In 2015, after five years with the Lib Dems in government locally and nationally, Cheltenham was enjoying its strongest economy in years with a big drop in unemployment, local businesses reporting healthy order books and both businesses and householders still enjoying low interest rates and mortgage payments. In the House of Commons, Martin backed both the coalition government and Cheltenham’s LibDem-led council in taking the tough decisions necessary to build sustainable prosperity and worked hard to lobby for and promote local business. In the European Parliament, he fought hard to keep the UK within the largest free trade bloc in the world in which we had grown to be the sixth largest economy in the world.
The Conservatives’ suicidal hard ‘Brexit’ has put all that progress at risk and the shortages of key workers in a wide range of trades and professions from chefs to nurses, from doctors to HGV drivers are all attributable in large part to Brexit. Global supply chain disruption has unquestionably been made worse for Britain because of Brexit even putting our food supplies at risk even as the shirtage of labour caused by Brexit is hitting local food production. Even international commentators with no axe to grind agree: https://edition.cnn.com/2021/09/28/business/brexit-fuel-food-shortages/index.html.
The Conservatives’ initial arrogance and aggressive approach towards the EU negotiations and their chaotic and unco-ordinated approach to Brexit generally has undermined business confidence further. Long gone are the days when business always backed the Conservatives.
Sources: * ONS ** Department of Work & Pensions
But a truly strong economy must be sustainable too:
- Lib Dem ministers launched the world’s first Green Investment Bank and locked investment in low-carbon energy into energy markets through the Energy Act and has created a record number of green jobs. Since the Lib Dems left government investment in renewables has slumped by 40% according to The Economist.
- The coalition created more than 2 million new apprenticeships, 2,610 of them in Cheltenham, building skills for the future
- The coalition kept investing in infrastructure, maintaining spending on public transport and committing another £6 billion investment to flood defences, including more flood defence work in Cheltenham to protect another 240 properties
- The coalition committed to the largest ever sustained investment in Britain’s science base, including a £2.9 billion Grand Challenges fund to enable the UK to invest in major research facilities – progress now at particular risk from Tory Brexit plans. British science has been another sector badly hit by Brexit under the Conservatives.
The economy was stronger locally too. Even before the Covid19 crisis, Cheltenham’s council faced Conservative cuts along with other local authorities – their net budget fell in cash terms by about 12% over seven years, from £16.1m to £14.2m – but despite the cuts, there was no crisis at Cheltenham Borough Council:
- £8.5m was found in savings and additional income and ‘austerity’ had little impact on frontline services. Savings were made by radical management efficiencies, sharing back office functions and major services like waste collection with other councils, and turning arts and leisure management over to a charitable trust.
- Martin and the borough council worked together to win major new investment in developments like the Brewery, North Place and in local transport, including £5m for local sustainable transport, £45m for the redoubling of the Swindon/Kemble line to improve services to Swindon, Reading and London and an ambitious plan to upgrade parking, access and facilities at Cheltenham Spa station which won widespread backing but was cut back and has faced long delays since the new Conservative MP took over in 2015.
In stark contrast, The Conservative-led county council has lurched from crisis to crisis – taken to court over its library closures, signing up to a wasteful incinerator contract turned down by its own councillors then forced through by the administration, slapping new on-street parking charges on small business areas and leaving our roads in a total mess. And we’ve heard they don’t even know if the incinerator contract was legal or not!
As MP, Martin lobbied hard for and promoted local companies from publisher Edward Elgar to worldbeating clothes retailer SuperDry, from engineering firms like Spirax Sarco, DIS and CF Roberts to IT firms like Innov8ive software. He worked with business organisations like the Chamber of Commerce, Gfirst LEP and Cheltenham Connect to promote and support local business.
He promoted Cheltenham’s Festivals in Parliament with an eye to drawing even more valuable visitors to the town and encouraged council backing for areas like the Lower High Street that deserved more support. He supported a more determined strategy to market Cheltenham to visitors, investors and relocating businesses which happened with the creation of Marketing Cheltenham.