York Press column – Government must deliver on growth to maintain trust
June 29, 2022
There is no point pretending last week’s heavy by-election losses do not send a serious message to the government. Defeated in both a traditionally very ‘safe’ rural West Country seat and urban West Yorkshire, my party is clearly struggling to retain public confidence across a diverse swathe of communities.
My thoughts on how our leadership may be contributing to this situation are well known, but I also feel cost of living pressures and the post-pandemic economic picture are a major underlying factor in current doubts. Although tight labour markets worldwide mean higher wages and sign-on bonuses are on offer for many, this is not true for everyone, and sharply rising prices are hitting us all.
Recent predictions of UK growth grinding to a halt next year were rendered even worse by the suggestion inflation may be directly killing growth by forcing families to cut back their spending, making it harder to generate the wealth needed to raise wages and insulate households against rising costs.
Current strikes across our rail network could be a portent of a depressing spiral, as society fights over shares of a diminishing cake. An often-overlooked way out of this could be to throw the kitchen sink at creating a bigger cake so there is enough for all i.e. through kick-starting significant economic growth, setting the conditions for businesses to invest, hire, and sell more of their products at home and abroad. A government that saw off the threat of stagnation and inflation by raising family pay packets and creating new skilled jobs could justly claim to be entitled to receive the public’s trust once again.
From the world-leading vaccine roll-out to our early and massive help for Ukraine, and the recent comprehensive energy prices support package, we have seen the government has the capacity to take decisive action of the kind required, so I am reassured by recent steps to facilitate economic expansion. Earlier this month I was pleased to speak in the House of Commons to strongly support the new Genetic Technology Bill, which could unlock very significant new investment and job creation in the UK science base by ending the mistaken and unscientific regulation of precision breeding in plants and animals as though it was genetic modification, an error inherited from the EU which effectively bans innovation in this field.
Genetic modification involves splicing together genetic material from different species, making it completely different to precision breeding, which just means adjusting material within one species to speed up genetic changes that occur naturally or through conventional breeding. This allows species to yield more food and become more nutritious and resistant to disease, meaning food supply can become larger, healthier, more affordable and more secure. This also improves animal welfare, as they suffer less from medical conditions, and editing crops to be tougher benefits the environment by meaning they need fewer pesticides. Precision breeding also addresses climate change by making food production greener, with more produced using fewer resources.
Firms interested in British biotechnology spent a total of $5.6 billion globally on research and development in 2020, and if we create the right innovation-friendly climate through this precision breeding law, we could see a big share of this money coming straight to our country to create new skilled jobs, raise wages and fuel growth. The gains could obviously be especially substantial for our own region, given North Yorkshire’s large food production sector and York’s science base.
Exporting more can also make a major contribution to boosting growth, as businesses that sell abroad tend to pay higher wages and have bigger productivity. It also creates new jobs and secures the future of existing employment.
This is why I was pleased to see £1.13 million allocated by the government to help York and North Yorkshire businesses start trading overseas. This comes in the form of match funding grants of up to £9000 for small and medium-sized enterprises, covering expert advice to overcome trade barriers and break into new markets, exhibit at trade fairs, and other visits.
Both the recent past and older history show our country and government have what it takes it overcome today’s difficulties; the task now is to ignite this potential.