Politics First Article printed December 2018
When it comes to hospitality or tourism I wouldn’t be surprised to find that most people do not give even a second thought to exploring for themselves the delights offered by my constituency.
After all, how could an area once renowned for steel and coal mining be part of the hospitality business? Well, my advice would be to look again, because the beautiful countryside offered by this small corner of the Pennines has emerged from the shadow of the industries which once dominated the area.
Far from being a smoke stacked, archetypal part of the north, Penistone and Stocksbridge is characterised by green rolling hills, with around a third of it sitting in the Peak District National Park. An ideal base for walking and cycling, with the former building on the reputation of Sheffield as the walking capital of Britain.
To the surprise of many in 2014, the Tour De France decided its grand depart would start in Leeds and finish in Sheffield. Well, it was a surprise to all those who don’t know South Yorkshire. Those who do realise just how special our contribution to the race would be. Already many cyclists had discovered that the area’s country lanes are ideal riding country and mountain bikers had long since discovered the Peak District National Park offered ideal terrain for their sport. But downhill bikers too have a love of the area, and indeed one of the sport’s greatest world champions, Steve Peat, is a local.
But to return to the world-famous Tour de France, which has left both an economic and a sporting legacy for my constituency. It is estimated that the event brought in some £100m to Yorkshire, with many small businesses reporting an increase in sales. This was especially so in the hospitality sector, which saw accommodation quickly booked up and pubs and restaurants enjoying increases in business as tens of thousands descended on the small town and villages in the area to be part of the race. My constituency was a grateful beneficiary of this boost to the local economy.
What was really priceless was the wall to wall television coverage that brought the area to the attention of a worldwide audience. While locals laughed at commentators desperately trying to pronounce ‘Oughtibridge’ as riders climbed yet another hill, we were nevertheless aware that TV coverage of the race put the village on the map and the world discovered our great countryside. Since then the annual Tour De Yorkshire has twice visited the area and indeed last year the race finished in the town of Stocksbridge. On that occasion, we saw some 3000 amateur riders from all over the country take to the road in the annual sportive and for the event itself, thousands lined the route, turning the streets yellow.
It is estimated as a result of these events accommodation spend in Yorkshire has increased 6.5% year on year and non-accommodation items such as food and drink, souvenirs and transport are up by some 9%.
That is, however, only part of the story because the exposure these cycling events have brought to the area is helping to transform hospitality, bringing visitors from far and wide to see other attractions throughout the year.
For instance, the ancestral home of the Earl of Wharncliffe, ironically, in typical south Yorkshire fashion is now owned by the trade unions and offers weddings and weekend stays in an idyllic country house setting. Cannon Hall, nestling in the heart of the constituency and once the home of the Spencer-Stanhopes, sits alongside Cannon Hall Farm and together they help Barnsley attract an impressive 1.2m visitors a year. The Farm, which sits in the grounds of the stately home, is, in fact, going from strength to strength and is now an awarding winning venture and the focus of Channel 5’s Springtime on the Farm.
All in all, north Sheffield and western Barnsley is doing its bit to build its hospitality sector and in so doing to extend its contribution to the UK economy. We still make things in our area, but we know that our newly discovered potential for leisure and tourism is a source of future economic strength for us. With the right support from Government, we could do much more and in so doing not just build our economic contribution to the country, but also our contribution to the country’s health and well-being.
Published in the Farmers Guardian October 2018
Well finally the Agriculture Bill has begun its journey through Parliament. This is a Bill which we have been promised will radically change the way in which farmers work the land in a post Brexit Britain.
It is unfortunate, therefore, that no one, including the Prime Minister herself, seems to have any idea what post Brexit Britain will look like. European treaties are, of course, notoriously difficult to negotiate, but even so we are well beyond the eleventh hour and we are running out of time to get a deal in place. As many people predicted, it is the seemingly intractable problem thrown up by the need to avoid a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic that is preventing progress. Avoiding the establishment of such a border requires the UK to stay in the customs union and the single market, an outcome loathed by hard line Brexiteers.
Worryingly, the Government appears to be preparing seriously now for a no deal scenario and a disorderly fallout from the EU by the UK. Already work has started on turning the M26 into a lorry park; even with a deal, the predicted extra time required to process a lorry is a concern. But without a deal the queues could be catastrophic, so much so that we hear of plans for the culling of livestock caught up in such a situation.
In the latest set of notices published by Government we are starting to see just how catastrophic a no deal might be for the farming sector. For example, bureaucracy and costs will increase in relation to exporting animal feed and breeding animals for export, key activities for the sector.
In the case of animal feed exporters will be required to have a representative within the EU state they wish to export to. While some larger exporters may have branches already established abroad, for smaller companies this will mean extra costs.
For the equine sector; a no deal could be a disaster, with the UK being treated as a third party country. This would necessitate Export Health Certificates to move equines, even on a temporary basis, to a EU country. EU certification would also require additional action from vets to confirm absence of disease, not only requiring more planning from the owner but additional cost in the region of £200 to £500 per animal.
The sad reality is that we are now approaching the sharp end of the Brexit process, with no sign of significant progress towards a deal. The likelihood of a no deal is increasing by the day and the uncertainty is affecting many farmers on a daily basis.
I don’t believe anyone voted for this mess and what is becoming very clear is that there is democratic legitimacy in placing the final decision on Brexit in the hands of the British people. Whether we have a deal or no deal at all, the outcome of two years of negotiation falls far short of what people believed they were voting for in July 2016. On that basis, let’s support the People’s Vote.