North East Devolution and Levelling Up

Teesside an object of envy – for good or ill

North East England is not used to being looked upon with envy from areas of the country to its south. But that is what happened in the House of Commons this week, in relation at least to Teesside, if it can still be considered part of the North East.

The rare expression of jealously at the attention being paid to Tees Valley, as it is more formally called nowadays, instead of the usual pity for its deprived condition, came from a Tory MP in a traditionally Conservative seat.

Ruth Edwards, who followed Ken Clarke as MP for Rushcliffe, in Nottinghamshire, was taking part in a Commons debate on the East Midlands economy, and clearly wished that her region received as much levelling-up attention as Tees Valley, as well as the West Midlands.

‘We hear a lot about levelling up and we see a lot of government ministers going to Teesside and the west midlands,’ she told the House. ‘We see their departments following them there. If levelling up is going to spread opportunity over the whole country then it is going to have to involve more places than just Teesside and the west midlands—however wonderful they may be. One of the places that really needs that focus and support from government is the east midlands.’

It is noticeable that the two areas singled out – Tees Valley and the west midlands – have both done devolution deals and both elected Tory mayors – Ben Houchen and Andy Street respectively. No one seems to be looking with similar envy at the rest of the North East, which rejected devolution is 2016 and is now divided, with a mayor only north of the Tyne, and is largely overlooked by ministers.

But if Tees Valley understandably feels a warm glow at this unaccustomed recognition, it should be aware that it is a two-edged sword. If other parts of the country see that it is receiving significant aid and investment they will want their share too, increasing competition for inevitably limited levelling-up funds.

Now it’s true that Nottinghamshire isn’t all that far south and has also been affected by de-industrialisation such as coal mine closures. To some people it is part of the north. But its status as a not especially lagging county will not stop it pressing for its share of funding. Any why should it? It was only yesterday that I blogged about the leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea making the case for central London. The |North East’s fight for special levelling-up treatment will not be an easy one.