It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and, as you think of gifts and food, I’m keen you support our truly fantastic local shops this Yuletide.

We have a huge bounty of independent stores, selling everything from toys to plants and records to hampers. They’re North East Somerset’s beating heart.

But they’ve faced huge challenges – not least scary energy prices and a big rise in shoplifting.

It’s why the West of England Mayoral Combined Authority ‘cheaper bills experts’ have been visiting Midsomer Norton shopkeepers to help cut their energy bills and do the planet a favour in the process.

I’m offering energy saving grants of up to £15,000 so local shops can install more energy efficient equipment to reduce soaraway bills by an average £2,000-plus a year.

Other news hot off the press is the brand-new scheme to help shops facing the shoplifting crime epidemic. Worryingly, Avon and Somerset is the region with the largest increase in shoplifting offences over the past year. That is bad for the shops, and bad for all of us in a cost-of-living crisis. Because we know what happens. Prices go up to recoup the cost of stolen items. Now, through “Safer Shops West”, I’m pleased to be able to offer grants to local independent retailers for vital security measures. Please contact me for more details.

From shops to lorries - in this case a 41- tonne one! HGVs are crucial in the Christmas shopping story, ensuring festive goods in our stores.

Shortages of drivers, as we all recall, means empty supermarket shelves and higher prices - all we need given the pressures on family budgets!

It’s why, 12 months ago, I set about recruiting and training new HGV drivers. While not easy, I’m pleased to report we now have over 230 extra.

And, of course, Christmas is about spending time with loved ones, sometimes travelling across the West to do so. The good thing about those with December birthdays is they can do that by hopping on the buses for free. So, if your birthday’s coming up, please enjoy the festive season in style by getting your Birthday Bus pass - details at

We’ve recently had a taster of chilly weather, but I know for many, reports of ice and snow don’t bring hope of snowman building! It’s why I’m again running a ‘Keep Warm this Winter’ drive as it is vital to stay warm, especially if you’re ill or have young children. Fuel costs remain frightening, so please check out the top tips at

Finally, I know Christmas can also be tough for those having to work over the holidays while the rest of us relax. If that’s you - a big thank you. For those spending the coming holiday without those they love - both past and present - you are very much in my thoughts.

However you’re spending the festive season, I wish you and your family a happy and peaceful Christmas. See you in 2024.