It’s been an interesting time for the North East’s political landscape over the past few weeks.
Throughout 2016, the buzz word for the region has been devolution – an opportunity, many believed, for the whole of the North East to steal a march and start to carve out a brighter future; a future that would be controlled locally and responsive to our own specific needs.
However, in the North area of the North East, we have seen real doubts cast over the deal, after Gateshead Council walked away from discussions that were designed to rubber stamp the North East’s plans. It’s a critical time, and whatever the eventual outcome, it is important to say that this apparent collapse during what had to be a time of unity will send a huge statement to central Government about the level of collaboration in the North East.
Though the Northern Powerhouse has – to date – remained largely a concept, we are beginning to see the signs of action, but it is important that the Government see that we are serious about growing our economy; that we have serious ambitions as a place, and that any investment will be returned – and then some. Though our entire region – North East and Tees Valley footprints – have undoubted and vast potential, the fact remains that the collaborative approach taken by Greater Manchester, that has attracted the favour of Government, has yet to be achieved in our region.
I am certain Greater Manchester has faced exactly the same challenges as ourselves and its political leaders have had similar concerns, but by putting parochial and party political concerns to one side, they have united and put themselves firmly at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse.
It is thought that devolution could unlock as much as £30million a year for our region to spend, and indeed, this is just part of the package of benefits – a £3.4billion pool of cash would be handed over and into the control of the new collective force. And this could be critical investment that will allow us to deliver sustainable, real growth and build on the strengths we have proven we have.
We now must wait until May to understand the outcome of the devolution deal discussions, but there appears to be a will among the six other authorities to push ahead, and that has to be endorsed. The North East must prove it is not a basket case. Leaders across the board must put aside their differences and realise that by working together, the sum can become much greater than the parts. We have an opportunity to grasp our destiny with both hands, and have our success echo through the corridors of Whitehall. The time has come to stop looking this gift horse in the mouth and instead throw a saddle on its back.