The New Year started with the news about a proposed devolution deal for the North East. The £4.2 billion deal for the region will support inclusive economic growth and our regeneration priorities. The funding will allow us to build better homes and invest in green jobs, skills, and transport, allowing us to take major steps to become a net zero economy while helping us address inequalities.
While the devolution deal is about the North East region, the broad ambitions within it are in line with South Tyneside's own vision and ambitions which were developed during 2022 with our residents' voice at the heart. For that reason, the deal will help us directly influence decisions at a local level, rather than centralised decisions made for the North East. A public consultation on the deal is now underway and will run for the next eight weeks both online and through a series of in person events. Please have your say and feed into the process here www.southtyneside.gov.uk/devolution
Sadly, we didn't secure any Levelling Up funding which would have been used to revitalise the borough's three towns by capitalising on the growing green economy, innovation, and skills, and attracting visitors by enhancing the cultural offer. This decision was very disappointing, especially given the strength of our bids, and I felt our communities have been let down by a funding stream that promised so much for areas like ours. However, we remain undeterred in our ambition to bring about lasting change throughout the borough and will identify other opportunities to bring in that investment. As you know, we have already consulted in South Shields on how you would like to see the town developed and will be asking for views on masterplans for both Jarrow and Hebburn through forthcoming 'conversations.'
Fortunately, we were more successful with the UK Shared Prosperity Fund - the successor to European Structural and Investment Funds - with £8.8 million secured for South Tyneside projects. Eight organisations will benefit from a share of the funding which is aimed at addressing the cost-of-living crisis, boosting our efforts to tackle anti-social behaviour, supporting businesses, and connecting people to jobs.
We are also looking to harness external funding, with an ambition to develop a Youth Zone in South Tyneside in partnership with youth services charity OnSide. If we are successful, this would be a first for the North East. Although still at a very early stage and dependant on funding, this project would be of significant benefit to our young people. Offering a wide range of sporting, artistic, cultural, physical, and recreational activities for young people, as well as access to support from skilled youth workers, the project could help us fulfil our ambition to target support to make things fairer, build strong communities and link people to skills, learning and jobs.
Many people in our communities are facing financial challenges at this time. As a Council, we are doing what we can within our powers to support residents through the cost-of-living crisis. Our Warm Spaces are being used by an increasing number of people and the support we give to food banks helps these vital organisations continue their sterling work in our communities. I was heartened to see that people at a Warm Space in Jarrow raised vital money for the Key2Life foodbank, while donations from Santa's grotto at The Word also raised vital donations for our food banks. The sense of civic pride and selflessness in South Tyneside always amazes me. Despite the personal challenges we face, there is real strength in our sense of community.
It's important to remember that increased costs are also impacting on our Council budget. This year we must save £3.7million while seeing increased demand for adult social care - where most of the money is spent. Whilst increases to council tax are well below inflation, they are an unavoidable step the Council must take to protect frontline services which so many people rely on. We understand the pressures residents are facing at the moment and for that reason we have introduced an enhanced welfare support provision and proposed an additional £100 Council Tax rebate for around 12,000 households on a low income.
Balancing the budget in the context of nationally set policy decisions is always a challenge. With the local elections in May, you have your opportunity to cast your vote to say who you would like to represent you in these challenging times. With a new national introduction of a Voter ID system, I would like to encourage you to get prepared. Your Council has been promoting awareness of the new requirements, as well as a national campaign which has been promoted on TV, radio, and social media. Essentially, if people are not aware of the new requirements, we could see around 3,200 polling station voters in the Borough at risk of losing their ability to vote. More details about the new rules are available at electoralcommission.org.uk/voterID. The new rules do not apply if you choose to vote by post. To apply for a postal vote visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/elections.
Councillor Tracey Dixon
Leader of South Tyneside Council