Well, all I can say is that it’s good to be back. After 22 years away – in Edinburgh, briefly Johannesburg and more substantially London – I moved home to Newcastle in the summer. A pandemic cliché? I am also investigating buying a puppy, which is more complicated than I had imagined.

Adam Branson

Adam Branson

My goodness the place has changed. I’d been back regularly, of course, but there’s nothing like living and breathing a place to understand what 20 years of development can achieve. On the train north for a recce, I solemnly lectured my long-suffering wife about how different the economy in the North East is to London. It is, of course, but spotting two Bentleys within 100m of Central Station slightly undermined my point.

When I left for university, there was literally nowhere to buy sushi. Now, the food scene is thriving. I’ve been exchanging restaurant tips with Igloo’s Chris Brown, who seems to be spending ever more time in Newcastle, and the email trail is now pretty extensive. Most of the major development sites are now built out or being built out, thanks in no small part to the likes of L&G and the Reubens, although the less said about that minor footie deal the better.

There is, however, little evidence to suggest the government’s much vaunted levelling-up agenda is playing much of a role in the city’s successes. What’s more, the unholy mess that is ‘Partygate’ means it is unlikely that levelling up will evolve from catchphrase to a solid set of policies that might actually make a difference north of the Watford Gap service station.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a long, long way from being one of those people who dismiss concerns about No 10 hypocrisy out of hand. I lost my mum in February last year and the enforced isolation of lockdown played a major role in her death. Watching the PM wriggling pathetically on the hook in the House of Commons a couple of weeks ago reduced me to silent tears.

However, even I cannot deny that the whole affair is a massive distraction. If levelling up is to be anything more than hot air, it will require strong, co-ordinated action across government, including greater devolution, and a firm lead from ministers. That simply won’t happen when members of the Cabinet are more interested in jockeying for position.

The great distraction also followed hot on the heels of the great betrayal of the north that was the publication of the government’s Integrated Rail Plan. HS2, we learned, would no longer reach Leeds, let alone Newcastle or Edinburgh. Leaders in Leeds were outraged, understandably so. What they weren’t, however, was surprised.

On the same day the plan was released, think tank IPPR North published its analysis of transport investment over the past decade. It revealed that between 2009-10 and 2019-20, the government spent an average of £430 per person. In London, the average was more than double that, at £864. In the north, on the other hand, it was a miserly £349. To put that into even starker relief, if the north had received as much investment per capita as the capital, it would have benefited from an additional £86bn.

I am not somebody who wants to see London starved of infrastructure investment, far from it, just as I will never become one of those bores who quits the capital and then spends the rest of their life slagging the place off. No, London is a glory and its ongoing growth is essential. However, that cannot be to the detriment of the rest of the country. Levelling up?

The evidence so far is thin on the ground.

Adam Branson is a freelance journalist, writer and editor