I sometimes think we should have a speech in Herefordshire every year on “The State of the County”. Like the US President’s “State of the Nation” speech, only a lot more down to earth!
What’s gone well, and what badly? Now is an appropriate time to ask these questions.
Let’s start with the good stuff. We have been really successful in getting new capital investment in the county. Just this year there’s been £23M for the Hospital, partly to replace the hutted wards; funding for the new medical centre; and the recent announcement of up to £25M in regeneration funding for Hereford city.
And all that comes on top of the £23M announced for NMITE, our new university project, £5M investment in local roads, and the continuing investment in fast broadband, a portion of which is about to go live in Ross-on-Wye.
We have also done better on the income side, with new rises in annual funding for local primary and secondary schools, new support for the 6thForm College and a new Government pot to support bus services.
But there is still a long way to go to lift this county; ours remains one of the f40 least well-funded authorities in the country, and our farmers struggle to secure adequate labour to pick their crops.
And there are other causes for concern. It is still not clear if the Council plans to cancel the bypass project and the Southern Link Road, at what cost and with what effects. Since those plans underpin the Core Strategy for the local economy, that Strategy too needs to be rethought.
As regards health, the commissioning of services is now being consolidated between Hereford and Worcester Clinical Commissioning Groups. It is vital to make sure that this does not leave Herefordshire getting a raw deal.
And the flooding last week drove home how we still need better flood defences, and to make our county—and the country—more sustainable.
Finally, we need to use the Government’s new emphasis on “levelling up” to secure new funding for our market towns. In my patch, that means using the excellent Town Plan in Ross-on-Wye to put together a really strong pitch for new investment, in a town that is so much more than just a wonderful tourist spot.
It’s a very full agenda. And it’s what I will be campaigning for in the next few weeks.