I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year. I look to 2021 with hope and optimism. Christmas was not the same this year for any of us, but I hope people have at least been able to have a well-deserved rest over the festive period.
We have seen incredible progress in the roll-out of vaccines, well ahead of anywhere in the world. Over half a million of the most vulnerable have received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine and with the approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, we will be able to rapidly scale-up vaccinations. This cannot come soon enough given the emergence of a much more contagious Covid mutation in London and the south-east.
It is vital we all remain vigilant and redouble our efforts now to control the virus and give more time for the vaccine to be further rolled-out. We have all made huge sacrifices this year, for many more than should ever be expected and none of us can wait to see a more normal life resume. We cannot give in now when a route through is in sight.
Whilst Coronavirus has been a huge distraction and limited much throughout 2020, we have still made significant progress in delivering for Stoke-on-Trent. Most importantly, from the 1 January the Brexit transition comes to an end. Herculean efforts have secured a trade deal that finally delivers on our commitments to get Brexit done. A great deal which is in the best interests of Stoke-on-Trent and the whole UK.
We will be free once more to control our own laws, borders and money. Enacting what many people voted for in Stoke-on-Trent. We can now build on our new freedoms as a progressive independent free-trading nation, cut free from the EU whilst maintaining important economic trade links. The opportunity to be stronger and more prosperous than ever and ensure people in Stoke-on-Trent are the ones who benefit.
For Brexit supporters, it was not just about leaving the EU, it was about much more. It was an expression that things must change, that we are no longer satisfied of being ignored and left behind by successive Governments. I am determined to see things improve, creating the opportunities we need and transforming the lives of people in Stoke-on-Trent.
I have consistently made it my mission to be a strong voice for Stoke-on-Trent in Parliament and with the Government, to deliver on this promise. I am focusing now on the bright future Stoke-on-Trent is being offered by this Governments levelling-up policies and I will be doing everything in my power throughout the next year to ensure we get the investment and attention our area deserves.
Whilst the pandemic has been a major setback to the successes we were starting to deliver, we were one of the fastest growing cities nationally prior to the pandemic. I know we can be that powerhouse again and deliver the change needed to get us back on track. We have so much untapped potential, just waiting to be unlocked. Our recovery from Covid must make us much stronger than before and especially in Stoke-on-Trent.
While there is much more to do in 2021, I can proudly say we have begun to deliver on the promises we made. Earlier this month we secured huge investment for Stoke-on-Trent through the Transforming Cities Fund, £35.7 million invested in improving our local bus and rail networks, making it easier for people to get around. Our plans to reopen Meir Rail Station have also attracted Government support and are progressing. Next year I will continue lobbying my colleagues for further investment, such as the reopening the Stoke-Leek line with a station at Fenton Manor, and looking at options to reopen either Wedgwood or Trentham rail stations.
Securing investment for our town centres and high streets will continue to be a top priority. They were in a bad state before Covid and I will be making it my mission to ensure we attract the support needed. We have seen some great progress with new developments underway in Fenton and improvements to Albert Square starting in the new year. It is fantastic to see Restoke have recently secured an Arts Council England grant to bring Fenton Town Hall ballroom back into use as a new community arts venue.
In Longton we have seen nearly £1 million secured through Historic England and the City Council to improve the condition of town centre buildings, opening them up again for new uses. Longton Town Hall will also benefit from the Getting Building Fund turning the upper floor into a coworking space that will help support employment opportunities.
I will be working hard over the next year to secure the money our towns and communities deserve through both the levelling-up fund and Brownfield Fund, helping attract housing and business development on derelict sites. Our town centres across North Staffordshire must thrive again, attracting new industries and skilled jobs, as well as creating new homes.
I am confident Stoke-on-Trent will have a bright future, the one it’s always deserved. We will all be a part of it, for the city wouldn’t be anything without our amazing people, recognised recently as the kindest anywhere in the UK. I want to thank everyone for continuing to go above and beyond to keep our city going. Especially now during what has been the most challenging year, I wish everyone a happier and more prosperous 2021.
(published in The Sentinel 29/12/20)