Bishop’s farewell bid for fair deal

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GOVERNMENT Treasury ministers have been urged to give this area a fairer deal by the retiring Bishop of Blackburn.

In his final speech in the House of Lords the Rt Rev. Nicholas Reade said his diocese needs road and rail connections, and better public transport instead of being shackled by lack of infrastructure so that can get Britain back on its feet and rid itself of the scourge of unemployment.

He told Peers: “My diocese of Blackburn, which covers most of Lancashire, nine years ago the claimant count for the subregion was 1.6%. As I prepare to leave office, I note that this figure has now nearly doubled to 3% of the working-age population.

“To put this figure into direct unemployment terms, it has increased from 4.7% to 7.8% in that time. Yet there still remains a dynamic and outward-looking world-class aerospace industry that develops, manufactures and exports products throughout the world. It employs some 20,000 people directly. At present, it accounts for 23.8% of Lancashire’s manufacturing jobs and has nearly one-third of the total employment in GB aerospace.”

The Bishop said this area used to be recognised as one of the major drivers in the industrial landscape of the country.

“Sadly, that is no longer the case. Previous large employers have restructured and moved elsewhere, or closed altogether. They have done that, in part, because of a lack of investment in better transport-that is, public transport, of course. I am sure that is one of the major reasons.

Sadly, the National Infrastructure Plan 2011, announcing £30 billion of spending, does not fill me with much hope for a rebalancing of the economy between the regions.”

Bishop Reade said Institute for Public Policy Research analysis confirms that 11 of the 20 largest planned projects benefit London and the south-east. The money equates to almost £3,000 a head in London, compared with £134 in the North-West, and £5 in the north-east.

“It would appear that the regional imbalances are set to continue for some time to come,” said Bishop Reade, adding: “Although it is interesting to note that 18 major transport infrastructure projects have already begun in London and the South-East, compared with just one in the North-West, there is still time to redress that imbalance.

“I believe that my diocese and the whole North-West has much to offer the country by way of expertise and application. However, if we are to assist in the development of a vibrant, diverse economy, we do not need to be shackled by lack of infrastructure.

“Sir Winston Churchill famously said ‘Give us the tools to finish the job’. I ask the Minister to talk seriously to his Treasury colleagues so that areas such as Lancashire, and indeed the whole North-West, can be given the tools to encourage investors. Not only will we in the North-West finish the job, but once again we will be the beating heart of the economy.”