North East must be first in line for devolution after Scottish vote, says Hexham MP

The debate about how to govern the North East is already underway as the Scottish vote looms closer

Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham
Guy Opperman, MP for Hexham

The North East should be “first in line” for regional devolution following the historic independence referendum in Scotland, according to an MP.

Northumberland MP Guy Opperman called for the creation of a directly-elected mayor to oversee the new North East combined authority, which covers County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

Giving the new authority democratic accountability would allow it to take greater control over policy areas such as skills, transport and economic growth, he said.

But while MPs on all sides agree that the Scottish referendum means there must be changes to the way England and the English regions are governed, there are different ideas about how to proceed.

Labour MPs such as Nick Brown, MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East, believe it is essential to ensure the North East has a strong voice at Westminster, where key spending and strategic decisions, such as decisions on major transport projects, will continue to be made.

He backs the creation of a regional minister, to ensure the North East has a champion in central government, and a regional select committee with the power to scrutinise decisions and ask ministers what they are doing for the region.

At the same time, some Conservative MPs in other parts of England, such as Berkshire MP John Redwood, have been calling for the creation of an English Parliament.

Mr Opperman said there could be no going back to the idea of creating a new, regional tier of government, an idea rejected in 2004 when North East voters turned down a proposal to create an elected regional assembly.

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But he said the North East combined authority could become a powerful body, particularly if it was led by a mayor.

He said: “Already we have the new LA super council which is made of the North East’s key seven councils working together in a similar way to that of Greater Manchester. We have to work together if we are going to compete not just with London but perhaps now with Scotland too.

“We have the basic structure there but I would like to see more powers returned to the region and if that is the case then more democratic accountability. I think in the weeks and months coming after the Scottish referendum on Thursday those are very achievable prospects.”

Northumberland MP Sir Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed, is to raise questions about English governance with the Prime Minister next month in his role as chairman of the Commons Liaison Committee.

He said: “Whatever the result of the Scottish Referendum, significant constitutional changes are in prospect and the Liaison Committee intends to question the Prime Minister in depth about his ideas for change and their implications for the various parts of the United Kingdom.”

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister, says there have to be changes to the way the North East is governed and has launched a consultation he calls Northern Futures to consider what changes should be made.

Speaking earlier this week at an event organised by think tank IPPR North, he said: “With a new consensus now emerging amongst the UK’s three main political parties to extend devolution and decentralisation in the future, I believe we can push forward in realising our ambitions for a stronger, fairer Britain.”


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