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This is a Queen’s Speech for a parallel universe. It was called to set out an electioneering position for a Tory party that had planned that, by now, we would be about to launch into a general election. I am afraid it has all the hallmarks of a hollow, shallow, arrogant Government who seek to put party before country, with a hard Brexit that will hit my area and the people I am so proud to represent harder than anywhere else in the country.
We have already had decades of being left behind in this unequal, loaded economy. Through no fault of their own, the people of Teesside and Redcar are struggling more than most. Unemployment in our area currently stands at 4.8%, as opposed to 3.1% nationally. Some 43% of our households have no adult in work and a third have at least one person with a long-term health problem or disability. The number of young people not in education, training or employment is two and a half times the national average. Why should the young people of Redcar and Cleveland not have the same opportunity as those elsewhere in the country to live, work, flourish and prosper?
One in 10 people in my area has no qualifications at all. There are seven secondary schools and a college in my constituency, yet only one of those institutions offers A-levels. Out of our total of 54 schools, 53 have had funding cuts—that is £27.8 million taken out of our local schools, or £349 taken from every single one of Redcar’s children.
There is a wider crisis in respect of the children in our borough and the challenges for the families who look after them. A quarter of our children live in poverty and, since 2012, Redcar and Cleveland has seen a 73% increase in the number of children going into care. This is a crisis, and all while £90 million has been cut from Redcar and Cleveland’s budget by the Tories and their coalition with the Lib Dems. It is not sustainable.
It is upsetting for me to have to say all this—I do not want to have to stand here and plead our poverty. We should not be in this situation, with the use of food banks surging as universal credit has left people in debt and desperation, and as crime rises out of control because we have lost 500 officers and £40 million has been cut from our local police force. Drug dependency and suicides are on the increase as people feel bereft of hope and opportunity. This is a failure of Tory policy. It is a failure of our economy and our society to ensure that towns such as Redcar and the people I represent can fulfil their potential. That is why I will not take one single step towards a Brexit policy which, as its own architects admit, will make our people poorer. We have so much potential to flourish and succeed. Just as we were once the old smoggy engine of the industrial revolution, so we can be the new, clean, environmentally friendly engine of the green, low-carbon industrial renaissance.
We need a Government who will invest in us. Where is the money for the reclamation of the SSI steelworks site that the Chancellor himself closed four years ago, costing us 3,000 jobs and ending 175 years of steelmaking on Teesside? The Government have turned their back on us and are leaving the reclamation to be funded by potential future business rates, robbing our local authorities of even more money and threatening that dangerous and even deadly work could be done on the cheap.
Where is our investment for carbon capture and storage that could create 1 million jobs in the chemical industry? Where is the support for great institutions such as TTE Technical Institute and Redcar College to give young people the skills and apprenticeships they need? Where is the support for Teesside’s hydrogen economy to produce heat, to green our transport and to help us to hit our net-zero targets? Where is the Government’s backing for the huge Sirius Minerals project that is now at risk, along with 1,000 jobs? Three hundred jobs are already gone because the Treasury pulled the plug on its support. British Steel still sits on a knife edge. The people of Redcar and Teesside stand ready to get back on their feet. They are desperate to work, but they cannot do it alone. There is nothing in this Queen’s Speech for them.