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Liam Byrne comment: We must pull together to get back on our feet

Birmingham | Opinions | Published:

Labour's candidate for West Midlands Mayor, Birmingham MP Liam Byrne, argues that the creation of new, green manufacturing jobs is key to helping the Black Country get back on its feet after the coronavirus pandemic.

Birmingham MP and Labour's candidate for West Midlands Mayor, Liam Byrne

If there is one thing my parents taught me, it is the value of good old-fashioned hard work. As soon as I was 16 I was sent out to start earning my keep.

I can still remember when I turned 18, the quiet satisfaction of buying my dad a pint with that week’s pay packet. It was a tenner, but I had earned it and I was sharing it with my dad.

I’ve been proud to do practically every job under the sun. From flipping burgers to sweeping floors, stacking shelves to advising big technology companies.

Though I went to a failing comp, I battered my way into Harvard Business School on a scholarship, came home and started a technology business. I know the joy of creating jobs for others.

The jobs I have done have been tough. Long hours. Uncomfortable conditions. I know what it’s like to worry about meeting payroll at the end of the month. I know what it's like to skip a salary so everyone in the firm can get paid.

I’ve taken pride in every job I’ve done because I believe all work has value. I know that having a job is always better than having no job.

But I also know having a good job is best of all. A job with good hours, decent pay with the stability needed to get on in life. The chance to earn a living with a sense of pride and enough money raise a family.

Right now, we don’t have enough good jobs. Too many people in the Black Country are forced to rely on zero-hours contracts in jobs that pay below a real living wage.

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When you’re paid that little it’s hard to look after their family in the way they wish they could. That’s why our food banks are running out of food.

Crucially, we don’t have enough good manufacturing jobs. That’s one of the reasons I decided to stand for Mayor of the West Midlands; to help try and change that for the future.

Entreprenuers make history – by inventing the future. And that’s exactly what the Black Country has been doing for years. We started the industrial revolution - but for the years ahead we should set our sights on something bigger: becoming the Britain’s capital of green manufacturing.

We should start by building Britain’s new high-speed bullet trains here in the Black Country. Bringing back highly skilled, well paid jobs in industries that are good for the planet.

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That’s the way we create the jobs of the future, for our young people who’ve been through such tough times, trading our way back to recovery, earning the money that we need to put back into the NHS and social care system which has been worth it's weight in gold during the crisis.

But that is also the way we make sure our air is cleaner and stop damaging our planet.

Unfortunately, right now we are falling behind. We pride ourselves on our car making – but did you know there are more electric vehicle charging points in Westminster than there are in the whole of the West Midlands?

Thousands of manufacturing jobs are now at risk. Which is why, with industry and the TUC, I’ve started a campaign to Save Our Manufacturing. We learned under Mrs Thatcher, that once good jobs go, they take generations to come back.

I think this crisis has brought out the absolute best in us. We pulled together like never before. Neighbours have met each other, going out to clap for carers on Thursday nights. We’ve set up WhatsApp and Facebook groups for our streets to help look after each other.

Now as we look to the future we need to hold on to that community spirit. We have to pull together to get back on our feet. And that means working together to create a new plan: for a new future for the heart of Britain.

Labour is under new management now. And frankly, now is not the time for petty party politics. Now is the time with pride in our past, to start planning for the future. Because what our history tells us, is that when we pull together, there’s nothing we can’t achieve.

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