Friday, 10 September 2010

The ancestral home

My old stomping ground was featured on the news yesterday when it was revealed in a survey that public sector cuts would threaten employment in Middlesbrough more than any other place in England.

Apparently, some 43% of the workforce is employed within the public sector with a particular emphasis towards education and healthcare.  This leaning towards public sector employment is said to contrast with a lack of private sector opportunities (Unbelievably, quoted figures of less than 200 private sector jobs created in a decade versus 13,000 public sector I find very hard to swallow).

Of course we all hear of an area that was once reliant on heavy industry and has had to turn to government handouts to create jobs but this is a simplistic view and is often spouted by many in more comfortable positions as a reason for a lack of entrepreneurship and job creation in the town. But opportunity is created in a burgeoning economy where ready access to funds and an eager market exists. Apart from a supply of ready-labour what conditions does industrial decline provide for those looking to start a new business? Many businesses exist to supply goods or services to other businesses, thus their futures are dependant upon the fortunes of their clients. Hence the reason for setting up regional 'government' development agencies such as One North East to act as powerful levers to attract new investment into the area and thus employment and opportunity (to be abolished by the new government soon).

But all too often this allocation of funds is seen by some as 'robbing the rich to feed the poor' and in the case of one caller to Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show yesterday such handouts are the reason for not getting off 'lazy Northern backsides' and a culture of reliance on state aid.

I think it fair to dismiss such attitudes as sweeping generalisms. After all we are talking about an area that provided resources for such giants as ICI and British Steel to grow into massive global players and as well as one of the biggest seaports in the country still remains one of the most important oil refinery/ exporting areas in the world. It is still, to the eye, an industrial powerhouse (but without the smog I'm pleased to say) but plainly employs far fewer people these days than in decades gone by. It is estimated that a net 100,000 jobs have been lost in the area since 1970. Most of these job-losses would have been unskilled or semi-skilled and happened in enormous tranches with a obvious devastating impact upon the local economy, so plainly to expect people to simply start up a new business if they can't find work elsewhere is unrealistic.

What is plain to me is that an area that has been exploited for its vast natural resources to the benefit of the nation and expanded rapidly as a result of the need for cheap and willing labour should not be condemned when remote decision-makers take jobs away en masse. Middlesbrough exists because its people supplied the country and the world with the raw materials it needed, creating wealth in turn. The name of Middlesbrough is stamped indelibly on the steel that makes up the Sydney harbour bridge for example.

The area has faced crisis before and has met this challenge head on. The people, if given a chance, willingly turn their hand to new enterprise. The construction of massive oil & gas rigs in the last decade and the rise of renewable energy technologies are a few examples.

We are a hardy & resilient bunch, self-deprecating and sometimes overly-cynical, but then we would be when faced with ill-judged and poorly-perceived attitudes from other parts of the country. It is rising above challenging situations like this that give a place and its people their character.


  1. That was a Party Political Broadcast on behalf of the Cheese Party........

  2. They've got my vote! Up the Cheese Party! (I mean that in the nicest possible way)....

  3. Yeah, Middlesbrough and a lot of other Northern towns and cities are going through some tough times. After having the guts ripped out of them during the Thatcher Years, this wave of cuts ill savage the 'soft underbelly' of the public sector. Your stat about Middlesbrough can be replicated in many northern towns, Since when did public money and public jobs become so dirty anyway? And let's not forget the massive knock on effect it will have on the private sector too. I'll vote for your party, mate!

  4. Well that's Dave for deputy then. You both get my vote......hoorah for northerners!

  5. ..that's the tannoy strapped to the top of the Daewoo. Now where's my old Support the Miners bucket? Anyone fancy a demo?