Jessie Joe Jacobs is North East Field Director for Britain Stronger In Europe, the designated pro-EU cross-party campaign to secure a Remain vote at the EU Referendum on June 23. Jessie tells Aycliffe Today Business why staying in the EU is vital for Newton Aycliffe…
It is clear our region is changing. For a long time, we struggled to move on from our mining and heavy industry past, our town and city centres were in decline and businesses were leaving the area in their droves.
I started a charity in 2002 which was a response to that decline. It was a charity aimed at improving lives and lifting people out of poverty and other lifestyles associated with poverty. There was prostitution on the streets, children getting addicted to drugs, high unemployment and a general sense of hopelessness.
Over the last 14 years, things have changed significantly. Money began to be spent in tackling many of these issues, early years centres, employment and skills programmes, ambitious regeneration projects, new businesses moving here, starting here or growing here and now everywhere you look things are thriving.
You only have to look at somewhere like Newcastle or Gateshead Quayside or even BOHO zone in Middlesbrough to see how far things have come. A once dingy quayside is now a centre for business and tourism, a once red light area now a hub for design, innovation and creativity. The work is clearly not finished. There are still areas that need investment, vision and growth but we have come a long way.
What is absolutely apparent is that EU funding and EU trade has played a significant role in our transformation. Darlington Business Growth Hub, the Centre for Process Innovation and Teesside Advanced Manufacturing Park all benefited from EU funding. Since 2007, the region has been a recipient of £494m in EU funding and will receive a further £596m up to 2020.
Companies like Hitachi Rail Europe have chosen to come here, explicitly because we are in the EU.
Nissan, Gestamp and 3M trade with Europe. This region is the only area in the UK with a consistently positive balance of trade – that is a huge achievement and our trading relationship with our neighbours is absolutely key.
Boris and the rest of Vote Leave say Nissan is relaxed about this referendum. This is not the case as the company has been clear it wants us to stay in Europe. Vote Leave point to Nissan investing in the building of new models as evidence there is no problem. But the fact is that it’s not just about this line of cars; where Nissan will choose to manufacture its next line and the line after that that we must consider. To lose just one model of car in the North East will be a blow to our economy.
Of course, there are some that say we would get the investment or the companies coming here anyway or we but this is just not the case.
In terms of investment, the North East rarely gets a fair deal. Take transport. The treasury invests £2000 per head on transport in London. In the North East, we get £5. That’s nothing. Or look at local government funding.
In the last round of government cuts and the announcement of new funding arrangements for local councils; places like Wokingham and Surrey are set to see significant increase in their incomes whereas councils like Darlington and Durham are facing reductions in incomes of up £70 million and more. This is in stark contrast to EU funding.
Recent research says that the North East actually benefits more than any other region in England, from EU funding. These investments have benefits that are significant and far-reaching, from rural growth projects, skills programmes, infrastructure developments like Netpark and BOHO zone in Middlesbrough.
It is ludicrous to take away this vital investment. It is crazy to want to walk away from the free trade we have with the EU. I ask any Leave campaigner, what can we possibly hope to achieve by a British exit. They have no answer.
This is one of the most significant decisions any of us will make. I would urge the people of the North East to make the right choice and vote to Remain.