Middlesbrough and Gateshead make bids for city status

When I was in primary school, I was always told that to be a city you had to have a cathedral and a university.

But actually that hasn't been the case since the early part of the 20th Century.

Since then towns have been able to apply to the monarch to get city status regardless of what facilities they do or do not have.

And on occasion there have also been competitions organised to find a new city.

One such contest is underway now. For the Queen's Diamond Jubilee next year, one town will be granted city status.

Among the contenders will be two North East towns - Gateshead and Middlesbrough.

Both are keen to win city status - believing it will help them raise their profile.

But actually apart from the kudos there is no official benefit to being a city rather than a town.

You don't gain any extra powers, and you don't get any extra money.

But if you look at Middlesbrough's bid for example, they seem confident that city status would make a huge difference.

It says being a city could bring in new investment, jobs, tourists and students as well as boosting local pride.

Image copyright bbc
Image caption Middlesbrough's 100-year-old Transporter Bridge is mentioned in the town's bid for city status

It's hard to prove any of that, but one of Gateshead and Middlesbrough's near-neighbours is convinced city status is worth having.

Sunderland won the same contest 20 years ago.

The council believe the economic advances made in the city since 1992, are in large part due to gaining city status.

And although Sunderland still has some regeneration to do, there have been some impressive advances.

It has a university now, a set of developments surrounding the new football stadium, and certainly before the recession hit, it was growing as fast as any city in the UK.

And the council certainly believes city status has attracted in new employers.

It's still hard to quantify though, and of course city status will only ever be as good as what you do with it.

While Sunderland's ruling Labour group are proud of their achievements, Conservative councillor Richard Vardy believes they have failed to compete with rivals like neighbouring Newcastle, and haven't really acted like a big city.

And there has been some concern that councils are spending vital time and money working on city bids instead of on the nuts and bolts of local government.

Nevertheless Middlesbrough and Gateshead will submit their bids next week.

At the moment though they are not among the favourites. While bookmakers William Hill recently quoted Reading as the 9-1 favourite, Middlesbrough could only get odds of 40-1.

But there is still plenty of time for the North East's entrants to build their case against the likes of Guildford, Stockport, Milton Keynes, Blackpool, Ayr and Aberystwyth.

The Politics Show will be debating the merits of bidding and gaining city status on BBC1 at 11am on 22 May.