Whenever I see the term North-South divide in a newspaper article, my heart sinks. I know what’s coming next.
Whether it’s life expectancy, job prospects, health outcomes or educational achievement, the North always comes out badly and I’m pretty sick of it. Let’s face it, there’s no excuse for it. We are a only a small island and there’s no reason at all why people at one end of that small island should have better life prospects than those living a few hundred miles North of them.
There were two North-South divide stories this week that show the ludicrous way the North and the North East in particular are getting a rough deal. Both were linked to employment. The first showed that The North East is now the zero-hours contract capital of the UK and the second concerned Teesside steel jobs.
The latest figures from the Office of National Statistics revealed that in the three months to June, unemployment in the North East had risen by 2,000 to 78,000, while at the same time other ONS figures revealed the number of people on a zero-hours contract in our region was up by a staggering 30% on last year’s figure. A 11,000 rise to 45,000
While zero hours contracts can sometimes be a good thing for a small minority of people, for most folk, being on such an agreement restricts them in so many ways. Getting a mortgage is almost impossible, there is little chance of planning for retirement and just getting by from one month to the next is a struggle. Getting up for work on a morning and not knowing whether you have a day’s work and a day’s pay to look forward to is completely unacceptable anywhere in Britain and there is no logical reason why more people in the North East are locked into this totally unacceptable way of life than in other parts of the country.
The other ‘divide’ story would be funny if it wasn’t so serious. Having needlessly allowed Teesside’s final blast furnace to close two years ago, the Conservatives have now revealed that the people responsible for the regeneration of the Redcar SSI site will be based in London.
In a huge slap in the face for the people of our area, a Department for Communities and Local Government advertisement for the lead role at the site stated that the £50-60,000 job would be London based. What the hell is it that this government don’t understand about the terms “local” and “communities”?
In a further insult the advert states that the role ‘can include occasional trips to the Tees Valley’. Now, forgive me for applying a bit of logic and common sense here, but why couldn’t the role be based right at the heart of the SSI plant with ‘occasional trips to London’ part of the job spec?
These two stories are just two examples of an ever-increasing body of evidence that shows the Tories are simply not interested in the North East.