THE man who could be in charge of the nation’s money should the Labour Party come to power visited the region today (Thursday 24th April) . Reporter Chris Webber met shadow chancellor Ed Balls at a Redcar supermarket.
ED BALLS has been joking, chatting and laughing with shoppers and Tesco supermarket workers between asking them about their everyday budget concerns.
But the shadow chancellor turns serious when The Northern Echo brings up the 2009 closure of Redcar steelworks and the subsequent loss of what was once a safe Labour seat the following year.
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The then Labour Government, with Mr Balls a key ally of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, refused to bail out the steelworks and 1,700 jobs were lost.
It’s all history now and the story ended happily when Thai Steel giant Tata bought the plant which is now showing a profit.
But would Mr Balls bail the steelworks out if the situation repeated itself.
In town ahead of next month’s European Union elections and campaigning with Redcar’s parliamentary candidate, Anna Turley, prior to next year’s General Election, he said: “We can’t do that for every company in the country that gets into trouble.
"But we would have a proper industrial policy.
"For example, the regional development agency, One North-East was closed and the new industrial partnerships are too weak and under-resourced. We would go the extra mile for jobs.”
Aware that UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage was in the region yesterday, (Wednesday), Mr Ball argued that leaving the EU could lead Sunderland-based car maker Nissan to go elsewhere at a cost of thousands of well-paid jobs.
Moving on to the general election, Mr Balls admits Labour must win back both Redcar from the Liberal Democrats and Stockton South from the Conservatives, to have any chance of forming the next Government.
To do that he’ll need to win over voters like checkout worker Michael Hartley. Earlier the 27-year-old had taken his chance to ask a question a political big-hitter.
After explaining that he worked 19 hours a week and was struggling to make ends meet, he asked if it was fair that, single and without children, he did not qualify for working tax credits?
Mr Balls was non-commital.
“We’ll have to look at it again,” he said, before promising to help tackle youth unemployment.
“There’s been a 25 per cent rise in long-term youth unemployment in Redcar," he said. "Under a Labour Government they would have to go into training after a year.”
The answer gives Mr Hartley some hope. “We’ll see what other policies they’ll develop,” he said.
Eager to meet the public, Mr Balls got out of the comfy armchair and grabbed a tray of fruit which was being offered to shoppers.
It’s not every day the man who might become the second most powerful man in Government offers you pineapple chunks as you pop in for milk.
Shirley Potter was doing just that with her three-year-old daughter, Heidi, when the Shadow Chancellor approached her.
“He was very nice,” she said, “But who was he?”
Slightly embarrassed when informed of his identity, she said: “I’d ask him how long this economic downturn is going to last. How many more years have we got of this and what can he do to sort the economy out?”
Unfortunately for Mrs Potter, her moment in the limelight had gone.
Mr Balls, meanwhile, will be hoping his is still to come.
The Northern Echo will be interviewing politicians from all major parties ahead of next month's Euro elections.