THE political stars are aligned for a once-in-a-generation event. We have a government elected on the promise of “levelling up”, of raising up the forgotten-about areas of the north, and with crucial elections next week, the region is centre stage in the political spotlight.

This is as welcome as it is overdue.

The phrase “levelling up” has great resonance with people who are fiercely proud of this brilliant area but who feel it has been overlooked, or taken for granted, by successive governments and institutions from distant London to even further away Brussels.

That’s why they were prepared to loan Boris Johnson their vote in December 2019, to see if there really could be a change for the better.

Now comes the time to make sure that the promised change really begins – and that is what The Northern Echo’s new levelling up campaign is all about.

The Northern Echo:

We want the politicians to deliver on their promises. We want to applaud them when they succeed and hold their feet to the fire when they fail, because, ultimately, we want to see our communities share in a new prosperity.

After much talk, the process of levelling did begin in the Budget. Teesside was awarded one of the first, and innovative, freeports with the potential to create a new generation of jobs, and Darlington is to become a Treasury campus, with more than 750 jobs being shipped out of the capital to change the mindset of the way government works.

But this is just the beginning. Levelling up has to go deeper than that, particularly as we begin to build back after the pandemic. It can’t just be as superficial as transplanting jobs. It must go down into the social and cultural grassroots of our communities as well as provide a balance for the high level economic headlines.

The Northern Echo:

Next Thursday, we will elect a new raft of politicians to pursue this agenda. In many ways, the winners will have the chance to shape the agenda because “levelling up” is still an unquantifiable slogan without any targets to judge it by.

As part of our campaign, we will lead the discussions with them as they push to level up the historic gap in transport infrastructure spending, or to address the problems that mean the average person in the North-East has the shortest life expectancy in England.

This demand for action and for change is all the more pressing because we know, thanks to this alignment of the political stars, because of the result of the December 2019 election, the region is in the spotlight in way that it hasn’t been since the early days of Tony Blair’s government in 1997.

The politicians know it. It is as if they have rediscovered the region, blizzarding us with prime ministerial and party leader visits. Hartlepool is the most important by-election in 30 years; the Tees Valley mayoral contest is subject to much more attention than the battle in London, and even the county council elections in Durham will tell us so much about how people are buying in to this promise of “levelling up”.

It is crucial that we, and our elected representatives, seize this moment while the stars are aligned in our favour. We cannot allow Whitehall to think that a few Budget announcements mean that the Tees Valley has got its dues; we have to keep Boris Johnson honest.

He may have got Brexit done, but now we are going to ensure that after all the promises he lives up to levelling up.

  • The Northern Echo invites you and your organisation to be involved in this campaign.  For more information email Diane Searle on 07824694498