Tough times ahead but grounds for optimism

I HOPE you have been able to have a peaceful and restful Christmas and wish you all the very best for the New Year.

Looking back over the last twelve months across the world, it is amazing to think of the significant, even historic, events that took place in 2011.

The world saw the Arab Spring, leading to the toppling of regimes in the likes of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.

We saw the killing of both Colonel Gaddafi and Osama Bin Laden. We saw the collapse, more or less, of the Eurozone and the virtual bankruptcy of countries like Greece and Italy.

Just before Christmas we saw the unexpected death of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Il, and given the nature of the regime and the fact it has nuclear weapons, we should really take notice as to how his successor deals with the transition of power.

Closer to home, we saw vicious and violent riots on the streets of Britain.

In the last moments of 2011, we even saw the unexpected return of Neale Cooper to Pools.

Strange and unexpected things have indeed happened! 2011 certainly will be studied by historians, and the repercussions of the events of last year will be with us for many years to come.

Although 2012 has a difficult act to follow, I think it will prove to be a significant year. There will be a presidential election in the United States this year, and that event always has an impact on the world.

The eyes of the world will be on Britain as a result of London hosting the Olympics, as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

The main focus of 2012 is and should be the economic performance of our country. I don’t want to be the harbinger of doom, but I think 2012 will be even more difficult for the economy, particularly for towns like Hartlepool, than it was in 2011.

The economy is weak and is getting weaker. All the evidence suggests that we are already in recession and I fear that unemployment, which is already far too high, will rise still further in 2012.

People will cut back what they spend in shops, either because they simply do not have the money as a result of falling wages and standards of living and rising prices, or because they are concerned about the future.

This will mean that more shops will close and more jobs in the retail industry will be lost.

In these difficult times, the Government should be doing all it can to promote economic growth and increases in employment.

I think most people would recognise the need to reduce public debt, but to rush headlong into this in the fastest possible way is the wrong choice.

In fact such a policy is counterproductive, not only because, as we start from a much lower base, it weakens still further the long term potential of the country’s economy, but also results in social problems, like long term unemployment, which are very expensive to deal with over many years.

You only have to look at the experiences of Hartlepool in the 1980s, when a deep recession, caused in part by reductions in public investment and expenditure, helped to result in a much reduced economic base for the town and subsequent unemployment or low paid work for many people.

It seems far more sensible for the Government to concentrate on having as many people as possible in work in a growing economy.

That approach would mean that the Government will take in more tax and therefore would be able to pay down the debt, as well as paying out less in unemployment benefits.

However, I am a positive sort of person. I think Hartlepool has remarkable determination and resilience, and some parts of our economy really do point to a prosperous future.

There is the possibility of being a centre of excellence for energy, incorporating not only oil and gas but also nuclear and renewable.

We have leading manufacturing firms that can, with appropriate support, help to pull Hartlepool and the wider country out of recession.

I’m so confident and positive about the future, I even think I’ll soon see a home win for Hartlepool United. I wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2012.