Thursday, 25 September 2014

Post Referendum we can have more local NE powers AND a fair deal for England

After the Scottish referendum, the UK is going to change; I see the future as being an opportunity for the North East; we are starting the end of top-down Westminster control as power and money is decentralised from London.

The new settlement on devolution should herald empowerment not just for nations but for our communities, cities, and counties. I believe we can do it all: make the settlement which all have agreed to Scotland, create more powers for our region and a fair settlement for England as a whole.

The Prime Minister is absolutely right to set out plans to solve the English question. It is entirely wrong that Scottish MP's can vote on laws which only effect England. For example healthcare is entirely devolved to Scotland. Yet at the moment Scottish MPs can vote on English healthcare matters but I as an English MP cannot vote on Scottish healthcare matters. This problem is going to be even more acute as more powers are devolved to Scotland like finance, welfare, etc. There will be effectively no matters save foreign policy and defence that a Scottish MP would have any control over. It will all be devolved.  

But I want to make it clear that  as much as we must stick to the commitments made to the Scots we must also ensure a fair and equal settlement for England.

Labour's plan is simply to ignore the calls for fair representation of England in Parliament, and dust off John Prescott’s ill fated plans for a regional assembly.  I don't know anyone who thinks that creating another layer of politicians with no real power is the answer. The good people of the North East rejected Labour's plan for an expensive talking shop almost 10 years ago and rightly so – I see very few people except the dinosaurs like Labour MP Ronnie Campbell wanting to go down this route.

What our region needs isn't more politicians, it is more powers. Real powers to boost jobs, infrastructure and investment. The easiest way to do that is to build on the existing combined authority. The combined 7 Local authorities have already come together to make joint decisions on transport, skills and so much more. This is a body which is ripe for more power, and ready to accept it.  That excludes the need for many more new layers of bureaucracy. The combined authorities could be given more control over economic development. That would really put our region in the driving seat for growth, skills, transport links and jobs.

My personal view is that we need the leader of the Combined Authority being elected as a Mayor – as they have in London, New York and so many other great areas, rather than it being an appointed post as it is now. I think that is the simplest, cheapest and most sensible way to bring democracy and greater power to the combined authorities.

The end goal for this whole process of devolution in my view is relatively simple; more powers and democratic accountability for our region, and a fair settlement for England. That is a goal worth striving for in our new United Kingdom .