In the limelight: Where do we fit in?

The Northern Powerhouse looks to strengthen the Northern region as a whole, but where does this leave the North East?

The Northern Powerhouse looks to strengthen the Northern region as a whole, but where does this leave the North East?

The Northern Powerhouse advocates collaboration between the cities and key locations in the North. But what does this mean for the North East and Tees Valley?

There is still concern, particularly among the North East business fraternity, that the Northern Powerhouse remains too centred upon the North West, particularly Manchester.

Chancellor Osborne chose the North West to deliver his speech setting out his vision for a Northern Powerhouse and returned to the region for his first speech after the Conservative Party won the General Election.

Greater Manchester was the first area in the North to be offered devolution, and control of a £6-billion health and social care budget. Manchester was also the chosen city for the Sir Henry Royce Materials Research Institute, the Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre, and a £78-million major theatre and exhibition space.

The first phase of the HS2 (the High Speed 2 rail link much heralded by the Government) is also set to link London to the North West, with the North East consigned to later proposed phases.

The Government will be quick to point out, though, that the North East and Tees Valley have not been ignored. Newcastle is the chosen city for Science Central and the forthcoming National Centre for Ageing Science and Innovation, while the North East LEP received £100 million in funding to create its first innovation board. The Tees Valley also houses one of the largest enterprise zones of the Northern Powerhouse.

David Land, board member of the North East LEP, reflects: “Yes, Manchester has been at it a lot longer than we have, but it is shown to have resolved issues.

“I think areas have to be realistic that, while some cities will see benefits earlier, they will see them in the second and third phases of a project.”

Using transport as an example, David reveals how the North East LEP is making an impact on the Northern Powerhouse agenda.

“[Councillor] Nick Forbes and I sit on the partnership board which gives us the opportunity to outline the NE LEP requirements within the Northern Powerhouse strategy for transport.

“Solutions across the North can also be applied at a very local level. So, for example, smart ticketing can be used to improve localised bus services from Newcastle to Morpeth.”

He continues: “Also, instead of looking at things in short spurts of three to five years, the Northern Powerhouse allows you to look at infrastructure over a 20 or 30-year period. If you look at other European countries such as Germany, infrastructure plans are always over 20 or 30 years.

“So, whereas before, the North East LEP would have had to prioritise a project for the coming few years, we can now put six, seven, eight projects forward over a much longer timeframe.”

For Tees Valley Unlimited, being entwined within the Northern Powerhouse has allowed this relatively small area to have its voice heard.

Stephen Catchpole, managing director of Tees Valley Unlimited, says: “Obviously, we can’t pretend we’re as big as Greater Manchester, but we know we can’t lock ourselves away and be insular. We work with Transport for the North and are looking to play a key part in the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund. In fact, of all the LEPs that are part of this fund, we put in the second highest amount.”

Collaboration is also seen as a key way to promote business in the Tees Valley.

“It’s a way of showcasing the sectors that are strong – as well as our emerging sectors – on a bigger scale and to a wider audience,” says Stephen.

He continues: “We recently collaborated with a number of LEPs to promote the offshore industry. And, in the chemical sector, we would look to collaborate with Warrington or Hull, which are two areas strong in this sector.”

The North, and the North East, will have to wait to see if the Northern Powerhouse becomes a reality but it seems that, for now, both of its LEPs support the agenda.

“There’s a lot to be gained through the Northern Powerhouse and I think people in the North East are beginning to realise that,” says David.

Stephen adds: “The Northern Powerhouse is still in its very early days but the thrust behind it is making sure that the North East fulfils its economic potential and that will benefit the Tees Valley as well.”

 

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