Sharon spoke during a Westminster Hall debate on the economy of the North East, called by David Miliband.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Hollobone. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband) on securing this very important debate. The last time that north-east MPs were gathered in Westminster Hall, we were talking about unemployment, and the scourge of unemployment is the main reason for our collective desire to see a proper economic plan from this Government for our region.
In my constituency, long-term youth unemployment has risen by 271% during the past year. The year before that was even worse: the increase was well over 1,000%. It is an absolute tragedy for the young people who cannot find a job. What chance have they of ever being able to contribute to economic recovery in the north-east if and when jobs do arrive, especially if they are the good-quality, high-tech jobs that we want? How can they get their foot on the jobs ladder when the evidence shows the damage that long-term youth unemployment does to a person’s life chances and even their life expectancy?
Like other hon. Members, though, I want to concentrate on some of the positives. Nissan’s factory in my constituency continues to win new business from its parent company. One in three cars made in the UK is made in my constituency. The north-east is leading the UK in electric vehicle manufacture. As a result of that success story, Nissan’s supply-chain companies, such as Gestamp UK, which I visited a few weeks ago, Calsonic Kansei and Vantec, are flourishing and looking to expand. Other companies large and small, such as Rayovac and Washington Components, which I visited on Friday, are doing very well in creating employment and training opportunities.
All of that is great news, but it is not enough. We cannot rely on a few companies, good as they are, to lead the economic development of an entire region. The north-east has so much potential. We do not want aid; we want investment. All we need is our fair share of help from central Government to get things going, not measly handouts. We certainly deserved more than the 0.03% that we got of the national infrastructure budget. The north-east economy is not a problem that the UK needs to fix. It and its people are a huge asset and, if developed properly, will produce huge returns for UK plc—just ask Nissan.
One particular project that I am keen to see funded is the extension of the metro to Washington, which would open up Tyne and Wear to my constituents looking for work and make the town an even more attractive venue for investment. That would be particularly welcome given that the rate of new business creation in my constituency is half what it is across the region as a whole.
We need what the Secretary of State and latterly the noble Lord Heseltine have described as industrial activism, but what we got from this Government was the abolition of One North East, whose task was exactly that. I know that the North Eastern LEP will do everything that it can to fill the gap that abolishing One North East has left, as will individual councils such as Sunderland, but if they are to achieve the success that we need, they will need the powers and resources to do that. We also need to build houses, not just to provide work and training opportunities for young people, but because we need them.
So far, all we have had from this Government are policies and decisions that will widen the north-south divide, whether that is supporting regional pay or slashing regional development funding. Growing up, I experienced at first hand the unfairness of the north-south divide. That is what drove me into politics, and I do not intend to stand idly by and watch while it devastates—ravages—another generation of north-easterners. We need a one-nation plan for our economy—a plan that will create the jobs that my constituency needs, a plan that will close the divide, a plan for young people and a plan that will ensure that we do not once again spiral into the cycle of deprivation and unemployment that the previous Tory Government created with impunity across the north-east.