York Press column – Getting York out of tier 2 and improving local policing
December 2, 2020
With Christmas just weeks away, I suspect many will be approaching this year’s festive season with mixed feelings. On the one hand, we will be able to see loved ones over the big days 23rd-27th December. On the other hand, the limitation to three households will be painful and difficult for many, and I appreciate such a truncated Christmas may seem a disappointing end to a really tough year.
Moreover, the build-up to the 25th, normally filled with much socialising and shopping, and nowhere more so than in our usually-bustling city, is cruelly marred by the placement of York in tier 2 (medium alert) restrictions from today, when the present national lockdown expires. This prohibits indoor mixing between households in hospitality venues and private homes, and closes pubs and bars that cannot operate as eateries, with hospitality venues only able to serve alcohol with a substantial meal. There is at least small consolation in the fact that Ministers have listened to the calls from myself and others for leisure centres, sports clubs and gyms and reopen across all tiers.
Having firmly lobbied the government for us coming out straight into the tier 1(medium alert) baseline, I am hugely concerned by the impact on the social and economic life of our community, and am pushing for us to be moved into tier 1 urgently. If my reservations are not addressed, I will be unable to support the government in House of Commons votes on the operation of the tiering system.
My major concern is that with York’s coronavirus rate the lowest in Yorkshire (126.8 per 100,000 at the time of writing) the sacrifices made by residents that have got us to this good place are not being recognised, with continued tight restrictions imposed in spite of our efforts. It seems the city is a victim of high rates elsewhere in the county, such as in Scarborough, and our proximity to tier 3 areas like Hull and Leeds, which I fear could demoralise the community, and imply there is little incentive to follow the rules.
I am also alarmed by the impact on York’s large tourism, hospitality, leisure and retail sector, which depends on pre-Christmas trade at the best of times, and especially after the multiple body blows of this year. As a shopping and day-out destination, the obvious impact on hospitality will have a big knock-on effect on retail. There is evidence the October’s tier 2 measures alone meant a further 10-15% fall in shop takings in York, meaning a cumulative fall of over 30% income. Even with the solid government support available, many enterprises will struggle to take this kind of punishment much longer, and depressed pre-Christmas trade may be fatal.
This is why I robustly tackled the Health Secretary in the House of Commons twice last week. After York’s placement was confirmed on Thursday morning, I pressed Matt Hancock to outline how we can rapidly get into tier 1, commit to a weekly review of tiers, and publish the assessment on which our city was put in tier 2. I was somewhat reassured by his answer that reviews to positions will be weekly, or even more regularly, and the evidence base for the decision is being published, and am working intensively on this.
I am particularly concerned about what tier 2 would mean for pubs that do not provide ‘substantial meals’, and cannot therefore serve alcohol under the new rules, and have written to the Health Secretary, asking for an immediate review.
One area where I am more satisfied with Ministers is ongoing investment in local policing. As part of the government’s election commitment to recruit 20,000 new officers, I am very glad to see the North Yorkshire force has added 83 new recruits in the past year. With York’s Conservative councillors raising concerns over a rise in antisocial behaviour in outlying communities like Strensall, I was reassured to receive a commitment in the Commons last month from Home Office Ministers that new officers will not just be concentrated in city centres, but will be deployed to ensure the semi-rural neighbourhoods that make up much of my York Outer constituency also feel the full benefit.