North East Combined Authority must include Teesside to become "truly visionary", says councillor

South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm says North East should stretch from Scottish Borders to North Yorkshire and grasp opportunity of devolution

Councillor Iain Malcolm
Councillor Iain Malcolm

Power holders in the region must reach out to their counterparts in Teesside and grasp the opportunities devolution could offer.

Councillor Iain Malcolm, who sits on the North East Combined Authority (NECA), is making the call to arms in today’s Journal after Ed Miliband - the man most likely to be the next Prime Minister - committed to an English Devolution Act.

The South Tyneside Council leader believes one Combined Authority stretching from the Scottish Borders to North Yorkshire could together become a “truly visionary” force for the North.

County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland formed a partnership earlier this year.

However, other councils, such as Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland and Stockton on Tees, are not currently part of combined authorities.

But Coun Malcolm says that must change and added with powers over key economic drivers such as transport, infrastructure, health and skills, civic leaders could be innovative and make decision based on local knowledge.

He said: “We have to make the combined authority work and that means more funding being devolved to it.

“The Institute for Public Policy Research’s recent survey which found that 39% of people living in England believed local authorities should have more powers, and that trust in local councils (64%) was almost twice as high as trust in Parliament (36%). Local people trust us to deliver - all we want now is the tools to do the job.

“That’s why I want to go even further and would urge a conversation between the North East Combined Authority and the five Tees Valley councils about creating One Combined Authority covering an area from the Scottish Border to North Yorkshire.

“A combined authority of that size, working together with the new powers given by a Labour Government would be truly visionary for our region.”

The Labour leader also outlined how the chairs of English combined authorities would be invited to attend a Cabinet of English Regions.

He told civic leaders in Manchester yesterday he hoped combined authorities would choose a directly-elected mayor.

But some are cautioning too much power in the hands of the Labour-dominated NECA could lead to a “one-party state”.

There are concerns Mr Miliband’s plan does not offer much to the communities represented by minority parties - such as Lib Dem, Tories and various independents.

Veteran Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who represents Berwick, said: “Voters in the North East did not trust Labour to give any real power to a regional assembly and were worried that it might be run like a one-party state. Labour does not seem to have learned its lesson from a heavy defeat in the 2004 referendum and must recognise that 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.

“Although the combined authority for the North East has the potential to help the whole region there are serious problems because rural areas and minority opinions are not properly represented at all, and the body is effectively run by the Labour leaders of the seven councils; even the scrutiny body has only two non-Labour representatives on it.”

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