How do you hide 185,000 people?

How do you hide 185,000 people? Ask the Government. That’s how many people a recent report shows they’ve missed off the official jobless statistics from across the North East.  It doesn’t include students, or retired people, or people raising kids full time or looking after a home.

They call them ‘economically inactive’.  That’s an ugly phrase.  We’re talking about people whose health is so poor they can’t work full time.  Or without the training to get offered a job.  Or who might struggle with their mental health.  Or someone rejected from job applications so often one report describes them as “people who have given up”.  So let’s not call them ‘economically inactive’ as if it’s a lifestyle choice.  These are our fellow citizens in need of help.   

This isn’t news, either. Not to people beyond the Westminster bubble. My team at the North of Tyne has been working on it since I was elected.  

In 2019, Government set us a target to create 10,000 new jobs in 30 years.  I’ve been Labour’s Metro Mayor for three and three-quarter years.  By now we should have created a pipeline of 1,250 jobs.  In fact our investment is directly creating 4,766 new jobs.  Not bad against a backdrop of national economic upheaval.  In fact, last year we were the number one region in England for job creation through inward investment. 

Every week we’re adding to that total.  On Thursday I spoke to a high-tech firm about increasing their job count from 27 to 160 over the next three years.  How?  By levering in private sector cash to create more jobs.  It’s not all about taxpayer subsidy. 

Sometimes politicians fetishize business.  Some businesses are brilliant – they understand the value of looking after their workers.  Some treat their workers appallingly.  Some are terrible at paying their suppliers on time – a key issue for small businesses.  Which is why I only work with ethical businesses. 

Because there’s a difference between a job and a good job.  Is it a real living wage?  Is it secure? Does include training and development?  Does the employer recognise trade unions?  Are they building a diverse workforce? 

This is where our Good Work Pledge comes in.   A kitemark encouraging every employer in the region to be a good employer.  We include it in our contracts with businesses.  It now protects over 80,000 workers. 

The local Hook Group – who own Blackfriars and other restaurants – were the first hospitality business to gain Advanced accreditation.  They’ve proven that staff waiting tables and serving at a bar can be paid a living wage and looked after.  We’ve become so accustomed to poor employment we accept it as routine.  Time for that to end.   

Long term ill health will take time to reverse.  But there is a direct correlation between poverty and ill health.  I’m working with Sir Michael Marmot and his team to reduce our health inequalities by building a fairer economy.  People with more money live longer, healthier lives.  

We’re training people to get these jobs.  We’re going beyond traditional college courses.  Running bootcamps – free, flexible courses of up to 16 weeks, people can fit around childcare or shift work.  Training for jobs in construction, culture, digital skills, HGV driving.  And a guaranteed job interview with a local employer. 

Our skills programme leaves no one behind.  Individual coaching and support for people with autism, and neurodiversity, and young people who’ve had a tough start in life.  Adults with complex needs around mental illness and substance abuse. 

Our £2.25 million programme to train a ‘green army’ of new trades people to combat the climate crisis. Maintaining electric vehicles. Retrofitting houses. Installing heat pumps. The jobs of the future.  I want them here, with local residents snapping them up.

Here’s the question.  If we’ve done so much so quickly, why has a Conservative Government that’s been in power for 13 years done so little?  I think you know the answer.  That’s why I spent meeting after meeting with ministers and pushed so hard for devolution across the North East.  

We’ve had enough of being left behind by Westminster.  We’ve proven devolution works.  Let’s scale it up.  Our people need it.