Bishop uses Maiden speech to praise North East
The Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, today (Wednesday May 16) delivered his House of Lords Maiden Speech in which he praised the North East’s sense of innovation but appealed for more to be done to boost business confidence and for the region to be given more support in areas such as construction and skills. His comments include references to ‘the Gracious Speech,’ which is the speech delivered to Parliament by the Queen on behalf of the Government, and the ‘Budget Red Book‘, which contains Government budgetary proposals.
He said: “The North East was a centre of regeneration and human flourishing in the Dark Ages, a light across northern Europe of learning and the re-founding of knowledge. It has been, over the centuries, one of the centres of the economic life of this country and if it has one significant problem today it is that people begin too many sentences with, “the trouble with the North East”, when, in fact, it is not a problem to be solved but one of the great assets of the country.
“It is an area of innovation and exporting, the only region with a balance of trade surplus. In recent months we have seen the growth of the car plant at Nissan, which with the latest investment announced a few weeks back will employ 6,000 people. Last year Hitachi announced a train assembly plant within a few miles of where Stephenson built the Rocket. A few weeks back steel production began again on Teesside at the SSI plant, where it had stopped last year, finding jobs again for up to 1,500 people. But all this takes place against the grim economic background which the Gracious Speech recognises and which was the context of the Budget Red Book.”
He said that action was needed to encourage companies which had funds to invest, adding: “It is being hoarded not because it is needed imminently to repay debt but out of lack of confidence. Both the Gracious Speech and the Budget Red Book emphasise the importance of exports and investment, but the major constraints in the North East are not imagination or determination to achieve those ends, but confidence and skills. Already with even the very marginal recovery in export led manufacturing of the last two years, skill shortages are emerging in engineering. Skills are taught not in classrooms alone but by the motivation of job observation and work experience combined with technical teaching and vocational learning. “I have the privilege of being patron of the Northern Echo’s ‘Jobs Campaign ‘, which aims to create and find a thousand apprenticeships and internships over the next 12 months in the Darlington Region for exactly this reason. Confidence is not something that comes from words alone, but from signs of action that enable others to feel that if they don’t get moving they will get behind.”
Calling for more investment in construction, in areas such as renovations of listed buildings, he said: “Here, and in areas of the public service, there are what President Obama calls ‘shovel ready projects’, which could be brought rapidly into reality if a certain amount of money were allocated to projects where contracts could be started within six months. Cranes build confidence as well as buildings.
He said: “ This morning I was talking to the Chief Executive of the Northeast Chamber of Commerce and was delighted to learn of a regional company in the Subsea sector manufacturing remotely operated vehicles who created 500 jobs over the last 5 years.”
In the preparation notes for today’s maiden speech [attached] Bishop Justin further commented: “Some weeks ago I attended a ceremony in Newton Aycliffe where the owner of EBAC, a major manufacturer of water coolers and other office equipment, gave his company to a Trust, which will be to the benefit of the community and its staff to ensure its continued existence. That company is worth approximately £30 Million, exhibiting the kind of flourishing of community that comes from confidence.” Summing up his maiden speech he concluded: “Such flourishing is the most effective answer to the differentials in life expectancy, to the issues of family life, to the numbers of people dependant on food banks, to the issues of mental health and of human well-being that are faced across our region. The Gracious Speech focuses much on the need for renewed growth and vitality in our economy. They will not come through exhortation alone but must come through action and leadership.”