York Press column: How the Queen’s Speech can level-up York
May 18, 2022
With nearly forty bills that will deliver on some of the Conservative Party’s biggest manifesto pledges, the Queen’s Speech last week was also an opportunity to add more flesh to the bone of what levelling-up really is.
Of course, my priority will always be how we can level-up York to provide more diverse opportunities for future generations and attract high level investment to improve all corners of our city.
A key part of the new Transport Bill is ending the system of rail franchises and establishing Great British Railways. Readers will be aware that York has made a very competitive bid to be the home of this new public body and by the end of this month we should know whether we have made the final shortlist, which will then be the subject of a public vote.
With ten percent of the national workforce already based in York, being home to the new rail public body would ‘level-up’ our city by attracting even more high-quality jobs and provide a potential anchor tenant for the York Central development. Securing a major anchor tenant would supercharge the project and give confidence for other companies to sign-up for office space ensuring the renewal of the teardrop site does not waste its potential.
Other big projects and future housebuilding across York will soon be guided by the principle of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill: beauty, infrastructure, democracy, environment, and neighbourhoods. While this bill improves on existing legislation by increasing how much developers must contribute to local infrastructure and provides local authorities further tools to regenerate their high streets, I am wary of the inclusion of a trial on street votes which will give neighbours to power to hold mini referendums on planning rules.
Obviously, residents should have the right to express their view on local planning applications but street votes risks creating an uneven planning policy throughout our city whereas I believe the current system, while not perfect, gives every homeowner a fair hearing with every application considered against the same rules and precedent regardless of which suburb or village you live in. I will follow the trial closely to assess the impact such a change in policy could have on York.
With the same logic in mind, I welcome the new Schools Bill which delivers on the government’s commitment to move to a direct National Funding Formula, increasing fairness by making sure every school receives funding on the same basis, wherever it is in the country. This coincides with a boost to core school funding worth £4 billion more by 2022/23 compared with 2021/22, which represents a 7% increase per pupil. There is also funding to for additional tutoring to bridge gaps in knowledge caused by school closures during the pandemic – a risk I flagged at the time and hope will now be mitigated.
The core premise that levelling-up will spread opportunity and prosperity to all corners of the United Kingdom must start with education then lead to greater job opportunities across all sectors.
While some critics have decried it as nothing more than a political slogan, I would say that, with its commitment to levelling up regional towns and cities, this Government is doing more than many past governments to turn a catchphrase into a tangible reality for millions of voters.
As I scrutinise the bills announced in the Queen’s Speech and follow their progress through Parliament, I will always consider their impact on our city and whether they serve the best interests of my constituents. In the last parliamentary session, I put the Government on notice and supported backbench amendments for several key pieces of legislation, namely the Agriculture Bill and the Environment Bill, and I will continue to assess each vote independently on its merits as I scrutinise the latest legislation.
I could not end my regular column without mentioning York City FC’s potential ‘levelling-up’. Like many residents, I have followed the club’s resurgence under John Askey’s management and, after an incredible second half of the season, the Minstermen’s place in the playoff final on Saturday is well-deserved. I wish them all the best of luck and hope to see National League football in my constituency at the LNER Community Stadium next season!