Britain as a country is becoming more unequal and whole communities are being left behind. In the real-lived economy as experienced by my constituents, there is a sense that things are getting harder, not better. Although we have heard all week from Ministers about the number of new jobs in the economy, if we listen to those in my community, they will tell us that work has become more insecure, more temporary and less well paid, with fewer rights and longer hours. For many people in Redcar and elsewhere, no matter how hard they work for how many hours and however many jobs they take on, work is not paying.
Eight years of austerity have ravaged communities such as mine. The Tories said that those with the broadest shoulders would bear the greatest burden of austerity. Well, that turned out to be a deceit, as it was communities such as Grangetown, South Bank, Redcar and Eston that bore the brunt of the bedroom tax, the welfare cuts, fewer police keeping our streets safe, NHS walk-in centre closures, fewer buses and, ultimately, the closure of our steelworks. With universal credit coming to Redcar and Cleveland for full roll-out on
The dire warning from history is that if people feel their political and economic system has broken its obligations to them, they will turn to extreme alternatives. The global financial crash has heralded a rise in populism across the globe—in the USA, across Europe and in Brazil this week. I would put UKIP and the hard-core Brexiteers in the same boat. I represent a constituency that voted for leave in the EU referendum in 2016, and my firm conviction is that the underlying causes of that snapshot of opinion two years ago were economic. Many people felt then, and feel now, that the economy is not working for them and their families. There is a strong sense that London and the south-east is sailing ahead, while towns in the north get left behind.
The old industrial jobs on Teesside are disappearing—no more the scores of thousands of jobs for young people leaving school at ICI, at Tees dock or in the steelworks that lined the river. Those jobs are gone and that security has gone, and what new jobs have replaced them are low paid and unstable. Of course, the final blow for us was the closure of the SSI—Sahaviriya Steel Industries—steelworks in Redcar in 2015, ending 175 years of steel making. It was not just the loss of over 3,000 skilled jobs; it was the loss of pride, dignity and hope, and the sense that the Government just did not care. No wonder my constituents shouted out in rage in the 2016 referendum.
What is the answer? One thing is for sure: it is not simple enough to be written on the side of a bus. The solution is certainly not a hard Tory Brexit. Crashing out of the EU with our trade deals in tatters would be a disaster for the remaining industries and the small businesses in Redcar, and I will oppose it. A slump leading to a recession leading to misery is not what people voted for, and I will not enable it.
Is a continuation of austerity the answer? No. Cuts to public services have slowed down our recovery. Austerity has ruined lives, and made our society more divided and our communities more brittle. We need to invest in public services and to borrow the money to do that. We need a massive injection of investment: more teachers, doctors, nurses, mental health specialists, police officers, firefighters and social care providers. Redcar and Cleveland Council needs the money it has been denied since 2010 to deliver the services people deserve. Taking £90 million away from local services has consequences for people’s lives.
This Budget did not deliver on anything that is needed on the scale required. The solution we need to bring our country back together is for the Government to invest in and prioritise communities that have been left behind and that roared in anger two years ago. Teesside has so much potential, and it is ready to be at the forefront of a new modern industrial renaissance. This is where we really needed support in the Budget, but £14 million does not come close to the £200 million needed to clean up the whole former SSI site. Civil servants were very quick to email straight after the Budget to say that this £14 million has not even been confirmed and is subject to making a business case to the Government.
I welcome the new powers, but the question is this: what exactly is a special economic area and how does it differ from the existing enterprise zones, of which there are already plenty in Teesside? If its only powers are to allow the development corporation to keep business rates, then that is nothing new, as councils will be able to do that from next year anyway. Does that mean that rates on the site will now go to the development corporation and not to Redcar and Cleveland Council? If so, local people are paying once again to fill the gap because the Government will not pay to clean up the mess they have left on the site. I have no doubt that the Government should pay—they closed the site, they rejected offers to keep it going and three months later they stepped in and took a stake in Port Talbot.
I am deeply worried by how little we saw in the Budget for Teesside. We have the potential on the site not just to turn things around for the people of Redcar and Teesside but to show the way on the sort of economy we could have in this country: a leading hub for green industries, creating jobs and helping us meet our climate change targets, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen economy, recycling and energy generation. We have a great future in Teesside—the brains, the hearts and the hands. We can make it happen.