I can’t believe that it is June already, this year is flying by and so much is going on I barely know where to begin. I am was really pleased to hear that Redcar and Cleveland Council have been forced to rethink their plans to impose a £10.00 administration fee for every child that relies on free school meals. Children’s education is very important to me and I know it is to many residents also. The Council decided to introduce these charges and then tried to justify them by claiming local schools could use money from the new Pupil Premium. This was a key Liberal Democrat policy that was intended to ensure that all our children get a fairer start in life. In Redcar and Cleveland schools will receive an extra £430 for every child which relies on free school meals. This money was to go towards things like extra tuition for those children who often struggle to keep up at school. It was never intended that a slice should be siphoned off for council bureaucracy. I am very pleased that having raised this with the Department of Education they have intervened and asked the Council to reconsider. On the subject of children’s education I was invited to visit both Normanby and Caedmon primary schools in recent weeks.
It was lovely to get the chance to chat to so many wonderful teachers and pupils at both schools and I hope I get to go back again soon. The future of the economy is the most pressing issue for this Government, and similarly the strength of our local economy here in the North East is one of my top priorities. If we get this right then so many other areas of our society will benefit. It is why it was my top priority a year ago, and it remains a top priority now. To achieve this, we need to look at all the issues that are preventing businesses opening up here, or managing to survive here, and one of those reasons is access. To get the conversation going, I recently held a debate in Westminster on the future of the Tees Valley rail network, pressing the Government for investment in passenger and freight rail transport in the Tees Valley.
Steam-powered passenger rail transport actually started in Tees Valley between Stockton and Darlington in 1825. Some 185 years later, we cannot even go directly from Stockton to Darlington on a train. Though the Government has already invested £4.9m our local rail network, a bid by Tees Valley’s new Local Enterprise Partnership for more funding from the Regional Growth Fund was unsuccessful. On the bright side the region did secure £56m of investment from the RGF for other projects, one of the biggest rewards in the country. I am confident that by taking the comments of Transport Minister Mike Penning MP on board we have a good chance of securing further investment in the second round of bidding. The fact that the region was one of the main beneficiaries of the first round of Government funding from the RGF backs up their commitment to rebalancing of the economy away from an over reliance on risky financial services, concentrated in the South, and back towards manufacturing.
In this the North East has a strong tradition, but it has too often been neglected in the past. There are already small signs that the North East will be leading the way to UK economic recovery, with encouraging figures showing that manufacturing in our region is up for the fifth consecutive quarter. This is certainly something to build on in the coming months. Finally I’d like to pass on my congratulations once again to Redcar and Cleveland’s new mayor Olwyn Peters whose investiture ceremony took place at Kirkleatham Hall Museum. wish her the very best of luck in her new role.