In last month’s column I wrote about how pleased I was that Jeremy Hunt had become our new Chancellor of the Exchequer. In writing that, little did I know that a few weeks later I would be appointed a Minister in his Treasury team. All I can say is that it remains a special privilege to be telephoned by the Downing Street switchboard with the words: ‘The Prime Minister is on the line’, and I was extremely honoured to be offered the role of Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury.
My Ministerial portfolio is very wide ranging, covering fuel, alcohol, and tobacco duties; energy; net zero; growth and productivity, and Crown Estates – among others. Indeed, in this week’s Treasury Oral questions, I answered colleagues on everything from East-West rail; to mileage rates (‘AMAPs’); to off grid energy (including heating oil); to petrol and diesel duty; to Floating Offshore Wind.
Last week I had my first overseas Ministerial visit, to COP in Egypt, where I attended ‘Net Zero’ related roundtables and meetings with other finance Ministers from around the world. As is typical at such events, this included a number of bilateral meetings, i.e., one to ones with other finance Ministers. I believe that our involvement in COP and climate policies offers many benefits, not just in terms of a greener and cleaner planet, but also economic advantages for the UK.
For example, it was striking that in three of my discussions with Finance Ministers, the country concerned had chosen to list their sovereign ‘green bonds’ in the UK (specifically, Uruguay, Mexico, and our hosts, Egypt). This essentially means that they had chosen to raise funds for environmental projects using the London Stock Exchange. The point is, for all that South Suffolk has a local economy whereby manufacturing and agriculture remain important components for employment and output, at a national level we remain a predominantly services-based economy - and our commitment to being the greenest finance centre represents a strong opportunity for future investment.
Most importantly, at COP I was able to announce important new policies. I confirmed that the UK would be the first nation to use ‘Climate Resilient Debt Clauses’. Essentially, this idea would entail that when a developing nation was hit by a climate shock – e.g., a tornado – they would be able to pause debt payments to focus all of their resources on the national emergency that they faced. UK Export Finance will be the first sovereign agency to offer such clauses, and we hope that other nations will follow suit.
Of course, I very much remain the MP for South Suffolk, committed as ever to fighting for those policy priorities at a local level that I was elected on. When I was a Justice Minister, I still managed to make significant progress on local issues, such as pushing National Grid to engage in a fairer fashion on their ‘East Anglia GREEN’ project, and I will continue to work as hard as I can on this, and other issues affecting my constituents.
A case in point is Gainsborough’s House, Sudbury. I was so pleased to attend the official launch of the new National Centre for Thomas Gainsborough on Saturday evening. I know this project has taken immense patience, fortitude and planning form Director Mark Bills and his team at the museum. There was a fantastic turnout at the weekend to welcome a truly stunning new jewel in the crown of our local heritage offer.
I was pleased to do my bit in backing the bid by Gainsborough’s House for the Lottery Funding, and other funding applications, that made this all possible. I also raised the project at Prime Minister’s Questions in 2016, and during the pandemic even managed to lay one of the bricks that forms part of this stunning new construction. At a time of profound economic challenge, I hope readers will visit the new attraction as regularly as possible, because the National Centre offers us the chance for the wider regeneration that we all want to see in Sudbury, bringing economic benefit to businesses and retailers across the locale.
Another local priority of mine has been to encourage a greater share of funding for local mental health charities. Having held a roundtable in Sudbury Town Hall in September to encourage precisely this outcome, I was delighted when it was announced that two of the charities attending – The Green Light Trust and The Befriending Scheme – would respectively receive £300,000 from the NHS and £100k from Babergh. Welcome news indeed!
Published in the Suffolk Free Press.