THE pictures everyone has seen from Ukraine remind us how connected we all are. Teessiders don’t like arrogant bullies like Vladimir Putin, and in these terrible days for Ukrainians, there’s no doubt whose side people from Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool are backing. But these events strike closer to home than might first be obvious.

Donetsk, a south-east Ukrainian city at the heart of Putin’s rampage through the Donbas region, has a history that began like Middlesbrough’s. Developed in the 19th Century by Welshman John Hughes as a steel and coal mining city, as Hughesovka it carried his name until Josef Stalin vaingloriously renamed it after himself.

Subsequently renamed again as Russia edged its way towards peace, few in Britain have thought about it since except for workers like Charles Allcock, who came back from the Don basin to live and work in Middlesbrough (you can see his gravestone in Marton churchyard). However, Ukrainian coal has gone on pouring out of the region into the global supply networks of which we’re part.

In Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool we've continued to matter when it comes to securing the UK’s energy independence and industrial strength, offering new answers for a new age. But since the collapse of the USSR, it has been too easy for politicians to forget Eastern Europe just like they forget unfashionable parts of the North like ours. And so they have sleepwalked into seriously bad policies.

Now, the failure of UK governments since 1997 to pursue an effective energy policy has been laid bare by Russian aggression and we’ve been reminded that we can’t take peace abroad for granted. Ministers who dealt with Cold War uncertainties built an energy plan based on North Sea oil and gas installations, maintained as they still are by many Teesside workers, and on plants like Hartlepool Nuclear Power Station. This secured UK energy independence, limited price hikes, and started cleaning up our environment. But since 1997, complacent Labour ministers drifted far off course, the Lib Dems derailed Coalition energy policy, and too many economic purists in Whitehall failed to see that the UK doesn’t operate on a level playing field globally and doesn’t operate in a bubble isolated from geopolitical events. All this has put local jobs and national security at risk.

Little UK power comes directly from Russia. The problem is that much of Europe relies on Russia, and we in turn rely too much on Europe. Our over-reliance on European energy and other resources is now likely to push up UK prices. That has serious consequences for us all – from the threat to an elderly person in Saltburn or Seaton Carew struggling to pay to keep warm through winter despite looking out at the energy potential of the North Sea, to the risk to jobs at Teesside’s world-leading but energy-intensive chemicals and process industry.

It didn’t have to be like this. Teesside has offered the UK world-class technology for years but it’s been easier for Westminster to let jobs and opportunities go abroad. The UK’s vacillating nuclear policy is catching up with us - I’m pushing for plans to secure Hartlepool’s long-term role in nuclear energy generation, but there is no time for a quick nuclear fix. Genuine debate and scientific discussion on fracking has been dismissed out of hand for short-term political gain. Teesside has decades of hydrogen experience but successive governments have starved our industries of backing and instead looked abroad for answers that never come.

Despite these failures, in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool we can still provide the UK with the answers it needs – and take the opportunity to win good quality, well paid jobs in the industries of the future. Action is needed now. Some are tempted to row back on green ambitions but it’s crucial to understand that net zero is not the enemy. Cutting support for renewable energy won’t reduce our energy demands, nor will it increase our supply of non-renewable energy. Abandoning the pioneering green technology industries which are investing in Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool to allow international competitors to steal a march on us would be extremely unwise in an unstable world. What is needed is investment in a future-proofed clean energy base that can underpin the UK economy whatever global politics can throw at us – as well as providing good quality jobs for local people. And that is why I’m determined that what Silicon Valley is for IT, we should be for Net Zero technology. It’s what I’ve geared up Teesside Freeport to deliver and I believe the need is becoming ever clearer.

I’m doing everything I can to make Westminster realise that Teesside should be the heart of a UK energy revolution, fixing the country’s energy problems and at the same time building a prosperous future across every part of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool. A big plus of Treasury North coming to Darlington is the opportunity to show them just what we can do, at first hand, every day.

Offshore wind is a crucial component of our diversity of energy supply, and the £107-million quay we’re building at Teesworks has secured a major wind turbine manufacturing investment from SeAH Wind. This mammoth quarter-of-a-billion pound project is going to create more than 2,000 good quality, well paid jobs for local people, building on our region’s world-renowned steel fabrication heritage. It’s also going to enable the UK to scale up offshore wind production to much more serious levels.

More than anything, we need to ramp up our hydrogen economy. Teesside already produces more than 50% of the UK’s hydrogen, and with the incredible Net Zero Teesside carbon capture (CCUS) project getting government approval last year and Teesside’s designation as the UK’s hydrogen transport hub we are ready to deliver the step-change the UK needs to make the most of hydrogen. Cutting edge research makes it clear that hydrogen must be the answer we need to heat homes and power industry cleanly, affordably and safely. The sooner government allows us to prove this by making Redcar the UK’s first hydrogen town, the better.

Now more than ever, we have to unleash the full force of all our assets – especially the many energy sources we can draw on in Britain, and the skill and ambition that the amazing people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool show in the labs, hi-tech factories, and businesses I visit across our area every week. The risk from inaction is high, but the opportunity from action is also too great to miss. Growing the clean energy sector across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool is a key part of my plan for jobs, a plan that is already delivering the clean, high-skilled, well-paid jobs which are essential for our future on so many levels. In a turbulent world, we need to get ahead of the game and move boldly to secure our future against whatever happens in a changing world.

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