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1996 - Mr Major’s Comments on the North

Below is the text of Mr Major’s comments on the North, made during an interview held in London on Thursday 25th July 1996.


QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked about the sell off the child benefit centre in Washington and the 2,500 families concerned at the decision].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think you need to see why it is being done and what the impact of the policies in the Round are. What we are seeking to do, as the other parties have pledged they will do, though they won't actually take the decisions, is to save on administration so that we can put the resources into benefits, into job creation or into whatever else seems to be most appropriate for the British economy. And that is what we have been doing.

You might equally have mentioned, for it is undoubtedly true in the north-east, about the enormous amount of inward investment that has been attracted because we have pursued frugal prudent policies of this sort.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if the jobs in Washington were safe].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, we are going to look at what is the most efficient way of delivering child benefit. If there is an inefficiency, we will seek to deal with the inefficiency. But what we do need to do is to make sure, in a social security system that spends over 80 billion a year, that we spend the taxpayers' money - it is not my money, it is not the government's money, it is your money, the taxpayers' money - efficiently and effectively. And it is because we spend it efficiently and effectively that we get so much inward investment into this country because people abroad, looking at the way the economy is run, admire what is being done. And the north-east, if I may say so, has probably benefited as much from that inward investment - Siemens, Samsung, Nissan - as any part of the country.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if more private investment was now going to Scotland and Wales].

PRIME MINISTER:

No, I don't think that is true, with respect. There are a large number of companies around the world that are still seeking to make international investment for one reason or another and are looking to the United Kingdom. The last two happen to have gone one to Scotland, and one to Wales. But it wasn't very long ago that I was opening new investments at Burniston in the Midlands. And you know of course, I mentioned a moment ago, of the huge investments there have been in the north-east.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked if he would help companies in the area].

PRIME MINISTER:

I think it is evident what we are doing to help companies. If you look at what has happened to unemployment across the whole of the United Kingdom, but certainly in the north-east, which traditionally has had a very high structural level of unemployment for a very long time, a very long time indeed, and yet we are now seeing a whole range of new jobs, many of them small investments, many of them internally generated investments, some of them big external investments, which create a wider spread of new jobs for the present generation of people in the north-east than their parents and grandparents could ever have dreamed of. And that is what I very much wish to see.

To take a single example. If you were to go anywhere around the United Kingdom and see a city that has changed infinitely for the better in the last 15 years or so, I think many people would fasten on Newcastle as a supreme example of a city that has changed infinitely for the better.

QUESTION:

[Mr Major was asked why the Conservatives were formerly in control of Newcastle City Council, but now had no seats on the Council].

PRIME MINISTER:

It is ironic, isn't it? If you go back 20 years ago and ask people in the north-east whether the north-east has improved materially, their well-being has improved over the last 20 years, I don't think any dispassionate observer would deny the fact that that is the case. And yet the government that has delivered those particular improvements seem to be unpopular electorally in the north-east.

I think the reason for that is because we have had to take a lot of unpopular decisions that are unpopular in themselves but collectively create a better economy. You mentioned the Child Benefit decision, maybe that is a good case in point, but collectively they produce a better economy. The unpopularity of those difficult decisions tends to linger and yet the response to the improved circumstances has not yet begun to filter into the body politic. I believe it is doing so. I think you can begin to see a change in people's attitude and in the political atmosphere and I am sure that will continue to change in the months ahead.