York Press column – Making progress on my priorities for York
August 12, 2020
Like most residents, I am continuing to focus closely on coronavirus and our recovery from it, working to assist the very large number of constituents who are getting in touch regarding the ongoing situation. While this remains of paramount importance, we also cannot afford to neglect those other issues which will determine the future of our community.
Supporting education and skills training has been a constant priority for me, and is now more important than ever as our school leavers must be well-equipped to make their way in an economy impacted by covid. As a parent of school-age children I feel this responsibility very deeply, and was delighted last month to see the government continue to fulfil its manifesto commitment to ‘level-up’ schools funding nationwide, announcing a 4.5% average increase per-pupil for schools in the York Outer constituency for the 2021-22 academic year.
This builds on a 6% per-pupil increase for 2020-21 secured last autumn after long-term hard lobbying by myself and others, and is above the national average rise of 3%. Schools that will particularly benefit include Headlands Primary, Bishopthorpe Infant School and Wheldrake with Thorganby Primary, all seeing per-pupil funding increases of above 7%.
Early this month it was also announced that skills training and employability will be boosted in York through an investment of £1.15 million from the government’s new Getting Building Fund. This will be directly targeted at the competencies required in modern workplaces, going to fund improving technical skills capabilities at York College in Bishopthorpe in the important new market of electric vehicle technologies, and also establish a new Digital Skills Academy.
In a matter of weeks, the first cohort of York students for the new T-levels will start in September, benefitting from the government’s creation of this new post-16 technical qualification equivalent to A-levels, giving young people a better choice between academic and technical education routes. This addition to our local educational options will usefully reinforce the 6-month paid work placements for 16-24 year olds, and £2000 and £1500 payments to employers to hire new young apprentices unveiled last month by the Chancellor.
Protecting York’s green belt and ensuring only sustainable development is another of my consistent priorities, which is why I am carefully assessing the proposals to overhaul the planning system to aid the delivery of new homes put out for public consultation last week by the Housing Secretary. The whole point of the consultation is to improve and seek consent for any changes, and I urge any residents with ideas or concerns to make a submission
I back the government’s overall aim of better meeting housing need and unblocking unreasonable delay, but I am also very clear that this must not lead to relaxing protections against inappropriate or speculative development. I certainly warmly welcome the proposed ‘First Homes’ 30% discount proposal on new homes for key workers, first-time buyers and local people, which strikes me as an excellent way of ensuring new housing meets concrete local needs.
The planning system must strike a balance between protecting residents, and facilitating the economic activity that keeps communities viable. As MP for a mixed suburban and rural constituency, I am acutely aware of the productivity gap (some 16%) between rural and urban areas, which if equalised could benefit our economy to the tune of £43 billion a year. This is why I led 11 MPs and peers in writing to the Housing Secretary last week asking him to consider as part of the consultation how careful alteration of planning rules could assist rural enterprise to close this gap, for instance by making it easier to improve connectivity.
Our community will also benefit from the government delivering on its manifesto commitment to strengthen law enforcement, with the latest figures showing 69 new officers have been recruited into North Yorkshire Police since September, part of our share of the 20,000 more police Ministers are recruiting in total. The contribution of our police in managing lockdown, and the recent trial of the killers of valiant PC Andrew Harper have again highlighted the irreplaceable role they play, and I will continue to work to ensure they have the resources they need to keep our city safe.