Lord Michael Bates
A SENIOR North East Conservative has said the region must end its dependence on Government.
But former MP and deputy Conservative Party chairman Lord Bates told peers the North East is a success story, not a problem Government needs to solve.
Speaking in a House of Lords debate on the regional economy, he called for a bolder approach from those in the region who are complaining about the impact of spending cuts.
Lord Bates said: “The people of the North East have always been optimistic by instinct. To follow any of our football teams it is seems a mandatory requirement.
“But my criticism is that in the North East we have always placed too much confidence in governments of all persuasions to solve our problems and had too little confidence in our own ability to shape our own destiny.
“I hope I have shown that the North East is not a problem to be solved, but an example to be followed in transitioning to a balanced and sustainable economy for the future.”
And while praising what he cited as a succession of achievements in terms of job creation, Lord Bates called for a change in the coalition’s approach to major infrastructure decisions.
He said: “The Government deserve one cheer for announcing the investment in High Speed 2 which will dramatically cut journey times to London for all northern cities.
“But it would get a second cheer if it started construction of the line from the North and worked its way South.
“We have been waiting over 50 years for connection to the motorway network and we are therefore slightly suspicious of major infrastructure networks whose funding seems to run out at Leeds.”
Lord Bates set out how the region had bounced back from the “economic tsunami” which faced the region five years ago.
Back then, he explained, Nissan announced 1,200 redundancies, Teesside Cast Products announced the closure of its blast furnace with the loss of 2,000 jobs and the much awaited multi-billion pound investment in new trains by Hitachi was shelved by the then government.
All three of those major firms later went on to announce good news, Lord Bates said.
“There are now more people employed in the North East than at any time since October 2008.
“Unemployment has fallen by 23.1% in the past year and 90,000 people in the North East have been lifted out of tax altogether through the raising of tax thresholds,” he added.
Labour peer Lord Beecham, however, told the House that “in the absence of a proper national growth strategy aimed at rebalancing the economy structurally and geographically, as advocated by Lord Heseltine, the North East seems doomed to hobble into the future”.
Liberal Democrat peer Lord Shipley said: “The North East has been too dependant upon the public sector, not because the public sector is too big, but because the private sector here is too small.
“I am looking forward to Lord Adonis’s review setting out priorities for investment.
“And I hope it might also give us a steer on how to implement the recommendations in Lord Heseltine’s report.”
He also praised the Regional Growth Fund as a move already showing signs of boosting vital North East industries.