Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Columnist

Article excerpt

Byline: DAVID TAYLOR-GOOBY

IHAVE talked to many people and listened to debates about the proposed devolution package for the North East, or North East Devolution Agreement to give it its proper name, and have identified what I would call three distinct schools of thought.

Remember that when the Government talks about the North East, they are referring to Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. There are other arrangements for Tees Valley and Darlington.

The first is a cautious optimism, and a belief that we should at least give it a go. The fact the local authorities have got so far, and managed to put aside old rivalries and suspicions, is a cause for celebration. The proposed agreement provides many opportunities. There is the issue of the mayor, of course, but that could be dealt with.

The second is a dismissal, on the grounds that the amount promised, PS30 million a year, for 30 years, could be less than the amount of cuts if they go on at the present rate. To get this in proportion, the Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield NHS Commissioning Group, which covers half of County Durham, has a budget of PS400million for one year, and the county council a net budget of PS430million. Since 2011, the authority has made savings of more than PS100million and more are to come. This school of thought would reckon the proposals to be little more than a publicity stunt.

Finally, there is a view the whole business is an attempt to offload unpopular issues on to the local authorities so that they have to take the blame for future failures and difficult decisions. The Government is trying to escape responsibility for decisions it knows people will not like.

I think it is worth reading the agreement. It is only 15 pages long, and written in clear English. There are considerable opportunities in it. That does not mean they will happen, but they could with enough political will and support. They certainly will not if we continue to simply accept what the Government is doing.

Two examples caught my eye. The first is about housing: the document promises the devolution of statutory powers to the new authority to enable it to build more and better homes, but also to do things such as deal with bad landlords. …

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