A POWERFUL partnership that will lead the economic development of four of the North East’s seven local authority areas has met.

Leaders from the newly constituted North East Combined Authority (NECA), made up of Durham, Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland, have come together for the first time since the former NECA disbanded to allow Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland to form their own mayoral combined authority.

At its first meeting, Councillor Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council, was appointed to chair the new combined authority and Councillor Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, was named as vice chair, and it was agreed that leaders will meet again to finalise the primary collaborative projects that the new body will take on.

A statement released to the media on behalf of the NECA said: “The NECA area is the productive heart of the North East region’s economy. And so, our decisions are critically important to the economic wellbeing of the wider region.

“Today’s meeting is the start of a new journey towards achieving our ambitions individually and collectively and we are ready to step up to the plate and ensure that this area continues to supply the economic lifeblood to power this fantastic region.”

It said that NECA – which represents an area with an economy worth well over £20bn – would play to its strengths, capitalising on the significant headway it had made in a number of key sectors.

“Already, the area is home to the region’s world-leading advanced manufacturing and technology sectors and a thriving hub of business services and innovative creative and cultural firms. Manufacturing GVA accounts for almost double the contribution to the economy than across England as a whole.  But we are not complacent.

“We want more for the 432,000 people who are employed in 28,000 enterprises that are based here.  We want to sustain the 61,000 employees working in manufacturing in the area – and create the conditions that will attract more investment – and with them more jobs.  We believe there is vast potential to make an even greater contribution to the region and UK Plc.”

Leaders from the four NECA authorities already have significant plans to add to the capacity of the area, with major investment set to fuel its ongoing growth.

“To put the potential of our collective plans into some sort of perspective, between them, our seven largest employment-generating capital projects have a combined investment value of £1.6bn and will bring nearly 24,000 jobs. That’s a big impact and gives us reason to be very confident about the future.”

The statement also confirmed that NECA will work in collaboration with other regional bodies, including the new North of Tyne Combined Authority.

“Though the North of Tyne Devolution Deal has seen our counterpart authorities in Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland form their own new mayoral combined authority, we know that the strength of partnership that remains across all parts of our region will allow us to continue to drive forward priorities around economic development and regeneration, delivering huge benefits for everyone across the North East. We will deliver a joint transport strategy with our North of Tyne colleagues to ensure our resident and business needs are delivered going forward.”

It added: “There remains an unwavering commitment from NECA to work in partnership with businesses, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and of course with our colleagues in the north of the region, as well as in Tees Valley – there are great synergies between all three areas. We have no doubt that we will work shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues across the North East to make sure that our part of the region delivers on its undoubted promise and potential.”