As part of our levelling up series, we’ve been asking members to share their thoughts on levelling up, how they define the term and also what the region’s first steps should be in order to level-up.
Lesley Fairclough, Nick Gholkar and Alistair McDonald shared their collective thoughts on behalf of Ward Hadaway‘s Built Environment department.
Do you feel the North East economy has increased, decreased or stayed the same during the pandemic?
It is difficult to analyse the impact of the past 12 months on the North East economy as a whole. As with any unexpected economic impact there will have been those who have weathered the storm better than others and those who have benefited from changing consumer and investor behaviour (such as Amazon, who have two warehouse facilities in the North East and have announced further increased requirements).
It is also perhaps too early to analyse the true impact. The government support continues to taper off and certain Landlords are being forced to offer rental concessions to assist Tenants. Such arrangements cannot remain indefinitely and risk masking the true impact of the pandemic.
How would you define levelling up?
It’s about distributing investment and opportunity in a more even fashion, helping to highlight particular cities and regions and better demonstrate their unique selling points. The example of Teesside and the massive investment coming into that area seems to be a perfect example of that locally.
What do you think are the most important factors in levelling up?
Again to use the Teesside example, it seems to be that having a high profile regional Mayor like Ben Houchen has been a massive factor in the focus upon that area. His ability to campaign and have the ear of central government, whilst being a conduit for focus, investment and attention is making a significant difference.
Large projects like Helix, the Centre for Ageing and Vitality, Britishvolt, Teesworks and the new projects coming to Darlington are jewels in the crown, which will help the levelling up agenda.
The North East has one of the lowest GVA per head in the United Kingdom, why do you think that is?
There are a range of contributing factors such as the health of people living in the North East (with wide variations in life expectancy in different parts of Newcastle as an example), transport links, the skills drain if people leave after studying at University in the North East and the disparity in wage levels. If there was a reasoned focus on outputs leading to more and better jobs this might change. The progress in the digital sector is an example of how to make a difference on this front and demonstrates joined up thinking.
What are the first steps the North East should take in order to level-up?
Arguably one place to start would be to be clear on what the agenda actually is in the North East. This should be sector focussed (playing to our strengths in certain sectors), identifying the sectors in which the North East can become a specialist destination. We can then consider what support is required from central government in order to achieve this which will enable clear and concise engagement. Again this seems to have been successful on Teesside.
How can the government empower local authorities to level-up?
A combination of investment, support and a focus on what the advantages of working in particular areas are. The combined authorities can have a role in this, potentially to provide additional investment to support Local Authorities if there is overspend. Darlington is an example of how some Government intervention can spark further interest and activity. That said the vision and renewed drive demonstrated by Sunderland has seen them attract significant investment and interest without the same level of Government intervention.
Is there anything you think should be introduced in the government’s plans to help all areas to level-up?
On top of the actual investment helping to demonstrate to new investors what the region has to offer, the government has a role to play in helping the North East to attract the right kind of well paid jobs and more of them which will help to raise the North East’s GVA.
Do you think the £4.8bn levelling up fund will achieve its goals of supporting the regeneration of our town centres, high streets and upgrades of our transport system? If not, what would you suggest?
We sincerely hope that the fund will achieve those aims but also that it is used to make a real impact in terms of the region’s ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) agenda, which is critical.
To submit your response and take part in our levelling up series, please contact Katy Moody – [email protected].