The region must accept a single directly-elected mayor ruling from Durham to Scotland in order to grab dramatic new powers, George Osborne said yesterday.
The Chancellor signed a landmark devolution deal with Greater Manchester – covering transport, health, housing and the police – in return for a ‘metro mayor’, to run its ten authorities.
And he immediately warned that any city-region hoping for similar control over its own destiny must also accept a cross-border ‘Boris Johnson-style’ leader.
That list includes the new the North East Combined Authority, which brings together County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
The area is believed to be third on Mr Osborne’s list for agreeing devolution deals – after Manchester and West Yorkshire – with an announcement as early as next month.
But, last night, Simon Henig, Durham’s leader and the chairman of the combined authority, criticised Mr Osborne’ attempt to tie the region’s hands.
And he pointed out voters in Newcastle and eight other English cities had rejected mayors – for city boundaries only – in referendums just two-and-a-half years ago.
Councillor Henig said:
“I strongly believe it is now the time for powers and control over spending to be devolved out of Whitehall throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not just to Manchester.
“However, my own view is that devolution should not be made conditional on accepting an elected mayor, which was rejected by the public in referendums in several major cities in 2012.”
The Chancellor’s move is a dramatic U-turn, because the Conservatives had rejected calls for metro mayors which, many argued, could be handed a powerful portfolio.
“Any other city that wants to receive more powers and move to a new model of governance, with an elected mayor, should bring forward their proposals.”
The Manchester package includes:
* Responsibility for re-regulated bus services and integrated ‘smart ticketing’ across all local modes of transport.
* An enhanced ‘earn back’ deal – keeping £1m a year from economic growth, to fund an extension to the Metrolink tram network.
* Police powers – with the abolition of the elected police and crime commissioner (PCC).
* Control of a £300 million ‘housing investment fund’.
* Power over business support services – including manufacturing advice and UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) export advice.
* Power to develop a plan to integrate health and social care.
A Government source said:
“Who do the voters sack if something goes wrong? City-region mayors answer that.
“So we can obviously go further for cities that are able to step up to the accountability challenge.”
Source – Northern Echo, 04 Nov 2014