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The Big Question: May ’24

With high-profile devolution deals now in place across the entire North East, how important is it that the region’s two mayoral-led combined authorities complement their separate goals with a united approach that better integrates the north and south of the region, and creates a globally attractive brand and investment narrative?

Gavin Cordwell-Smith, Chief executive, Hellens Group

Devolution is one of a number of policies to emerge in the last few years, alongside freeports and investment zones, that are designed to stimulate regional economic growth, especially in the areas of the UK requiring ‘levelling-up’.

The challenge is how to balance progress with competition. It is to be expected that both mayoral authorities in this region will set out to attract business investment to their respective patches, for economic and political reasons.

And they will offer whatever incentives they have at their disposal to do so – inevitably, one region will miss out.

This will become even more apparent if the two mayors happen to represent different political ideologies to each other or the incumbent Government.

Given its vast geography, the North East Mayoral Combined Authority is likely to develop priorities around areas such as regional connectivity that are widely different from Tees Valley, which is far more compact.

The picture is also complicated by the fact each local authority retains its own local development plan.

Although desirable for everyone with crossregional interests, it is difficult to imagine a joined-up strategy emerging, which adequately meets the needs of both authorities, given the likely political, economic and spatial differences.


Jonathan Wallace, Chair, Lichfields

Hailing from County Durham, I have always seen the North East as a single region, and I find it strange it is now effectively split into two, with the North East Mayoral Combined Authority to the north and the Tees Valley Combined Authority to the south, and each working independently to promote their interests.

However, the North East is a small region on the world stage. Even if we make comparison within the UK, the combined area is much smaller than Yorkshire or even Greater Manchester.

This makes it all the more important to work together, to sell ourselves to potential investors.

Collectively, the region has huge and complementary assets and strengths – from our world-leading automotive and advanced manufacturing sectors, to the important role we are playing in the transition to clean energy – and we need to make the most of this.

That means adopting a joined-up approach, a single narrative that talks up our strengths alongside a co-ordinated attitude to selling the region to potential investors.

We must put aside inter-regional and political rivalries to maximise the prospects of securing investment that will deliver higher value jobs and benefits across the North East as a whole.


Elaine Stroud, Chief executive, Entrepreneurs’ Forum

The establishment of the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority will create one of the largest, by geographical area, mayoral zones in the UK.

Devolution has not been an easy process, but the new deal will put us on par with other Northern regions, such as Tees Valley, Greater Manchester and Liverpool.

At the recent Convention of the North, both the North East and Tees Valley were under-represented, with debates heavily focused on Yorkshire and the North West.

The new mayor must build the narrative and investment case for the North East, but also work with the Tees Valley mayor, to ensure our combined voice is heard.

There are areas where it will be beneficial for the North East and Tees Valley mayors to combine forces, such as opportunities around developing our offshore wind capabilities and infrastructure projects that improve connectivity in our region and the rest of the UK.

The creation of a green superport, capable of serving the entire North East, would be another example where the two mayors could work closely.

Together, these deals support more than 2.5 million people across the wider North East. Both mayors are mandated to support their own populations, but let’s hope there is collaboration rather than duplication.


John McCabe, Chief executive, North East Chamber of Commerce

From a business perspective, geographical boundaries are just that – they don’t define the ‘right’ areas in which to trade and sell.

Those footprints can be as small as a high street, or as large as a continent.

What matters is having the same firm foundations: access to skilled people, good quality infrastructure and effective supply chains.

From this perspective, the region’s two mayoral elections present an unparalleled opportunity for collaboration.

The Tees Valley and the new North East area – spanning Northumberland to County Durham – together make the benefits of devolution available to everyone living and working in the region.

This is an opportunity to grab with both hands.

The North East brand is one that works – from Greggs to Sage to the Great North Run.

The narrative is already there.

It’s another asset the new authorities can build on, by bringing the diversity and strength of their respective areas together.

Don’t forget collaboration already happens.

Organisations like Business Durham look both north and south to unlock opportunities, working closely with the local and combined authorities across the region.

So, from businesses’ perspective, it’s business as usual: work together and deliver for everyone right across the North East.

May 9, 2024

  • Ideas & Observations

Created by North East Times