Jeremy Middleton today lobs an interesting grenade into a key debate for the North East.
In calling for the chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership to be elected by businesses, Mr Middleton is looking to give this role more relevance and more accountability. These are laudable aims.
However, his call was not welcomed by two of his fellow board members at the LEP, Iain Malcolm and Paul Watson, both of them leaders of Labour councils in Tyne and Wear – and what they say has resonance too.
Since the Scottish referendum there has been a lot of talk about how we might remake the governance of Britain.
George Osborne, the Chancellor, has taken a big role in this debate, but he has become hung up on the role of metropolitan mayors. His keenness on a Boris for every English conurbation is generally not shared by voters.
An English parliament is a non-starter, so our future governance seems to lie with a mix of combined authorities, local councils and the LEP. This lacks coherence.
Coun Malcolm is wrong to say Mr Middleton’s call is a “Conservative ploy.” But he is right to say that too much of the discussion is centring on structures rather than on devolution. This is inevitable when the structures are ill-defined and continuing to develop.
Ultimately, the roles of the North East Combined Authority and the LEP may converge to produce a powerful and authoritative body of business leaders and politicians.
The debate about structure is important because if we get it right we could reap a valuable dividend. Talking about it is fine. But what we really need is for the parties to lay out a coherent vision for governance at this year’s election.