I hope regular readers of this blog had a happy and peaceful Christmas.
It's the one time of the year that this job really stops - the Government and the Council effectively shut down, you only get emails if there's a real emergency - and I get to spend some quality time with my wife and three boys. But before you know it, it's over and the New Year is upon you.
Nationally, 2013 looks like being another tough year, but things are headed in the right direction:
- the deficit has fallen by over a quarter and is predicted to carry on falling each year;
- employment is rising and unemployment is falling;
- exports to the major emerging economies have doubled; and
- if you exclude financial services and North Sea oil and gas, which face particular problems, the economy has grown by 2% a year since the last Election.
But because of the international situation things are not improving as quickly as any of us hoped and as a result it is going to take longer than planned to tackle the deficit.
In our hearts, most of us recognise that there’s no easy way out of the financial mess that the last Government got this country into. We can’t carry on spending money we don’t have: it would be economically insane – we’d end up in the same mess as Greece; and it would be morally wrong to burden our children with more debt. But the Government must continue to do all it can, given the financial constraints, to help hard-working families with the cost of living.
Locally, there are two clear priorities for 2013.
First, we need to break the impasse between Westfield and Hammerson's. We are lucky to have two of the top retail developers in the country interested in investing around £1 billion in the town, but we need to know for certain that one of these schemes is going to happen and we need to know soon. If we get that, it will encourage others to invest here; if we don't, there is a risk that more businesses could move out. I will be pushing the Council and the Mayor of London to break the deadlock.
Second, we need to get on top of the borough's housing crisis. I am hoping to take the Leader and Chief Executive of the Council to meet with Ministers from the Department of Communities & Local Government and the Department of Work & Pensions next week to identify what more can be done to reduce the number of families in bed and breakfast accommodation.
And on a personal note, my objectives for 2013 are to see my Private Members Bill become law; to campaign for tougher sentencing for prolific offenders - about which more shortly; and to lose some more weight!.
I wish you and your families all the best for the year ahead.