THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE
In recent years many aspects of life have changed dramatically – internationally, nationally, regionally and locally.
The impact of the recession has affected all our lives, as have Government policies. Local Authority spending per person has been cut by an average 23.4% in real terms between 2009–10 and 2014–15, with the North East one of the worst affected, and, indeed the traditional concept of the North East as one entity is no more.
Efforts continue to persuade local people that they are from the ‘Tees Valley’ with no evidence that it will ever be accepted within the area—or recognised in the rest of the country and beyond. Yet at the same time we see a dramatic increase in the power and influence of our neighbours, both north of the Border in Scotland and the drive to devolution in large parts of Northern England and the rest of UK.
THE ‘TEES VALLEY’ MYTH
For almost 20 years there has been an attempt to foist the ‘Tees Valley’ identity on our area. It may well be seen as a convenient ‘label’ in bureaucratic and political circles but as a viable brand ‘Tees Valley’ has failed due to not being accepted by local people. A survey conducted by the local Teesside Gazette showed just 3 per cent of people would use it to describe where they lived and to most of the outside world it is not understood.
No identity can succeed unless it can be shown to have the support of its local communities—and recognition in the outside world. ‘Tees Valley’ fails on both counts. As local businessman Alistair Arkley, a leading figure in trying to unite the area ‘observed in 2010 ‘Tees Valley was never meant to be for the image of the area.’
Do Middlesbrough fans shout for the Tees Valley when backing their team? Of course not—they see themselves as ‘Teessiders’ and their chants make that clear.
Does the national media use ‘Tees Valley’ when reporting the club’s exploits or other issues affecting the area? Of course not...invariably they refer to Teesside.
Students from across the world come to our university from literally every corner of the globe and, when their studies are complete, return to every corner of the globe. Where do those ‘ambassadors’ say they have been studying?...not in the Tees Valley but at Teesside University.
SO WHERE NOW?
There is no doubt that across our area there is a recognition that local authorities and others must demonstrate a genuine commitment if we are to benefit from the opportunities offered through the ‘devolution revolution’ embodied in the Northern Powerhouse agenda. Those individuals and organisations showing that commitment deserve credit.
However, all their efforts will be greatly weakened unless we resolve the identity crisis. It is hard to believe that we will ever be able to become recognised as a top flight ‘city region’ alongside areas such as Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield—and yes, Newcastle!—under the ‘Tees Valley’ brand.
Unless Teesside speaks—and acts—with one voice we face the very real prospect of being left behind, isolated and ‘squeezed’ by powerful interests to the north, south and west. Our identity must be widely recognised nationally and internationally and enjoy strong support within the area. If we are to succeed in initiatives like UK City of Culture 2025 that identity has to be 'Teesside'.
WHY BRAND 'TEESSIDE'