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Whitehall 'won't let power go North' Region will not benefit, says politician.

Byline: Adrian Pearson Regional Affairs Correspondent

LABOUR'S innovative plan to hand over economic powers to city leaders is to be watered down as civil servants in London become increasingly reluctant to hand over control, it has been said.

Whitehall staff are being accused of snobbery after they dismissed a plan which would have given areas such as Tyne and Wear more control over job creation and other economic matters. The Government's Sub National Review was last year trumpeted as a commitment to local decision makers, with an assurance from ministers that they knew councils were best placed to say how millions of pounds of public cash should be spent.

Ministers have proposed scrapping the regional assembly and handing more planning powers to the development agency, working closely with councils, but this could be halted as London-based civil servants reconsider.

The Journal has been told many councils are worried the current political uncertainty at the heart of Government is forcing Whitehall to slow down all major decisions and await a clearer sense of leadership, possibly after the next general election.

One politician consulted on the sub national review said "It is dead. People I have spoken to do not believe we will see any of the benefits first mentioned."

Fears that the changes will be little more than a concentration of power for quango bosses were raised at the Labour Party conference last week.

Dr Pauleen Lane, a board member at regeneration group English Partnerships, has warned Labour politicians they must trust city leaders to do what is best for their area and not let London-centric civil servants scrap the proposals.

She said: "One of the big problems facing us in the North is that a lot of our time is spent going to the Government on bended knees, and that is fairly undignified.

"The sub national review should be a great opportunity for us, but there are some real concerns now. We have the opportunity here to follow the work set up by the Treasury under the current Prime Minister. My concern is that it has now gone through the consultation phase and a lot of the good work will be captured by the civil servants, who definitely do not agree with the key principles in it, and so it is vital that the PM carries these through despite this."

Dr Lane was reflecting concerns that if the SNR were watered down, it would signal the end of a devolution process designed to create powerful and more responsive "city region" economies and lead to yet more years of northern economies managed from the South East.

The Government is expected to announce within two months the detailed findings of a lengthy consultation.

A One NorthEast spokesman said: "One NorthEast submitted a number of responses to the SNR consultation earlier in the summer - as part of national submissions from the whole RDA network, and together with Anec and the North East Assembly. We are currently awaiting the Government's response."

... a lot of our time is spent going to the Government on bended knees, and that is fairly undignified.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Sep 30, 2008
Words:516
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