Simon Henig: 'North East must be united and fight for devolution in wake of General Election'

Chairman of the North East Combined Authority said he is "cautious" about devolving NHS budget and called for more debate

Durham Council leader Simon Henig
Durham Council leader Simon Henig

A united North East must press for a devolution deal with real spending power, the chairman of the North East Combined Authority has said.

Coun Simon Henig warns the region risked being “squeezed between” an empowered Greater Manchester, the Tory-dominated South East and a “bloc of SNP MPs” north of the Border.

He said: “We will be looking for the Government to hold true to promises that were made before the election and during the campaign. We would certainly hope that discussions for a devolution deal for the North East will start very soon.

“It is very important and has to be made very clear that a ‘Northern powerhouse’ is not just about Greater Manchester.

“In the run-up to the General Election, the devolution deals for West and South Yorkshire were so weak that they were hardly worth doing.

“We will be pressing for talks as soon as possible.”

Coun Henig called for the region’s Labour politicians not to wait until the party had a new leader to use their influence to push for devolution.

“It is clear that most people across the region want us to pull together and it is very important that we do so now,” he said.

“That means local authorities, council leaders, business groups and parliamentarians, who remain very important to us as they can raise issues at a national level.

“We have a massive bloc of SNP MPs who at every turn will be demanding more money and more power for Scotland. We should be in no doubt about that.

“It is vital that we make a concerted effort to be a united region and that means working together more.”

Coun Henig confirmed he has held meetings with the new chief executive of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership Bob Paton, and said he was “very optimistic and positive about that relationship”.

He added devolution must cover the North East, not just focus on Newcastle, and the public must get a say on any mayoral role that forms part of the deal.

A Tory Cabinet is more likely to insist on installing a mayor in return for an enhanced devolution deal, based on the agreement Greater Manchester councils secured.

Coun Henig added he was “cautious” about a regional power taking on NHS spending but said it was “sensible” to join up the provision of health and social care.

“We need a debate across the whole region, it doesn’t fall down to a small number of politicians to agree or not agree,” he said. “That is not the right way and it is not the type of politics that I believe in. We should really put it to the public.”

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