A respected global economist has said the region must “speak with one voice” to attract outside investment.
Ian Shepherdson, chief economist of Pantheon Macroeconomics, also criticised the Government for spending cuts which, he said, had left the economy lagging behind.
He said while the North East was at the mercy of cuts, it also suffered from being “politically monolithic”.
A meeting of members of Isos, the social landlord specialist, heard the comments at the Hilton Hotel in Gateshead last night.
At the event for a debate on the North East economy were Edward Twiddy, chief executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP); Pat Ritchie, chief executive of Newcastle City Council; Keith Lorraine, chief executive of Isos; Philip Barnes, group land and planning director for Barratt Developments, and Matt Leach, the chief executive of housing think tank HACT.
Mr Shepherdson said: “I don’t think we are going to be stuck in this slump forever, but at the same time politicians need to be organised to take advantage of the upturn when it comes.
“They need to work closely with the LEPs, they need to listen to the Adonis recommendations and the whole region needs to exert pressure on Whitehall to get some of those things done.”
Former Labour minister Lord Adonis urged North East councils to work together on subjects such as transport and jobs.
Mr Shepherdson went on: “Part of the problem, looking at things from a Whitehall perspective, is we look like a very monolithic region.
“We have got two parliamentary seats that aren’t Labour seats and that’s difficult because the Labour party takes us for granted and the Conservative Party has written us off. That’s a very awkward position to be in.” He said: “Although this region might be politically monolithic, it is still very important to the UK economy.” Work due to be carried out on the region’s infrastructure was encouraging, but he said: “There are various things which are positive for the medium term, but you have to put all of this in the context of a region that is being squeezed by Government action.”
Mr Shepherdson called for civic leaders to work together and applauded plans for local authorities to join forces to form a supercouncil which could help LEPs bring “other Nissans” to the region.
He said: “We need to have one voice speaking to the wider world and making it clear that this is a place that welcomes inward investment and has a skilled workforce, especially in manufacturing but also in services.”
However, he saved harsh criticism for the Government and its part in “weakening” the economy.
He said: “The economy is still very weak. We have been essentially flatlining for the last three years while America has grown. This is very disappointing and it is a reflection of the Government’s policies.
“The very aggressive cuts in spending and the tax increases have really held back this economy.”