Government and local leaders in Teesside agreed a devolution deal in October 2015, leading to the creation of the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA).
This deal transferred functions from Whitehall to the new combined authority, including over transport, planning, skills and investment. As part of the deal, local leaders agreed that the combined authority would be led by a directly elected mayor.
What is the Tees Valley Combined Authority?
The TVCA was established as a legal entity in April 2016 and is empowered to take collective strategic decisions across local authority boundaries.
The TVCA has seven members. These include the mayor, who chairs the authority, and the leaders of the five constituent local authorities: Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, and Stockton-on-Tees. The seventh member, who has no voting rights, is the chair of the Tees Valley Business Board.
Four of the five councils in the region are led by Labour, although only in Middlesbrough does the party hold a majority, as well as the local mayoralty. Hartlepool council has a Conservative leader but is in no overall control.
The total population of the area covered by the TVCA is around 700,000.
Who is the mayor of Tees Valley?
The Tees Valley mayor is Ben Houchen (Conservative), previously a councillor on Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council.
Houchen was first elected in May 2017 and re-elected in May 2021, receiving 73% of first-preference votes, which represented a significant increase across all five constituent authorities. He is seeking re-election at the next mayoral election in Tees Valley in May 2024. 25 Andrew White, ‘Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen to contest 2024 election’, The Northern Echo, 29 March 2023, www.thenorthernecho.co.uk/news/23420189.tees-valley-mayor-ben-houchen-contest-2024-election/ This election will use first past the post, instead of the previously used supplementary vote, following the passage of the Elections Act 2022.
What are the powers of the mayor and TVCA?
The powers and responsibilities of TVCA and the metro mayor are focused on transport, planning, regeneration and skills.
TVCA has developed a strategic economic plan setting out the long-term priorities for growth and investment within the region. This includes a focus on supporting green industry and zero-carbon energy, such as offshore wind and carbon capture technologies.
The combined authority controls a long-term investment fund and transport budget. It has used some of this funding to finance transport infrastructure projects such as new road crossings across the river Tees, upgrades to local rail stations, and taking public control of Teesside Airport. 26 Tees Valley Combined Authority, Tees Valley Investment Plan 2019-29, January 2019, https://teesvalley-ca.gov.uk/about/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/2023/03/Investment-Plan-2019-20-Digital-1-1.pdf
The mayor also has powers over regeneration including the ability to establish mayoral development corporations (MDCs), with the consent of the local authority in which the MDC will operate. Houchen has created three mayoral development corporations, covering areas in Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, and Redcar and Cleveland.
Since August 2019, the TVCA has been responsible for the 19+ adult education budget (AEB), enabling it to develop a skills strategy that fits the needs of the local labour market. In the 2022/23 financial year, TVCA received £30m of funding from the Department for Education for its AEB allocation. 27 Department for Education, ‘Grant Determination Letter for Devolution of the Adult Education Budget for Financial Year 2022-23’, 24 March 2022, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1063696/Greater_London_Authority_S39a_adult_education…
Why has the government set up an independent review of the Teesworks development area?
Controversy has arisen over the South Teesside Development Corporation – set up to regenerate the former Teesside Steelworks site and nearby brownfield land. Labour MP for Middlesbrough Andy McDonald accused the site of “industrial-scale corruption” after land at the site appeared to be transferred to private developers for just £97 in December 2022.
BBC News, ‘Tees Valley mayor denies Labour MP's Teesworks corruption claims’, 21 April 2023, www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tees-65350891
Houchen strongly denied these allegations and claimed the true value was £15m. 29 Nathan Hyde, ‘Teesside Freeport: Was valuable land sold to developers for just £1 per acre?’, Yorkshire Post, 12 May 2023, www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/politics/teesside-freeport-was-valuable-land-sold-to-developers-for-just-ps1-per-acre-4139474
Levelling up secretary Michael Gove announced an independent investigation into Teesworks in May 2023, but rejected calls for this to be led by the National Audit Office. He said the department had seen “no evidence of corruption, wrongdoing, or illegality”.
Michael Gove, ‘Letter from Secretary of State to Ben Houchen’, Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, 24 May 2023, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/1158964/SoS_to_Ben_Houchen.pdf
Houchen has welcomed the investigation to reassure investors.
Neil Tague, ‘Houchen responds to Gove announcement’, North East Place, 25 May 2023, www.placenortheast.co.uk/houchen-responds-to-gove-announcement/
It is not yet known when the investigation will report.
What is the TVCA’s budget?
In 2021/22, Tees Valley’s revenue was around £230m, almost all of which came from government grants and contributions. TVCA has the ability to raise additional revenue through a mayoral precept on council tax bills, but Houchen has ruled out using this power until at least 2024. 32 Alex Metcalfe, ‘Tees Valley Mayor vows no rise in combined authority tax until 2024 at the earliest’, Teesside Live, 31 March 2022, www.gazettelive.co.uk/news/teesside-news/tees-valley-mayor-vows-no-23558604
The devolution deal allocated an investment fund worth £450m over 30 years to the TVCA. This is delivered through annual payments of £15m, subject to five-yearly reviews by the Treasury. The payments are not inflation-linked, and so their real value will decline over time.
The TVCA budget is smaller than the budgets of each of its five constituent authorities.
How is the combined authority structured?
TVCA employs an officer team to support the political leadership of the authority and implement the decisions of the combined authority board.
The officer team is led by a chief executive, legally designated as the ‘Head of Paid Service’. Senior staff also fill two other legally required roles – the monitoring officer (responsible for ensuring decisions are lawful) and the Section 151 officer (responsible for financial management).
As of June 2023, 185 staff were employed by the Tees Valley Combined Authority, including the wider TVCA group (Teesworks and the Tees Valley Airport). This makes TVCA the third smallest combined authority.
Five staff work in the mayor’s office, a similar number to in other combined authorities. Typical mayoral offices include one political appointee – similar to a special adviser, a chief of staff, and a handful of policy, communications, and diary management staff.
How does Tees Valley compare to the rest of the UK in terms of social and economic outcomes?
The TVCA region lags the UK average in terms of key economic indicators such as gross value-added (GVA) per hour worked and household disposable income. The region also ranks below the UK average in terms of skills and measures of social mobility.
There is significant variation between the constituent local authorities on some metrics, such as carbon emissions per capita. Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees have very high emissions compared to the rest of Tees Valley and the national average, largely driven by industry in these areas.
How does the TVCA area overlap with other administrative boundaries?
Tees Valley is covered by one NHS integrated care board: NHS North East and Cumbria, which extends significantly beyond the boundaries of the combined authority.
Nor is the TVCA area aligned with a single police force area: Cleveland Police serves Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton-on-Tees; Durham Constabulary serves Darlington and as well as County Durham. The overlap with two different police forces means that the mayor of Tees Valley cannot also hold the position of police and crime commissioner.