A former government minister has spoken out against the upcoming Mayor for the North East.
Speaking at an event in Newcastle campaigning against a regional mayor, Newcastle East MP, Nick Brown, claimed that the proposed Devolution Agreement is not fair to the region and thinks the people of the North East should decide if they have an elected mayor.
The mayoral election will be held in May 2017 and the mayor will preside over the North East Combined Authority (NECA).
NECA is a political partnership between; Newcastle City Council, Sunderland City Council, Durham County Council, North Tyneside Council, South Tyneside Council and Northumberland County Council.
Mr Brown said that it’s the wrong solution. It’s based on a city region model and the North East isn’t a city region. He said: “It’s a one size fits all solution for a region which it is inappropriate for.”
Plans for a regional mayor are proposed in the North East Devolution Agreement which sets out the transfer of significant powers regarding, employment and skills, transport, housing, planning, business support and investment from central government.
The former Minister of the North East, Mr Brown, claimed it would be very easy for the government to have a referendum on the issue at the same time as the EU referendum in June.
He said: “It will not benefit the region. It’s displacement activity while the local government cuts grind remorselessly on. It’s savage what’s going to happen. Every single authority in the region is going to lose out.
“Unemployment has gone up in our region and down in the country as a whole. Something needs to be done about this.
“The government is saying that if there is no mayor, there is no deal. It’s the only argument in favour of the deal. If you don’t have the mayor, you don’t get the funding. The case for it simply stated, is that if we don’t do this we wont get the money”.
The government’s Northern Powerhouse Minister, James Wharton, said: “We have already secured a host of devolution deals backed by billions of pounds of government funding.
“There are more people in work in the North East than ever before and employment rates in the North East are the highest on record.”
One of the powers that will be granted to the mayor include permission to create an investment fund worth up to £1.5bn and control of allocating £30m a year in funding over a 30-year period.
NECA’s current chair, Simon Henig, said: “The £30m investment fund is a start but it is clearly a modest sum to cover the whole combined authority area.”
It has been rumoured that Henig was considering running for the post, but, when questioned he said: “It’s premature, I haven’t decided yet.
“I think the mayor will be a key figure. The mayor is elected by the whole region. That’s going to be one powerful individual elected by two million people.”
Jeremy Middleton, businessman and former Conservative Party deputy chairman based in Newcastle, is the first person to announce they are to run for the post.
Mr Middleton claims a new mayor will become a driving force and a distinctive voice for our region.
He said: “This is the first time any government has made a serious attempt to transfer real money and powers from London to the North East, where they belong.”
The businessman argues that under the current system and current political leadership, the North East will “remain at the bottom of the heap”.
When questioned about how the mayor will be held to account Mr Middleton said: ”The mayor will be a single person who can be held to account. The mayor will be obliged to take account of all the different views in the North East and represent everyone.
“The sooner we get on with it and prove we can manage our own affairs more effectively, the sooner we will get more powers and bigger budgets.
“Manchester is already on the third wave of devolution and, as a direct result has the highest level of business confidence and one of the highest rates of business growth in the country.
“Unless we embrace the devolution deal and make it work, we will simply become a backwater. That would be a terrible betrayal of the people of the North East. I think we should settle for more not less. There should be no limit to our ambition.”
Gateshead MP, Ian Mearns (Labour) has spoken out about the new mayor. He said that an elected mayor was “a dreadful idea” and called for local Labour councillors and MPs to have a conversation about how they can go forward together and challenge this.
Lib Dem Councillor for North Heaton in Newcastle, Greg Stone, argues that a London-Style assembly would benefit the region more.
The London Assembly is an elected body that scrutinises the Mayor of London’s decisions and has the power to amend the mayor’s budget and reject the mayor’s proposals.
He said: “We are concerned that the Devolution Deal will be a failure if it results in Old Labour ‘business as usual’ in a few years time.
“There seems to be fairly little sign of Labour coming up with any new thinking on North East regional policy.”
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