For years, places like Southampton have been overlooked. When Government Ministers talk about regenerating post-industrial towns, they think about those in the North not those in the South.
Southampton is like many other post-industrial towns and cities, the only difference being that it’s located in wealthy, leafy Hampshire. That, I believe, is the reason that successive governments have overlooked it.
My constituents are hardworking decent people. They are proud of their contribution to the country and our history and they have every right to be. But much of the progress and funding that other cities have enjoyed has past my constituents by. Where they once relied on well paid, rewarding employment in manufacturing with job security, they now see lack of opportunities and indifference from successive governments.
If you visit the former shipbuilding site of Vosper Thornycroft and the former Ford Transit factory in Southampton you will instantly understand why the unemployment rate in Southampton is double that of the regional average.
Different generations of the same family once worked side-by-side in industries that were the pride of Southampton. One in four Royal Navy destroyers during the First World War were built by Thornycroft in Woolston, which was opened in 1904. The Supermarine Spitfire factory, where the iconic Spitfire was designed and built, was situated just a few hundred yards across the road from the slipway where Vosper Thornycroft ships launched into the River Itchen.
The Pirelli factory, opened in 1914, manufactured PLUTO pipelines under the ocean, which transported fuel from Britain to France during the Battle of Normandy. 2.2 million Ford Transit vans were made in Southampton until the factory’s closure in 2013. At the height of production, between the 1970s and 1980s, it employed up to 4,500 people from the local area and rolled more than 3,000 vehicles off its production lines every day.
All those manufacturing jobs are gone. In their place, we have jobs in hospitality and services. Gradual loss of jobs is far easier to overlook than sudden ones that make the news, but the impact on the local community is equally profound.
John Mann, Member of Parliament for Bassetlaw, is absolutely right to talk about ‘transformative investment’ in areas that need it. But, the unemployment rate of Southampton Itchen is higher than Bassetlaw and significantly higher than the national average. My constituents are struggling to find employment beyond hospitality and the service sectors. As the Prime Minister considers requests from Labour MPs for ‘more government support’ I hope that any government support will also be coming to Southampton.
The Government’s record of job creation, against the odds, is a record to be proud of. Having the highest share of the population in work on record is an excellent achievement by this Government, but many people have also talked about the low-wage nature of the jobs miracle. Most of the well-paid and secure blue-collar jobs that my constituents used to take for granted are gone. When Ford, Vosper Thornycroft, and Pirelli closed their sites in Southampton one after another, many hardworking people in my constituency became trapped on benefits or in low-paid jobs.
As the Prime Minister’s spokesperson said, ‘No community should feel that they are left behind.’ At a time when we hear reports that the Prime Minister is considering injecting investment in economically deprived areas that happened to vote in high numbers to leave the European Union, I hope my lobbying to Ministers for my constituents will be given similar consideration.
Given the Prime Minister’s long-standing commitment to tackling inequality between communities, I hope she will look South not just North, and ensure that my constituents benefit from any injection of government funding to tackle the issues that affect people living in Southampton in the same way as people living in the North.
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Royston Smith is the Member of Parliament for Southampton Itchen