As this is my first column of 2022, I’d like to wish everyone reading a very Happy New Year.

Of course, this is a customary greeting in the first few weeks of a new year but looking ahead to what 2022 holds I think we really do have a lot to look forward to.

The obvious reason for optimism is that, once again thanks to the UK’s super successful vaccine and booster programme, we can almost certainly look forward to a 2022 that is much more normal than the two years that have gone before it.

While omicron infection levels are still very high, the number of positive tests looks to have peaked in the final days of 2021 and there are early signs that the number of Covid-19 patients being admitted to hospital is starting to level off.

Small moments with family and friends will be that bit more special, businesses will be able to operate with more certainty, and what a great chance it will be to make memories as the Commonwealth Games are held right here in the West Midlands.

This week, the Commonwealth Games launched an appeal for the public to nominate 2,022 “unique and inspiring” individuals to take part in the special experience of carrying the Queen’s Baton through England this summer.

As Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Commonwealth Games, I hope that as many people from Dudley as possible will be among the 2,022 from across England who will carry the Baton during its final stages.

We will also see major local infrastructure projects get underway this year. For example, people will start to see work beginning on the Merry Hill stretch of our long-awaited Wednesbury to Brierley Hill metro line this month and next.

We will also be pushing our area’s Levelling Up Fund bid to try and bring further investment into Dudley South with new opportunities for local people.

At the same time as reasons for optimism, there’s no hiding from the challenges we will face.

We will still have to deal with Covid in one form or another. We will still have to work on legislation to overhaul the immigration system so as we can finally get on top of the unacceptable situation in the English Channel. And, even though our economy is already growing faster than any other G7 nation, we will most certainly have to work harder than we have in a long time to further encourage this growth in a way that will help ordinary families with costs of energy and other goods that are rising rapidly around the world.

2020 and 2021 were turbulent years with new dilemmas rearing their heads at every turn. Those challenges are still there – but with signs of light at the end of the tunnel, we can focus our efforts on what this Government was elected to do – to tackle long standing challenges, and to level up opportunities for people in our community.