With January taking the unenviable title of wettest on record for some, the first few weeks of 2014 have certainly seen highs and lows.
The news that the UK's GDP grew by 1.9 per cent last year - its best performance since 2007 - was a definite high point. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest the government's long-term plan to tackle the economy is working, with the biggest rise in the number of people in work since records began. North Dorset has undoubtedly benefited, with our unemployment rate falling to a welcome low of 1.1 per cent.
Residents, local councils and business leaders in the constituency, who called in 2013 for government to do more to boost our rural, market town high streets, will also welcome the doubling of small business rate relief, originally introduced in 2010 and set to continue for another year; a new reoccupation relief that halves rates for 18 months for businesses taking on a long-term empty shop; and a £1,000 rates discount for qualifying local shops, restaurants and pubs funded by central government. Efforts to create more jobs by supporting the backbone of our local economy - small business - with better infrastructure and lower jobs taxes must continue.
Conversely, the devastating impact of recent flooding has been a definite low point, ruining Christmas and the start of the New Year for many families and businesses. Many communities in North Dorset have suffered almost as badly as our neighbours in low lying parts of Somerset. Recent years have seen heavy rains affecting villages like Tarrant Hinton, Stourpaine and Milborne St Andrew more seriously, and more persistently.
Flooding obviously happens in different places for different reasons, so there is no 'one size fits all' solution. The Environment Agency and our local authorities need to look carefully at the root causes, and I've been in contact with the county council where evidence suggests local action could and should be taken. However, the two key messages I got from local residents, councillors and landowners were that, firstly, more attention must be paid to long-term river management and, secondly, that livelihoods, people and property must have priority.
I know that the Environment Secretary and the Prime Minister are listening. The mistakes of recent years in river management and stream clearance must be corrected. I know this may be controversial, but it is a view I've heard expressed repeatedly in recent weeks and must be considered seriously if such extreme weather is here to stay. Finding the right balance and sustainable solutions is a must, and that is the message I've passed on, and will continue to communicate, to the government.