Rachael Maskell – 2022 Speech on Employment and the High Street

The speech made by Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central, in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons, on 7 December 2022.

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mrs Cummins, and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) for securing the debate.

If we were in York today, we would see that it is buzzing, which is no accident, because York BID—the business improvement district—along with the York High Street Forum and Indie York, which represents 65% of businesses in York, have worked so hard. York is thriving, but they are worried about what will come in the new year, and they certainly do not feel comfortable about that, not least given the challenges ahead. Energy is still an issue, but we are also still working through this recovery, which will take some time.

Today, I will focus my comments on some of the innovation that is happening in the high streets of York. We have the StreetLife project on Coney Street, which is looking at the future and considering what York’s high streets are going to be like, including the opening up of a new high street on the riverside that will be a new opportunity for businesses to invest. Currently, a centre is open that people can come into, and it is wonderful seeing children playing in what used to be a high street shop. People can come and just take in what our city is about.

I want to focus in particular on the Guildhall project. We are looking at new skills, businesses and opportunities in the city. The University of York has made a significant investment, as a university for public good, working to take a 30-year lease. Already, we are looking at 160 jobs coming into the city centre, giving it a new life. The university says:

“A crucial part of the University’s civic mission as an institution for public good is to support local business and community networks, and as we rebuild and recover from the pandemic the Guildhall will enable us to provide more expertise and training to help our regional businesses and charities to recover, innovate and grow.”

The Guildhall project is really exciting. The 15th-century Guildhall now has offices around it, and Eagle Labs and the University of York have come along to support new entrepreneurs in our city to accelerate their businesses and grow them, bringing new businesses into our city centre with office space, conferencing facilities, a café and co-working. There is a great opportunity there, with training and networking for existing businesses, and business leaders coming into the heart of our city. This is how we are revitalising our high streets: with the businesses for the future and the new communities for the future.

Catherine West

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her positive tone. Combined with her ideas on housing, which she has talked about in the House, what she describes could be a really fantastic way forward for York, with the university, the housing and the vibrant high street.

Rachael Maskell

I thank my hon. Friend for her comments. Of course, we are building that vision for the future of our city and it is coming to life.

There is not only the Guildhall project. Spark is a community interest company in our city centre that has now set up in old shipping containers, no less. It is a real community space where there are start-ups, support, events, a food bank, a kids’ cinema kids—you name it, it happens at Spark. It is an exciting place.

We need to ensure that the kinds of initiatives I have mentioned get the support that they need to be able to grow and create the next generation of our high streets. That is why I look to the Minister, while he has the pen in his hand, to think about how we invest in the future of our high streets. In particular, we should look at the investment funding pots that can be applied to, to ensure that we really give energy to these opportunities and see the businesses, growth and entrepreneurs flourish in the future, while ensuring that we build stability in our towns and cities for the years ahead.