Earlier this year, Nouse interviewed Andrew Jones, who has been the Member of Parliament for Harrogate and Knaresborough since the 2010 general election. His constituency borders York so I asked for his perspective on student issues in the city as well as broader national matters.
Given the extensive impact of the current University and College Union (UCU) strikes, I began by asking him about how the disruption of industrial action can be minimised. Mr Jones made it very clear that: “we should be making every effort to resolve the dispute” as “negotiations should take place with both sides sitting down without baggage and bringing a desire for resolution to the table.” He stressed the importance of “good faith” and “genuine talk” in order to alleviate the “genuine hardship” that both students and staff are experiencing.
On industrial action more broadly, I asked him about the role of the government in bringing about a resolution to the numerous ongoing disputes in 2023. Mr Jones argued that: “you can’t just say it is business as usual because it really isn’t” hence “the government must do all it can to bring inflation down.” He sees inflation as the primary factor driving the cost of living crisis which has spurred unions to take industrial action for better pay and working conditions. He recognised that: “it is a lot easier to get pay rises from organisations that are growing so I would be seeking to get more people using our railways, not less, and more people using Royal Mail”, along with other services.
In relation to public services, Mr Jones noted that: “we have to respect the independence of the pay review process but work with both sides to get a solution.” Given his representative role as a member of parliament, it is his impressions that: “most strikes early on receive public support” but for long-lasting ongoing industrial disputes, “there is declining public support for strikes because there are so many of them across the country.”
One of the biggest issues facing students across the country, but particularly in York, is the issue of accommodation and affordable rent. Having detailed the housing situation in York to Mr Jones, I asked him about potential solutions. Reflecting the voices in the students’ union, he argued that: “we simply need more homes” and that it is “a question of quantity and mix because supply and demand is driving up prices.” As York is an attractive town for residents and tourists, he recognised that “short term holiday lets and Airbnbs are taking property out of the market for students.” In Harrogate, he welcomed the decision taken by the local council to “double charge council tax on properties like that.”
Housing though is a national issue which Mr Jones recognises is “fairly emotive.” Broadly, he reflected that: “people do want to see the green belt protected” so “you’re going to have to build up in city centres.” He stressed the importance of “creativity and imagination” in improving the density of cities but he recognised that: “getting the balance right is difficult.” He welcomed the idea of ending no-fault evictions for tenants and the promotion of shared equity schemes to get more people onto the housing ladder.
Given Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s announcement early this year that he wants all teenagers, up to the age of 18, to study maths, education has reappeared in the national political debate. Mr Jones argued that: “we do need to have a conversation about how more people can learn maths and other STEM subjects” as “maths underpins most jobs of the future.” As a promoter of apprenticeships and T levels, he condemned the “snobbish attitude towards vocational education” which “is wrong and it needs to go.”
“You’re earning is linked to your learning” so we need to “define learning in a broad way and keep people learning”, particularly to enhance skills that will help to decarbonise the economy. He was hopeful that this was possible and even pondered the possibility of achieving our net zero target five years early.
Given how “turbulent” the political scene has been over the past year or so, Mr Jones urged young people to see “politics as a force for good.” When looking “across the House of Commons, I see people who want to do their best for their communities.” He recognised that “the behaviour in Downing Street during lockdown was pretty demotivating” so he urged politicians to “measure the outputs and start talking about issues which matter to people.” As a priority for 2023, he wants to play a part in bringing politics away from “soap opera levels” of drama and “making our communities stronger, better and safer places” for local people.
On a local level, Mr Jones is focused upon “improving the water quality of the river Nidd” as this is a “huge local campaigning project.” As the Chair of the European Statutory Instruments Committee, he will also be focusing upon scrutinising the EU Retained Law Bill, while working to promote infrastructure investment as the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Infrastructure.
Mr Jones ended by saying that: “2022 was a grim year.” but “I’m also more positive” about 2023. He complimented Rishi Sunak as a “high energy, super smart and fundamentally decent” man who is focused upon finding “practical, detailed and sensible” solutions as “the aftermath of the pandemic is still being worked through in lots of areas.”