York Press column – York must look forward for future prosperity
March 23, 2022
While in recent weeks I have successfully focused on pushing the government to drastically step-up its provision for Ukrainian refugees to match the ambition of our wider response to Putin’s aggression, I have also continued working for our city in other areas.
In advance of the Chancellor’s Spring Statement today, I thought it was important to press Ministers to pay close attention to what our city needs to succeed in the modern economy. I was therefore very pleased to work with York University to invite the Minister for Science George Freeman to visit Dunnington Biorenewables Development Centre earlier this month, to learn about this and the wider BioYorkshore project.
This collaboration between York University, Askham Bryan College, FERA Science at Sand Hutton and regional businesses aims to create 4000 skilled, high-wage jobs and put York at the heart of the growing bioeconomy sector, which could be worth an extra £220 billion a year by 2030, helping secure the city’s long-term prosperity.
BioYorkshire aims to rapidly translate scientific discoveries into new green products, producing materials, chemicals, fuel, food and animal feed with less environmental impact. The Minister and I toured the Centre’s cutting-edge labs, dedicated to converting waste and plant matter into new goods. We also heard first-hand about a new nitrogen technology that could reduce the need for fertiliser use, and latest breakthroughs in protein extraction from potatoes that could be applied to produce vegetarian and vegan foods. Finally, we inspected the facility of a biochemical enterprise that converts residential and business waste into recycled materials for sale.
I helped arrange this visit so we could impress the Science Minister enough to secure strong government backing for BioYorkshire, which is a massive opportunity to deliver growth and skilled jobs for York and the wider region. I think George Freeman was very enthused by the innovation and potential he saw, and the period after the visit has already brought the wonderful news that the firm Aziotic Technologies is relocating to York on the strength of the opportunities the BioYorkshire hub offers, bringing 14 high-skill jobs and generating up to 30 more.
Speaking of looking to the future, I was very glad to see the last remaining British coronavirus travel rules scrapped last Friday, in good time for Easter family holidays. Although sadly necessary during the peaks of the virus and before we had built up our national vaccine shield, special requirements for international travel have been burdensome for families and very damaging for the many travel businesses based around York, and I am relieved we have now seen the back of the Passenger Locator Form and testing for inbound passengers.
I have consistently pushed the government to return to normal, safe international travel arrangements as soon as possible, of course while continuing to monitor for new overseas variants. As the first major world economy to remove all covid travel restrictions, we are making a confident declaration that Britain is open to the world and open for business, vital if we are to repair the economic and social damage wrought by the pandemic.
The value of thinking long-term has also been demonstrated by recent figures, showing 22,000 people across York have gained the security of an occupational pension in the ten years since automatic pension enrolment was introduced by the Coalition government in 2012.
As a result, the section of the workforce saving for retirement in this way has risen massively from 10.7 million to nearly 20 million people, and this has advanced financial inclusion by drawing in groups proportionally less advantaged by workplace pensions in the past, like younger employees and women.
Local beneficiaries are part of a big nationwide increase in pension coverage, with participation in occupational pensions more than doubling from 42% to 86% during 2012-2020. I am proud to have backed this wise policy when it was first introduced a decade ago, and it is very reassuring to see such tangible benefits accruing to city residents. Schemes of this kind are essential to demonstrate hard work pays, and to guarantee peace of mind in older age. This success reinforces my determination to continue working to maintain the welfare and prosperity of our community for years to come.