North East newspapers join forces to launch NEvolution campaign

The North East is uniting behind a call for a historic handover of Government powers and funding

George Osborne
George Osborne

The North East is uniting behind a call for a historic handover of Government powers and funding.

Chancellor George Osborne is today being asked to devolve to the region a bigger say over decisions taken for generations in Whitehall.

As Mr Osborne finalises the details of his spending review, due to see more than £11bn cut in 2015, pressure is mounting for him to commit fully to a series of recommendations by former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine.

Now all of the region’s newspapers have come together to back the NEvolution campaign as businesses, politicians and key decision makers urge the Government to give the region control of its own destiny.

Earlier this year, Lord Heseltine called for a new era of handing over power to control locally multi-billion pound budgets.

The Government has said it will start allowing locally-elected leaders to have a say in areas such as transport, skills training and growth.

But concerns are mounting that this will only be a token gesture, short of the real commitment needed to let the North East decide its own future. Vince Cable’s Department for Business is among those said to be reluctant to hand over too much money

In May, the influential Centre for Cities think-tank warned that councils were stuck in a “half-way house”, unable to fully meet their new obligation to drive economic growth. The North East campaign joins with efforts by local authorities and businesses to lobby Government to act on the recommendations of the recent Lord Adonis review of the regional economy.

In this, he pushed for the creation of a Government-backed combined authority tasked with skills, transport and growth responsibility, similar to those calls made by Lord Heseltine earlier this year.

Ministers have said they will back that claim, but so far support has been seen only in a promise for a cash-limited pot for English councils to bid into.

Backing those new efforts was Paul Watson, head of the Association of North East Councils.

He said: “We believe that, if we are given the power and financial wherewithal, we can make this area of the country even more prosperous.

“And this is the spirit of NEvolution, a collaborative, positive and progressive campaign that calls for support to allow us to realise the huge potential that exists here.”

He was supported by Newcastle Council’s chief executive Pat Ritchie who said: “Across the region, we believe the best way forward is to have the Government act on both the Heseltine report and Lord Adonis’s review of the North East economy.

“And the best way to do that is this clear message we are sending to Government that we are united on working together to grow our economy.”

Colin Tapping, chairman of the Society of Editors Northern Region, said: “Newspapers across the region have put aside their rivalries to support a compelling case to the Chancellor on behalf of their communities.

“The whole of the North East stands four-square behind implementation of the Heseltine Report to deliver investment programmes to the region.

“Our communities have an outstanding track record in transforming investment into real economic growth.”

Power transfer 'a priority'

BUSINESS leaders have made handing over powers to the region a priority in their submission to Government.

George Osborne needs to support businesses as they seek to grow, the North East Chamber of Commerce has said.

And as part of that support the Chancellor should back plans to hand regional leaders a say on Government spending "as quickly as possible".

In a submission to the Treasury ahead of the spending review, the Chamber has said the Government should "prioritise funding towards areas with the potential to unlock economic growth".

The Government must also quickly deliver on previously announced schemes on the A1 in North Yorkshire and Gateshead and A19 junctions around Tyneside and Teesside, say the Chamber, which also wants to see preparatory work for A1 dualling in Northumberland begin.

President John Mowbray said: "More must be done to help North East businesses deliver sustainable economic growth, increase wealth and more jobs.

"We have been saying for the last two years that the North East is an untapped resource bursting with potential. Our export performance outstrips the rest of the country, unemployment is falling faster than the rest of the UK, our manufacturing is in rude health and our service sector is growing faster than at any time since the recession began.

"What we require are the tools to do a proper job. To fulfil our undoubted potential, improve on what we are good at and utilise our capacity and enviable resources."

In a detailed spending review submission the Chamber points to the real need for finding changes.

"Since the abolition of regional development agencies, local economic development organisations, principally local enterprise partnerships, have not had access to ‘single pot’ funding.

"Money has instead been provided through a variety of piecemeal sources. While both LEPs and other bodies have achieved some success through use of these, we believe the impact is smaller than could be achieved through a more flexible single fund. This was also recognised by Lord Heseltine in his review of competitiveness."

Chamber chief executive James Ramsbotham said many businesses also had concerns about the limited impact of Government planning reforms.

He said: "While we welcome planning reforms, the impact has been limited. Local authorities have faced heavy cutbacks and prioritised planning and development to bear some of these cuts, affecting performance and undermining the effect of Government policy. We believe greater regionally-focused funding for housing is needed.

"There must also be better understanding of the different regional impacts of taxation and levies such as empty property rates, air passenger duty and fuel duty as well as business rates reform."

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer