Scotsman Kennedy backs Barnett axe

THE Whitehall funding system that hands more to Scotland than the North is “unsustainable”, says former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

THE Whitehall funding system that hands more to Scotland than the North is “unsustainable”, says former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy.

Speaking at his party’s Brighton conference, Scotsman Mr Kennedy said the much-criticised Barnett Formula must be changed to take account of need across the UK.

Our region receives more public money per head than the English average, but still gets £576 less per person than Scotland due to Barnett.

Mr Kennedy stressed any overhaul should not cause concern in Scotland and would highlight funding disparities within England amid complaints the North also loses out to London and the South-East.

“I have long since been of the view that the Barnett Formula is unsustainable and that it does have to change, that we need a UK-based needs formula, which is open and transparent,” said Mr Kennedy at a fringe event organised by the North’s regional development agencies, including One NorthEast.

He added: “I think and hope as a Scot myself looking at this from both a Scottish perspective and a UK perspective that the really interesting thing is that the Barnett Formula is properly opened up.

“It is not the disparity between north and south of the border, it is the disparities regionally within England that will be brought into very sharp relief indeed, not only to the North of England and particularly the South-West.”

Mr Kennedy warned some politicians and public servants might consequently resist changes despite it being a “very healthy development”, adding a new system should be modelled on the one used between German regions and their central Government.

Newcastle City Council leader John Shipley, who is at the Lib Dem conference, said: “The Barnett Formula is an outdated concept. It is wrong that Scotland should receive several hundred pounds more in public spending per head than the North-East.

“It is a fundamental issue of equity and the Barnett Formula was created 30 years ago in response to a specific problem in Scotland. The time has come for it to be abandoned.”

Margaret Fay, chairman of One NorthEast, said it was important to build on the region’s successes, not just moan and hark back to an issue felt to be unequal. She added the formula only made up a small part of funding for the region.

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Affordable housing top priority in city

AFFORDABLE housing is the single most important strategic political issue to be addressed, a council chief has warned.

Newcastle City Council leader John Shipley, speaking at the Liberal Democrat conference, said: “The housing waiting list in Newcastle is 15,000.

“Many people cannot afford to buy and there is an acute shortage of social rented housing. Urgent plans have been put in place in the city with a local housing company.

“There will be 5,000 housing starts in five years, half of which will be affordable. Brownfield sites near the river from Scotswood to Walker are being developed.”

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Region can lead way on clean energy

THE region’s bid to lead the development of clean energy has been backed by Euro-MP Fiona Hall at the Liberal Democrat conference.

She said: “The North-East already leads the way on renewables – everything from biofuels and fuel cells on Teesside, photovoltaics at Northumbria University and, of course, the New and Renewables Energy Centre at Blyth.

“North-East England has submitted a very strong bid to be the hub site for the UK Energy Technologies institute.”

The Lib Dem MEP added the region was set to lead the drive to deliver the UK’s share of a European Union target to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

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