Christmas is a time which means so many things to each and every one of us.
For some it is a time to catch up with friends and family, a time to relax and enjoy the spirit of Christmas with family members new and old.
For others it is a time to celebrate their faith, celebrating all that we hold dear as Christians. Sadly though for some, it is a time of great loneliness and grief - remembering those they have lost. Maybe even because they haven’t any family with whom they can share the festivities.
For me it is a great mixture of all those things. A time for sharing and giving. A time to rekindle and strengthen my faith and also a time to spare more than a few moments remembering those I love who have passed away or those family members who live too far away to be with.
As always it is also a period of reflection. As I reflect back over the course of the last year it doesn’t take long to recognise the fabulous achievements of the Calder Valley.
Our local economy is thriving with our manufacturing base and financial sectors punching above their weight, contributing to the country’s fabulous economic growth.
Our employment rate is high with unemployment now well below two per cent. Furthermore, here in the Calder Valley we have the highest average earnings in West Yorkshire. There are more people off benefits and working, which is a great facilitator for self-esteem with people supporting themselves and their families.
Our schools are doing well too with a number of new head teachers now in post bringing new ideas and innovation to our young people and promoting the excellence that we have come to expect from our local schools.
Youth unemployment is significantly down with many more apprenticeships being taken and offered, and university places at record highs.
Real innovation and plans to deliver care within our communities by our local Clinical Commissioning Group (doctors) will give us all better access to our NHS services.
There was also the fabulous showcase event with the Grand Depart of the Tour de France. The Calder Valley seen by billions of TV viewers all over the world, promoting and selling all the wonderful attributes of the valley. People still ask: “Where were you on Tour De France day?”
I feel incredibly proud to have played my role with some of my MP colleagues in fighting to get the Government to underwrite the cost. A brilliant day for the Calder Valley and a brilliant day for Yorkshire and one which has and will continue to pay us dividends for a long time to come.
There is, however, still so much more to be done to put our country’s dire finances back on track. The Government’s economic plan is working, but dealing with the inherited £180 billion annual overspend is only half way there.
We are still overspending around £90 billion per year, which means we are borrowing that money, and our children’s children will be paying back the debt. Immoral and wrong on so many levels, but it is being tackled.
Our schools and colleges are doing much better at providing the skilled workforce we need but now unemployment is low, our world class businesses are suffering from a chronic shortage of skilled people to fulfil their business needs.
Our hospitals and GPs’ surgeries are struggling to recruit doctors, nurses and consultants. We have a shortage of 81,000 engineers, just to name a couple of sectors. This isn’t about budgets, this is about a skills shortage and we really do need to address this very quickly if we are to maintain our economic edge.
If we don’t have a strong economy then there is no money to provide the hospitals, schools, infrastructure and local services we all rely on.
Despite the work still needed to be done, the forecasts are looking good, with the UK starting to weather the storm and with some real positive things to look forward to.
I’m looking forward to catching up with family, friends and neighbours too over this period and, despite all the health warnings, will try not to feel too guilty about a little excess such as the odd extra mince pie. If we can’t do it at Christmas when can we do it?
Merry Christmas and let’s all look forward to a great New Year.
By Calder Valley MP Craig Whittaker