Danny Alexander says the Government is ready to devolve more power and funding to regions, but only if they demonstrated “strong local leadership”.
The Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury told The Journal of the “challenge” to North East leaders aspiring for more autonomy.
Highlighting last week’s announcement of a deal between the Treasury and 10 Greater Manchester authorities, with the councils receiving greater control over billions of pounds of public money in return for creating a mayor, he said: “The recent announcements in Manchester are an example of how that can proceed when there is strong local leadership in an appropriate way. And we are really keen to reproduce that.
“But it’s also a challenge back to local leaders, to say you have to show that you can come up with a plan, come up with ambitious ideas for taking control of your own economic destiny to a greater extent.”
Mr Alexander, one of the most senior Lib Dems in government, also said that polls suggesting support for his party had sunk to around seven per cent did not reflect the result the partly would achieve in next May’s general election.
Liberal Democrats had an opportunity to win support by occupying the centre ground and explaining how they had contributed to the economic recovery, he said.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure people get the difference we’ve made to the economic recovery,” he said.
“But I think we have a great message and I suspect our result in the general election will be a lot better than any pundits expect, because of what we’ve achieved, because of the way Nick Clegg has led our party but also because the one thing both Labour and the Conservatives seem to have in common is a belief that they can’t win - and that means they are pulling in ever more extreme directions as a result.
“The Tories fighting with UKIP to see who can be the most anti-european, and Labour is not waking up to what needs to be done on the economy at all, and now sort of turning inwards.
“It leaves a lot of space in the centre ground of politics, which actually I think is where most people are, and that’s space we can occupy and need to occupy.”