The Levelling Up White Paper set out the strategy to rebalance the economy at a national scale. It created broad missions to spur policy action until 2030, commitments to devolve power to local leaders, and plans to kickstart a regeneration revolution. But action also needs to come from below.
Our research programme Levelling Up in Practice gives local policy makers the tools to do exactly this.
Based on quantitative data and qualitative evidence from conversations with local political leaders, businesses, educationalists, community organisers and members of the public, it will develop a playbook to guide policy makers in levelling up the social fabric and economies of the UK’s left-behind places.
Before the final playbook is published in the summer, we will publish several interim reports based on our visits across the UK. These will serve to prompt discussion and unearth common themes, and improve the robustness of the playbook once the research has been concluded.
Our first interim report in the Levelling Up in Practice programme looked at Oldham in Greater Manchester. This research note covers our analysis, findings, and initial recommendations to level up South Tyneside in the North East. These are based on focus groups conducted and meetings with local businesses, local leaders, and community organisations.
There is a growing green economy in South Tyneside due to the Dogger Bank offshore wind farm, the Port of Tyne and other net zero schemes, but the job opportunities this brings are not accessible to many local people. The council should spearhead new programmes that connect local people to this emerging economy. Partnerships could be formed with local businesses and colleges, and green jobs fares organised to showcase local opportunities.
South Tyneside currently has poor public health outcomes and significant social challenges. The area requires a ‘whole-community’ approach to tackling this, bringing in partners from local charities. The council should build on the work it has already done in this area by exploring potential public health campaigns and community initiatives.
Many people in the focus groups we conducted voiced their dissatisfaction with the local public realm, particularly the high street. To address this problem, we propose that the council makes use of the power they are expected to soon have to trigger Compulsory Rent Auctions on long-term vacant properties. This would allow vacant units to be offered to charities, small businesses or even the NHS.
Many focus group participants thought that South Tyneside had missed out on the economic and political benefits that devolution had brought to North of Tyne and the Tees Valley. We propose that the council continues discussions with neighbouring boroughs to create a single Tyne & Wear Combined Authority. At the same time, we also propose devolving certain powers downward to parish councils.
“The future could be bright for South Tyneside – but for too many residents it’s out of reach. While businesses told us about the good jobs they were creating, residents told us things hadn’t been the same since the closure of the pits and the shipyards. Bridging this disconnect is the big levelling up challenge for the area, and will require local leaders from the public, private, and third sector to work together differently.”
“South Tyneside has an enormous amount of potential and is destined to be a major contributor to UK Plc because of our unrivalled position to drive forward the green economy and become the battery of the country, powering the low-carbon revolution.
“There are significant job opportunities in the green economy that are being created locally right now from the Dogger Bank at the Port of Tyne and the new Gigafactory at IAMP to the pioneering Hebburn Minewater and Holborn Renewable Energy Network schemes, but we need further support and investment to maximise these and enable our residents to benefit.
“This new research has highlighted that we have the potential for a bright, green future and can transform and improve the quality of life for our residents by maximising the opportunities from a green economy. Yet this is only if we receive the right targeted support. Our drive and ambition mean that we are moving things forward ourselves, but we need support in the form of policy change, particularly around skills, and funding so that we can realise our full potential.
“Our next round of Levelling Up Fund bids seeks to extend our innovative renewable energy schemes, support further education, transform our town centre economies, particularly through culture, and nurture the green innovation happening in South Tyneside.
“We know we have significant barriers to growth and this new research highlights those, particularly our levels of unemployment and inequality and our need to work in partnership across the borough. We want to continue to engage with local residents and businesses as we move forward.
“As this report suggests, an investment in South Tyneside is not just about the local benefits it can bring, but about our ability to use our strengths, expertise and natural assets for the benefit of UK Plc.”
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