North East Devolution and Levelling Up

Government backs Blyth battery plant

Plans for a battery factory at Blyth, Northumberland, bringing 3,000 skilled direct jobs and 5,000 more in the supply chain, have received cash backing thought to be worth £100m from the government.

The Britishvolt gigafactory, due for completion in 2024, will produce enough batteries for over 300,000 electric vehicles each year, and according to the government will significantly support the UK automotive industry’s transition to a zero emissions future and increased production of electric vehicles.

The government said its support, provided through the Automotive Transformation Fund and according to the BBC worth £100m, will also help to unlock a significant amount of further support from private investors.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said: ‘Britishvolt’s plan to build a new gigafactory in Northumberland is a strong testament to the skilled workers of the North East and the UK’s place at the helm of the global green industrial revolution.

‘Backed by government and private sector investment, this new battery factory will boost the production of electric vehicles in the UK, whilst levelling up opportunity and bringing thousands of new highly-skilled jobs to communities in our industrial heartlands’.

Kwasi Kwarteng Business Secretary, said: ‘Today’s news is a major boost for Britain and a resounding vote of confidence in the North East economy.

‘Britishvolt’s planned gigafactory will not only enable the UK to fully capture the benefits of a booming electric vehicle market, but will bring thousands of highly-skilled, well-paid jobs to the North East.

‘In this global race between countries to secure vital battery production, this government is proud to make the investment necessary to ensure the UK retains its place as one of the best locations in the world for auto manufacturing’.

Minister for Investment Lord Grimstone said: ‘Our support for Britishvolt’s gigafactory is not only set to bring new jobs to the people of Northumberland, but by unlocking huge amounts of additional investment, we are helping to turbocharge the local economy. All of which will not only transform Blyth, but also help us build the batteries that will power our electric vehicles for a cleaner, greener future’.

The announcement comes seven months after news that Nissan and its Chinese partner Envision AESC are to invest £1bn in the manufacture of electric vehicles (EVs) and batteries at Sunderland, creating around 6,200 jobs directly and in the UK supply chain. This project too is receiving an undisclosed level of government cash support.

The announcement also comes in the week that HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) confirmed it has signed the lease for a nine-storey office building in Newcastle city centre which will house 9,000 civil servants being transferred from nearby offices in Benton and Washington.

COMMENT

Coming in the week that the North East returned to its accustomed position as the UK’s unemployment blackspot, the Britishvolt announcement comes as a welcome shot in the arm for the North East economy.

The Britishvolt, Envision and Nissan developments will all take two or three years to fulfil their potential for job creation, but when they do will play a significant part in levelling up the North East. They support the cautious optimism expressed on this website in August in the future of the regional economy based on the green revolution.

These announcements are not specifically levelling-up measures, but part of the government’s net zero strategy. But they demonstrate that the North East’s route out of its economic problems lies through the developing green economy.

Meanwhile, the HMRC move into Newcastle city centre, while involving a transfer of existing jobs rather than the creation of new ones, and likewise not designed specifically as a levelling up measure, will support one of  Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove’s objectives of promoting pride in place.    

The North East needs a package of measures to level up: relatively small grants for civic improvements such as those from the Levelling Up Fund and Towns Fund and more significant investments in its economy in partnership between the public and private sectors, like the battery plants discussed here.

It also needs education and training to ensure local people are ready for the new jobs that are coming, and improvements to local transport to get people to and from work and college. Given recent developments affecting local bus and rail services, this looks problematic.

It would be short-sighted of the government, having supported the industrial developments described here, to fail to support the public transport to serve them. It is also short-sighted to the point of negligence of North East councillors to continue to fail to co-operate in the devolution deal that would, rightly or wrongly, make the government more likely to provide the funding required.