York Press column – New lockdown tests our city’s resolve
November 5, 2020
This weekend it is Remembrance Sunday, and although York’s traditional commemoration is sadly curtailed by coronavirus, our thoughts will still turn to those from our community who endured great trials to preserve our way of life, a reminder that the people of York do not give up easily.
The return to national lockdown this week on top of the existing tier 2 (high alert) restrictions, in line with the renewed lockdowns in France and Germany, while less stringent than in the spring, is nevertheless a big challenge for our community.
I share many of the concerns expressed about the impact, and only support the move on the explicit basis that it is short-term emergency measure. I expect the government to keep to its aim of lifting lockdown from 2nd December, returning to a regional system reflecting the local level of the virus, under which I want York to come straight out into tier 1 (‘medium’ alert), and will use the parliamentary vote on next steps in December to make this plain.
I believe periodic lockdowns cannot be a long-term solution, and accept this shift only because at the moment, there is no alternative. As it stands, I am persuaded that sharply rising case numbers make it essential to take tough short-term measures to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed, and prevent unacceptable loss of life
Although I have serious concerns for York’s businesses, and want them able to trade normally as soon as possible, I am reassured by the Chancellor’s latest support measures, with the extension of the furlough scheme paying 80% of employee wages through November, extension of the mortgage holiday, and grants of up to £3000 per month for all enterprises required to close.
Residents can rest assured I will be lobbying for a clear exit plan for York after this month’s lockdown, in line with the encouraging local decline in coronavirus we are seeing. I will also push for the maximum help for local business, and keeping open gyms, sports clubs and outdoor activities.
I had already been pressing the government forcibly on these points. Two weeks ago at Prime Minister’s Questions I pushed Boris Johnson on specific support for tier 2-impacted businesses, and also to set out a roadmap for our city’s escape from tier 2, starting with more information on why we were placed in it. I was very reassured to see my call for more financial support met the very next day by the Chancellor, with grants of up to £2,100 a month for enterprises affected by tier 2 measures, and a bigger Treasury wage subsidy for employees, to secure household earnings and protect jobs, alongside higher income support for York’s self-employed.
I know coronavirus-related disruption to routine NHS services remains of concern to many constituents, especially older residents. Last month I asked the Health Secretary in the House of Commons about support for York Hospital to get its cancer referral figures back up to normal levels, building on our local NHS’s good work in keeping haematology and oncology treatment going at the height of the pandemic. I am reassured by the government’s statement that non-coronavirus NHS provision should continue during this new lockdown.
Even before the lockdown announcement, I was pressing for a clearer plan from Ministers as to how York can get itself out of tier 2, which is one reason why I felt it was important to sign a joint letter from over 50 Northern Conservative MPs to the Prime Minister last week, requesting a roadmap down the coronavirus tiering system for local authorities, to reduce any risk of a disproportionate impact on the region.
Our letter also pressed the government to remain focused, despite coronavirus, on its election commitment to boost prosperity and investment across Northern England, with the prioritisation of projects like the high-speed Manchester-Leeds railway, and ultrafast broadband.
Having lobbied Ministers on support for theatres, I warmly welcome the award of £236,000 out of the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund to sustain the York Theatre Royal. Ultimately, we are all making big sacrifices so we can look forward to returning to normality, so we must ensure the preservation of local social and cultural institutions along the way.