This is the point between Christmas and New Year when most of us can’t stand the sight of leftover turkey - I hope you’ve managed to enjoy some time with your family and friends and Father Christmas had you on his list for a festive delivery.
Much of the commentary on TV, radio and in the press has been about the risks from the new Omicron variant, how infectious it is, how will the vaccines work, should we lock down? At the time of writing this column, cases in Warrington have been rising, but fortunately hospitalisations remain steady and the likelihood of becoming seriously ill from Omicron seems to be low, particularly if you have had a booster. By Christmas Eve more than 70% of people eligible for a booster in Warrington have come forward, we’re making great progress in protecting ourselves and our loved ones locally.
Scientists are learning more every day about this variant, and data is still being collected about its full impact. It is my view that we need to try and keep the economy open as much as possible, I want to see businesses continuing to be able to trade and people being able to go about their everyday lives - if we have to live with some measures like wearing face masks and Covid passes for a short time longer as we learn about the variant then so be it, these relatively simple measures help to keep life as normal as possible.
When I look back at the column I wrote for the Warrington Guardian this time last year, we are in much better position than we found ourselves - 90% of Warrington has been vaccinated at least once, many people have had 2nd doses and boosters too. The Government made the right choices, investing in science and then removing restrictions in the summer. Allowing people to get on with their lives, aware of the risks but taking responsibility for ourselves was the right call.
One of the highlights of the year for me was when the Hynet North West Energy project received the green light from the Government and was awarded an earlier delivery date than first envisaged. It might not be that well known in the community just yet, but it is genuinely a game-changing project that will create thousands of jobs and help to decarbonise industry in Warrington and across the North West. It will provide a massive boost to the supply chain companies, and critically will work with younger people and apprentices to upskill, making the energy industry an attractive sector to work in.
We also received the news this week that schools in Warrington will receive £14m in extra funding next year, as part of a £4 billion funding boost from the Government across the country. This will take our total schools funding in Warrington to £190m. The funding boost will help hire more teachers, get materials to support pupils learning, and support pupils with special needs. Over the two years I have been the MP for Warrington South I have visited almost every school across the constituency, and I know how much this funding will help them on a day-to-day basis. It will ensure every young person can receive the start in life they deserve.
I was reminded of this on a recent visit to Great Sankey High School for their Community Awards ceremony - celebrating the incredible achievements of young people at GSHS and Barrow Hall College. We were able to recognise incredible fundraisers, community champions, young people who’ve undertaken acts of astounding bravery and students who’ve battled against the odds to overcome personal challenges. I want to thank Headteacher John Shannon for the invitation, it was a lovely awards ceremony, filled with very humbling stories which filled everyone with pride.
As we head into the new year, I’m also continuing to make the case for a new hospital in Warrington. As readers will know, parts are now well over 100 years old and whilst all those at the NHS Trust have done an absolutely fantastic job throughout the pandemic, we need a radical improvement to our healthcare infrastructure in the town. It is good news that a bid has now been submitted to the Government for funding for a new hospital, and just before we broke up for Winter recess, I was able to put pressure on Health Ministers in the House of Commons Chamber to ensure Warrington is at the top of their minds when deciding which projects will be funded. I will continue to update residents on any progress in this area.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who have again kept us safe and the country moving this year. Teachers, firefighters, the police, our NHS, hospice and social care staff, the armed services, posties, shop workers, public service workers, delivery drivers to name some of those who have been the bedrock keeping us safe, supplied and looked after. I also want to thank all the community volunteers who have helped support our Booster vaccine rollout. Finally, small businesses that are the backbone of our local economy continue to need our backing, if you can, #shoplocal in the New Year.
In the meantime, I hope you and your family have a wonderful new year and here’s to an even better 2022.