North East could get control of NHS funding under Tory-led Government, says minister

Senior Conservative Greg Clark also said a mayor could champion the region as he pledged a new enterprise zone for Northumberland

Minister for Cities Greg Clark with Anne Marie Trevelyan Tory candidate for Berwick visits First4Websites and Maden Eco in Berwick
Minister for Cities Greg Clark with Anne Marie Trevelyan Tory candidate for Berwick visits First4Websites and Maden Eco in Berwick

Agreeing to devolve power to the North East would be one of the first acts of a Tory-led Government while a new enterprise zone would be create in Northumberland.

Greg Clark, the Conservative Minister for Universities, Science and Cities, made both promises on a visit to Berwick on the campaign trail.

He said devolving the region’s NHS budget could be part of the deal and the region has “hidden its light under a bushel” for too long.

The zone for north Northumberland is pledged by the Conservatives after the Coalition agreed £290m to dual the A1 from Newcastle to Ellingham. The boundaries of the potential zone were not made clear but the move could attract new firms and see existing ones expand their operation.

Mr Clark said: “Anne-Marie has campaigned very hard for the A1 dualling and we have committed to that.

“That gives Northumberland enormous opportunities to really attract businesses and for businesses that are based here that have logistical operations, to make use of what is coming.

“To help reinforce the attraction and credentials of the area, which will be more attractive because of better transport connections, we think it is right to have an enterprise zone.

“It gives it that little bit extra to make sure that you have got business rates relief and the ability for the councils to promote the area and help businesses expand.”

Mr Clark said he would champion the case to devolve power to the region.

“There is real momentum now,” he said. “I have been able to work very closely with the leaders from all parties and businesses and everyone recognises that this is a good model. “Here in the North East there is a real sense of momentum and anticipation that what is already a success could be even more so.

“A lot of that is about making sure that the investment that is going in is informed by local people so, if we were fortunate to be elected, as soon as we have the chance I would want to extend an invitation to North East businesses and authorities to come together and make a big set of recommendations of what new powers and resources could be devolved.

“They know that in me they have someone who has made that happen before and I would expect that to happen again.”

He said authorities in Greater Manchester made a “compelling” case to take on their £6bn NHS budget and a regional power here could follow in their footsteps.

He added: “We know that there are big opportunities to align health and social care so that people get all round good service so I would be interested to hear the North East case.”

A mayor would market the North East on the national and global stage, said Mr Clark.

“In many ways the North East has hidden its light under a bushel too often,” he said. “The strengths of this region are so enormous. It is the only net exporter in the country.

“The region has been the biggest creator of businesses as a percentage increase the last few years, second only to central London for hi-tech start-ups. These are things that are happening in the North East.

“To have someone who can bang the drum for the North East - not just in this country but around the world - and draw attention to its strengths I think is a good thing.”

He added businesses must play a central role and called on council leaders to work in harmony with the private sector.

“In the past I have been pretty blunt with the local leaders here that the story of the North East is such a fantastic one,” he said. “This is a big moment and everyone must work together for the interests of the area and put aside historic differences.

“Other parts of the country have been able to do it, even when you have people from opposing political parties. It is definitely possible for local leaders here.

“Businesses have to be included. The revival of the North East is a story about the revival of business and they have to be at the heart of it.

“From the conversations that I have had I think there is a recognition that putting the interests of the whole of the North East first is important.

“I think if they can then there is a huge opportunity for the area.”

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