Red Wall seats need help to help themselves through the levelling up agenda
River Blyth (Credit: Mark Dyball Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo)
The Levelling Up White Paper was published with a great fanfare in February last year and since then we have had two new prime ministers and three new chancellors. MHCLG has become DLUHC and Michael Gove is back at the helm.
As a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Left Behind Areas and the first Conservative MP for Blyth Valley I passionately believe in the levelling up agenda. There is no doubt that governments of all colours have not delivered for areas like mine in recent decades. Despite so many cabinet members during the Tony Blair years being from, or at least representing north-east constituencies it was disappointing to see so little progress. We now at least have an acknowledgment that levelling up is necessary but it is going to take a generation or two to deliver it.
So, what would I like to see from the government to deliver levelling up in Blyth Valley? More of the same please. Much more. To me, levelling up starts with infrastructure investment, delivers better skills and education and supports communities to be ambitious and help themselves.
The process has started in Blyth Valley. The Northumberland Line is being reopened to passenger services after Richard Beeching closed it in the 1960s, which means that people in my constituency can get to jobs in the nearby Tyneside conurbation and it also means that inward investment in the renewables sector on the Blyth Estuary is more attractive for companies with global ambitions. We still need to see investment in road improvements for moving goods and for those people who won’t be able to take the new trains.
At the time of writing this there is a lot of public uncertainty about the future of proposed Britishvolt electric vehicle battery giga factory. If Britishvolt does not make it, then I will need government to show the same investment commitment made from the Automotive Transformation Fund to new investors. Generally, I am not in favour of direct support for individual companies but if a sector is of strategic national importance, as this is, we need to do everything we can.
As the jobs come, our schools need to equip young people with the skills they need to take these jobs. Pupils need to be aware of the opportunities opening up to them so giving them exposure to industry and the wider world of work at a young age is essential. Schools like Bede Academy are embracing this opportunity wholeheartedly, but they need the space and the facilities to do this and they need flexibility in how they structure their educational pathways. So 2023 will see me chasing ministers in the Department of Education down the corridors of Westminster.
Most Blyth Valley constituents have already left school and most would like a better paid job so the skills agenda does not stop at schools. We need to invest in high quality post-16 vocational skills to match the needs of the businesses with the aspirations of the applicants.
Finally, some of the wards in my constituency suffer real deprivation with all of the problems that brings. I am optimistic by nature and I detect a new-found ambition in some of these communities to help themselves. All they need is a bit of support and as the APPG for Left Behind Areas advocates, releasing some cash for these communities (like the Forget Me Not community group in Cowpen Quay) to help themselves from dormant assets would be an excellent way to do this.
Altogether, 2023 is going to be the year during which I focus most of my efforts on levelling up for Blyth Valley.
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