The QT

Friday 19 July 2024

Child poverty, care, inequality and integrity — they’re on my wish list too

North East Mayor Kim McGuinness writes for The QT following our publication last week of one election wish in one paragraph from one hundred people. It caused quite a stir on social media and provoked a very positive reaction. A North East manifesto some called it

What a week. For those of us who live and breathe or even closely observe politics, this is like Christmas and your birthday coming at once.

Was it really just six weeks ago that Rishi Sunak kicked it all off with a moment that will surely be consigned to the history books? The rain poured on a prime minister without a brolly as Labour’s iconic 1997 election anthem Things Can Only Get Better was blasted out of speakers, drowning out parts of his speech. With that, we were into a summer election.

As the first North East Mayor, elected having proudly stood for Labour and won a clear mandate to create opportunity across our region, it won’t surprise anyone that I wanted a change in government.

Though I’ll always put region before party, we needed to see Sir Keir Starmer take the keys to 10 Downing Street and a Labour government take office.

I won’t list the many reasons I wanedt to see the back of this government but so much of it amounts to us feeling let down and our region being the subject of so many broken promises.

A glaring example is the Tory promise to ‘level up’ an unmitigated failure as the gap between us and London is wider than ever before.

We all want a government to deliver and the Labour message has been that they’ll do just that.

Now that a Labour victory has been secured, the North East has some scores to settle. This place is incredible, but we have our challenges and our asks of an incoming government.

The North East Mayor Kim McGuinness

Last week, The QT published a list of 100 wishes for an incoming government from many people including leaders across our region very helpful for a mayor with my own list ready to be added to.

I talk about pride a lot, the pride we have in our place and the people of our region, and reading that list was confirmation of why.

Child poverty is top of my list and it was top of this one too. It is our biggest regional challenge.

Of course, there were some wishes around the economy key sectors like tech, green energy and culture. These are vital for our future success. But the striking focus on poverty, care, health, inequality and deprivation made up a caring list from a region that wants to see things done differently. 

So, what was my one-paragraph wish?

“More devolution. The gap between us and London has grown. Too many young people are growing up in poverty and feel left behind. We will make this region the home of real opportunity. We’ll use it to create jobs, fix our broken transport system, fight child poverty and create an infrastructure of opportunity. But we can go further and go faster with more devolution and more local decision making.” 

We’ve made a great start. As your new mayor I’ll be that voice talking our region up and unapologetically telling the government what we need. We’re freshly furnished with new powers and, make no mistake, we’re getting on with the job. But, our region can do more, go further and go faster. Why?

We’re the furthest English region from Whitehall and Westminster and it shows. The wish list and the thousands of real conversations I’ve had with people from the Scottish border to Barnard Castle, show we are more than equipped with the ideas and the determination to make our own decisions. To elect those with direct responsibility for delivery and to hold them to account.

But it’s more than that. Bringing that power and money to our region is what gives us the tools to tackle the crippling child poverty that ruins too many lives and to take on so many of the things so articulately highlighted in the wish list.

It’s what enables us to fix our broken transport system, create good, green jobs for local people, build more, better housing and create real opportunity for everyone. 

Devolution is what enables the North East to write our own story.

Kim McGuinness says tackling child poverty is at the top of her wish list for a new government

I will make sure that Sir Keir Starmer listens to us. I’m armed with the stories people told me in those thousands of conversations, the manifesto they shaped and the contents of the wish list.

I expect honesty and delivery. I expect to have grown-up conversations and negotiations about what our region needs. Because the other theme that stood out in the list is the need for integrity, something so many feel has been sorely lacking.

Well, we’ve got stacks of it and, as committed as I am to putting region before party, we deserve to work with a government prepared to put country before party. But most importantly we deserve to work with a government who puts those with the greatest need before themselves.

The word cloud at the top of the page was produced from last week’s article. Here’s a selection of other responses to The QT’s wish list:

Sarah Waddington CBE, Institute of Directors, North East branch chair: “Goodness me, that is one powerful read. Look what we could achieve. Loved this Brian, just shows what might happen when the right people are in the room.” 

Andrew Haigh, chief executive, Newcastle Building Society: “Great initiative Brian a thought provoking and inspiring read, so much for us to aspire to here and hopefully these voices will be heard!”

Nicola Jayne Little, founder and chief executive, Celebrate Difference: “Great to see the diverse perspectives and wishes in the North East imagine if they were all achieved?”

Ivan Hollingsworth, director of Central Consultants Ltd, and chair of the Children’s Heart Unit Fund: “A brilliant read Brian Aitken. Imagine what our region would look like if we could make 10 per cent of these wishes come true!”

Nham Lee, commercial growth specialist: “Brilliant article, great to see so many of us in the article are very aligned and so passionate about our region. Mammoth task for the next government and mayor.”

Ammar Mirza CBE, chair and founder, ABConnexions: “Incredibly insightful and impactful article. Well done Brian Aitken, some wonderful views. Arguably a roadmap with action plan for our region. Great collaboration too.” 

Ian Smith, group CEO, Surreal: “A great read and a few surprises. I would like to ask, as your name was omitted from the list, what is your paragraph Brian Aitken?”

Brian Aitken, editor, The QT: “I’d like them to introduce a well-funded, properly resourced, integrated health and care system. Simple as that!”

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