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Why is the north east falling behind in getting new powers to control its own destiny?

February 26, 2015 11:01 PM

Dr Wendy Taylor, prospective Liberal Democrat candidate for the Newcastle East parliamentary constituency, has welcomed the prospect of major devolution for the North East after the Coalition Government announced plans to transfer responsibility for health and social care to the Greater Manchester local authorities, but has warned that the opportunity is being squandered by the inability of the region's Labour council leaders to get their act together.

"The move to restore NHS services, public health and social care responsibilities to democratically elected local government control is in accordance with long held Liberal Democrat aspirations for meaningful local and regional devolution in England," she said

"The region is still beset by internal wrangling and rivalries between Labour council leaders, and it is widely acknowledged that the North East Combined Authority is behind the pace compared to the West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire, and Greater Manchester combined authorities which have already successfully concluded agreements with Government for significant transfers of powers and funding for transport and economic development," she said.

"This has the potential to be one of the biggest steps forward for local control of health services since the Victorian Liberal heyday of improvements to municipal public health. Once again we are seeing that the Coalition Government is getting on with delivering major devolutionary powers to city regions that have demonstrated trust, competence, and a grown-up approach to taking responsibility for greater powers locally. Liberal Democrats want to see this process extended beyond Manchester to other major conurbations, especially here.

"Unfortunately, the North East is being held back by the inability of the North East Labour council leaders to work together, causing concerns as to whether they can be trusted to deliver with greater resources and powers. The picture has been further clouded by the return of Labour's control freak tendency, with their shadow cabinet member Andy Burnham showing with his comments that the national Labour party doesn't really "get" devolution and is unwilling to see the end of top-down control. Fortunately, it appears that the Manchester council leaders have given his views short shrift in a furious internal row.

"North East Labour leaders need to think long and hard about why this region wasn't in the first wave of health devolution, just as it wasn't in the first wave of transport and economic development devolution. They need to get their act together and work more constructively with the Government to secure a better deal and devolution of real powers and funding to the region. Manchester is showing it can be done, but this region's leaders are yet again lagging a long way behind."