At last! One of the North East’s Labour MPs has had the courage and good sense to call for a devolution deal covering all seven councils in the region, as this website has been doing since it was established in January.
‘The time has come for at least some form of increased devolution’, writes Julie Elliott, MP for Sunderland Central, in Northern Agenda. ‘We cannot simply sit back and watch as cities like Leeds and Manchester continue to storm ahead.
‘There are big opportunities. On transport, our region already works together on the big issues, and it does so with a great sense of purpose under Martin Gannon, the leader of Gateshead Council who is chair of the Joint Transport Committee.
‘It could do so much more. The government has a £6bn transport pot which is keeps only for mayors. Councillor Gannon is trying to convince ministers to give us a £600m slice of this fund, but so far this looks like one of the few U-turns this government is not prepared to make’.
Ms Elliott is critical of the North of Tyne Combined Authority under Mayor Jamie Driscoll: ‘While it is very well intentioned, it has failed to make its mark. Frankly, we need to replace it with a bigger footprint and a new, fully northern authority that speaks for the North East, with an agenda for real change’.
Ms Elliott’s intervention comes the day before a Budget when Chancellor Rishi Sunak is expected to confirm spending plans that will funnel cash to city-regions with devolution deals, including Tees Valley, while overlooking the North East.
It follows a weekend during which a flurry of Treasury funding announcements, including transport cash, favoured those same mayoral combined authorities (MCAs), but omitted the North East, which has been bidding for £800m for its bus service improvement plan (BSIP).
It comes on the day that Councillor Gannon’s Joint Transport Committee meets in Gateshead to approve its BSIP, faced with the prospect of seeing it left unfunded just 24 hours later, perhaps even to the extent of being unable to continue supporting existing services.
‘How many more times will the government snub us if we don’t make a reality of devolution?’ asks Ms Elliott. ‘How many more decisions will be made for us by officials in London?
‘We face seeing Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham push ahead while Sunderland is ignored by Westminster and the North of Tyne stumbles on with its half-a-deal. Our North needs better. It needs the tools to get on with the job…Now is the time to take our place in the devolution age. Put simply, we need to be leading , not following’.