Hilary reading South Leeds Life
Hilary reading South Leeds Life

Clocks, Rwanda and shop workers

I much enjoyed my visit to the Middleton Railway on the occasion of their recent open day. As ever, the volunteers had put on a wonderful demonstration of the living history that embodies the Trust.

One of the display items that caught my eye was a Potts station clock, complete with Roman numerals and a very delicate winding mechanism. It is a wonderful example of the craft of Potts of Leeds. The founder, William Potts, set up his business in 1833 in Pudsey and later moved the factory to the centre of Leeds. From there clocks made with care and skill travelled both home and abroad to adorn churches, town halls, schools, cathedrals, engineering works and of course railways. It is said that there are more than 1600 Potts clocks in existence around England, but there are two stations I’m very familiar with – Leeds and Kings Cross – that don’t have a Potts clock. In my view, they should.

If you’re hurrying for a train, what’s the first thing you do when you enter the station? You look for the time. Nowadays you have to make do with a digital clock and the ones at Kings Cross, in particular, are wholly inadequate. They are small and very hard to see. So, in the unlikely event that I were ever to be promoted to the position of station manager or even more unlikely put in charge of the railway system, one of the first things I would do would be to make sure that these stations were properly adorned with a wonderful example of Leeds engineering craftsmanship.


As I sit here in the House of Commons writing this column, we are waiting to vote yet again on the Rwanda Bill which aims to send some asylum seekers thousands of miles to Africa to have their claims processed. We all want to see the dangerous boat crossings across the Channel ended, but that doesn’t mean that we should not look at this scheme and ask whether it will actually do what is claimed? Having debated it long and hard over quite a period of time, it’s clear to me that it won’t. Why? Because it is a scheme that will cost the taxpayer over half a billion pounds for just 300 people – that’s an eyewatering £2m per person – and it will only cover less than 1% of asylum seekers arriving in the UK. So, by definition, it will neither act as a disincentive nor address the issue. And appearing desperate to send off a few symbolic flights is no substitute for a serious policy.

It would make a lot more sense to put that huge amount of money into improving Britain’s border security, including a new cross border police unit to smash the criminal smuggler gangs. We also need a plan to clear the backlog and end inappropriate asylum hotel use, which could save the taxpayer up to £4 billion. Now that sounds to me like a much better plan.


Retailers and shop workers have been saying for far too long that they are facing unacceptable levels of shoplifting and violence, and are being let down. Shoplifting is up by 30% in the last year with, according to the British Retail Consortium, retailers losing £1.8bn – the highest amount on record.

One main reason for this is the decision in 2014 to downgrade the response to shoplifting of goods valued at under £200. This has given criminals free rein on our high streets to steal popular consumer goods below this value – like Apple Air Pods, Levi jeans and Premier League football shirts – and not face the full force of the law. To make matters worse, over 90% of crimes are now going unsolved, and this means that criminals are less than half as likely to be caught now compared to 15 years ago.

Shop workers and retailers deserve dignity and respect, and violent incidents against shop workers have soared from an estimated 424 a day in 2018 to a staggering 1,300 incidents each day last year. I have long supported a standalone offence of assault against shop workers – which we are now finally going to see – and we should reverse the downgrading of shoplifting under £200. Shop workers are public servants and they deserve our protection.


And finally, spring seems to have arrived although the recent spell of rather chilly weather has led some plants to wonder whether it was wise to start blooming after a couple of days of relative warmth. No doubt, by the time this column is published, we will be in the middle of a heat wave and readers will wonder what on earth I’m going on about. I would in my defence, however, point to what happened on the 2nd of June 1975 when a blanket of snow covered the cricket pitch in Buxton where Derbyshire were playing Lancashire and snow even fell briefly on Lords cricket ground in London. Cold Arctic winds swept across the UK that day with a temperature of -3.3°C recorded in Scotland. If there is one thing we should have learned by now it’s this; never, ever, take the weather for granted. And on that cheery note, in the words of Gardeners Question Time’s Peter Gibbs, “Goodbye, and may the weather be with you”.

First published in the May 2024 edition of South Leeds Life, available online here https://southleedslife.com/mps-notebook-clocks-rwanda-and-shop-workers/

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