I am writing this article just before the Christmas and New Year break.
This is usually one of the few chances during the course of the year when MPs get a bit of a rest from constituency and Parliamentary duties.
I make that point slightly tentatively, given that the best laid plans can be disrupted by the unexpected. For example, many of my colleagues faced issues of flooding over the last Christmas period and there is always a risk of something similar happening. Nonetheless, in normal circumstances, the pace of life should drop, albeit briefly.
The last few weeks have been particularly busy in terms of Ministerial responsibilities with a combination of the Autumn Statement, two bills up before the House of Commons (the Taxation of Pensions Bill and the Stamp Duty Land Tax Bill) and negotiations over the EU Budget.
Added to that are the rather pleasurable constituency duties such as the Connect Dacorum lunch and the Rennie Grove ‘Light Up A Light’ service, plus drinks events with the local Conservative Party branches.
Now we approach the end of the year, the temptation is to look back on the year just gone. As a Treasury minister, I have a tendency to focus on the economy, where the news is good. The number of people claiming Job Seekers’ Allowance in the South West Hertfordshire constituency has fallen in the last twelve months by over 25 per cent from 805 to 597.
There’s an optimism amongst businesses which is very encouraging. For example, I called in at the official opening of a new hair salon in Berkhamsted. The boss, John Phillips, is in his 20s and this is his first experience of running his own business.
It is people like John – willing to take a risk, backing their belief that they will be providing a service that people will want – that are helping our economy recover from the Great Recession and enabling us to have record numbers in work. That sense of optimism is vital and – notwithstanding many international worries – I am pleased that that sense is, if anything, greater at the end of the year than at the beginning.
One of the privileges of my job is being able to play a role in putting in place policies which help small businesses, such as capping business rates and providing rebates for small retailers, as we announced at the Autumn Statement.
Another policy with which I was particularly involved was the Employment Allowance, which eliminates the first £2,000 an employer has to pay in Employers National Insurance Contributions. It was introduced in April and I am delighted that take up of this has proven to be high and recent figures show there are currently 2,000 employers in South West Hertfordshire making use of it. Again, I hope it is making a contribution to falling unemployment and rising living standards.
It is also traditional at this time to wish people a prosperous New Year and I certainly hope that is the case for as many people as possible.
Speaking personally, it is also likely to be a busy New Year. The pace of campaigning will pick up with the General Election not that far away.
Essentially that will mean four months of campaigning – which is likely to test the patience, stamina and good humour of the electorate, let alone the candidates. For this reason, if nothing else, most MPs are hoping for a quiet and restful Christmas and New Year break.
But whatever the New Year may hold let me wish you the best for 2015.