Like the rest of the country - but even faster than the national average - Wiltshire’s population is ageing. We urgently need to make life better for young people so they want to live, work and bring up their own families here.
The first priority is the families themselves. Children need a stable nurturing environment to grow up in, so they are better able to manage the challenges that life throws at them. I am pleased the Government has committed to strengthening families through a range of policies including new Family Hubs and more support for high-quality childcare.
The next priority is to ensure that Wiltshire schools - and we have some brilliant schools in the constituency - get the funding they need. The Government has committed to raising spending for all schools nationally, to £4000 per primary school pupil and £5000 for secondary. I will fight to ensure the funding formula accurately reflects the higher costs of education in rural areas, where transport costs are high and school sizes small.
As the founder of an organisation aimed at supporting young people - especially those with disadvantages - to flourish, I am familiar with the complexities of the system that children and their families need to navigate. Often, funding is only part of the answer. We need a more integrated system for children and young people. I am glad that Wiltshire has a top-rated children’s service department - the best in the South West - and I will work with the county council to build on this.
Most of all, I believe the answer lies in communities themselves - as is often said, it takes a village to raise a child, and village life here is incredibly strong. If communities are supported to take responsibility for the wellbeing of local children and young people - for instance through organised activities for children, or networking for career advice and job opportunities for school leavers - we will see a generation grow up with greater opportunities and deeper connections with the place they call home.
We urgently need to improve Further Education. In my view, too many young people are led to believe that university is the only route to a successful life. In fact, the jobs of the future will demand both soft skills, which can be learned best through practical experience in the community and the workplace, and technical skills, which can be learned in college and in work. I welcome the Government’s commitment to transform FE and I want to work with local businesses to ensure young people benefit from the amazing opportunities that exist in Wiltshire.
Finally, we must make housing more affordable for young people. The Government will create new low-deposit mortgages and discounts of up to a third on home purchases for local people who can’t otherwise afford to buy in their own area. I strongly support this, as well as Wiltshire’s plans for more council housing.