Recent media reports about the Prime Minister’s omission of the north east from his tweets about the government’s so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ will come as no surprise to people in our region. It has been clear since the day and hour that the Chancellor announced this scheme that the north east was being overlooked by ministers who clearly think that the north stops at Leeds and Manchester.
And although over a hundred days have passed since the government came to power, we are yet to see any concrete proposals put forward for the scheme. James Wharton, Minister for the so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’, has promised “very significant” investment in projects across the north of England in the next five years. He has neither indicated where these investments will be made nor where the money to fund them will come from. In fact, the only concrete step the government has taken to date is to announce a delay to the electrification of the TransPennine Express railway line – hardly a move consistent with the creation of an economic powerhouse.
I hope the Prime Minister will take note. The longer he and his government continue to ignore the north east the greater the damage will be. Recently published figures show that the region is continuing to suffer from high levels of unemployment and economic inactivity, especially among our young people. One in five people aged 16-24 are considered to be officially unemployed – a figure that has barely changed in five years. Even more worrying is the fact that almost 40% of people in this age group are considered economically inactive. That is a huge amount of young people detached from the economy being failed by this government. Young people are the future. If Ministers really want to unleash the economic potential of the north east they need to do much more to help them get into work.
The government should be focusing its energies on helping local people get the skills, training and opportunities they need to get into work instead of attention grabbing gimmickry. But the exclusion of the north east from ‘Northern Powerhouse’ tweets just confirms what we have long suspected – that this is nothing more than empty branding from a Prime Minster who has little interest in our region or ambition to harness the great potential of our people.