Practical help with community input is slowly beginning to turn the tables, argues Ian Swales MP, whose Redcar constituency came bottom of a national league of economic revival
The north east has not had it easy recently. A year ago I had to appear on Newsnight to explain why the local authority of Redcar & Cleveland which includes my constituency was 324th out of 324 local authorities in a BBC/Experian survey of area economic resilience. Other Teesside local authorities at the bottom included neighbouring Middlesbrough and Hartlepool.
There is no doubt that unemployment is still too high and opportunities still too limited in the area, but I can see real desire from the Government to help the north east thrive. The Regional Growth Fund (RGF), which has pumped millions into the north east and has had a real effect in my constituency, is doing great work in helping businesses access finance and grow. Round Three alone, announced a few months ago, is expected to deliver over 30,000 direct and indirect jobs to the north east on top of the over £150m awarded to the area by the previous two rounds. The Chancellor’s announcement of more RGF money in the Autumn Statement is very welcome.
In my constituency I am seeing confidence return to industry and businesses. We have already seen the steel works reopen and thrive, producing its millionth tonne of steel in September, while companies like Ensus Bioethanol have received strong support from the Government to help them in this new market. In October we also had the very welcome news that MGT Power, a large-scale biomass plant, has secured massive Korean inward investment to set up on Teesside. There are further exciting plans for a Carbon Capture and Storage grid which would provide another real boost for industry in the area and is on the shortlist for Government funding.
In July it was announced that there would be £9 billion invested in the rail network nationally including plans to invest £240m on the East Coast mainline to capture the full benefit of the new Intercity Express trains which will improve connectivity between London and the north east. This followed the announcement in May by Lib Dem Transport Minister Norman Baker that £4.5million from the Local Sustainable Transport Fund would be used to build a railway station at James Cook University Hospital and enable development at 11 other existing sites across the whole of the Teesside area.
It is locally targeted schemes like this, applied with real knowledge of, and consultation with, local communities that have a real effect on people’s lives. This new train link will help residents as well as businesses and marks a welcome change from the last Government’s approach of treating Teesside and other areas of the north east as merely the poor relations of Newcastle and not taking notice of their specific and distinct needs and opportunities. The new Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership is doing an excellent job in supporting the area’s drive forward.
In June Nick Clegg announced more help for twenty youth unemployment hot spots around the country. Three of the areas identified were Redcar & Cleveland, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool with other areas such as Hull, Barnsley & Sunderland also targeted. This incentive for employers, combined with the Government’s very effective apprenticeship scheme, feels custom-made for areas like mine where youth and long term unemployment have been too high for too long.
I have lived in the north east for 32 years, doing everything from working in a global HQ to running my own business. I have constantly encountered driven and ambitious people who want the best for the area. I am convinced, not just from my two years as MP for Redcar, but from my three decades of working in the region, that we are seeing a real focus and willingness from Government to help this area thrive once again. When I look out of my bedroom window and see the large offshore windfarm being constructed off Redcar beach I am reminded how we have the potential to once again be an economic powerhouse for industry, manufacturing and the green economy.
Ian Swales is Liberal Democrat MP for Redcar
The Guardian Northerner’s political commentor Ed Jacobs looks at the Lib Dems’ year in the north by numbers in a separate post.