Emma was delighted to speak at The Campaign against an Elected Mayor for the North-East Combined Authority held at the Royal Station hotel. The public meeting, supported by the regional trade unions UNITE, GMB and UNISON, included contributions from a range of MPs, Councillors and other interested parties from across the North East.
The meeting was called due to concerns over the undemocratic imposition of an elected executive mayor by the Government in the North East devolution deals. The mayor would cover an area running from Bishop Auckland to Berwick, not only are there growing concerns that the public are being denied any say on whether they want a mayor or not but also concerns around the vague nature of the details regarding the proposed mayor’s powers and accountability.
You can read Emma’s speech below:
“The Labour Party are the Party of devolution, however it is no coincidence that all of the deals that have been signed or are on offer are in Labour stronghold areas that have felt the brunt of the cuts, we in the North East know what contempt this Government have for us, they have tried their best to erode our communities, and now they want to remove themselves from having any responsibility for the services they have ran down and put the blame under the guise of devolution onto the shoulders of the very areas that have managed to hold on.
Of course more decisions made in the North East, rather than Westminster has got to be a good thing. Buts let’s face it, this Government despite their talk about building a bridge between the north and south, have done nothing but create greater divisions.
We only have to look the difference between the £2700 per head spent on transport in London compared to the paltry £5.00 per head in the North or their shameful behaviour in agreeing funding increases to local government in the wealthy south, whilst further cutting local authority funding in the North East.
Quite frankly, I believe the Conservative’s master plan of a Northern Powerhouse is simply nothing but a joke. Only this week we have seen North East Tory MP, Guy Opperman, hold a Northern Powerhouse fundraiser for his own party in an exclusive part of London while at the same time North East Labour MPs were holding the Tories to account about cuts in our region. We also had the Northern Powerhouse Minister, James Wharton, absent from two debates about the North East.
Osbourne talks about how for a true powerhouse you need true power but without the necessary investment and financial backing, how on earth can you exercise that power and is it right all of that power should be in the hands of one person, the Mayor?
A Mayor that the public have not been given any democratic vote on whether they wanted or not. In fact here in Newcastle we all know the city voted against the appointment of a Mayor in 2012.
The Mayor will have control over a massive area from Bishop Auckland to Berwick, an area that is both urban and rural. I have genuine concerns that the Mayor may have greater allegiance to one area over another, it is not a given that we will have a Labour Mayor and history has shown us that turnout for these elections elsewhere has been woeful, which could result in an elected mayor with an insignificant mandate.
I’ve called on the Government to work with local areas to strengthen local scrutiny and accountability arrangements and to ensure public engagement both in the negotiation and implementation of devolved initiatives particular in the proposals to give one person such extensive powers.
I am angry at how this government can force this process upon our region with no public consent or consultation, if this is about bringing decision making closer to people then where are our voices in this?
Both The Centre for Public Scrutiny and The Communities and Local Government Select Committee have criticised the fact that far too many devolution deals have been rushed, reached behind closed doors and without a proper assessment of how devolution will improve powers.
I’m sure we all want the North East to be given new opportunities to support businesses and create new jobs, to let us make more decisions about transport investment – particularly public transport – and to enable us to do more to identify opportunities for investment in new housing and to develop our own plans to improve post 16 education and training so that people have better skills and better prospects. We embrace the notion of having a more joined-up and co-ordinated approach to services.
The North-East is a step closer to unlocking a devolution deal of their own. All seven councils in the North East Combined Authority area will officially declare their position by the end of this month on the establishment of the North East Combined Authority and Mayor.
May I take this opportunity to praise the hard work of all 7 councils and recognise their efforts in trying to secure the best and the fairest deal they can for us. I know it has not been an easy task. Nor was it an easy task for colleagues in Tees Valley, which I’m sure Sue will talk more about later.
But we must show caution about the Devolution process, there are concerns in other areas, who are much further forward, particularly in the areas of devolved health and social care that a situation has developed where there are now so many layers of bureaucracy and accountability that no one knows who is responsible.
The reality is that councils have been and are being rushed by the Government into signing up to the deals without the time for transparent scrutiny and without the time to consult the public properly, our own Council Leaders are being placed under immense pressure to sign up to Osbourne’s deal yet the legislation to enact it is not scheduled until June this year, worse still we don’t know fully yet what will be the true detail of that legislation.
These deals propose unprecedented changes to the way the North East is governed and it is profoundly disturbing that the process has been so systematically and flagrantly undemocratic.
But, it was a case of deal or no deal unless they accepted this proposal, so I share your anxieties about a Mayor and we must work together to ensure we get the deal we want not the one they want!
The whole point of devolution is to bring power and decision making closer to the people – to make local structures more accountable. This can only be achieved through a thoroughly democratic process. People have to be on board! This is about how my home, our home, our cities, our towns, and communities are run. And we should have a say on not just who represents us but on how, under what system, we are to be represented!
Many questions have been asked about who the Mayor will be accountable to, questions that the Government are unable to answer, the deal itself states the Mayor will be held to account in the same way as the North East Combined Authority is, which is essentially 14 councillors scrutinising their own leaders, so under devolution they will be scrutinising their own leaders and the Mayor.
If just a handful of people are going to have control of a large part of the North East, then we deserve to know how they will be fully held to account and by whom, if not this is another affront to our democracy.
Friends, today is a great opportunity, for us to properly debate the future of our area, I was born here, I grew up here, I love the North East and I like all of you want the very best for us and will not rest until we get it.”