Wishing everyone belated, happy and peaceful Easter wishes and hoping like me, you had the chance to spend some quality time with family and friends. I know many across Taunton Deane will have been thinking about Her Royal Highness The Princess of Wales and her family given her recent cancer news.

She must now be given the time and space she needs to focus on her treatment and be with her family. Cancer is a ghastly disease which has sadly touched on so many of our lives, if anything beneficial might come out of this it is the fact Her Royal Highness has spoken out about her diagnosis, and this may help others.

Transport has been a major focus of my work in Taunton Deane, particularly improving public transport. I’m pleased to have been instrumental in the upgrade of Taunton Rail Station and now having secured £5m for a rail station in Wellington, we are well on the way to delivering this.

As well as train travel, bus travel is still important locally enabling people to get to work, school, and appointments. I have been working on a greener, cleaner public transport service and I am delighted to have just secured £2.2 million of Government funds to invest alongside First Bus South’s £12.5 million for 25 new electric buses for Somerset.

The new state-of-the-art buses will also meet Enhanced Accessibility Standards and come with features to improve passenger experience such as Wi-Fi and USB charging sockets, providing users with considerably quieter, smoother, and more comfortable journeys. These routes will operate from Taunton to Minehead, Taunton to Burnham-on-Sea, Taunton to Wellington and the town centre which cover routes 28, 21, 22, 1 and 2.

It's no secret that we're a community of passionate animal lovers. An animal welfare bill that has recently passed its House of Commons stage is the Hunting Trophy Bill. I was proud to be the Minister at the despatch box supporting this Bill which will ban the import of animal body parts from a list of precious endangered species including lions, rhinos and elephants killed during hunting exploits. 

On a completely different note, I continue to work locally to ensure we have the best possible education offer, to deliver the skills we need for our growing businesses in Taunton Deane.

The Government has made huge progress in building a world-class apprenticeship system from the ground up since 2010, which is making a major contribution towards this. It is a tremendous accolade that Bridgwater & Taunton College have just received a Queen’s Award for Excellence for their outstanding nursing programmes.

Building on this, great news that Government have just awarded the college almost £300k to support even more young people into degree apprenticeships, helping them gain the skills they need to succeed.

Finally, I’m continuing to work with the Somerset NHS Foundation Trust on the planned upgrade for the entire site of Musgrove Park Hospital. The Trust are currently working on the strategic business case with a view to submitting that to Ministers by the end of this year.

Something that I am particularly engaged with is whether we can have a phased approach to the redevelopment, in particular getting the maternity unit up and running as soon as feasibly possible and I’ve been engaging with Ministers to see how we can constructively work together to move this forward.

I’m also pleased to report that building work for the new state-of-the-art £87m surgical centre at Musgrove Park Hospital is moving at pace and every time I drive past it is wonderful to see the progress being made.