Investing in our strengths - our people, our employers and our places
This morning I took part in a Westminster Hall debate on 'Support for the Northern Economy', the debate included many thoughtful contributions from MPs of all parties and was over subscribed so we were only allowed to speak for three minutes so I chose to focus on the need to invest in our areas of strength; to harness the capability of our communities, build on our proud industrial heritage and take advantage of our world class universities.
"I congratulate the hon. Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis) on securing this important debate. So much has rightly been said about levelling up and the need to spread wealth and opportunity more fairly across the nation. Following the pandemic, during which the north has suffered disproportionately, there will be an even greater need to support our Northern economy, so I welcome Sheffield City Region’s renewal action plan.
The plan identifies three key areas where support should be targeted—our people, our employers and our places.
Our people certainly need support, with unemployment rising and the future job market uncertain. The key to attracting productive, high-skilled jobs is surely to ensure that we have a productive, highly skilled workforce. That is why I welcome the Prime Minister’s lifetime skills guarantee. We also need to support our employers as they adapt to a new post-COVID economy. I commend the Government for their ongoing support for businesses during the pandemic, and I welcome Sheffield City Region’s plans to help our employers adapt to digitisation. Of course, we must support our places, particularly the infrastructure that connects us. That is why I have submitted a bid to restore the Stocksbridge to Sheffield railway line and am working with local groups to improve rural bus services. Perhaps the Minister could provide an update of what the Government are doing specifically about Northern transport?
Our people, our employers and our places all need support, but when we are thinking about our Northern economy it is tempting to focus on what we lack—the jobs, productivity and opportunities that we do not have. If we are talking about investment into the North, perhaps instead we should start with what we do have. Investment is about finding an opportunity, spotting potential and catalysing growth by building on existing strengths. We certainly have a lot of strengths in the North.
We have strong communities with healthy intergenerational ties. People are proud of where they live and value their relationships with families, friends and neighbours. We even talk to each other on the bus. I tried it on the tube; that did not go down well.
We can build on that strength of community to unlock economic potential.
We have a proud history of manufacturing, which is a strength we should build upon. Just as in the North we were at the forefront of the first industrial revolution, we have the potential to lead the fourth industrial revolution—if we focus on growing our own talent, enabling tech investment and engaging with even the youngest children to inspire them to take part in our Northern industrial future.
We also have world-class universities, whose expertise we can harness to invest in our local economy. I welcome the work that Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam universities are already doing in that area, but we need to think more about how the universities can reach into our more rural areas to foster talent in our towns and villages.
Yes, we have been left behind in the North; yes, we need financial support to level-up our economy and opportunities, but let us also acknowledge what we do have, our significant capabilities, and look to invest in our strengths.