AS this is my first column of 2012, let me start by wishing all readers a very happy New Year. 2011 was a turbulent year by any standard, with the ongoing economic crisis, the summer riots and natural disasters across the world. I am hopeful, however, that 2012 will be a year of which we can be proud.
With the Olympics, Paralympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, 2012 has the potential to be a defining year in Britain’s history. I am delighted that Milton Keynes will be playing its part in the Olympic Torch Relay as it makes its journey across the length of Britain. During the Olympics the whole world will be watching and it is important that they see a country that is open, strong, confident and moving forward to a better future.
Building on the foundations laid in 2011, I am hopeful the UK’s market interest rates, which fell to record lows and below Germany’s for the first time in years, will be retained as the Government pushes forward with its credible deficit reduction plan. People often forget that low interest rates, secured by our continued triple-A credit rating, means home owners face lower mortgage repayments, keeping them secure in their homes. It also means that the interest on credit repayment is low, so small businesses can borrow the money they need to continue trading.
It is clear, though, that the banks can do more to help this year. The Government has recognised that the banks must shoulder their responsibility for the economic crisis and so introduced a permanent levy on the banks, expected to raise £10 billion over the lifetime of this Parliament. In addition, the credit measures announced just before Christmas should help increase lending to local businesses.
The economic situation in Europe looks likely to remain uncertain. Last year, the Prime Minister demonstrated that this Government will stand up to Europe when we need to protect our own national interests, vetoing the new EU Treaty.
A treaty within a treaty without safeguards wasn’t right for Britain, and I was proud to see the Prime Minister make this stand. The Government has also given the British people more say over how we deal with Europe from now on. If in the future a change to the EU treaties that moves powers or areas of policy from the UK to the EU is proposed, the Government will have to get the British people’s consent in a national referendum before it can be agreed.
I am optimistic about the economic situation in Milton Keynes. We have much to celebrate locally, including the opening of the new Network Rail HQ, which will generate hundreds if not thousands of jobs locally, and the ongoing success of Red Bull Formula 1 will help keep us on the map. I am also particularly pleased about the large number of new apprenticeships being created locally.
Looking further ahead, the go-ahead given for the East-West Rail link creates the potential for economic growth as we will have faster connections for passengers and freight westward to Oxford and beyond, as well as southwards to Aylesbury and the rest of Bucks.
This year I also look forward to continuing my work on the Transport Select Committee. We shall be scrutinising, among other issues, road safety concerns, the future of air, and of particular interest to Milton Keynes, the cost of rail travel and the rail industry more generally.
As ever, I shall be delighted to keep raising in Parliament issues of concern to residents in Milton Keynes, but also to celebrate our successes.
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