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Jeremy Hunt: official portrait. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Autumn Statement – what it means for North East

The government IS in advanced talks with the North East about a new devolution deal, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt confirmed in his Autumn Statement in the House of Commons this afternoon.

‘Building on other devolution deals agreed this year,’ he said, ‘the government has agreed a further mayoral devolution deal with Suffolk County Council and is in advanced discussions on mayoral devolution deals with local authorities in Cornwall, Norfolk and the North East of England. Taken together, these deals will increase the proportion of people living under a directly elected mayor with devolved powers in England to over 50%’

That quotation is from the written version of the Autumn Statement on the Treasury website. In the Commons the Chancellor appeared to refer to ‘an area of North East England’, reflecting continuing uncertainty over whether County Durham will be included in the deal. That is perhaps one of the questions covered by the ‘advanced discussions.’

The Chancellor said: ‘The government also remains committed to giving more local areas greater power to drive local growth and tackle local challenges. This includes delivering the commitment to agree devolution deals with all areas in England that want one by 2030.’

The government also remains committed, he said, ‘to levelling up and spreading opportunity across all areas of the UK. To support this, the Autumn Statement confirms that the second round of the Levelling Up Fund (LUF) will allocate at least £1.7 billion to priority local infrastructure projects. Successful bids will be announced before the end of the year.’

The award of another £1.7bn from the LUF will bring allocations to £3.4bn out of a total Fund of £4.8bn. North East projects funded in the first round included £20m each for the regeneration of Old Eldon Square and the Grainger Market in Newcastle and for a well-being hub at West Denton, also in the city.

NORTHERN POWERHOUSE RAIL

Mr Hunt said: ‘The Autumn Statement recommits to the government’s transformative growth plans for our railways. These include East West Rail, core Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR), and High Speed 2 to Manchester.’

It is not immediately clear whether ‘core’ NPR includes the Leamside Line in the North East, for which local politicians have been campaigning hard, or simply the cross-Pennine link between Manchester and Leeds.

These capital projects replace those flagged for acceleration in the Truss government’s Growth Plan, published only weeks ago, which included dualling of the AI in Northumberland, which after decades of local campaigning is again seems to be pushed to the back of the infrastructure investment queue.

In order to help achieve the promised developments quickly, said the Chancellor, the government will reform the planning system and place the UK Infrastructure Bank on a statutory basis.

The government will refocus the Investment Zones programme introduced only weeks ago, for which the North East has submitted eight proposals – which will now be ditched – at Teesside Airport, Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, Sunderland Riverside, Sunderland Northern Spire, Sunderland International Advanced Manufacturing Park and a group of sites on the northern banks of the Tyne, at Newcastle International Airport Business Park, Blyth Energy Central and Lynefield Park in Lynemouth.

‘The government will use this programme to catalyse a limited number of the highest potential knowledge-intensive growth clusters, including through leveraging local research strengths,’ according to the Statement.

‘The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) will work closely with mayors, devolved administrations, local authorities, businesses and other local partners to consider how best to identify and support these clusters, driving growth while maintaining high environmental standards, with the first clusters to be announced in the coming months. The existing expressions of interest will therefore not be taken forward.’

Also of special interest to the North East, the Chancellor addressed the problem of economic inactivity, which is a particular problem in this region, as highlighted here two days ago:

‘There are now 630,000 more working age inactive individuals than there were pre-pandemic,’ said the Chancellor. ‘The Department for Work and Pensions will thoroughly review workforce participation. This work will conclude in early 2023.

‘To help tackle the barriers to progression faced by individuals on lower earnings, the government will bring forward the nationwide rollout of the In-Work Progression offer, starting with a phased rollout from September 2023. This will mean that over 600,000 Universal Credit claimants that are in work will be required to meet with a dedicated work coach so that they have support to increase their hours or earnings.’