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Ideas & Observations

Level with us

Amid the national political and financial headlines of recent days, news of a fresh monetary appointment was reduced to somewhat of a footnote.

Given the turmoil, it was perhaps not too surprising.

But Beth Russell’s rise to that of the Treasury’s second permanent secretary represents far more than a mere side line.

And that’s because she heads the Darlington Economic Campus, the flagship Government development launched by ex-Chancellor Rishi Sunak that is shifting more than 1000 jobs and departmental operations from the capital to the railway town.

Of course, one appointment doth not a summer make, and her new role, in the wider context of the ‘levelling-up’ agenda, is small.

But it speaks of positive change and recognition, and for a publication that has regularly called on the Government to go beyond the rhetoric and add some tangibility to its ‘levelling-up’ campaign, it’s at least a potential foothold to move forwards.

Having such a senior civil servant so connected to the Treasury – Beth has more than 20 years’ experience, latterly as director general of tax and welfare – that has the ear of new purse-string holder Jeremy Hunt (or whoever may follow as Chancellor) can be no bad thing.

The Darlington Economic Campus, when built, will stand on land once used by a car dealership.

And for Darlington, and the wider North East, it can – and must – act as a showroom to advertise our region’s potential, our industries, our skills and our people, to drive further investment.

To do that, though, will require stability, something, which at present, is in dramatically short supply.

Even before Liz Truss’ chaotic start to her reign as Prime Minister, the ‘levelling-up’ agenda was suffering from volatility in the Government’s ranks.

Formerly the preserve of serial office holder Michael Gove, the keys were earlier this year handed to Middlesbrough-born and South Bank-schooled ex-Business Secretary Greg Clark, as an embattled Johnson filled cabinet seats amid a slew of resignations.

Predictably, when Johnson finally left Downing Street, Clark was given his cards too, with the new regime appointing former chief secretary to the Treasury Simon Clarke.

Like his predecessor, Clarke knows the area well, operating in the Westminster bubble as MP for Middlesbrough South and east Cleveland, so he’s familiar with its topography and employment landscape, as well as its inter-regional differences.

And like Beth, he provides some optimism the ‘levelling-up’ agenda may at least move forward, that the North East will be part of conversations when senior ministers get around the table.

Because it needs to be.

Words by Steven Hugill