I was very pleased to hear this week of the preliminary plans to merge Swindon College and New College.

The colleges feel strongly that the merger presents a fantastic opportunity to create a more unified curriculum, one which harnesses the skills and expertise of the respective colleges. In turn this will drive up standards and improve outcomes for learners, employers and the wider community, by expanding skills training and raising standards.

This announcement is another exciting development for Swindon’s further education provision, following the announcement of the new £21m Institute of Technology – which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. I am very pleased the Department of Education has confirmed that their plans for the IOT will be re-aligned with the merger, and the IOT project will still be going ahead, something both myself and Robert Buckland MP actively supported. In the coming years I feel the merger will give them the maximum flexibility and resources to continue to adapt to the changing demands and opportunities to support students of all ages in our town, whether young adults taking their first steps, or those of working-age seeking to re-skill, or up-skill alongside the growing economy.

A public consultation document will be issued in the new year, asking for students, staff, employers, stake holders, and the wider community to give their views – and I would encourage those who are interested to take part in the consultation and help shape this very positive project.

This week Parliament finally made some progress on moving Brexit forward – well, a little at least! The positive, and it is a real positive, we finally secured a majority for a deal. This to the real credit of the PM to have achieved something everyone had said would be impossible.

As ever, it isn’t all plain sailing. As soon as the deal was agreed, the Government’s programme motion to complete the legislation by October 31st was defeated! In some corners there was anger and frustration, but I would urge for calm minds here. Yes, we did feel we could justify proceeding at haste because the majority of the deal has already been extensively debated and scrutinised over the last three years. However if, and it remains a big if, a compromise can be agreed that just requires an extra few days or so, then surely we have to explore this. We have never been closer to delivering Brexit, to ending the uncertainty and crucially having the opportunity to move back onto other issues investing in our NHS, tackling violent crime, conserving our environment and cutting the cost of living.

I was delighted to welcome a representative of Swindon Women’s Aid to Parliament this week who was supporting the national Women’s Aid work, so vital and integral to the recent Domestic Abuse Bill. Swindon’s Women’s Aid are a real credit to our community, with the Refuge having made such a tangible difference to so many peoples’ (and their families) lives at a point of real crisis. Robert Buckland MP and I have always drawn on the experiences and advice of both the volunteers and users of the Refuge to help shape our work. This is an area where there is real and genuine cross-party support to continue to make progress.