A budget wish list for the Tees

The Tees Valley needs a budget that shows the political will to do the right thing.

We need a big bright budget boost based on joined up thinking and a willingness to invest real money in the skills, the people and the future of the Tees.

We have been hit far harder than most by the human toll of Covid-19 and by the economic impact of a tough year of lockdown and furlough. And that comes on top of 10 harsh years of Tory austerity cuts that have cut the area's infrastructure to the bone.

We need a clear framework put in place now to shape a vibrant new future of the area. We need to back local business and back local people. We need to invest in the Tees. Now.

This budget is an opportunity to do just that, to give the people, the communities and the businesses of the area a chance to shape a new local economy fit for the future and to make the Tees Valley a great place to live, work and play.

This is what I want to see from the budget

* Extend the furlough scheme to ease businesses back and protect jobs

The Chancellor must extend the furlough scheme beyond the planned June cut-off. Many businesses have been devastated by a traumatic year and the people they employ remain in a very precarious place and have the anxiety of that date hanging over their heads . Many Tees firms, large and small, will suffer an economic long covid and they will need all the help they can to battle back. Key to that will be supporting the staff who have been furloughed while firms readjust and reopen.

We can't afford to risk the future of firms by pulling the rug from under their workers now. I would like to see something concrete for the excluded too, the millions of self employed who never qualified for furlough or government support.

* Extend the Universal Credit uplift so the poorest don't feel the economic aftershock

The rise was small and temporary but it recognised that the poorest people and families in society needed extra help to get through the Covid crisis. They still do.

Their pressing financial need won't vanish just because the Tory government sets a date to declare the crisis over. The government needs to show compassion.

To tell people in dire need that a vital little extra will be taken away is cruel and unjustified. The challenges of low wages, no wages and food poverty haven't gone away.

* Announce dedicated funds to help revive high streets

High streets are the beating hearts of our communities and they must be helped to recover and flourish as part of a brighter future. Our town centres have been allowed to wither with 10 years of Tory austerity and cuts to local government and services. Shops are shuttered and great building are empty and unloved. We need to make these places to be proud of again. We need to attract new life and new businesses to make the high street a thriving hub once more. We need vibrant town centres with a great mix of retail, leisure and hospitality. That's right at the heart of my vision to make the Tees a great place to live and work in. I'm backing local business and local people to make our home a better place and the government should too.

The Government must make available a billion pound recovery fund specifically to stem the decay and spark a revival of the high streets in our forgotten towns. We need the political courage to do the right thing.

* Concrete plans to tackle unemployment

After a decade of Tory austerity and cuts, the Tees was already among the worst areas in the country for unemployment but Covid has really pushed that to crisis levels. So many firms, small and large, closed down or laid off staff and others cut back to the bare minimum to get through lockdowns. We need to act now to head off a long covid legacy of misery.

During lockdown unemployment in Middlesbrough soared to 11.7%, the fifth highest in the country. In Redcar it was 8.0%. In Stockton North 8.4%. Stockton South 6.1%. In Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland 6.8%. Hartlepool 9.2%. Darlington 7.6%... those shocking figures show exactly how hard this has hit the area. And behind the statistics there are real people and real families, struggling to survive in extraordinary times. We need a massive investment in job and opportunities now. We need real jobs, quality jobs, with high skills and high wages. We need real investment.

* Investment in young people - and a greener future

We especially need real jobs with a future for our young people. The Tees has historically had high levels of youth unemployment but this crisis has really exacerbated the situation. So many young people work in the hospitality sector, in pubs and restaurants, and those businesses were hit first and hit hardest. Our young people took the brunt of it We need to look forward to the future and act now to make sure there is not a lost generation who have had their final years of education and the first years of their career path dented by a mismanaged response to the pandemic. They should not be the ones to pay the price. So we need a huge expansion of the Kick-Start scheme with more funding for real apprenticeships to help our young people into real jobs with a real future. We need to encourage start-ups and small businesses and we need to invest in the emerging green industries, tech and digital so the Tees Valley is fit for the future.

* Confirm the treasury jobs for Darlington It is great news that Darlington is in on the shortlist for this. We need the job and we have the facilities and locations to make this a great success. I have really pushed to bring these jobs to one of our great town centre locations. That was essential.

There is little to be gained in switching them from one metropolitan base to another and the positive impact on the Tees will be far great than in a city. So we call on the government to do the right thing and take this opportunity. It would be a massive boost to the area, bringing high quality jobs, increasing footfall on the High Street and giving other businesses in the area a lift. We need these jobs here.

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