Gateshead's Sheena Ramsey and Newcastle's Pam Smith welcome the mayor being voted in today. Credit: NGI


Mayor heralds chance to act regionally

The North East’s incoming mayor will drive further relationship-building with government and investors, according to Pam Smith and Sheena Ramsey, chief executives of Newcastle and Gateshead councils.

The winning candidate elected on Thursday will head the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority which covers seven council boroughs: County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland. The eagerly awaited £4.2bn devolution deal was agreed in October 2023, with funding for transport, education, skills, housing and regeneration.

Place North East sat down with Newcastle’s Pam Smith and Gateshead’s Sheena Ramsey to gauge the excitement at this pivotal moment.

On regional scale

Pam Smith: It’s obviously been a lot of hard work by all the leaders, all the chief executives, to get us to that point, to get us a devolution deal. That first devolution deal is the best first devolution deal ever. And followed quickly by the trailblazer. We get the mayor and that gives devo some more momentum, but momentum that’s been there building for the last two years when we’ve been actively negotiating the deal.

Sheena Ramsey: It is so exciting, it really does feel as though the North East is on the cusp of greatness, because the relationships politically – all different parties represented – are really the best I’ve ever seen them.

PS: Through devolution, it’s about seeing the special relationship between Newcastle and Gateshead, and asking how do we leverage that under devolution, and make the propositions regional propositions? We’ve got a real strength between Newcastle and Gateshead and we’re now building on that as part of our devolution offer. We can do things at scale.

One of the main things for us is building relationships with other government agencies. For example, Crown Estates, which owns the seabed, and making sure that they understand the level of our ambition, and how we can how we can work with them in the future. It’s about looking now at what those relationships deliver.

SR: For me it will be interesting to see what the universities can do, in terms of the investment that they’re bringing, I’m amazed at their research capacity and the conversations around how we realise the potential of students and startups. How do we translate what universities are doing into real jobs and real sectors in the North East.

On the green economy

PS: I see Newcastle Gateshead, and the wider region, as the home of green and blue energy. We’ve got a skilled workforce that can transition from oil and gas into renewables. Some places haven’t got a workforce, they’re starting from scratch, whereas we are transitioning. As an area, we want to see growth on the back of our excellence in renewable energy, and all the spin-off supply chains that go with that. We’re working really hard to understand how we can get a complete supply chain, to make the North East the first sustainable region because we have the capacity to do that with the right level of investment.

SR: We could be such an exciting testbed being the first sustainable region because of the combination of the geography and the assets that we’ve got. We’ve got our own hydrogen fueled energy system in Gateshead, we really need the government to start to up its game on things around the use of hydrogen batteries.

On tackling inequality

PS: Thanks to devolution we’ll be investing in our people like we’d like we’ve never invested before because we’ve got the adult skills budget. We can come together on education, we can support people into being a part of that inclusive economy. Our devolution deal is about investing in needed infrastructure. The deal really recognises the talent and the untapped potential of our people across the region.

SR: At the heart of the devolution deal is tackling inequality and poverty. It’s not just about the economic regeneration of an area, but it’s for all of the people of the area to benefit from it. The levels of inequality are staggeringly high and often in very close proximity. This devolution deal is about making sure that everybody benefits from it.

Check the Place North East website for results and analysis in the coming days.


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