I start by congratulating my hon. Friend David Johnston on his superb speech, and adding my cheers of “Merry Christmas!” to you, Mr Deputy Speaker, all Members across the House, and, most important, all the staff who work across the parliamentary estate. They go above and beyond, and I am grateful for all the support they have given me in my first year as a Member of Parliament.
I send a big “Merry Christmas!” to the people of Stoke-on-Trent North, Kidsgrove and Talke. When Circuit’s “Messages of Joy” campaign conducted research to determine the kindest city in the UK—shock, horror!—Stoke came out on top. But it was no shock or surprise for me or the people of that fine city. We are a resolute, spirited and doughty group of individuals who believe that community must come first. I praise our health and care heroes at the Royal Stoke University Hospital, Haywood Walk-in Centre and across our local NHS, and thank them for the sacrifices they have made every day to keep us safe. My family and I will forever be indebted to them, particularly because in the midst of the crisis the maternity team at the Royal Stoke helped to deliver Amelia, Nkita’s and my first child. We are delighted to be celebrating our daughter’s first Christmas this year.
I want to say a big thank you to Staffordshire police, Staffordshire fire and rescue, teachers and support staff, supermarket workers, Royal Mail staff, bus drivers and the many other key workers who have worked in the most challenging conditions. Across Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke, they have risen to the challenge. I also want to give a big shout-out to the amazing voluntary sector, whether it is Men Unite, the Pop Up Pantry at St Michael’s in Chell, VAST, the Salvation Army in Kidsgrove, Tunstall and Smallthorne, Swan Bank Methodist church, Number 11 and Team Chatterley, to name but a few.
There are two individuals who I think deserve a special shout-out. One is Carol Shanahan, co-owner of Port Vale football club and founder of the Hubb Foundation. Throughout the crisis, she and her organisation have served 250,000 meals to over 30,000 families across the city of Stoke-on-Trent. That is to be commended. What I have enjoyed the most about Carol’s work with the Hubb is that the foundation is now providing slow cookers, with ingredients for one meal a day for 12 weeks and a series of recipe cards, with the aim of ensuring that families can benefit independently when the support ends. Stoke-on-Trent City Council has invested £23,000 in the scheme, which is extremely welcome.
I also want to give a big shout-out to an absolute community champion. The history books may not have his name, but I hope he will be able to look to this place to see it written down. Rich Stephenson-Evans works at Kidsgrove Tesco, and he is the community champion. He has been in that role for many years—since well before I arrived on the scene in Stoke-on-Trent, Kidsgrove and Talke. He is one of the true unsung heroes in our community. If ever a man—or person, sorry; I should say that in this day and age—deserved an honour from Her Majesty, it is Rich Stephenson-Evans. He has gone above and beyond delivering food from Tesco. It is amazing that there is anything to buy in the Tesco in Kidsgrove, because he normally swipes the shelves clean. He has delivered across the area, to all those charities I named, but he has also helped those charities get £500 or £1,000 grants from Tesco. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage said, we must always acknowledge that the private sector has played a huge part in helping us to tackle covid and rightly deserves as much praise as our public sector.
I would like to give a special shout-out to Lainey Evans, who is in year 5 at St Wilfrid’s Catholic Academy and was the winner of my Christmas card competition. It is a superb design with a bottle kiln and the Angel of Burslem above it, which I think is wonderful. The runners-up were Isla in year 4, William in nursery and Adam in year 4. A big thank you to them for taking part. With over 500 entries, it was superb to see.
I want to put on the record my plea to the Minister on behalf of the superb Titanic Brewery, which is in dire need of additional Government support. Once pubs are closed, brewers have no way of selling, apart from the odd bottle that they can sell from their factory shop. That does not make up for the money that is being lost in what would be a boom season with Christmas, so that additional support is needed.
Ceramic manufacturers also need support. They are part of the supply chain into the hospitality sector, and they have seen a big difference between their 2019 and 2020 orders. They are asking for the VAT reduction to be extended to them, at the manufacturing end, and they are also asking for business rates relief. While that will not save every job, it will make a huge difference to making sure that these giants—Churchill China, Steelite and Burleigh Pottery—go on to exist ever more in my local community.
On transportation, north Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent already have very good strategic transport links. We have the M6, A500 and A50 serving the city, and the rail journey to London is a little over one hour and 30 minutes. But now we have our £29 million from the transforming cities fund, which is absolutely superb. It will have a huge impact on Stoke-on-Trent station, but it will also bring investment in our bus services.
I presented a petition in the House the other day, having missed my previous slot—Mr Deputy Speaker was kind enough not to embarrass me in public—on the Stoke-Leek line. Over 1,000 residents have signed that petition, and I am working with my right hon. Friend Karen Bradley and my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent Central (Jo Gideon) and for Stoke-on-Trent South (Jack Brereton) to deliver this important piece of rail infrastructure, which will bring connectivity and help our economy. Most importantly, it will potentially serve the town of Milton, which is a superb little town with great local independent retailers, and support some local schools. It will therefore potentially take traffic off our roads, which is a huge issue.
Longport station also deserves a shout-out. Sadly, the Department for Transport rejected its element of the transforming cities fund because footfall was not high enough in the original criteria. I have accepted and understood that, but I am now going to set up a Longport station promotion group with key local stakeholders interested in driving greater use of Longport station. Now Stoke station has that key interchange, thanks to the £29 million from the transforming cities fund, feeder stations such as Longport will be increasingly important in Stoke-on-Trent’s public transport revolution. I am also convinced that Longport can and should be a better-appreciated rail destination in its own right, because we have Middleport pottery just up the road, Westport Lake Park and the mother town of Burslem—all superb places to visit.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Silicon Stoke and Chatterley Whitfield very briefly. We now have the Silicon Stoke board at Stoke-on-Trent City Council; Councillor Abi Brown has teamed up with me. We have NHS Digital joining that board, and many other local and national stakeholders. We reckon that the 104 km of full fibre that has been installed in the ground across the city will potentially unlock £625 million in the local economy. I want to set up a game school—a regional free school for 14 to 18-year-olds with part-selective entry, based on talent and commitment to developing specialist skills in differing elements of game design, creation, production and marketing.
Finally, the sleeping giant that is Chatterley Whitfield is the largest complete quarry site in the whole of Europe. It is time for an industrial heritage park. The people at Historic England have listened to me badger them time and again. The consultants at Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios are now leading a 10-year vision plan. We had our first meeting with key stakeholders. I got £22,500 out of Historic England as well, with the Friends of Chatterley Whitfield and Stoke-on-Trent City Council. It is time to make sure that these great sleeping giants are appreciated as part of our industrial heritage.