York Press column – Renewing York after a normal Easter
April 20, 2022
I could not begin without addressing last week’s ‘partygate’ developments. It is incredibly concerning the Chancellor and Prime Minister have been found to have breached coronavirus regulations on 19th June 2020. We rightly expect the highest level of conduct from elected officials, and I fully share the anger expressed by the many constituents who have contacted me.
I repeat my commitment that I will not shy away from holding those in government to account and no consequence should be off the table. It is more important than ever that the police investigation is concluded swiftly to allow the full Sue Gray report to be published. We can then make a final assessment based on all the facts, and resolve the problem once and for all.
On a happier note, we have just been able to enjoy a normal family Easter, thanks to the world-leading vaccine shield our country has put in place. Last year, we were still under lockdown and international travel remained banned, with many of us awaiting our first haircut of the year or the reopening of a favourite pub.
I think we have all received a painful lesson in the value of family meetings, social occasions, and similar things we took for granted. Easter is the season of new life, and renewal after sacrifice. It is therefore very appropriate to use Eastertime to give thanks for the return of normal life with all its variety and energy, and to reflect on those things that really matter.
Given the devastating economic impact of the pandemic, especially on younger generations, it is especially encouraging to see York’s recovery continuing apace. Our city retains its pre-pandemic position as a prosperous, high employment commercial centre, with an unemployment rate of just 1.4% in my York Outer constituency against a national average of 4.2%. As a parent, I am especially glad to see the rate for 18–24-year-olds is the same, and even further below the national figure.
This month also brings news of the imminent renewal of our city bus service, with Ministers listening to my ongoing lobbying for new transport infrastructure by allocating us £17.4 million. Part of government ‘levelling-up’ plans to ensure more areas can benefit from bus transport of the quality enjoyed in London, this could serve to lower travel costs while extending work and social opportunities for residents currently held back by limited transport options. Of course, the nature of housing and employment around York means many households will always have to drive. However, creating better bus connections for those who can utilise them usefully complements ongoing plans to improve the ring road, also helping reduce pollution and congestion, while keeping our busy city on the move.
Although rightly maintaining a solid Yorkshire scepticism of snappy slogans like ‘levelling up’, recent news our county will receive over £130 million in place of EU regional funding from the government’s new Shared Prosperity Fund does give me hope meat is being put on the bones here. This is a real gain from Brexit, as instead of sending taxpayers’ money to the EU to be spent as they see fit across the UK, our own government can decide how to use these funds to improve opportunities and life chances across regions, directly influenced by Yorkshire MPs like myself.
Disaffection with governing elites in regional and rural France has been a major factor in carrying the extremist Le Pen into the final round of this Sunday’s French presidential election. Fulfilling the government’s commitments on regional transport improvements and ‘levelling up’ life chances is an important way of ensuring our own society never becomes so polarised as to result in a similar terrible fate.
Following the change and growth of spring, Parliament is also posed to renew itself with the opening of a new session and a fresh Queen’s Speech setting out government priorities and plans for new laws. I want to see a further commitment to support York families with the rising cost of living whenever needed. The Ukraine war again highlights the necessity of secure British energy and food supplies, and I hope the Speech outlines further measures to achieve this, especially through expanding domestic production of both.