Transforming our region with full employment

I’m old enough to remember Norman Tebbit telling the British public to get on your bike and look for work – like his old man had done in the 1930s.  He was Employment Secretary at the time, speaking to Conservative Party conference in 1981. 

We’d seen riots in Brixton and Toxteth. Riots that had their roots in unemployment, deprivation and racial disadvantage. The Tories were in power, blaming immigrants and trade unions, and inflation was running at over 10%.  Sound familiar? 

Full employment means a secure, well-paid job for everyone who wants one. That means more job creation, more access to training for workers, and a better transport system so people can access the jobs wherever they live.

Of course, not everyone can work, and our benefits system needs to stop trapping people in poverty. That needs change in central government.

Full employment used to be a core policy of the Labour movement. There are currently 68,725 people unemployed in the North East, and many more ‘economically inactive’.  And 25% of all those in employment are in insecure, zero-hours, or temporary work, including bogus self-employment.

There will inevitably be what economists call frictional unemployment – where people are between jobs for a month or two, or after leaving education.  But we can eliminate mismatch unemployment – that’s where there are jobs available, but people’s skills or life circumstances don’t match what employers need. 

Better transport will help – I know of young people in Blyth who had to turn down jobs in Team Valley because public transport couldn’t get them there.  An integrated Total Transport Network will fix this. 

As North of Tyne Mayor I have one major target from Government: create 10,000 jobs over 30 years. After four years as Mayor that jobs pipeline should be 1,333. The actual number is 5,049 direct, full-time equivalent jobs. That’s half the 30-year target in just 4 years, through a pandemic, and we didn’t even have pens for the whiteboards on my first day.  I’ll stack my record on economic competence against the Government’s anytime.

Where are these jobs coming from? 

Jobs in digital technology, with companies like Verisure in Quorum business park near Four Lane Ends.  Thoughtworks and MonstarLabs on Grey Street.  Credra and Leonardo on the Helix, near St James.  Plus Omnicom, Version 1 and Xplor.  One thousand people employed by these companies already, and they’re recruiting right now – for software engineers, technicians, account managers, and even a global director based here, in the North East. 

Jobs in manufacturing.  Everything from high-tech sensors for offshore wind by Transmission Dynamics in Northumberland Business Park, to high-tech chocolate manufacture by SweetDreams in Cramlington.  Seriously – they have high-tech welding for Easter Eggs. 

We’ve created Jobs in local small and medium enterprises – like joinery firm Cronin.  Helping them switch to a digital tracking system tripled their workshop output.  They recruited new joiners and new apprentices.  They’re now exporting around the globe – out of their factory in Palmersville, North Tyneside. 

Last year the North East was the number one region in the country for job creation from inward investment.  We beat London.  But you probably won’t have seen that on the national news. 

I was at a global investment conference in Leeds last week, negotiating to get more investment and job creation here.  I bumped into Tony Wells, MD of Merit, who make modular clean rooms for the biotech industry. We helped them buy a derelict factory in Cramlington, and expand their operations.  They’ve gone from 130 to 330 jobs, including going from 9 to 87 graduates, and 61 apprentices. 

We can talk about facts and figures.  But I love it when I meet the people who’ve got these jobs.  Like Dale, at Norfran in North Shields.  I asked him what he did before this job, “I worked away, mostly in the Baltic region. Now I’m home every night. I’ve got a young daughter and now I get to read her a bedtime story.”

If everyone has a secure, well-paid job, it would transform our region. Parents will no longer have to raise their kids in poverty. Crime will fall. Health inequalities will close. Why would we ever have an economic strategy that demands less?  Shy bairns get nowt.