I congratulate the hon. Members for Birmingham, Northfield (Gary Sambrook) and for Barrow and Furness (Simon Fell) on their excellent and most entertaining maiden speeches. I am sure that we will hear a lot more from them during this Parliament.
I am very pleased to speak in this debate, and I was following very closely the Secretary of State’s words. One of the key issues that we need to resolve, whichever side of the Chamber we sit on, is the growing economic divide between the north and the south. I will refer quite extensively to a new report published by Sheffield Hallam University, “The State of the Coalfields 2019”, which details the situation, identifying not just problems, but solutions.
In the UK, power and finance is concentrated in the centre, in the near exclusive control of Whitehall and Westminster. This has led to decades of under-investment in the north-east and former industrial communities such as mine. I believe that our economy and country as a whole will not succeed post-Brexit if we remain exclusively reliant on the success of London and the south-east. Today, I will focus on the green industrial revolution and the economic benefits that it could bring to constituencies such as mine— Easington, in County Durham.
I am very proud of Labour’s manifesto and I thought that our Front Bencher, my hon. Friend Rebecca Long Bailey, made a terrific contribution at the start of the debate in outlining the advantages of Labour’s green industrial revolution. In my lifetime, the north-east was one of the engines of economic success. It powered the industrial revolution and has a long and proud history in shipbuilding, coalmining and engineering. In Murton, where I live, the colliery was the mainstay of the village, providing employment and coal for the nation’s furnaces from 1834 until it stopped production in November 1991. It employed my father, uncles, cousins and grandfather.
Labour had planned to make the north-east a centre for the next industrial revolution—the green industrial revolution. Indeed, Labour’s manifesto set out not just slogans, but specific pledges: £13 billion of new investment in the green transformation fund, including plans for Crossrail for the north, expanding our ports, particularly on the Tyne and the Tees, a steel recycling plant in Redcar, and manufacturing facilities to support the Dogger Bank wind farms. We would have had 80,000 well-paid new green jobs. We heard about investment in manufacturing electric vehicles and the benefits of expanding the electric vehicle charging network. That would protect the 18,000 workers directly employed in the automotive sector in the north-east while reducing emissions and improving air quality. Also important is the upgrading of housing—the national figure was quoted earlier—from which 1.2 million households across the north-east could benefit. It would reduce bills, eliminate the vast majority of fuel poverty and make our homes healthier and more comfortable.
It is important that we consider the record of the last Government. It is not just a feeling or an impression, but certainly true that former coalfield constituencies such as mine have been at the sharp end of austerity and suffered disproportionately. If we grouped together all the coalfield areas, some of which are now represented by Conservative MPs, into one distinct region, it would have a population of 5.7 million and would be the poorest region in the United Kingdom, so the shared prosperity fund that Ministers talk about needs to be targeted at regions and former coalfield areas such as mine in the north-east.
The IPPR North research department found that between 2009-10 and 2017-18 the north-east saw a £3.6 billion cut in public spending, while the south-east and south- west together actually saw a real-terms £4.7 billion rise. Indeed, my local authority, Durham County Council, had a 40% budget cut—almost £250 million—at a time of increasing demands on services. We also have to hold the Government to account for their industrial policy, or lack of it: the abolition of One North East, our regional development agency; the scrapping of our Minister for the North—someone who could be an advocate for a joined-up government—and of specific measures to help with employment in my region; and their failure to support the industrial base, as several Members have mentioned, particularly the steel industry on Teesside.
I ask that the Minister consider the report by Sheffield Hallam University’s centre for regional, economic and social research. It contains some specific actions that I think he will find are very well thought through and evidence based. It documents the consequences of a legacy of failure that stretches back several decades and which manifests itself in many ways. For example, health problems are more widespread in former coalfield areas; more than one third of residents aged over 16 report health problems lasting for more than 12 months; and although the number of jobs is increasing, it is doing so at only half the rate we see in the main regional centres and a third of the rate we see in London, which widens the economic inequalities in coalfield areas such as mine.
The current focus on the City and financial sectors of the economy disadvantages coalfield communities, which have a higher proportion of manufacturing jobs. Such is the scale of the intervention needed—the Secretary of State mentioned some figures—that to raise employment to the national average would require 80,000 additional residents in work in the north-east and to raise it to the level of the south-east our region would require an additional 170,000. Part-time work accounts for a third of all our employment, there is a skills shortage, which is not helped by education cuts, and we have fewer degree-level qualifications. The young and better qualified have little option but to move out of coalfield communities to meet their employment aspirations. Welfare reform has hit us particularly hard, with £2.4 billion having been taken out of our communities—money that would otherwise have been spent in the local economy.
I want to conclude with some specifics. I have obviously got a vested interest in promoting the green industrial revolution. The north-east is the home of UK manufacturing. We have the most productive car plant in the world producing electric vehicles the world wants to buy. I know of constituents driving polluting diesel vehicles who would love to switch to electric if they could afford it. In my constituency, we have the commercial space—office and factory units—to accommodate the green businesses of the future, and at the end of this month Biffa will be opening a new £27.5 million plastic recycling plant in my constituency. Also in my constituency is Drilcorp, specialists in renewable technologies, heat pumps and geothermal systems, while our East Durham College has established a technical academy that delivers courses and training in engineering and manufacturing, including renewable technologies of the future. The Minister has an opportunity—I am asking for his help—to unleash the immense potential of our former coalfield communities and of constituencies such as mine.