Northern Echo – 16 November 2015
Support for northern devolution plans ‘overwhelming’ – survey
PUBLIC support for devolution of powers to the north of England is strong, according to a survey published today.
A ComRes poll commissioned by BBC local radio asked people in the region for their views on devolution and the Northern Powerhouse. It found that four in five respondents wanted local politicians to have control over services such as transport and health, rather than MPs in Westminster.
However, the survey results also show 44 percent of those questioned have never even heard of the Northern Powerhouse concept. A further 20 per cent told pollsters they had heard of it, but knew nothing about it. The results are split on whether the Northern Powerhouse would boost the northern economy.
Fifty per cent of those polled said they were confident it would, but 40 per cent disagreed. Local politicians across the north have already taken over control of certain policies from central government. Last month, Chancellor George Osborne visited the region to rubber-stamp devolution deals that will result in elected mayors for the North-East and the Tees Valley, in exchange for devolved powers and millions of pounds worth of funding. The Tees Valley deal is worth £15 million a year to the area.
Former Middlesbrough mayoral candidate Dave Roberts, who is expected to stand as an elected mayor for the Tees Valley, said: “I think it’s difficult to try to explain, to the person in the street, what devolution is. “If the survey explained it means local politicians being able to take decision that affect people’s lives, rather than those decisions being made in London, then I’m not surprised to see that level of support.
“There has not been any real marketing exercise or information campaign to say what it’s really about. “My big bugbear is that people are not being consulted, or even informed.”
John Shuttleworth, an independent member of Durham County Council, remains sceptical on the issue. Referring to the ‘no’ vote in a 2004 referendum on a mooted North-East assembly, he said: “A large majority said they didn’t want it.
“The only thing that’s going to happen here is that there’s going to be another gravy train for senior politicians.
“Elected mayors will probably be on a salary of £150,000 a year. “Devolution is made out to be more than it is, so the man in the street might think it’s a good idea. “If people knew the full story of how it’s set to be a gravy train for senior politicians, they’d think twice.”
Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham highlighted a lack of engagement among his constituents. He said: “We talked to people on the doorstep about the Devolution Bill and people did not seem terribly interested. “It’s not a subject that’s exciting people at all, so I am quite interested to know what the respondents to this survey are saying – if they are really convinced there should be further devolution.
“I’m not sure we could come up with a system that would satisfy everyone. “The £15 million that local authorities across the Tees Valley would gain will be more than cancelled out by cuts to council funding.”