By Rachael Maskell

York – this is your city. Where you live and work. Where you raise your family. Where you spend your time.

Our city is so amazing with its social, cultural and industrial heritage; its world-leading innovation and its community spirit. Over the last couple of months, we have witnessed the generosity of thousands of volunteers, the dedication of our health and care staff, the commitment of all those working to ensure we are fed and cared for and the millions of acts of kindness shared in our communities.

But at this crossroads between the pre and post COVID-19, we have some very big decisions to make about the future. I argue that it shouldn’t be the council and Government dictating what that future is, but you.

For a long time our economy hasn’t been working for everybody and we have become one of the most inequitable cities in the UK.

Under the shadows of new luxury apartments springing up across the city, we have families living in overcrowded houses. While some families have a comfortable life, others are struggling in extreme poverty. The last couple of months have made things worse.

The current crisis has revealed our economic weaknesses. Many of those working in the tourist and hospitality sectors are struggling to see over the horizon of COVID-19. Many seasonal workers have been left with no income and zero-hour contracts have sent workers to the job centre to claim Universal Credit.

We have witnessed many people who have invested everything in building up their own business, only to see it swept away almost overnight with no Government funding available for them. The high streets are empty, and we are hearing that some shops may never open again. Charities that provide the glue that holds our communities together are struggling to get the money they need to stop people falling through the gaps.

So when I hear large businesses withdrawing, of council cuts and the Government not following through on its “whatever it takes” promise, it tells me that the future must not rest in their hands. It must be driven by you.

So how do we ‘build back better’?

We need to start with a proper understanding of the challenges we are trying to overcome. This means a full diagnosis of how over time York has become a low-wage, high-cost-of-living city with high levels of inequality - including a risk analysis identifying our economic vulnerabilities and an impact assessment looking at how the economic shock of COVID-19 and a decade of austerity has impacted us.

Next it is essential that we look at the principles we as a community want to embed in the future economy of our city and how we rebuild York as a more economically resilient place, with more equality, more good quality sustainable jobs and access to skills and training for all.

This is where I believe you come in. You are York. What do you want to see?

I believe we need a Citizens Assembly - a York Parliament comprised of the people who live and work in the city to set out our next chapter - to consider the principles our city is built on, our values and our priorities for the future.

How do we ensure that we have that strong York identity? How do we secure the social values this city has espoused?

The Colleges and Universities are already working on the building blocks for economic rebirth. We have great opportunities in the biotech, aggrotech, digital and creative sectors. We have an opportunity to consolidate our rail industries and to unlock our rich heritage and culture in new ways. The entrepreneurship of York has not gone away and can be rebuilt in a more coordinated and cooperative way.

How can we make the most of all these opportunities and invest in innovation and skills to reset our economic direction?

Can we ensure our public money is spent locally to help York’s businesses get back on their feet and to get more money moving round our local economy? Can we develop a ‘Made in York’ identity, so we can pride ourselves in all we produce, deliver and consume? How do we use sites like York Central to support the local economy and reduce inequality?

I want you to decide. Too many times decisions about our future have been dictated by those who hold power or it is outsourced to those who hold money. Why not start with you, and let you decide?