Dehenna Davison: Levelling up means nobody should be forced to leave their home town

27 Feb

Dehenna Davison is MP for Bishop Auckland.

The past year has been tough. Nobody can deny that. The Covid-19 pandemic has taken a toll on us all; affecting society’s health – both physically and mentally – and hitting our economy hard.

We mustn’t underestimate the economic hit Covid-19 has delivered, a hit which has shone a light on many of the economic and social divisions that already existed in our society.

With the Chancellor saying in November that our economic emergency has only just begun, we must now look at how we can ensure we use the recovery in the most effective way to level up our country.

Levelling up is at the heart of what I came into politics to do. When I talk about levelling up, I’m talking about ensuring that whether you’re born in Bishop Auckland or Beaconsfield, Birkenhead or Bath, you have access to the same opportunities.

Right now, we see young people being pushed out of towns to cities like Newcastle, or down south to London, to chase those very opportunities. The Centre for Cities report, The Great British Brain Drain, has shown housing and transport infrastructure are the main barriers to young graduates returning to, or staying in, their hometowns.

Whilst the report focuses on graduates, it’s important to highlight the role inward local investment plays in creating those high-skilled job opportunities for non-graduates, such as through apprenticeships. We need to do more to prove to young people that there are other ways to get a high-skilled job than just moving away for university.

With the Government’s recent announcement on the Green Industrial Revolution, creating 250,000 jobs, we have a real opportunity to create those high-skilled, high-paying jobs in areas like County Durham.

We don’t have to look far to see what investment can do in helping to level up. Just look across to Tees Valley to see the great work Ben Houchen is doing as Mayor. With the South Tees Development Corporation, Tees Valley has been able to secure inward investment and redevelopment, ensuring a strong base for local job creation.

If you’re a young person in 2020, we know it’s tough to get on the housing ladder. Average house prices are more than four times higher now than in the 1990s, but the same has certainly not been the case for average earnings. We need to ensure that young people do not feel frozen out of the housing market. Schemes such as Help To Buy have been lifelines for many, but in many cases, the supply of good quality, affordable housing is also an issue.

The Government’s proposed planning reforms will have a great impact on house building, helping to ensure a generation of young people are able to access the same opportunities of home ownership that their parents had.

However, what is also highlighted in research on why people tend to move towards more urban areas is that it’s not just for a job, but for the overall living experience. People want to live in areas that are attractive, and where there are fun and engaging things to do. For example, in Bishop Auckland, I often receive complaints about the fact that the town doesn’t have a cinema.

But I have a plan. People want vibrant town centres, with a buzz of both day and night life, and good places to socialise. In this sense, investment in public realm works and cultural and leisure assets is crucial. The Building Better, Building Beautiful Commission has stressed the idea of building well-connected communities in towns, where homes are blended with shops and civic buildings to create a real sense of place and community.

The Government is providing the tools for this, with £3.6 billion being invested through the Towns Fund alone. Bishop Auckland is benefiting from this scheme, adding to the cultural investment from The Auckland Project, together hoping to radically reshape the town centre to make it a more attractive place to live and work.

Strong public transport networks are also crucial. It’s all very well creating high-skilled jobs, but if people in certain areas can’t physically get to them, then the full benefit of levelling up efforts will always be limited. We are lucky to be living in a fast-moving technological age, so we need to be exploring options, like on-demand bus services, to provide transport routes in the most efficient and convenient way for consumers.

However, with Covid-19 accelerating workplaces’ adaptations towards working from home, this creates huge opportunities for areas that those working for firms based in major cities may not have ordinarily considered living in. Towns like Bishop Auckland could begin to market ourselves as ‘digital commuter towns’. Why shouldn’t we aim to attract those in highly-paid roles working for Manchester or London firms who are predominantly home-working? Why shouldn’t we aim to have more money being put into our local economy?

Yes, Covid-19 has presented many challenges, but it has also presented opportunities. As we focus on a recovery that aids levelling up, we need to look at ensuring that young people have multiple reasons to want to stay in their hometowns. That they’re able to aim for local, high-paid jobs, or opportunities from further afield that the digital age makes possible. That they’re able to settle down in the streets they grew up in, and they enjoy spending their free time where they live.

This is how we will truly deliver on the mission to level up.

This is part of Bright Blue’s essay series, Centre Write.

Dehenna Davison: We need to dig deep to understand why more women don’t go into politics – but quotas are not the answer

21 Dec

Dehenna Davison is MP for Bishop Auckland.

Women are outnumbered in Parliament and local government by two to one. So what’s the answer to getting more into politics and retaining them? Networks like Conservative Young Women.

The 2019 General Election returned the highest number, and proportion, of female MPs ever recorded and a new record of female Conservative MPs, me included. I firmly believe that, if any party is doing the most to get women elected into public office, it’s the Conservatives.

While admittedly it is the Labour Party that still has the most female MPs elected, that is predominantly because of the use of all-women shortlists or quotas, something any self-respecting meritocrat could never support.

I certainly didn’t want a better chance of being selected because I was a woman. I just wanted a fair chance at getting there. And, in the end, the Bishop Auckland selection final comprised of two blokes and me. I have the confidence of knowing that I won fair and square based on merit, and not because of my gender.

Besides, regardless of Labour’s use of all female shortlists, it has still failed to produce a single female leader, whereas the Conservative Party delivered not only the first female party leader, but the first two female Prime Ministers.

It can’t be denied that tools like quotas can be useful for getting women through the door. However, if we are serious about getting more women into politics, it has to be more than just cosmetic. We have to dig deeper into the reasons why women aren’t already getting involved. That means looking into, and addressing, the cultural and working practices that exist in Parliament and local government, which create and maintain significant barriers for women.

A recent study by the University of Bath suggested there are three factors that prevent women from getting into elected life: social and cultural barriers, structural and institutional barriers, and knowledge and information barriers.

The social and cultural barriers are, to some extent, the hardest to change. Politics has long been thought of as a man’s world or a boys’ club. I am confident that almost every political woman, of any party affiliation, could name multiple examples of going to a political event and being the only woman in the room. For some people, this wouldn’t pose a problem – I certainly never felt put off because of such experiences.

However, for other women I have spoken to, it can be very offputting walking into a room full exclusively of men in suits, particularly if this happens during someone’s very early political experiences.

Paradoxically, the best way to tackle these cultural barriers is by getting more women elected. But not just women – people of all demographics from all walks of life. The more the makeup of elected politicians reflects our society, the easier it will be for people from non-traditional political demographics to picture themselves in positions of power and consider standing for election. The 2019 General Election saw the most diverse Parliament ever elected, and we must continue this trend.

The structural barriers have been changing in recent years, with measures put in place to make Parliament more parent-friendly. An in-house nursery and more sociable working hours are all part of these steps. And we have seen excellent female MPs like Chloe Smith, Juli Lopez, and Kemi Badenoch taking maternity leave while doing Ministerial jobs.

On the knowledge barriers, training is key. Groups like Women2Win and the Conservative Women’s Organisation have long played a crucial role in providing training opportunities for women interested in political life.

The pipeline of good candidates is paramount, and that means making sure we have excellent younger women ready to take on leadership roles in their communities when they arise. That is why I am delighted to take on the role of Honorary President of Conservative Young Women this year.

Conservative Young Women is for those aged 18-35, meaning that despite officially being too old at 27 to be a Young Conservative I am still thankfully well within the bracket! CYW is laying the groundwork to deliver change to the often perceived masculine character of Westminster.

Now a central feature within the party, the organisation this year has gone from strength to strength and, despite the challenges the Coronavirus pandemic has thrown at the world, the organisation has delivered a number of fantastic events remotely.

If we are to achieve 50/50 representation without the use of quotas, it is vital that we connect young women in the Conservative Party so that they can share their resources to learn more about political life, and understand the opportunities available to them.

Confidence in conviction can sometimes be all that holds back a woman and visible representation of women in power is key in ensuring women are empowered to stand for election. With representatives from across the UK (including the devolved nations) and events for young women to connect and network, the Conservative Young Women’s organisation is the backbone of the effort to get more women into political life.

In my role as Honorary President, I will be working with Conservative Young Women closely over the next 12 months to see how best we can tackle some of those earlier mentioned barriers. I am excited to work alongside Ella Robertson McKay and the new committee of talented women.

One of the things I’m really excited about is the CYW Policy Essay Competition, which we launched last week. We’re asking young women to write a short essay about a policy to tackle one of the key challenges facing our nation. As well as a cash prize, the winners will get to pitch their idea to senior leaders from the Number 10 Policy Unit and the Conservative Party Board. To find out more, go here.

Despite incredible progress in recent years, there is still a long way to go to encourage more of our talented women to consider going into politics, and sharing their skills and expertise for the good of our society.

But it is a challenge that I and Conservative Young Women stand ready to tackle.

Dehanna Davison: To hold former Red Wall seats such as mine, we must grasp what its older voters believe and want

16 Oct

Dehanna Davison is MP for Bishop Auckland.

So much has changed since the 12th December 2019, but the reasons that so many people supported the Conservatives remain the same.

People didn’t just vote blue because they were fed up with Labour, they voted for us because they saw that we shared their values, and understood what is important to them. We must remember that people will only vote Conservative for as long as we continue to demonstrate this.

The Prime Minister showed this in his recent speech at the Conservative Party Conference, in which he reiterated his commitment to fixing the crisis in our care system. When it comes to health and social care, he understands that people want to be able to access it when they need it. It’s not just about emergency care for the broken arm that needs fixing, but the support of a carer that means you can stay in your own home for longer.

I was proud to stand on a manifesto pledge that promised to fix social care last year and was encouraged to hear that the Prime Minister still sees this as a priority after the year we have had.

However, as the party of the former ‘red wall’,  the Government cannot presume, when it comes to areas like Bishop Auckland, that every older person is sitting on a house that can be sold to pay for their care. Just six in ten older people in the North East are homeowners, compared to eight in ten in the South West. We need to radically rethink what care looks like and how people pay for it. If we do this through the lens of the ‘blue wall’, we can earn people’s trust on health and care for a generation.

We also need to think about the money in people’s pockets. That doesn’t mean handouts, but making sure people who pay in feel like they are getting a fair deal. Of course, when it comes to pensions, most pensioners have some private savings, but the state pension remains the single most important source of income for older people in this country.

We must keep this firmly in mind when we think about the triple lock. Any changes to the state pension would have the greatest impact on pensioners on low and modest incomes in seats such as my own, and the underlying reasons for retaining the triple lock – to protect the value of the state pension today and for future pensioners too – remain as strong as they did before the Coronavirus hit.

As a blue wall Tory, part of my role is to hold a mirror up to the Government to make sure it understands that the needs, wants, hopes and aspirations of places like Bishop Auckland are as important as those in areas like Maidenhead and Uxbridge.

While it would be a mistake to over-generalise an area as diverse as the ‘blue wall’, it is fair to say that these are the places where many normal, hard-working people live. What matters to them has to matter to the Government.

Being elected Bishop Auckland’s first-ever Conservative MP was one of the proudest moments of my life. The swathe of blue seats in the former ‘red wall’ give us the opportunity to change the lives of people in areas like my constituency, and the country as a whole, for the better. I, for one, do not intend to waste that opportunity. If we address areas like health, care and cash in the right way, we won’t go far wrong.

The Prime Minister’s speech suggests that he knows what matters in seats like my own. The population in many of them is are ‘older’ than average: 22.7 per cent of my constituents are aged 65 and over, compared with a UK national average of around 18 per cent.

Older people’s wants and needs are not quite as niche as we might think, though. Research from Age UK shows that, like their families and communities, they want decent social care if they need it, a well-run NHS, and to feel they are getting a fair deal from the system they pay into.

Until last December, Bishop Auckland had been a safe Labour seat since 1935. If it’s going to stay blue for as long as it was red, the problems that people in the ‘blue wall’ face in accessing decent health and social care, or having enough money to get by, need to be our problems too. If we fix these problems, there is a good chance we can rely on the trust and support of our residents for years to come. So let’s get on with it.