Sayeeda Warsi: Yorkshire Post

Published in The Yorkshire Post, Monday 17th October 2011

Recently I was asked what qualities I bring from my Northern roots to my role in Government. My response was simple: what I bring to the Cabinet table is Yorkshire common sense.

A common sense approach to politics means that you don’t do what politicians normally do and deny the obvious. It means you don’t spin your way out of something that’s gone wrong. It means telling it as it is and being straight with people – having the courage to be upfront and frank.
So let’s be frank about the problems our country is facing. Times really are tough. The world faces a very serious debt crisis. Families are struggling. Here in Yorkshire, many people are worried about losing their jobs. I know how that feels – my father lost his job and faced unemployment. What the Prime Minister said last week was true: every job loss is a tragedy for an individual and for a family.

So last week I was back on the campaign trail, travelling round my home county of Yorkshire and listening to people’s concerns. People were telling me the same thing: it’s not easy. They are switching from buying fresh to frozen; they’re leaving the car at home; they are thinking twice – or even not at all – about going on holiday this year. Others, small business owners, are asking how they are expected to weather the economic storm.

When they told me their concerns I didn’t soft soap them or dish out the usual platitudes. Instead, my message was the same as my father told me when he was struggling: we can get through this; we can ride out the storm; we can build a better, different future. And Britain can achieve that better future, but as a government we need to take the right decisions for the long-term.

What that means, firstly, is living within our means. Everyone in Yorkshire knows – and we have taught our children this for years – that you can’t get anywhere if you weigh yourself down with debt. Our economy is a bit like a household budget – you have to deal with the credit card or the bills will keep on mounting up. Unlike the previous government, we know that the way out of debt is not by creating more debt.

Secondly, it means helping hardworking families and those who do the right thing. Right now, people are worried about the monthly outgoings, the weekly shop, today’s bills. So what is this Government doing? We have funded a freeze in council tax, leaving people in this region with an average of up to £70 back in their pockets. Then there is the increase in the personal allowance, which, in Yorkshire and the Humber is benefiting a whopping two million people and taking 26,000 out of tax altogether.

Thirdly, the key to a stable economy is getting people into work. So we are joining forces with local businesses and organisations to create around 10,000 new jobs in Yorkshire through the Regional Growth Fund. We are making sure work actually pays by reforming the benefits system and introducing the fairer, simpler Universal Credit, while setting up the largest welfare to work programme Britain has seen since the 1930s. We are helping people to gain the skills to take up employment, with more than 10,000 under-25s on Jobseeker’s Allowance in this region gaining from our work experience programme and many others benefiting from our work academies.

Finally, a better future requires a strong economy for the long-term. When I was in Slaithwaite last week I visited a bakery, which relied on community support and investment to raise the £40,000 necessary to renovate and equip its bakery, café and training school. This is just the sort of innovation and community-led growth that we need. And that is why Local Enterprise Partnerships – of which there are three in this region – are putting power in the hands of businesses and councils to capitalise on local entrepreneurialism and expertise to create their own thriving economies.

My Yorkshire common sense tells me we need to be frank about these tough times, but that we also need to be positive about forging a better future. Clearing up the financial mess left by Labour, living within our country’s means, taking the pressure off the families’ budgets, creating more jobs and making work pay – this is the sort of long-term approach my father taught me, and it’s the approach this Government is taking to secure stronger economies in every corner of the country.