It is now almost four years since the last General Election. Since then, there has been growing concern that the north east is being left behind. During this parliament, the north east has seen high levels of unemployment especially amongst young people. We've endured devastating public sector cuts and been forced into accepting an unfair and regressive funding settlement for councils, the police and other local services.
Hardworking families have seen their incomes slashed in real terms while food, energy and transport costs have continued to rise. The government shut down the successful Regional Development Agency (RDA) One North East, which brought investment and growth to our region and left nothing in its place. As a result, the widening north-south divide in terms of income, standards of living and investment now threatens to become a chasm.
It wasn’t always like this. Despite what the Prime Minister and his Cabinet colleagues might think, British economic success used to depend upon regions like ours. Historically Britain’s regional centres - in particular those in the northern industrial heartlands, fuelled an economic boom that helped make the UK one of the richest countries in the world. The current government seems to have forgotten that the north east has always been fundamentally important to the UK economy. We need decisive action to restore regional growth to the UK, to give local councils the power to shape their own economic destiny and to drive innovation. I believe it is time to take back control of Britain’s regional economies, and that is why a future Labour government would deliver jobs and growth in every region of the country by implementing a radical devolution of power to England’s regional towns and cities. One aspect of this plan will involve the creation of regional government ministers. These ministers will help fill the gap left by the closure of RDAs by building relationships between Local Enterprise Partnerships, business and central government. They will advise government on the impact of policy at a local and regional level, encourage the private sector to invest and create jobs, and make the case for the regions at the heart of Whitehall.
Since I was elected as an MP I have consistently argued that sustainable regional growth can only be achieved if there is regional co-ordination and cooperation. More unites us than divides us. The plans we've set out will give our region the independence, power and resources it needs to thrive. The north east has great potential and our people are still our greatest asset. I intend to do all I can to help our area become an economic powerhouse once more.
This article was originally published in the Sunderland Echo