In May, the North East will, for the first time, vote for an elected mayor for the whole region north of the Tees Valley area up to the Scottish border.
Much has already been said about the race to become the elected mayor, but what powers will the new mayor have and how best can they be exercised for the benefit of the people of the region?
What extra powers over education and skills are there?
According to the government’s own website one of the main areas is that of education and skills: “The deal provides the region with powers to better improve local skills through full devolution of the Adult Education budget and a greater say over the Local Skills Improvement Plan, which brings together local businesses, colleges, and training providers to identify the skills needed to support local growth.”
Using skills to develop the green economy
It is a great opportunity for the region to regain what has been lost over the last 45 years, in terms of the skills base and thinking about what young people can achieve. It is also an extremely important area, looking ahead to the transition to a green economy. I write this on the day when Labour announced the abandonment of its £28 billion green economy pledge. This seems to be a mistake.
Jürgen Maier, the former UK head of Siemens on 31 January, argued that without Labour sticking to its £28 billion pledge, the UK economy would go into steep decline, as we fall ever further behind the economies of our competitors. Given the need to transition to a carbon free economy and that other countries are pushing ahead of us in this respect, this argument seemed to make a lot of sense. Regardless of Labour’s decision to cut the £28 billion green pledge, we need, as both a country and as a region to push on with the transition to the green economy. Consequently, we should be doing what we can in our region to prepare our young people for the transition and see it as a positive opportunity for our region to reclaim some of the industrial power that we started to relinquish one hundred years ago after the First World War.
It could also be an opportunity to overcome problems in Further Education and alleviate the fragmentation currently taking place in that sector. In so doing it could help us to think more deeply about just what we skills we need as a society here in the North East and equip our people with those skills. This should be accompanied by further work linking schools with Adult Education, so that there is as seamless move as possible for young people from school to the adult world, with regards to understanding the need for a green economy, with work done in schools in line with what the government have themselves said, and going further than the government have done so the climate crisis and how we respond to it becoming an overarching theme of the curriculum. Universities can be involved in this work which is demonstrated by the Edinburgh Impact north of the border. On their website they state: “education is key to UK’s net-zero transition.
“Green skills and career pathways must be embedded into every part of education in the UK to help meet climate targets and ensure people thrive in a zero-carbon economy.”
Remembering our heritage
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of the devolved role regarding education and skills is for us to remember just how important the skills of people in our region used to be to the people of the world.
A political leader with the prominence of the elected mayor for the North East could use that position to remind the people of our region and those outside it as well, of just what a wonderful heritage of industrial skills we truly have here.
This is the region where the railways began, where the modern lifeboat was invented, where the hydraulic crane a, the light bulb and the light switch first saw the light of day and where the first turbines were developed, along with the Turbinia, the world’s first turbine driven ship.
The elected mayor could use their position to remind people of this wonderful heritage. Helping through the powers given to them with regards to education and training and using it as an inspiration and a guide to how we could develop in the future as we transition to the green economy.
Achieving a Just Transition
There can be no doubt that we need to need to get Adult Education up to speed in preparation for the transition to the green economy and a Just Transition, which can see good well paid jobs for our young people. We also need an elected mayor for the region, who can promote the Northeast as an energy-producing region, drawing on our heritage as a coal-mining area and our potential as an important green energy producing region.
We have great potential in the development of the green economy. We could generate offshore wind in the North Sea, while also developing solar panels and gig batteries for electric cars. We could also see wind and wave power developed in the Northeast along with the establishment of community energy coops. These could mean that the development of the green economy could also boost community wealth building. Without appropriate changes in education in the region that underpin these developments, it will be harder, if not impossible.
Finally, we need to consider the actual outcomes of the greater powers that will come to the elected mayor regarding education and skills. That is what really matters. What matters is the powers are used in ways that can bring tangible benefits to the region. Using the extra educational powers to improve local skills to help people to be geared up to the green economy can do just that.
Hopefully we will get more power in the North East for us to make our own decisions about our own future. Until then, we can only make the best use of the powers that we have. Let’s do that.…