Clearly, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a marked impact on us here in West Yorkshire, and will continue to do so, but I have a plan to help lead us towards recovery which is both substantial and effective.
Firstly, if I become Mayor, I will support the Opportunity Area in Bradford. I worked in and with Opportunity Areas when they were first launched and I’m committed to improving the life chances of young people, but I want to go further.
I believe we should have satellite opportunity areas operating with the main Department for Education assigned scheme. I will deliver four new ‘Opportunity Areas’, one each in Kirklees, Calderdale, Wakefield and Leeds. This will help share best practice and knowledge among our schools and teachers so we target efforts to improve the life chances of young people from some of our most deprived communities.
It will mean we can bring partners together including our universities, colleges, Further Education establishments, charities, councils and others to co-ordinate our efforts, improve the skills of our workforce and seek local regeneration opportunities such as new housing on brownfield land, support for start up businesses and forging new and improved transport links.
Opportunity starts in school, but I want West Yorkshire to be a land of opportunity for everyone.
Many people worry about crime. They worry about their car being stolen or their home being broken into, they worry about drugs on our streets and their children being a victim of knife crime. And they worry some of our streets aren’t safe.
Added to that, our excellent police officers have come under threat far too often. In 2019/20 there were over 2,000 assaults on the police recorded in West Yorkshire, up 15 per cent from the previous year. I will work to reverse those statistics. The Government has already started the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers and we have already recruited almost 400 new officers here.
I will ensure the recruitment continues. And I want to go further. I believe that our police need the extra tools to keep the public and themselves safe. I want all frontline officers to be trained and equipped with a taser. Officers should have the confidence to know they have this equipment if they need to use it so they can keep our streets safe.
It also means making sure our rural communities are kept safe with equipment to protect towns and villages, not just the city centres. Sadly, our farms and rural communities are too often seen as easy targets for criminals engaged in county lines, drugs, burglary and theft. So, I will renew and reinvigorate schemes like FarmWatch.
Furlough, the business grants and other support from the Government have helped millions of people during the last year and this funding has proven crucial for many household budgets to stay afloat. Now, when I speak with people, there is a sense of hope and optimism.
The successful vaccine rollout and the sense of light at the end of the tunnel have allowed people to think of their future, returning to work, reopening their business, seeing their family again and even something as simple as a pint with friends.
The worst thing we could do for our local economy is to kill off the recovery by putting new pressure on already stretched household budgets. The new Mayor has the power to levy new taxes on households.
I want to offer people certainty not just for the election year but for the years ahead. If I am elected Mayor there will be no new local taxes. We need to spend what we have better, we need to ensure projects don’t run over budget and we need to squeeze every penny out of every pound. As Mayor, that’s just what I’ll do.
We need someone who understands the region, who lives and works here, and who isn’t afraid of speaking truth to power.
But we also need someone who will seek common ground, who is willing to work with others to get the people of West Yorkshire the best deal and who won’t use the mayoralty as their political megaphone to seek an argument with the Government.
I believe more engagement, hard work and placing people at the centre of decision-making is what the people of West Yorkshire want from the new Mayor and that’s exactly what I will do.
Matthew Robinson is the Conservative candidate in the West Yorkshire mayoral contest and a Leeds city councillor.
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