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A lesson for Michael Gove - if you want real levelling up, listen to Sam Fender

This month the Government published its white paper on levelling up - and it missed opportunity after opportunity to bring real change to the north.

For me, one of the biggest mistakes was the failed chance to create more cultural opportunities for young people in the North East - a vital step in boosting the region’s regeneration and tackling poverty.

Speaking at this year’s Convention of the North in Liverpool, I made the case that if we reduce the number of families in poverty we will reduce crime. To do this we have to increase young people’s access to opportunity.

Cultural activities in our part of the world are basically two things – they are hope and they are the path back to the straight and narrow. As any police officer in my patch will tell you, we cannot simply arrest our way out of trouble. Kids need opportunities but not enough get them, especially in the North East.

From football to music lessons, museums to festivals, boxing coaches to digital design, when we invest in young people we give them healthy role models and we can divert them away from the temptations of criminality.

And that's were the Sam Fender lesson comes in.

What a great cultural export the North Shields lad is.

But let’s face it, his talents almost never made it to our playlists. His lyrics share with us the full force of poverty on his family; from courts summons to benefit worries. These are real struggles experienced by real people. He saw the easy wins from the drug dealing happening around him; he came close to being swept up with it all. But he didn’t. He joined a band, and he grew as a person and just look at him now.

We need more young people saved, more talent uncovered, and more reason to stay and shine in the North East.

This really is all about investment, something the North hasn’t seen enough of for a long time. If there is one thing I hope we can get from these discussions it’s an agreement that the days of London picking the winners and losers in Rotherham or Blyth have to come to an end.

The people in our regions should have the only say on where investment goes; the opportunities created. It is time for an end to the bidding wars and to acknowledge that far more than a white paper needs to be done to turn around the North.

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