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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 May 2007, 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK
'On your bike...'
Michael Wild
Michael Wild
Political Editor, Politics Show North East and Cumbria

Lord Tebbit
'On your bike' was a prophetic phrase of Lord Tebbit's

Polish bus drivers, engineers and chambermaids - the face of the North East is changing. Are immigrants keeping local people out of jobs - or are they the key to the region's economic survival?

"Get on your bike" was the advice Norman Tebbit gave to millions of unemployed people in the 80s.

He believed they should move from areas experiencing severe economic decline - such as the North East and parts of Cumbria - to places where work could be found, or found more easily.

Tens of thousands of people followed his advice, albeit unwillingly in many cases, and migrated southwards.

For many years, building sites, bars, restaurant kitchens and almost every other workplace in London and the South East were full of Geordie, Cumbrian, Scots, and Welsh accents.

All were internal economic migrants.

Euro-brogue

Plumber at work
The proverbial Polish Plumber is a reality

Today, it is more than likely those accents will be eastern European.

And many of those voices are being heard on the streets of towns and cities in the north east and Cumbria.

That is because since the so called A8 countries - which include Poland and the Czech Republic - joined the European Union in 2004, tens of thousands of people have come to this country seeking work.

And many people are saying that with an ageing population and low birth rate, these migrants are the key to future economic growth in the north.

So how many people have actually come here from overseas to find jobs?

When the A8 countries joined the EU, the government estimated that up to 13,000 people a year would come to the UK each year up to 2010.

Numbers awry

Lunar House
Confusion over figures continues

But ministers - and almost everybody else - got their figures badly wrong.

So far, 580,000 people from these countries have applied to work in the UK under what is called the Workers Registration Scheme, or WRS.

But that does not mean that they are all here - some have come and gone.

And it has been one of the greatest movements of people in Europe in post war history.

The figures do not include those who have come here as self employed workers, including the now famous 'Polish plumber'.

More than 55,000 of these Eastern Europeans have come to work in the North East and Yorkshire.

This compares with 50,335 people applying to work in the North West in the same period.

Migration benefits

But why do we need people from overseas, when so many indigenous people here are still out of work?

In a report last year, the Institute for Public Policy Research, or IPPR, said more must be done to "harness the benefits of migration" into the region so as to meet some of the "economic challenges" we face.

The report adds that attracting migrants from overseas with the right skills is key to securing future economic growth.

That is a view shared by organisations such as One North East and the North East Chamber of Commerce.

They say the region needs to create around 70,000 additional jobs over the next 10 years to help boost the economy and attracting more people to live and work in the region - including from overseas - is the only way of achieving this.

When compared to other parts of the country, the North East still has very few immigrants - although this is changing rapidly.

Between the 1991 Census and 2001 Census there was a 42% increase in the number of people born outside the UK living in the North East.

It sounds like a lot - but to put it in context it is meant a rise from just over 47,000 people to just over 67,000 - a small fraction of the whole population.

Points mean...

Nigel Farage MEP UKIP
Are UKIP taking a draconian stance?

And where, according to these figures, had most people come from?

You might be surprised to learn the answer is Germany.

In 2008, the government is planning to introduce a points based system for people wishing to move here from outside the EU.

This means the more skills a person has, and the more demand there is for those skills, the more points they will score - increasing the likelihood they will be allowed to move here.

Perhaps this will mean the region experiences changes in its population that other parts of the country have already seen.

But not everyone is convinced that more immigration, or migration, into the UK is necessary or desirable.

The United Kingdom Independence Party wants Britain to achieve "zero net immigration".

It also wants far stricter controls on legal immigration - including a work permit system for all people trying to enter the UK from abroad, including the EU.

On the programme this Sunday, we will be discussing these issues with Stephen Hughes, Labour MEP for the North East region and a member of the EU's employment and social affairs committee, and John Whittaker, UKIP MEP for the North West.

That is all on the Politics Show on Sunday 20 May 2007 at 12:00 BST - with Richard Moss...


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