BY the time that you read this, Christmas Day will be over and we'll be well on our way towards the New Year. May I still take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a very happy Christmas and best wishes for 2013?
This year has been a particularly busy one both here in North Devon and in Parliament, and I've been pleased to meet so many residents both here in the constituency at various visits and events as well as those who have visited Parliament, including many local school pupils.
Despite another difficult year for the country's finances, there have been some improvements locally in the number of people in work, and the further raising of the tax threshold will help families and other North Devon residents to deal with the increased cost of fuel and other necessities.
Since September's changes I have had more time to pursue a number of issues in Westminster. The current system of school funding has put Devon at a huge disadvantage for a number of years, and further changes to the funding formula might make the situation even worse. I have been working with other authorities disadvantaged by the funding formula to make the case to ministers that changes are needed and I hope 2013 will bring some progress on this.
I will also be furthering my interest in marine power as a source of energy in the next year. I have already questioned ministers in the Commons about rebalancing continuing and heavy financial support for wind farms towards developing marine energy generation to finally bring such technology to the market as was – very successfully – used around eight years ago off the Lynmouth coast.
I have been campaigning for the creation of a Transition Zone for Devon – a new category of EU funding taken from the existing EU budget, designed to encourage economic growth and reduce the "cliff-edge" effect for areas neighbouring traditionally well-funded regions – in our case, Cornwall.
I have been putting pressure on ministers in various departments and in the coming months I hope discussions will conclude that Devon should receive this bottom-up, locally-targeted funding to improve the local economy.
I am still maintaining an interest in defence issues after my departure from the Ministry of Defence. 2013 is going to be an interesting year, with the beginnings of troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and thoughts turning to the post-2014 development and security situation in the country. The Trident Alternatives Review, which I oversaw during my time as a minister in the MOD, will also come to a conclusion in spring this year and will no doubt reignite the debate about the future of Britain's nuclear deterrent.