Last week I had the privilege of being on a panel at Womble Bond Dickinson’s great North East digital sector: 2023 outlook event at the Catalyst in the heart of Newcastle University. The panel I was on was about Digital for Good, a subject I was more than happy to talk about.
The event had two panels and the first covered a broader outlook at the sector, the region and its position within the rest of the country/world. Towards the end of that session the conversation got round to the emerging mayoral authority in the region.
This will give the region two such authorities covering all twelve local authority areas. It can be confusing as there are already two mayors, Houchen in the Tees Valley and Driscoll in the three council areas north of the Tyne.
Bringing all of the authorities under a mayor is a good move. There is no doubt, politics aside, that Houchen has done a great job in raising the profile of Tees Valley. Other mayors have done the same thing, notably Burnham in Manchester.
Inevitably the old chestnut came up as to what to call the area covered by the new combined authority. The event was in Newcastle and so the panel may have been a bit biassed yet even those members who were not from Newcastle suggested that the city should appear prominently in its title. Their argument was that Newcastle had a meaningful global brand. Indeed when I am asked where I am from I always respond in relation to Newcastle. Other cities in the region just don’t have that cachet.
Yes, there will be some bumping of gums, with cries of there is more to the region than just Newcastle but I agree that such an approach would make sense. Throughout the discussions the panel referred to Manchester and London as competitive areas and ones whose success we should emulate. These references make the point very well in that what we refer to as Manchester is really ten local authorities (Bolton, Bury, Manchester, Oldham, Rochdale, Salford, Stockport, Tameside, Trafford and Wigan) while London covers thirty two authority areas.
The new combined authority will be more than the city yet Newcastle is a great shorthand for what the region needs to do.