Tees Valley – a natural MAA
It was natural for Tees Valley’s five unitary authorities to favour the multi-area agreement approach – they have been working together in a similar way for more than a decade. It was back in 1996 that the unitary authorities of Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees set-up the Tees Valley Joint Strategy Unit to provide cross-boundary, but sub-regional, co-operation.
The JSU has now established a successful record in co-ordinating strategic approaches to economic development, transport, spatial planning, waste management and major housing schemes. It also runs a £25m economic development programme for the regional development agency, One NorthEast.
Tees Valley is proud of its success in attracting investment and it has economically outperformed most of northern England. But the JSU and its private sector partners believe it is essential that the sub-regional infrastructure – especially transport – is developed much further to allow growth to accelerate. That planned development now lies at the heart of what the MAA will focus on. This will involve making the most of the new Teesport deep sea container port and expansion of logistics facilities at Durham Tees Valley Airport. The partner councils believe they must also work together to make better use of the existing economic infrastructure to increase local competitiveness and income, which in turn will help the authorities fulfil their enhanced ‘place shaping’ role.
The creation of an ambitous new Tees Valley Metro scheme to improve links between the five towns is one of the key objectives of the sub-regional group. The MAA will cover the three main ‘transformational’ capital funding streams – regeneration, housing and transport –on a sub-regional basis and in doing so, provide greater flexibility in how they are spent and improve the return on investment. Similarly, the MAA itself is intended to be simple and flexible.
In turn, the MAA commits the partners to delivering government departments’ Public Service Agreement targets, Departmental Strategic Objectives and contribute to Regional Performance Indicators. It is recognised, though, that the MAA is neither superior nor inferior to the authorities’ own local area agreements. But the MAA should help councils to achieve their LAAs.
Jonathan Spruce of the JSU says that while the MAA follows on from the work of the JSU, it will achieve more than the JSU would have been able to. “It binds all government departments and all the authorities, and the regional tier as well, together to deliver one plan in a holistic way,” he explains. “It needs the new agreement to do that, so that you get your outputs quicker and that means local people get the outputs quicker and more effectively. It’s about achieving our key priorities quicker and more cost effectively by working together. Because there are different funding streams, it needs this binding framework to achieve that.”
Hartlepool’s mayor Stuart Drummond makes a similar point. “The MAA provides a great opportunity to build on the successful joint working arrangements we have in place in Tees Valley,” he says. “It will be used to help us better deliver on our regeneration, housing and transport projects and long term investment plans for the Tess Valley, improving economic performance and the quality of life for residents. The financial freedoms and flexibilities negotiated through the MAA are unique to the Tees Valley and present a real opportunity to ensure that our large-scale investment priorities get delivered more efficiently and cost effectively.”
To ensure that these ambitions are followed through, strong MAA governance arrangements are in place, including a leadership board with a private sector chair, other representatives of the private and voluntary sectors and all the leaders or elected mayors of the five authorities. The strength of these arrangements is intended to help the five authorities with another objective – to persuade government departments to devolve more responsibilities away from Whitehall and Westminster. The councils want it also to be a means of getting the private sector to work more effectively with statutory bodies.
Hugh Lang, managing director of the privately-owned Durham Tees Valley Airport, is the chair of the leadership board and an enthusiast for the MAA. “We see this as about working more efficiently and quicker for the delivery of projects for the region, that were detailed in the robust business case,” he says. “It’s also about trusting the local authorities to deliver on these projects for the benefit of the region.”
This will lead, Lang believes, to local authorities working “very, very much better” with the local private sector. “A lot of these projects will stimulate further private investment,” he adds. In fact, the airport exemplifies what the MAA is about – it is an asset for all the local authorities in the area and not just one of them. “The airport pulls together people from across the region, both in terms of them supporting the airport, and the airport supporting them,” Lang says.
Nor should it be overlooked that a strong region consists of strong sub-regions. This is certainly the view of the very supportive RDA. One NorthEast’s Assistant Chief Executive (Strategy), Pat Ritchie, explains: “Tees Valley City Region is of significant strategic importance within the North East. The MAA builds on the strong partnerships which already exist in Tees Valley, and sets out how the partners – including One NorthEast – will work together to realise opportunities for growth in this city region.
“One NorthEast has been closely involved in the MAA development process and I can see real benefits emerging, including a clear focus on tackling the barriers to growth in Tees Valley and opportunities to explore new approaches to investment planning and programme development. The process has also allowed the city region to have a serious dialogue with government departments on how they might support it to achieve its ambitions.”
The Tees Valley MAA has already demonstrated not only an impressive ability to bring the key partners to the table, but an even more impressive capacity to get them moving in the same direction. Such unity of purpose suggests they may well achieve their most importatn priority – achieving even stronger economic performance in the future.