Dear Prime Minister…
October 30, 2022
Dear Prime Minister,
I hope this letter finds you well and still at this address. Congratulations on your appointment – second time lucky, eh?
Today was due to be the fiscal statement. You’ll forgive me for saying I don’t envy the challenge you’ve inherited from Ms Truss, Mr Johnson, Ms May and Mr Cameron. When you said, “mistakes were made,” the whole country nodded in agreement.
You announced how our country faces a profound economic crisis. Seeing as you held the purse strings and lived next door for most of the past few years, you’ll be fully aware of the challenges you’ve inherited from yourself.
You warned of the “difficult decisions to come”. I fear you missed a beat here. Millions of citizens face difficult decisions right now. Between heating and eating. Between paying their bills and buying their children winter clothes. With this misstep in mind, I hope you’ll allow me – as someone who was directly elected to my post – to offer some advice.
We do indeed face an extraordinary financial challenge. We all saw the graphs with plunging lines after Dr Kwarteng’s ‘mini-budget’. But don’t use the North to plug Westminster’s gap in public finances. You promised to bring “unity” to the UK. A noble aim. If we’re to navigate our way through the treacherous waters ahead, we must do so together. On a level.
That means following through on the levelling up commitments of your predecessors. Before you entered No. 10, I’d been working for three years with Ministers and Local Authority leaders – north and south of the Tyne – to get a North East Devolution Deal that works for our region. It would deliver billions to invest in jobs, homes, skills training, and much more. It would deliver greater control over things that matter to people – such as transport. It puts tackling inequality at its centre. It would empower us to take stronger action against the climate crisis. We just need your Government to let us sign on the dotted line. Please don’t let this be another Westminster casualty of chaos.
Warnings about “a return to austerity” are concerning. Partly, because I’m not sure how we can return to something we never left. The gaping holes in local authority budgets have never been closed. Teachers, nurses, firefighters, police, rail workers, posties, university staff, ambulance drivers, physios, council workers – pretty much every keyworker has seen their pay fall far behind inflation. There’s a recruitment crisis. Every public service is creaking.
Austerity doesn’t even work. It didn’t fix the public finances under Cameron; it won’t under you. You cannot cut your way to growth. What does work – and I speak from experience – is investing now to save later. We’ve proved that at the North of Tyne. We’re creating over 4,600 high-quality jobs. We’ve invested millions into our region and communities and trained nearly 30,000 people so they earn more and power our economy. And it pays for itself with long-term prosperity. Every £1 I invest returns over £3 to your Treasury in payroll taxes alone.
Nice one on re-instating the fracking ban, though – well done. The climate emergency is upon us. This summer it was 40C in a country otherwise infamous for being cold and wet. Floods displaced 33 million people in Pakistan. Forests are burning and crops are failing. Demoting Alok Sharma and not going to COP27 does not send a good message.
I urge you not to miss the opportunity to make Britain a clean energy superpower. Here in the North East, we’ve made huge investments in offshore wind and electric car battery plants. Our Tyne Taskforce is supporting industry. We’re skilling thousands of people for green jobs. We’re teaching climate education in schools. We’ve got a plan ready to insulate homes and keep down energy bills. Back us – with your support we can lead the world.
And support our Northern transport network. Londoners receive nearly three times more investment per head than we do. You have the power to reverse that – let’s invest in the transport we need to power up the North.
Your Government’s 2019 mandate was built on a promise to level up Britain. Don’t abandon us: the North remembers.