Thursday, 7 February 2013

Local Government in the North East

Tories tell us that they are the pro-business party and the party of small government, but does business want less government? Business leaders in the North East have called for an additional region-wide level of governance1 like a North East assembly (that was rejected in a referendum). Or a body like the Greater London Council with the ability to take strategic action to develop business and promote employment at a regional level. The Government axed regional development agencies which carried out at least part of that role.

 Councils should join up their thinking but it is not that straightforward. Durham Council have chosen not to impose council tax on the poorest households; instead they are reducing the rebate for empty properties. Unfortunately, North Tyneside are having to cave in to Eric Pickle's demand for the extraction of Council tax from families who can least afford to pay.Gateshead Council are maintaining arts funding, Newcastle are not. Circumstances are different in different places; there are more empty properties in Durham than in North Tyneside. Arts have been integral in the regeneration of Gateshead, while Newcastle are looking for other solutions.

Councils, business leaders and regional representatives such as MEPs should work together in existing structures but at a time when the mistakes of big business are being paid for by the most vulnerable, a costly reorganisation is not the top priority.

1 comment:

David Lindsay said...

The North would be at least as capable of independence as either Scotland or Wales, and would have every reason to pursue that path if they did. But who would then pay for the City to be bailed out next time, and the time after that, and the time after that? And what would the smug South East drink, or wash in?

But the grievance of England, especially Northern and Western England, concerns, not some “West Lothian Question”, but cold, hard cash. We probably have to talk about the English regions, even if we would prefer to talk about the historic counties from before an unprotesting Thatcher was in the Cabinet.

Each of the present or, where they have been abolished in the rush to unitary local government, the previous city, borough and district council areas in each of the nine regions must be twinned with a demographically comparable one (though not defined in terms of comparable affluence) in Scotland, in Wales, in Northern Ireland, and in each of the other English regions.

Across each of the key indicators – health, education, housing, transport, and so on – both expenditure and outcomes in each English area, responsibility for such matters being devolved elsewhere, would have to equal or exceed those in each of its twins. Or else the relevant Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the Prime Minister.

In any policy area devolved to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, no legislation must apply in any of the English regions unless supported at Third Reading by the majority of MPs from that region. Since such legislative chaos would rightly be unconscionable, any Bill would in practice require such a consensus before being permitted to proceed at a much earlier stage of its parliamentary progress.

No one would lose under any of this: there would be no more politicians than at present, and both expenditure and outcomes would have to be maintained in, most obviously, Scotland and the South East for the twinning system to work.

Is it conceivable that Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish voters would not also insist on full incorporation into it, with their own areas thus also guaranteed expenditure and outcomes equal to or exceeding those in each of those areas’ respective twins? Or else the relevant Holyrood, Cardiff Bay or Stormont Ministers’ salaries would be docked by the percentage in question. By definition that would always include the First Minister, and in Northern Ireland also the Deputy First Minister.

Ed Miliband, a Yorkshire MP on the East Coast mainline, over to you. You could do with a Northern foil to Maurice Glasman and Jon Cruddas, both of whom, invaluable though they are, are very much men of the South East, and especially of London. It says a very great deal for London that Blue Labour has begun there. But even so. And someone from each of the West Country, the North of Scotland, and Wales north of the Heads of the Valleys Road, would also be no bad thing at all.