Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

North East England is not Metropolitan

The mini devolution deal for North East (of England) is apparently in danger of running out of time.

In a letter sent to the councils which make up the North East Combined Authority, and which has been seen by the BBC, Mr Javid said: “I reaffirm the government’s commitment to implementing the North East devolution deal in full.

“[However] without an elected mayor the deal cannot progress.

“There is a significant risk now that we will run out of time to implement the deal unless you publish your governance review and scheme, and move forward with the consultation immediately.”
BBC News Website, 26 August 2016 | North East devolution delay ‘risks £900m investment’

Why does an area that includes two conurbations (Newcastle-Gateshead-Tyneside and Sunderland-Washington) and a huge rural area (Northumberland and Durham) need an elected mayor to manage transport, skills and training? The LEPs (remember them?) where set up by the Conservatives to address issues that included skills and training.

Implementation of the plan would see the region receive £30m government funding for the next 30 years as well as new powers on transport, skills and training.
BBC ibid

For comparison Funding for Crossrail 1 (just part of just transport investment in London) comes to £14.8 Billion (yes, £30,000,000 vs £14,000,000,000 – a factor of about 466 times). We are talking chicken feed – for the North East. Admittedly £30m for 30 years will help improve say the Tyne & Wear Metro (replacing the 40 year-old rolling stock is estimated to cost £500m). This will be of benefit to some of those who live in the conurbations, but it will do next to nothing for the rural areas – certainly nothing to justify the creation of a mega mayor covering a huge area.

North East England

Predominantly Rural North East England; Berwick to Barnard Castle (off south of map), Tynemouth to Haltwhistle

For comparison (to the same scale)

London

Urban Greater London is effectively enclosed within the M25

I have my doubts about “Presidential Style” mayors even in metropolitan areas. Focusing on a single person and their manifesto rather than on a committee style of government risks ignoring the needs and wishes of minorities. Electing the mayor by the Alternative Vote will at least ensure that “the least worst” candidate is elected, but in an area like the North East it means that “the mayor” will be metropolitan and almost certainly from one party. (The Northumbria Police Commissioner is metropolitan and Labour)

All this to manage a small budget dealing with (some) transport, and (most) skills and training.

It is not “real” devolution (The North East – in John Prescott’s time – rejected a more extensive “deal” that was still a pig in a poke and not “real devolution”).

It is stupid. It is window dressing. It is not wanted.

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2 thoughts on “North East England is not Metropolitan

  1. Peter Lanky on said:

    Unfortunately politicians see everything as a city. Because it works in London they assume it will work elsewhere (but without the huge input of funds that every project in London seems to attract).

    Lets look at the ‘ Northern Powerhouse’ for instance. A completely ill conceived idea that somehow will make the north better simply by raising the profile of Manchester and Leeds. Maybe those two cities will benefit, but the finance and resources needed to achieve it are being sucked out of all the surrounding towns such as Bolton and Wigan. I suspect there is no movement of funds from the South East to the North. Many smaller shops in both towns have closed, and now larger shops are starting to close now, because people no longer expect to see quality shops in these towns any more and just head for Manchester, who will soon have an almost unopposed Labour mayor. The same goes for jobs, facilities and entertainment. Any new rail links, which are all compromises rather than anything really new, will soon be over capacity again as more people are forced to commute.

    I suspect the same is happening in the NE with Newcastle benefiting at the expense of everywhere else.

    And just think, the £14,000,000,000 (and the rest) spent on Crossrail was completely unnecessary. If so many jobs hadn’t been ripped out of the rest of the UK to bolster the ego trip of London, then there would not have been too many people living and working there for existing railways to deal with. HS2 is also unnecessary for the same reasons. If only our politicians would realise that we don’t need larger capacity on rail links from North to South, but need to reduce the number of unnecessary journeys being taken, which I suspect compromise a very significant proportion.

    • I think I agree with you on this one!

      The Northern Powerhouse could have been well-conceived and even though Gideon has a Cheshire seat he is very much an MP for a southern outpost in the North Midlands, and he had a “London knows best” view. Hence “Mayor” works for London, therefore “Mayor” should work for all other devolved areas.

      There is a massive problem because London is so dominant in the UK (unlike most other countries where “second cities”, even “third cities” are not significantly smaller than the capital city). Greater Manchester is about a quarter of the size of Greater London. Just “raising the profile” of Manchester and Leeds (particularly at the expense of the outlying towns (Bolton and Wigan or Bradford and Huddersfield) will not solve this problem).

      But if the country (or more accurately that body that is meant to represent us – Parliament) were to agree that “London dominance” is not a good idea and that something should be done about it, we might see progress. If a change was to the benefit of the country as a whole, it needs to be funded by the country as a whole.

      If the Northern Powerhouse means creating an alternative centre of gravity to London, it needs critical mass – and this means somehow getting synergies from the combination of Liverpool/Manchester with Leeds/Bradford. Distance appears to be a problem; but Heathrow to London City Airport is about 30-35 miles depending on route, whilst Leeds to Manchester is about 40-45 miles.

      With decent rapid transport (proper High Speed between the major centres and good rapid transit systems linking to the outlying towns), it should be possible for the combination of the “Great Northern cities” to operate just as effectively as London – if not more so. Having the centres “strung out” also means that commutes can be kept to a sensible length and that individual outlying towns can still be distinct vibrant communities with their own economies. Not so much commuter towns as towns with commuters. “Higher profile for Manchester” goes completely counter to this – and the Mayor for Manchester is hardly likely to resist.

      A mayor for the North East is likely to be a mayor for Newcastle (or Newcastle-Gateshead if you want to be sensitive to cross-Tyne feelings) and the rural areas outside the conurbation will definitely play second fiddle. That is one reason why Teesside are off doing their own thing. (It used to be said that the development agency for the North East “ONE North East” stood for “Only Newcastle Exists”.)

      The Northumbria Police Commissioner (Covering rural/suburban Northumberland and urban Tyne and Wear; Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, Washington, and North and South Tyneside) is in effect the commissioner for the urban areas. In the days of a police committee, the rural areas got a look in – as did minority parties.

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