During our recovery, we have a unique opportunity to address some of the key issues which have been affecting our country for decades. This includes house building; tackling skills shortages; and addressing the gap in productivity and connectivity between the regions of the UK.
The Prime Minister has pledged to ramp up house building - promising to build faster, build better and build greener. This includes the biggest shake up to planning regulations since WW2. New regulations will give greater freedom for buildings and land in our town centres to change use without planning permission, along with creating new homes from the regeneration of vacant and redundant buildings.
The Government has also pledged a £12bn affordable homes programme, which will support up to 180,000 new affordable homes for ownership and rent over the next 8 years, in addition to a £450m boost to the Home Building Fund.
A number of residents have contacted me to ask that the Government focuses on a ‘green recovery’. I am pleased that these plans will do just that. They will build on the fantastic work already done by the Government to improve the environment and tackle climate change, and will include: funding to attract investment in ‘gigafactories’ to mass produce batteries and other electric vehicle components; re-foresting Britain by planting 75,000 acres of trees every year by 2025; and £40m for the Green Recovery Challenge Fund to help halt biodiversity loss.
There will also be significant investment in infrastructure, with £1.5bn this year for hospital maintenance, over £1bn to fund the first 50 projects of a ten-year school rebuilding programme, and £560m and £200m for repairs and upgrades to schools and FE colleges respectively this year. As well as this there will also be £96m to accelerate investment in town centres and high streets through the Towns Fund this year. This will provide all 101 towns with £500k-£1m to spend on projects such as improvements to parks, high streets, and transport – and Swindon is one of the towns that will benefit.
There will be further announcements from the Chancellor on the next stage of economic recovery plan next week, but I am very encouraged by what I’ve heard so far.
Last Friday was National Employability Day, which is the UK’s largest celebration for organisations supporting people into work. The annual event provides an opportunity to increase understanding and awareness of the fantastic work these organisations do – and in the current climate, perhaps never more so important.
I was delighted to be invited on to Chaos TV, which is run in partnership with the award-winning social enterprise PLUSS, to talk about the work I, and the Government, have done to improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Last year, the disability employment figures rose by 400k and are up 1.4m since 2014 – a record high. I am very proud of the progress we are making.
As residents will be aware, I am passionate about increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Organisations like PLUSS are vital in supporting this work, and I was delighted to be able to take part in National Employability Day to recognise and celebrate all those who are involved in this vital work.