Southgate’s Teamwork Shows the Way

July 11, 2021

It’s difficult to type with your fingers crossed. But by the time you read this, we’ll know whether it worked, and football really has come home. I’m not claiming that it’ll all be down to my crossed fingers, mind.  Or even the now anthemic Sweet Caroline – my wife’s name. 

The key word for the England team is ‘team’.  Including the ever-impressive Gareth Southgate as its leader. To win – to get anywhere in a match or a tournament – they have to work as a team. One player thinking he’s the only man on the pitch is a recipe for disaster.

Teamwork duty has been a strong theme this past week, and not just in football.  Last Tuesday, Andy Burnham and I gave evidence to a Parliamentary Select Committee, looking at English devolution and whether it’s working.  There’s a video link on my website, Facebook & Twitter if you’re interested. 

The British state lacks teamwork.  Projects that have to be delivered locally are still being designed centrally.  Diktats come from the centre, without flexibility of delivery.  Worse still, they are outsourced to firms that leave others to pick up the pieces when it goes wrong. 

Speaking to the Committee, it would have been easy to blame a Conservative government, or the attitude of Whitehall civil servants for the failures of the centralised test and trace, Kickstart, or the now-scrapped Green Homes Grant.  And yes, I’m no fan of this government or the London centric thinking of our national institutions.  But the problems are also structural. 

Every time I speak to a civil servant – from Treasury, Department of Transport, wherever – I find them professional, helpful, on top of their brief, capable of imagining new ways of doing things.  Yet handcuffed by a system that prevents them from doing anything innovative.  Their reporting lines are tortuous.  Sign-off is labyrinthine.  Their departments talk more to themselves than to outsiders. 

In the North of Tyne, we’ve smashed our job creation target, delivered devolved adult education, and implemented our brownfield housing programme.  Despite Covid, we’re ahead of target and brought them in under budget.  Why?  Because we know our region.  We listen to people on the ground.  We build relationships.  In other words, teamwork. 

We understand that everything is linked.  Transport affects housing and planning. It affects climate change – we want fewer cars, not more. It affects skills – you can’t go to college if there’s no bus to get you there.  It affects our economy. It affects our health – faster and cheaper public transport would get more people walking a little every day. 

I’ve been working with Ministers to get transport powers devolved.  We have an offer of half a billion quid on the table – the Intra City Transport Fund.  We’d have to come together as a region, North and South of the Tyne, into one Mayoral Combined Authority.  Not least because the Metro can’t be half-in and half-out of a devolved transport area. 

Our seven local authorities will have to make their own decisions about whether they want this money and these powers.  We already know we can work well together – we’ve been working on the response to Covid and on our economic recovery plans throughout the pandemic.

This time last year, I was asked by central Government to develop a plan. I brought in the south of the region, the Local Economic Partnership, the trade unions, business organisations and the Universities.  In September, we submitted a joint plan to the Comprehensive Spending Review.  I believe we should unite as a region, work together as a team, and land that plan, which will create 55,000 secure, full-time jobs.  And land that £half-billion devolved transport funding.

Ask any Mayor if they’d like more money, and of course we’d say yes. But what I really want is not more fish, but a fishing rod.  The power to generate more wealth here, for all of us.  So there’s a well paid job and lifelong training available for everyone. 

I’m on leave with my family for the next fortnight.  I’ve asked two groups I work closely with to be guest columnists.  Next week you’ll be hearing from Tyne and Wear Citizens, and the week after, from veterans’ charity Forward Assist. 

Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 12 July 2021