Chancellor George Osborne tells regions: If you want cash and autonomy, elect a metro-mayor

Other regions will have to follow Greater Manchester's example and elect a city-region mayor, George Osborne tells Parliament

Martin Rickett/PA Wire Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne
Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne

Chancellor George Osborne has laid down the gauntlet to the North East - by warning that the region must agree to creating an elected mayor if it wants greater autonomy and funding.

The Chancellor announced a £1bn funding package for the Greater Manchester area, after the 10 local authorities in the area agreed to be led by a mayor which will be elected in 2017.

And he made it clear that other regions hoping to gain similar funding and new powers will have to follow suit.

But the announcement was criticised by Labour, which said it was ready to grant home rule to English regions while letting them decide for themselves how they should be governed.

Coun Simon Henig, chair of the North East Combined Authority which serves County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland, pointed out that voters in major cities including Newcastle rejected the possibility of a mayor in a referendum in 2012.

And Nick Brown, the Labour MP who served as Minister for the North East under the last Labour government, said what works in Manchester might not be appropriate for the North East.

Greater Manchester councils and the Government have agreed a deal giving the authorities control of a £300m housing budget, responsibility for a local transport budget devolved from Whitehall, control of bus services, £30m a year from business rates to build a new tram line, control of local apprenticeship funding, shared control over the Government’s Work Programme which is designed help unemployed people into work, and responsibility with local doctors for bringing health and social care together.

The new mayor will also take over responsibility for policing from the Police and Crime Commissioner.

And in a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Osborne made it clear that other regions hoping for similar powers would also need to create a “metro-mayor” to oversee a combined authority or city region.

He said: “I hope that Manchester will be the first of many big cities to take advantage of greater devolution of powers.

“Any other city that wants to receive more powers and move to a new model of governance with an elected Mayor should bring forward their proposals.”

The Chancellor believes that significant powers can only be devolved if there is accountability for success and failure, which is something a directly-elected mayor provides.

North East Council leaders
North East Council leaders

But local authority leaders in the North East rejected the idea that powers should be linked to the creation of a mayor.

Coun Henig said: “I strongly believe that it is now the time for powers and control over spending to be devolved out of Whitehall throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, not just to Manchester.

“It is very positive that all the main parties are now talking about devolution within England, however my own view is that devolution should not be made conditional on accepting an elected mayor, which was rejected by the public in referendums in several major cities in 2012.”

Mr Brown, MP for Newcastle East, added: “There is a cohesion in the local government arrangements for Greater Manchester which means this model may be right for them. That doesn’t mean that it is more widely applicable, or suitable necessarily for us in the North East.”

Central government needs to ensure a fair share of transport and infrastructure funding was allocated to each region rather than concentrated in London, he said.

“What is really important is for central government to take a real interest in the English regions - and not just pass responsibility but not the money to local government.”

Liberal Democrats said they opposed a mayor. Julie Pörksen, the party’s candidate in Berwick in next year’s general election, said: “What we really need is representation for the whole region. It would be very hard for a single person to represent people in very rural areas, or people of different political opinions.

“I don’t see it as bringing power and decision-making closer to people, which should be the aim of devolution.”

Nationally, Labour has set out plans to transfer £30bn over five years from Whitehall to city and country regions to boost economic growth, and to give regions 100% of the additional Business Rates revenue generated by growth to invest.


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