North East Manifesto: Devolution of power emerges as a top priority for North East people

Just 12% of people think Westminster does a good job for the North East while 88% want more locally-held control

The North East Manifesto - six key demands
The North East Manifesto - six key demands

The vast majority of voters want more powers to be held in the region, our North East Manifesto survey has shown.

Just 12% of you are happy with the status quo and think that Westminster knows what it is doing.

Half of people want powers to be held by a combined authority - but you are divided on whether the region needs its own directly-elected mayor, like London has in Boris Johnson.

And 38% of people said a completely independent regional government with powers over taxation and spending is needed.

North East Manifesto: Devolved power?

But, whatever structure which emerges in the coming years, one message is clear - the North East demands more control over its own destiny.

It comes as the North East Combined Authority prepares to open talks with Government over what powers will be held in the region, including spending controls over skills, transport and, crucially, infrastructure - so that projects such as the full dualling of the A1 may be completed.

Simon Henig, chairman of the NECA, said: “Over the last year the public have consistently shown their support for more powers to be determined locally and it is noteworthy that barely one in ten now favour the status quo.

“The devolution debates recently organised by the North East Combined Authority have also demonstrated a high level of interest and backing for more powers and funding to be devolved and it is important that whoever wins the General Election on 7 May recognises the strength of public support for a genuine and far reaching package of devolution for the North East.”

Joe Giddens/PA Wire Shadow chancellor Ed Balls
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls

Recap: we reveal what the people of the region REALLY want

Labour’s Ed Balls, the Shadow Chancellor, has promised the “biggest devolution programme ever” should Ed Miliband’s party win the General Election.

A devolution deal was agreed for West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester under the Coalition but Labour’s Hilary Benn, Shadow Communities Minister, said a Government led by his party would see devolution be rolled out across the regions.

He said: “We have got a devolution offer that will work right across the country. Authorities must come together and collaborate and in return, instead of funding streams getting the ‘yes or no’ from civil servants in London, decisions will be made in the North East.

“The North East knows what its own priorities are.”

Labour, however, continues to be divided over whether NHS budgets should be devolved with the national party seeming to prefer the controls remaining in Whitehall.

Some local politicians, such as Newcastle’s Nick Forbes, favour combined authorities having the ability to integrate health and social care funding.

PA Wire Eric Pickles
Eric Pickles

Communities and Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles, who may remain in post should the Tories clinch a majority in May, said a devolution deal is close for the North East but the region must be clear about what it wants.

“The doors are completely open but it would be putting the cart before the horse to agree devolution now,” said Mr Pickles on a visit to the region on Tuesday.

“The question is ‘what are you going to do?’, and we want people to have a good idea of what they want.”

He also said disagreement between members of the North East Leadership Board over the last year - which included the delayed rubber-stamping of the authority’s first budget - was not viewed as a serious barrier to progress in Whitehall.

He added the North East must look to the collaboration between councils in Greater Manchester as the exemplar.

“Frankly, it doesn’t help,” said Mr Pickles. “I don’t regard it as anything but teething troubles but there is a reason why Greater Manchester moved ahead.

“They have a clear message and a good idea of what they want.”

Any devolution deal is not expected to be complete until a new administration is formed.

Newcastle Airport
Newcastle Airport

What powers does the North East Combined Authority think the region should hold?

The consultation document suggests:

* A dedicated North East Investment Fund with power over £500m European funding and guaranteed Local Growth Fund and City Deal cash.

* A Housing Investment Fund with monies and loans devolved from the Homes and Communities Agency.

* Major infrastructure investment:

- For rail, the reinstatement of the Leamside Line along the Leeds-Newcastle east coast corridor, as well as investment in the Durham Coast line, improvements to the Tyne Valley line, and the re-opening of the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne line to passenger services.

- On the roads, investment on north-south and east-west links within and beyond the region; including improvements to the A1 to motorway standard, to the A19, and to the A69 and A690.

* The creation of Transport North East as an integrated public transport system for the North East, with improvements to Northern Rail services and devolved funding to extend the Tyne and Wear Metro.

* Having power to protect airports like Newcastle International Airport from competition over Air Passenger Duty.

* The spending power to market the North East in America, exploiting an air route established to New York from Newcastle, and a boost for Newcastle International Airport Business Park under the devolution deal.

* A fully devolved Work Programme, with enhanced support for those with physical and mental health barriers to work, building on the region’s Troubled Families. This could eventually mean a regional powers shares accountability with Jobcentre Plus.

* NECA will request the devolution of skills funding under the proposals, in a bid to offer more apprenticeships and close the skill gaps in our growing sectors which is choking growth.

* Powers to help the North East’s businesses and tourism industry to grow; with business support budgets, delivered via a North East Business Growth Hub.

* Development of an integrated approach to public service delivery, with management of all public assets in the region, and a framework to support health and social care integration at local level.

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