Nobody Left Behind

On Tuesday night, just ahead of England’s big game with Wales, I chaired November’s meeting of the Economic Prosperity committee. The main agenda point was “Creating An Inclusive Economy”.

I’d like to take a few minutes to explain what that phrase “Inclusive Economy” is all about, and why I’m determined to ensure that here in North Tyneside it translates into meaningful change for local people.

The two words “inclusive” and “economy” are fundamental, but let’s take them in reverse order. First, the economy. I got involved in politics because more than 20 years of working in the charity sector had convinced me that much of the work charities do is only necessary because the economic system we all live within is biased in all sorts of ways. This means that money is often unfairly distributed around certain communities and certain groups of people. Some get more than they deserve, many get less than they need. Second, inclusive. This is about deliberately asking the question “who is getting left out here, and why?” There is a particularly sharp edge to this question when we consider, for example, why the North East consistently gets less government investment than the South East. We can also apply the same logic to ask why there is a large gap in average income between different parts of our borough.

See some fascinating new data on household incomes here

New interactive tool from the Office of National Statistics

The way a sub-committee works is that we receive evidence from key people in the council about the things they are doing to make progress in a particularly important policy area. At last week’s meeting I’d called in 4 people: the cabinet member responsible, Cllr Hannah Johnson, along with the council’s lead on Inclusive Economy, the Head of Regeneration, and the lead officer on Employability/Skills. I have to say that we are fortunate here in North Tyneside to have such genuinely committed people who work together well and are determined to make a difference.

Following Cllr Johnson’s presentation, which can be viewed here, there were a lot of questions from committee members. As the questions were wide ranging it’s hard for me to summarise but I would pull out the following headlines:

  • Our partnership working with the North of Tyne Combined Authority is absolutely critical. Devolution can sometimes sound like a very remote idea but this is where the rubber really hits the road. Whilst many of the jobs we want local people to access are based here in the borough some will be found in firms based in neighbouring Newcastle or Northumberland. We have to work together closely to make the whole area more economically dynamic. NTCA has millions of pounds to spend on economic development and so it’s very good that we have a seat around the table when decisions are being made about spending that cash.
  • Our partnership with local employers. We know that like other parts of the country many sectors and industries face huge skills gaps, or in plain English “You can’t get the staff”. This is a direct result of 12 years of failure in skills policy by the Conservative government, combined with a ‘hard’ rather than ‘soft’ Brexit which cut us off from European co-operation rather than maintaining beneficial links with the continent. To deal with these skills shortages a great example was given of work the council has been doing down on the Tyne with offshore industrial firm Smulders. Years ago our area was awash with welders but they are few and far between now. The council’s skills team has been helping to recruit local people to learn welding as a trade and numbers of them now have full time jobs at the yard.
  • Outreach into areas where more support is needed. Another great example given was the recent opening of the innovative new “Working Well” hub at the Beacon Centre in North Shields. The philosophy here is the opposite of what many describe old Job Centres as being – inhuman and all about sanctions. The Working Well hub is a one-stop-shop to make it easier for people to access employment and skills support – from the latest information on the jobs market to building confidence. As well as expert employment advice there is support on hand to deal with barriers to employment including debt advice, housing advice, and help around physical and mental health.

All in all I was impressed to hear about the multiple and layered ways in which the council is pro-actively working to ensure that when it comes to economic growth in North Tyneside, nobody is left behind. Yes, the conditions out there are tough, but the early results are encouraging and the willingness to innovate bodes well for future success.

Papers from the committee meeting can be found here.

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