Alicia Kearns MP for Rutland discusses housing and passing of HRH Prince Philip in her latest column
Since my last column the nation, and indeed the entire Commonwealth, bade farewell to a life of service and sacrifice, writes Alicia Kearns MP for Rutland.
The passing of His Royal Highness Prince Philip is a great loss for our Queen and for us all, as he embodied so many of our nation’s greatest qualities: duty, stoicism, commitment to service and wit. Prince Philip first visited Rutland in 1957 and, as the pages of the Mercury made clear, he graced the county with his flair and panache each time he visited. I have written to Her Majesty on behalf of all of us, and I know our hearts went out to her for the loss of her steadfast companion, friend and great love.
Prince Philip’s passing has provided us all with a moment to reflect on those undertaking acts of incredible service within our own communities. It was a pleasure last week to visit our vaccination centre in Oakham, which continues to be UK-leading in vaccination delivery thanks to the phenomenal uptake of Rutlanders. As of this week, nearly 80 per cent of all adults in Rutland have received their first dose, and it was a particular delight to visit on a day when all of the appointments were for second doses, to complete the vaccinations of the eldest members of our community. I am also very happy to say that the outbreak at HMP Stocken is now over.
It has also been such a joy to see so many of our shops, restaurants, personal beauty and gyms re-open as a result of our successful vaccination campaign. I know so many businesspeople have sacrificed so much in the last year and a half, and I very much hope that you can reap the rewards of the coming Summer. As always, I stand ready to help anyone who needs access to support from central and local government. The Government has put in place strong programmes to help businesses kickstart, and that’s what we all want to see this summer as we help local businesses get back on their feet.
I also know that so many young people have sacrificed throughout this pandemic, and that’s why I am delighted that this week the Government’s 95 per cent mortgages for first time buyers went live. This means for properties up to £600,000, first-time buyers will be able to put down five per cent deposits. The Government has committed to transforming the housing market, and this measure will get us closer to achieving that reality.
I know too that housing has become an even more difficult subject, as the ramifications of Rutland councillors’ decision to reject almost £30m of Government funds becomes clearer. I want to provide absolute certainty: I am doing everything I can with Rutland County Council and central Government to ensure that this decision does not result in uncontrolled development in our county. I am working to try to secure commitments from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government and the Ministry of Defence that Rutland County Council will still have say over any development at St George’s, that the number of houses does not go up, and that Rutland’s Local Plan can go ahead to prevent uncontrolled planning across all our villages, balance local concerns and build the homes so many of you have made clear to me that we need. We need a pragmatic plan for housing locally, and that’s why over the last few months I succeeded with colleagues in getting Government to reduce its housing targets for Rutland, greatly reducing them because whilst we do need more homes, Rutland already has a sensible plan.
I am committed to finding a solution for the HIF grant, as I am with fairer funding more generally. I continue to raise the concerns of Rutlanders with ministers. Rutland County Council is extremely efficient, despite our greater need and costs associated with rural service provision, and yet this is not recognised in our funding formulas.
I wrote in Conservative Home last week, and I continue to lobby ministers repeatedly, laying out why Rutland should be their partner in designing funding plans for small unitary authorities. From vaccination rates to the vibrancy of our local villages to the efficiency of our public services, Rutland leads the way and, as we enter summer, I’m sure we’ll all be making the most of our stunning county.