JANUARY is not traditionally a time of great cheer, but this year it came with a particularly harsh bite.
Fortunately, the first big freeze of 2013 was well forecast and our councils and public transport services better prepared for the snow than in 2010, when my inbox and postbag were inundated with complaints about frozen car parks, pavements and roads. If that simple measure is anything to go by, things have certainly improved.
The Government has learnt lessons too and will never now be complacent in its efforts to keep Britain moving in bad weather. Almost £100 million has been spent on resilience for our railways and airports in the past two years and, despite some inevitable disruption, progress has been made. South West Trains ran fewer, slower services, but their adverse weather timetable seemed to get people to and from Dorset on schedule.
As the snow and ice melts there are brighter things on the horizon, with unemployment down again in North Dorset and the South West - with its backbone of small to medium-sized businesses - helping to drive the UK's economy forward. Further good news is the dramatic increase in the number of young people starting up apprenticeships, with some 500,000 new starts. Apprenticeships are vital, not only because they tackle the scourge of youth unemployment in a sustainable way, but because they have such a positive impact on the economy, businesses and individuals alike.
The sixth annual National Apprenticeship Week - taking place from 11th to 15th March - will celebrate that very fact, whilst raising the profile of apprenticeships and getting more businesses and young people on board. Graduate and post-graduate level apprenticeships will also soon be available in subjects including law, accountancy and advanced engineering, offering degree and Masters-level equivalents early next year. In my view, this will give young people an alternative route to some of our most prestigious professions, increasing social mobility and helping to change outdated views of apprenticeships.
For young people in North Dorset looking to get on the apprenticeship track, or improve their skill set, Equilibrium Youth Work's Skills Base at Sturminster Newton offers courses in practical skills from Horticulture to Vehicle Mechanics, as well as opportunities for students to improve their literacy, numeracy and core employability skills. I was hugely impressed when I visited trainers and students there last month and look forward to following the progress of such specialist alternative education providers.