Two days ago, as he waited for Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget statement to learn whether Teesside would be awarded a freeport, or the government’s northern economic campus, or both, Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen posted online that: ‘This is a day that will define the fortunes of our area for years to come. For better or for worse’.
We know now that Tees Valley and Houchen got both the freeport and the economic campus, and more besides.
But it was a deciding moment too for the rest of the North East. What will the leaders of the seven councils that rejected a devolution deal in 2016, just as Tees Valley was accepting one, take from the fact that they picked up hardly a crumb from the Budget?
The news was disappointing, but hardly surprising. It might be unfair, but that’s what pork barrel politics is like.
If the seven North East leaders, and particularly the four south of the Tyne who voted against a deal in 2016, retreat into their comfort zone of blaming the government for all their woes and playing the victim, their area can expect little better in future. Anything they do get will probably be thanks to the Tory MPs who took four ‘red wall’ seats in Northumberland and County Durham (not to count Darlington) in the 2019 general election.
For the sake of the people of the North East, who are the real victims of this political game, the seven leaders should get together and do a devolution deal as fast as they can and start repairing the damage. The way the react to their Budget disaster will be as decisive for the North East in the long run as Ben Houchen’s Budget triumph was for Tees Valley.