As we draw to the end of 2016, for many it has been a challenging year. We started with the great clear up after the floods, and while understandably nervousness continues, I have worked hard in Parliament to secure the funding for the full upgrade of the Foss Barrier and ensure that the city has been provided funding for better defences.
Throughout the year I have sought answers on behalf of all constituents as to why with the knowledge of our changing climate, the city was so ill-prepared for floods, why insurance schemes have been inadequate in supporting residents and businesses; and why uplands water catchment management is not going to be funded by the Government until at least the next Comprehensive Spending Review in 2021. The floods also showed the nation what an incredible community we have in York, one that gave up Christmas, and rallied generously to give food, clothes and time to help get York back on its feet. Now as Labour’s spokesperson for the Environment, I can assure you that I am very focused on holding the Government to account over flooding, resilience and prevention, you deserve no less.
The spring was dominated by debate over the future of the EU and since then so much more information has come to light. The relationship is complex, and far from perfect, and the future outside the EU is still unknown. Many of the promises given by those urging a leave vote have vanished, as have those who made them. I am scrutinising every statement and believe that you have the right to see the negotiation framework and to have a say on the end result. If the Government fail to get the UK the best deal, I believe you should have the final say. By 2019, I believe we will see a very different Europe emerging following debates across many EU countries. How we trade and collaborate, how we move across borders and build a vision for a better world together is central to new discussions, but also how we draw on the best of Europe in protecting employment rights, environmental protections and yet ensure that local people have the first opportunities to training and jobs is all important.
In conjunction with all of this, we have had the closure of Oakhaven and Grove House Residential Homes, the closure of Archways intermediate care, the closure of BHS and the announcement that Imphal and Queen Elizabeth Barracks will close. As your MP, I will always review the evidence for decisions, and if these decisions are not in the best interests of York, as I believe has been the case with each of these decisions, I will always take the challenge to the decision makers. I may not win every battle, but will put everything into doing what is right by our community.
Most worrying of all has been the state of the economy in 2016, the lack of housing, the increased insecurity of work, an NHS which is getting harder to access, social care which is seriously underfunded, a welfare system which is failing those most in need, and so many people desperate for food needing the foodbank. These are choices that the Government is making. We have had 6½ years of austerity, and borrowing is still up, investment has not occurred and we have experienced all of this pain for nothing. The national debt is now a staggering £1.7trillion and personal debt £1.5trillion – both far, far higher than after the recession. Things have gone badly wrong, and it is the stories you tell me in my surgeries which highlight the personal cost.
My hope comes from Labour. After a year of internal debate a strong team has come together, leading Labour with a costed, fairer and progressive vision for the future of our country. One which will radically bring redress to the widening of inequality, which will invest in industry and jobs, which will fund our public services and one which will reach out across communities like York. It has been a long time since we have seen such hope coming from politics.
But my final words of hope for my column this year, comes from my late colleague and friend Jo Cox MP who inspired all of us out of absolute tragedy, we must always remember “that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and best wishes for the New Year.