North East Party hits out at civic structures 'developing by stealth' as devolution edges up agenda

Chairman of the NEP Hilton Dawson says councillors on North East Combined Authority do not have a mandate for regional governance

Council leaders and local enterprise partnership chairman Paul Woolston (right)
Council leaders and local enterprise partnership chairman Paul Woolston (right)

The chairman of a new political party has hit out at civic structures “developing by stealth” as a campaign for devolution to the North East gathers pace.

The North East Party, started earlier this year by former Labour MP Hilton Dawson, says the region must have the same powers as the Scottish parliament or Welsh Assembly to gain true control of its destiny.

But the ex-Lancashire and Wyre MP says bodies such as the North East Combined Authority do not have a mandate to take on new responsibilities and representatives must be directly-elected.

Simon Henig, chairman of the newly-formed combined authority, however, said a regional assembly was roundly rejected and the NEP’s campaign is stuck in the past.

Mr Dawson said: “A decade ago, a divided Labour Government reluctantly delivered an unpalatable option of an expensive, powerless regional assembly.

“Since its overwhelming rejection all the Westminster Parties have united around the development of city- regions and combined authorities as some sort of alternative. Often these seem to be alternatives which are developing by stealth.

Hilton Dawson
Hilton Dawson
 

“Of course there is nothing wrong with encouraging local authorities to pool resources and work together more effectively, with elected people from

“Cities gaining/regaining powers to serve their people better but both the process and the proposals are deeply inadequate in comparison to the case for real, democratic devolution.

“We don’t all live in cities, we need more power to improve the North East rather than the limited powers of local councils coming together and writ large it should be unacceptable in our democratic society that a councillor elected by a few hundred in his ward and a few dozen on his council can assume regional leadership on behalf of millions.”

Coun Henig said: “There had been a welcome debate on devolution across England in the aftermath of the recent Scottish referendum.

“I have argued that both powers and spending must be taken out of Whitehall and dispersed across all parts of the UK, including the North East, and for perhaps the first time this change is becoming a real possibility.

“However turning the clock back to the referendum on a regional assembly is very unlikely to attract any more support than it did in 2004 and we need to continue to find other ways of working together, such as through the combined authorities which were approved through parliament earlier this year.”

The NEP was launched in May and is aiming to field candidates in 12 constituencies at the general election.

At the centre of Mr Dawson’s campaign is for the region to have its own tax-raising powers and to control its own health services, something which Labour opposes.

Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, said: “The North East is not too small to exercise power intelligently – we are 2.6 million people – but we need to think hard about what a new settlement should be.

“It would be really good to devolve powers for some aspects such as planning, housing and job creation, where we have particular needs in this region.

“But I believe that the NHS is best run at a national level. We all want access to a National Health Service where we can benefit from expertise and improvements elsewhere.”

Mr Dawson has set out the NEP’s position to the Political and Constitutional Reform Select Committee, led by former foreign secretary William Hague, which is assessing how powers can be devolved.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer