Along with millions around the world, I watched Joe Biden’s inauguration as the new President of the United States and very much welcomed the positive and unifying message of his inauguration speech. We all wish him well as the 46th President.

This week the Government also announced a £148 million new investment to cut crime and protect people from the scourge of illegal drugs. Not only will the funding be used to allow the police to disrupt organised crime gangs and tackle the supply of drugs, it will also help fund drug treatment programmes to address one of the root causes of crime.

As part of this investment, the Government is doubling the funding available to the police to tackle county lines drug gangs, bringing the total money committed to tackling these drug gangs to £65million since November 2019. We have seen county lines drug gangs operating in Swindon and Wiltshire, but I have been reassured by the police’s commitment to tackle them. During one police operation in January last year, 61 people were arrested over the course of one week. Moreover, in August, 40 police officers were stationed at Swindon, Bristol and London Paddington train stations as part of British Transport Police efforts to stop the flow of drugs from London to Swindon and the South West. This has been incredibly important work by the police, and I am delighted that police forces across the country will benefit from additional funding to continue this important work.

An extra £80 million will also be invested in drug treatment services right across England, giving more support to offenders with drink and drug addictions that can lead to crime. This new money will increase the number of treatment places for prison leavers and offenders diverted into tough and effective community sentences. Together the funding represents a comprehensive drive by the government to build back safer from the pandemic by helping people break free from the scourge of drug use and cutting drug-fuelled crime and violence.

Drugs ruin lives and many drug users will find themselves in prison; however, it is important that people are given the opportunity to rebuild their lives and break the cycle of crime and addiction. As part of this £148million package, £2.5 million will also be invested in providing continuity of care for prisoners on release to avoid this becoming a crisis point. The enhanced RECONNECT service supports offenders with complex needs to engage with and get the right treatment from mental health, substance misuse and other services, for up to a year after release. Offenders will be supported by expert care navigators working with health and probation services. The money will also support offenders into treatment upon release from prison and fund additional detox beds and the life-saving overdose medicine, naloxone.

I am pleased the vaccination programme is continuing to move ahead at pace, 4.6million doses have been administered, which is around 1.5million more doses administered than when I wrote last week. In Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire 63,293 vaccinations have been administered, as part of plans to vaccinate the top four priority groups by mid-February.

It’s great to see that so many people Swindon and the surrounding area have received the vaccine, and I look forward to getting my vaccine over the coming months (though I am understandably not part of the priority list!). And I urge everyone to do the same when they get the call up. We will get through this and return to normality!