MP WRITES: Town will survive patronising attack

I MENTIONED last week that I want to see Hartlepool businesses prosper and thrive.

I stated in my column that if we as a town are to succeed, we need to have flourishing private sector enterprises.

That is why I invited the Trade Minister to the town – to showcase the great work and huge promise that Hartlepool provides.

That task of selling Hartlepool to the rest of the world has been made a bit harder by a patronising article from The Economist.

The publication in its editorial said last Friday that small towns like Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Hull and Wolverhampton should be ignored and abandoned. They had no economic future and so there was little point in throwing good money after bad. Let these towns die.

I read the publication every week – but it’s got no awareness of the problems and promise towns like Hartlepool face.

It’s lazy and prejudiced journalism and I expected a lot better from this publication.

I use the word prejudiced deliberately – I think the whole tone of the article showed that the conclusions had been prejudged – I suspect that some 95 per cent of the article was written even before the writer had left London, with a couple of details filled in after his visit.

I spent an hour with the journalist from The Economist last Monday. Let me give you an idea of what I mean by pre-judged. I took him for a cup of tea in the new BHS store. I mentioned that this had been the site of the former Woolworths but that it had closed down and a new investment had been made by BHS which seemed to be working well.

Of course, in the article, none of that was written – just that Woolworths had closed down, as it had in every single town and city.

I’m not suggesting that the level of empty shops in Hartlepool is not an issue – I’ve written about this in the past – but to mislead and deliberately exclude something shows the sort of story he wanted to push.

It took the journalist about 10 minutes and three attempts to find a pen that worked – hardly a great reassurance about the professionalism of the exercise.

In the hour that I had with him, I didn’t sugar coat the difficulties and challenges that Hartlepool face. I mentioned the high levels of unemployment, particularly youth and long-term unemployment. I stated that the level of public sector cuts – about £712 a head for every person who lives in the town – was bound to suck demand out of the local economy, which in turn had a poor impact upon the private sector.

I mentioned my desire to see a deepening and broadening of the private sector base – I said to him that if you were working in industry in the town in places like the power station, you were probably seeing higher wages than the national average, but we needed to see more such industries.

A clear and co-ordinated industrial policy from the Government, providing certainty for investors, is needed. There was a need to encourage enterprise and entrepreneurialism in the culture of the town, from schools onwards, but there has been a great change in education results in the past quarter century.

Most of all, I stated to the journalist on several occasions that the town was not in terminal decline.

It’s not a question of allowing the town to die with dignity. We should be looking to our industrial past to shape the future in high value manufacturing, especially in the broad range of energy, from oil and gas, to nuclear and including offshore renewable energy.

I suspect the journalist didn’t speak to many people in the town. A couple of minutes with Hartlepudlians soon reveal that the true assets of the town are its people – determined, resilient, full of grit, ingenuity, proud of our town and keen to see it succeed.

If I had to choose between somebody from Hartlepool and a namby-pamby southern journalist from a cloistered environment like The Economist, I’d choose the person from Hartlepool every single time.

Hartlepool is suffering, there is no doubt. But the notion that we should turn out the lights and go elsewhere is both ludicrous and highly offensive.

Hartlepool prospered through the Industrial Revolution and has the makings of a prosperous future in the 21st century.

We should be at the forefront of an ambitious and enterprising economic future, based upon engineering.

Hartlepool was here before The Economist started. I’ll bet the town will still be here when the publication is long gone.