THE news last week that unemployment had shot up by 5,000 in the North East was a shock to no-one.
What is particularly worrying is that this increase in unemployment, leaving the region with the highest unemployment rate in the country, is just the tip of the iceberg.
We know that local authorities across the piece are in the process of shedding thousands of staff, many PCTs and other parts of the health service are currently canvassing for voluntary redundancies (while last week’s health service reform Bill spells job losses in years to come) and the civil service is cutting hundreds of jobs as we speak with the voracious dismantling of regional infrastructure.
And that’s not to mention a still vulnerable and fragile private sector announcing business failure and job losses on a regular basis.
While the Prime Minister was in Newcastle recently admiring some of the excellent work that is going on to transform the economy of the North East, it does seem that the Government are more keen on dismantling and cutting than they are on working on key projects and initiatives that will support growth and future employment.
There appears to be just no sense of urgency or importance given to stimulating economic growth. Talk to anyone in the offshore wind manufacturing sector and they will tell you that the sense of urgency and drive has significantly diminished.
To be fair, the private sector is continuing to step up to the plate here and is driving what could be a really promising sector for the region, but it strikes me as bizarre that this isn’t receiving greater Government attention – especially given the stated aspiration to move to a stronger private sector base in the economy.
Equally, it is hard to understand the rather tepid approach to attracting Hitachi to create high quality manufacturing jobs in County Durham through the Intercity Express Programme – an investment that would provide a 48 to 1 return to the Treasury. Instead of the drive behind these and other opportunities for growth, we see a government only with an appetite for destruction, under some false premise of seeking to ‘balance the books’ or as Cameron has said, ‘to pay off the country’s credit card’, as if there was a direct similarity to running a household budget, which there certainly is not.
The consequence of this failure to prioritise growth over cuts is that we will see unemployment continue to grow dramatically in the North East and elsewhere, including a massive growth in youth unemployment, now almost one million nationally, and also in long-term unemployment.
Both of these features in our labour market are devastating.
There is the fact that this will increase the benefit bill, undermining the government’s attempts to cut public spending, but more important than this, it is well known that both youth unemployment and long-term unemployment have lasting damaging social consequences for the individuals concerned; once again written off by the Tories.
:: Kevin Rowan Regional Secretary – Northern TUC