2017 marked the 20th year that I have served as Member of Parliament for North Shropshire. It was a great honour to be re-elected in June with an increased mandate for the sixth consecutive time.
Before the referendum, last year, we were bombarded by Project Fear, full of unrelenting doom and gloomy predictions should the United Kingdom vote to leave the European Union. Since voting to leave, these predictions are continuing to be proven comically false. July to September saw the 19th consecutive quarterly increase of GDP. In October, the manufacturing sector expanded for the sixth consecutive month and the volume of retail sales increased by 0.9 per cent, well in advance of the busy Christmas period.
Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that 32.06 million people are in work, receiving a regular pay packet. The national unemployment rate is a record low 4.3 per cent. North Shropshire continues to boast a historically low claimant count of just 1.4 per cent; more people are off benefits and in work.
In the New Year, I will continue to focus on my priorities to improve communications, namely, to improve roads, rail, broadband and mobile reception. These affect every one of us every day.
In my many meetings with the Secretary of State for Transport, his Welsh counterpart, Highways England, Shropshire Council and Midlands Connect, we continue to make progress on my long-running campaigns, putting together a bid to dual the A5 and another bid to build an A483 Pant/Llanymynech bypass.
The Chief Executive of Openreach, Clive Selley, visited North Shropshire twice this year and we have since met in my office to discuss the quality of broadband, now a vital utility. He has assured me that 95 per cent of UK premises are set to have access to superfast speeds by the end of this year. This still leaves five per cent, many in rural areas, where we need to apply relentless pressure. On this, I encourage my constituents to write to me about poor broadband or mobile phone reception.
Every Christmas is an opportunity to visit local shops, supporting local farmers and businesses by buying their produce.
The poet William Blake once wrote “In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” I wish all my constituents a very happy Christmas and a successful New Year.