All general elections are a mixture of the national and local, and what affects NE Bedfordshire will be the decisions taken by central government and local government, and the MP has a different influence on each.

NE Bedfordshire’s prosperity, and its attractiveness as a place to live and work, and for all ages of its population, will depend most on the overall strength of the UK’s economy, and our ability to navigate the complexities of the decision to leave the EU. On this I have no doubt that NE Bedfordshire is best served by a Government led by Theresa May and the Conservatives, rather than Jeremy Corbyn and whatever coalition would support him.

The challenges of the next few years are immense. Without a strong economy we cannot guarantee our security, our personal prosperity, our public services or our communities. We are determined to address the sort of social divisions which still affect people’s life chances adversely, and have to be prepared to make the difficult decisions that will ensure a stronger health and social care system in a society where almost all of us can expect to live longer than was expected when we were born.

At national level it is not enough to have a wish list, and pretend there are no difficult choices. The Conservative Party offers leadership, a growing economy, a reach-out to every section of society and a realism that the election of 2017 needs.

Based upon this, and without repeating what’s in the national Conservative Manifesto, what’s ahead in NE Beds? Here are a few key issues to consider, which, if elected, I will be addressing:-

Local leadership:- This is worth thinking about, before we go into specifics. NE Beds’ residents are represented by Town or Parish Councils, and Unitary Authorities (Central Bedfordshire or Bedford Borough depending where you are in the 67 centres of population in NE Beds), as well as by an MP. It is essential that there is a clear local vision, and that those working for each area work together. Since 2001 I have met regularly with all local representatives, and encouraged the closest co-operation between them. While these relationships have tended to work well, there are examples where it could work better. With that in mind, and with growing communities, it is a good time to call for reviews on our market towns, principally in the Central Beds area, to find better ways of working together. This must involve community consultation, and existing representation at Town and Unitary level should lead this, with MP support.

Housing and growth:- We are an attractive area, and many people now benefit from planning decisions which have built their houses. But whilst there will be more building to provide housing for those who cannot now obtain it, there are limits, and the issues of sustainability need consideration. The debates around the recently published housing white paper gives us all the chance to make the case for ensuring adequate infrastructure to cope with new building plans. It is not just the hard infrastructure of roads and buildings, but the health professionals, teachers and others to care for a growing community. I have already met with both our planning authorities to assure them of my support in making this case to Government.

On new developments, I am very conscious that problems do not disappear once residents have moved in. New developers need to be kept under considerable scrutiny to ensure developments are completed and signed over, and I have already raised this in the last Parliament, and will continue to press the issue.

I have also been working closely with local housing associations and providers of social housing, and support strongly the Conservative Party’s manifesto plans to deliver more of this.

Education:- We are lucky to have many excellent schools locally and we should be proud of those that work in them and the families that support them. Central Bedfordshire has suffered from the historic unfair funding formula and I am pleased that a Conservative Government has committed to address the imbalance. The £4bn funding for education raises the schools budget to its highest ever level - £45 billion a year by 2022.

In Bedford Borough, there has been much change with the move to a two-tier system and I am grateful to all those who have worked together to support this process. More than £25m has been invested in the transformation to two-tier, and when the Government Chief Construction Adviser visited schools in Bedford Borough last year, he announced that Bedford was 'best in class' for its construction programme which has seen the removal of temporary classrooms and the construction of three new primary schools. 92.9% of schools have been independently judged to be either Good or Outstanding (compared to 84% nationally) by Ofsted.

Health:- The pressures on our NHS are considerable at primary and hospital level. I am following the Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STP) carefully for Bedford, Milton Keynes, and Luton and Dunstable Trusts, and believe they will lead to improved services, without the loss of facilities that some always predict. We have much to be thankful for in our NHS, but no change is never an option as modern medicine changes.

Transport:- Over recent years I have met with our rail providers to demand improved trains, and we have seen steady investment. This must continue to cope with new numbers of commuters. I have kept pressing for the development of better disability access at stations such as Biggleswade,and supported the determined efforts of local volunteers working on this. I shall continue to do so.

I have been a strong supporter of the Ivel Sprinter, and other local bus services, and other more personal transport services which will continue to have support to meet the needs of those without cars or access to them.

The future changes to the A1 are currently being assessed by the Highways Agency. I am in close contact both with them and with towns and parishes along the route, and will remain so.

Town Centres:- Our town centres illustrate one of the dilemmas of modern life. We shop and buy goods differently to thirty years ago - we go to retail parks, major supermarkets and buy online. We then still expect our town centres to be as bustling and busy as they used to be. Our small towns and larger villages are important centres to all around them, and cope remarkably with these changes. But more is needed to support independent traders and others who form the heart of a local community, to make a visit different in character from what is available at another location and help to attract those who live locally. Public transport and, above all, car parking remain key. A thriving town centre these days needs an imaginative mix of housing and shops, and we should be looking for this too.

Policing:- I welcome and support the local Police and Crime Commissioner’s decision to introduce ‘hubs’ to improve local community policing, and I attended the launch of the scheme in Biggleswade. I have regularly met with the Chief Constable and the PCC to discuss rural policing issues, and I have been supportive of the setting up of Operation Sentinel Rural - a dedicated policing team which consists of an Inspector, police Sergeant, four PCs and four PCSOs, and has been created by Bedfordshire Police to tackle crime in the more remote areas of the county. I will continue to press for further national support for a Bedfordshire police force wrongly categorised by successive governments as a rural force, when it has such a major urban area as Luton and its airport to cover, with wider crime issues associated.

The current threat of terrorist related activity remind us all of the need to get every level of policing right, from the locally based information gathering to the national ability to prevent and respond to serious threat.

Broadband and a rural community:- I have been heavily engaged in recent years, along with local residents and groups, to improve the access to broadband, in both town and rural locations. There have been frequent meetings and much criticism of BT/Openreach, as well as individual developers. Easy access to high speed broadband remains vital to our communities, and for the work and leisure options for residents.

In NE Beds, the Government funded programme has made superfast broadband available to 11,663 homes and businesses, but we need to do more and keep the focus on good broadband for all.

Agriculture and the environment:- This is especially important to an area like NE Beds. I meet regularly with farmers and the NFU, and support their manifesto for the future and dealing with Brexit.

Leisure:- Our local groups are immensely valuable to our communities, and I am proud of my existing relationship with Scouts, Sea Cadets, Biggleswade AC and local football. The need to ensure effective leisure facilities is essential, but we have moved on from councils simply making open space available, and then left largely unattended. Integrating facilities with those clubs already working with, and training, people locally is a great way forward, and we will need more of this to meet our new housing. Our volunteers across NE Beds are of course vital. I am fortunate to have met very many of them in recent years, and I know what a difference they make to communities, and in groups supporting those from the very young, the teens, through families, and into later life.

I am sure there is more we can discuss. Other issues are of course important and if I have left anything out, it is because of limitations of space. I look forward to the debate and hustings, and I offer myself as the Conservative candidate with the experience and determination to work locally, nationally and internationally in the best interests of NE Bedfordshire.