It was an enormous privilege to be appointed Attorney General for England and Wales during last week’s reshuffle. It is a role that has existed in Parliament since at least 1243. Before I was first elected as your MP in 2015, I worked in the Government Legal Department for seventeen years. I provided advice on military, prisons and national security matters and represented the government in court. It is great to be returning to the law in my new role. It is a real honour to be able to work with the many excellent professionals across the Law Officers’ Departments once again.
It has been another busy month in the constituency. I enjoyed talking to over thirty local businesses at a regular meeting of the Banbury Business Breakfast Club. They are always looking for new members. It was also good to catch up with Superintendent Emma Garside, the Commander of our local police force. Emma told me that the most concerning crimes locally include drug dealing, violent crime and anti-social behaviour. She was keen to share the real progress that has been made in both Banbury and Bicester recently.
Thames Valley Police also launched a dedicated Rural Crime Taskforce earlier this year which is welcome news for us all. Officers have taken a proactive approach in tackling persistent issues such as theft and hare coursing. I am grateful to Emma for meeting me and will continue our regular conversations to make sure that constituents’ concerns on local policing matters are always heard.
Over the past few weeks I have also launched some new campaigns on important local problems. I know many of my constituents share my concerns about the discharge of sewage into rivers, including the River Cherwell. Earlier this month, I wrote to the Chief Executive of Thames Water, Sarah Bentley, to find out about what is being done to safeguard our River Cherwell and limit sewage discharge into it. I asked her for a meeting to discuss the issue in more detail and understand what work Thames Water is doing to deliver on the new duties placed on water companies. I will keep you posted.
Access to high-speed broadband and reliable mobile coverage is another issue that has been raised consistently with me in recent months. While Banbury and Bicester broadly benefit from strong broadband and reliable mobile coverage, there are many in surrounding villages who have been left behind by the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband and are frustrated by mobile not-spots. Our area has the lowest rate of Gigabit-capable broadband coverage in Oxfordshire, and one of the lowest in the South East, with coverage 20 percent below the national average. It is absolutely vital that residents have access to a reliable broadband service. We must also work towards achieving universal mobile coverage in line with the Government’s Shared Rural Network programme. My Digital Connectivity Survey is now live on my website, to help me build a comprehensive picture of where mobile and broadband coverage is weak in North Oxfordshire. To complete my survey, visit www.victoriaprentis.com/digital-connectivity. Your experiences will help inform my findings which will be shared with providers and colleagues in Government.
The death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II last month was an enormous loss for us all. The period of national mourning reinforced just how much she meant to people. She was a constant presence in all our lives, and we remember her as a guiding light of duty, service and unity.
I will never forget the day she came to Banbury in 2008. Hundreds of people filled the Market Place waving flags, including lots of excited school children, as she helped us mark the 400th anniversary of the town’s Charter. Later that day, I met her as she opened the Oxford Children’s Hospital.
As we grieved for one monarch, we welcomed the reign of another whose own sense of duty is in the best traditions of his mother and his country. It was good to attend Banbury’s Proclamation to King Charles III which took place at the Town Hall. High Steward of Banbury, and my predecessor, the Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry led the reading with several hundred in attendance. We then managed the National Anthem with the new unfamiliar words, followed by three cheers for the new King.
Days before the Queen’s death was announced, I was honoured to be appointed Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by the Prime Minister. We know we will face enormous challenges this winter. Having chaired the cross-government taskforce for feeding the vulnerable during the pandemic, I saw first-hand the importance of targeted support. I look forward to working with the new Secretary of State, Chloe Smith, and colleagues across government to ensure that we deliver support to those who need it.
I was delighted that my first official visit was to our very own job centre in Banbury. It was great to hear about all the support being given to help people into work, especially from work coaches who do so much to help those looking for a job.
My everyday constituency work also continues to keep me busy, with a full diary of meetings and visits lined up in the weeks ahead. It may seem a little early, but I have just launched my annual Christmas card competition for primary school-age children. This year’s theme is “Angels” and entries should be sent to my constituency office (Orchard House, Deddington, Banbury, OX15 0TD) by Monday 31 October. The winner will have their design printed on the front of my Christmas card and will be invited to Westminster for tea with me. I can’t wait to see the designs!
Summer has flown by. Congratulations to all the students in Banbury who received their A-Level and GCSE results. After what has been a really difficult and demanding past couple of years for students, I was glad to see them do so well. I hope the new academic year gets off to a great start.
Locally, I think we are all aware of the importance of automotive and motorsport groups to our area.
Recently I visited the brand-new Mahindra Advanced Design Europe (M.A.D.E) design centre on the Mahindra campus in Banbury. I was given a tour by M.A.D.E Chief Design Officer, Pratap Bose, and Design Director, Cosimo Amadei, who showed me the design facilities they have installed. I met their brilliant team of 30 staff, many of whom have been recruited locally. This studio is only Mahindra’s third in the world and will be the main design centre for their Born Electric range of e-SUVs. I was very lucky to see the SUV prototypes, which were launched the following week. Right next door is the Mahindra Racing building, the home of the Mahindra Formula E team. A real treat was seeing their racing simulators being used by the drivers in preparation for the Seoul ePrix.
Earlier this year, the Bourtons became a Wildlife Friendly Community, joining a growing network of villages and small towns across the UK. I was pleased to visit All Saints Church in Great Bourton to meet local residents and hear more about their exciting plans. Ann Brooks, who has spearheaded the Bourtons’ application, told me about their initiatives to protect and enhance local biodiversity. Parishioners have already created a bug hotel and hedgehog drinker in the churchyard, and are looking at areas around the village to set aside for wildflowers and tree planting. I was also pleased to catch up with Sue Upton, Chair of the Bourtons Parish Council, about a number of village matters including planning and traffic management.
It was great that the Refugees Minister, Lord Harrington, made the trip to Cherwell recently to meet Ukrainian and Afghan families that have been staying locally to hear about their experiences and how they are being supported. My own family have learnt a great deal from Vika from Kyiv who now lives with us and are very pleased that she will continue to do so until the situation means she can return home. It is important that the Government continues to provide the necessary clarity for local authorities and host families over what long term support will be made available. Hosting is not without challenge, and I am so thankful to all who are doing so.
I hope you all enjoyed the football as much as we did on Sunday evening. This victory will do so much for the women’s game and will inspire a generation.
I was really pleased to see the launch of the UK’s first Women’s Health Strategy last month. Key commitments in the strategy include expanding women's health education for new staff, improvements to fertility services and updating guidance for health conditions like endometriosis to ensure the latest evidence is being used in treatment.
The launch coincided with the provisions set out in the Health and Care Act 2022 coming into effect. 42 Integrated Care Systems were established across England which will develop more joined-up, integrated care between the NHS, local government and others. I think one of the most important lessons we learnt during the pandemic is how well our various health providers can work together. Joining up care will ensure that people will get the support they need, in the right place and at the right time.
Covid-19 is clearly still with us which is why I am pleased that everyone aged 50 and over will be among those offered a Covid-19 booster and flu jab this winter. Vaccination remains our best possible line of defence against this virus.
It’s great to be back home after an extremely busy few weeks in Westminster. Now the leadership election is underway, I’m backing Rishi Sunak as I believe he has the experience and vision to unite our country.
Rishi is energetic, hard-working and pragmatic. I was really impressed by his serious and competent work as Chancellor. Throughout the pandemic, he saved jobs and businesses across the UK. I think we would have been in a very different economic position now without the furlough scheme he created.
We continue to face some really substantial challenges as a country. Rishi is highly disciplined and pragmatic. We need a Prime Minister to strengthen our economy, support people with the rising cost-of-living problems and provide leadership on the global stage.
Rishi is someone I have known well for the past seven years. He has a very rural constituency and we have often discussed farming and rural affairs. I know he is committed to improving the connectivity and productivity of areas such as ours.
With voting taking place over the summer, we are all hoping that a new Prime Minister will be in place in early September.
With summer now here, I’m so pleased that everyone in Banbury will be able to enjoy our new Castle Quay Waterfront. It has been brilliant to watch this development grow over recent months and it has really brought the Canal to life.
I think we all enjoyed the Jubilee celebrations enormously. Following what have been some extremely testing times, I was really pleased that this great weekend gave people an opportunity to come together. From street parties and village fêtes to family fun days and ‘Big Lunches’, it was a true celebration of Queen, country and community. I’m sure that we will all look back with fabulous memories of this long weekend for years to come. A highlight for me was giving out packed lunches to 1000 children in the market place in the drizzle!
This month we will be celebrating another significant occasion: the Horton General Hospital turns 150 years old! Opening in 1872 with two wards and just 12 beds, the Horton has come a long way indeed serving a wide catchment of some 170,000 people now. All of us have got memories of the hospital, both happy and painful. It has been there for us and generations of our families. I am determined to do everything I can to make sure that we keep the services at the Horton and that we continue to modernise the site and its structures to make sure it can care for the Banbury residents of the future.
I know that we have been waiting a long time for a decision to be made on the bid for the Horton to be included as one of the final eight hospitals to receive funding from the government’s health infrastructure plan. I have been told that the submission is still under active consideration by the Department for Health and Social Care. Even if we are not successful this time, the Trust now has a coherent plan for the future of our hospital, and we will keep up the pressure to ensure this is delivered.
The future of the Horton Day Nursery has also been at the forefront of my mind. This was recently threatened with closure in September. I recently met the Trust and was reassured that they are in active discussions with a new provider and understand it's important that there is no break in service.
All concerned parents can submit any queries to a centralised OUH email address at NurseryChanges@ouh.nhs.uk. An email updating parents on the situation is set to be sent this week. I know that OUH are keen to resolve this as quickly as possible.
It has been a particularly busy month for me in my Ministerial capacity, with food security at the top of both the national and international agendas. I was proud to launch our first ever food strategy earlier in the month which sets out our plans to support farmers and food producers. I really enjoyed sitting down the local farmers in Horley recently to discuss how our strategy will back British farmers and help protect against the impact of future economic shocks. We want to boost our industry by promoting new technologies and innovation, as well as encouraging people to buy local.
The bunting is already out for what will be a marvellous four-day Platinum Jubilee extravaganza this bank holiday weekend, with celebrations marking Her Majesty the Queen’s 70-year reign and service to our nation.
Her Majesty became sovereign on 6 February 1952 at the age of 25, succeeding her father, George VI. Her coronation service, which took place on 2 June 1953 at Westminster Abbey, was a majestic spectacle, lasting almost three hours. Elizabeth swore an oath, was anointed with holy oil and invested with robes and regalia. After receiving the orb and sceptre, she was crowned Queen Elizabeth II. After homage was paid by the Archbishop of Canterbury and senior peers, Holy Communion was celebrated.
Her Majesty’s coronation was watched by 27 million people in the UK alone. My parents spoke about how significant an event it was in their childhoods, as they had both been able to watch it: it was the first time my mother had seen television. It was also the first major world event to be broadcast internationally. Street parties were held all over the country, as well as village fêtes, bonfires and services of commemoration.
Although post-war rationing was still much in force, food played a central role in the celebration of this landmark occasion, not least Coronation chicken. Sweets, eggs and cream had only just come off of ration. By all accounts, the coronation provided a welcome boost to the morale of post-war Britain.
Seven decades later, the Queen became the first British Monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee. Following our long tradition of celebrating Royal Jubilees, Weddings and Coronations, beacons will be lit across 1500 towns across the country this evening, including in Banbury and Bicester, marking the first of many community events taking place this weekend.
Beacon chains, once used as a tool for communication of threat, have now become a symbol of unity. In 1897, beacons were lit to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and in 1977, 2002 and 2012, beacons commemorated the Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilees of Queen Elizabeth. I was six during the Silver Jubilee and remember it very vividly. In Aynho we had races and games and ate lots of cake and ice cream. I also learnt the words to the National Anthem at school.
In her Accession Day message, Her Majesty said that she hopes this Jubilee will afford people from across the country an opportunity to come together with friends, family, neighbours and communities. Following what has been an incredibly difficult two years, I too hope the events we have lined up in North Oxfordshire do just that.
From ‘Big Jubilee Lunches’ and street parties to afternoon teas and family fun days, I am really looking forward to being at as many events as possible over the weekend. This special occasion celebrates a historic milestone of devotion, achievement and longevity.
Long Live the Queen!
Events in Ukraine are devastating. This is a very volatile and rapidly changing situation. As a family, we have many friends who live in Kyiv and have been in touch with some of them over the past week. We are all thinking of Ukrainian people at this dreadful time.
It is at times like this when communities really pull together. It is brilliant to see that the Polish community in Banbury has set up a collection for food, bedding and other necessary supplies for Ukrainians who have sought refuge on the border. There will be many more opportunities to help I suspect and I will advertise those local ones where I can. The effects of this war will be felt for years.
After nearly two years of living under restrictions, there was always going to be a certain point when the government would set out how we would move to the next phase of living with Covid. As expected, our response is moving from legally binding rules and restrictions to taking back personal responsibility.
I know that some constituents, especially those in more vulnerable groups, are finding this difficult. Just as I have heard from some who are concerned about the easing of restrictions, others have been in touch with me for some time now calling for their entire removal. Going forward, the government’s objective will be to respond to the virus in a similar way to how we manage other existing respiratory illnesses. We will monitor and respond to future risks through contingency planning and more routine public health interventions.
I have been reassured that the government has accepted the JCVI’s advice to offer a Spring booster jab to those aged 75 and over, older care home residents, and those over 12 who are immunosuppressed. It is important that we continue to deploy targeted measures like this going forward to protect those most at risk.
Earlier in the month, I was pleased to be able to have honest conversations with shopkeepers, business owners, and staff on Banbury high street about how trade has been recently. The New Year can be a challenging time for many businesses as sales slow after the Christmas period. It is clear that footfall remains low in a number of areas. There have been significant changes in how we use our high streets in recent years, with the pandemic only accelerating this. I know from many businesses in my constituency, especially those in hospitality how restrictions have severely impacted their trade. I hope the coming months see greater trade, and increased footfall.
The government is committed to supporting our town centres as we move to a new phase of living with Covid. I want to work with local business owners, Cherwell District Council and the government to ensure that our high streets can thrive. We all have a role to play in their regeneration, but we need our communities to play their part, and actively shop and support our High Streets.
Last week, I was delighted to meet Canal & River Trust Chief Executive Richard Parry and Regional Director Ros Daniel. We walked from Castle Quay, along the Banbury Canal towpath down to Bankside Park and back. Towpaths provide great walking opportunities and we are very fortunate to have one running through the heart of Banbury. I think we were all able to appreciate the importance of walking during the pandemic for both our physical and mental health.
This was also a great chance to take a closer look at the Castle Quay Waterfront development. Work on the second phase is really coming along now, with the cinema and restaurant set to open this Spring. When completed, this should be a fantastic leisure venue in the heart of our town.
I'm sure we are all really hoping that the pandemic is coming to an end. Boosters (and indeed all vaccinations) are still very much available in our local area. We still have a number of people in our county who remain unvaccinated. Vaccines are safe, effective, and the best line of defence we have against Covid-19.
By getting your booster, you are helping to protect your community, loved ones, and friends and the vaccine rollout will ensure we can all continue to move forwards with our recovery from the pandemic. I urge constituents who haven’t yet got their jab to book theirs through the NHS booking system: https://bit.ly/3okra6J.
It really is thanks to the jabs that we can live almost normal lives this winter, in sharp contrast to many other countries. Moving to ‘Plan A’ measures last month really marked an important milestone in learning to live with Covid-19.
Our response is cautiously moving from one of rules and restrictions back to being one of personal responsibility. People should continue to make sensible choices where possible. Ventilating indoor spaces, washing our hands regularly, and testing are just some of the ways we can all keep each other safe.
When Parliament is in session, I'm in London most of the working week. I'm always happy to pick up problems and queries in a phone call. If you have any issues that need resolving, please do get in touch with my office by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org. It is often quicker to get to the right answer virtually or on the phone. My team will always try to assist you in the first instance where possible.
It was welcome news to hear that Banburyshire Advice Centre have resumed face-to-face appointments. This important service is run by Andy Willis, offering specialist advice on a number of areas, from pensions and health and wellbeing, to care and further education. Constituents can reach them on 01295 279 988.
I appreciate that some of you have raised very serious concerns with me in relation to their energy bills. It is important that everyone is able to keep warm and well. I have been reassured that the Energy Price Cap will remain in place, protecting residents from sudden increases in global gas prices.
Constituents can receive financial support through a number of targeted schemes including the Winter Fuel Payment and Cold Weather Payments. Additionally, most energy providers offer a Warm Home Discount to those eligible. Residents who need any energy-related advice can get in touch with Better Housing Better Health, a longstanding and local service in Oxfordshire, on 0800 107 0044.
For the eighth year in a row, Oxfordshire has come out on top of the nationwide table for recycling, reusing and composting. A total of 58.8 per cent of all household waste was composted, compared to 45.5 per cent nationally. I would like to thank residents in Cherwell for playing their part in this.
With regard to recycling, from March 1, food waste will be split from garden waste and will be collected on a weekly basis. It will then go to an anaerobic digestion plant where it will turn food waste into two valuable resources: bio-fertilisers that farmers will be able to use on their fields to grow food and green electricity to power local homes and businesses. The new outdoor food waste cadies will have been landing on doorsteps in recent weeks.
The past couple of years have been an incredibly challenging time for us all and shown us how important community really is. I was delighted to hear that three of our community heroes here in Banbury were taken on an afternoon out in London by Stagecoach to commend them their service during the pandemic. Among them were the Prime Minister’s Points of Light award winner, Prabhu Natarajan and his son Addhu, and Cherwell Volunteer of the Year, Michael Hampton. Banbury are very lucky to have them.
I love Christmas. The town centre is looking great, with a particularly magnificent Christmas tree outside the town hall. I cannot think of anybody more deserving to switch on the lights this year than local hero Prabhu Natarajan, who with his family did so much to help others during lockdown.
December is the busiest time for a lot of local businesses. I recently visited independent shops to celebrate Small Business Saturday. I also enjoyed a visit to Hook Norton Craft Fair last month to buy lots of Christmas presents. Local businesses have faced many challenges and hurdles this past year but have shown incredible resilience by adapting their operations. I hope everyone will show their support by shopping locally this Christmas.
As we continue to learn more about the new Omicron variant, the recent extensions to the vaccination programme will ensure our vaccine shield is strengthened. Over 30,000 boosters have been administered locally. Everyone aged 18 years and over, and those aged 16 years and over who are at risk, will be offered a booster jab. I encourage everyone to come forward when they are eligible. I have mine booked for next week.
Last month, I received a letter from Health Minister Edward Argar about OUHFT’s expression of interest for improvements at the Horton. A lot of effort has been put into the submission to the Government’s Health Improvement Programme. I will continue to update you on progress
I was delighted to join His Royal Highness The Duke of Gloucester at Katharine House Hospice for their 30th anniversary celebration last month. The Duke met staff, patients and volunteers. He also officially launched the hospice’s ‘Celebration Tree’ – a specially commissioned rose tree situated on the hospice wall that celebrates the lives of loved ones.
Finally, the public consultation on access to Banbury Station via Tramway Road will be closing next Tuesday. It aims to improve access to the station from the south, by providing a new access to Banbury Station West Car Park and an additional drop off area. It also proposes a new bus, taxi, cycle and pedestrian access to the station forecourt from Tramway Road. Make sure you share your views before the deadline by visiting the Oxfordshire County Council website.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Since Conference Recess at the beginning of the month, it really does not feel like we have stopped throughout October. Parliament has been especially busy as we have tried to make up for time lost during the pandemic. Last week, I oversaw the Second Reading of the Animal Welfare (Kept Animals) Bill in the Commons. I’m proud that the Bill will extend and strengthen protection for pets, farm animals and kept will animals. The UK has a long history of leading the way on animal welfare and it is great to be part of this tradition.
It has been a bumper month of visits in Banbury. I was delighted to visit chartered accountants Whitley Stimpson in recognition of their 90th anniversary. I met directors Martin Anson and Ian Parker to talk about the firm’s work in the community. It is a remarkable achievement to have served the people of Banbury and beyond for all this time. I thoroughly enjoyed visiting DPA Lighting Consultants at their Oxfordshire Studio in Deddington too. They design lighting installations for everything from housing and museums, public buildings and hotels. I met Partner Nick Hoggett, who told me more about their exciting projects including work on the Imperial War Museum. I also made a visit to Lockbund Foundry & Gallery where I met sculptors Simon Allison and Jane Hamilton. They first established the foundry in Cropredy in 1993 and now produce their own sculptures on site, as well as providing fabrication and casting services for other artists. I was interested to hear that they are currently working on a Covid memorial sculpture for Barnsley Borough Council as a fantastic tribute to key workers.
It was great to see Banbury United beat Bath City 1-0 to progress through to the FA Cup First Round earlier in the month. The Puritans welcome League Two opponents Barrow AFC to the Spencer Stadium on Saturday which I will be eagerly watching. The game will be televised on ITV4 with Banbury approximately receiving £50,000 in broadcasting fees. I know that this extra money will go a long way in developing the club further and supporting the wider community.
With winter fast approaching, we need to make sure that our vaccine shield is as strong as possible as the weather turns colder. More than 230,000 jabs have been administered in North Oxfordshire alone which is a tremendous achievement. Vaccines offer high levels of protection against Covid, but immunity reduces over time. It is so important that those eligible come forward and get their booster jabs to increase their protection for the coming months. As of this week, Covid booster jabs will be available at walk-centres without needing to make an appointment.
There has been a real sense of getting back to normal over the past month.
Throughout the pandemic, I have held regular surgeries with constituents via zoom. I was so pleased to be able to restart my in-person surgeries after eighteen-months last week and I met local residents in the Sainsbury’s café on Oxford Road. We covered a range of issues, from the Covid-19 vaccines to local developments. Later that day, I enjoyed a trip to The Brasenose Arms in Cropredy as part of my Pub Tour. Pubs are so important to both local communities and the wider economy, and we are lucky to have some really good ones. It has been wonderful to see them busy again.
A high point was witnessing the presentation of the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Services to local theatre group Voices Across Time. Their shows bring history to life and always involve a good sing-a-long. Joe Cummings and his colleagues do so much to get all ages involved in music, including the organist in my family. It was also an opportunity to thank the retiring Lord Lieutenant of Oxfordshire, Tim Stevenson, who presented the group with their award. He has done so much good in our area during his 13 years of service.
I also enjoyed joining the fantastic Let’s Play Project to celebrate their 20th anniversary. The charity provides after-school clubs, holiday activities and youth groups for some very special children with additional needs in Banbury. The day had a festival feel to it and the weather was brilliant. All ages enjoyed themselves; three generations of my family loved joining in.
UK Parliament Week 2021 will soon be taking place. Running across the first week of November, young people across the country will be participating in activities designed to support learning about Parliament. Last year, North Oxfordshire was found to be the most engaged constituency in the country. More schools, groups and young people signed up to take part in the activities locally than from anywhere else. It was brilliant to see so many actively involved and I hope we can carry that momentum through to this year.
As part of Parliament Week, I will be hosting my seventh annual democracy challenge at the Cherwell District Council Chamber. This debating competition is something I look forward to. I’m always impressed by local pupils’ awareness of issues and debating skills. It will be good to see the competition return in-person after taking place virtually last year. Teams from local schools are already forming and signing up to attend.
I know it may seem a little early to start thinking about Christmas, but I like to give plenty of notice for my annual card competition. This year’s theme is ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’. I hope as many primary school children as possible will send in entries. The winner will have their design printed on the front of my Christmas card and will also get to meet me for tea in Westminster. All entries should be sent to my constituency office at Orchard House, Hopcraft Lane, Deddington, OX15 0TD by 31 October.
It only seems like yesterday that students were breaking up from school for the summer. I was so pleased to see how well pupils did in their A-Levels and GCSEs last month. I know how difficult the past 18-months has been for them all. I hope that the autumn term gets off to a great start and wish students, parents and teachers the very best.
I have long campaigned for better maternity services so I was really concerned to hear last week that the rating for maternity services across the Hospital Trust has moved from good to requires improvement following an unannounced inspection from the Care Quality Commission. It is clear that the inspection of the service was focused in its approach, looking at the safety of the maternity service provided by the Trust across its three sites at the John Radcliffe, the Horton and in Chipping Norton.
There are clearly some key learning points and improvements to be made. I was really worried to learn that information about transfer times from community settings is not readily available. The safety of mothers and their babies has always been the top priority. While time of transfer has been raised time and again with the Trust and the local ambulance service, from whom we have sought assurances that adequate measures are in place, the CQC’s report makes it clear that more needs to be done immediately. I plan to meet the CQC to discuss the contents of their report in the weeks ahead, and have also written to the Chief Executive of the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Dr Bruno Holthof, to underline my concerns and offer my support, where appropriate.
The relationship between the Trust and those of us who support the Horton has not always been easy. However, in recent months we do seem to have turned a corner and are united in our desire for the Horton to get the funding it needs to improve its outdated facilities. After the 2019 General Election, the Government announced that it had set aside funding to go towards the creation of 40 new hospitals. The latest - and final - round of bids opened just before the summer and the Trust has been working hard on an Expression of Interest (EOI) for the Horton which was going in front of Board members on Wednesday 8 September. While still in its very early stages, the EOI sets out a vision for the hospital to improve its facilities, making them fit for purpose and capable of serving our growing population. We need to do all that we can in the months ahead to unite behind the vision, engage with the finer details and show our support for our hospital.
July flew by: we moved to Step 4 of the roadmap, marking the start of a new phase of caution, managing the risks as best we can. Lots of constituents contacted me about the lifting of restrictions, with some expressing concerns about a further opening up. Coronavirus isn’t going away, so we do need to learn to live with it. There is no optimum time to relax the restrictions, but with the natural break of the school holidays and the summer months, it does give us the opportunity to see how we can manage the disease ahead of the autumn and winter. I continue to receive regular briefings from our local public health officials and feed back to my Ministerial colleagues when necessary.
I enjoyed dropping in to some of our high street businesses this month, including Ruskin Bakery, Wildbean Café, David’s Flowers, and Nothing But Footprints Zero Waste. I am pleased to hear that business has returned to some normality and foot traffic along the high street has increased. The job market in Banbury is recovering too and it is encouraging to hear of so many opportunities in the area. It was great to visit the new temporary job centre in Castle Quay Shopping Centre to find out how everything has been going. I was impressed at how well equipped and welcoming the centre was: the Jobcentre team told me that the new modern look was intentional and has helped break down the barriers usually associated with jobcentres.
Other visits have also been memorable: I enjoyed visiting two of our magnificent, eighteenth-century Church’s, Hook Norton Baptist and St Mary’s Banbury. Both are in the midst of renovation and essential maintenance works to help preserve these listed buildings and modernise to improve accessibility. Earlier in the month, I had a useful meeting with Katharine House Hospice’s new Chief Executive Trevor Johnson. We discussed their new partnership with OUHFT and also spoke about their future plans, including how the Hospice are looking to develop services further and improve outreach.
I have been keeping up to date with negotiations at JDE and am pleased that associates voted overwhelmingly in favour of accepting the new proposals. It has not been an easy process for all those involved, but I am encouraged that progress has been made after the uncertainty associates have faced for months. Last week, I had a useful meeting with BEIS Minister, Paul Scully, to discuss fire and rehire practices and the Government's approach.
Finally, I was delighted to resume my Pub Tour which had had to be paused during the pandemic. It was lovely to see so many constituents at The Bell in Lower Heyford and to feel that some normality was returning. There were lots of questions on a range of issues from the climate change agenda to the Strategic Rail Freight Interchange proposal at Ardley. I look forward to future dates in September so do keep an eye out if you would like to pop along for a chat.
It is good to be back writing a regular column in the Banbury Guardian again. A lot has changed since I was last writing here: we have had a General Election and we have almost weathered the storm of a pandemic. The past year has not been easy for any of us. With our vaccination programme on track in North Oxfordshire, it does feel as though we are approaching the light at the end of the tunnel. I had my second dose a few weeks ago, and all those are now eligible for their vaccination. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to the health services and all the volunteers who have been working tirelessly to ensure the rollout programme continues to go smoothly. Vaccination offers us the best possible line of defence against coronavirus; I hope all those eligible to book their appointments do so in the weeks ahead.
The gradual easing of restrictions has meant that I have been able to get out and about in the constituency more, resuming in-person visits with local businesses, schools and organisations. In recent weeks I was fortunate to join one of the UK’s oldest wig-making suppliers, Banbury Postiche, to celebrate their centenary and meet our local hero, Prabhu Natarajan to present him with the Prime Minister’s Points of Light Award he so deserved. I have also visited Banbury-based Dragonfly Lighting and the Mill Arts Centre, both of which were recipients of support from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, a scheme designed to support our much-loved cultural organisations, heritage sites and businesses as they recover from the pandemic. Visits to local schools have resumed: staff and students have welcomed me to Sibford School and the Banbury campus of Banbury and Bicester College. It was a real privilege to join in Saturday’s Armed Forces Day celebrations in Banbury alongside our Town Mayor, the Lord Lieutenant and my predecessor and High Steward, Sir Tony Baldry.
Constituency emails have been at their highest level throughout the pandemic: my team and I have been working hard to support and signpost all those who have contacted my office. While lots of people have been getting in touch with me with coronavirus-related concerns, much of my time is also spent dealing with concerns about housing, health appointments and benefit claims. Local issues including the ongoing situation at the JDE facility in Ruscote Avenue and the Wroxton Motocross track have also been hot topics in recent months. Negotiations at JDE have now resumed. It is in everyone’s interests to keep the conversation open to find the best solution for all those yet to agree to the new terms and conditions offered to them. And of course, the Horton remains my top priority. We have a future vision which we now need to see become a reality. I contacted our new Health Secretary immediately about the Horton at the weekend and have since followed up with a formal letter. He knows the hospital well from his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer and understands how important it is to all of us that the Horton gets the funding it needs to make it a hospital that is truly fit for the future.