Stockton High Street. Photo: Petegal-Half/CC
Stockton High Street. Photo: Petegal-Half/CC

Alan Docherty, Teesside Socialist Party

There has been uproar on Teesside about Home Secretary James Cleverly’s alleged remark to Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham – “it’s a shithole” – in response to his question: “Why are 34% of children in my constituency living in poverty?”. Even the Tory Metro Mayor demanded an apology!

Despite some of us perpetuating the myth that it is ‘grim up north’ to avoid being inundated with southern tourists, the North East is a great place to live. On the surface, Stockton town centre is magnificent! It is the widest high street in England, peppered with art works, and it still has a thriving market. 

But it is not all fine; in addition to child poverty, the statistics show the borough has sickness and health figures all worse than the national average for obesity, alcohol and drug addiction, and with life expectancy 15 years lower than the national average. Unemployment is about 4.1% – nationally it’s 3.8%.

However, this is not a full picture, Stockton is a borough of two halves. It also has very affluent areas. Life expectancy differs across the borough’s electoral wards by 20 years. This masks the pockets of deprivation which probably have double the rate of measurable problems.

Cleverly should be aware of the £270 million-plus capital programme, to be invested in Stockton’s ‘six towns of the borough’ as ‘levelling up’. This is a desperate attempt to reverse economic decline. Stockton High Street has suffered a long decline. Firstly, being squeezed out by the Teesside Park, a massive retail development and now the cost-of-living crisis. This has been compounded by deindustrialisation, the once-massive ICI chemical factories no longer exist. What remains only employs hundreds of people, not thousands.

Stockton High Street is being redeveloped at a cost of £30 million with a planned park on the site of the demolished Castlegate Shopping Centre (which was about half the town’s shop units).

However, these capital projects miss the key problems that are not being addressed, the need for well-paid jobs and investment in health and public services. It is only a socialist plan of production that can equally share out the wealth and provide well-paid useful jobs for all.