and this number is growing. I was very impressed with the staff I met, many from the Kick Start Programme, but more importantly, they were enthusiastic and professional about their work and very optimistic for the future and their contribution to the green agenda. A great success story for more information go to www.gadgettrader.co.uk
As ever please do get in touch if there is anything I can help you with. You can either email me or telephone my office on 01823 443062.