The Journal Report today makes very depressing reading: http://www.thejournal.co.uk/business/north-east-mayor-dispute-rumbles-9619494
The harsh reality is that whilst the North East squabbles the Labour led Local Authorities of Greater Manchester, Yorkshire, Liverpool and elsewhere are pressing ahead and embracing the governments offer of devolution. Let us be clear: all the North East businesses, the LEP, NECC, and a multitude of other organisations see the force in uniting transport, health, and a large number of regional services, in an integrated manner, under the ultimate control of a directly elected Mayor. This model has worked well in London [imposed on London without a referendum, by a former Labour government] and worldwide in Germany and elsewhere. The Manchester example is genuinely amazing.
The only objectors are some or all of the 7 Local Authority county council leaders. Why?
There are only two possible explanations:
-either they wish to preserve their own fiefdoms and fear that someone from Gateshead, Sunderland or Newcastle might be in charge [please delete as applicable according to who your sworn enemy is] with the result that the Mayor will not favour them / feather their nest as only they can.
- or they do not have aspirations for the wider North East? I cannot believe that this is the case, because surely they accept that we are better together as a larger unit, competing as we are on the global scale and other larger regions. Certainly this is the view of the Local Enterprise Partnership and the North East Chamber of Commerce etc etc.
Is this is a power struggle amongst the 7 Local Authority leaders? I do not know. But it smacks of the old story of "if Newcastle gets this then Sunderland must get a bridge". This attitude is genuinely holding us back. I urge everyone to write to their local Chief Executive making the case for unity, for a Mayor, for greater devolution and greater jobs and prosperity.
In the last parliament we started this process with City and County deals, which many of our areas received and prospered with, including Newcastle and Sunderland. But surely we want to be bigger and better. Have we not moved on now? Are we going to go backwards? I see the only justification given from Simon Henig and Catherine McKinnell, MP for Newcastle North, is that Cornwall is being given a County deal and that this is should be used as ammunition to argue that the North East shouldn’t be pressured into having a mayor. So now the North East wants 7 separate County Councils like Cornwall with a City Deal / County Deal - which we already have? Words fail me. The great North East wants to be Cornwall? Is this the highpoint of the 7 Counties collective aspirations?
I believe we are Better Together.
I believe there are genuine opportunities ahead
I am certain that we will be left behind by Scotland, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester without a Mayor
I know some Labour MPs have their head in their hands over the behaviour of the Labour Council leaders, but whilst the train is leaving the station, it is not too late to jump on board. Do the right thing. I appreciate that this will be a big step, as there is a lot of history here but the end more than justifies the personal compromises and the need for trust between the 7 leaders. And I say this as the most rural of all the MPs who would be so affected. I have faith this is good for rural Hexham.
The North East Combined Authority is meeting next week on the 14th July in Morpeth at 2pm in the County Council. I urge anyone to go along and make the case to them. I will be stuck in parliament. Details are here: http://www.northeastca.gov.uk/who-are-we