IAIN WRIGHT: Action needed on Heseltine review

Michael Heseltine
Michael Heseltine

Earlier this week the former Deputy Prime Minister Lord Heseltine unveiled his report, setting out his vision as to how he thinks it is best for Teesside to transform its economy.

I’m going to include, for simplicity and ease, that Hartlepool is a part - a significant part - of the Teesside economy. I fully appreciate that this is a whole different debate; whether Hartlepool should consider itself to be part of the Teesside area rather than County Durham, or even just stand alone. However, our strengths - energy, high value manufacturing - lend itself towards feeding into the wider local and sub regional economy.

The Heseltine review was prompted by a series of deeply negative events from late last year. The SSI steel plant in Redcar closed in the autumn, leading to the loss of thousands of good, skilled manufacturing jobs, including people from our own town. Elsewhere in the steel industry, the closure of Caparo Industries and the continuing uncertainty over the future pipe mills in Hartlepool after Tata put them up for sale, continues to have a dampening effect on the local economy. Further afield, there have been job loses linked to the Boulby potash mine and Air Products’ power station development on the Seal Sands has stopped.

Over the past few years public sector cuts have led to a depressing impact upon the economy as wage power is lost for the area. This has all meant that unemployment in Hartlepool and the Teesside area has increased in recent months.

I must admit I’ve got a sneaking respect for Lord Heseltine. His work led ultimately to the downfall of Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister, which I think was a very positive thing. Perhaps more constructively, his work as Secretary of State for the Environment was positive in terms of some of the regeneration schemes, especially in Merseyside. When he was President of the Board of Trade under John Major, he essentially pushed, almost single-handedly in government, the concept of an industrial strategy where government can intervene in the economy in a very positive way. He’s worth listening to.

So what are his recommendations? There’s a curious mix of good ideas, heavy detail, and vague promises. His vision for Teesside to be an economic powerhouse is a good one, something which I think we should passionately embrace. This part of the world should be punching above its weight and contributing more than the average of other regions to economic growth, prosperity and national and individual wealth.

Lord Heseltine talks about the setting up of the South Tees Development Corporation which will be tasked with overseeing the regeneration of the SSI site as a priority. He recommends the “serious investigation” of a new car crossing over the Tees, to accompany the A19 crossing.

Elsewhere, I fully support his suggestion that we extend the electrification of the Transpennine line to include more of Teesside.

Crucially, Lord Heseltine believes that Teesside should be a priority area for a national scheme which offers incentives to attract talented teachers. Skills will be the passport for success in the future, both for individuals and entire regions and countries. This needs to be addressed to ensure that skills, education and training are provided for all of our area’s population.

However, there was very little detail as to how this would all be paid for. This will take money and the Government doesn’t seem to be putting its hand in its pocket to fund Lord Heseltine’s proposals.

There is something slightly curious about a national figure brought in by central government to address a problem in our region urging local leaders that they need to talk to central government more.

Ultimately, I hope that what Lord Heseltine proposes comes to fruition. However, this needs to be the start of the process rather than the end.

A report has been produced. It’s no good it just sitting on the shelf gathering dust, or - in a more modern way - sat as a file document taking up valuable cloud space.

The Government needs to assist and that will mean providing more money.