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Would a mayor be the champion of region?


IT'S a bit of a night-mayor on the devolution front.

At the Order for Divine Service on Trinity Sunday, the Rev Geoffrey Driver asked the congregation in the Chapel at Newcastle's Trinity House to pray for our leaders in the North East.

That immediately triggered my thoughts to one of the most important challenges that the region faces over the coming months. It is one for which we all need to pray that the right decisions are made.

The DevoMax settlement arising out of the Scottish referendum has clearly accelerated the devolution of powers to the English regions, and with the Government's unexpected but emphatic General Election result this agenda is now moving apace.

Devolution is meant to stop the regions being left behind whilst London roars ahead, giving our local leaders powers to decide where investment is best made to encourage economic growth.

The Prime Minister has promised the North East will not be left behind and that new powers will be handed to councils 'working together' but headed by an elected mayor.

That is generally agreed to be someone working with our local authorities but with the power to get things done when others are indecisive or arguing.

And we have seen some interesting views from key figures in the region.

North East Local Enterprise Partnership board member Jeremy Middleton wrote in a newspaper editorial piece that we needed unity to strengthen the fragmentation of activity which is apparent in the North East.

Secure Yard.

In another newspaper article, Coun Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, Park 551309 pointed out that we need to know what we get from devolution before we decide to vote for an elected mayor. In yet another, Simon Henig, leader of the North East's sevencouncil Combined Authority, suggests that the whole region should decide if it wants an elected mayor.

Meanwhile, in an editorial last Thursday The Journal warned against a 'King Canute' position of non-compliance.

This might result in other regions being granted powers and responsibilities while the North East is just washed away.

It suggests it is time to stop talking about why we shouldn't have an elected mayor and to start talking about how to make it work.

The North East LEP and the Combined Authority have agreed a Strategic Economic Plan which at its core has the essential need to improve our transport infrastructure, so moving around the region is easier.

This simply makes us more attractive to investors setting up new companies and creating jobs.

Even the Scottish Nationalist Party recognises this and in its manifesto pledges support to the North East in its demands for improved infrastructure.

The roads and rail from north to south and vice versa coming through the North of England are vital for their success too.

The question is - how can we push ahead with such improvements while we are dithering over the question of a 'metro mayor'? To emphasise the point, we recently had a 'health check' on our performance as a region in attracting inward investment. Mark Hatton, of Ernest & Young, called for more to be done to make the region more attractive and globally competitive following his firm's report showing the North East to be the poorest performing region at attracting inward investment.

It pains me to say it, but this column has been saying exactly that for more months than I can remember. So will the Combined Authority and North East LEP take heed and actually start delivering to market the region and take us from the relegation slot in the league table of inward investment to create a champion region? Or would it take an elected mayor to do that? Kevan Carrick is a partner at JK Property Consultants LLP and the policy spokesman for RICS North East
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jun 3, 2015
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