Outside the marginals

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

No Mayor, No Wey-Aye

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid has confirmed that a planned devolution deal for the North East will not go ahead after a majority of local leaders voted against it.

Mr Javid said he was disappointed that four of the seven councils to form a planned North East Combined Authority – Durham, Gateshead, Sunderland, and South Tyneside – voted against the deal.

He insisted they would have received guaranteed investment of more than £1 billion and powers over transport, skills and regeneration.

Legislation to devolve the powers and enable 2017 elections for a North East mayor has now been shelved.
Morpeth Herald (quoting Reuters), 8 August 2016 | North East devolution plans shelved after local leaders reject deal

This sounds like petulance – on both sides, but I suspect it is more complicated.

First the £1bn is not as massive at it sounds; it is £30m a year for 30 years. For a population of a little under 2 million, that is £15 per head per year.

Secondly, the government insisted – it seems at the behest of our now ex-chancellor – that we should elect a metropolitan mayor to reign over the whole of Durham (except Darlington) and the whole of Northumberland – predominantly rural areas – and the metropolitan area of what was at one stage the county of Tyne and Wear. For reasons that have never really been made clear they believed that structure was vital to successful devolution.

Yet one person rule is not good for minorities – or those who are not part of the biggest minority. In the North East this means those who do not vote Labour and those who do not live in the major urban areas. It was flawed and in that respect I welcome it being shelved. Devolution should not involve the imposition of a Westminster style dictatorship of the biggest minority. Devolution should lead to a more consensual form of government – power getting closer to all the people.

Then Brexit Strikes again!

Paul Watson, Sunderland City Council leader and NECA chair, said: “Following the outcome of the EU referendum and the subsequent changes within government, council leaders have been equally clear that to move forward, the new government must provide assurances regarding the terms of the region’s devolution deal.
BBC News Website, 7 August 2016 | Councils split on plan for North East devolution

Devolution of power is meant to also involve the devolution of accountability. If not done properly it becomes the devolution of blame. A headline figure of “lost investment” is actually less important than a proper robust agreement on the funding of regional devolution. Somehow I think the unreconstructed Tories would quite welcome being able to devolve blame for the state of the North East onto a Labour Mayor and wash their hands of responsibility.

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