2015 was divided into two for me: before and after the election. Before May I appreciated being able to spend six months visiting businesses, schools and charities in the area in which I have lived all my life, learning more about what matters to people locally.
Since May I have continued those visits, but with the small Government majority, and its determination to press through substantial legislation, most of my week is in Westminster. There, my focus is firmly on ensuring that the growth in our area, visible all around us, is sustainable and strategically planned, ensuring that we have the best transport, schools and hospitals possible. My first PMQ was therefore directed at obtaining proper funding for infrastructure in Bicester, and in January I will be petitioning the HS2 committee for the provision of appropriate mitigation for North Oxfordshire, should that project go ahead.
Having a background as a Civil Service lawyer has been a huge advantage in understanding how Westminster operates. It has also led to my appointment as a member of the Justice Committee, where among other things we will be considering the future role of the Human Rights Act.
I have been pleased with the progress of two other campaigns with which I have been involved. Fairer funding for local schools is going to become a reality, removing the wide discrepancy between what the Government spends on the education of a child in an inner city (a lot), and what it spends on those in North Oxfordshire (considerably less). That will be of direct benefit to our students. The campaign for fairer mental health funding, especially perinatal mental health, is longer-term, but it is now higher up the agenda and being taken seriously.
Next year, against the background of a continued fall in unemployment, I intend to promote work opportunities for the disabled as part of Disability Confident. I will also again be promoting the Cherwell Democracy Challenge, as a showcase for students’ debating skills.
Inevitably, though, outside events also affect what we concentrate on in Parliament. In September I started a fundraising initiative called “Singing for Syrians”, which raises money to pay the salaries of the local medical teams helping the most vulnerable people left in Syria, and to provide prosthetic limbs. It is a simple idea which has expanded all over the country, leading to well over £60,000 in donations (and counting). I wish I could say that I did not think it would be necessary to do the same next year.
I wish you a prosperous 2016!
Victoria Prentis MP (1 January 2016)