North East city leaders meet with top Tory over devolution

Core Cities leaders met with William Hague but warnings are sounded the Government must see the regional picture

North East councillors with the Rt Hon William Hague MP
North East councillors with the Rt Hon William Hague MP

City leaders met with William Hague to discuss the devolution of power this week but politicians in the region have warned rural communities must not be pushed out of the debate.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes is calling for controls to be handed to city regions at the same time as the Government devolves to Scotland.

He was one of ten leaders and mayors, known as the Core Cities Cabinet, to meet with the Tory in London.

The discussion came hours after the Core Cities Cabinet met with Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who backed their calls for greater powers and joined their opposition to an English parliament.

But regional leaders have warned that the debate must include the wider region and rural communities.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes

Coun Forbes said: “Today’s discussions are a sign that the argument for city devolution continues to gain ground among decision-makers in Westminster.

“We are a growing voice that the Government would be wrong to ignore. Our cities are essential growth hubs but, like big cities the world over, they are also home to large numbers of people reliant on public services.

“With greater freedoms we can reform public services, integrating them at the point of delivery, saving money, improving people’s lives and getting more people into training and employment.”

The Core Cities’ urban areas deliver 28% of the English, Welsh and Scottish economies combined and are home to 19m, yet in comparison to other international cities they are under-performing and the Cabinet believes greater devolution is needed for them to flourish. Members say this is because the cities only retain about 5% of the total tax base raised in them and this is damaging their economic potential.

Fiona Hanson/PA Wire Chairman of the Justice Select Committee Sir Alan Beith
Chairman of the Justice Select Committee Sir Alan Beith

But regional leaders have warned the campaign must look at the wider picture.

Sir Alan Beith, Lib Dem MP for Berwick, said: “This is a really valuable initiative and cities are important, but so is the countryside and areas around the cities. That is why we have a Combined Authority for the North East rather than a City Deal.

“Bringing more power to the north east needs to be on the basis that all parts of the region are sharing in decision-making and that there is room for different views.”

Councillor Iain Malcolm
Councillor Iain Malcolm

Coun Iain Malcolm, leader of South Tyneside Council and member of the North East Combined Authority, added: “I said that whatever the result of the Scottish referendum, there would need to a mature conversation with Government about the nature of devolution and localism in England, I welcome this ongoing debate but would caution that devolution isn’t just about giving powers to cities like Manchester or Newcastle, it must be to regions like the North East through the combined authority and where appropriate to local councils themselves.

“Cities, whilst important, are not the only engine driver for growth, there is clear evidence that smaller towns and smaller cities have demonstrated faster growth than their larger neighbours in recent years, therefore this debate cannot and should not be about cities alone.”

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