Humber economy debate: Alan Johnson on why cross-party support is crucial in securing investment
BRITAIN officially crept out of its double dip recession in the third quarter of this year.
However, most commentators accept that this was largely due to the "Olympics effect" – the principal beneficiaries being London and the South East.
The North in general, and Hull in particular, is suffering the consequences of a flat economy, where business confidence and consumer demand is low.
We've seen significant job losses on both sides of the Humber with one Hull company, Seven Seas, threatening to leave Britain altogether and citing the economic outlook as the reason.
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Diana Johnson, Karl Turner and I, as Hull's three MPs, are working with the city council and representatives of the business community, such as Bondholders, to preserve existing jobs and attract new employment opportunities to Hull.
In order to do this, we also need to work with other MPs on a cross-party and cross-Humber basis to unleash the potential of the Humber estuary, which includes four local authorities within what is known as the Hull City Region.
This doesn't mean that we no longer have profound political disagreements with our Conservative colleagues.
We all want to see our area flourish and we can achieve much more by acting together on this agenda than by squabbling over ideology.
By working together we've halved the Humber Bridge tolls, reversed the Caravan Tax and established the Local Economic Partnership across the estuary thereby embedding two Enterprise Zones, which will be essential to attracting new businesses.
Tuesday's debate in the House of Commons was focused on the big picture.
How can we work within Government's stated policy of localism to achieve a fundamental shift of power and resources towards the Humber sub-region?
How can we use the Local Economic Partnership to fulfil our potential in sectors such as chemicals, logistics, digital and, above all, renewables?
As I said in my speech, mutual suspicion has always divided the north and south banks, thus ensuring the huge economic advantages of working together across the largest trading estuary in the UK have never been realised.
However, there is a more fundamental problem identified by Lord Heseltine in his recent report on the pursuit of growth.
Lord Heseltine is not my political ally. Indeed, almost 20 years ago I led the campaign that stopped him from privatising the Post Office.
But his analysis and his recommendations are spot on.
Pointing to the high degree of centralism in this country, he says this: "The economic challenges faced by Bristol, Cambridge or Hull will never be fixed simply by improving housing or upgrading broadband access. Barriers to growth are always multi-faceted.
"But Whitehall continues to approach these issues from the individual policy priorities of different departments as if economic issues can be addressed effectively in a placeless vacuum."
Lord Heseltine's solution is decentralisation, a renaissance of local government and the devolution of funding on skills, regeneration, welfare-to-work and transport to local level.
This does not necessarily require additional money. It's pointing out that local agencies know how to distribute those resources better than civil servants based in Whitehall.
Local leaders are best-placed to understand the opportunities and obstacles to growth in their own communities.
When we meet the Cities Minister, Greg Clark, we'll be arguing for our area to be a pilot for this kind of economic devolution.
We'll also be arguing for a government department or executive agency to be relocated to our sub-region.
It's an argument I've been making for 15 years – localism, the creation of the LEP and the Heseltine Report make it more compelling.
The other key component of the debate concerned the new economic opportunity presented by the renewables sector.
The Humber region is at the forefront of developing biomass power generation and has significant potential for tidal and wave power, but it is offshore wind that provides our most immediate and significant advantage.
Hull City Council has done everything it can do to bring Siemens to Alexandra Dock. The planning consents are in place, the training capacity is achievable, Tier 1 suppliers can be accommodated.
The chief executive of Siemens has acknowledged the efforts of everyone locally in seeking to make the manufacturing facility a reality.
Siemens can be the start of a cluster of renewables manufacturers and their suppliers moving to the area.
With Green Port Hull and the Able Marine Energy Park on the south bank, we can provide the necessary deep water access and our geographic location is perfect for the huge offshore wind farms being developed in the North Sea.
The problem is that if companies such as Siemens are to make the huge long-term investments necessary, they have to be sure of the Government's commitment to the renewables sector and the supporting financial regime.
The publication of the Energy Bill should meet many of the sector's concerns but as the problem seems to lie in the Treasury rather than the Energy Department, the Chancellor needs to personally engage with Siemens and other companies to ensure they are clear about his support.
As I've said before, the renewables sector could do for Hull what oil did for Aberdeen.
In the midst of our deep concern for the workers at risk of redundancy and those struggling to find a job, there is a determination to forge a new future.
I have never known a time when the business community on the Humber has been more willing to engage with the challenges we face or when there were so many good people working in key agencies like the Local Authorities, the LEP and Jobcentre Plus.
I sense a historic opportunity that we simply cannot afford to waste.