What’s the Challenge for 2023?

January 1, 2023

Exactly 1 year ago I wrote, “Boris Johnson is on the ropes. Will Liz Truss or Rishi Sunak replace him?” Both, was the answer. 2022 turned out to be the year of three different Prime Ministers. Something the country last experienced 170 years ago.

But whoever’s in power the same problems need fixing. And this government seems to have given up trying. Despite the Brexit rhetoric they’re not willing to ‘take back control’ and tackle the cost-of-living crisis. They hide behind pay review bodies. Train operating companies. “Global headwinds.”  Excuse after excuse.

Millions of people are struggling to pay their bills. Workers are forced to go on strike to avoid real-terms pay cuts. Businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Child poverty is spiralling.  Savings are evaporating. Debts are mounting.

The first step to recovery is admitting that you’ve got a problem. Blaming everyone else doesn’t cut it.

So what could the government do instead?

Well first of all – you can’t cut your way to success. You don’t improve people’s lives by axing services they rely on. Austerity sucked the life out of much of our local resilience the first time around. We don’t need a reboot. Every time a child grows up hungry you’re knocking points off economic growth, while simultaneously ignoring that family’s suffering.

Investment is critical. You don’t create jobs out of thin air. The services we rely on are not just about emergency response. Health, education and transport are the long-term foundation of wealth generation. You don’t bring energy bills down by relying on foreign fossil fuels. You don’t improve productivity by forcing people into insecure jobs.

Industrial disputes didn’t cause our economy to fail – it’s our failing economy that’s causing the industrial disputes. Railway workers, nurses, and posties are reasonable people. They’re not asking for golden wallpaper. They want what we all want – to be paid properly for the job they do. We called them ‘key workers’ and clapped for them during the worst of the pandemic. We cannot abandon them now.

We know what’s true for the North East is true for the rest of the country. Our region’s economic decline was caused by disinvestment. We can only fix that by putting money back in – investing in businesses, infrastructure, and people.

Invest now, save later. Every £1 invested by the North of Tyne returns over £3 to the Treasury in payroll taxes alone – income tax and National Insurance. And that’s not counting the health, wealth, and education benefits to families of having skilled workers in good jobs.

Our current devolution deal says we’ve got to create 10,000 new jobs over 30 years. 3 and a half years in and we should have 1,200 jobs in the pipeline. We’ve actually got 4,685. And we saved another 2,643 by investing in firms during the pandemic.

That’s 14 years’ progress in 3 and a half years.

With a deeper deal on a wider footprint we can do even more when the new North East devolution is signed into law.

170 years ago the British Empire was in crisis. Ireland was just emerging from the Great Famine. One million people had died from starvation and disease. Two million had emigrated. A fifth of the country’s people gone. Ireland’s population has never fully recovered.

A famine is not simply a natural disaster. It’s the result of human action or inaction to prevent it. The Government in Westminster at best did too little, at worst exacerbated the problem.

That’s the nightmare scenario. But the drip drip effect of hoarding power and resources in the centre means potential lies fallow in the regions. It’s not just crops that are at risk of blight. People’s talents are being wasted.

Soon after the year of 3 Prime Ministers Charles Dickens wrote ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. We don’t want a country permanently divided between rich and poor. We need a new doctrine of universal wealth generation: where no place and no person is left behind.

That’s the challenge for 2023. Like the fireworks on New Year’s Eve, if we work together we can light up the sky.