As 2020 draws to a close we can all reflect on this most difficult and challenging of years. There’s no doubt that this year has been incredibly hard for us all – families kept apart, communities tested like never before, loved ones lost before their time. This year’s festive period has been bittersweet for many Barnsley families.
There is, however, cause for optimism as we look towards the New Year. An effective, safe and reliable vaccine is being rolled out, which is the surest route back to normality for 2021. It was heart-warming to see the first Barnsley residents getting their jabs in recent weeks, starting with Wombwell resident Herbert Barker who – at 83 years young! – was blazing a trail for all our local residents. The operational and logistical task of getting a vaccine rolled out will be huge in the first few months of the New Year but I know our incredible NHS – tested under fire this year – will more than rise to the challenge.
Whilst we can be hopeful that life will return to normal in 2021, the task facing all of us is to ensure that there is no return to the status quo. This last year has brought out the very best of our community spirit: the incredible community groups and volunteers, neighbours supporting each other, friends taking a moment to check up on someone who might be feeling low. We can all endeavour to keep that going in good times, as well as bad.
The same is true in the world of politics. Although the Coronavirus pandemic highlighted the extraordinary capacity of the state to respond to the gravest public health crisis in living memory, it also exposed that a decade of austerity has left our public services weaker and less resilient than they were ten years before. The next decade cannot mean a return to a failed status quo that has held back communities like ours for far too long.
2021 also will mark the ten-year anniversary since I was first elected to Parliament. It has been the honour of my life to represent the people of Barnsley Central over that decade. Supporting the thousands of vulnerable people who have turned to my team and I, often when they had nowhere else to go. Working with the organisations and volunteers who expect no praise but without whom the wheels of our communities would cease to turn. Getting to know the amazing local characters – some of whom are sadly no longer with us – who make our town what it is: a proud, industrious, straight-talking community.
Whatever else the last ten years have brought, there hasn’t been a quiet moment! A by-election, three general elections and a Mayoral election; two history-shaping referenda; political, economic and health crises that have strained our institutions and public services. Every generation feels as though it is living through an era of profound change but that is especially true in the 21st Century. It’s an era that requires bold solutions: a stronger, more vibrant democracy that empowers people and places; an economy that is stronger, greener and fairer – where the wealth we create is shared more fairly between those who create it; and it means reforming our society so that were you grow up doesn’t determine where you end up. The last ten years have sometimes felt like we are sliding further away from those goals, as the challenges we face grow ever greater. The mission of the next ten years is to rise to those challenges and building a Britain that works for all.