You can read Sharon's latest Echo Column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
I can’t imagine many people in the region missed the news coming from Nissan last week, and rightly so.
This three-headline announcement has the potential to transform our country’s automotive industry and is an incredible vote of confidence in our region’s world-class workforce.
Firstly, Sunderland will move full throttle towards its aim of being a carbon-free city by 2040, providing green jobs and clean energy with the construction of a ‘microgrid’.
This microgrid will then power a Gigafactory, which will be producing batteries for electric vehicles as we race towards the 2030 ban on the sale of petrol and diesel cars.
And finally, to match the increasing demand for electric vehicles, Nissan have announced their next electric model will be built in Sunderland.
This collaboration between Nissan, AESC Envision, and Sunderland City Council, with support from the Government, is a result of incredible hard work.
But let’s not forget, the automotive industry was pushed to a cliff edge last year awaiting Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal which came through at the very last minute.
The deal emphasised the necessity for a domestic battery-manufacturing industry which for years has been highlighted by Nissan, local stakeholders and in Parliament by myself and colleagues, in order to meet the 2030 electrification goal and the moving goalposts of the UK-EU trade deal.
The Gigafactory commitment is therefore a massive sigh of relief for us all, and will pioneer the way ahead for British batteries.
The Sunderland plant has truly been certified as the jewel in the Nissan crown, with our region reaping the economic and employment rewards. In the North East, we all know people employed by Nissan or its supply chain, so we should all be very proud that their hard work has brought us here.
I will continue to showcase our automotive superpower in Parliament; a job that will be significantly easier after last week’s announcement.
You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo Website
A deep groan was heard across the region this week, as the Prime Minister announced a delay to the easing of lockdown.
What was supposed to be June 21 has become July 19.
Boris Johnson sees politics as a game and has once again shifted the goalposts. So, in the spirit of the Euros, let me address this in football terms.
The Prime Minister promised us a “World in Motion” this summer but, in the words of David Baddiel, has thrown it away. His decisions left us with a leaky defence and now we are well into extra time; our nation exhausted.
By keeping our borders open, despite worrying rising cases internationally, the Prime Minister left the UK vulnerable to new coronavirus variants.
And it was entirely avoidable.
The Conservative Government were warned of the threat of variants by scientists, and Labour has been calling for our borders to be closed, to protect the UK, since the start of this year.
But the Government decided it knows best, so let’s give them the credit; let’s call this the Johnson Variant.
The Conservatives haven’t just ignored science, they’ve ignored the people of Britain.
For those couples who planned to marry after the lockdown, who have already rearranged their special day once, twice, or maybe even three times, this announcement will be yet another blow. Even with increased capacity, dancing inside is forbidden by the rules.
And it is not just couples that this affects, but the entire wedding industry which, like many, has suffered massively throughout the lockdowns.
For those on furlough, the delay brings serious worries about their job security. From July, businesses will have to pay more of their employees’ wages. For nightclubs, who have been shut since the start of the pandemic, this is clearly unworkable.
The Chancellor should link business relief to the extension of lockdown and provide proper financial support for those who need to self-isolate. But instead he is playing politics with the livelihoods of working people.
What’s more, there is real concern that the Government will continue to repeat its cycle of incompetence, as many countries with rocketing cases are on the vague and unhelpful ‘amber’ list, which Labour would scrap entirely.
The Government must take this seriously so we can finally hear the full-time whistle on lockdowns.
Read Sharon Hodgson MP's other column pieces here >
You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
Last week, a parliamentary session lasting over sixteen months ended. The State Opening of a new session will take place next Tuesday, where, following a centuries old tradition, the Queen will visit Parliament and read out a list of the Conservative Government’s priorities for the year ahead.
The first test for the Conservatives in this Queen’s Speech will be to commit once more to securing jobs and backing our local businesses, helping people across the North East, rather than lining the pockets of their mates with dodgy contracts worth millions of pounds.
In Government, Labour would work with private enterprise to create the next generation of high-skilled jobs, and get people into work, training or education, while ensuring the protection of public sector jobs. Labour’s priority is to see jobs protected by holding the Tories to account and by working hard locally to support businesses, trade unions and employees.
We know that the easing of restrictions will help us see many people return to work. But many will not. This Queen’s Speech follows a national report by Green Alliance which shows Washington and Sunderland West has the highest Labour Market Challenge Score (the greatest combination of pre- and post-pandemic unemployment), scoring 239, compared with the national average of 100. This shows that Washington and Sunderland West will have the highest employment challenge nationwide post-pandemic.
It is clear that it will take our community a long time to rebuild; and it is only the Labour Party whose priorities lie firmly with rebuilding our communities and securing the future of our jobs.
Ten years of Conservative austerity cuts have left our councils cash-strapped, while pay for key workers has decreased in real terms. The pandemic only exacerbated the deep-rooted inequalities already present, while favours were provided for those who have ministers in their Whatsapp contacts.
There’s no reason we can’t have job security, more opportunities, high streets we are proud of, and public services that put people first: the Government just has to prioritise them.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to remind readers to use their vote today in our local elections for Councillors and the Police and Crime Commissioner. Our council has worked hard to ensure that this can be done in Covid-safe manner. Results should be known by midday Friday.
You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
Disagreement is at the heart of human experience, just as the right to protest is at the heart of our democracy.
Sometimes disagreement is good; it can force a rethink, a compromise, a better outcome.
But the Government are eroding that right to disagree and protest.
Last week the Conservative Government brought the “Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill” before Parliament.
The best measures in the Bill come from campaigns by Labour MPs, such as my colleague Sarah Champion’s work on sexual abuse by people in positions of trust. But as the Government have made the Bill wide in scope, any opposition to some parts of the Bill – such as harsher penalties for damaging a statue than for attacking a woman – can be portrayed by the Conservatives as opposition to all parts of the Bill. This isn’t the case.
What is the case is the Government rushing through poorly thought-out measures to impose disproportionate controls on free expression and the right to protest.
The Bill hides, in its haystack of legislation, a very sharp needle – the criminalisation of protests that cause ‘serious annoyance’.
‘Serious annoyance’, like when the kettle trips the fuse and you have to turn the electricity back on.
Let’s put it in some perspective.
Did Sam Brown, one of the two hundred who marched from Jarrow to London in 1936 because they had no work, do enough to cause ‘serious annoyance’?
Should Brown’s peaceful request of a better future have found him behind bars?
Picture: Courtesy of South Tyneside Libraries >
The Government want to criminalise those who disagree with them because they cannot stand to be criticised.
But history links our national identity to the right to protest. The right has its roots in medieval Britain, from Magna Carta, and runs through the Peasants Revolt and the women’s suffrage movement.
I strongly condemn the violence against the police that we saw in Bristol over the weekend, but our right to peaceful protest must be preserved.
You can view Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below, or on the Sunderland Echo website.
You would think that jobs for the boys would be a thing of the past, but the Conservative Party have gone one step further and used the Coronavirus pandemic as a business opportunity to further line the pockets of their mates.
The Conservative Government have handed out almost £2 billion worth of taxpayers money for Covid contracts to friends and donors.
The most baffling of all being the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock’s former neighbour and pub landlord, supplying the Government with Covid-19 test parts, despite having no previous medical experience. The firm is now being investigated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency.
The High Court ruled last month that the Health Secretary had acted unlawfully on transparency and failed to publish contracts on time.
But Matt Hancock has been quick to shrug this ruling off. Not only has he declared there was no foul play, he’s also tried to re-write history.
It isn’t even a year since we saw frontline workers on the news every day saying they were scared to go to work because they didn’t have the correct PPE. We saw images of our nurses and doctors using bin bags to protect themselves and issuing emotional pleas and warnings to the Government.
In response, the Government paid a pest control firm £59 million for 25 million facemasks, a hedge fund based in Mauritius £252 million for facemasks and paid a jeweller in Florida £70 million for gowns. None of these could be used.
Matt Hancock doesn’t remember that awful and desperate time and is keen that you forget about it too, but out of respect for our keyworkers on the frontline and the hundreds of NHS staff who died, we must ensure that we don’t forget or allow them to re-write history.
The Government must wind down its emergency procurement powers, reintroduce competitive tender and claw back the money on contracts that haven’t delivered.
In Government, Labour is committed to making the UK a world leader in transparency again by introducing an Independent Anti-Corruption Commissioner.
Contracts for cronies will be a thing of the past under a Labour Government.
You can read Sharon's latest Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
This year, local elections will take place in a context we’ve never known before.
Last year’s Council elections were delayed by national Government, because of Covid-19, but are due to take place this May.
While many of us will have had our vaccine by then, with Sunderland and the North East making incredible progress vaccinating our communities, there is an important step that we all could take to ensure that we can all vote safely in the local elections – sign up for postal voting.
You can vote early with a postal vote, by sending this off ahead of polling day. Around 40% of the population of Sunderland are already registered for a postal vote.
It’s important you have your say in local democracy, and you can do this easily from your own home. The elections in the USA in November were a fantastic success for early postal voting, with over 100 million voters across the country choosing to vote safely and securely from home.
That’s not to say that voting in person at your nearest polling station won’t be safe. Our excellent council workers will be ensuring that polling stations are kept Covid-secure, and social distancing will be strictly maintained.
But I’m sure most people have been in that position where they’ve forgotten it is election day until the last minute, or are too busy to find time to vote on the day. That doesn’t need to be a concern with a postal vote.
Across the next few months, Sunderland Council Electoral Services will be writing to everyone who is not yet registered for a postal vote, to let you know how you can sign up for one.
You can get ahead of the curve, and sign up to vote by post by checking out this interactive website: https://postalvote.labour.org.uk/
Your local Labour candidates have been working hard throughout the pandemic to support communities across Sunderland. You can find out more about the candidates for Washington and Sunderland West on this link: https://www.waswlabour.org/local-election-candidates-2021/
Get your postal vote, and make sure your vote is counted safely and securely in May and in future elections.
You can read Sharon's Sunderland Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
Last week’s schools chaos shows that the Government’s priorities do not lie with families.
Parents finding out at 8pm on a Monday night that their children wouldn't be going to school the next day, after being reassured the opposite, indicates a wider problem; the Government’s incompetence is leaving families behind.
Seeing children out of school is disappointing, but is now necessary. Schools are open to vulnerable children and those with essential worker parents, but this limited safe capacity has quickly been filled leaving schools under serious pressure.
Meanwhile, parents who cannot work from home are being told to remain at work, creating a childcare issue and leaving parents with the difficult decision of working and keeping their job or looking after their family.
On Wednesday, after pressure from Labour, the Chancellor updated the guidance to make these parents aware that they would be eligible for furlough. But this is at the discretion of employers. It also means a 20% pay-cut.
That’s just not good enough. Once again, working parents are left to juggle childcare and work. It isn’t fair on parents, school staff or children.
As we face the deepest recession of any major economy, we must protect family incomes.
Labour is calling on the Government to create an immediate right for parents to request paid flexible furlough.
Child poverty levels were striking pre-pandemic, with 35% of children in the North East living in poverty. This has now worsened, regional inequality has intensified, and Councils have been starved of income.
Despite this, Boris and Rishi want to cut Universal Credit, which will mean millions of families lose £1,000 a year and another 200,000 children put into poverty. They also plan a raise in council tax, landing every family an extra £90 on their bill.
This harsh austerity won’t help our region build back its economy. It won’t help parents and children build back our communities. It certainly won’t level us up.
Not only are the Tories proving their incompetence, but they are proving that families are not their priority.
You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website
When Penshaw monument comes into view on the A1 or A19, you know you’re almost home.
The announcement of a coronavirus vaccine feels like that too.
There is now a route out of this pandemic and its hold on our daily lives; soon we may once again be able to hug our nearest and dearest.
A light has shone at the end of the tunnel, there is an end in sight.
We are almost home.
This of course could never have happened if it wasn’t for the hard work and dedication of scientists here in the UK. My congratulations and thanks go out to all who have helped us get this far.
But we cannot forget that by leaving us in heightened restrictions since September 18th and failing to support local businesses, the Government has disadvantaged the North East throughout this pandemic.
It is fantastic that Newcastle’s Royal Infirmary will be one of the first hospitals in the country used as a vaccine hub, with the North East yet again leading the way.
However, every part of our region must have the resources and plans in place to deliver the vaccination programme as promised.
The vaccine rollout will not happen overnight, but the Conservatives must not leave the North East at the back of the queue once again.
On Boxing Day 2018, Sunderland fans set the record for attendance of a League One football match, with over 46,000 fans in attendance. Two years on, even if under tier 2 restrictions, only 2,000 fans would be able to go and watch the Black Cats.
Our region’s economy needs fans back in stadiums, hospitality open and local businesses thriving once more.
I know that these measures have taken their toll on us all but with a review of restrictions on the way, we cannot undermine the progress we have made.
I therefore urge everyone to enjoy their festive celebrations in line with the national and regional guidance.
As ever, if you have any concerns, please email [email protected] and I will do my best to help. I wish you and your families a very happy Christmas.
You can read Sharon's latest Sunderland Echo column below or on the Sunderland Echo website.
As the Government places Northern regions under experimental lockdown measures, without the financial backing to help them through, the North-South divide has never been so apparent.
But as people in our region know all too well, Tory neglect of the North predates Covid-19.
Local Authority budgets in our region have been savaged since 2010, exacerbating long-term regional inequalities between the North and South.
Shocking statistics from the End Child Poverty Coalition show that some of the largest increases in child poverty have come from Northern towns and cities, with the North East seeing the largest jump of any region in England.
In my constituency, 35% of children are growing up in poverty, an almost 9% increase since 2014/15.
This is before we even take into consideration the consequences of Covid-19, which has left the North East facing economic turmoil not seen since the days of Thatcher.
Families face significant economic uncertainty, and need reassurance that support will be there to help them care for their children and stop them from slipping into poverty.
However, the Government is threatening to slash the safety net even further, by scrapping the £20 uplift to Universal Credit in April, which will only make it harder to make ends meet and plunge our children into further hardship.
Tackling poverty and addressing its root causes needs to be at the heart of any Covid recovery plan, to ensure this pandemic does not commit a future generation to a life of deprivation.
The Government must urgently reform the social security net, and retain the £20 uplift in Universal Credit (UC) and apply this to other legacy benefits.
In the face of already unacceptable levels of child poverty, our country’s children are now at severe risk of being swept even deeper into deprivation. Reforming UC and maintaining the £20 uplift would put much-needed cash into the pockets of Britain’s poorest families, helping them through this crisis, and would put us back on path to a fairer, more just society in the aftermath of this pandemic.
You can read Sharon's recent Echo Column below or on the Sunderland Echo website.
Many families in our area have already been hit hard financially by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Yet, as they have done so often during this crisis, the Government recently overlooked the needs of working families in our region. Local lockdown measures were implemented at short notice, which effectively put an end to informal childcare arrangements.
This left parents who rely on support from grandparents, friends and family facing a choice between staying at home to care for their children and potentially losing their job, or finding formal childcare with no notice and no budget to pay for it.
Many constituents wrote to me to share their worries and anxieties. Families who were already often on low pay, particularly women and single parents, were left facing severe hardship. I wrote to Matt Hancock to raise their concerns, and asked the Government to reconsider.
Thankfully, Ministers relented, and have now said that informal childcare arrangements for those aged under 14 can continue, ensuring those who rely on them are not left under even more financial strain as we adjust to new local restrictions.
But whilst this decision has provided some relief to working parents, I know that for many of us the next few weeks will continue to be challenging. Local lockdown will keep friends and families apart, and businesses face renewed financial pressures.
Nobody wants to see any more restrictions on our daily life, but the concerning growth of this virus cannot be ignored.
I would therefore urge everyone to continue to follow local lockdown measures, which remain in place alongside the additional measures announced by Government. Please avoid visiting other people, only socialise with members of your own household, and only take essential journeys.
As ever, if any of my constituents have any concerns about these measures, please do email shar[email protected] and I will do all I can to help you.
Our region has felt the impact of Covid-19 more severely than many others. We must now do everything we can to slow the rate of infection, and protect the NHS, our most vulnerable, and the health of those around us.