In the House of Commons I asked for an urgent debate on unemployment in the North-East.
The reason I did this is very simple: the situation regarding the number of jobless in the town and the wider North-East region is starting to reach crisis levels.
The figures published earlier this month show, as I pointed out to the House of Commons, that 4,633 Hartlepool people were out of work in January 2012.
Last year the figure was 4,314 and five years ago the figure was 2,640. In the space of half a decade, the number of people out of work has jumped by over 75 per cent.
I called for a debate because I believe that this is the single biggest issue facing our town and the North-East. I am due to make a speech in Sunderland on Friday to the Institute for Economic Development, and I will be making the same points there.
The statistics are stark. The unemployment rate in the North-East is the highest in the country, at some 12 per cent of the workforce.
The employment rate in the North-East is the lowest in the country. The claimant count rate in the North-East is the highest of any region. For every job vacancy in Hartlepool, almost 23 jobseekers are seeking to fill it, the highest ratio anywhere in the country.
It is little wonder that this week, a young man contacted me on Twitter to ask why he had to move 100 miles away from his family in the town in order to try to obtain a job at minimum wage. This shows all too vividly how bleak the jobs situation is.
In calling for a debate in Parliament on this issue, I mentioned my belief that Government policy is not helping matters but making it worse.
In response, the Minister denied that Government policies are making the situation worse and suggested that having low interest rates would help create jobs in the North- East.
He suggested to me that the picture is not quite so dismal as I painted it. If only that were the case.
The Minister needs to come to Hartlepool to see for himself how difficult it is for the town. It’s all well and good having low interest rates – borrowers obviously prefer that, although savers do not – but if the Government is stripping demand out of the regional economy by raising VAT, making many North-East public sector workers redundant while actually increasing the number of public sector workers in the South East, that is bound to have an impact on the region’s economic and job prospects.
I’m not going to be put off by the Minister’s comments. I’m going to keep pushing for a debate in Parliament on unemployment in Hartlepool and the North-East to highlight this huge social and economic issue facing us, and how the Government needs to change course and help people in our region.