This week, the Shadow Cabinet exchanged our usual stuffy room in Parliament for the wonderful surroundings of the Lowry in Salford. It wasn’t just the convenience (for me at least!) of taking a short tram ride that made Salford a perfect location – part of the reason that we were in Greater Manchester was because we wanted to draw attention to the regional inequality that blights our country.
As Jeremy Corbyn pointed out in his speech at Media City, the UK has the worst regional inequality in the whole of Europe, with most of the wealth (and most of the funding) staying stubbornly down in London and the South East to the detriment of those of us in Tameside and the rest of the North West. For instance, transport funding in London is currently £1,023 per head compared to just £422 in the North. That means that for every pound spent on Northern transport, £2.42 is spent in London.
In addition to receiving more funding, London and the South East are our most prosperous regions, with the average yearly household income in the South East almost £5,000 more than in the North West. And under the Tories this regional inequality is actually widening – not narrowing.
It is absolutely critical that this issue is addressed. We need wealth and opportunity to be spread equally across our country and not hoarded in one corner. A major part of the issue is that far too many decisions are made centrally in London rather than locally in our towns, cities and regions. It is perhaps little surprise that decision-makers living in the South East think that more money should be spent where they live, but that certainly doesn’t make it right.
In Salford, Jeremy Corbyn laid out a few of the ways in which the next Labour Government will rebalance our economy and spread power and opportunities more evenly across the country – Regional Development Banks, “Crossrail for the North”, properly funded public services, to name a few. If there is to be an election soon (and I think there will be) then I hope that regional inequality is a major theme of the campaign. For all their talk of a Northern Powerhouse, our region has now experienced almost a decade of neglect under the Conservatives.
Unfortunately, the new Prime Minister hasn’t shown any evidence of being any more interested in tackling the injustices of regional inequality than either of his predecessors. I think that people in Tameside deserve better.