North East offers more to the UK economy than Northern Ireland, says think tank

Leading figures say local power could unlock 'untapped potential' and campaign for devolution 'must not lose momentum'

Durham Council leader Simon Henig
Durham Council leader Simon Henig

A campaign to bring more power to the region gained fresh momentum as it emerged the North East is already contributing more to the economy than Northern Ireland.

A report by the think tank IPPR North shows the region accounts for 3% of the UK economy, while Northern Ireland, which has its own assembly and is almost entirely self-governing, is behind 2.1%.

It adds weight to calls for devolution as leading figures say investment administered locally could unlock “untapped potential”.

Councillor Simon Henig, chairman of the North East Combined Authority, said: “This report demonstrates the huge potential which exists across the North, but also the need to accelerate devolution away from Whitehall to close the gap which exists with London and the South East.

“Scotland and Wales have begun to benefit in recent years from greater control over infrastructure and skills and this pattern now needs to be followed across Northern England as well.

“I would also like to praise the contribution of IPPR North whose thoughtful reports have made a real difference to the national agenda over the past ten years.”

NECC Policy and Research Manager, Mark Stephenson, added: “For years we have been saying that the North East boasts vast untapped potential and, with investment in the right areas, could provide so much more for UK PLC. This report is a clear demonstration of what we can deliver without the levels of infrastructure investment enjoyed elsewhere in the UK, without the benefit of the large-scale grant support available in Scotland and all against a backdrop of huge cuts to the public sector.

“This report comes from the organisation that discovered spending in the North East on transport infrastructure is 500 times less per head than in London, highlighting the disparities in investment across the UK. In many respects it is astonishing that our businesses are producing so much with so little support, compared to other parts of the country.

“It is more important now more than ever that we do not lose momentum. Clearly certain policies are better made in local or regional areas and this must happen with the buy-in of the business community and without delays which could engender lost opportunities for wealth and job creation.”

The report also showed that the North, as a whole, contributes 19% to the national economy, compared to 13% for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined

Ed Cox, director of IPPR North, said a think tank office was needed in Newcastle to examine the case for devolution here in detail.

He said: “The North’s potential is starting to be recognised. While there have long been calls for a rebalancing of the UK economy, the evidence that more closely connected northern cities will bring significant economic benefits for the whole nation is now clear. Our maxim, ‘northern prosperity is national prosperity’, has become common currency in the corridors of Whitehall and in city and town halls across the North.

“In 10 years’ time, with the right leadership and with a revitalised local democracy, there is no reason why the north of England shouldn’t take its place alongside the most prosperous Northern European regions. But if that is to happen more needs to be done to develop good policy ideas which can be taken up by the politicians. That’s why I’d like to see other think tanks on the IPPR North model set up in cities like Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle. At present, UK think tanks are too focused on central government in London.”

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