Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; I do not plan to go on that long, but who knows? Me and my hon. Friend Jonathan Gullis have a very good relationship, but we often vie for the same limelight on similar issues.
It has been a remarkable year: going into 2020, I do not think any of us could have predicted the challenges that were ahead. A huge number of my constituents have lost loved ones who they will never see again, and the virus continues to be a threat. A vast majority of my constituents continue to work hard to prevent the spread of the virus. The livelihoods of many of my constituents have been lost, and they continue to be incredibly anxious about what the future holds for them. There is not a single person in the country whose mental health has not been impacted, at least to some extent, by this, and I imagine all of us are in the same boat to some extent on that issue.
I was elected, along with my colleagues, last year. One of the key reasons why we were elected was to get Brexit done—to resolve the issue and move on—and I think the vast majority of people who voted for us last year to get Brexit done did so believing that they were electing a Prime Minister who would stand up for British interests, who would be resolute in doing so, and would not capitulate and accept a deal that would encumber us and tie our hands when it came to fully exploiting the benefits of Brexit. I think the Prime Minister is living up to that, and I welcome it. The Labour party talks about what was in the minds of voters when they voted for the Prime Minister; frankly, I find it quite extraordinary how all of a sudden, the Labour party has such a profound understanding of the motivations of voters, many of whom voted leave. For me, they voted to elect a Government that would deliver a proper Brexit, not a Brexit in name only, and that is exactly what this Government are doing.
With regard to covid-19, I was pleased to hear today that Ipswich would be remaining in tier 2. It was quite peculiar, because going into the second national lockdown, we had very low rates of covid. We were a long way below the national average, and we were one of 18 local authority areas that left the second national lockdown with rates increasing. That has continued in tier 2, but despite my concerns about the prevalence of the virus, particularly in those over the age of 65, I do think that keeping us in tier 2 was the right decision. I am glad that that decision has been made, and I am confident that the people of Ipswich will continue to work hard to make sure we can get to a better place with fewer restrictions at the first opportunity.
It is difficult to know where to stop thanking so many of my constituents, who have worked so hard. A huge number of my constituents work at Ipswich Hospital as nurses and doctors. They have risked their lives, and have literally gone above and beyond to save the lives of many of my constituents. I also thank the teachers who have gone to extraordinary lengths to continue providing education in incredibly challenging circumstances, and the police officers who never thought they were going into the police to start managing the distance between people, but have done so with dignity and in a professional way, and have got the balance just right. Turning to the charitable sector, we have never needed our charities more than we do right now, yet at the same time the strain on their finances has never been so great. There is no better example of that than when I temporarily became a skinhead after shaving my hair off to support Age UK Suffolk, and then very sadly we found out, having raised around £3,000, that that was not enough. We lost Age UK Suffolk a number of weeks after that fundraising campaign, just when we needed it more than ever.
I spoke in my maiden speech about special educational needs, and said that it was probably the No. 1 reason why I got involved in politics. As a kid, I had dyslexia and dyspraxia. I was very fortunate to go to the school that I went to, which had not only the resources but the freedoms to tailor education around me, and all of a sudden I caught up. We need to do more as a country, because no child with special educational needs should be allowed to not achieve their full potential. I have become an associate governor at Sir Bobby Robson School, which is a new special school for those with social, emotional and mental health difficulties. We have another free school for those with language difficulties opening up as well, but we also need better provision in mainstream schools. We need to put more money into special educational needs. We need to do so for two reasons: first, because it is morally the right thing to do; and secondly, because as a society we cannot afford to lose their talents. Those with special educational needs are unconventional thinkers; they can be among the most creative thinkers. Given the right support, they can thrive, and we do not lose their talents, but given the wrong support, they often end up in our criminal justice system. I am pleased that the Education Committee has now launched an inquiry into prison education to look into that issue, among others.
The Orwell bridge, which I bang on about a lot, will hopefully be sorted out in the early new year, and the closures of the bridge that cost the local economy £1 million a day will stop. We have put in our submission for the town deal. We are going for £28 million. We were told it was for up to £25 million, but we thought, “Well, it’s Ipswich—we deserve £28 million”, so we have gone for that.
Another issue that needs sorting is cladding. A huge number of my constituents are leaseholders who have that uncertainty and anxiety hanging over them. I am pleased about the waking watch announcement today, but we need to go further.
I said last year in my maiden speech that it was the greatest thrill of my life to be elected as Member of Parliament for Ipswich. I believe it is the greatest town in this country. It has a football club that has had better days, but hopefully that can turn around soon. Obviously Portman Road will remain open as it is in a tier 2 area. The people of Ipswich are by and large, I think, decent, patriotic, hard-working and straight-speaking. I said to them when I got elected that I would be straight-speaking as well—that I would not dodge away from controversial issues but get in there and speak my mind. Sometimes not all my constituents might agree with what I say, and I might not always deliver what I want to deliver, but I will never be missing in action. I will always be in here, active, talking up the town that I am proud to represent and that I love and that I believe, despite the current challenges, has its best days ahead of it.
Thank you very much, Mr Deputy Speaker, thank you to all my colleagues who have helped me in my first year, and I look forward to the new year.