Northern England: Opportunity and Productivity - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:28 pm on 12th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Sawyer Lord Sawyer Labour 1:28 pm, 12th January 2017

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Massey for instigating this debate. I will speak about the Tees Valley. The IPPR report states that the Tees Valley is going through a transition. That may be so but we have well-worked-out ambitions for growth in four major sectors: advanced manufacturing, energy, digital, and health innovation. We also have a highly productive workforce, a strong business and enterprise birth rate, and a good record of high-growth firms. We struggle with relatively low levels of research and development because we are a branch-plant economy, and a new industrial strategy needs to address this.

I will mention our creative economy, because we have bold ambitions there. Middlesbrough Council aims to have a culture thread, which will run right through successful development of the region’s people. Middlesbrough has 90 first languages spoken by the pupils in its schools. There is a new agenda to build confidence and enjoyment in speaking, known as oracy. This helps to build confidence in expression and it also helps higher achievement across the entire curriculum. The Middlesbrough Institute of Modern ArtMIMA—concentrates on building positive change. Its recent exhibitions have addressed migration, immigration, housing and healthcare. Darlington will soon be home to a new theatre, which will incorporate world-class children’s theatre and a centre for creative education. These are distinctive, creative projects in themselves, but we can note from them their dedication to inspiring people in the Tees Valley, who have a real gift for invention and for collaborating with each other.

To look at some of the biggest challenges, the IPPR report notes that the region does not provide enough jobs and that the current economy excludes too many people through unemployment. There is also a problem with the levels of pay. The median level of pay for full-time workers in the Tees Valley is 5% less than the national median level of pay. In too many cases, work is not a route out of poverty. Young people and their families need to see a system where education leads to decent jobs and where jobs lead to decent pay. If they cannot see opportunities, they will not see the point of trying. There is nothing new about this, nothing that we have not seen before, but these challenges still remain in the north of England and have to be met.

Skilled people and organisations across the Tees Valley are doing very creative, ambitious work, and the region is investing strongly in itself, but we need to create more jobs and more routes into jobs. I will make six suggestions that might help in this respect. First, we need to make sure than any structural funding lost in leaving the European Union is replaced; that has already been addressed but it needs to be continued. Secondly, we need to ensure continued access to European markets in our priority investment sectors, including chemicals and advanced manufacturing. Thirdly, we need to develop new trading arrangements and support for Tees Valley firms in helping them to diversify their activities. Fourthly, we need to press on with a new industrial strategy, and that strategy needs to prioritise principle economic growth in regions such as the Tees Valley. Fifthly, we need to help and support the Tees Valley in working with its four prime strengths—advanced manufacturing, energy, digital, and health innovation. In doing so, we will help the region to create 60,000 new jobs, including apprenticeships for young people. Sixthly, we ask that all government departments join fully in the devolution process. There is a chance here for the north, including the Tees Valley, to have a new start. We need those voices to be listened to. The problem in the north-east is that we have not really been able to find the leadership that we should have—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, said that in some ways that is down to the Labour Party. We definitely have the leaders there but we have not given them the authority to speak for the region, and we need to do more of that in the future.

My final point touches on a point made by the noble Lords, Lord Shipley and Lord Alton, that we have northern powerhouses because we have our universities. In my part of the region, the north-east, we have five universities which employ about 15,000 people. There is great talent, innovation and ability in the universities. If I were the Prime Minister, I would do one thing, which Jim Callaghan used to do when he was Prime Minister: he sent for people to come down and talk to him about the issues. I have done so a couple of times. It is very impressive to be sent for by the Prime Minister to listen to your opinions. The Prime Minister should send for the vice-chancellors of the five north-east universities—maybe more, but that is a different issue—and say to them, “What can you do to help the north? What is your town, what is your culture and what are the things that you’ve got?” Bring them to the table and let us see if we can go forward on that basis.