THERE is some really positive economic news this week with growth at 0.6% in the last quarter.

After a very difficult few years with the pandemic and the energy shock, these figures are proof that the economy has turned a corner and since 2010 the UK has been the fastest growing major European economy, with the IMF predicting the same for the next six years. I know things are still tough for many of my constituents, but the plan is working, and we must stick to it.

This week 27 new bathing water sites have been announced across the country and I am delighted that French Weir on the River Tone in the heart of Taunton is one of them. Thank you to all who have pushed for this. I was pleased to play my part in Westminster, meeting with the new Water Minister on a number of occasions to discuss the project. 

Delivering fast broadband across Taunton Deane, in particular to our most rural areas, many of which are still not receiving the required service, is an issue I continue to work on. In Taunton Deane, while over 93 per cent of premises can access superfast broadband (>30 Mbps), and almost 66% have access to a gigabit-capable connection (>100 Mbps) disappointingly, this is below the national average of almost 98% for superfast coverage and 82% for gigabit coverage. And although we have seen a big jump in gigabit in Taunton Deane since December 2019 when only 5% of premises had access, for those who have not benefited this is of little consolation. I stressed the unacceptability of the situation recently to the chief executive of BDUK and I am meeting his team shortly to get some answers regarding dates by which we can expect fast and reliable broadband and mobile coverage to be delivered to the hard-to-reach areas. I will be presenting him with feedback from a survey I am carrying out in the constituency and please do get in touch with my office if you would like to feed in your views.

At the time of writing, I have just attended the highly successful annual UK Farm to Fork Summit in No. 10 where the PM reiterated his support for the farming industry and announced the publication of the first ever Food Security Index and in relation to the latter, he announced additional funding for the horticultural sector to increase our production of home-grown fruit and veg. We owe our farmers a great debt of gratitude for putting food on our tables and caring for the environment despite the challenges of the recent poor weather.  

The new Sustainable Farming Initiative is the most successful scheme DEFRA has ever run; 20,000 farmers are already signed up to take actions to improve the environment which in many cases will improve food production. The schemes sit alongside all the measures we are taking to ensure food security and indeed to boost food production which includes the largest ever grant scheme to support productivity and technology at £427m. There is also more support than ever for our hard-pressed farmers who have suffered from the severe wet weather over many months through the extended Farming Recovery Fund.

I have answered two debates in Parliament this week on biodiversity and the importance of protection and increasing nature. I am proud that as a Government we have done more than any to legislate and set targets to halt the decline in nature and many of the actions we are now paying our farmers to undertake, will enable us to do this alongside producing sustainable food.