Heseltine's report must be the beginning, not the end, of Teesside’s revival

Responding to the release of Michael Heseltine’s report into the regeneration of Teesside, Labour MP for Redcar Anna Turley said:

“Having read Heseltine’s report and heard his interview on Radio 4 this morning, I am bitterly disappointed.

My expectations were low given his earlier comments about it being a good time for steelworkers to lose their jobs and his admission, in his (only) meeting with Teesside MPs that he came with no power or money. However, I was willing to listen to his ideas given that he has the ear of government ministers. I will not play politics if someone has something meaningful to offer Teesside.

The report, however, is paper thin, containing virtually nothing of real substance and represents a missed opportunity for the government to have tried to repair some of the damage done to our local economy and to people's livelihoods. What's more, the tone of Heseltine’s radio interview suggests to me that he and his colleagues still don't understand the reality of the devastating impact on people's lives and on our local economy. For example, his claim that unemployment is lower than before the steelworks shut is manifestly untrue.

A positive point is the previously-announced South Tees Development Corporation which has an important role to play in the regeneration of the former SSI site. It is vital that this site is used to unlock opportunities for local jobs and economic regeneration, both in the immediate recovery of the site and in finding a longer term use for it.

I also welcome the recognition of much needed improvements in road and rail infrastructure, although none of the points are new and an opportunity has been missed for concrete proposals for the airport.

The report also seems to be quite supportive of Carbon Capture and Storage which has real potential for Teesside. However, this programme was cut by the government so Heseltine’s enthusiasm seems to be at odds with the government’s position.

I am bitterly disappointed that after six months, there is not more real, practical action that could be undertaken.

Some of the things I would have liked to see are:

  • Tax breaks for new businesses to incentivise new start-ups. For example, those receiving a start-up loan from the SSI Taskforce funding have had to pay 20% tax on it.
  • Cuts to business rates – the Treasury should agree to business rate reductions in the Tees Valley to stimulate economic recovery.
  • Investment in research and development and establish a steel ‘catapult’ – investing in the great R&D facility we have at the Materials Processing Institute in South Bank to make Teesside the national leader in steel development.
  • A regional Future Job Fund – the combined authority should be funded by government to establish a Tees Valley-wide job creation body, along the lines of the highly successful national Future Jobs Fund that was cut in 2010 and building on the SSI Jobs & Skills Fund
  • A Teesside Expo – a Great Exhibition of Teesside to showcase our industrial heritage and future opportunities, to help drive global investment and raise our international profile
  • Government jobs in the Tees Valley – there should  be support for moving Whitehall jobs out of London to the regions, not removing jobs such as those lost with HMRC
  • A firm commitment to a Carbon Capture and Storage programme on Teesside.
  • A regional bank established to support SMEs in the Tees Valley

It is also my view that the key to our prosperity is through our EU membership. We stand a far better chance of inward investment from overseas if we maintain our position as a gateway to Europe. It is our access to the single market which attracts major companies like Hitachi, Nissan and Nifco to invest in our area, with the subsequent supply-chain opportunities. I am pleased Heseltine recognised the threat of Brexit to the economy today, it is just a shame the Northern Powerhouse Minister is still prepared to take this risk.

Today’s report must not be an opportunity for the Conservative Government to say they have ‘sorted the Teesside problem’, tick the box and move on. Our recovery is going to take time and hard work. We need the government to put its shoulder to the wheel and that means investment and support over many years. This report must be the beginning, not the end.”

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