I don’t know whether you can stand another column on the Conservative party conference. For me it was overshadowed by the gathering gloom. Euroland came close to acknowledging it has a serious banking crisis on its hands. The Chancellor had to fly out to Brussels in the middle of the Conference, to yet another inconclusive meeting to fix it. New figures showed that the great recession in 2008-9 was even worse than previously announced. The same figures also showed that public spending went up in real terms as well as costing us more cash last year. We can see some of that locally, with a new fire station, lots of bridge improvements and roadworks, and further increases in pensions and benefits.
I am trying to get some more life injected into the local economy by proposing more banks with more money to lend for good business prospects. The government is changing its mind on this, and has now announced the outlines of a scheme to help finance small and medium sized enterprises. It is not quite as I recommended, but it offers the opportunity to get something that might work. They are listening when we tell them there is a serious problem in financing growth. I put my banking ideas to a meeting in Manchester, where they received good support from the Telegraph the following day. I also launched a new book on the “Future of Conservatism” with David Davis. 16 MPs, one peer and 9 experts have come together to propose ways in which the government could improve our economy, society and public services. This gives us an agenda to pursue with Ministers now we are at last back in Parliament.
I know many of you remain worried about the government’s planning proposals. I have told the Minister of concerns, and been assured our Council will be able to protect areas from development in the local plan. I will work with the Council when we see the next draft of the new planning rules. It is important that in an area like Wokingham which has accommodated lots of development in the past and where the Council has identified new areas for building we should be able to protect the rest effectively. It is also most important that where new housing is approved proper provision is made for schools, surgeries and transport with suitable developer contributions to the cost.
Energy bills are too high and rising too quickly. I have been pressing the government for some time to pursue an energy policy which will leave us enough affordable energy, whilst offering incentives for fuel saving, better insulation and more efficient appliances and vehicles. Ministers do at last seem worried by the high prices that have been unleashed, and are talking about doing more to help. I will keep the pressure up, as the fuel bill is now one of the biggest worries.