9th January 2024    |    Insights

Unlocking Potential: A Transformative Framework for Regional Prosperity

In the aftermath of a sometimes bitter fought Wear Tyne FA cup derby between Newcastle United and Sunderland AFC at the weekend, the North East finds itself at a crossroads, transcending the boundaries of sports rivalries into a more profound quest for economic, political, and social unity. 

The decision to agree to a new North East Mayoral Combined Authority to be established by the seven North East councils is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

Once established, the new combined authority will see the region receive billions of pounds of new investment and additional decision-making powers to give local leaders a greater say on the region’s future.

However, realising the potential this brings hinges on a strategic interplay between politicians and businesses, establishing a comprehensive framework for the transformative North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA).

The North East’s acceptance of the devolution deal after more than seven years signifies a pivotal moment in the region’s history. The carefully negotiated framework empowers NEMCA with significant authority over transport, adult education, infrastructure and housing. Yet, the success of this intricate structure lies in effective communication with the region’s populace. Politicians, as architects of change, play a crucial role in translating the complexities of the devolution framework into a narrative that resonates with the people.

The lessons learned from the region’s history of moves towards some form of devolution, underscore the importance of clear, transparent, and inclusive communication. Leaders must articulate the tangible benefits of the devolution deal, ensuring that residents and businesses alike understand the transformative impact on their daily lives. The ability to communicate the vision of a united North East, with enhanced local decision-making and tailored solutions to regional challenges, becomes paramount in securing public support and more so in ensuring the multi-billion pound investment has the greatest impact.

Politicians’ foremost responsibility lies in laying the groundwork. Infrastructure development becomes the cornerstone of regional progress, transcending mere physical structures to embody the lifelines that bind communities and facilitate economic growth. As the North East invests in its infrastructure, the promise of better accessibility, enhanced connectivity, and improved quality of life becomes the rallying cry, a testament to the commitment to building a foundation for a prosperous future.

Parallel to infrastructure development, politicians must champion job creation initiatives to unleash the full potential of the North East. The £48 million annual devolution grant for 30 years, coupled with additional funding streams, serves as a catalyst for economic growth. The creation of mayoral development corporations demonstrates the commitment to stimulating private sector growth and fostering job creation within the region. A strategic focus on sustainable economic growth not only elevates living standards but also reinforces the sense of community pride.

By working together strategically across the region key economic regeneration sites can be identified and agreed on. The natural resources in the region to help mitigate the climate emergency put us in a strong position for net zero investment but the region must work in unison to identify these key sites. The growth in one has the potential for a ripple effect, helping attract more business and investment from overseas and creating economies of scale.

There are some compelling reference points overseas which demonstrate the capacity for success. Economic regions, by creating clusters and critical mass, have successfully redefined their offer. 

Bilbao (Spain) and Lille (France) are two such European conurbations which have similar historic reliance on coal, steel, and shipbuilding to North East England, experiencing similar  economic challenges.

Bilbao, a city that weathered economic decline following the demise of steel and shipbuilding, underwent a remarkable transformation. With a similar economic size to the NEMCA of circa 2.2 million inhabitants, Bilbao and the wider economic hinterland strategically shifted towards knowledge-intensive industries’ proposition. Automotive and ICT became the focal points of Bilbao’s economic revival. The city’s success lies in its cluster development, skills formation, funding mechanisms, and innovative governance, all crucial aspects the North East can further embrace and capitalise on.

Similarly, Lille, facing the closure of coal mines in the late 1980s, charted a course towards economic rejuvenation. Leveraging its strategic location and past industrial capacity, Lille also embraced a focus on cluster excellence, concentrating on sectors like aeronautics and renewable energy. Both city regions have focused on supporting innovation, particularly in collaboration with its universities, with extensive R&D projects, mirroring the North East’s commitment to higher education and research as a catalyst for economic growth.

As the physical foundations take shape, and we further refine our own clusters of economic excellence which separate us from other regions, the North East’s brand identity will take shape. However, this process is not a top-down endeavour; it is a collective narrative crafted by the people who live and work in the North East. The brand ideology reflects the values, aspirations, and unique strengths of the region, creating a sense of pride and ownership among its inhabitants, but also a truly unique proposition. It must capture the quintessential essence of what makes the North East different. The collective effort to shape the North East’s identity ensures that it resonates authentically with those who call the region home. This must not be a logo – it needs to be a creative, compelling and inclusive identity, representative of all the stakeholders with absolute buy-in. 

Specialist marketing and content agencies step into the spotlight at this juncture, tasked with translating the essence of the North East into a compelling brand narrative. This collaborative effort between politicians, businesses, and marketing experts ensures that the region’s identity is not imposed but organically derived from the shared experiences and ambitions of its residents. Through strategic branding, the North East can project itself as a hub of innovation, resilience, and inclusivity, attracting investment and fostering a positive image on the national and global stage.

The North East Devolution Deal is not merely a bureaucratic agreement; it is a transformative journey that stretches beyond administrative shifts. Politicians must wield their influence not only in negotiating powers but also in articulating a vision that captures the hearts and minds of the region’s inhabitants. As infrastructure projects materialise and job opportunities blossom, the brand identity of the North East takes shape organically, reflecting the resilience, innovation, and unity of its people. The devolution deal stands as a testament to the region’s ability to forge a unique path toward prosperity, guided by the collective wisdom and aspirations of its diverse communities. In this transformative process, the North East emerges not only as an advanced region but as a dynamic entity with a rich tapestry of stories, a beacon of progress and resilience across the United Kingdom.

The next step in the process requires Chief Executives of each of the councils and combined authorities to also give approval to proceed before the Government can then make the order. This is expected to take place early this year, with elections to appoint a new elected mayor for the North East in May.