I would like to thank the people of Houghton and Sunderland South for giving me the great honour once again of serving our community. Over the next five years I will keep standing up for our area in Parliament.
Business is already under way in Westminster. Last week’s Queen Speech saw the new Conservative Government put forward its agenda for this Parliament. One of the policies announced was Chancellor George Osborne’s so-called ‘Northern Powerhouse’ - a concept that had previously seemed to end at Manchester or Leeds. Although I welcome any move that will give the north east more control over its economic future, the Chancellor needs to back up his words with action. Over the last five years, councils such as ours have seen a disproportionate cut to their budgets while those of leafy, affluent areas in the south east have increased.
Under the Chancellor’s plans additional powers will only be devolved if we elect a metro mayor for the North East Combined Authority area. It strikes me as a funny kind of devolution that insists on doing things only one way, denying local people the opportunity to decide whether or not they even want a mayor for the region.
I am also concerned that these proposals will put at risk efforts to improve transport. The North East Combined Authority is currently pressing ahead with a Quality Contract Scheme for local bus services - something I have long campaigned for. But it is unclear whether this process will be able to continue if the Chancellor gets his way. Improving local transport is vital to creating jobs and growth in the north east economy, so I will be challenging ministers to commit to giving our councils the powers they need to bring about real change.
If the Chancellor is serious about creating an economic powerhouse that encapsulates all of the north, he should drop the gimmickry over mayors, start investing properly in regional infrastructure and give our region the fair funding deal it deserves.