North East Devolution and Levelling Up

‘Everyone gets it’ – but where’s the action?

‘Everyone now seems to get it’, writes Professor Anand Menon, director of UK in a Changing Europe, of the inequalities afflicting British society and often roughly summed up as the north-south divide, though that phrase overlooks deprived areas elsewhere.  

He’s right. How could anyone not know about those inequalities, given the hundreds, or even thousands, of studies and reports that have been detailing them for decades. Even those who do not read a newspaper have only walk around some of our communities to see with their own eyes.

So in a way Professor Anand’s round-up in Northern Agenda of the inequalities in areas such as the economy, transport, education and health is superfluous. It tells us what he acknowledges we all already know. The Prime Minister knows, which is why he talks so much about levelling up.

But in another way it is useful. For every report, every study, every newspaper article like Professor Menon’s keeps up the pressure – if just a bit – on politicians to take the action they keep promising to address the problem. That is what this website is about too. Every little helps.

For politicians remain frustratingly unwilling to turn words into actions. And that applies not just in Westminster. Here in the North East’s town halls too councillors remain unable or unwilling to agree a devolution deal that would give the region a united voice and make it better able to raise economic performance.

Brexit and the pandemic have made people more aware than ever of the nation’s problems, argues Professor Menon, and present elected northern leaders with a raised profile and a platform from which to hold the government’s feet to the fire when it comes to its ambitious rhetoric about inequality.

Regional leaders like Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester are well placed to do that, while Ben Houchen in Tees Valley has the ear of his fellow-Conservative ministers.

Jamie Driscoll, mayor of North of Tyne, is doubtless doing his best but is hampered by speaking for only half the region. Five years after rejecting a government offer the North East remains without a devolution deal covering the whole region (even excluding Tees Valley).

The region can expect an opportunity to correct its mistake of 2016 when a White Paper on levelling up and devolution is published in the autumn. Councillors should be preparing now to grab it with both hands.