Making Our River Great Again

OK, I admit that’s a rather click-baity headline, but I couldn’t resist it as the regeneration of our riverside industries is the topic of this week’s update.

(I have no plans to produce a line of red MORGA baseball caps by the way).

On Tuesday evening I had the privilege of chairing the Economic Prosperity sub-committee. The committee meets every other month for its public sessions, plus other bits of business in between. Chairing it is one of the highlights of my role as a Councillor. It’s also a great responsibility as located as we are, at the far end of the country, and beyond the city limits, we have to work twice as hard to keep our local economy moving forward.

Despite this our borough, since the election of Mayor Norma Redfearn (who is a powerhouse of positivity), has seen the strongest sustained growth of any local authority in the North East. The table below is government data showing ‘GDP per head’ year by year.

One of the challenges in economic development however, is that nothing stands still, meaning that we have to be constantly alert to both opportunities and threats. That’s why it’s important that we look again to the great River Tyne as a driver of future prosperity. The photo that accompanies this piece shows me at the Swan’s Centre for Innovation, a Council run business centre on the site of the historic Swan Hunter Ship Yard in Wallsend. The yard dates back to the 1850’s and was the site on which great ships such as the former flagship of the Royal Navy, HMS Ark Royal was built.

I felt it important for our committee to get out of the magnolia setting of the council offices and to hold our meeting in a location in which we could be inspired. After the Swan’s site closed the council spent years bringing in the investment required to prepare the site for a new life in a new industry. Once the required standards had been achieved a buyer was found – Shepherd Offshore. They are now working hard to win new contracts that will bring the site fully back to life again. Opportunities abound in the offshore wind sector and hopes are high that North Tyneside might be able to begin taking a greater share of this growth industry. We already have other businesses located on the river who are making strides in this area and so it certainly is no pipe dream.

The council’s Head of Regeneration was at the meeting, as he generally is, to field questions from councillors keen to know that the council is being smart with public resources. My main concern was to ensure that when it comes to the regeneration of our riverside assets, we properly consider how to capture maximum benefit for our local residents. We call this our ‘Inclusive Economy Strategy’. It’s an idea that we share with our colleagues in neighbouring authorities, and at the North of Tyne Combined Authority, with whom we collaborate closely on economic development. The point of an inclusive economy is to recognise that when economic value is created (i.e. when businesses make money) that value flows in various directions. Our job is, as best we can, to influence the direction of those flows.

The classic case that readers may think of is that of tax havens – we clearly don’t want any money flowing in that direction (which is why I was pleased that the council passed my Fair Tax resolution back in July). Thankfully, there are many more positive directions for value to flow – ways to get money circulating locally rather than disappearing out of the area. For example, we want to attract apex businesses into the borough around which smaller local businesses can cluster, as part of their supply chain. In this way more people get a slice of the pie.

As you can probably tell, I could talk about this all day, it’s really exciting stuff and it’s all about securing a better future for you and those you hold near and dear.

If you have any questions about my work with the Economic Prosperity committee, or any other aspect of my role as a councillor, you can drop me a line on

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