MP WRITES: We can be optimistic about region’s future

I’VE mentioned before how I am very proud of the fact that our area of the North-East led the world in the Industrial Revolution.

The region was synonymous with industry, invention and ingenuity.

Over the century or so since then, the region has lost its way, and since the deindustrialisation of the 1980s, our part of the world has suffered more than most in coming to terms with the social and economic effects of industry closing down.

Last week in Parliament there was a debate on the future of the North-East economy.

It was in response to a report commissioned by the North East Local Economic Partnership (the LEP) which, somewhat confusingly, doesn’t cover the whole of the region but only Northumberland, Tyne & Wear and some of County Durham.

The south of the region, which includes us in Hartlepool, has another LEP, Tees Valley Unlimited.

As shadow business minister, I spoke for the Labour Party from the front bench in the House of Commons in summing up the debate.

I started by making the point, which had been made by several County Durham MPs, that it would be wrong to suggest that the North-East is solely the area covered by the North East LEP.

Many Durham MPs said that their constituents commuted to Hartlepool or Teesside as well as to Newcastle or Sunderland.

The region is small enough to do much more in terms of things like transport links than an artificial administrative boundary between LEPs would suggest.

I mentioned a couple of issues that bother me in terms of dragging down Hartlepool’s and the North-East’s future.

The first, and arguably the biggest, is unemployment.

The regional jobless rate is now at 10.3 per cent – still the largest in the country – and the gap between our area and the rest of the country is getting wider.

There needs to be much more emphasis by the Government than we have seen so far on helping to tackle the jobs and skills crisis in the North-East.

Investment and access to finance are essential if businesses in the North are to grow.

But since 2010, Britain has experienced the biggest fall in business investment as a share of national income of any other leading nation bar Italy.

Notwithstanding, the great news about Nissan Hitachi, investments outside of London were a quarter down from their 2010 level. Britain invests the same proportion of our national income as does Mali.

With the greatest respect to Mali, I think we should be setting the bar higher than that.

Very often, the absence of business investment is because North-East firms have no access to finance.

Banks don’t seem to be lending – indeed, of the last 24 months, 21 of those months have seen a contraction in business lending.

That is not helping businesses in our area, a point mentioned by John Anderson, chairman of the North East Business and Innovation Centre last month, when he said: “In the North-East, Government lending channelled through banks have not been reaching businesses...

“The Funding for Lending Scheme, launched in July 2012, designed to incentivise banks and building societies to boost their lending to the UK economy, does not appear to have encouraged many of the big lenders to fund local SMEs.”

However, it’s not all doom and gloom, it never is in the North-East.

I ended my speech in Parliament last week by saying that we led the world through the Industrial Revolution and have the potential to be global leaders again in things like low emission vehicles, renewable technology and high value engineering.

There is great, talent, potential and opportunity in the North-East.

There is scope for an optimistic future for the region, if Government backs the North-East and provides support to achieve its ambition.