Middlesbrough, a large town in the northeast of England, has some of the nicest people you’ll find anywhere, and that’s particularly surprising given what they’ve been through over the last few decades.
Other than the container port, the two main drivers of employment here were steel (first British Steel, then Corus, then Tata, now nothing), and Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), which also got sold off in packets to conglomerates from the Middle East, Indonesia and elsewhere. Those people who say globalisation works should take a look here – it’s failed people utterly.
People say that every one of the 50,000 or so who worked in steel or petrochemicals kept another seven people in work in feeder industries – suppliers and the like – so the fact that steel’s now gone and petrochemicals employs just 3,000 means … well, you work it out.
So Middlesbrough is on its knees. A tour of the estates reveals boarded up houses which the local council, now being disembowelled by public sector cuts, has no money to fix. You can see the kids on bikes selling drugs to passing trade.
Those politicians in London who say people without a job for a year or two will have to work for nothing or lose their benefits should perhaps come here and try it themselves.
If you look back over a timeline you see quite easily where it all went wrong. Here’s how you destroy peoples’ hopes in three easy moves:
1. Conservative government in the 1980s lets industry decline.
2. Labour government in the 1990s declines to rebuild it, and spends huge amounts on jobs in the public sector – leading to a massive deficit which can’t survive the crash.
3. Conservative government in 2010 gets rid of deficit by cutting services and jobs.
So a question to British leaders on behalf of the people of Middlesbrough: if you don’t want to rebuild industry, and state sector jobs are now going – any bright ideas about what to offer people instead?