Temp Devo

North East Mayor: It’s not about the money

Ten reasons to say yes to the change

I’ve always been something of a sceptic at the notion of Executive Mayors and I have even more reservations given the way they have been set up in England, even so I’m unreservedly the proposal for an North East execcutive mayor and would urge businesses and individuals to get behind the idea.

But in doing so I would stress that it’s not about the money, not in the slightest.

Governments love announcing large sums of money. They make the assumption that the public like to hear about large amounts of money being spent - which isn’t always true,

It isn’t that there won’t be money associated with the North East Mayoralty - or devolution settlement, if you prefer. It’s just that it is very difficult, as ever, to figure out just how much money there will be in reality and almost impossible to tell how much extra money, new money there might be. So before I set out my reasons for backing this notion, let’s talk about the money.

The ‘devolution settlement’ has promised a headline figure of £4.2 billion to the region but the devil is always in the detail. That’s a lot on money.

It is over a thirty year period - that’s £140 million a year. Still quite a lot of money.

It’s across seven council areas. They are different sizes, so it wouldn’t divide equally, but just for the sake of argument, that’s about £20 million for each council area each year. OK, neither your nor I would sneeze at £20m, but just get the scale of things, Reading Council on which I served has an annual gross budget of £466m, Gateshead Council has a revenue budget of £254m (both for 2022/3). Everything is relative - especially money.

Drilling down a bit further, £4.2m then breaks into four pots:

  • A £1.4 million investment fund to “support growth and regeneration” - that’s £48m a year (though my maths say £46.6m - never mind) which is about £6.5m per Council.
  • An “indicative budget”  for adult education and stills of £1.8bn - so £60m a year - about £8.6m per council area. But “indicative” - so by no means certain and no an actual promise. Roughly speaking £60 is the budget for about two Gateshead Colleges. The claim is this will deliver 70,000 courses each year which is a lot - thats £857 per course - which is plausible.
  • A claimed £900m of “investment to transform our transport system” - but the figure includes £337m already announced - so it’s actually £563m. It isn’t really clear what period this might be over, but transport project a) cost loads b) take ages and c) are notoriously tough to deliver. To give you a clue I did a motorway junction that cost £70m - it was relatively quick, we bulldozed the opposition and it still took about 7 years.
  • Finally, £69m of housing and regeneration - again the timescale is unclear, but either way it is fairly small beer.

What is true is that money follows money. Whether the figure of £5bn of private sector investment this could attract is accurate or not we may never know, but it’s certainly true that public investment brings in the private sector - I saw it work for us and it has worked all over the world, so it will probably work.

In the North East, job creation is always a thing - the claim is 24,000 extra jobs will be created. That boils down to 800 a year. That doesn’t sound many, but 800 jobs is quite significant, assuming you take some of those people off benefits, they all start paying tax and their earnings go into the economy.

So like I said, it’s not about the money - so why bother backing the North East Devolution Deal?

10 Reasons to Back the Deal

  1. The North East needs a voice, someone who can speak for the whole region, with a mandate to do so.
  2. Decisions about the North East get to be made in the North East by people elected by the North East. Even if the money is no greater (and, on balance, it will be) what the money does gets decided here.
  3. The devolution deals are the only game in town, it’s highly likely that they will continue in some very similar form if the UK government changes.
  4. If the North East doesn’t get with the devolution programme it WILL miss out, in many ways it already has because of the stupid decision not to run with this a few years back.
  5. At last we can restore some order by having a regional structure with a strategic planning role. This was effectively axed in 2009 when the regional assemblies and development agencies had been undermined. What we are ending up with is more streamlined - and it should never have taken so long.
  6. The arrangement will bring Tyne and Wear’s transport under one planning and investment structure which gives us a much better chance of coherent decision that actually go somewhere and which have a clear advocate.
  7. England is far to big, far to centralised and doesn’t really work very well.
  8. There is an opportunity to create a much better way of making skills investment and building much closer, more effective, relationships between business/industry and skills training/re-training. This has been a real weakness in the UK for far too long and we have a chance to start putting that right here.
  9. The North East Authority can deliver economies of scale and repair the fractured nature of public sector across the region. I don’t think bigger is always better - but when it comes to some projects there is just no better way or more cost-effective way.
  10. Devolution creates the opportunity actively to sell the region and provides a foundation to do more, take opportunities and grasp nettles that without that regional tier fall through the cracks.

So, it’s not all about the money. It’s about a chance to own it, to decide for ourselves and maybe, if we’ve got the imagination, to do things better.

I’ve seen regional structures and listened to people across Europe and beyond advocate for their regions and I know how effective they can be at promoting their places and the talents of their people. The common factor is they have some form of authoritative voice and a mandate to do so. The best also have imagination and are prepared to take chances without drawing hard boundaries around their role or saying ‘that’s not my job’. If we can do that then maybe we can be the ones people come to to get good ideas.

The North East Mayor seems a really cool job. If I was ten year’s younger I would have loved to have a crack at it - because it is what you make it - it could be the brilliant.

So back the deal.

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