Durham County Council has set out its priorities and expectations for supporting levelling up for its communities and the economy as the county emerges from the devastating impact of the pandemic.
The authority’s Cabinet will be asked to acknowledge that an initial investment of at least £500m is required from government levelling up and recovery funding to support the development of ambitious projects to deliver long-term and sustainable economic growth across the county.
County Durham is the eighth largest local authority area in the UK and the largest local authority in the North-East.
With a population of 530,100, the county is home to more than 14,000 businesses employing 183,000 people. More than 20 million tourists spend nearly £1 billion in the county each year.
The county is a key contributor to the north east economy and, in 2018, it contributed Gross Value Added (GVA) of £8.8 billion to the UK economy.
The county includes areas that have some of the highest rates of deprivation in the country, with high levels of unemployment, significant numbers of people with work limiting health conditions and a sizeable proportion of residents in lower skilled and lower paid jobs.
The number of children living in households claiming out of work benefits is 50 per cent higher than the UK average.
As a direct consequence of the pandemic and the subsequent restrictions, many businesses have been hit hard, particularly those in the travel, accommodation, food, drinks, and leisure sectors. Underlying unemployment has increased, and the number of job seekers and universal credit claimants has increased by 50 per cent since March 2020; and by 70 per cent among younger people.
When the government’s furlough scheme ends in September, further pressures will be placed on businesses with the risk that some will be unable to survive. This could mean further job losses.
Businesses have also had to contend with the impact of operating in a post Brexit trading environment from January 2021.
Had the UK stayed in the EU, the county’s EU structural funding would have more than doubled to at least €300m in investment up to 2027 to fund major programmes for skills, the environment and business support.
Despite the challenges, County Durham has seen significant investment over the last decade and the council has led an ambitious approach to development.
As a result, hundreds of millions of pounds of private investment has been secured in key sites such as Milburngate, Durham riverside, the Durham University estate, Auckland Castle and Bishop Auckland town centre, Amazon at Integra 61 near Bowburn, and Hitachi at Newton Aycliffe.
The council is also continuing to attract public sector investments to NETPark near Sedgefield, Horden Railway Station and other sites across the county to support strategic transport improvements and open up new business parks. This includes Forrest Park in Newton Aycliffe and Jade Business Park near Seaham.
To support growth and recovery, significant further investment is planned.
Most recently the council has established and funded an innovative £5m Business Recovery Grant scheme, £70m has been earmarked for a new Council Homes Programme, £25m of additional investment has been agreed for Towns and Villages and plans are being progressed for £75m of regeneration and health focused leisure investment across the county.
The government has set out areas of policy that will present opportunities for access to funding and powers to help deliver economic strategy.
These include the levelling up fund, the shared prosperity fund, and other opportunities such as the Future Towns Fund and funding for recovery
Cllr Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council, said: “The pandemic has delivered a traumatic shock to the county’s economy.
“Now is the time for us to be clear about our plans for the future. We look forward to working with MPs, local members, communities and businesses to develop our proposals further.
“We need to realise maximum benefit and direct investment from any nationally available schemes, proportionate to the challenges we face, the scale of our population and our economy, and the ensure our county is treated with equity.
“We have identified a programme of potential strategic investments that form the basis of any funding bid, covering a range of thematic areas including housing, transport, skills, education and training and to develop rural economic growth. This will inform any decisions in relation to the devolution of powers and resources going forward.
“We await further details of the government’s plans for English devolution and local recovery which we understand will be issued through a White Paper this year.
“However it is important for local communities and businesses that consideration is given to all the options that are available to us to ensure we maximise the investment in our county.”
Cabinet will meet virtually at 9.30am on Wednesday, March 17.