Each New Year brings with it the hope of a better future. This year is no different. It is the time we focus on planning – maybe to take a brave new step in our personal journey such as getting fitter, finding a new challenge, giving up a bad habit or changing jobs, moving house or starting a new relationship. As the weather remains depressing and the days are short, we think of summer and holidays and plan to spend more time with family and loved ones.
My elder son caught Covid just before Christmas when he was due to fly to Ecuador with his wife and children to see her family for the first time in eight years. Her father had just recovered from major surgery so, because she and the children tested negative, they decided to fly without him. A week later, he was finally able to join them, so they were all together for the New Year. The whole family were thrilled that the story had a happy ending. In the meantime, we used Zoom to include him in our Christmas lunch, so he wouldn’t be home alone and lonely. After nearly two years under the shadow of the pandemic, we have all learnt the importance of settling for compromises and being grateful for small mercies.
I remain optimistic. I believe 2022 will offer great opportunities for many people looking for work. There are thousands of jobs across a range of industries available locally. I have talked to many business owners and they are keen to offer training and good prospects for the right candidates. They tell me that they are looking for the right attitude more than experience and that is something that we can all bring to the table.
For some, the experience of furlough or working from home has led to re-evaluating their priorities and reflecting what matters in life. Now is a good time to explore those feelings. We have all had to learn to live with the fear of the unknown as Covid 19 spread. We now accept that freedom comes at a price. In recent weeks I took the decision to vote against the Covid Pass for nightclubs and major events as I did not believe it would be an effective measure and recognised that the hospitality industry was already on its knees. Every decision is a judgement that will have both supporters and critics, and it is particularly difficult on a public health issue. I did stress the importance of vaccination and of the booster programme and simple measures that make people feel protected such as face masks, but I also believe that we have to trust the common sense of the public to take personal responsibility for individual behaviour and that government should provide regular information updates rather than mandating further restrictions.
The situation now is far more nuanced than it was in early 2020 when we knew nothing about the virus. We are much better equipped to tackle Covid, and we are painfully aware of other major challenges – the mental health of the nation and the backlog of other treatments in the NHS. The economy is bouncing back and we all want to see it raising the standard of living for everyone, so it’s good news that investment in Stoke-on-Trent is at an all time high, with the £56 million pound government investment in three key projects kickstarting regeneration in the coming year. The city is expected to be the sixth best place for business growth in 2022, according to a recent study. As the Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent Central I will continue to focus on securing investment for our city this year, as well as fighting the campaigns that matter to us all, such as leading the Harper-Lee Foundation’s work to improve the awareness of button battery safety and consulting residents about the reinstatement of the Stoke – Leek line for the feasibility study. I will continue to speak on health inequalities and food insecurity, look at the challenges for our young people, tackle local environmental issues and find solutions that improve air quality, and to ask for more direct investment in grassroots organisations to deliver projects at neighbourhood level, so everyone in every community has a fair chance to get ahead. I will continue putting people before politics in 2022, listening to you and representing you with a strong voice.
Happy New Year.