The North East's Journey with Levelling Up in 2023 and 2024

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To the uninitiated, levelling up seeks to provide investment to projects across the length and breadth of the United Kingdom to build industries and communities in areas which historically didn’t receive funding.

And now, with businesses across the North East getting back into the swing of things after the winter holidays, I thought it’d be interesting to look back on the levelling up agenda in the North East over 2023 and its direction as we move forward into 2024.

In a speech made by Boris Johnson on Levelling up back in 2021, he said, “Everyone knows that talent and energy and enthusiasm and flair are evenly spread across the UK, evenly spread, It is opportunity that is not and it is the mission of this government to unite and level up across the whole UK not just because that is morally right but because if we fail then we are simply squandering vast reserves of human capital we are failing to allow people to fulfil their potential and we are holding our country back.”

In December of 2022, North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll said he did “cartwheels down the street,” when it was announced that the region would receive £48m from the devolution deal designation in the North East. Are mayoral authorities across the country a little more jaded just over a year on from the original announcement? Or does levelling up funding still represent a light at the end of the tunnel for underfunded regions across the country.

2023 saw political disputes unfold as the government back tracked on plans to power on with the Northern leg of HS2. Amidst concerns over HS2’s future, Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s Policy Director, Chris Fletcher, said: “Once again the north has been promised the earth but all it seems we’ll get is scorched earth.”

It’s no secret that the levelling up agenda in 2023 had a habit of becoming contentious and at times disappointing, that being said, in this writer’s opinion, levelling up being on the table leaves a lot to be excited about as we go forward into 2024.

A very interesting scheme within the levelling up agenda sees Darlington become the home to second headquarters for the Department for Business and Trade – further establishing the town as a major location for the UK Government.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said the decision would make DEC the biggest Department of Business and Trade site outside London.

He added: “This is hugely significant news for Darlington and supports our vision that Treasury North would just be the start of establishing our region as a key location for multiple Government departments. It cements our ambitions to bring hundreds more high-quality civil service jobs so our talented workforce has the chance to stay local and go far in a top career.”

Levelling up partnerships, announced in the spring budget, will see tailored regeneration plans rolled out across twenty of England’s areas most in need of levelling up. The areas have been selected based on analysis set out in the levelling up white paper which considered places against measurements such as educational attainment, gross pay, and life expectancy.

Just over £20m will be invested in key projects across the Redcar and Cleveland area following a successful bid for the Government’s levelling up partnership fund by Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council.

Commenting on the funding announcement, Cllr Alec Brown, Leader of Redcar & Cleveland Borough Council, said: “We welcome this investment in Redcar and Cleveland and have worked positively with the Department for levelling Up, to make the most of the funding on offer to ensure we continue to deliver for our residents.”

Investment into the centre of Newcastle will see works on Northumberland Street are, as part of an overall £20m package. This money that was initially earmarked for Blackett Street and Old Eldon Square has now been diverted following the council’s decision to defer those plans.

In addition to the significant investment in Northumberland Street, the funding will also allow for improvements to the area around the Grainger Market, to complement the plans already underway inside the market as part of the £7m received from the LUF.

Tom Gurney, Operations Manager for Taylor Woodrow said: “We are looking forward to getting started on what is set to be a key element in the transformation of the city centre.

“Our team, which includes local people, is committed to delivering high-quality improvements whilst simultaneously seeking out ways to support communities across the city.”

Whilst the Northern Leg of HS2 will be sorely missed, every cloud has a silver lining. £1bn which was initially allocated to HS2 had been transferred to transport schemes in the North East.

Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen said: “We have an ambitious package of improvements planned which will revolutionise travel across Teesside, Darlington, and Hartlepool. Not only will these projects make a positive difference to everyone’s day to day travel, but they will also boost our continued plan to make our region an economic powerhouse with access to good, well-paid, long-term jobs.

“Be it at Darlington Station, Middlesbrough Station, or at our airport, we can show a record of delivery – but now we can offer the promise of much, much more for the people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.”

In other transport news (which I believe will have knock-on consequences for the North East) a “£3.9bn injection into the Transpennine Route Upgrade will help deliver faster, more frequent and reliable rail journeys between Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds and York.” What had so many people hoping HS2 would see its fruition, was the massive boost to business and tourism that it represented. In this same vein, improvements to the Transpennine route can only help further connect the cities of the North.

As 2024 goes on, many of these schemes will be completed and many more will be proposed as the levelling up agenda develops, undoubtedly creating thousands of jobs and bringing much needed investment to the North East. Whether they all go ahead smoothly is yet to be seen, I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed anyways.

By Mark Adair – Correspondent, Bdaily

Explore these topics:
#North East #Economy #Finance #National #Inward Investment #Governance #Levelling Up

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