Nick Clegg's regional committee accused of secrecy

Nick Clegg has refused to reveal if the committee he set up to give the regions a voice has even met

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg

Nick Clegg has refused to reveal if the committee he set up to give the regions a voice has even met.

The Deputy Prime Minister promised last summer a new era of influence when he created a cabinet sub committee to break down the “silos that exist in Whitehall and hand councils and businesses a bigger say in how Government cash is spent”.

So important was the prestige given to the committee that the Prime Minister this week said he could rule out forever the need for a regional minister looking after the North East as its needs were being met through the committee.

But questions by a North East MP have revealed a reluctance from the cabinet office to give any details as to just what the committee has done so far.

Durham MP Kevan Jones has spoken out at “secrecy” surrounding the committee after officials turned down a request for the official number of meetings.

Emily Barber Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones
Shadow Defence Minister Kevan Jones
 

Mr Jones told The Journal: “For a government which talks about transparency, the secrecy which surrounds meetings of the committee which is supposed to promote the interests of the North is remarkable. It is just another example of how the Coalition is ignoring the needs of the region.”

Last June Mr Clegg revealed he will now chair the Local Growth Committee, the creation of which was hailed a major victory for the NEvolution campaign pushing for greater North East spending influence.

In a sign of the importance being given to the committee, the Chancellor George Osborne acts as deputy, with other senior Government figures including Business Secretary Vince Cable, Education Secretary Michael Gove, Communities Secretary Eric Pickles and Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander taking part.

Announcing the move, Mr Clegg said: “I’m a chairing a new committee, working with the Chancellor, that will knock down these walls and bring all these departments together and change once and for all the Whitehall culture that says devolution is good, as long as it’s not my department you’re talking about.”

Cabinet Office sources insist the committee has met, but would not give “a running commentary”.

Newcastle Council leader Nick Forbes was among those calling on ministers to be more open about the committee.

He said: “The Government needs to come clean about what they are doing to promote growth because there is not enough evidence of it here in the North East at the moment.

“It is all very well having a Whitehall-based committee which may or may not be meeting, but what we need is action on the ground.

“Increasingly, this just looks like a slick PR announcement without any substance.”

David Cameron this week wrote to one Newcastle MP, Nick Brown, to say there would definitely not be a return to his days fighting for the region in the corridors of power. With few Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs in the North East, many had been concerned that the busines needs of the region were not being heard.

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