In 1987 I was 9 years old. Hilary Armstrong the former MP for North West Durham and now Baroness, was making her maiden speech in the House of Commons, she brought up the issue of unemployment in North West Durham. Pat Glass is now our MP and 23 years later in her maiden speech, she addressed the same concern. In an opposition day debate about youth unemployment Pat had this to say.1
“Anyone looking at those two speeches could be forgiven for thinking that is a deeply entrenched problem that cannot be dealt with, but actually, that is not true. Between 1997 and 2010, North West Durham, like most of the post-industrial north, underwent an economic and social revolution, with the support of the previous Government, but it is amazing how quickly the clock has turned back to the 1980s. Under a previous Conservative Government, male unemployment in Consett, in my constituency, reached [almost] 100%. Can people now imagine what it is like to live in a place with 100% male unemployment?Youth unemployment in my constituency has doubled in the last 12 months and now stands at 35%. Unemployment generally has increased by 20%, and it is a direct result of Government policies... If the Government are serious about delivering on unemployment in places such as the north-east, they need to be serious about a growth strategy. We do not need enterprise zones and short-term grants. We have had those before and they do not stay: as soon as the grants run out, the jobs disappear and everybody runs back to the south-east. We need instead proper infrastructure investment, so that private companies are attracted to the area and stay...… But what have the Government done? They have cut public expenditure for infrastructure and jobs, and cut investment in skills. The abolition of the EMA has led directly to falls in participation rates at 16 to levels that we have not seen since the 1990s, and the tripling of tuition fees has led to a 12% reduction in university applications this year.Young people are having a hard time from this Government and it is due not only to the abolition of the EMA and the rise in tuition fees, but to the cuts in home-to-school transport, home-to-college transport, careers services, youth services and local bus services. Young people are becoming more cynical now than they have ever been about politics and the role of the Government. I am pleading with the Government now to listen to the suffering out there and start putting in place a proper plan for growth and jobs for young people”.
It is good to hear my MP speaking up for the young people of Consett in Parliament. The government need to be reminded of the effect their policies (or lack of policy) has on the lives of people who exist outside of the claustrophobic 'Westminster bubble' The Issues facing Consett also have gained national media attention in a recent Guardian article.2
I welcome both Pats speech and the Guardian article, fighting for real investment and raising awareness of the fact that Consett is still on the map even without its steelworks are vitally important. Both the speech and the article however, have been vehemently criticised by a local Liberal Democrat; Pat for inadvertently missing out the word 'almost' at the start of her speech and the Guardian for what is described as 'poverty tourism'
Maybe the real objection however is that such speeches and articles make it difficult to hide the plain fact that the Liberal Democrats, after 18 months in 'power' are still standing shoulder to shoulder with their Tory friends in pushing though policies that have a disproportionate effect on the lives of ordinary people who call towns like Consett home.
Consett is my home town and I am extremely proud of where I come from, in an previous blogpost about Consett and Stanley I describe this area with affection; 'Old industry is etched in to the fabric of communities, people are proud of where they come from and have traditional values. Neighbourhood communities are still strong as are family ties'. Consett is a good place to live, work and bring up a family and sits in some magnificent countryside. It is right however that MPs and the media try to highlight the lack of jobs and opportunities we had to face under the Tories in the 1980s and are facing again under this coalition Government.
1. Original speech by Pat Glass MP: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debate/?id=2011-11-09a.388.2