It was with much depression that I read the latest statistics that tell the true story of the decline that is taking place in my home city of Hull.
According to these statistics, around 5000 more applicants have claimed job seekers allowance over the past year.
A staggering 1 in 12 residents are now in receipt of benefit due to joblessness...
Hull has borne some of the largest industrial hits of this recession, with the caravan industry, food processing and the like all taking massive losses, with some businesses closing down almost to the point of extinction in the city..
It never has been easy for Hull to attract inward investment. It has a geographical location that does not lend itself easily to many industries, it has a transport infrastructure that simply is not fit for purpose, and it is still suffering from the twin legacies of industrial decimation as overseen by the Thatcher government, and also of suffering from being seen as a safe haven for failed labour politicians who quite happily milk the expenses and wages of westminster dry whilst failing spectacularly to serve the very people who elevated them to their privileged position.
But look below the surface of neglected industrial buildings, clogged roads, and sprawling graffiti ridden housing estates, and it becomes apparent that Hull has so much to offer..
The city has over 700 years of rich religious, cultural, industrial, and political history...
It is the home of William Wilberforce MP, the man who fought successfully to end slavery, it is the port where the ship The Bethune (later to be renamed The Bounty and to play host to the most infamous maritime mutiny in history) was built,it is home to the largest parish church in England, and the smallest window, for many years it was the hub of the world's deep sea fishing industry, in one of the many city centre taverns of yore, there is the very room where the gunpowder plot was discussed, it's old city walls played host to one of the key constitutional stand offs in history when the King was refused entry and sanctuary during the civil war...the list goes on....
Our city truly has so much to offer..yet time and again we are bogged down in failure, in decline, and in hopelessness...
What we should be doing is extolling the virtues of our rich history and heritage upon the world..there are, I am sure, many many people who would stay in Hull and explore this heritage, rather than simply drive on or off the ferries, and ignore what is right here, if we only took more pride in what we had, and pushed it with more conviction and confidence..
Hull could have a viable, if not thriving tourism industry, with more museums, tourism experiences, tours etc, which would in turn advertise the city to a whole new audience as well as bringing in much needed revenues...
We have what could also be a thriving city centre. Over recent years we have seen Prices Quay, and more recently St Stephens being built in the city, offering modern shops under one roof..
Yet still we fail to fill all of these shops. Multi million pound developments stand half empty, mainly due to a mixture of the effects of the recession, and unfeasibly high rents and rate charges..many businesses have abandoned their existing premises within the more traditional high street areas in favour of these new developments, which has only served to make the problems worse...
As well as these brand new empty shops, the city centre landscape is blighted by the increasing number of older shops, some of which have traded busily for years, gradually emptying, the city streets being turned from ones filled with the bustle of shoppers, and the sounds of business being done, and money earned, to the uneasy quiet of desolate bankruptcy...
For Hull to pull itself up from the precipice, the people need to believe in themselves, and in the city's ability to really steal a march on its regional competitors, but that will never happen if the people of Hull do not experience the tangible change for the better that is needed for them to believe once more..
The key to this is the City Council...
There has been european funding allocated to the city for the regeneration of the Newington and Hawthorn Avenue areas, and these projects could indeed spark new life into the local jobs market..
The building trade has been particularly badly hit in this recession, and if the council were to kick start these projects after all of the stagnating and delays, they could offer opportunities to local businesses and craftsmen, promoting the appointment of apprentices within these disciplines, and expanding the horizons and aspirations of an otherwise forlorn and abandoned city youth..
We should also be looking at reducing the rents on these many city centre shops that have stood idle for months, and sometimes years..
Surely, it is better to have a business occupying a property, paying slightly less rent, and contributing to the urban regenesis, rather than not yielding ANY money from the property, and allowing the local area to soak in its own slow, painful death..??
What we should be doing is taking action to fill these properties, to get business interested in Hull, to promote our entrepeneurs from within..
Our ailing transport infrastructure needs urgent attention..why would any business invest in Hull if its vehicles and employees are at in traffic for large percentages of the day?
We have major congestion in the city that could be eased through projects, funded by local authorities to improve the internal road network, recalibrating traffic light timings, remodelling junctions, and improving the bus network through greater scrutiny and leadership on the part of the transport department of the city council..
Also, we have what could almost be described as an orbital railway within Hull..currently it is only used by freight trains, but imagine the difference it would make to traffic if people could travel on these lines by tram or train..
I grant you that these proposals are not cheap, but the jobs that their construction, execution, and administration would create would bring untold benefit to our city...
Time has shown again and again that Hull cannot rely on happenstance to provide opportunities for either the city, or indeed its long suffering citizens..
Neither can it rely on the Labour Party, who see the city as nothing more than a safe seat to be used, abused, and tossed on the scrap heap until election time, when some poor unfortunate resident of an estate, or dedicated members of a community centre or the like can be posed with for purposes of political propaganda...
If Hull is to be changed for the better, then it has to go out and make those changes in a radical and decisive fashion..
We NEED the city council to provide its own 'stimulus'..
* Cut Price Rent to encourage business to occupy empty shops and units.
* Rates relief so as to ease the burden on new and transferring business.
* Restarting of large public projects, such as the Newington regeneration.
* Promotion of apprentice positions to try and build a new legacy of craft and skills within the young people of the city.
* Remodelling and improvement of the internal road network so as to make the city as efficient as possible, and as attractive to inward investment..
* Orbital rail or tram network so as to improve congestion and create jobs..
I'm not claiming that any of this would be easy to achieve, but what I am saying is that is eminently possible and achievable..
All we need is the vision, the confidence, and the nerve to do what is right for the future of our great city...