Happy New Year!
Thank you to all those hard at work over the break, including staff at GCHQ. Having spoken over the last year to my ministerial counterparts in the USA, the Council of Europe, and at the G7, I know first-hand just how admired and appreciated our signals intelligence capability is.
Here in Cheltenham, 2023 was a momentous year. Although inflation continued to weigh on households and businesses, it was also the time when 10 key local projects received vital investment to help secure a bright future for our town.
First the £400m Government-funded Air Balloon road scheme. Despite some mischief-makers speculating it was for the chop, this massive project is now fully underway. It means a once-in-a-generation investment in Cheltenham’s economy, as well as a reduction in air pollution and road deaths.
Second, £10.2m was secured for a brand-new orthopaedic theatre and birthing unit at Cheltenham General Hospital. In addition we will be receiving high-tech equipment including ultra-clean ventilation, modern operating equipment and x-ray facilities with the potential for robotic assisted surgery. Taken together with the new Chedworth Wing built opposite the Lido, it takes total capital investment in our hospital since 2015 to over £40m.
Third, the Government agreed to award £20m from the Levelling-Up Fund to Cheltenham to help build the Cyber Innovation Centre near GCHQ, creating high-paid jobs of the future.
Fourth, in 2023 the Government has invested £4m in a state-of-the-art construction skills academy at GlosCol in Hesters Way to deliver fantastic opportunities for Cheltonians, and a pipeline of local skills. That’s on top of an earlier £3m grant for the Advanced Digital Academy and £4m for a new carbon neutral heating scheme.
Fifth, in September Cheltenham Saracens FC and Cheltenham Skittles League were granted £458,000 in Government funding to upgrade their facilities and build a new community sports hub at Petersfield Park.
Sixth, around £500,000 has been secured from Severn Trent to deliver an engineering solution near Dunkerton’s to the decades-long scandal of sewage draining into the River Chelt during heavy rain.
Seventh, in April the Government, Premier League and FA granted Leckhampton Rovers FC £428,000 to help transform its Burrows Playing Fields home, with extensive grass pitch works and the refurbishment of the changing room pavilion.
Eighth, the Government agreed to invest £250,000 in a new digital learning and skills hub at Oakley Library, supporting local schools and students, early years children and isolated adults in sheltered accommodation.
Ninth, the Government invested £4.4m in bus services in Gloucestershire, helping to bring back more services in Hesters Way and St Mark’s.
Tenth, £6m was awarded by the Government to UGlos to build a cyber and digital skills centre at the Cheltenham campus.
Cheltenham is one of the most special places in Britain. I am passionate about making it better still, particularly for young people from all backgrounds. It’s because I am so proud of our town that I invited the German ambassador to visit, as well as the High Commissioner of Australia. I know there’s more to do for Cheltenham of course, but for now thank you to all those in our town who worked so hard in 2023 to lay the foundations for the strong economy and vibrant community of the future.
In my ministerial roles, first as Defence Procurement minister and more recently as Lord Chancellor, it has been busy too. I was proud to jointly authorise the sending of Challenger II tanks to Ukraine, as well as night-vision equipment and defensive munitions. I also cut steel on our latest Type 26 frigate, HMS Birmingham, and our new Dreadnought-class nuclear submarine, HMS Warspite.
As Lord Chancellor, I introduced measures following the Lucy Letby case to require offenders to attend court for their sentencing hearing, so they hear society’s condemnation expressed by the judge. I also authorised so-called anti-SLAPP legislation to clamp down on oligarchs and plutocrats who abuse our world-renowned legal system to threaten and intimidate journalists. And I was delighted to work with Love Island’s Georgia Harrison to bring forward probably the toughest revenge porn laws in the world, so that cowardly ex-partners cannot use the internet to blackmail and humiliate.
Finally, it was a great honour to attend the coronation of Charles III as Lord Chancellor, and I made sure to have a badge with the crest of Cheltenham pinned to my ceremonial robes.
I will never forget the first words of the new King at the start of the ceremony, ‘I come not to be served, but to serve’. That should stand as the motto for everyone in public life.
Very best wishes for a happy and healthy 2024.