HAPPY New Year! I wish everybody in Hartlepool a very peaceful, healthy and prosperous 2013.
I hope that everybody was able to enjoy Christmas. The Wright household suffered a bit from the Norovirus that seemed to affect everyone this year, and so I felt under the weather over Christmas, although not as bad as I felt watching Pools in the second half against Preston North End on New Year’s Day.
Mrs Wright seemed to spend Christmas crying her eyes out over Call The Midwife on telly, although the tears might have had something to do with me getting her Christmas present wrong.
New Year is always a time of optimism and hope and so I think we need to start 2013 looking on the bright side.
The town’s economy has the makings of a modern, innovative and highly skilled manufacturing and engineering centre of excellence.
Hartlepool’s firms and Hartlepool people can make the products in energy and other parts of the industrial sector that the rest of the world want.
Such work can provide well-paid employment to a growing number of skilled workers from the town, and of course, when industry is doing well, other parts of Hartlepool’s economy do well too.
People have more money to spend in the shops, which means that retailers take on extra workers, leading to even more employment in the town.
A virtuous cycle can start. Economic success can breed further economic success. This sort of scenario is certainly possible in Hartlepool. I remain determined to work hard to play my part in helping Hartlepool fulfill its massive industrial potential.
Unfortunately, I am more pessimistic about 2013’s prospects.
2012 was a tough year economically in Hartlepool. The level of unemployment in the town was higher at the end of the year than it was at the start: we went into 2012 with about 4,400 out of work in the town; we ended 2012 with that jobless figure rising to over 4,700.
I predict that 2013 will see that economic depression deepen. We are about to see a change in the way in which work-related benefits are calculated.
The House of Commons is voting on this matter next week and I want to write my next column about it.
Despite what many people think, most benefits are paid to people in work – just think of tax credits, which can prove a valuable life-line for many working families in the town – and the specific nature of the Hartlepool economy means that many people have part-time, low-paid work and rely on the likes of those tax credits to top up their household budget.
The Government is proposing a real-term cut in those benefits, which means that people will have less money to spend in Hartlepool’s shops.
Similarly, some of the changes in matters like the manner in which rent is calculated – the so-called bedroom tax – will have an enormous impact upon many people in Hartlepool.
Those people will have to find extra money to pay their rent if they wish to stay in the same house, money that could have been spent in Hartlepool’s shops.
In addition, the amount of money that Hartlepool Borough Council is being provided from central government is being cut by 2.2 per cent, the largest reduction in funding in the North East, along with North Tyneside Council.
This big cut, on top of large drops the council has faced in the last three years, reduces still further the amount of money that is available in the local economy.
The impact of all this is that the town’s economy shrinks rather than grows, people have less money and are therefore spending less and Hartlepool’s businesses in retail, construction and other sectors have to lay people off.
Unemployment was the biggest social and economic problem facing the town in 2012. It will continue to be so in 2013.
I hope Hartlepool faces a happy and prosperous New Year but I fear that 2013 will see the town batten down the hatches for an even more difficult and bleak economic picture.