North East would be 'crazy' to reject combined authority says Cities Minister

Cities Minister Greg Clark says the North East will "punch below its weight" until it ends in-fighting

Cities minister Greg Clark
Cities Minister Greg Clark visits the North East

The North East needs the combined local authority to allow it to “punch its weight”, the Government’s Minister for the Cities has insisted.

Speaking to The Journal, Greg Clark said it would be “crazy” for the seven councils involved in creating a new North East region-wide council not to join forces.

And he said a regional authority would be “just the first step” towards winning more Government support and promoting the region nationally and internationally.

Mr Clark, a Minister in the Cabinet Office, is responsible for a range of Government initiatives designed to create jobs and economic growth in the English regions.

But the minister, who is originally from Middlesbrough, said the North East would never achieve its full potential if it was divided.

Plans by councils in Sheffield, West Yorkshire and Liverpool to create combined authorities are set to be approved by Parliament, while Greater Manchester already has one.

Mr Clark said: “One of the problems that’s affected a lot of the big British cities is that there are inherited administrative boundaries that both don’t reflect the true economic geography of the city, and also I think have led to a lot of effort being devoted to parochial arguments between neighbours rather than taking the fight to competitors around the world.

“That’s been true of the North East local authorities just as it has for some of the others.

“What you saw in Greater Manchester are the real dividends that have come from working together from pooling your strengths together and projecting yourselves internationally.

“And I think the North East in particular is the place where that can happen. You have got Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, to say nothing of Sunderland and the other authorities all within a very few short miles from each other – it is crazy not to work together.

“And I think the North East has suffered from that fragmentation in the past.”

He added: “I think that combined authority is a very important step towards the North East being able to punch at its weight rather than below its weight, because I think it has been fragmented in the past,”

But even with a combined authority, the region would still need to fight to win support, he said.

“Creating the combined authority is just the first step. It then needs to be used.

“You need to have good economic plans, you need to make sure that the area nationally and internationally produces the type of bold arguments and propositions, that it beats the drum for itself, in the way that London and Manchester and now Liverpool and Bristol have started to do.”

He said he was confident the combined authority would go ahead, despite disagreements between councils.

“I know there was some argument around Christmas as to whether people could agree with each other.

“I think it would have been a mistake for the North East to have been left alone as a fragmented set of cities when you have Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield all consolidating.

“But I think sense prevailed, not least because the business community expressed themselves very strongly.”

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