HAPPY New Year to everyone across Central Devon. I hope you all had a great Christmas.

Over the last 12 months, the government has halved inflation and delivered the biggest business tax cut in modern British history, which will start to ease cost of living pressures for local families as we move through 2024.

As Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, I oversaw the rollout of Cost of Living payments to the most vulnerable households throughout the country, including more than 8,000 here in Central Devon. Further payments will be made in February.

But as events beyond our shores continue to cause global instability, I want to focus on the importance of standing shoulder to shoulder with our allies in Ukraine.

The generosity and compassion of individuals and communities across Central Devon in their support for Ukraine has been remarkable, from welcoming refugees into their homes to organising aid trips. But now more than ever we must remain resolute in our commitment to our Ukrainian friends.

When the invasion started nearly two years ago, I was Chair of the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee, where I worked alongside my opposite numbers in other parliaments to determine the effectiveness of different sanctions.

Following this, the Kremlin issued sanctions against me personally, a small price to pay for ensuring we delivered a robust economic, as well as military, response to the Russian invasion.

Locally I have continued to help refugees arriving in Central Devon, in particular with visa applications. Whether that’s been linking applications from the same family, helping locate missing documents or liaising with the Home Office to resolve delays.

I am also extremely proud of the leadership this government has shown through its military support of Ukraine, to which we remain firmly committed.

This will start with a new package of sophisticated air defence missiles that will be delivered early in the year.

The delivery comes as Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, with hundreds of drones and missiles being launched overnight on many Ukrainian cities including Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa.

The UK has also trained more than 53,000 Ukrainians since Putin first ordered the invasion of Crimea in 2014. The Defence Secretary previously announced an ambition to train an additional 10,000 recruits in the first half of 2024.

But whilst a huge amount has been achieved since the invasion began, Putin is showing no sign of backing down.

So as the new year begins, we must remain steadfast in our support for our Ukrainian allies to help them achieve their goal of peace and long-term security.

Whether that’s continuing to provide assistance to refugees here in Central Devon or bolstering Ukrainian military supplies and training for their soldiers on the front-line.

For a copy of Mel’s 2023 Annual Report please visit: www.melstridemp.com/report2023. You can also follow him on X (Twitter) @MelJStride.