Labour’s five pandemic priorities this Yorkshire Day – Rachel Reeves

THE chance today to celebrate Yorkshire Day gives us a great opportunity to think about what makes our county so unique.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves - a senior Shadow Cabinet member - is challenging the Government to do more to protect jobs put at risk by Covid-19.

We all have different reasons why Yorkshire holds a special place in our hearts and different locations that are important to us.

For me, there are quite a few. I married my husband nearly 10 years ago at the stunning neo-gothic St Bartholomew’s Church in Armley and am honoured to represent the people of Leeds West in Parliament.

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One of my favourite places, as anyone who knows me can tell you, is Bramley Baths – where I helped fight off a closure threat almost a decade ago. So, I am delighted the pool is due to reopen on Monday. I have missed my regular swims in its fantastic surroundings and cannot wait for my trip next week.

Bramley Baths is due to reopen next week - much to the delight of Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves. Photo: Simon Hulme.

A few years ago I did the Great North Swim in Lake Windermere to raise money for St Gemma’s and Wheatfield hospices. I am hoping to do it again in 2021 and will start training by opening water swimming in Yorkshire before too long.

Later this month, I will be heading with the family to Scarborough on holiday to enjoy the beach and the lovely Peasholm Park. I hope we will also get the chance for a walk around beautiful Robin Hood’s Bay, and maybe a trip to Whitby for fish and chips too.

Yorkshire is full of amazing places from our great cities like Leeds and York to the landscapes of the Dales and the North York Moors to the coast that deserve celebrating all year round, not just on Yorkshire Day.

Sadly, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has meant many planned events are not going ahead this year, including the Tour de Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Show. The hospitality and tourism sectors that rely on visitors to our region are among the worst hit.

Scarborough remains a firm favourite of Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves.

For many of those businesses, today is a significant date for another reason. It marks the start of the Government’s tapering down of the furlough scheme for workers and firms suffering due to Covid-19.

The months ahead are going to be an immensely difficult time for thousands of people in Yorkshire and across the country.

As the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme moves towards a close at the end of October, many workers will lose their jobs as businesses find they cannot survive without help.

According to the latest figures, around 9.5 million people are being supported by the furlough scheme at a total cost of £31.7bn.

However, with more local lockdowns on the cards following the new restrictions imposed on Thursday in areas including Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees and social distancing measures still in place, I fear that the Government is bringing the support to a premature end.

There was a prediction from the National Institute of Economic and Social Research this week that unemployment levels could rocket to 10 per cent – levels not seen since the early 1980s when pits and industry closed for good in Yorkshire and elsewhere.

Desperate for support, one man contacted my office after unsuccessfully applying for 100 jobs. Others who have been made redundant are fraught with worry about their prospects of finding another job.

Measures like vouchers for bike repairs or money off a meal might grab a headline or two, but they just do not seem commensurate with the scale of the challenge when jobs are being shed in retail, the arts, manufacturing and many other sectors.

The Government must make protecting and creating jobs its priority as we try to combat the devastating social and economic impact of Covid-19.

Under Keir Starmer, we made clear yesterday that Labour will be doing all we can to protect jobs and help people, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities, get through the looming recession. Labour’s plan for jobs is something the Government should get behind.

That means focussing on five key areas: fighting to preserve jobs; backing businesses and saving our high streets; ensuring that no one is left behind; keeping workers safe in the workplace; and new ways of driving job creation.

It is incredibly important that we protect and create jobs in the North. Under the Conservatives, the gap between London and the rest of the country has widened. And, for all the talk of ‘levelling up’, we haven’t see any so far.

Amid the gloom, the great news about the promotion of Leeds United to the Premiership will be a welcome economic boost, as well as a sporting success, for the city. It’s a good development and will help create badly needed jobs. However, with more local lockdowns forecast, the Government needs to be doing far more.

The Government’s approach is too rigid. It’s crazy we are asking people with the virus to do the right thing by self-isolating at home, but not giving them any support when they cannot go to work and earn a living. And, it’s wrong the Government is asking areas to extend the lockdown without any financial help for businesses or workers.

Boris Johnson and his Ministers need to be much more flexible when it comes to supporting lives and livelihoods. If they fail to help now, we risk turning the looming recession into a catastrophic loss of jobs and businesses.

Rachel Reeves is Labour MP for Leeds West and a senior Shadow Cabinet minister.

Editor’s note: first and foremost - and rarely have I written down these words with more sincerity - I hope this finds you well.

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Sincerely. Thank you.

James Mitchinson