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Uncertainty over North East levelling and devo

Updated November 1 at 1.40pm

Both devolution and levelling up in the North East were struggling with confusion and uncertainty today, according to media reports.

On the economic front, reports suggested both that plans by Britishvolt to build a 3,000-job gigafactory to produce batteries for electric vehicles were on the one hand close to collapse and on the other that it had averted collapse by securing additional funding.

After months of speculation, BusinessLive reports this morning that new reports say Britishvolt is considering going into administration. It quotes a company statement that: ‘We are aware of market speculation. We are actively working on several potential scenarios that offer the required stability. We have no further comment at this time.’

A BBC report timed yesterday evening says the broadcaster ‘has averted collapse by securing additional funding for the business, the BBC understands.’

If Britishvolt has indeed averted collapse it will be a huge relief to the North East business community and all those interested in the region’s economic levelling up and the green economy. In a fast-moving situation it is likely that both reports were accurate at the time they were written.

The reports came on a day when International Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch addressed an audience of global investors and executives at the Green Trade and Investment Expo in Gateshead. She was expected to call investment in clean energy ‘the future-proofing force that will help us create a better tomorrow.’

Ahead of her speech, Ms Badenoch said: ”We know trade and investment grows our economy, creates jobs, and puts money in people’s pockets – but it also has the power to tackle the challenges we see around the world. Now is the time to future-proof our economy by investing in cutting-edge green technology, protecting our long-term energy security and creating thousands of jobs in industries of the future.

‘In just two years we’ve helped to secure £20 billion in green investment from everywhere from Spain to South Korea, creating over 11,000 jobs. I am committed to continuing to bang the trading drum for Britain to boost economic growth and level up the UK for generations to come.

Minister of State for Climate Change Graham Stuart said: ‘The UK is number one in Europe for renewable investment opportunities, with the highest offshore wind capacity, one of the largest potential CO2 storage bases, and a fast-emerging centre of excellence for hydrogen propulsion and EV batteries.

‘The deals struck here in Gateshead will not just bolster our country’s green transition and energy security, but will grow the UK’s economy – supporting livelihoods and helping in our fight against climate change.

Meanwhile on the political front, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) says in ChronicleLive that while regional leaders have entered talks with ministers in Rishi Sunak’s government about a new devolution deal, Newcastle City Council’s chief executive, Pam Smith, has warned that it is ‘really tricky’ to put a date on their completion.

Ms Smith is reported by the LDRS to have told councillors: ‘ “I think it is fair to say that negotiations are ongoing. As you can appreciate, and this is not an answer to the question, but for me to predict a timescale right now is really tricky.’

The Department for Levelling Up told the paper: ‘Negotiations with the North East are progressing and further details will be announced in due course.”

This report actually takes the matter no further except to show that after years of trying to ignore the devolution elephant in the room, at least in public, some councils are at least acknowledging a possible new deal as a topic of debate.

But there is still no word from the three south of Tyne councils – Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland. They, along with County Durham, are the ones that torpedoed a deal in 2016 and must be persuaded to change their minds this time.