Jonathan Gullis is MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, and Abi Brown is Leader of Stoke-on-Trent City Council
Last week, Michael Gove suggested that whilst restoration and renewal work took place in the Houses of Parliament, that he “would wholeheartedly welcome the relocation of the House of Lords to one of our great cities, and in particular the attractions of the six towns that constitute Stoke-on-Trent”.
This has caused uproar from some Peers and the Assistant Editor of Conservative Home, William Atkinson.
So, we are here to explain why Stoke-on-Trent would make the perfect home for the House of Lords – albeit temporarily.
Stoke-on-Trent was the beating heart of the industrial revolution; from the engineering genius of James Brindley in creating the Trent-Mersey canal, the pits of Chatterley Whitfield Colliery – the first colliery in the UK to bring up 1 million tonnes of coal in a year – to the potbanks of Wedgwood, Spode and Burgess & Leigh.
Historically, Stoke-on-Trent has also played a major role in this country’s democracy. Outside Swanbank Methodist Church in the Mother Town of Burslem on 16th August 1842, Chartist Josiah Heapy was shot dead, alongside others, as they campaigned for the right to vote. Our most famous Stokie, Josiah Wedgwood, helped end the slave trade in this country, creating the famous anti-slavery medallion to garner public support.
But it’s not only our city’s historical importance that says why we should be taken seriously.
Their Lordships will find getting here easier than they may think. It takes 90 minutes to get here by train from London, which will be down to just 60 minutes with the Handsacre Link from HS2. By road, we are connected with the M6 and A50 corridor, and by air, we have four international airports just over 60 minutes away.
We are in the north Midlands, gatekeepers to the Northern Powerhouse and part of the infamous former red wall. There is no better place geographically for their Lordships to be able to get to, from across our United Kingdom.
But above all else, the most important reason why moving the House of Lords to Stoke-on-Trent makes sense, is because we are the litmus test for the government’s levelling up agenda.
The year 2019 was monumental for our city. In May, despite a very challenging backdrop, we went from seven to 15 elected Conservative councillors, going from junior partners in the coalition first formed in 2015, to being the larger group. Since then, with defections from Labour and the Independents, we now have 22 councillors, and for the first time ever, run the council as a majority group.
In December of that year, the blue wave washed across Stoke-on-Trent, turning all three constituency seats Conservative for the first time in our city’s history.
Since then, the ‘Stoke Mafia’, as we are known by some Ministers, has been jointly making our case why Stoke-on-Trent is the perfect place to invest and prove that levelling up can work.
Since 2015, housebuilding has accelerated, averaging around 1,000 homes per year, with 97% on brownfield land. We are the 8th fastest growing economy in England, having already created 8,000 jobs in the last six years, and it was predicted last week that by the end of 2023, Stoke-on-Trent will be the third best place in the UK for jobs growth, outperforming Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and London. We are also home to one of the UK’s most successful enterprise zones in the country, the Ceramic Valley.
We have been extremely successful in securing major government investment to Stoke-on-Trent.
There is £56 million of Levelling Up funding to unlock new homes, retail and office space and the city’s first arena, which will have an e-sports specialism – the first of its kind outside of London.
Also, £31 million is going to Bus Back Better, which will mean fairer fares, smarter bus routes and a more reliable service. This is in addition to money from the Restoring Your Railway’s fund to reopen Meir Station, and explore the possibility of reversing the Beeching cuts on the old Stoke to Leek line.
The Department for Education has made us a priority Education Improvement Area (EIA) to improve educational outcomes and skills locally, as well as investing £15 million to refurbish Middlehurst School into a new SEND school.
We are getting millions to pay off debt and expand capacity at the Royal Stoke University Hospital; £18 million towards research and development in advanced ceramics, and lastly, thanks to former Stoke-on-Trent resident Priti Patel, we are getting over 500 new jobs from the Home Office.
Unlike the Labour Party which forgot where Stoke-on-Trent was, believing the only Stoke that existed was Stoke Newington, it is this Prime Minister, this Chancellor, this Home Secretary and this Secretary of State for Levelling Up, who are giving Stoke-on-Trent its rightful recognition.
Their Lordships could find no better place to spend their time. We encourage them to come here and listen to people about why levelling up is so important.
Wherever the Lords ends up, Brexit showed that the Westminster bubble must reconnect with the country. The government is right to move parts of Whitehall out of London. Most of all, we must ensure that we don’t just talk of levelling up, but live it.