The Bank of England’s chief economist, Mr Andy Haldane, has visited Ashington.
Mr Haldane, who was born in the North East, met community groups to hear about how the economy was working in the town. He met children from local schools, toured Station Road and met volunteers from a church-led project that aims to create a financial system that works for the whole community.
Mr Haldane, who is part of the Bank’s monetary policy committee that sets interest rates on a monthly basis, said it was essential to get to places like Ashington and hear first-hand how the economy was affecting people’s lives. He acknowledged that the town was still in some ways struggling to adjust to life after the death of the coal mining industry, but that there positive signs in some of the new industry in the area.
He said ‘Within every big thriving city in this country there are pockets of disadvantage - and that’s true of some rural communities as well - that haven’t quite kept pace with the thrusting and thriving parts of the big cities or the more successful towns. A community that’s gone through the big structural schism that Ashington has over the last 30 or 40 years, of course that takes time to repair - to rebuild and re-train and re-skill the people here. To regenerate the high street, to look towards the new generation of businesses that will be the creator of jobs. In Ashington there are pockets of that. If you look at AkzoNobel, which is the world’s most advanced paint manufacturer, you have a real pocket of brilliance that can be built upon. Whereas once Ashington was the coal capital of the world, now it’s a major paint manufacturing hub. Is there enough of that? No, there’s not and that could be better supported by high levels of skills, improved infrastructure - I’ve been hearing about the prospective re-opening of the rail line to Newcastle, which could well be transformational for the people of Ashington.’
Mr Haldane started his visit with a visit to Josephine Butler Primary School (pictured), where he joined the LifeSavers school savings club that teaches young children about money management.
He also visited the Northumberland Community Bank credit union and heard about the work of the Just Finance Foundation, which was set up by Archbishop of Canterbury (and former Bishop of Durham) Justin Welby to develop fairer financial services in local communities.