Tristram Hunt MP: 'How's Stoke-on-Trent? It's far better off now!'
'HOW is Stoke-on-Trent?' was the question Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne put to me in the Members' Dining Room a few months back. Normally, Labour and Tory members sit on separate tables at opposing ends of this ornate, river-side refectory. But to get to the chicken curry at the buffet, we have to mingle (whilst carefully loading our Dudson plates).
After explaining the terrible damage his economic policies were doing to North Staffordshire, I also reminded the Chancellor of the threat to our ceramics industry from excessive energy taxes.
For the last decade has seen too many jobs and businesses go abroad as we have taxed away our ability to compete. And either those ceramics businesses head to the Far East, where environmental controls are lax. Or they head to our competitors on the Continent. Wherever they head, Britain is the loser as we export jobs and then import back the carbon pollution.
This is a fight to keep ceramics jobs in North Staffordshire that my fellow MPs Joan Walley and Bill Cash have long been battling, and myself and Rob Flello have taken up in recent years.
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And finally the Treasury has started to listen. Because it is not just the pottery business: steel, glass, chemical industries, and paper have all been threatened. Sadly, we have lost our aluminium industry altogether. No one is suggesting we do not need to be more energy efficient. But you don't reduce global greenhouse gasses by bankrupting some of the greenest and most energy efficient companies in the world.
As a nearby Cheshire MP, George Osborne has never been immune to these arguments. He believes in the need to re-balance the British economy and many of our most energy intensive sectors are in some of the most deprived parts of the country. Osborne's economic strategy is also dependent upon boosting our exports – something Steelite, Dudson, Wedgwood, Churchill and our other big ceramic beasts excel at. To have a successful ceramics industry serves his economic policy well.
So, when the Chancellor went on his trade trip to China, I urged him to promote closer links between these two great ceramics nations. And when Treasury Minister, Greg Clark, came to Stoke-on-Trent last month, he was able to understand the history of the industry with a tour around the Wedgwood Museum and appreciate the need for competitive energy prices with a visit to the Emma Bridgewater plant.
Thankfully, the lobbying paid off yesterday when George Osborne announced that the ceramics industry will, in future, be exempt from the Climate Change Levy. Hopefully, this will reverse the trend of cumulative taxation that threatens the ability of our world class ceramics sector to compete in the modern world. It should mean greater commercial certainty for the industry and the capacity for more jobs and investment into the Potteries.
I am proud to be a Labour MP but I have always been willing to work with governments of any party to promote the interests of Stoke-on-Trent. Yesterday, that meant George Osborne. So when we next meet over the clink of Dudson plates, I shall offer praise from the Potteries. And then get back to the business of Opposition.