2017 will see key legislation going through Parliament that will directly affect Central Devon. The rollout of superfast broadband remains one of my top priorities in our constituency and the Government has already invested £1.7 billion in broadband nationally with 92% of homes and businesses now able to access superfast speeds - but in Central Devon where sparsity is a key challenge we are down at around 70%. That is not to say that progress has not been made (especially across Dartmoor) and I am excited about the prospect of significant further coverage for our constituency in 2017 and beyond. In addition to the work that I have been carrying out locally I will also be supporting the Digital Economy Bill that will be going through the Commons later this year. The Bill will introduce a Universal Service Obligation guaranteeing that every premises in the country has access to broadband at a speed of 10Mbps as an absolute minimum by the end of this Parliament. This is an important recognition that broadband is as vital to individuals, businesses and communities as telephone and postal services.
Another key challenge locally is access to rural public transport. Rural isolation can prevent many, particularly elderly people from accessing social networks and makes it harder for people to travel to work. Rural bus services are absolutely vital and as part of the Government’s ‘devolution revolution’ the Bus Services Bill that is currently being debated in Parliament aims to unlock the significant potential that exists for the bus industry, particularly in rural areas such as Central Devon. Powers that will be provided within the Bill could be used to ensure that rural areas have a bus service that links more directly and conveniently to county shopping and employment centres and that connectivity with rail services is improved. I will be paying close attention to this Bill as it progresses through the Commons with a close eye on how rural bus services can best benefit from it.
When Theresa May entered Downing Street for the first time as Prime Minister, she pledged to build a ‘country that works for everyone’. I am strongly committed to social justice, having previously contributed to work carried out by the Centre for Social Justice Commission. I remain concerned about the future of those within our care system. Currently, 40% of those aged between 19-21 who have left the care system are not in employment, education or training compared with 14% of all 19 to 21 year olds. Nationally there are 70,000 children currently looked after by their local authority – 700 of these are in Devon. I am pleased that the Children and Social Work Bill has a firm focus on improving better opportunities (especially in the area of employment) for young people as they leave care and providing them with greater levels of support. This too will be a Bill that I will be scrutinising closely as it makes its way through Parliament.