DevComms director Charles Bushe offers the first Spotlight on Westminster of 2021, looking at what the region’s MPs have been up to.

As the Government and opposition parties reflect on the beginning of a new year, promotions have been the order of the day for MPs across the Thames Valley:

  • Alok Sharma (Reading West, Con) will now be focussing full-time on his role as president of the UN COP26 climate conference, with some media sources suggesting this was a reaction to pressure from the Biden administration for a ‘heavy hitter’ to be in charge;
  • Matt Rodda (Reading East, Lab) has picked up a new role as Shadow Pensions Minister, as part of Keir Starmer’s frontbench reshuffle; and
  • John Howell (Henley, Con) has been invited by the Prime Minister to become the leader of the British delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

One senior MP who has had a somewhat less enjoyable week is DEFRA Minister Victoria Prentis (Banbury, Con). She has faced calls to resign her position as a Fisheries Minister after reportedly admitting that she hadn’t read the post-Brexit trade deal because she was busy organising a nativity in her village.

Unsurprisingly, opposition parties didn’t react well to this news, although Victoria Prentis has defended her position, saying that she read the text as soon as possible, and Downing Street has insisted that Boris Johnson maintains confidence in his minister.

In Reading, Alok Sharma and Matt Rodda were both delighted to hear that Reading Borough Council has been exclusively invited to develop a business case for redevelopment of Reading Gaol after the previous buyer pulled out.

Alok Sharma had been lobbying Robert Buckland, Justice Secretary, to allow the gaol to be developed into a cultural hub for the town, and Matt Rodda undertook a high-profile campaign to save the gaol, which attracted some impressive celebrity endorsement.

On January 13, in a debate in the House of Commons regarding the elections scheduled for May 2021, John Redwood (Wokingham, Con) and Joy Morrissey (Beaconsfield, Con) stated that the elections must go ahead amidst much media speculation that they may be postponed.

Mr Redwood said that the elections are ‘crucial to our democracy’ and Joy Morrissey said that there is no reason to postpone, as elections have been successfully held elsewhere around the world over the past year.

Also in the Commons, Rob Butler (Aylesbury, Con) applauded Buckinghamshire Council and other local bodies for working ‘incredibly hard’ to regenerate Aylesbury.

He asked Mr Jenrick how the Government would assist with regeneration projects and, in response, the Secretary of State referred to the Garden Town Project, as well as highlighting planning reforms which he says will support town centres.

On the other side of Buckinghamshire, Steve Baker (Wycombe, Con) met with Buckinghamshire Council officers and members to discuss how £11.89 million from the Government’s Future High Streets Fund will be spent in High Wycombe town centre.

He has suggested that reduced planning restrictions and fewer properties in council ownership would help to make High Wycombe a ‘vibrant place’.

And finally, Layla Moran (Oxford West & Abingdon, LibDem) wrote a piece for the Oxford Mail on January 15 stating that the development of new homes was increasing the risk of flooding in Abingdon.

She also drew attention to Yarnton, saying that the Cherwell Local Plan ‘will build homes on land that floods regularly’, and suggested that money for the ‘paused’ Oxford-Cambridge Expressway should be diverted to help deliver improved flood defences.

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