When it comes to city deals, Sunderland appears to have taken the lead.
Among the growing number of devolution weapons available to the Government, the city deal stands out as the clearest gain.
These deals form a partnership between councils and Government. Local authorities get some cash investment, sometimes some new powers, and the Government gets a promise from the council that it will be focused on job creation.
A sign of the demand on the councils comes in the form of the Sunderland South Tyneside city deal, formally signed off earlier this week.
City deals might not have broken through into the popular consciousness, but that doesn’t reduce their importance.
Up to 100-hectares of land - the equivalent of 140 football pitches - is being earmarked for the park to meet pent-up and anticipated longer-term demand for hi-tech manufacturing units. The deal had set down how more than 5,000 jobs could be created and £295m of investment attracted to the site.
Government cash is a little less than expected, at around £5m of the £25m first talked of. Alongside it, though, came confirmation of £82.5m of Government funding towards the new Wear bridge as part of the Sunderland Strategic Transport Corridor between the Port of Sunderland and the A19.
Big news comes and goes in Government announcements, however. No sooner is one city deal signed than the next council is looking for its share. Indeed, councils on Teesside got their city deal the same week and Newcastle already has its agreement in place.
The difference, though, is Nissan. While Sunderland is eager not to be a one-employer city, the presence of one of Europe’s largest car manufacturers means any Government or coalition will have to take note.
Compare Sunderland with Newcastle. The Tyneside city deal paves the way for a new way of using local tax receipts to generate income, allowing the city to build new space for shops and offices.
While this will doubtless create hundreds of jobs, many of these will be in the lower paid service sector, and will compete with office and shopping jobs across the country.
In Sunderland, the plan is a little more ambitious, though perhaps less well-funded by Government.
An advanced manufacturing park will mean not just a home for Nissan’s supply chain, but also the chance to create a home for new motor industries, spreading the risk to the city while helping create exactly the type of manufacturing jobs ministers and shadow ministers are desperate to be linked to.
Newcastle does have an industrial base to be proud of. The banks of the River Tyne are home to many successful offshore firms.
In Sunderland, though, there is a detailed plan now to grow an industry which one leader predicts could be larger than Nissan itself, already responsible for some 6,000 jobs.
Council leader Paul Watson made that clear yesterday when he used a council cabinet meeting to set out further steps to bring in jobs.
He said: “The cabinet is looking at how we begin works, applications and permissions to accommodate predicted demand for industrial space in the area north of the Sunderland Nissan plant.
“This work ranges from site investigations, planning policy and applications, traffic modelling and road design, infrastructure works and land acquisitions.
“The city deal is all about making a step change in advanced manufacturing centred on the automotive sector, significantly increasing opportunities for enterprise and employment in the North East. The proposals within the city deal are extremely significant and are likely to produce a legacy as significant as Nissan’s first investment in Sunderland.”
Alongside this comes the Combined Authority. Seven council leaders from Northumberland down to Durham have formed a legally binding new authority covering transport, job creation and skills training.
All seven of those leaders met this week with cities minister Greg Clark to discuss the next steps for the region after he joined Sunderland and South Tyneside council leaders to officially sign the jobs deal.
Chair of the North East Combined Authority, Simon Henig, said: “I hope this sends a strong message that we are ready and able to work together to deliver what this region needs to transform its economic fortunes.
“These meetings will ensure there is good shared knowledge and understanding both regionally and nationally and that we tackle improving the economy, transport and skills together in a unified way.”
Mr Clark said: “I was pleased to be able to attend the constructive meeting with the seven local authorities and the Local Enterprise Partnership. By working so closely together, the North East can make the most of the powers the Government is devolving to them to create a new era of prosperity for everyone in the region.”
And Paul Woolston, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership said: “Through the strategic economic plan we have already shown the strength of partnership working, developing a cohesive and inclusive plan to create more and better jobs for the North East. Today’s meeting represents the next step in this journey. By working together we will strengthen the North East offer, attracting greater levels of investment and building our national and international reputation to enable us to grow a prosperous economy.”
The biggest deal since Nissan
Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, and Coun Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, talk about what the City Deal means.
The City Deal signing on Monday is probably one of the most important moments for our region since the arrival of Nissan in the 1980s. It gives us an exciting opportunity to boost manufacturing around Sunderland and South Tyneside, benefiting the wider region by helping to redress the economic balance.
First and foremost it gives us the power to be in charge of our own destiny. The Government recognises how the City Deal is going to be a catalyst for future economic growth - to create jobs and opportunities for local people both now and in the future. Transferring powers from Central Government to a partnership like Sunderland and South Tyneside means we will be able to achieve economic growth, not just for our area, but for the whole of the North East.
The deal is helping us to put in place infrastructure and developments as we expand our manufacturing base, as well as supporting and benefiting the current Enterprise Zone and other employers.
A staggering £295m of private sector investment is expected as part of this project as well as the creation of more than 5,000 new jobs. Jobs that people in the region so desperately want and need.
We have worked closely with the Government, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP), and we have received tremendous backing from the business and private sector, there is real drive and ambition behind this City Deal. We are rolling up our sleeves and getting things done.
What makes the partnership between Sunderland and South Tyneside unique is its strength and vision. We are totally united in our goals, we want to bring economic prosperity to the whole area and are working towards that together.
We don’t just share a border; the A19 is the lifeblood of manufacturing and industry in the region. By working together we have been able to bring investment and infrastructure that will not only address the jobs gap we have now, but will provide a vehicle for long-term sustained jobs and economic growth for the future.
As a strategic investment corridor, the A19 is at the heart of the City Deal. It is a crucial asset for linking local businesses to their regional, national and international counterparts. It is also key to boosting our economy and the improvements will help to maximise the investment and employment potential for the area. As well as the new 100 hectare International Advanced Manufacturing Park, more than £9m has been earmarked for the infrastructure schemes to help traffic entering and exiting the A19 corridor – further supporting economic growth.
And, as another part of this A19 jigsaw, the Government said only two weeks ago that multi-million-pound improvements are due at one of the region’s most notorious bottlenecks – the Testo’s roundabout.
Our next challenge is to tackle public transport links - something about which we feel very passionately. There may be the need for a new Metro link between Washington and South Tyneside for example. The City Deal may be signed but we certainly aren’t complacent. We will continue to work together to do what is best for Sunderland and South Tyneside and make real positive change for the future.
The International Advanced Manufacturing Park, built on the border of both authorities will not only create much-needed highly skilled jobs in the automotive, off-shore and other hi-tech sectors, it will also build on our region’s manufacturing heritage.