Friday, August 04, 2017

Devolution in a split region

There was unity and division on the issue of devolution in the North East at the last full council meeting in Gateshead. When introducing the cabinet report, Labour Council Leader Martin Gannon informed members that it was too late for Parliament to pass any orders before the summer recess to take the necessary steps towards a separate devolution settlement for the three authorities north of the Tyne. Were such a proposal to go ahead - Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside are exploring it - it would mean the North East region would be split in two.

The reason for the separate path being considered by the authorities north of the Tyne is the bust up in the North East Labour party over devolution. When the government offered the North East Combined Authority (NECA) a devolution deal last year, it was rejected 4 (Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and Durham) to 3 (Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland). But instead of the 7 local authorities (all then Labour controlled though Northumberland is now under minority Conservative control) trying to put together a revised deal, there was a chorus of Labour dummy spitting and the sound of Labour furniture being smashed up.

My view is that NECA should have accepted the deal last year I said so at the recent council meeting). It is far from perfect but once established, it can be improved. Instead, Labour have fallen apart and the North East region is splitting apart.

A separate north of Tyne settlement would not make any sense, as I pointed out in the recent council meeting. A key reason for devolution is to co-ordinate and integrate transport. This would be impossible under a split region. It would mean breaking up the Tyne and Wear Metro and having different policies for buses as they pass over the Tyne Bridge. My hope is that the separate north of Tyne proposals never get put into operation. Sadly, we can't count on the divided Labour Party in the region to sort out the devolution mess they have created. Meanwhile, other regions with new devolution settlements are powering ahead.

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