Column by Jonathan Walker as published in the Journal (31 January).
Earlier this week we helped to bring together businesses from across the region to give their input into the consultation process for the North of Tyne devolution deal.
To have so many businesspeople give up their afternoon to ensure their voice was heard was extremely heartening.
We firmly believe that devolution brings significant opportunities to grow the region’s economy.
However, we also believe that these opportunities will only be realised, and that devolution will only be a success, if business views and expertise sit at the heart of the decision making process.
Hearing about the successes and challenges of the ongoing devolution process in Greater Manchester also reaffirmed those views. It also reminded us that Manchester is now already on its sixth deal.
Devolution should not be seen as a solely political process, but an economic one too. In time, if managed correctly, it should allow our region to have a far greater say and much more control over economic decision making that affects the business environment.
Now that an initial North of Tyne agreement has been signed, there are two clear priorities.
Firstly, that agreement must be enacted and become a reality.
Secondly, a process of deciding how new powers and funding will be exercised and used will need to be carried out as soon as possible, so we are in the best position to capitalise on devolution from day one.
Again, this is a process that must draw on the good will and expertise of the local business community.
Earlier this month we set out our Stronger North East campaign for business growth in our region.
While many of the messages in there are aimed at national politicians, there is a lot we can do in our own region to achieve our ambitions.
To grow our influence, we can ensure we speak with one voice or with a common message about our biggest assets and greatest investment needs. On transport, we can align local schemes and funding with a clear list of priorities to reverse decades of under-investment.
On skills, we can continue to champion local initiatives to bring the worlds of education and business closer together, while we can also bring stakeholders together from across the economy to ensure our region is the most welcoming for the worlds brightest and best.
Devolution does not achieve these things on its own. It is a means to an end. We’re at the start of a journey in the North of Tyne area, one that hopefully will encompass more of the region in the future, and we’ll be doing all we can to make sure it leads to a good destination.