City leaders have been told to work with Scotland in the run-up to the independence vote or lose out for a generation.
All 12 council leaders from Teesside to Northumberland have been presented with a detailed report setting out how the region must seize its chance now to start growing links with Scotland ahead of a vote on independence.
In areas such as rural tourism, offshore energy and the growing renewables sector, the North East has to start looking at collaboration rather than competition, bosses were warned.
Northumbria University academic professor Keith Shaw, and Jonathan Blackie, the man who was formerly the region’s most senior civil servant, have produced a Borderlands report looking at what the North East and Cumbria must do to make the best of the potential for a new country or more powerful neighbour.
Earlier this year, Scottish First minister Alex Salmond told The Journal he sees the North East as “our closest friends in economic and social terms”, and the region is now urged to build upon that.
He was speaking then at an event organised by South Tyneside council leader Iain Malcolm, who yesterday said councils working towards setting up a new combined authority had to act on Mr Salmond’s message.
“We have to start looking north,” Mr Malcolm said. “It is increasingly clear that we cannot just look to London for growth. While setting up yet another talking shop is not the answer, the councils of the region need to be working towards an annual summit with Scottish counterparts so issues can be raised with Scottish ministers.”
Northumberland County Council is already looking at the potential for closer tourism links, and is set to commission its own study into the economy potential of an independent neighbour across the border.
Last night Prof Shaw said the region faced the “nightmare scenario” of a being stuck between an increasing powerful London and a Scottish resurgence. He added: “There’s a lot at stake. With the independence referendum just over a year away, we need to be thinking about what it could mean for the North East and Cumbria.
“And we need to be expressing our views and concerns to both the UK and Scottish Governments.
“Even if it’s a ‘No’ vote, Scotland will have more autonomy. We’ll need to try and avoid negative impacts in our region – and exploit the opportunities. I could imagine our region making common cause with Scotland on many issues, and our region’s economy benefiting from stronger links with a resurgent Scotland.
“We’ve been used to looking to London and the South East. Now it’s time to seek stronger connections with our neighbours in Scotland.”
Mr Blackie added that the region had a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to create new links with Scotland as they head towards a vote on independence.
Even with the status quo, the proposals already contained in the 2012 Scotland Act allow the Scottish p1arliament to bring in a new Scottish rate of income tax and utilise borrowing powers worth £5bn from 2016.
Stamp duty, land tax and landfill tax are also devolved, councillors have been reminded.
The councils have been told to do what they can to set up a new series of cross-border groups, especially focused around businesses. Members of the local enterprise partnership should be tasked with setting up groups covering areas of the economy that have strong cross-border interests, such as transport, tourism, renewables and oil and gas, the councils have been told.