The next few weeks at Westminster will be dominated by the leadership contest. The person elected to lead the Conservative Party will immediately become Prime Minister, so as Yoda might say: choose carefully we must.
But in the meantime, proper work goes on. Tuesday 25th June sees the inaugural committee meeting of the All-Party Group for the Great South West, something that we launched at Westminster some weeks ago. The idea is that this cross-party forum will be the voice for all businesses, local authorities and Local enterprise Partnerships in the South West to interface with Parliament and together extract a better deal from government for our region.
Our region for this purpose is the four counties of Cornwall (and Isles of Scilly) Devon, Dorset and most of Somerset. (The top bit of Somerset and Avon are unitary counties that do not wish to be included). It has taken some time to resolve exactly what our region is. Is it the seven counties including Gloucestershire and Wiltshire? Too large and in any event the Bristol area looks east and not south. Is it just Devon and Cornwall? Too small to e strategic. Anyway we have settled on the four counties, given it the name Great South West and intend to give it our best shot. We want to have the voice and weight of other English regions.
At our first meeting transport is very firmly on the table. We aim to review progress with Network Rail and GWR. It is good to see the resilience works at Dawlish finally getting underway, and the new trains and new timetable are beginning to make a real difference. But after years of under investment we must keep the pressure on. I want to see progress on improving onboard connectivity to ensure that all passengers are connected to their business or leisure worlds at all times.
We also will be hearing from Highways England about the plans to dual the A303, including tunnelling around Stonehenge. This is a strategic route in and out of our region and as we all know it gets very snarled up. The government has committed itself to funding this major project, but it seems to have gone quiet recently.
Ben Bradshaw the veteran Labour MP for Exeter and I will be co-chairing this group. We will over the next few months be looking at ways to improve this magnificent region that we all love so much.