Bright green future on the cards for South Tyneside - but it is out of reach for too many people, according to experts
Think-tank Onward has published findings of new research into the prospects of areas such as South Tyneside as part of its ‘Levelling Up in Practice programme’, which aims to provide politicians and policy makers with practical and low-cost ways to quickly level-up areas.
The research outlines some of the key challenges facing the borough, including:
:: Productivity – the borough is in the bottom 1% of the country for the productivity of workers, with only three local authority areas less productive (East Renfrewshire, Castle Point, and Gosport)
:: Unemployment – almost one in four households are workless (23.2%) compared to fewer than one in seven nationally (13.6%)
:: Healthcare – 41% of neighbourhoods in South Tyneside are in the bottom tenth nationally for health deprivation, and there is a 12-year difference in male life expectancy between the healthiest ward (Cleadon and East Boldon - 83.6) and the least healthy (Primrose - 71.5)
:: Drug abuse – deaths from drug misuse have doubled from 5.8 per 100,000 population to 12.6 between 2010 and 2020, over four times the rate of the increase nationally.
Adam Hawksbee, Onward’s Deputy Director and Head of Levelling Up, said: “The future could be bright for South Tyneside – but for too many residents it’s out of reach.
"While businesses told us about the good jobs they were creating, residents told us things hadn’t been the same since the closure of the pits and the shipyards.
"Bridging this disconnect is the big levelling up challenge for the area, and will require local leaders from the public, private, and third sector to work together differently.”
Onward’s interim report sets out four key areas which experts say policymakers in South Tyneside should focus on to level up the area:
:: Economy – There is a growing green economy in South Tyneside due to the Dogger Bank offshore wind farm, the Port of Tyne and other net zero schemes, but the job opportunities this brings are not accessible to many local people. The council should spearhead new programmes that connect local people to this emerging economy.
Partnerships could be formed with local businesses and colleges, and green jobs fares organised to showcase local opportunities.
:: Public services – South Tyneside currently has poor public health outcomes and significant social challenges.
The area requires a ‘whole-community’ approach to tackling this, bringing in partners from local charities.
Onward says the council should build on the work it has already done in this area by exploring potential public health campaigns and community initiatives.
:: Pride – Onward said many people in focus groups voiced their dissatisfaction with the local public realm, particularly the high street.
To address this problem, the think-tank proposes the council makes use of anticipated new powers to trigger Compulsory Rent Auctions on long-term vacant properties.
Experts say this would allow vacant units to be offered to charities, small businesses or even the NHS.
:: Devolution – Onward said many focus group participants thought South Tyneside had missed out on the economic and political benefits that devolution had brought to North of Tyne and the Tees Valley.
The think-tank proposes the council continues discussions with neighbouring boroughs to create a single Tyne & Wear Combined Authority.
At the same time, the team proposes devolving certain powers downward to parish councils.
Councillor Tracey Dixon, Leader of South Tyneside Council said: “South Tyneside has an enormous amount of potential and is destined to be a major contributor to UK Plc because of our unrivalled position to drive forward the green economy and become the battery of the country, powering the low-carbon revolution.
“There are significant job opportunities in the green economy that are being created locally right now from the Dogger Bank at the Port of Tyne and the new Gigafactory at IAMP to the pioneering Hebburn Minewater and Holborn Renewable Energy Network schemes, but we need further support and investment to maximise these and enable our residents to benefit.“This new research has highlighted that we have the potential for a bright, green future and can transform and improve the quality of life for our residents by maximising the opportunities from a green economy.
"Yet this is only if we receive the right targeted support. Our drive and ambition mean that we are moving things forward ourselves, but we need support in the form of policy change, particularly around skills, and funding so that we can realise our full potential.”She added: “Our next round of Levelling Up Fund bids seeks to extend our innovative renewable energy schemes, support further education, transform our town centre economies, particularly through culture, and nurture the green innovation happening in South Tyneside.“We know we have significant barriers to growth and this new research highlights those, particularly our levels of unemployment and inequality and our need to work in partnership across the borough. We want to continue to engage with local residents and businesses as we move forward.“As this report suggests, an investment in South Tyneside is not just about the local benefits it can bring, but about our ability to use our strengths, expertise and natural assets for the benefit of UK Plc.”
Onward said the final playbook will be published later this year and will provide local leaders with several flexible plans that they can use to improve the economic and social prospects of their areas.