OVER the decades, The Northern Echo has gained a reputation for campaigning, for speaking up on behalf of its communities when things are going awry.

A general election campaign, when people’s minds are concentrated on choosing the next path for the country to take, is an ideal time to bring all of our separate campaigns together and ask of the politicians who are vying for our votes: “Will you deliver for us?”

General elections are a mix of the national issues and the local ones. For many people across the country, the cost-of-living is going to be uppermost in their minds when they come to cast their votes.

The NHS will probably be the public service that most voters are concerned about. Waiting lists doubled between 2010 and 2019 to 4.6m and then rocketed to 7.8m when Covid hit. They have since dropped a little, but anyone who has had the misfortune to find themselves in our local A&Es on a weekend evening will have seen a service in need of life support.

Then there will be the general demeanour of our politicians. Labour’s early lead in the polls is at least partly because people felt betrayed by the antics of Downing Street staff under Boris Johnson during lockdown, and then by the trauma of the weeks of the Liz Truss premiership. It felt that the Conservative Party was lurching from crisis to crisis, and although Rishi Sunak has stabilised the situation, voters will be wondering whether he has the leadership skills to see us through the years head, or whether Sir Keir Starmer has changed the Labour Party enough for it to be seen as a sensible, moderate party of government.

From immigration to the future of our high streets to the cleanliness of our water courses, there will be many national issues that voters up and down the country will be weighing up, as well as international ones, like the conflict in Gaza, which is causing Labour much heartache, or the war in Ukraine, which is at a deeply worrying stage.

And then there are specifically local issues that we call on our politicians to address in the weeks that remain of the campaign.

Playing into the theme of health, we’ve chosen to highlight the worrying shortage of dentists across County Durham. Many thought that stories of people resorting to removing their own teeth such was their agony and their inability to get treatment were apocryphal but then Grahame Morris, the Easington MP, said his own 87-year-old mother had attempted an extraction with pliers.

But we want honesty in this debate: will the NHS ever again be able to offer free – or “affordable” – dentistry to the masses or do we need a new model?

Maintaining the health theme, we are deeply concerned about cases emerging from the Tees, Esk and Wear Valley Mental Health Trust. We’ve reported on cases where a patient died after being neglected and where the trust was fined £200,000 for unsafe care, and so we support the 11 bereaved families calling for a public inquiry in the hope that in the future, the most vulnerable in our communities get better help.

Talking of future generations, we feel it is deeply unfair that the pupils of the Raac-infested St Leonard’s School in Durham, whose education has been disrupted by Covid and then by the closure of parts of their school, are not getting any dispensation in exams. For all their teachers have tried, they have not enjoyed the same education as their peers, and yet how well they do in their exams will decree where the next stages of their lives will take them. This does not feel fair.

Education we feel is also at the root of cutting out a crime which is blighting a generation: teenagers and young adults who feel they somehow gain from carrying a knife. The real truth is that they have already lost control of any situation they might find themselves in, and so more victims are created: both those who lose their lives and those who find themselves incarcerated. Politicians can tackle this through the judicial system or through regulating the sale of knives – there are so many good ideas in circulation for the next Home Secretary to act upon.

The Northern Echo is deeply concerned about the future of the Hitachi train-building plant in Newton Aycliffe. Ten years ago, we persuaded the Conservative government that it made financial sense to manage train construction in such a way that it created jobs here in the North East rather than buying in foreign-made trains from abroad. Now it feels like we’re going back to square one because this country has failed to manage its pipeline of orders and is now on the brink of seeing more manufacturing jobs here being lost.

Finally, the big one: child poverty. In the UK over the last decade, the percentage of children growing up in poverty has remained static at 29 per cent, but in the North East it has risen from 26 per cent to 35 per cent – that’s 190,000 of our youngest growing up in poverty, an increase for 51,000 youngsters from 2014-15 to 2020-21. Middlesbrough has the highest rate of child poverty in the country, but even places like Darlington and Sedgefield have seen double digit rises.

At the last election, there was a phrase “levelling up”, and to tackle child poverty we need to level up so much: wages, health, housing, education, transport…

All the experts agree that ending the two child rule, which stops a third child in a family gaining benefits, would be the best solution, but this is too expensive for most politicians to contemplate.

But it is not fair that youngsters are disadvantaged because of the size of their family, and it is not fair that, nothing to do with their own merits, youngsters in the North East don’t have the same start in life as elsewhere.

There is so much to ask the politicians parading around in search for our votes, but we intend to ask them how they intend to deliver on our mini-manifesto for us today and for the next generations.