A silver lining in a black cloud haeger

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Another week, another publication of jobless figures and yet again more depressing confirmation that growing numbers of people in our country and in our part of the world are not working.

Unemployment in the UK rose again in the months from June to August, and has now reached a point where over two and a half million people are on the dole. This is the highest level of unemployment since the early 1990s.

As usual, our region has borne the brunt of this depressing news. The unemployment rate has gone up faster in the North-East than in other parts of the country, so that now over one in 10 people are looking for a job.

This is an inevitable consequence of stripping demand out of the local economy. It seems madness to me that for a Government whose primary (indeed only) economic objective is to pursue a deficit reduction programme, it seems to be cutting the means by which this country will be able to pay off the debt. By having more people in work and securing more economic growth, surely the Government would see more people and companies paying more tax, thereby cutting the deficit more quickly, as well as saving money on unemployment benefit?

However, amid the deep and widening gloom, there is cause for some optimism in the local economy. This week Tata Steel announced that it would invest £2million in its Hartlepool tube works and has negotiated a supply deal with a German steel tube producer to boost its ability to take advantage of the offshore renewable energy sector.

This is great news on a number of levels. First, it reinforces Tata’s commitment to Hartlepool, safeguarding much needed jobs in the world class pipe mill for a number of years and holding out the prospect of more employment in the years to come. In the week of depressing news on jobless figures, this is sorely needed.

But perhaps even more significant is that it confirms Hartlepool’s growing reputation as the place to do business in the growing offshore renewable energy industry. We in Hartlepool have the skills, the infrastructure and the experience to embark upon large scale fabrication and engineering projects. We also have the ambition to secure this work and I will relentlessly bang the drum for Hartlepool to become the centre of excellence for offshore renewable energy, not only in this region, not even in the UK, but across the world.

This £2million investment from Tata will not only boost its own company and its workforce, but will be repaid many times over from the great supply chain we have in the local area. Companies like PD Ports, Heerema and TAG Solutions will benefit from playing some part in the fabrication, manufacture and distribution process. I also hope that such positive news will demonstrate to Spanish firm Gamesa, who are looking to build a UK facility at either Hartlepool or Dundee, that our town is the place to do business.

The ability for a relatively small town to have the capability to do “end-to-end” stuff in renewables is astonishing, and much commented upon in the industry, boosting still further Hartlepool’s reputation.

In a small area, a wind turbine can be fabricated to a world class standard by a skilled local workforce, have its components built, as well as its related cables and jacket foundations, and then sent to its customer via a deepwater port.

Not many areas can boast of such a co-ordinated system.

In a depressing week for news on unemployment, with growing confirmation that the Government’s economic policies are hindering growth and increasing the numbers of those out of work, Tata’s investment is a much needed silver lining in that black cloud, and a cause for optimism and celebration.