'Beauty contest' for government cash slammed by North East leaders as concerns rise over future of the 'Levelling Up' agenda

North East leaders have slammed the ‘”beauty contest” which forces them to compete with each other for vital government cash.

By Nic Marko
Thursday, 14th July 2022, 5:45 pm

Concerns have been growing among the leader of some local authorities in the region over whether the Government’s “Levelling Up” initiative has produced the economic benefits promised.

The pledge has been a flagship policy for ministers in Westminster, who have claimed they want to channel more of the nation’s most important industries and services away from London and the South East.

Bur the leader of Sunderland City Council has questioned when Tyne and Wear will see the impact.

City Hall, Sunderland.

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“There doesn’t seem to be any evidence of any levelling up impacting on our economic picture,” Cllr Graeme Miller told this week’s meeting of the North East Combined Authority’s (NECA) Economic Development Digital Advisory Board.

“It’s important that if you’re going to back something as an economic driver for change, which is what levelling up claimed to be, then it isn’t delivered, local authorities are left with trying to do it.”

Responding, Rory Sherwood-Parkin, corporate lead for policy and insight at South Tyneside Council, noted indicators such as employment and child poverty showed the gap “hasn’t closed really” between the North East and the national average.

He added the Government has introduced the Levelling Up Fund and UK Shared Prosperity Fund for regions to claim additional funding.

The first round of bidding for Levelling Up Funding saw Sunderland awarded £20 million towards a Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy (HICSA).

However, South Tyneside’s bid for a similar project was unsuccessful.

Cllr Miller added while he was pleased Sunderland was successful, he was “disappointed” for South Tyneside and slammed the “beauty contest” bidding process.

He said: “It’s terrible that we have that bidding mechanism.

“The circumstances between Sunderland and South Tyneside are very, very similar and very, very close so it was just bizarre, but that’s the problem when they only give limited money.”

Malcolm Brain, cabinet member for economy at Gateshead Council, added he had concerns whether “Levelling Up” regions like the North East would remain a priority following the current Conservative leadership race.

He said: “There is no guarantee that the next government will feel any commitment to meeting those guarantees.”