York Press column – Business boost and government investment will revive York after coronavirus
July 29, 2020
As we approach August, the absence of a virus flare-up thus far has allowed the careful easing of lockdown to proceed apace, with the reopening of leisure centres, gyms and beauticians, the return of sport, and live indoor performances.
Sadly, York City lost out on promotion in their first post-lockdown match last weekend, despite a strong effort, but I hope to see them lift the National League North trophy next season in the LNER Community Stadium at Huntington.
Other local institutions like the historic York Theatre Royal still face a sobering future, which is why I took action by signing an open letter to the Prime Minister requesting support for arts venues, thankfully answered by a £1.57 billion relief package.
Alongside reopening, there is some light at the end of the tunnel, with news of a significant breakthrough in trials on the British coronavirus vaccine at Oxford University. Official indications that a very large fall in virus prevalence could lead to a review of the need for social distancing by November at the earliest also hold out the hope of a return towards normality.
I appreciate the legal requirement to wear a face covering inside shops from last Friday divides opinion. I share the natural frustration at this imposition, but also take seriously feedback from residents that compulsory coverings make them more confident to go out.
Ultimately, it is only by making potentially uncomfortable adaptations of this kind to our regular routines that will allow us to live with the virus in the medium-term. The more we comply with the rules of the ‘new normal’, the less time we will have to suffer them for.
With apologies to regular readers of this column, I must repeat again that our city will only recover from covid through reviving our local economy. I was therefore very pleased with the measures put forward by the Chancellor in this month’s summer statement. As someone who has been lobbying for York’s large hospitality and tourism sector to get the support it needs, I am delighted the Chancellor has listened by cutting VAT from 20% to just 5% for food and drink, accommodation and attractions, which could benefit some 1175 enterprises across York.
The new Job Retention Bonus of £1000 for employers who retain their furloughed employees through to January should also help ensure the 24,000 furloughed York residents have jobs to come back to, and I welcome the 6-month paid work placements for 16-24 year olds, and £2000 and £1500 payments to employers to hire new young apprentices. Young people have been especially hard-hit, and targeted programmes are therefore essential. Increasing the stamp duty exemption cut-off from £125,000 to £500,000 will also be of substantial benefit to York, where house prices are already above regional and national averages, aiding both households and sectors like the building trade.
This was complemented by the announcement the following week on the 17th that City of York Council has been allocated a further £1.39 million by government to cover additional costs created by the emergency. This means York has now received over £11.9 million for this purpose, reassuring me of the government’s commitment to getting our city’s public and private sectors back on their feet.
However, much greater local investment may be in the works, given recent reports that York is being considered as a potential temporary home for Parliament while Westminster is renovated. This, and the wider consideration of York as a place to relocate civil service jobs to form a new ‘government hub’, show our home is recognised as the natural capital of Northern England, an official awareness I will certainly take advantage of to ensure our community gets the help we need.
Last week brought an early down payment on this, with the government’s announcement of £589 million of new money for vital work on the upgraded Transpennine rail route, to better connect York with Leeds, Newcastle, Manchester and Liverpool. I am optimistic this shows the government’s awareness that economic recovery post-covid will be based on unlocking the potential of places like York with the necessary infrastructure investment, and I will continue to work energetically to secure our city the support it needs to return to full prosperity.