In the week the region came together to set out a manifesto for change, ADRIAN PEARSON goes over the economic case
AFAIRER economy that leaves no one behind may be the sort of unachievable aim that only ever exists in theory, but that shouldn’t stop the region aiming for it.
So says the team behind the January Manifesto. With years of recession and high unemployment behind us and only the slim prospect of growth in the years ahead, now is the time, they say, to set out how we want to improve.
The January Manifesto is the work of seven people who came together following a year-long consultation and the views of hundreds of concerned North East families, employers and politicians.
Brought together by former Metro boss Mike Parker, the group helped gather the thoughts and opinions of nearly 400 people during 2012.
Alongside Mr Parker are Alastair Balls, chair of the Northern Rock Foundation trustees; Peter Hetherington, former regional affairs editor of The Guardian and vice-president of the Town and Country Planning Association, and Barry Knight, executive director of Centris, based in Annitsford.
Also working on the manifesto is Jane Streather, formerly deputy director of the Child Poverty Action Group and a senior Newcastle councillor; Sally Thomas, director of Social Regeneration Consultants, which specialises in community and neighbourhood practice, and Mike Worthington, a retired chief probation officer in Northumbria.
After a detailed look at the economy of the North East they have warned that it cannot afford to again be so unfair, with the better off doing fine while the region continues to suffer from deprivation far removed from the lifestyles of the high-earners.
A series of action points have been put together as a result of consultations in which hundreds of people over the last year have taken part, people who they say are deeply proud of their region.
The manifesto makes clear: “In consultations, people typically find it easier to say what’s wrong rather than what’s right.
Discussions about the January Declaration were no exception, though people said that they did not see themselves as victims, and found much merit in the place that they lived in ... its environment, institutions, people and culture. Overall, people felt that they lived in a wonderful place with much potential.”
But there are failings as well, issues they say are made worse by a lack of fairness.
The team said: “Problems are compounded by the marked inequality in the distribution of wealth. Land ownership is dominated by a small number of remote families, and the ratio between high and low pay in both private companies and public institutions is increasing.
“While accepting such inequality as normal, people increasingly blame the weakest in our society, a process that is undermining the tradition of solidarity in the region. Living on social security is not a lifestyle choice; it is a feature of a local economy with too little work.”
The manifesto states: “We need to develop a new partnership organisation to drive forward the capacity to pursue economic development. An economic strategy would have three main dimensions. It would build on our assets, take advantage of opportunities, and build an infrastructure that would support future development.”
But, they say, improving that economy must not come at the price of greater inequality.
The manifesto group called for a new “understanding about societal processes that foster mutual responsibility to put right the glaring gaps in our societies that currently demonise the victims of change“.
“We should,” they state “avoid blame and recognise that almost all poverty is the result of structural, not personal factors”.
The manifesto adds: “Most unemployed people want to work. For example, less than 1% of those receiving Employment Support Allowance have been in receipt of the benefit for more than 10 years. It is evident that economic arrangements create problems at both ends of the income distribution. The voluntary and community sector has a key role in showcasing this narrative.”
And there is also stronger call to action when it comes to the situation facing the region’s youth.
In a call for change, the manifesto team say: “People who have presided over the current situation are not necessarily those who are best suited to do the necessary rethinking. We need to involve young people as active participants in the process for it is to them that the future belongs.”
They add: “This means that adults have to behave differently, to connect with them and to give them real power. Successful schemes include poverty proofing of schools, which involves young people in the process.
“Similarly, all programmes should be proofed to ensure that they involve young people in their design and implementation.”
What happens next? At the very least the group want to find a way of holding the current public sector institutions to account.
The manifesto states: “Alongside these campaigns, there will be the continuation of the dialogue with supporters. This will lead to ‘North East Poverty and Inequality Forum’. The strapline might be ‘Striving for greater fairness in the North East’.
“This forum would monitor bodies such as the local enterprise partnerships that have the responsibility to develop the region’s economy, develop campaigns on particular issues and coordinate appropriate activities. Supporters will be invited to volunteer to help us to shape this and throughout the year, we will encourage new people to sign up to this January Manifesto.”