A year on from Ben Houchen’s victory in the Tees Valley mayoral contest, the region can point to clear gains from engaging with the first wave of devolution. Like other city regions with Metro Mayors, Teesside has benefited strongly from Philip Hammond’s more generous distribution of funding – helped by Mayor Houchen’s own introduction of the Chancellor’s keynote Conservative conference speech.
That largesse has brought jealous glances from nearby neighbours struggling with tightening local government settlements, but what is notable is the new mayoral team’s urgency at creating new economic opportunities. Embarking immediately to set out the South Tees Development Corporation Masterplan, he has made his support for thousands of new jobs on the site of the Redcar steelworks site a priority with announcements imminent.
A proactive, personal commitment to the region’s industry has struck a chord with local business leaders more used to the long-distance disinterest of Whitehall officials, boosted by visits to Hong Kong and USA to attract inward investment and show off the export potential of the industrial supply chain. Teesport is the biggest port on England’s East Coast so Mayor Houchen’s high profile lobbying of ministers for new “free port” status targets a post-Brexit free trade agreement dividend and is a strong reminder of Teesside’s strong industrial comparative advantages.
There is no doubt that devolution is shaking the lazy stereotype of Tees Valley as the North’s sleeping giant! Indeed, whilst neighbouring Yorkshire and the North East devolution deals remain stuck on the launchpad, Tees Valley’s strong start shows an area pulling together with a clear vision for the future. And when even the local “parmo” chicken and cheese fried delicacy wins rave reviews on BBC Masterchef, then surely anything is possible!