Jade Smith is a Conservative activist in Redcar. She is a former Director of Women for Britain. ‘The Mighty Redcar’ appears on BBC Two at 9pm tonight.
I am proud to call Redcar my hometown. However, things in this town aren’t always easy; we are told from a young age that if we are to succeed we have to leave. But what sort of town are we leaving behind if all our youngest and our brightest flock the nest at 18, and only come back for Christmas? We need to fight for our town and against the harsh reality of decades of local Labour rule.
In 2009, Redcar was hit with the first temporary closure of our steelworks, with over 1,700 jobs disappearing overnight. In 2012, under much more favourable economic conditions, a company called SSI bought the site and revived our steel-making heritage. China then started to dump steel at an astronomical rate, and with poor steel trading conditions continuing around the world the final piece of coke entered the ovens on 28th September 2015. With no more coke entering the ovens, they slowly start to disintegrate and eventually they will collapse in on themselves. Once this process has started, it cannot be undone. Our steelworks have now closed forever.
The situation facing the town was unprecedented; hundreds of families had lost their main source of employment. But what we do best in Redcar is pull together in a time of crisis, and that is exactly what we did. A Government-backed taskforce was set up in conjunction with the council, and this in turn set up a group to allow donations of food, money and Christmas presents from the public to help the steelworkers and their families. A desire to help those most in need runs through the veins of the people in Redcar.
Labour blame the Conservative Government, saying the present government should have kept the site open – but they could not, due to the same EU diktats that had prevented Labour from doing so in 2009. These are the state aid rules, and they prevent us from saving our industry. With no option of future private investment in a failing industry, and no legal way to use state aid, the permanent closure was inevitable.
The Government gave £80 million to retrain the workforce; many ex-steelworkers decided to apply for grants to set up their own businesses, which are now benefiting our economy. In 2017, there were 2,830 micro-enterprises in the borough, and I believe that number is closer to 3,000 now. Unemployment is down in the Redcar constituency by 60 per cent compared to 2009. Surely this is proof enough that a Conservative government is the only government that can make a success out of places like Redcar, that have been down on their luck in the past decade.
The only barrier to success for young people in Redcar is the fact that Labour brings us all down to the lowest common denominator. We once had a grammar school – Labour closed it. We once had a sixth form – Labour closed it. As a result, we have no grammar schools, no sixth forms, and very few positive local role models who have made it through an academic route.
We have a technical college that offers engineering, hair and beauty, and health and social care B-TECs. If you live in Redcar and want to study A-levels, you have to travel either to Guisborough, which is a 12-mile round trip on college buses, or Middlesbrough, which is an 18-mile round trip. At one point in my life, all I wanted was to go to a Russell Group university and study a Politics degree, but my hometown couldn’t offer me a route to this dream.
Others are losing out, too. In The Mighty Redcar on BBC Two, we see Kat and her daughter Kaitlyn looking at the fees for RADA, Kaitlyn’s dream stage school. Kat worries about the fees as her daughter’s school and careers advisor had failed to explain the student loan system in England and the fact that she wouldn’t have to pay out of pocket to go to RADA. If our schools don’t explain that there is no barrier to higher education for our most disadvantaged student, why would they have aspirations to go onto further study?
However, there is hope on the horizon for the young people of Redcar; Higher Education entry rates have gone up by a quarter since 2010, and it is estimated by the House of Commons Library that, between 2010 and 2015, ten per cent more pupils from a disadvantaged background in Redcar and Cleveland have entered higher education.
Resilience is what makes us mighty in Redcar. It’s the kids that travel for hours to and from college every day to study for A-levels. It’s the kids who have fallen through the cracks but are determined to make something of their lives. It’s the mums who once used food banks and are now volunteering in them to help others. And it’s the steelworkers who never knew a job other than up at the works and now run their own businesses, which are benefiting our economy.
The people here that have always voted Labour want change; in the last general election, the Conservatives increased their vote share by 17 percentage points, and more than doubled the number of votes we received. We may be a long way off from taking the seat, but the seas are changing, and Labour is worried.