Andrew Jones writes a monthly column for the Advertiser series of newspapers. Below is the July article.
Everyone had a view on Boris Johnson’s premiership; everyone had a view on Boris Johnson.
And everyone knows that for some time I have been deeply concerned that what the Prime Minister told us had happened in a particular situation was unlikely to be a fixed position. This led to the shock result in the vote of confidence, and when it became clear that nothing had changed in the handling of the Chris Pincher affair it spelt the end.
I think enough has been said about these matters. For Mr Johnson it must be crushing despite his irrepressible performances in the Commons since. While I couldn’t back him, I have sympathy on a human level as he faces the end of his Prime Ministerial career. He has achievements to his name and the most prominent are well-rehearsed – bringing the stultifying deadlock in the 2017 to 2019 Parliament to an end, the world-beating vaccination programme and response to Ukraine.
On that human level we should all feel compassion when others, even if we don’t agree with them or like them, suffer personal setbacks. That doesn’t just apply to politics.
While the resulting turmoil in Westminster is eye-catching it should not distract from making progress locally.
That is why I was so pleased to see Northern Rail keep their promise to re-instate the suspended rail services from December. The services were stopped primarily because during the pandemic driver training stopped. When lockdowns ended the normal churn of the employment market began with people retiring and moving jobs but without trained people to fill the vacancies.
Northern said that they would reinstate the services as soon as they could. And they have. I raised the issue of driver training in the Commons at Prime Ministers Questions as it was a wider question affecting the whole rail industry as well as in our area.
It is easy to forget that just over a decade ago we had no direct London services, no Azumas, no waiting facilities on Platform 3, no advance ticket machines, no onboard Wi-Fi, fewer York-Harrogate-Leeds services serving more limited hours but we did have the loathed pacer trains.
And transport improvements are critical for the continued growth of our conference business. It is fair to say that the Convention Centre has come roaring out of the blocks since lockdown ended. Hotel and guest house occupancy rates are high, footfall in our retail centres is good.
As a conference and exhibition venue Harrogate is different to Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham. Here visitors love the town and its surroundings; they appreciate the beautiful and unique location of the conference centre. Great places as they are, the cities where most conference venues are based do not have the appeal of Harrogate and the surrounding areas. That is why we continue to compete with these big players.
But there is a flipside to that coin. The big metropolitan councils who run or are the owners and shareholders in their conference centres can afford the investment required to keep their venues bang up-to-date. We have seen new halls constructed in the forty plus years since the Convention Centre opened but if we think about how the world has changed even in the last ten years let alone since the 1970s, it is obvious that continuous updating and investment is critical to maintained success and growth.
That’s why I am backing the Convention Centre’s bid for investment from the Government’s levelling up fund. I am doing so alongside the Labour Mayor of West Yorkshire so this is a real cross-party effort. Whether we are successful or not the case for ongoing investment in the Convention Centre will remain powerful.
Most people know someone – a friend, a child or grandchild – who has worked in Harrogate’s hospitality sector. Many of our small businesses and independent retailers get a boost from conference delegates spending their visitor pounds. It is those jobs and that spend which the investment proposal we are supporting is seeking to maintain and grow