Politically Speaking: By Yvette Cooper, MP for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford
Our town centres need support to get going
As lockdown starts to ease again, we are all looking forward to getting a haircut, going to the shops or the pub, and seeing family and friends.
Thank you to our local Covid heroes who have helped us get through this year – including the volunteers who’ve been organising and helping us deliver Easter eggs, food parcels and activity packs for local families in the holidays.
But now things are easing, our town centres need support to get going.
Shops, pubs and cafes have had a tough 12 months.
Wakefield Council has been supporting local businesses and market traders, and it is good news for local shops and shoppers that Wakefield’s cabinet has decided to continue free parking in council car parks for two hours.
But we need the government to do its bit too.
It is crazy that online giants like Amazon which has made huge profits during lockdown still pay so little in tax, while small high street shops are struggling. This is topsy-turvy.
Ministers shouldn’t be letting these online giants off the hook. I’m calling for a proper overhaul of the system so that our high streets get more support and Amazon pays its way.
Our local pubs need continued support as well. Many round here don’t have big pub gardens and won’t be able to properly get back to normal for a while, so the government needs to keep supporting them.
Ministers also need to make sure we don’t go backwards again. The NHS is doing a great job rolling out the vaccine, but we have to guard against new variants like the South African strain which is spreading in Europe and is less susceptible to some of our vaccines. That’s why it is so infuriating that the government is still refusing to properly test everyone who comes into the country.
Ministers are rolling out regular testing to anyone and everyone here in the UK – we have a local community testing centre in Castleford, home tests being sent out and even school children have to do regular tests.
Yet thousands of people a week arriving in the country for work are still exempt from testing – such as those on government business or hauliers who stay for less than two days. It makes no sense.
We’ve also heard that rules aren’t being applied to other travellers.
Border force officers have said that thousands of people have been arriving as tourists for holidays even though we’ve all been in lockdown and people living here haven’t been allowed to visit family.
It is incomprehensible. The Home Office don’t seem to have a clue what is going on.
For months I have been banging on at the government and the prime minister to sort out proper testing and Covid border checks and I just don’t understand why they are always so slow to act.
After I challenged the prime minister on this again a few weeks ago, he did eventually agree to introduce some testing for long stay hauliers and that has started this week.
But it is always too little too late. All travellers arriving in the UK should be tested.
After the sacrifices people across our towns have made, none of us want to go backwards again now.
That’s why the government needs to sort out proper testing, Covid border checks and also local business support, so we can stay on track and keep moving back towards normal life.