LAST week I secured a debate in Parliament on the subject of “unemployment in the North-East”.
I have said this before but it is of such importance that it bears repeating.
I see unemployment in Hartlepool and the wider North-East as the single biggest issue affecting the town.
We have seen before the experiences of the 1980s, in which the problems of high unemployment left a permanent scar on the face of the town.
We are still coming to terms with the issues left behind from the 1980s and 1990s.
The Government can’t allow the same mistakes to be made again.
That is why I was particularly anxious to secure the debate in the House of Commons on the matter.
On the day of the debate, the latest unemployment figures had been published, which showed a very small fall of 15 in the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance in Hartlepool, which meant that the jobless total stands at 4,612.
Any falls in unemployment are welcome.
But it remains a matter of huge concern that the number of people unemployed in the town stands at over 500 higher than it was a year ago, and is the 30th worst constituency in the country for unemployment.
Unemployment in the North-East increased in the last three months by 8,000, maintaining our unwanted position as the region with the highest levels of unemployment in the entire country.
It is youth unemployment that bothers me the most.
One in four young men in Hartlepool is out of work.
That is unsustainable on an economic, social and even ethical level.
We have reached crisis point and the Government needs to act to stop making it worse.
I didn’t go into the Parliamentary debate with a begging bowl, asking for government handouts on behalf of a failing town and region.
I don’t see Hartlepool and the North-East as basketcases in the slightest.
I mentioned that if the Government is serious about rebalancing the economy towards manufacturing and engineering – and I very much doubt that they are – some of the industrial sectors in which Britain could play a leading role in the global economy, like advanced manufacturing, chemicals, automotives, renewable and the low carbon economy, are based either in Hartlepool or a short distance away.
Some of the industries that are vital to supplying the sectors I have mentioned, industries like steel and construction, also have huge potential in the town.
I asked the Government to listen to regional businesses, which are asking for a cut in National Insurance contributions, as a means of incentivising them to take on extra workers.
The Government should consider a temporary cut in VAT to allow consumer confidence to be boosted.
The Government should also use its power in buying goods and services to give support to local, regional and British businesses, perhaps by insisting that a certain number of apprenticeship opportunities need to be offered if they are to be awarded public sector contracts.
Given the seriousness of the debate – as I have said, the most important issue facing Hartlepool – I was disgusted at the fact that no minister turned up to respond.
It was left to a Government whip to try to defend the Government’s appalling record on unemployment.
I think that shows deep contempt for every single worker in the region who has recently lost their job.
I would hope that the Government showed more respect for this serious situation.
I have heard on the Westminster jungle drums that the Government is to announce shortly an initiative on youth unemployment and that Hartlepool is to be included in the scheme.
I will look at the details closely, but will continue to press the Government on what further assistance can be provided to tackle the terrible and long-lasting effects of youth unemployment.