As MPs return to parliament, what can we in the east expect from them?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 09 January 2020
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MPs returned to Westminster this week, and we really are seeing business returning to something approaching normality in the political world.
True, we have the distraction of the leadership contest for the Labour Party getting under way - but the candidates are all looking quite predictable and the first question we have to see answered is whether all will get enough support from MPs to actually make it on to the official ballot.
The key to Labour's opposition strategy for the next four years is now entirely in the hands of party members, by Easter we should know how the party will operate during the current parliament.
But when it comes to affecting the lives of members of the public in this country, it is now the Conservative government which is in the driving seat and effectively has complete control until (probably) May 2024.
And for all the comments we hear about how important it sees investing in infrastructure and making the country better in the future, I have serious doubts about whether we shall see many improvements in this part of the world.
The main reason for that is that we are hearing a great deal about how much the north of England needs investment - and I do fear that when it comes to government spending this region does lag somewhat.
We've seen that with roads and rail infrastructure in the past - and there is a real worry that is going to continue. I have to say I've been very disappointed with recent comments from Network Rail about its contribution to improving rail services in East Anglia.
Our MPs will need to work hard to persuade the government that we need investment as well - the A14 and rail links in East Anglia are as important to UK plc and the businesses that trade with the world through Felixstowe and Harwich as they are to those of us who use them on a daily basis to get from Ipswich to Bury St Edmunds or to commute to London.
We need the national bodies which manage these assets to be compelled to do the work that is needed to invest in their future.
Back in 2013 when the rail campaign to improve services in East Anglia was launched, Network Rail was a fully paid-up partner to the twin-track (sorry) strategy of bringing in new trains AND upgrading the rail infrastructure.
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Upgrading the rail infrastructure wasn't just about replacing old track and points in Colchester. It was building a new third track between Chelmsford and Witham to ease congestion, building a new twin-track bridge at the entrance to Norwich and rebuilding Haughley and Ely North junctions to improve both Great Eastern Main Line and cross-country capacity and speed.
Seven years down the line the new trains are starting to arrive, but where are the rail infrastructure improvements? Nowhere to be seen.
Greater Anglia is in the process of introducing its new trains but the government-owned Network Rail is still looking at options for major investment and shows no signs of following through on a commitment it made in 2013!
If the government wants to show that this region matters to it, someone from the Department for Transport really should tell Network Rail to keep its word.
Other major new investments in the region may fare better.
I suspect with having the West Suffolk MP as Secretary of State for Health and the Bury St Edmunds MP as Junior Health Minister there is a reasonable chance that civil servants at that department will keep the plans for a new West Suffolk Hospital bubbling away nicely.
But will other projects get the push they need in future?
Central Suffolk MP Dr Dan Poulter has spoken about the importance of investing in the region's mental health services - but he has lost a valuable ally in that struggle with the retirement of keen campaigner Sir Norman Lamb from North Norfolk.
And on the school and university front, we have seen some investment over the last decade - but will that continue in the years ahead?
Overall this region might not be seen as having all the social issues that have blighted parts of the north of England and Midlands - and it might not have a large number of marginal constituents with voters that the government needs to keep onside.
But there are major issues that are important to East Anglian residents - and we have as much right to have our issues considered by the government as those in any other region of the United Kingdom!
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