North East Devolution and Levelling Up

The nonsense of dividing along the river exposed

The importance of councils across the North East working together to develop the region’s economy – and the nonsense of not doing so – is made clear in a report that went before the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) this week. But whether and to what extent they will agree to cooperate remains an open question.

The NTCA has been carrying out a study on how to maximise the potential of the river as a national centre of the offshore marine supply chain and offshore wind sector and is developing plans for a North Bank of Tyne Growth Corridor. It has put £500,000 from the investment fund at its disposal as a result of having done a devolution deal with the government in 2018 into a technical capacity fund to work up projects and put itself into the best possible position to compete for investment and bid for government support.

The development of the north bank of the river will integrate easily with similar schemes, supply chains and skilled workforces at Blyth and with the Northumberland rail line currently being constructed to connect Ashington, Bedlington and Blyth with the Tyne and Wear Metro.

But maximising the potential of the north bank also requires the co-operation of councils on the south bank as well – Gateshead and South Tyneside – which are not part of NTCA, for example in dredging, the provision of industrial sites and adult education.  

‘We will proactively engage and seek to work with our neighbouring authorities of Gateshead and South Tyneside, as well as working collaboratively as part of region-wide plans for economic recovery and connectivity’, says this week’s report to NTCA.

Whether that proactive engagement will be reciprocated, however, is still far from certain. NTCA’s south of Tyne counterpart, the North East Combined Authority (NECA), was told in a report from its chair on July 20 that the seven councils, north and south, had been in discussions during the pandemic about what was needed to help the region make a strong economic recovery.

‘At the current time, these discussions are ongoing with a view to forming joint proposals on what asks could potentially be made of government in terms of devolved funding and powers to further aid growth and recovery. Further updates will be provided as discussions and proposals develop.’

This does not take the matter any further forward than the situation almost a year ago when the seven councils asked the government for £2.8bn for Covid recovery. When North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll suggested recently that a devolution deal covering all seven councils was on the table the response from the four south of Tyne leaders was a grudging one. No progress seems likely until at least the Levelling Up White Paper expected in the autumn.