Mayor push is a Tory 'smokescreen' to destroy local government, says MP

Blaydon's Dave Anderson said George Osborne is launching a "direct attack" on Labour councillors and region should "give him the cold shoulder"

Dave Anderson MP
Dave Anderson MP

Giving the North East a directly-elected mayor is a Tory ploy to “destroy local government as we know it”, says a Labour MP.

Blaydon’s Dave Anderson accused Chancellor George Osborne of launching a “direct attack” on councillors by pushing for the role.

The Chancellor says the figure would make councillors wielding new controls more accountable, but Labour MP Dave Anderson said the North East should not budge.

He said: “No one should be in any doubt. The move to elected mayors is a direct attack on the elected structure of local government.

“He understands that local councillors are the bedrock of any political party and he wants to destroy local government as we know it.

“The people of both the North East and other parts of this country have rejected the concept time and time again and I feel we should give him the same cold shoulder as we have in the past.

Anthony Devlin/PA Wire Chancellor George Osborne
Chancellor George Osborne

“This is no more than a smokescreen to give the Tories a chance to get a toehold in a region where they have been, quite rightly, rejected for decades.”

The senior Tory this week made the strongest signal yet he would pressure regional leaders asking for devolved powers to accept a mayor.

It comes after leaders in Greater Manchester and Sheffield agreed devolution deals. Manchester’s £1bn agreement gives councillors powers over health and social care budgets, but stipulates that a mayor will be imposed without a referendum, while Sheffield’s much less impressive package sees city region leaders take responsibility for housing, transport and skills.

It is thought Sheffield’s refusal to accept a mayor is behind the watered-down arrangement.

Mr Osborne told The Journal earlier this week: “I think the whole package that Manchester is getting in terms of control over transport, budgets and the rest does need to have with it a point of accountability, an elected mayor.”

He added: “I think if you want to have the full suite of powers that are normally associated with an elected mayor in almost any city in the world then that is the model of government.”

Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead, said the local government structures already in place in the North East make a Boris Johnson-style mayor role an awkward fit.

Simon Hobson Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead
Ian Mearns MP for Gateshead
 

“Elected mayor of what exactly,” he said. “Newcastle has long been regarded by many as the regional capital but in conjunction with the Local Enterprise Partnership is the North East Leadership Board covering Northumberland Durham and the five metropolitan boroughs of Tyne and Wear.

“In that context Newcastle is only the fourth largest council area, well behind Durham Northumberland and even Sunderland in population.

“The analogy with London is quite false as London not only has an elected mayor but also an assembly and I would take it that an assembly for the Northern LEP area is not on offer.

“Additionally, unlike Manchester where the individual Manchester councils were once part of a met county council arrangement until it was dissolved by the Tory Government of Margaret Thatcher in 1986, Northumberland and Durham have never been part of such an arrangement.

“Additionally all the Greater Manchester Council areas are met boroughs indicating that they are mainly urban in nature, again greatly unlike Northumberland and Durham.

“We should be given the opportunity to determine our own way forward but from my perspective an elected Mayor for an area that is quite clearly not a defined city would be a real ‘no, thank you’.”

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