Shambolic dithering by Labour in Gateshead over their own call to declare independence from the North East could cost residents millions of pounds in lost government cash and extra bureaucracy.
Despite recent suggestions Theresa May wants to drop elected metro mayors, the Government policy remains in place and therefore the North East is due to elect a mayor next May. One of the necessary orders to set up the mayoral combined authority is due to go before Parliament in early September.
The new governance system will run transport, economic development, training and region-wide planning and, in the future, health. The mayor, working with the leaders of the constituent North East councils, would control a pot of money worth £3.4 billion.
But in March, Labour-run Gateshead refused to back the proposals, hoping they would spark the revolution that would wreck a major Government policy. But they seriously miscalculated - all 6 of the other councils in the North East voted to go ahead, leaving Gateshead isolated.
If Gateshead stays out, the people of the borough will be denied a vote to choose the mayor in May next year. Not a single penny of the money under the control of the mayor would be spent in Gateshead. The Metro is already run jointly by the 7 councils and it will mean Gateshead will have to be removed from the management of the system.
There are serious question marks over what Gateshead residents would be charged to maintain the Metro under Labour’s “independence” plans. Gateshead will have to set itself up as its own transport authority, a function that has been performed at Tyne and Wear level since 1974. This bureaucracy all comes at a price Gateshead can ill afford.
Labour are now dithering about whether or not to rejoin the other 6 councils. The all-Labour council cabinet met on 12th July but deferred the issue to 21st July when they failed again to make a decision. Another meeting was called in August, but was cancelled at the last minute and rescheduled for September.
It seems there are tensions between the realists and the revolutionaries and if this remains unresolved, the default position is that Gateshead continues as a “non-consenting authority” – in other words, we are kicked out of existing regional structures and have to go it alone.
Labour needs to stop dithering, get their act together and rejoin the other councils in the North East to be part of the new system. Going independent will cost Gateshead residents dearly. That may be great news to the Revolutionary Comrades of Corbyn, but for the people of Gateshead it will be a disaster.
And no one other than Labour in Gateshead will be to blame for the resulting chaos and mess.