It is that time of year again when while thinking about New Year’s resolutions for the year to come, we also look back over the last twelve months. As always with these things, the last year seems to have flown by. However, for me, both personally and politically as the MP for Burton, there have been some real highlights in the calendar.
The year began with the campaign to improve safety on the A38 after all too regular accidents on that stretch of road and a tragic fatality caused by the gaps in the safety barriers. I was in full campaign mode to get those gaps closed.
February was an important milestone for me personally when I proposed to the lovely Kate. Kate is a Burton girl, born and bred, and I was delighted when she accepted my proposal and agreed to be my wife.
Another important campaign for me this year was to restore the Coltman grave. All Burtonians know of the bravery of our greatest son William Coltman who was awarded both the Victoria Cross and the Military Medal for his bravery whilst serving in the trenches in the First World War. William‘s grave at St. Mary’s Church in Winshill was sadly dilapidated, and as a patron of the Victoria Cross Trust I initiated a campaign to raise the money to restore his grave.
Burton is built on the breweries and remains a brewing town and the home of Punch and Spirit pub companies. The future of the brewing industry is hugely important to the thousands of people employed in the industry locally. This year saw the culmination of my campaign to scrap the hated beer duty escalator. Introduced by Gordon Brown, the beer duty escalator saw beer duty rise by 48% since it was introduced in 2008. I have been leading the campaign of organisations like CAMRA and the Society of Independent Brewers to get it scrapped. In November of the previous year I held a debate in Parliament where I urged the Chancellor to scrap it. I was absolutely overwhelmed when at the Budget in March, the Chancellor announced that not only was he scrapping the beer duty escalator, but that he would be the first Chancellor since 1959 to cut beer duty. That penny cut, whilst not a lot to the drinker, was a huge boost to brewers and was warmly welcomed as a way of allowing them to invest in jobs and equipment for their businesses.
I was so pleased when in June we reached the fundraising target for the repairs of the Coltman grave. Thanks to the generosity of local people, businessmen and Winshill Parish Council, we were able to begin the restoration work, which was finally finished in November, and give William Coltman a grave that is fit for the hero that he was.
In July I backed the Burton Mail campaign and gave blood as part of the Take Five Minutes campaign to find more bone marrow donors. If you haven’t done it, I would encourage you to sign up because you could literally help to save someone’s life.
In August everyone let out a huge collective cheer when we learned that the Highways Agency had accepted our demands to improve the safety on the A38, and would close all of the gaps and impose a speed limit of 60mph to improve safety and save lives.
September saw the highlight of my year personally when I got married to my lovely bride Kate in the House of Commons. We tried to bring a little piece of Staffordshire to the Palace of Westminster by sourcing as many things as we could locally. Kate’s dress came from Tamworth, the bridesmaids’ dresses made in Rolleston, the flowers from Denstone, the cake from Stretton, and most importantly for me, a range of beers, all brewed in Burton.
The setting was breathtaking, the weather divine, and my bride looked absolutely beautiful. I can honestly say it was the best day of my life.
September also saw the third of my annual jobs fairs at the Pirelli Stadium. Thanks to the support of local businesses and the Jobcentre, the Burton Mail and Burton and South Derbyshire College, 3,000 jobs were on offer at the event, and more than 1,600 people attended. By the end of the year, unemployment in Burton was the lowest it had been since June 2008, some two years before I became Member of Parliament. I hope that the Jobs Fairs have played a small part in helping people to get back into work and getting the economy moving again locally.
October and November saw me lobbying hard for a major road improvement on the A50. Local residents were suffering the misery of constant traffic jams around the McDonalds island on the A38 and companies were complaining that it was affecting their business. My lobbying exercise included raising it in Parliament, meeting with the Transport Secretary, the Treasury Minister, the Chancellor George Osborne and indeed even the Prime Minister. In December, the Chancellor announced that he would fund the tens of millions of pounds to improve both safety and traffic on the A50.
Even better, just a few days later, with the Chancellor and myself in attendance, JCB announced that as a result of the improvements, they would build a brand new factory in Uttoxeter, and create 2,500 new engineering jobs in the process. This was a huge boost for the local economy and great news for everyone.
December saw the culmination of my gifts for troops initiative. Thanks to the support of Hardy Signs and the Burton Mail and the generosity of hundreds of people in Burton, we were able to send more than 300 shoe boxes full of Christmas goodies out to the Mercians and other troops out in Afghanistan. I am proud that yet again Burtonians have shown themselves to be such a generous town.
There have been so many other great things that have happened throughout the year that only go to make me proud to represent such a fantastic town. So can I just wish you all a very happy 2014, and I hope that the coming year will be an even better one for all of us.