THE North Sea has provided our communities with a living for generations – fishing for centuries and oil and gas for the past 60 years.

It could continue to do so in the future – but we’ve got to stop missing the opportunities to attract the investment needed to create the jobs, security and wealth.

Last year was tough for many in the Tees Valley – we’ve lost more than 12,500 jobs in recent months with many more threatened, so 2021 must be a year of recovery.

In the second half of the 20th Century, the North Sea oil and gas industry drew investment into our area – but just as fishing has contracted at many ports along the east coast, so oil and gas production peaked nearly two decades ago and has since declined.

Now we’re starting to see the potential of the North Sea to deliver good quality jobs in the low-carbon sector as part of a new green industrial revolution – but we are in danger of falling behind our competitors.

A few weeks ago, OSB, a Stockton engineering firm which made the monopile structures that wind turbines sit on, was closed with the loss of many highly skilled and well paid jobs – despite the development of the world’s largest offshore windfarm off our own coast at Dogger Bank.

I was told OSB lost out because it didn’t have the technology to make the larger monopiles needed for Dogger Bank, and the contracts ended up in Holland and Belgium because there was nowhere in Britain to fulfil them.

North Sea regions are brimming with potential to exploit the new, ‘net zero’ industries. It is a 21st Century version of what 1960s Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson called the “white heat of technology”.

The Policy Exchange thinktank estimates that, by 2050, the North Sea could support 40,000 additional jobs and contribute £20bn per year to the UK economy, but we don’t yet have the tools to deliver this.

There have been some good things announced in our area, including the revitalisation of hundreds of hectares of derelict land, but we can’t wait years for the jobs to materialise.

We need the right policies to ensure new and existing businesses invest for the longer term. And we need Government to partner with those businesses by creating the infrastructure.

We have world-leading universities, but we need them better connected to our commercial and industrial hubs through better transport. We have brilliant youngsters, who need special investment in skills and apprenticeships so that they’ll make a career here rather than move away.

To make more of this happen, we need the power to make more of our own decisions. This should include more local control over training schemes for the green jobs of the future.

We never got the full benefits from North Sea oil and gas, so we can do better with the new industries. ‘Community Benefit Funds’ should be set up to reinvest a share of their revenue directly into local communities, focusing on our priorities.

Recovery from the pandemic and life outside the EU is a massive task. A truly sustainable recovery means we should use our local skills, assets and initiative to create the technologies and industries of the future. We’re up to the job if we get the support we need.

Alex Cunningham is the Labour MP for Stockton North