As I write this, I’ve just remembered that today I should have been at the Beeston Festival which is always one of the highlights of the year. It’s a reminder of just how disrupted normal life has been by this pandemic.
And yet we have found new ways to support one another and do good. All over the country, from the wonderful Captain Sir Tom Moore to the streets and communities of South Leeds – the latest example being the quizzes and bingo sessions organised by the residents of Parnaby Avenue in Hunslet – people have come together to raise money for the NHS. A big thank you to everyone involved, not least because this community effort shows how the virus has made us think about what is really important in life.
By the time you read this, the easing of the lockdown on the 4th of July will be taking place. We are all looking forward to doing things that we haven’t been able to do for the last three months, but that does not take away from each and every one of us our responsibility to act in a way that protects ourselves and others.
Although we have seen a significant and very welcome fall in the number of infections and deaths, the virus has not gone away. And in the absence of medicines to reduce the severity of its impact or a vaccine, the only thing we have to protect ourselves for now is the way in which each of us behave. We all know what the risks are, and it is our responsibility not just to listen to the advice but to act on it.
As the lockdown eases, and the process of winding down the furlough and self-employed salary schemes begins, many businesses will start to get a sense of what the future holds. I am pressing for further specific help to be given to those sectors of the economy that have no chance in the short term of getting up and running again. I’ve been in touch with a number of these in the last couple of months from music venues and arts organisations to people who have put their life savings into opening a small business who know that because they are still unable to open they will eventually cease to exist unless they get further help.
And we should also be thinking about how to create new jobs and lots of them, including for young people coming out of school and further and higher education.
Here’s a couple of suggestions. We know that to get to a zero carbon future, we’ll have to change the way we do things. One of those changes will be to replace gas boilers and cookers in our homes with ones that don’t burn fossil fuels and so emit CO2. Whether their replacements are powered by renewable electricity or by renewably-produced hydrogen is for the designers and engineers to work out, but we’re going to need a lot of people to make the new equipment and install it and the Government to meet the cost.
The other idea is to do with HS2. Why don’t we start building the eastern leg from Leeds southwards? It would create employment and show that we are determined to prioritise new investment in the north as we start the long journey to recovery.
In difficult times we need big ideas. What do you think?
Oh, and here’s looking forward to the Beeston Festival in 2021.
First published in the July 2020 edition of South Leeds Life, available online here https://southleedslife.com/author/hilary-benn-mp/