Monday, June 01, 2015

The Monday Morning Blog: Metro mayors - the only show in town

Some years ago, the idea that a Conservative Government would be leading the battle to deliver some degree of regional elected government would be regarded as laughable. Now, they are out in the lead on this issue. Okay, the structures proposed for super-cities may not be the model we love but metro mayors are the only show in town. It would be absurd for the North East to resist devolution because we don't like the model while other areas of the country go ahead. It seems that if we want to be left behind, refusing to go to the only show in town would yet again leave our region stuck going nowhere fast.

In the North East, minus Cleveland which sadly has decided to go its own way, we already have a combined authority, an undemocratic body made up of the 7 council leaders. In addition there are 2 police and crime commissioners, a variety of health bodies, 3 fire authorities, the Local Enterprise Partnership and a list of other unelected bodies. There seems to be no logical reason for letting these bodies continue separately and unaccountably, each in its own silo, at a time when they need to be joined up and working towards an agreed plan to build while ending the waste of duplication.

The metro mayor model has lots of imperfections but it is a great deal better than the status quo. It will be the only opportunity we have for some time to come to get powers transferred to the region and get decision-making joined up. Rejecting it because it does not include every full stop, comma and punctuation mark of hundreds of pages of Lib Dem policy on this issue will mean throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

Liberal Democrats in the North East need to consider how we move forward on this issue. Yes, we can put forward proposals that are different or that aim to improve what the government puts forward, but ministers are clearly committed to the model.

Lib Dems need to be at the forefront of the call for devolution. It is a principle that is at the core of Liberal Democracy. We need to be canny with our arguments but we need to be realistic. It's time to campaign for devolution in the North East (again) and to talk to the government about the model they have on offer. Without the devolution settlement on offer, our region will continue to be fragmented and in the ineffectual hands of Labour council bosses - the same bosses prone to political tantrums and rows which have held the region back.

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