North East leaders call for Government to support region's recovery from covid pandemic

North East leaders have praised the success of covid vaccinations and a driving down of infections in the region, but called on the Government to provide support so communities can finally shake-off the pandemic and bounce back from its devastating impact.

By Ross Robertson
Tuesday, 9th February 2021, 3:58 pm

The LA7 group said infection rates were now in decline and the vaccine programme was proving a success in the North East, but the region has been hit hard and the Government needed to make good on its pledge to ‘level-up’ the area’s communities if they were to recover and thrive after the pandemic.

The body is made of the leaders of Sunderland, South Tyneside, Northumberland, Durham, Newcastle, Gateshead and North Tyneside Councils, as well as  North of Tyne Mayor  Jamie Driscoll and  Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Kim McGuinness.

The LA7 statement reads: “The last seven days have seen our infection rates slowly decline while our local NHS colleagues are continuing their brilliant work in delivering the vaccination programme at great speed.

North East leaders have called on the Government to set out how they will 'level-up' the region to help it bounce back from the pandemic

“It is thanks to this and the efforts of everyone in the region, that we can be cautiously optimistic looking forward.”

The leaders say they have worked together to set up a regional recovery group and pointed to bids for economic support, including a comprehensive transport and digital plan, which were submitted for the North East in the autumn.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to publish a roadmap out of lockdown on February 22, and Chancellor Rishi Sunak will set out the Budget on March 3.

LA7 leaders say both dates are key to the future direction of both the public health and economic responses to Covid-19, and pressed Ministers to spell out ‘how they will turn their words about levelling-up into action’.

The North East leaders said they had been in regular discussions with Government, the local MPs, and other partners to secure the best possible deal for the region “which is inclusive based on the principles of people and place”.

“Our businesses need support to reopen when appropriate and trade in a covid-secure way, to give our communities the confidence and assurance in slowly getting back to something approaching normality,” the LA7 chiefs said.

“An economic shock of this nature requires a response of the same scale and we have demonstrated to government how we will work together to transform and reimagine the North East economy with a comprehensive, joined up plan, but to do so we need the resources to match our ambitions.

“Our challenges are clear with 97% of our business impacted by COVID, an extra 36,000 people claiming unemployment benefit and a significant number of workers still on furlough.”

They added: “This region has the appetite, energy, and the skills to play a leading role in the national recovery with a focus on jobs and wellbeing with low carbon at its heart.

“We are seeking significant devolution of resources and confirmation of existing business cases, including Transforming Cities funding.”

Leaders called for the Government to support the region with by investing in its Connected North East programme over a five-year period including:

:: £100 million invested in transport projects each year

:: £100 million invested in supporting digital connectivity each year

:: Devolve further powers to provide for integrated management of our transport network

:: Sustain revenue funding to support public transport services

:: Invest and upgrade national infrastructure assets for our region, including the East Coast Main Line and major roads schemes.

The LA7 statement added: “Public Health remains our top priority which is why we say thank you to everyone for doing their bit – even after they have had their vaccination – to protect themselves, their loved ones, friends, and our great region.

“It is highly likely social distancing, reduced social contact, alongside face coverings will be required for some time to come while it is to be hoped the increased awareness of the importance and impact of good hygiene is a lesson everyone has learned and will continue to follow.

“But it is also time to turn constructive discussions on our future direction into meaningful actions.

“Our plans will give businesses back their viability and our workforce back their employability – a connected North East is the unifying solution. We have set out our ambitions clearly and hope Ministers will work with us to ensure this region leads the country in economic recovery and is not left behind.”