Northern Echo – 15 December 2015
Devolution: your chance to vote with the Northern Echo
IN 2016, our region faces a choice which could determine its economic fate for a generation: whether to accept the Government’s devolution proposals, or spurn the offer and battle on as we are.
Since Chancellor George Osborne announced twin devolution agreements for the North-East and Tees Valley in October, council chiefs have been poring over the details and, behind closed doors, trying to squeeze every last concession possible out of the Treasury.
All local authorities are keen to hear their residents’ views on the packages, but have adopted different strategies for doing so. Only Durham has committed itself to a public vote. The Northern Echo is to hold its own poll, asking simply: “Do you think the North-East and Tees Valley should accept the Government’s devolution agreements?” Voting will be online via thenorthernecho.co.uk and run until mid-January.
Here’s the Echo’s guide to the devolution proposals.
Why is the Government offering devolution?
Calls to devolve powers to the English regions have persisted ever since Labour established a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly in the late 1990s. The North-East’s rejection of John Prescott’s regional assembly offer in 2004 may have killed that idea, but enthusiasm to devolve has not waned. George Osborne sees English devolution as key to his Northern Powerhouse project and is pressing ahead with Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire, as well as the North-East and the Tees Valley.
What’s on offer in the North-East?
Firstly, there are two devolution offers – one to the “North-East”, meaning County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland, and one to the Tees Valley. They are similar. Both would see a mayor elected in May 2017 with powers of employment and skills, transport and planning. Both would get an investment fund: £30m a year for the North-East, £15m a year for the Tees Valley. The North-East would also have a commission on integrating health and social care.
Who might be mayor?
Few would-be candidates have yet declared. In the North-East, Durham County Council leader Simon Henig and Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes have been tipped, while millionaire businessman Jeremy Middleton is thought to be interested but his Conservative politics may work against him in the Labour stronghold. In the Tees Valley, businessman and broadcaster Dave Roberts [TeessideTogether Chairman] has declared his intention to stand. Darlington Borough Council leader Bill Dixon has ruled himself out. Middlesbrough mayoral candidate Andy Preston has been linked with the job, but said it was “unlikely” he would stand. Given the public dissatisfaction with politics, an anti-establishment or novelty candidate could still emerge – as happened when Hartlepool elected Stuart Drummond, previously Hartlepool United mascot H’Angus the Monkey.
How can I have my say?
Different councils are consulting the public in different ways. County Durham will hold a non-binding public vote early in the New Year. Newcastle, Sunderland, Gateshead and Northumberland are holding public consultations. North and South Tyneside councils will debate the proposals. All five Tees Valley councils, Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton and Redcar and Cleveland, have backed the proposals. The Northern Echo is holding its own public vote, online via thenorthernecho.co.uk, running until mid-January. The results will be forwarded to the councils involved.
What happens if the region says no?
That’s unclear. Ministers have said North-East devolution could go ahead without Durham if the county rejects the proposals. But what would happen if the whole region said ‘no thanks’ is unknown.