This week I was delighted to join MPs from across the political divide to launch a group aimed at driving business, skills and economic growth throughout the north of England.
It is time our region had a real voice and the new Northern Powerhouse All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) – of which I am a co-chair – will be just that.
A strong focus on improving rail and transport links across the North is planned, in addition to raising educational standards and attracting regional investment.
The APPG will also help to highlight nationally the issues affecting us locally – such as the need for investment not just in business and education, but also in infrastructure, culture and health.
According to figures released last year, the North East recorded the second-highest economic growth per person in the country – at 2.8% – compared to a national average of 2.1%.
Indeed, since 2010 around 50,000 jobs have been created regionally – and we also have the most tech start-ups in the country. Sunderland’s own Nissan plant is an on-going source of pride as well.
However, although we have much to be proud of, it remains the case that investment in the North East – and Sunderland – sadly still pales in comparison with that provided to other regions.
This makes the launch of the Northern Powerhouse APPG extremely important – as we desperately need extra funding to match the needs and ambitions of Sunderland and its residents.
There was certainly nothing in the recent Budget to address Sunderland’s high unemployment issues, low wages or the impact of enormous cuts this Government has inflicted on our people.
Nor was there any mention of removing the public sector pay cap, which means our firefighters, teachers and those working in the health service will continue to face a real-terms pay cut.
I welcome the news, however, that the Government has at last given a commitment to fund the replacement of the Metro’s failing rolling stock – an issue I have campaigned on for years.