Opposition Liberal Democrats on Newcastle City Council have tabled an amendment to a report on North East devolution due to be considered by the City Council tomorrow night (Wednesday 2nd March) in which the council is being recommended by its Labour leader Cllr Nick Forbes to endorse the NE Devolution Deal and elected mayor proposals.
Lib Dem Cllr Greg Stone will table an amendment which recognises the importance of devolution to the North East but expresses concern about the imposition of an elected mayor against the wishes of North East residents and against the view expressed in a referendum in Newcastle a few years ago.
Lib Dems have criticised the current NE Combined Authority arrangements as a "one party state" with a "democratic deficit", and are calling for NECA to maintain opposition to the elected mayoral requirement. The party is calling for consideration of a London-style model of direct election to the Combined Authority in place of the system whereby council leaders are appointed to the body without adequate democratic safeguards to allow them to be voted out in the event of poor performance.
Cllr Greg Stone commented "We strongly agree with the importance of devolution of powers, responsibilities, and funding to the North East but we are not convinced there is broad popular support for the proposals as currently formulated. We therefore feel compelled to raise our concerns about the accountability of the arrangements and call upon the NECA leaders to continue to oppose the requirement for an elected mayor for the North East"
The Lib Dem amendment is as follows:
Opposition Amendment -Devolution to the North East
To add the following:
2.2 City Council is recommended to note:
- The view of the Opposition Liberal Democrat group that whereas devolution of funding, powers, and responsibilities to the North East is desirable and necessary, the imposition of an elected mayor for the North East is not
- The view of the Opposition Liberal Democrat group that it is incumbent for the Cabinet and Leader of the Council, in his role as a member of the Combined Authority Leadership Board, to continue to express opposition to the requirement of the elected mayor
- The view of the Opposition Liberal Democrat group that the Combined Authority as currently constituted has a "democratic deficit" and would have greater legitimacy if it were to be directly elected on a system which ensures cross-party representation as per the Greater London Assembly
2.3 City Council further notes:
- The legitimate concern of residents of Newcastle upon Tyne that significant governance changes are being imposed without a referendum and despite the previous vote of the city to oppose the creation of an elected mayor
- That residents of Durham County Council clearly expressed the view in Durham's recent consultation poll that the North East mayor should not be a political figurehead for the North East and should have limited power as a chair of the Combined Authority, and that 65% of respondents agreed with the view that the North East should "wait and see" before seeking further devolution powers or oppose further devolution
- That majority party councillors openly criticised the proposed arrangements at the recent meeting of Gateshead Council to consider these proposals
- The view that the Leader of Council and his Combined Authority colleagues should be personally accountable for the successful delivery of the Devolution Agreement given the current single-party status of the Combined Authority Leadership Board