MP calls for regional government

Linda Riordan insists power must be devolved to the north, writes Kevin Gopal

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The time has arrived for elected regional government for the north, to help revive its flagging economy and counter the growing power of Scotland and Wales, MP Linda Riordan argued in parliament today.

The Halifax MP won a private members’ debate in Westminster Hall to insist that devolution for the north would bring economic growth and prevent the country being so “London-focused”.

Riordan: "time has arrived"
Riordan: “time has arrived”

She said the argument for regional government had been “resonating” over the last year, led by campaigners from the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, and called on central government to grasp a “once in a generation opportunity” to give the North East, Yorkshire and Humber and the North East real powers over issues such as transport, planning and job creation.

Strong arguments

“This is an idea whose time has arrived,” said Riordan, president of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, which campaigns for northern devolution. “There are very strong arguments for key decisions to be made in the north by the north.”

She added: “The arguments now need to be understood and be taken up by central government. Whitehall shouldn’t be fearful of devolving powers to the north; it should be embracing it.

“Without its support, the required political progress will not be made or a watered-down version, a talking shop, might be applied. That is the last thing our region wants or needs.”

Riordan denied her Conservative opponents’ claim that the 2004 referendum on an elected regional assembly for the North East was proof there was no appetite for northern devolution.

What was on offer then, she said, was so weak it was rightly turned down, and the debate has now moved on.

She said Britain should look to Germany for an example of successful regional government. And without growth in the three northern regions, the country as a whole could not begin economic recovery, as a recent report by the thinktank IPPR North points out.


“This is not about weakening Britain but making it stronger and more democratic,” said Riordan. “As long as England is so centralised the north will never reach its potential.”

Communities and local government minister Brandon Lewis claimed he shared Riordan’s views on the need for growth in the north and devolution but regional government was not the way.

Lewis: regional government not the way
Lewis: regional government not the way

He insisted that England did not have a tradition of regionalism in the same way as Germany. “Ours is of local government and counties,” he said.

Lewis said it was for this reason that the government had scrapped the regional development agencies and was instead “devolving power directly into the people” and local authorities through its localism agenda.

He said enterprise zones, such as those in Leeds, Humberside and Sheffield, Local Enterprise Partnerships and the Regional Growth Fund were proof of the government’s commitment to growth in the north.

Earlier this week Rachel Reeves, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury and Labour MP for Leeds West, said that public spending cuts have hit the north particularly hard, resulting in greater growth in unemployment and disturbing figures for company and individual insolvency.

‘Radical agenda’

In a speech in Leeds at an IPPR North meeting she called for a “coherent industrial strategy, to make the most of the north’s strengths and to give businesses and working people of the north a better chance”. She said the most important measure to boost the performance of lagging regions is to improve lower-end and intermediate level skills.

“But we know that this can’t be a strategy written and imposed from Westminster or Whitehall,” said Reeves. “It needs to be designed and delivered by the people who know the problems and, crucially, the potential of the places where they live and work.

“That’s why a radical agenda to rebalance our economy – sectorally and regionally – will only work if it is combined with a radical redistribution of power from the centre.

Main photo: The Angel of the North

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