It's time to roll up our sleeves and get on with the job | Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham column
This week the Conservative Party Conference went to Manchester, and I was delighted to not just go there myself, but to be joined by some of our local Conservative councillors and activists, and our Police and Crime Commissioner Andrew Snowden.
This was the first in-person conference since the 2019 General Election. A General Election were I proudly stood as your Conservative candidate.
I promised to do things differently – not to follow the same old, tired, policies that have seen Burnley’s economy stagnate over decades, but to look for new solutions.
And we should be clear eyed about what those challenges are.
Higher than average unemployment, lower than average wages, health outcomes that are different to even the Ribble Valley which is just a few miles away.
These are issues which have vexed government after government.
And the answer to them cannot be the same as before.
It cannot just be turning to the levers of uncontrolled immigration to fix labour shortages, higher welfare spending to fix structural economic issues, and bashing the private sector whilst expecting them to create jobs.
That’s what this conference was about. Getting on with the job that I was elected to do, and ensuring we really do build back better from Covid. Using new ideas, new policies, and capitalising on our new economic freedoms.
Levelling-up is not a single policy, or a single pot of money, it is a set of values – it’s a way of governing.
A way which recognises that strength and talent are spread across the whole of the UK but opportunity hasn’t been.
Fixing that divide was one of the reasons I got into politics and what I won’t stop trying to address.
The Prime Minister’s speech was all about this set of values too, and it was one of the best conference speeches I have ever heard.
It was optimistic, pragmatic, and set out a new direction for us as a country.
Designed not to grab headlines, but to pivot our great country as we emerge from Covid.
It is his leadership, and unique ability to energise people and show an optimistic vision of the future, which will be paramount in transforming the UK in this way.
The scale of the challenge, and the change, should not be overstated.
It can’t be achieved overnight, but all of us in the Conservative Party have the determination to see it through.
As part of this the Chancellor, in his keynote speech, announced the extension of the key Plan for Jobs initiatives.
It included Kickstart extended into 2022 so young people can get into the jobs market where they might otherwise become long-term unemployed; employers given record incentives to take on new apprentices; and tailored and intensive support for those who are long-term unemployed or who find themselves out of work later in life.
And for those in work support is there too.
Work Coaches are now being trained to help people progress in their career, be it through more hours or using schemes like the Lifetime Skills Guarantee to upskill and seek out promotion; and for those in their 50s there will be much better access to information and guidance to help with planning on areas like pensions and retirement.
Growing living standards will also be central to all of this. But those standards come from having access to the high-wage, high-skill, high-productivity jobs that we all want to see.
Our borough has been left behind for too long. Local politicians focused on shouting the loudest, rather than getting on with the job and working with government.
I make no apology for meeting businesses large and small to try and increase investment and job creation, or for spending time with the police and other public services.
It is what gives me the information I need to make a real difference.
We have so much to be proud of locally. A community that has shown incredible strength throughout the pandemic; world-leading businesses innovating day-in and day-out; a football team that raises our profile around the world; a heritage which stands second to none; and individuals who strive for the best for themselves and their family.
The opportunity is there for us to bring all this together to deliver change.
It’s time to roll up the sleeves, get on with the job, and work with the Prime Minister and his new Cabinet to build back better.