York Press Column: Opportunity
October 5, 2018
With party conference season now over, readers may be expecting a break from the political coverage and analysis that hogs television screens and newspapers this time of year. If this is the case – although I expect it won’t be – then do not assume it will last long.
The slogan for this year’s Conservative party conference was “opportunity”; I sense an element of ambiguity here to encapsulate not only opportunities for individuals and families but also those opportunities available to Britain as we leave the European Union. A lot of thought goes into slogans and buzzwords but severe danger lies ahead for any politician or party unable to articulate the real meaning of these on the doorsteps.
I certainly want Britain to be a place where young people have the opportunity to become homeowners. “Build more homes” is a frequent response to this challenge but I only wish it were so simple. Fundamentally, increasing the housing stock alone will not boost home-ownership levels. This is why the Housing Minister spoke about a million first-time buyers who are expected to benefit from the Government’s cut to stamp duty, with 80% paying no stamp duty at all. Furthermore, the Prime Minister announced that she will be scrapping the cap on how much local authorities can borrow in order to fund new developments.
Here in York, we will benefit from the adoption of a Local Plan which helps to deliver the range of housing our residents need, but clearly more work needs to be done nationally to fix this systemic issue. Therefore, I am pleased we have a Government that recognises new developments are only feasible when strains on infrastructure and services are addressed.
On this point, I must admit that I did a double take when the Secretary of State for Transport announced that York’s outer ring road will be one of the first schemes to receive investment from the Major Road Network fund. Many regular readers will be pleased about this, some will be relieved we are closer to achieving a functioning road and others will be happy I won’t have to keep banging on about it in these pages. Work is expected to commence in 2020-21 and we’ll be receiving more details in the spring. The Major Road Network finally addresses those economically important routes, such as the A1237, that are maintained by local authorities and in need of investment.
Further positive news that will be welcomed far beyond York was the Chancellor’s announcement that fuel duty will be frozen for the ninth year in a row. Successive freezes since 2010 have saved the average car driver £850 compared to previous fuel duty escalator plans. Reducing the burden on motorists not only produces wider opportunities for employment, but also makes days out and the school-run more affordable.
I wrote in my last York Press column about my concerns about rural crime and the need for a step-change in how it is addressed to help rebuild the confidence of our rural communities. I was therefore pleased to note that the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, specifically addressed this point in his key speech. I shall be watching closely in the expectation that these welcome words become action for our communities, but the address to Conference should be encouraging for the many residents who have raised policing priorities with me in local correspondence.
Mr Javid has been in post for a short while, but I get the sense he understands that all too many people believe law enforcement is becoming too detached from day-to-day crime and this is particularly the case in rural areas.
Finally, I was delighted with the Prime Minister’s announcement of the new cancer strategy that will see the age for bowel cancer screening fall from 60 to 50. I raised this exact issue at Prime Minister’s Questions in May, stressing the importance of catching the disease earlier through better diagnosis, and this outcome shows what can be achieved through cross-party work. When we speak of opportunity it is easy to become focused on abstract notions and bogged down in reams of data, but what greater opportunity could a Government provide to its citizens than healthier and longer lives to spend with loved ones?