Nestle’s decision to close their Newcastle factory, moving jobs to Europe, is a mixture of tragedy and irony. Tragedy because 475 local jobs will go in a region of high unemployment where joblessness already stands at 5.7%. Irony because Nestle’s UK CEO is part of the UK Investment Council which advises the Government on bringing business to the UK and on levelling up.
Last week the Government published its Levelling Up White Paper attempting to relaunch their levelling up flagship policy designed to address regional inequality and replace EU regional development funds. Until now the Government promised that funding would at least match EU levels, a commitment made in their last manifesto and more recently in the Autumn Budget.
The reality of the Governments Shared Prosperity Fund however tells a different story. Far from matching EU funding there is less investment for skills, infrastructure and entrepreneurship. The poorest areas, particularly in the North are hit hardest. Per capita funding in the North East is down from £32 of EU funding to just £15 under the Governments current plan. Furthermore school funding which could see education thrive, driving the new economy, is instead down by 9% and transport funding for things like buses which could link people with jobs is being slashed.
The Government has had 12 years to make levelling up happen but austerity and low economic growth have held back prosperity and increased insecurity, and that’s before the COVID pandemic struck. The Levelling Up White Paper could have addressed those problems but it didn’t. The North East deserves better.