Salford, 10 March 2016
It is a pleasure to be here today in Salford and to join Ivan, Richard and Paul.
My last visit here was to film a charity edition of University Challenge. I am hoping today will go better..!
We meet at what is a profoundly significant moment for the future of our country.
As a country we are divided and we face an uncertain future.
No matter how we voted in the EU referendum we must find solutions to the challenges we now face.
Today, I will reflect on the last fortnight, the referendum result and what it means for my party, before offering some thoughts on the way forward.
Every part of the UK will have to meet this challenge, but I believe that challenge is likely to be harder for us here in the North.
Those with the least, risk losing the most unless we get a grip of the economic turmoil and its social consequences.
My own party has a special responsibility.
Many of the constituencies Labour represents – including my own -
took a different view to their Labour representatives.
Nowhere more so than across the North of England.
It falls to Labour to protect the interests of working people through the coming negotiations on our place in Europe.
We must act now to bring the country back together.
That is why a united Labour party is needed today more than ever.
Because our country deserves strong leadership and effective opposition.
That is absolutely crucial so that the interests of the North are best served.
There are people across Britain who feel that no-one is listening to them.
Understandably, many have simply stopped listening to politicians in return.
I see it in my Barnsley constituency.
Labour must speak for these people because no-one else will.
We failed to do so in the referendum and the country cannot afford for us to fail again.
I joined Labour to improve the lives of families in every part of our country.
Together, the Labour party has transformed communities across our great country.
We created the NHS out of the rubble of war,
built homes for families
and extended the opportunity of education for all.
If we are to get back in power, we must convince the British people that Labour can do so again.
But let us not forget – the Tories promised us stability.
Yet now we enter an extended period of uncertainty.
So what we need now is a clear plan for the North from the Government.
As I have said before, Labour should lead the debate about how we build the Northern Powerhouse and shape it according to our values.
We should seek to put power, wealth and opportunity into the hands of every community across our northern regions.
If the Government want to do this, they must enable local input from community leaders, businesses and the public on what devolution should look like for their area.
There also needs to be a strategy for how the different devolution deals will complement one another.
Today, I will set out three key areas the Government’s plan should include:
- 1. Action for jobs and rights at work;
- 2. Immediate support for the economy;
- 3. And specific investment in the North
Firstly, the plan must seek to protect the interests of working families as we reshape our partnership with the EU.
This requires immediate action to secure jobs and protect wages.
Throughout this process we must ensure that:
competition between countries does not mean
competition between workers and a race to the bottom on their rights.
We should be clear that those rights we enjoy at work are protected and can only be strengthened in future.
The TUC warned that wages could be lower by £38 a week if we left the EU.
With higher numbers of manufacturing jobs in the North, which typically pay £100 a week more than those in the service sector, it is likely that the wages of workers in North may be hit harder.
Immediate action to support the economy will improve business confidence and support jobs and wages.
We must also promote stability and counter the shock to demand.
As the TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady has said:
"The government must urgently set out a plan to defend UK industry and keep British jobs.
Working people must not pay the price for the decision to leave the EU."
So the second requirement of a plan is a big change in policy to avoid the recession that many now expect.
This will require investment in infrastructure to be brought forward.
As construction activity slows, investment in housebuilding would boost the economy in the short term.
I believe this can be achieved on a cross-party basis – only this week we have seen a candidate for Tory party leader, and the current Secretary of State for Business, agree this point.
Planning for the future requires us to invest in the British people.
As we face greater global competition in the future we will have to compete on being more innovative, more productive and more creative.
That requires a renewed focus on schools and skills.
As Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector of schools argued recently:
“The northern powerhouse will splutter and die if their youngsters lack the skills to sustain it.”
The early year’s gap between children from poorer and wealthier homes is twice as large in the North as it is in London.
That speaks to the need for smart investment targeting early interventions.
It also highlights the need for fairer funding of our schools.
Northern Schools receive significantly less per pupil than those in London.
We should also look at how best to attract and retain high-quality teachers and, crucially, leaders.
The evidence suggests that our focus should be at the secondary school level – that is the point where educational inequalities widen sharply.
The evidence is also clear that in no way should we blame the schools.
Once school intake has been controlled for, the
North East and North West come out as two of the highest-performing regions in the country.
So this is a policy failure of successive Governments.
Northern secondary schools receive £1,300 less per pupil than in London.
That is why we need to reform the funding model –
not only because it widens inequality but because it is bad for our economy.
The Government’s response to Brexit has so far only been notable for its absence.
But my own party must also take responsibility for the same failure.
I am not convinced that a further cut to corporation tax is the answer – particularly when employers’ main concern now is whether investments they make in Britain will produce a profit at all, not the rate of tax they would pay on them.
Becoming a Hong Kong style low tax haven off the coast of Europe cannot be the answer.
It will lead to lower tax revenues, implying bigger cuts to public services, and it is far from the response that I believe voters demanded in the referendum vote.
The right response is to invest in our people and our future to build an economy that is fit to compete.
DELIVERING FOR THE NORTH
The third element of this plan is for big investment in the North.
The Government’s plan should be focused on those areas which have been left behind by Government policy, many of which voted Leave.
Indeed only 11 of the 72 Northern counting areas voted to Remain.
Rather than a referendum on Europe and its institutions, for many it became a referendum on peoples own lives.
That demands a focused response from Government to their concerns.
The North has twice as many people as London and I believe that we have huge potential to be a globally competitive region.
So the Autumn Statement must meet the challenge of Brexit and deliver for the North.
That requires large-scale government capital spending to be targeted at those areas that have been left behind – so that it can be used to leverage even greater private investment.
There is also a need for clarity around what will replace the hundreds of millions in EU regional funding the North’s more deprived areas receive.
We have received £3 billion in investments from the EU over the last decade.
My view is clear – those who campaigned to leave the EU promised that funding would be matched following a decision to leave.
That must now be delivered upon.
That principle should also extend to the protection of crucial funding which supports world-class research in our brilliant universities.
The uncertainty of funding cuts and risk of marginalisation hangs over the sector.
As the Nobel Prize winning geneticist Paul Nurse said before the vote:
“Scientific advancement translates to human advancement.”
We are proud of our universities and we must do everything possible to secure their brightest future.
That requires guarantees on funding for institutions and also a commitment that research and development funding does not become an easy target for any future spending cuts.
This plan must be anchored in devolving power, funding and decision making.
I would like to pay tribute to Sir Richard Leese and Paul Watson for their achievements in Manchester and in Sunderland – you demonstrate what can be done with effective leadership.
Devolution has huge potential – not only to lead to better outcomes and more effective decision making,
but to answer that call for change from voters we heard in the referendum.
The North of England was once the economic powerhouse of Britain and we must make that possible once again.
So today, I have set out the need for the Government to bring forward a plan for the North that delivers on that promise.
The EU referendum result requires urgency in our response.
That will require the Government to act now;
the opposition to be effective and credible;
for partnerships between local government, business and the third sector which facilitate delivery;
and for all sides to serve the national interest.
We all have a big job to do to get this right.
So let us roll up our sleeves and get to work.
People across the North have demanded change and together we must deliver it.