North East Devolution and Levelling Up

Blyth represents ‘a credible and critical opportunity’ for North East economy

A much more ambitious devolution deal for the North East would be a significant opportunity for local communities such as those in South East Northumberland, according to a new report from the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP).

A regional devolution deal would also boost the North East’s chances of becoming the northern leader in the field of energy, generating many more highly skilled jobs, with a key role for Blyth.

The NPP’s latest report, Life in a Northern Town, focuses on three town in northern England, including Blyth in Northumberland. The others are Bury, which is part of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority, and Goole in East Yorkshire.

Speaking of Blyth specifically, the report says: ‘There are significant challenges for local services. The social and economic costs of deindustrialisation, and its resulting inequalities, have not been effectively addressed by central or local government, despite the best efforts of the public sector in the place itself.

‘The creation of the North of Tyne Combined Authority is a welcome step forward, and it is clear that a much more ambitious devolution deal for the North East would be a significant opportunity for communities including Blyth, Bedlington and Ashington.’

The report goes on: ‘While the economic development agenda is gathering pace, the chance to ensure that local people are able to take advantage of these opportunities is failing to keep up. This is despite the plans of those investing, including in the [Britishvolt] gigafactory, to pursue local employment partnerships.

‘These approaches are all to be welcomed but the change needed in Blyth is a social one and is too significant to only be addressed at the stage of work readiness. An integrated place-based approach to public service delivery is also needed in Blyth, mirroring the integration of health and local government delivered in towns like Bury. This can build on the current direction of travel by the local authority, ensuring fully-aligned delivery at the level of neighbourhood.

‘The role of Blyth in the wider UK offshore wind industry to date (for example the catapult’s extensive work for Equinor) has had significant benefits for the Northern Powerhouse as well as across the UK. In an analogous way to a core city, like its neighbour Newcastle, a centre of excellence in R&D generates many more highly skilled jobs.

‘The North needs a place-based deal on energy. This would be ideally centred on the North East, based on the needs of the region’s businesses and focused on building a more ambitious devolution settlement’.

‘In Blyth’ says the report, ‘the arrival of a gigafactory is only one part of a wider process of South East Northumberland re-establishing its economic purpose following decline…With the strong case for a regional innovation deal covering green energy, the existing successes of the place in attracting R&D activity would be further strengthened. This is reliant on a better connection to Newcastle by rail, but attracting talent as well as improving access to employment outside the area for local people.

‘The opportunity which Blyth represents is a credible and critical one. Previous investment in its assets over the last decades (including the catapult centre) are the centre of its potential today. The Town Deal plans alongside the wider work of the local authority, North of Tyne Combined Authority and Local Enterprise Partnership have all been building towards the current investment landscape…

‘The planned investment in a passenger rail connection between South East Northumberland and Newcastle upon Tyne is as critical for bringing people into the area as creating viable commuting connections into the city centre. Attracting and retaining businesses will be key.’