As residents of Monmouthshire, we are fortunate enough to live in a beautiful part of the world but I am always mindful that there are problems which need addressing.
I am a father of three and have witnessed at first-hand the wonderful care our dedicated doctors and nurses offer. Yet it seems extremely unfair that patients in Wales wait longer for operations than patients in England. Cancer sufferers in Wales do not have the same access to life-prolonging treatments as patients in England and there is no Cancer Drugs Fund. As chair of the parliamentary Welsh Affairs Committee, I am leading an inquiry into cross-border arrangements between the English and Welsh healthcare systems and the experience of patients who rely on services on the other side of the border.
Broadband is an issue of real importance locally. A few months ago, I held a public meeting with BT Wales director Ann Beynon and Superfast Cymru programme director Ed Hunt so we could put our complaints directly to them. I am hopeful we will soon start to see improvements. BT also needs to be upfront about which areas are years away from the roll-out of fibre broadband so residents can opt for alternative methods of getting a viable internet connection, such as satellite.
The rising Severn Bridge tolls are causing a great deal of anger. I have produced a comprehensive report on the tolling system, which can be read on the Welsh Affairs Committee’s website. The good news is that within the next few years, the cost of building the M4 Second Severn Crossing will have been paid off. The time has come for the UK and Welsh governments to consult on what will happen next. At the very least, the Department for Transport has already confirmed that tolls will not be subject to VAT when the bridges return to public ownership. Personally, I will be seeking a much better deal than this.
Despite the problems, I would never want to live anywhere other than Monmouthshire. MPs spend three or four days a week in London when Parliament is sitting, returning on a Thursday to work in the constituency. For me, this is the most rewarding part of the job and I am always humbled by the many unsung heroes I meet. The volunteers who run the sports clubs, the charities, and who organise events such as the Abergavenny Food Festival, Monmouth Raft Race and Chepstow Show. Those who are out in all weathers keeping us safe – not just the police and NHS staff, but also the council workers willing to drop everything at a moment’s notice to build emergency flood defences or grit the roads when snow threatens.
We are indeed fortunate in so many ways and I am looking forward to a few hours of enjoying the countryside on my bike over the festive period. I hope to see you there. In the meantime, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all.