Tory Cuts threaten region

North East Grand Committee

David speaking in the Grand Committee
David speaking in the Grand Committee

In a speech at the inaugural session of the North East Grand Committee in Middlesbrough, David outlined the region's achievements but went on to say how Tory and Lib Dem cuts would be felt hard in the North East.

The Building Schools for the Future programme, Education Maintenance Allowances (that allow disadvantaged youngsters to stay on for a better education), Sure Start ( for young children), voluntary organisations' grants, the state pension, student loans, free bus travel and free TV licences are all in their sights.

David's speech was as follows:

"Thank you Mr Cook. I echo the words of my colleagues in expressing my pleasure to be here in Middlesbrough Town hall for the first meeting of the North East Grand Committee. I congratulate the government on bringing this initiative forward. It is no substitute for Regional Government of course that I, along with many colleagues here, still believe in. We cannot make decisions here. However we can debate the issues that are important to our region and I welcome the opportunity to do that.

"I am pleased to follow the Right Honourable member for Berwick and agree with much, but not all, of what he said. However, and it will be interesting to study the transcript of his remarks. It seem to me that much of the action he proposed for our region would involve considerable public spending which hardly fits with the remarks of the Leader of his party who only this week has called for "savage cuts" in public expenditure.

"The North East has a proud and, so far as too many workers are concerned, sometimes painful history in manufacturing and mineral extraction.

"These industries dominated over centuries and painted a picture of a grimy, scarred landscape.

"Of ships and trains belching smoke, of noisy and dirty factories, of coal heaps, and the residual waste that created black hills to challenge the beauty that the North East countryside and coast is now able to showcase to the world.

"Most of our grimy history is now gone and we have faced the challenge of replacing the thousands of jobs it supported with new employment and new opportunities.

"Too often in the past, when hard economic times hit the UK, the North East took an unfair share of the consequences and North East industry, along with the jobs it supported, was often the first to suffer.

"Today however, having worked to replace the old industries with new, our region is much better placed than ever before to weather the storm

and come through the economic downturn with optimism and hope for the future. But is the storm over?

"Reading the pages of the regional business press just this week we see comments like "the long term outlook for the Region's exporters looks buoyant" (Journal 16th Sept.)

"We read of our region's excellence in Chemicals, Biotechnology, Pharmaceuticals and Auto Engineering. And regional businesses are optimistic that we are "well placed to take advantage of the recovery when it comes".

"And, if economic forecasters have it right, the recovery may well be on the way thanks to the actions of our government here at home and the lead given by our Prime Minister to the rest of the industrialised world.

"But we cannot be complacent and just lie back, hope the recession is over, and wait for orders to come and jobs to follow.

"We have to get out there and win orders, sell our businesses and our skills in order to build the prosperous future our region deserves. This is the call made recently by the North East Chamber of Commerce and the Newcastle Journal - the need for increased overseas trade to boost our economic prospects.

"And much of that trade will be with European countries. Businesses in the North East currently export to Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Poland, Germany, Belgium, the Irish Republic etc. It is therefore in the best interests of our region, and regional employment and business, that we remain an integral and committed member of the European Union.

"Something the eurosceptical Conservative Party and anti-Europe United Kingdom Independence Party would jeopardise given the opportunity

"And here at home, we learn from local companies like 'Stockton Building Services' of the need for public spending - in education, in health, in defence - to provide work opportunities for our people.

"Here, the Labour government is committed to continue the economic stimulus that has helped us through the recession and will eventually see us on the upturn.

"In my own constituency British Aerospace on Scotswood Road are waiting for the announcement of MoD orders that will maintain the workforce there and the excellent apprenticeship scheme they are now running.

"In a recent question to the Defence Minister I was assured that the announcement would come soon and I would urge the minister for the North East to ensure that happens.

"The Conservatives however are hell-bent on putting a stop to public investment and to cut important social provision that this government has brought in over the past 12 years.

"While the Prime Minister, at the recent TUC conference, acknowledged that there would have to be efficiency savings, cuts in waste and unnecessary programmes, he was equally clear that continued public investment remained crucial to a lasting and sustainable recovery. He was also clear that important front-line public services should not be threatened.

"The Lib Dems, not to be outdone by the Tories, now talk of 'savage' cuts in public expenditure.

"So under their proposals even important front-line services could be threatened by cuts. Nothing should be ruled out says their economic spokesman the member for Twickenham.

"The Conservative Party have not yet spelled out the full extent of the cuts they would make, apart from increasing the price of beer in the House of Commons.

"But, we get a glimpse of what a Conservative government would mean by reading the recent report published by their friends in the Institute of Directors and the Tax-Payers alliance.

"Stockton Building Services will be concerned to hear of the proposal that the government's Building Schools for the Future programme should go, as would the Education Maintenance Allowance that has encouraged so many youngsters from poorer families to stay on at school and gain the qualifications that will help them and future employers.

"So too would Sure Start - one of the Labour government's major achievements that helps parents of pre-school children with their development during the opportune early years.

"They would scrap Labour's plans to extend the school leaving age to 18, cut £687 million from grants to voluntary organisations, freeze the basic state pension, abolish interest subsidy to student loans.

"Add to this their recommendation that universal free bus travel to the elderly and free TV licences should be scrapped and you can see that no one would escape the painful consequences of their policies.

"And, in a region where public spending accounts for 53% of GDP we have to take threats of cuts like this even more seriously.

"Avoiding that will be in the hands of the electorate in due course. In the mean time, when the economic downturn finally becomes an upturn and when employment begins to grow once more, we in the North East need to be ready to take full advantage and ensure our region is at the forefront of the recovery.

"We are better placed today than we have ever been to do just that.

"I have mentioned our excellence in various fields of industry but there are others that are waiting in the wings or even now emerging.

"Renewables, clean coal technology, low carbon energy technologies, electric vehicles.

"We are well placed to forge ahead in these areas and provide a real boost to our region's economy, as well as making our contribution to the green agenda and the nation's energy needs. We have the coal, we have the offshore specialists, we have the technological expertise and we have the manufacturers to do it.

"Ironically, in a region that has boasted some of the nation's most skilled workers in the past, we do face a shortage in skills that could jeopardise our progress. That is why it is so important to continue to invest in education and training and why our young people should have every assistance to access the excellent further and higher education and training opportunities available.

"We will need help from government as well of course. Not least in improving our internal and external transport links.

"Proposals that the next major extension of High Speed rail should be up the West coast is not acceptable to our region. Although I notice in a more recent publication Network Rail suggests that this should be followed by routes through Sheffield and Newcastle.

"But these are proposals by others. Not the government.

"To be fair to the Secretary of State for transport and the government, no decision has yet been taken and the various opinions being touted around will be taken into consideration when the body set up to report to the government on the next phase of High Speed Rail - High Speed2 - finally presents its report to the government.

"We need to ensure a strong voice for our region in this process.

"But, public spending on other capital projects is also vital to our region.

"Our major road network needs to be upgraded to provide safe and efficient links to the north, south and the west. The A66, A69 and A1 North of Newcastle are three examples of this.

"I have long banged on about our region being isolated from the country's motorway system and at least that is now being addressed by the government, with the current works - happening as we speak - to link the A1(M) in the North East to the M1 by replacing the current dual carriageway between Scotch Corner and Dishforth with motorway.

"That is much welcome public investment that, while it is not in our region, will nevertheless be a big improvement to our motorway links with the midlands and the South.

"Also welcome is the new Tyne crossing which will also be of huge benefit to the travelling public and to industry and commerce.

"So, public investment - properly directed - has been, and will continue to be, a vital element in our regions future prospects and development.

"We have a proud, and sometimes painful, history here in the North East. We have built the nation's ships and provided its energy and we have felt the pain of recession and economic downturns too often.

"But I believe we have come through all of that having learned from it and now have the determination and ability to build on what we have learned.

"This is a great region, a great place to live, to learn and to work. And I believe we are better placed than ever before to take the region forward to a brighter future - if we work together and make best use of the opportunities available.

"We have a proud past, but the best is yet to come.

"I believe the North East can now look forward with confidence to an even greater future."

David's other contributions to this session of the Grand Committee maybe read here.

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Promoted by Ken Childs on behalf of David Clelland, both of 19 Ravensworth Road, Dunston, Gateshead. NE11 9AB