The Tees Valley’s ability to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will depend on the UK government’s willingness to devolve key regeneration decisions to the regions, says a new think tank.
This is the finding of PACE, a think tank dedicated to the dissemination and discussion of Tees Valley policy research.
The findings have been endorsed by the former president of the Confederation of British Industry and chancellor of Teesside University, Paul Drechsler CBE, who has welcomed the establishment of PACE and called for policymakers to act upon its recommendations.
As well as academics from Teesside University, PACE brings together policy and communication experts from across the Tees Valley to produce policy papers, research and thought-leadership to enhance the profile of the Tees Valley and help shape policy.
In the first report published by PACE, “Post-Covid recovery – what now for regional growth?”, Dr Nick Gray, a research associate at Teesside University and Dionne Lee, policy lead at PACE, argue that a Whitehall-centric approach to the aftermath of coronavirus risks failing to take into account the unique needs of regions such as Tees Valley, which could ultimately lead to the failure of the government’s levelling-up agenda.
The report makes the following recommendations and observations:
- Levelling up is a hazy concept in need of greater clarity on exactly what it is and where it applies.
- In the face of pressing economic challenges, regional policy must try to retain a focus on the long-term aspirations for economic growth.
- Regional and local actors should play a key role in economic recovery and growth – the government must trust them and provide them with proper resources.
- Aiming higher means looking further than well-worn regional development tools such as tax incentives and capital spending on eye-catching projects.
- The possibility of a wider spread of public spending on research and development could offer opportunities for the region to boost growth and address some of Tees Valley’s long-term social and economic challenges.
- Low skills and skills shortages remain a challenge. Any levelling up conversation must prioritise investment in human capital and raising educational attainment at all levels.
Paul Drechsler CBE said: “As the United Kingdom develops plans to recover from the significant and long-term impact of the coronavirus, it is imperative that the government takes a highly effective and pragmatic approach and that policy can flex to support the unique needs, core industries and capabilities, and growth sectors of each region.
“The impact of Covid-19 will be deeper and longer-term in certain areas, and this must be factored in if we are to achieve a swift and successful economic turnaround.
“I am delighted to see this highlighted and to endorse the recommendations in this excellent new report.
“I encourage policymakers to consider and take into account the expertise and insight across regions, and to ensure routes to bring this into future decision-making.”
The report notes that proposals such as a freeport for the Tees Valley should be an important part of the policy mix.
However, the benefits of such proposals need to generate deep long-term growth for the regional economy.
It welcomes the freeport assessment from the Tees Valley mayor, which emphasises the need for an economic “high road” for any special economic zone.
The authors also question whether proposed reforms to the planning system, taking planning out of local control, are likely to yield the expected benefits for the region.
It notes that the Tees Valley has traditionally been welcoming to investors and projects such as the South Tees Development Corporation have been dealt with enthusiastically at a local level by the mayor and Combined Authority.
Dr Gray added: “This report shows that if the Tees Valley hopes to recover and thrive after the Covid-19 pandemic, effective multi-level partnership working is required.
“Teesside has a longstanding history of effective partnership and it is essential that the government works with local and regional actors to builds on this to minimise impact and support regional growth.”
Professor Paul Crawshaw, dean of the School of Social Sciences, Humanities & Law at Teesside University, said: “Evidence shows that, for areas like the Tees Valley, the Covid-19 pandemic will further deepen already entrenched inequalities.
“If the rhetoric of levelling up is to become reality, decision-makers must take the findings of this report seriously and act now to instigate intersectoral collaboration and ambitious economic investment in people and industries.”
For more information on PACE visit tees.ac.uk/schools/ssshl/pace.cfm