North East universities are set to receive a boost in the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement on December 3.
The Chancellor, George Osborne, said he wanted to strengthen the region’s role as a world leader in life sciences such as medicine and genetics.
He was speaking to The Journal at Westminster as insisted the North East would benefit from his plans to create a “Northern Powerhouse” in the North of England.
The aim is to bring cities together and create a single economic area to rival London, but critics say high profile schemes such as a planned high speed line across the Pennines have tended to focus on Manchester and Leeds.
Asked by The Journal for assurances the North East would not be forgotten, Mr Obsorne said the region would benefit from plans to boost universities and potentially also from related plans to invest in teaching hospitals.
He also argued that the North East would benefit from a new high speed line between Manchester and Leeds, as well as from the planned HS2 high speed line between Leeds, Birmingham and London.
Mr Osborne announced plans to draw up a long-term economic plan for every region of the country before his Budget statement, likely to be in March next year.
And he dropped a heavy hint that regions hoping to win extra funding and autonomy in deals similar to the £1 billion package agreed with Greater Manchester earlier this month, should follow Manchester’s example and agree to create a directly-elected mayor.
Mr Osborne warned that London “threatens to dominate our economy more and more” if action is not taken to boost the rest of the country.
He said: “I think we address it not by pulling London down as some would suggest, but by building the rest up.
“And that is what I am seeking to do with the initiative I describe as the Northern Powerhouse.”
The aim was to turn the cities of the North into a single economic unit, although they would continue to be distinct and separate cities in every other way, he said.
He added: “It’s what we are doing now by looking at bringing great science and learning to our northern universities. These are the jewel in the crown of these northern cities, the strength of the universities and the strength of their teaching hospitals, and in the Autumn statement we’ll have more to say about the investment we can make in that and in the transport links.”
Asked specifically for reassurances that the North East would not be forgotten, he said: “Tyneside and Teesside are a very important part of this.
“There are some very interesting ideas coming out of the universities there about what we can do to support life sciences, where we have particular national strength at Newcastle.
“Then of course there is the issue of the A1, a vital transport link up to Newcastle and beyond, to the Scottish border, and whether we can do more to relieve congestion on it - congestion around Newcastle and Gateshead but also congestion further up the road towards Alnwick.
“So we are looking very carefully at those plans on the A1, proving that all of the North of England is part of this idea that we are developing.”
The Chancellor pointed out that Newcastle was one of five cities which helped draw up a transport plan for the North which he was putting into effect.
But he added: “Inevitably because the project that’s had the most coverage is the potential to speed up the link across the Pennines from Manchester to Leeds, people might tend to think that we are only talking about Manchester and Leeds” - but this was not correct, he said.
Newcastle is home to the International Centre for Life, where 600 people from 35 countries work including researchers, doctors and nurses as well as people in education and business.
Mr Osborne highlighted Greater Manchester’s decision to create a “metro mayor”, which means a mayor covering the entire combined authority including ten local councils.
He said: “I hope that is a lead that other metro areas will follow.”
Mr Osborne added: “I am a believer in improving and strengthening the civic leadership of these cities . . . I think cities of sufficient size - metro areas - do better when they have directly elected mayors.
“This is clearly the case when you look around the world, at other countries like the United States, like many of our continental neighbours.
“And I think providing local areas want it - we are not trying to impose any model on anyone - we should look to create more of these metro mayors.”