David Cameron: Manchester-style mayor would make North East devolution easier

Prime Minister insists there is no "one-size-fits-all" option for devolution - but says a metro-mayor makes the task easier

Chris Radburn/PA Wire Prime Minister David Cameron

Introducing a “metro-mayor” would make it “easier” to devolve power and cash to regions such as the North East, David Cameron has told The Journal.

But the Prime Minister insisted there was no “on-size-fits-all” model for local government, and local councils would be free to decide for themselves how they should be governed.

Mr Cameron was speaking after the announcement that Manchester and nine neighbouring local authorities are to receive funding and new powers including control over a £300m housing fund, responsibility for local transport, more responsibility for business support and £30m a year from local business taxes, to be spent initially on a new tram extension.

The package, worth around £1bn in total, was approved by the Government after councils agreed to create a new Greater Manchester mayor, with an election due in 2017.

Mr Cameron said his Government was determined to bring prosperity to the North and believed mayors could play a role in other parts of the region.

Mr Cameron accepted that voters in cities such as Newcastle had rejected the offer of a mayor in a referendum in 2012, but said mayors had been successful where they were introduced. He said: “I’m a big believer that mayors can help drive industrial and regional regeneration.”

Mr Cameron said: “I see that in Liverpool, a mayor who is not of my political persuasion but he has been fighting hard for his city, you see it in Bristol with an independent mayor, you see it in London with a Conservative mayor, now we are going to see it in Greater Manchester with a mayor.

“If you look across the world, the countries that can get their their big cities as engines of growth are long term successes, and that’s what we need to do in Britain, and this government has done more than any previous one to really get that agenda going.”

Greater Manchester’s decision to create a mayor had helped make a deal possible, he said.

“Basically the view here is that the more you can have really strong accountability the easier it is to devolve more money and powers and I think that’s why such a big step forward has been made with the idea of the metro-mayor. So I think it’s opened up a lot of extra possibilities.”

But he also stressed: “I think every city will want to work out the best way of increasing accountability and increasing local power, and there’s not one size that fits all.”

The Prime Minister highlighted the Government’s plans for a Northern Powerhouse, led by George Osborne, the Chancellor, which involves improving transport links between major cities.

Critics have warned that much of the proposed investment so far appears to be focused on the North West and Yorkshire, with less focus on the North East.

But Mr Cameron said: “We really do believe in rebalancing our economy and that will only happen if we undertake the major transport infrastructure improvements,”

He added: “I’m delighted that so many leaders of local authorities in the North of England, irrespective of their party affiliation, are really up for this.

“And I sensed a real enthusiasm for this whole agenda.

“The metro-mayor in Manchester is just the latest piece of the jigsaw, which is really coming together.”

The Prime Minister confirmed that old-fashioned Pacer trains, some of which are 30 years old and have been compared to cattle trucks, would vanish from the North East’s rail network.

But he admitted fares were set to increase - and insisted passengers should pay a share of the cost of improving services.

Mr Cameron told The Journal: “We all want to see Pacers go. And bidders for the Northern Franchise will be required to propose plans for the removal of Pacers when they submit their bids in 2015. So those trains are going.”

He highlighted the growth of the train manufacturing sector, saying: “The good news is as well is that increasingly these trains are begin built here in the United Kingdom, which I think is exciting.”

But he defended fare increases: “Northern Rail is the most heavily subsidised franchise which is administered by the Department for Transport and so we think that you’ve got to get a fair balance between taxpayer and fare-payer to lead to these improvements.

“But what we want to see is more frequency, more capacity, higher quality and that will require everybody to play their part.”

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