Bishop of Newcastle, The Right Reverend Christine Hardman explains, in the Journal, why the coronavirus crisis needs us to work together in order to recover together. The Bishop is also Chair of the NTCA Inclusive Economy Board.
In the first week of lockdown I found myself chairing the first meeting by Zoom of a new Inclusive Economy Board for the North of Tyne. I marvelled that, in the midst of a crisis like no other, such an impressive range of people had found the time – made the time – to consider and plan for our shared future. I came away with a strong sense of our resilience – and our hope.
That hope and resilience has been tested over the weeks and months of this crisis. But I keep returning to the power of that initial coming together.
The Inclusive Economy Board has been set up by the North of Tyne Combined Authority, the organisation tasked with supporting progressive economic growth in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland. Bringing together our political leaders and the Elected Mayor for the North of Tyne, the Combined Authority itself is already a model of collaboration and leadership.
My role, as Chair of the Board, has been to work with an impressive array of members drawn from public, private and civil society to promote an inclusive economy and inclusive growth. Put simply, before the crisis the role of the Board was to make sure economic prosperity reached the people who needed it most. Now, as we all tentatively take steps towards emerging from lockdown our number one priority is to make sure the crisis does not acerbate regional inequality. To make sure our recovery is for everyone – especially those who have been hardest hit.
We know the Covid Crisis has affected our places differently. At the height of the crisis the North East had a higher proportion of jobs in ‘shutdown sectors’ than other areas nationally – over one third. Many of these jobs in retail, hospitality and leisure have yet to return. A third of these shutout workers are our young people. Citizen’s Advice Newcastle, which provides debt and benefits advice, estimates that in the North East around 250,000 people have fallen behind on household bills during the lockdown. Before the crisis over 200,000 of our children lived in poverty after housing costs. Now research by Action for Children estimates that over 70% are living in families with little or no savings, making an increase in child poverty a very real risk for too many families.
Working together we can change this.
I’ve been joined on the Board by colleagues from businesses including Proctor and Gamble and Northumbrian Water, from civil society organisations including the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Carnegie UK, local partners in education and skills, and national colleagues from the Department of Work and Pensions. Together we are going to use the next six months to work on two immediate priorities.
Firstly, helping to retain good work and jobs by encouraging employers to use smart ways to keep people working well. We want to make sure this is a recovery which provides people with good jobs rather than just any job. This means jobs which are well-paid, secure and offer opportunities for progression – not just a way to get by.
Secondly, we’re going to focus on supporting our young people with learning, training and work. Recent national announcements on apprenticeships and skills are welcomed but we know our young people are going to need more. So we’ll be working with employers across the area – and crucially young people themselves – to help them towards a bright, new future, not just a new normal.
We will be connecting this work directly to our region’s Covid activities, making sure we add real value to recovery in the North of Tyne.
The crisis has put the spotlight on our relationships. It has highlighted what we miss when we’re not together. But it’s also shown how working in new and unexpected ways helps us get through tough times – and sparks innovation in the process.
Your Inclusive Economy Board will put these ideas into action – and show what can be achieved when we all work together.