Associate Dean for Internationalisation, Professor Kieran Fernandes, and former professor at the School, Professor Christos Tsinopoulos, recently met with council leaders and local businesses to discuss how local government and businesses can work better together to deliver ‘levelling-up’ – or regional rebalancing – across the North.
The discussion was prompted by new and authoritative research, ‘Regional Rebalancing’, conducted by engineering consultancy Atkins, the Business School and the Northern Powerhouse Partnership (NPP), which examined the key issues facing local authorities around ‘levelling-up’.
Chaired by John Duns, director at Northeast Times Magazine, the meeting revealed shared objectives, the scale of the opportunity and a real appetite for the public, private and education sectors to work much more closely together for the benefit of the Northeast.
Historically, the region is known for contributing to the country, through providing coal, coke, iron ore and merchant ships.
Now, more recently, the Northeast could be poised to make a further startling contribution as an engine for the green industrial revolution. This was highlighted through the hosting of the Government’s Green Trade and Investment Expo, in Gateshead, which included site tours of flagship green projects across the Northeast, providing tangible proof of the region’s growing pre-eminence.
“We all have a role in building sustainable economic growth across the North.” concluded John Rayson, Atkins’ Managing Director for the North.
Since its formation eight years ago, the Northern Powerhouse Partnership has made progress in confirming the principles of ‘regional rebalancing’, however research identified a need for a more effective policy from the Government. The team from Durham who provided the commentary on the new report shared their views. Professor Kieran Fernandes, who led the School’s input on the research findings told the assembled participants, "Policy should be focused on a regional basis, as macro policies are not always effective to bring about a micro change. While some of this can be achieved via devolved administration, others must be co-ordinated centrally.”
Durham PhD candidate Kieran Purvis, who also worked on the reported added, “Rebalancing, or ‘levelling-up’, suggests a focus on the relative performance of the Northeast to other regions in the UK, the South and London in particular.
I’m certain that the ambition for this region, can and should, go above and beyond its relative performance to other parts of the UK, and that the role of the Government should simply be to empower it to do so.”
The report and the discussion group highlighted the need for consistency from government with Professor Christos Tsinopoulos emphasising “We need consistency. We also need to upskill and work closer with investors…and as someone who frequently travels from the Northeast to the home counties, the need for transport infrastructure investment is profound.”
This view was supported by Andy Kerr, Head of Economic Development at Durham County Council, Guy Currey, director at Invest North East and John Rayson.
Government policy is a key focus of the report and Councillor Bob Cook, leader of Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council reinforced this, saying “Along with capital investment for ‘levelling-up’, we also need clear policy direction and sustained funding to invest in our people and communities.”
Skills and transport have been identified as recurring priorities both in past reports and current research.
It is believed that that the region will only get real change if mayors have real budgets, and it cannot be done from Westminster.
Having taken this into consideration, attendees believed that motivation was needed to ensure people stay in the region, through financial incentive in Higher Education, inspiring them with the varying skills on offer as well as having guaranteed jobs in their respective sectors.
A figure that emerged from the Green Expo was that there is €850 billions of investor money to be spent on net-zero. The question is, ‘Where to invest?’
It was argued that if investors can see visible projects and delivery happening in the next couple of years – as they did on the Green Expo tour of Northeast net-zero projects – then the investment is much more likely to follow.
Visibility across the North, a higher profile and net-zero were crucial as a means of attracting investment.
The major theme to emerge from the meeting, and upon which all were agreed, was the scale of the opportunity for the Northeast and the need to keep our profile high.
Chris Beck, director of clean growth and innovation, Tees Valley Combined Authority summarised this nicely saying, “Just as we were the first in steel, chemicals and shipbuilding, the Northeast is in the vanguard of a new industrial revolution. There is a golden opportunity.”