Riddle me this…
Statistics. You might not like them but they’re a fact of life. In many ways they govern many parts of our lives: the money provided to our schools, hospitals, police and fire services is all predicated upon statistical modeling. National retail chains looking to locate new facilities use similar models; statistics – they’re everywhere.
This week the Office of National Statistics published a map of average earnings in the UK. The map shows a red block concentrated around London and the South East where average weekly earnings are the highest – between £550 and £867 per week. The rest of the map is coloured in various shades of blue which denote average weekly earnings between £267 and £550. The map contains one other significant feature that might surprise a lot of people (it wasn’t news to me) so I hope you’re reading this whilst sitting down. That significant feature was the only other appearance of red on the map – a small geographical sliver – tucked away in the far north west of England: Copeland.
You read that correctly. According to the Office of National Statistics, the average weekly earnings in Copeland are the same as in London and the South East of England. The highest in the country.
Look out of your window and try to process that information for a minute, then ask yourself, where that money might be. It’s the nuclear industry of course that sustains that salary level (and in truth the band is very broad, covering some extremely low pay and some distortive high pay) but yet again – like the three Copeland postcodes that are the best place to live in the country according to the Royal Mail – it demonstrates what I’ve been saying for some time now: the best days of our community are still ahead of us.
But not all the money earned in Copeland stays in Copeland – nor can it. People can choose to live and work wherever they like. It’s absolutely clear that the money earned by workers in Copeland has been a fantastic boon for the entire county, but we need to keep more money here: it’s the key to real, lasting regeneration – of our housing estates, public services, small villages and – crucially – our schools. It’s also how we will eradicate what are very real pockets of poverty on our doorstep.
The key to this, without doubt, is to expand the economic opportunities that exist in Copeland – not just through the nuclear industry but the public sector – so that they are more accessible for the people that live in Copeland. Education, education, education. This is why the education of all of our young people – not just our own children – should be our shared concern. It’s why the rebuilding of secondary schools in Whitehaven should be our crusade – and a moral crusade at that – because for too many in our community, their noses are pressed up against the shop window, watching other people shopping inside. But education alone wont provide the fix we need: ambition and aspiration should become our bread and water.
The austerity imposed by government has had the effect of a kidney punch on our community – but we will get out from beneath it and we will succeed. Our best days are ahead of us – the statistics show it – but we must make sure that this success is shared and, in the process, the earnings riddle is solved. I intend to do precisely that.