While living in a two-bedroom council flat in Howden Clough meant my family were a million miles from the Variety Club’s owner James Corrigan’s ‘why have one Rolls-Royce when you can have two’ lifestyle, we were excited by his ambition.
I see devolution and the election of a West Yorkshire Mayor as our chance to reach for the stars again. For West Yorkshire to be known as the best place to live, work and raise a family. It’s also a chance to do politics differently so everyone’s voice is heard and all our wonderful, diverse communities respected.
While I didn’t have a stereotypical background for a politician, my journey from council estate kid to freelance actor and writer, living from job to job, has prepared me far more for public service than any elite university or political job ever could. The feast and famine nature of self-employment builds resilience, determination, humility and tenacity.
I feel incredibly privileged to have represented my home constituency of Batley and Spen in Parliament for the last four years. I became an MP in the most tragic of circumstances after the murder of my friend Jo Cox. We’d campaigned together during her election and against the closures of local libraries.
In a bitter irony, she had been encouraging me to think about a career in politics. Coming in from a high-profile by-election as a relative newcomer to politics had its challenges, but I hit the ground running and brought a fresh perspective.
Conservative governments have held our region back with over a decade of austerity, cutting our public services and making the most vulnerable pay for the economic crisis. This devolution deal gives us an opportunity to take back control from Westminster for the good of our region. Sadly, there will be challenging times ahead in the wake of the pandemic.
That is why my immediate priority will be to build on work under way already to establish a Job Creation Task Force to create good, unionised jobs and retraining opportunities. A Skills Plan for our young people to get the tools they’ll need to find work in an uncertain jobs market, using the Government’s ‘Kickstart Scheme’ to create a Green Jobs programme.
We’ve known for decades that the current transport infrastructure in West Yorkshire is close to breaking point. The region needs a better, sustainable public transport system. I will apply for powers to establish an Integrated Transport System where you can get on any bus in West Yorkshire, tap your bank card to travel with a flat, fair fee.
I will also fight for funding for public transport infrastructure, especially the long-promised tram system, using 21st century battery and internet enabled trams. Also, as a keen cyclist, I would commission a radical cycle and walking strategy to help us become a champion of clean air, health and wellbeing and the green economy.
With the numbers of evictions mounting post-Covid, ensuring everyone has a decent place to live must be a priority too. Working with experts, I will create a social housing task force, using Yorkshire’s expertise in building low-carbon homes to fund thousands more. Homelessness is a stain on our communities, and I will do all I can to eradicate it.
During the pandemic we saw the best of our communities. I want this spirit of co-operation to be the hallmark of my tenure as Mayor. To do this, I will create a Co-operative Enterprise Zone to provide financial support and co-operative solutions to the problems in our towns and cities – whether that’s housing co-ops, nurseries or community transport.
Finally, I know our creative industries are admired across the world. Screen Yorkshire, Channel 4, BBC, Sky, National Film and Television School, Yorkshire Sculpture Park, National Science and Media Museum, Backstage and our independent film companies all punch above their weight.
I will build on this reputation, supporting training for our youngsters and co-ordinating with all five councils, to become a one-stop-shop for the best crew, facilities, talent and locations. Culture can be a powerful driver of regeneration and job creation.
For too long, our region has been left behind. Our voice ignored and dismissed. That must never happen again. West Yorkshire can come out of this crisis stronger, happier and more ambitious than ever. But for that to happen we need a Mayor with vision, experience, optimism, passion and a determination to deliver.
I will be that strong voice for West Yorkshire.
Tracy Brabin is Labour MP for Batley & Spen. She is also Shadow Culture Minister.
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