Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Powerhouse Minister's Move Fuels New Doubts

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Powerhouse Minister's Move Fuels New Doubts

Article excerpt

Byline: Keiran Southern Reporter @KeiranSouthern

THE future of the Northern Powerhouse was thrown into doubt yesterday after a second highprofile shake-up of the project in seven days.

James Wharton, MP for Stockton South, has been shifted from Northern Powerhouse minister to a role in the Department for International Development as part of new prime minister Theresa May's reshuffle.

He was replaced by Andrew Percy, the MP for Brigg and Goole, in Yorkshire.

Confirmation Mr Percy's role in the Department for Communities and Local Government would be as Minister for the Northern Powerhouse only came yesterday afternoon, as the final details of the reshaped Government were being announced. Meanwhile, leaders from the North East Combined Authority are among those to have demanded a place at the Brexit negotiating table with Prime Minister Theresa May.

It comes just days after George Osborne - whose flagship policy was the Northern Powerhouse - was removed as Chancellor, fuelling speculation over the future of regional devolution.

North East MPs believe the former chancellor's pet project could be about to stall.

Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said the region had "dodged a bullet" if the policy was discontinued.

He said: "The Northern Powerhouse was never more than a slogan by a prime minister and chancellor who believed in PR and nothing else. It was all a front and was never properly funded, it will be one of these things that slowly fade away.

"In principle I am a big believer in devolution but this was never that. It was unfair and was the devolution of responsibility, not finances. It would lead to government blaming our councils when things fell apart. If I am wrong and it does resurface I hope we do it properly.

"We in the North East know what is best for our region, we know best what our desires, needs and beliefs are. If devolution is only done halfhearted then it is never going to succeed."

Nick Brown, MP for Newcastle East, said: "If this is the end of the Northern Powerhouse then I say good riddance.

"What is needed is regional economic development enthusiastically championed by central Government. What the Northern Powerhouse offers is minor local Government reform."

The North East Combined Authority has already put the region's devolution deal on hold following Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

Leaders of the region's seven councils chose to freeze discussions over devolution for the North East earlier this month pending further assurances over funding in the aftermath of Brexit.

The agreement guarantees PS30m a year for the region to spend - in addition to being given control of a PS3.4bn pool of investment cash.

The North East would also get new powers covering employment and skills, transport and planning and business activity - all intended to drive economic growth. …

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