MP hits out at region being 'political football'

Date published: 04 August 2009

Phil Woolas MP, making his first official speaking engagement as the newly appointed Minister for the North West, told the 'Northwest Conversation' that the region could lead the UK out of recession.

The Minister's speech focused on the economy and he described his three top priorities in his new role as: "Jobs, jobs, jobs". He looked back to the recession of the early and mid 1980s and warned that: "we cannot have a group of young people who become a generation that does not know what a job is." His aim was to help business and the public sector develop the long-term strategies for a sustainable recovery and he shared his conviction that, "the region, with its good economic mix of skills and commerce and without an over reliance on financial services, should be well placed to recover early from the down-turn".

Mr Woolas reminded the audience that if the region were a state, it would be the 12th largest in the EU with an economy worth £120bn in 2008. The region's import/export balance was strong and the educational attainment of the North West was the highest outside of London. He added that there was much to be proud of with the region's strong international brand driven by its outstanding contribution to sport and culture.

The Minister praised the region's improvements to transport infrastructure, its higher education strategy and the partnerships that existed between commerce and academia. In particular, he highlighted the successful bottom-up, partnership approach being pursued by bodies such as 4NW and the Joint Economic Commission. "If it's not bust don't fix it. I'm not looking to change the current strategies of 4NW's work," he said.

"So what still needs to be done?" Mr Woolas asked. "We need to narrow the gaps between the most and least well-off and address the pockets of poverty that still exist."

In answer to a question about the Government's commitment to regionalism, Mr Woolas said he believed the future was "a devolved approach to public finance" and added that it was a shame that too often the regions had become political footballs.

Mr. Woolas assured the gathering that he was passionate about the North West having been born in Burnley, grown up in Nelson and educated at Manchester University. He outlined his belief that the growth of Media City in Salford and the relocation there of significant parts of the BBC in the next few years region will give the region a new opportunity to ensure its voice will be heard.

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