Nick Clegg's message to Newcastle voters

December 29, 2009 5:20 PM

At this time of year it's natural to look back, not just at our own lives, but at the way things have gone for our communities too.

A lot of the changes we've seen in Newcastle certainly give us reason to celebrate. Who would have thought a place for years defined by its heavy industry would have recently been crowned Britain's greenest city? Or that Newcastle would now be regarded one of the safest cities in Europe?

Some of Newcastle's most stubborn problems, like high levels of teenage pregnancy and the fact too many children are living in poverty, are finally starting to improve. Local schools are now some of the fastest improving in the country.

Those are impressive achievements, especially when you remember that these have not been easy times. But sadly the last year has brought a lot of hardship to Newcastle too.

It's been a bad year for the economy, which slumped into the longest recession on record. And it's been a bad year for politics, with people's trust in their politicians at an all time low following endless revelations over MPs abusing their expenses. For me, though, the biggest outrage of 2009 is that so little of this has been put right.

The banks still haven't been permanently brought to heel. Unemployment is still a shocking burden for families without a real income. The clean up of our politics promised at the height of the expenses scandal hasn't happened.

I think everybody assumed the outcry surrounding these crises would have automatically led to change, but I guess 2009 is the year we learnt not to take change for granted.

The new year cannot be, and will not be, the same. With a General Election on the way you have a huge opportunity to choose politicians who will bring change that works for you: change to mend our battered economy and fix our broken politics.

Where the Liberal Democrats are in power locally, we are already making those changes. Under John Shipley, Newcastle council has made helping local people through these difficult times an absolute priority, and rightly so. By introducing loans for small businesses and creating more apprenticeships, Liberal Democrats are helping people who have been dealt a major blow by this recession.

We've opened the first new council houses in the city for 25 years. And we've saved millions by cutting waste and delivering services more efficiently, while improving them too, like local Adult Social Care, which now gets the maximum three star rating.

We're also working hard to rebuild the people of Newcastle's faith in politics. I believe the way to do that is actually pretty straightforward: you have to listen to people. A lot of the fury aimed at MPs who misused taxpayers' money came from seeing just how out of touch the political elite is with the daily struggles of ordinary people.

We need a political system that delivers the help you need instead of protecting self-serving MPs.

Here in Newcastle we're handing power back to local people, like in our award-winning scheme to give people a much greater say over how money is spent in their neighbourhoods. We've also set up the new Citizens' Assembly where anyone who lives, works or studies in the city can have their point of view heard.

For us, the importance of letting local people take more of the decisions that affect them is obvious. But the tired, desperate Labour Government would rather hoard power in Westminster.

And although David Cameron makes a lot of noise about handing power back, his party can't be trusted because, when it comes to it, they always block reform - they even blocked Liberal Democrat proposals to give people the right to sack badly behaved MPs.

The next 12 months aren't going to be easy, not with the public finances in such a mess. But they can be better, if we're willing to do things differently. Despite the hardship felt by many, 2009 did see real successes that Newcastle can be proud of. Let's make the changes to end that hardship, and just imagine what we can achieve in 2010. I hope you all have a happy and prosperous New Year.