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Sat, 28 November 2020

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By Lord Garnier
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Brexit aside, our priorities must lie in prioritising education, health and policing

Brexit aside, our priorities must lie in prioritising education, health and policing
4 min read

It is crime and Policing that dominate MP’s inbox, particularly the ‘ultra-local’ crimes, writes Ben Bradley MP

So much remains uncertain, but personally I’m delighted that we as a party have now grasped the Brexit nettle, and that our Prime Minister has come forward with a clear determination to deliver on the referendum result. We are undoubtedly the architects of Brexit and we should own it, get it done and then make our case for a positive and independent Britain. Whether opposition parties allow that to happen over the coming months will have a huge impact on our outlook for the future.

That said, we’re dealing in hypotheticals here, so let’s pretend Brexit has been delivered and we’re planning our strong domestic agenda for an election on the other side. So far, I think the Prime Minister has chosen the right priorities. In my constituency it is crime and Policing that dominate my inbox, particularly the ‘ultra-local’ crimes: the antisocial behaviour, public drug use, ‘boy racers’ on your estate. It’s the stuff that can only be resolved by a front-line neighbourhood police presence, getting back to a time when your local copper knew all the local trouble-makers and you knew where to find them when you needed them. An investment in more officers is very welcome, which of course remains dependent on a more prolonged period of Conservative Government. There are other front-line services involved here too, and investment and reform in the proactive parts of local government would be welcome – children’s services, youth clubs and the care system for example. All of these things can contribute to a better long-term future for our communities and should be key priorities.

In that same vein our education system should always, in my eyes, be at the top of every government’s agenda. We like to shout about our credentials as a party of opportunity, and those opportunities can only be realised if we equip our young people with the basic skills to grasp them. Our school reforms have been incredibly positive for the academic outcomes of many children, but still there are so many for whom other social challenges get in the way of learning. Extra investment in school funding and SEND is welcome, and vital, and there’s more to do. I’d like to see a big piece of work about supporting the most disadvantaged children, not for academic outcomes alone but simply to enable those kids who have the toughest lives to settle and adapt at school; to learn the basics so that they can have a chance in life. That doesn’t always happen, and if we’re going to ensure that every child has the opportunity to thrive, we need to do more.

We’ve made a good start on these issues and they should be the building blocks of our new commitments to the country. We know that our health service and social care are key priorities for the public too. Social care in particular needs a grown up, cross-party conversation. It needs a long-term agreement so that it’s not used as an electoral weapon, and bluntly that cooperation is simply not possible with Brexit as the backdrop. We need to commit to tackling this challenge, it can’t be left any longer, but we also cannot allow good ideas to be dragged down by negative election campaigning. I want to see Government commit to tackling this is in the next Parliament, when perhaps we can return to a more collaborative approach. Our long-term commitment of an extra £33bn a year needs to yield outcomes for the public, and that means driving reform to push forward those primary care and community health services, and to do more to recruit and retain more great people in those services. This work is underway in the 10-year plan, and we need to show results.

In short, the Prime Minister has precisely the right priorities. Schools, health and policing are the main topics of doorstep discussion (Brexit aside) and the areas where perhaps positive change will be most welcome and effective. I look forward to a strong manifesto building on the Prime Minister’s early commitments in these areas.

Ben Bradley is Conservative MP for Mansfield


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