The North East deal: it’s time to level up

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Those who have grown up in and around the industrialised North will know the scene well: broken paving slabs splattered across street and the pervasive sense of fear when strolling around every town and city centre. Shattered people with shattered dreams and shattered lives – a world that looks doomed and feels abandoned. Any grazing sentiment of hope or true happiness withers in such an environment. How can it exist when care does not?

Nevertheless, this is the norm for many across the country. Communities that were once bustling with spirit and pride have been steadily reduced to nothing more than a place to live and trudge on with apparent existential futility until the day one dies. If that image seems depressing, that is because it is. A drop of water and nourishment is needed for any flower to grow.

Those who have grown up in and around the industrialised North will know the scene well: broken paving slabs splattered across streets and the pervasive sense of fear when strolling around every town and city centre

So, with the scene aptly set, it is time to embark on a discussion concerning the recent £1.4 billion deal agreed by the local leaders of the North East and the United Kingdom’s very own Levelling Up Secretary, Michael Gove.

According to the Government’s official press release, this agreement “guarantees” the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority (MCA) such an amount to be spent over the next 30 years. As part of a wider package to further devolution in the area, this deal will seek to aid advances in education, housing and regeneration, transport, and local leadership. Prayers answered? Not really.

Firstly, issues have arisen in relation to how these funds will be managed by the local authorities. For example, Councillor Carl Marshall has claimed that this deal has merely swapped “governance in London for governance in Tyneside”.

Understandably, one would desire power to be as close to home as possible in such matters. It is simply common sense to have wants of this nature. But as the adage states, beggars cannot be choosers – and beggars we are in this situation.

However, my focus lies not with this fresh deal specifically but instead how the levelling up system is being conducted in its entirety. To put it quite bluntly, the North East is being burgled and this Conservative Government has barely bothered to switch the lights off afterwards. If anything, they are still sitting in the living room, waiting for the MCA to return home.

In a recent article by PoliticsHome, it was revealed that the North East has secured merely 5.5% of the total spending allocated since the beginning of the ‘levelling up’ project. Meanwhile, the North West is set to receive almost £587 million, approximately 10% more than their neighbours occupying the opposite stretch of coast.

If one does not have a voice, then they cannot speak on their own behalf

This project in its entirety has been marred by misunderstandings, incompetence and political foul play. Calculations for funding are decided per person, applications extend to over 200 hours and cost many more pounds than they are worth. This idea has touched the hearts of many but effectively reached none thus far.

Some local authorities practically lack the expertise and expenses to permit applications fitting the problems they face. As a result, they are left deprived of the funding they require. This is the same story throughout the country. If one does not have a voice, then they cannot speak on their own behalf. This is a flaw that has rendered the levelling up project unweighted since its effective conception.

Thus, the most recent deal may sound and read as though it has arrived to bring the forgotten man back to remembrance. Nonetheless, do not be fooled. The cash will, inevitably, not be seen for a generation or so.

The MCA is yet to learn how to walk and conflicts regarding distribution and power allocation will reign for the time being. It goes without saying that the agreement and its many millions will bring about some form of positive change for the local area. Yet, those broken paving slabs are not going away any time soon.

The Gateshead gambit between the leaders of today promises hope and potential happiness for the North East in its future. Once the proceeding phases of play are complete, true judgement on its deliverance will be possible. Until then, one must attempt to enjoy the wilderness.

Photography credits: Chris Devers via Flickr

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