"Transformational" elected mayor a year on - not much action, few targets, lack of substance, but new offices

June 18, 2020 11:14 AM
Greg Stone on the busesWhen the North of Tyne Devolution Deal and elected mayor were announced, many of the opinion-formers in the business world, media and PR sector, and upper echelons of the public sector in our region were keen to hail the news as "transformational" for the North of Tyne. A reasonable observer might feel that a little time may be needed to get up and running and put its plans into action. Yet a year on from the election of Mayor Driscoll, it is difficult to see much sign of the promised transformation, and few in the region can point to many substantial achievements to date.
This week's launch of a "staged economic recovery plan" by the North East Covid-19 Economic Response Group - the mayor and colleagues on the North of Tyne and North East Combined Authorities and the North East Local Economic Partnership - has at last given the Mayor's communications team something to communicate.
Reading through its 12 pages, I am struck by the lack of specific actions, targets, and outcomes. Much of it consists of "asks of government", along with graphs and charts showing the admittedly gravely worrying economic impact of Covid about to hit the region. The remainder is painfully short on detail.
The Response Group talks of doing what it is already doing, including distributing Government Covid grant aid to small businesses. Its medium term plans include initial planning of long term responses. In the long term, regional transformation nirvana will be attained. But I can't find much substance beyond vague and aspirational talk of innovation, sectoral support and help to retrain people made redundant by the recession. I can't see that there's an obvious plan for transforming the region's economy and transforming the lives of its people. A pledge that "70% of new jobs will be Good Jobs" sounds promising, but it appears to suggest that the rest won't be.
It's not just Covid-19's aftermath that will have a major impact on the region's economy The looming impact of a No Deal Brexit later this year is hinted at, with mention of "a strategic working group to co-ordinate internationalisation" and "completion of our proposals to facilitate trade through a Free Zone". Despite the marginalised Mayor's Momentum leanings, it is a Conservative-Labour coalition that's calling the shots on the North of Tyne's Cabinet.
Still, it's not all bad news. The North of Tyne Combined Authority has just agreed a long term lease of a floor of a new prestige office building at the Helix, keeping the Mayor, his left-wing policy advisors, and his communications team accommodated in comfort pushing pens and shuffling papers as the economic crisis hits. The rest of us may not be quite so fortunate.
This is the text of a letter sent to local media by Cllr Greg Stone, Newcastle Liberal Democrats spokesperson on devolution on Newcastle City Council