Today’s guest editor of The Northern Echo – the Right Reverend Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham – believes the North-East can weather the recession and secure for itself a bright future if we all hang together.

The Northern Echo: Justin Welby

SOMEONE once told me that the problem with the North-East is that too many people start by saying “the problem with the North- East…”

The cuts in Government funding for local government and central Government services have been biggest in this region, and they are changing the whole way people expect to get jobs and what kind of jobs they expect to get.

It is the second time in 30 years there has been that kind of upheaval.

Yet, at the same time, the North-East is the only area whose foreign exports are bigger than its imports; it has one of the best performing car plants in the world.

As it has been for the past 200 years or more, it is still a major contributor to the life of the nation.

Add to that some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain, friendliness, and an incredible history, and it would be safe to say that the North-East is the best-kept secret in Britain.

What is clear, though, is that the region’s future is largely in our own hands, because everywhere else is struggling. The Government has very little money, so it is not going to offer the help it has given in the past.

In the 18th Century, a US leader called Benjamin Franklin said to his colleagues when they were rebelling against British rule: “We must hang together, or we will most assuredly hang separately.” That would be a good motto for the North-East: hang together whatever comes, and not only will this area be transformed but, as in the past, so will the country.

There is a lot that could divide us (apart from who you support in football – an area in which it is fine to disagree). North of the Tyne and south of the river have been traditionally different.

The regional development agency was abolished and replaced with two Local Enterprise Partnerships. The county boundaries cut across economic areas. There are traditionally rural and traditionally industrial areas. And lots more differences.

But if this region is to prosper, it must make the most of its assets – and do that together.

Make the most of people. Youth unemployment has soared, as has general joblessness.

That is not just a tragedy for the people concerned, it is a vast waste of the enormous talent in this area.

Durham Cathedral got involved in the YTS programme in the Seventies and took on young people to train. Thirty-seven years later, one of them is still there with a craft job. That is making the most of talent, giving a life of contribution, providing for those around and creating value in all sorts of way.

TODAY, The Northern Echo, with others, is launching a campaign to provide more opportunities for young people. The plan this year is to get 1,000 involved in “cadet”

schemes across a range of workplaces, provide 100 apprenticeships, 100 internships and help 50 young people to develop self-employment skills.

Interns take time and effort, but if they get enthused and then trained, you get it back a hundred times over. Hang together and we will be able to meet the aims of our campaign with the help of companies across this region.

Make the most of natural resources. The countryside is stunning, the history is amazing.

Tourism creates jobs, of all kinds in great numbers, from basic to highly-skilled. And more than that they are transferable jobs, which can be learnt by anyone. We need to see local government, the churches (some of which are among the most famous in the world), and business people making much more of the area.

Especially when times are hard.

People stay at home to holiday. Let us attract them here, especially in an Olympic year when London and the South-East will be one vast heaving, sweaty mass of overcrowding. Come and breathe in the North-East.

Make the most of this moment when everyone says we need to rebalance the economy back to manufacturing and away from relying totally on financial services. That is an opportunity, and our representatives in Parliament and the Chamber of Commerce need to be pushing for better credit opportunities for our expanding manufacturing, and for better tax treatment of new investment. This is most needed for smaller companies, which are the ones that create most jobs. That’s not a demand for hand-outs, but for a fair chance of opportunity.

Make the most of the fantastic community that exists here. Historically, this area, like other parts of the North, is famous for the way it sticks together. Societies that don’t do that end up consuming themselves. That is why the Bishops opposed a small part of the Government’s welfare reforms.

It is obviously right that the benefit traps that make working less well paid than not working should be reformed. It is obviously right that those who are working should not find that those who choose not to should do better than the hard-working.

BUT it is obviously wrong that children should suffer because parents are not behaving correctly, or that families that have worked hard, and fall on hard times as a result of the economic storm, should suffer heavily. Making the most of community means helping up those who stumble, as well as demanding effort from any who are not trying.

Making the most of what we have will get us into a very different place in the coming months and years. But it does need people to hang together, to back each other up. It needs a huge amount of courage from companies and those leading or starting them, and a real level of hard graft.

With the skills and history of this region, it can make its own success, employing the courage and adventure it has shown over the past 200 years, and make of itself an even better place to live.

As a Christian leader I also believe passionately in the value of each person because we are created by God. That is demonstrated partly in training and education. More than that we most genuinely flourish when our values and efforts are based on God’s love to us in Jesus Christ.