Interview - Harrogate MP calls for better deal for the North

Harrogate and Knaresborough's newly-reelected Conservative MP has called for the national economy to be "rebalanced" after the election result showed that "many in the north felt let down" by the previous administration.

Friday, 20th December 2019, 10:32 am
Updated Friday, 20th December 2019, 10:35 am
Victorious Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones, centre, Lib Dem candidate Judith Rogerson and Labour candidate Mark Sewards.

Victory was in the air long before Andrew Jones arrived at the count at Harrogate Convention Centre last Friday morning to hear he had been elected as Harrogate and Knaresborough MP for the fourth time in a row.

It was a night of triumph across England for the Tories and Boris Johnson at last week’s General Election but the result in Harrogate felt like a very personal achievement for Mr Jones who overcame the most concerted effort of the last decade by the Lib Dems without seeming to breaking sweat, securing 29,962 votes with a vote share of 52.6%.

Last week’s result saw Lib Dem candidate Judith Rogerson receive 20,287 votes, a substantial rise compared to the Lib Dems’ total of 13,309 in 2017.

But Labour candidate Mark Sewards, failed to repeat his groundbreaking display of 2017 when he won the most votes for his party in the town since 1966, his share of the vote falling from 20.1% to 9.6%. The Yorkshire Party's Kieron George achieved 1,208 votes at his first showing.

Despite his success, Mr Jones told the Harrogate Advertiser there was no time to sit back and savour the victory.

He may have received what he described as “the warmest reception” on the doorstep he had received of all the campaigns he had fought.

But he said he realised there were many problems waiting to be addressed.

The Harrogate Advertiser talked to Mr Jones about how he saw the next five years unfolding.

Question: What are the three main local issues which most need to be addressed during your new term?

Andrew Jones MP: It is difficult to identify local issues that don’t have some sort of national policy context or national issues.

Inevitably, therefore when considering the main local and national issues there will be significant overlap.

We all know that our NHS and education are top national priorities. In addition to these I want to address some where national actions have a local impact and vice versa.

As a nation, as well as in Harrogate, Knaresborough and Boroughbridge, we have to adapt to the significant changes we are seeing in retail.

Over 2,500 people replied to my recent Harrogate Retail Inquiry to give a ‘customers-eye’ view of retailing in Harrogate.

Over 40 per cent told me that they do most or all of their shopping online. It isn’t the cost of parking or congestion that have stopped some using our town centres; it is the ease of being able to go online and shop from home or anywhere.

People used to come in to town to shop. Now we need to provide additional reasons for them to come in to town when they would otherwise not do so and encourage them to shop while they are there.

That may be providing entertainment in the town centre, it may be better promotion of the trademark independent shops we have in our area, it may be bringing living accommodation back in to our retail centres, it may be putting empty shops to new uses such as churches, schools or community facilities. It may be a mixture of all these options and more.

But we need that open and honest discussion. This shouldn’t be an issue where people try and allocate blame for the situation with retail – whether it is pointing the finger at landlords and their high rents or anyone else.

The truth is that online shopping has changed the rules of retail and our town centres are still largely playing by the old rules.

Most people, nationally and internationally, would put climate change as the most important issue but it has very local consequences too.

We can see that our weather patterns are changing. In September we had the worst rainfall since the 1970s, our winters seem to be warmer and wetter, the scientific evidence all points at man-made global warming.

It makes sense to reduce our carbon emissions.

In Harrogate and Knaresborough we have Air Quality Management Areas caused by exhaust emissions – these areas of poor air quality affect our health and that of our children.

To combat this we need more infrastructure for electric vehicles, more infrastructure for walking and cycling, a move away from the car and alternatives available.

Across the world travel is the biggest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. Local action contributes to the global fight.

I want to see our national economy rebalanced. We cannot alter the fact that the capital of the United Kingdom is London and it is in the south of the country.

Everyone recognises that investment in infrastructure is the key to economic growth and we need that investment in the north.

That is not to say that good progress has not been made over the last nine years and there is always a lag between investment and impact.

Part of this re-balancing may come from devolution – giving more powers to regional and local government. Important too will be further investment in the Northern Powerhouse and Transport for the North.

The election results show that many in the north felt let down by their previous representation. It is important that the government keeps faith with those who put their trust in it by continuing and accelerating investment in the north.

There are many other local and national issues which need attention and ongoing support. I would just mention one more which is particularly pertinent here. We have a strong and passionate voluntary sector.

Volunteers make our area better whether that is improving our environment by planting trees or looking after native woodland.

It may be running someone without a car to a hospital appointment or into town to shop. It can be organising an event like the Bed Race or the Boroughbridge Family Cycle Day.

We need to continue to support, nurture and grow our voluntary sector.

What sort of next five years do you envisage for Harrogate and the nation? Good, tough, encouraging or difficult?

Andrew Jones MP: I am an optimist so I am sure the next five years will have their challenges but if we approach those challenges with a positive outlook and a determination to work on them together I am sure that we can rise to them. Our future is bright.

My politics isn’t about negativity and telling people ‘others can’t win here’ or demonising parties and their leaders. My politics is about partnerships, communities and solutions. That approach will serve well for the next five years as it has for the previous nine.

Finally, are hopeful of getting a Government post in Boris's cabinet reshuffle?

Andrew Jones MP: I think it is vanishingly unlikely that the Prime Minister will offer me a role in his Cabinet. There are plenty of capable people around to choose from.

My main objective is to represent my constituents and our area to the best of my abilities.

I am grateful beyond measure that so many trusted me to do that again.