THE north of England has a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to take control of its own destiny and form a ‘Government of the North’, a Yorkshire MP has said.
Linda Riordan, the Labour MP for Halifax, told Parliament “the North’s economy will never reach its full potential” until a new regional Government is established, stretching from the Humber to the Irish Sea.
Ms Riordan, who is president of the devolution pressure group the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, told MPs that Britain’s democracy is at “a turning point” as rafts of powers are handed to the devolved authorities of Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
“I would like to see a regional government for the North, using its powers to fight for the whole region,” she said.
“Regional government is an issue that is resonating with people from across the North.”
The Labour backbencher drew parallels with post-war West Germany, where she said a federalised system of regional goverment helped create “an economic and political powerhouse”.
She added: “As long as England remains so centralised and London-focused, the North’s economy will never reach its full potential.”
Ms Riordan said a Northern Government could have powers over transport policy, planning and job creation, and would enable the North to push back against an increasingly vocal Scotland under Alex Salmond.
“If it is good enough for Scotland and Wales, it is good enough for the North,” she said.
Her proposal received backing from Greater Grimsby MP Austin Mitchell, who said “uniting” Yorkshire with the North East and North West would create a powerful regional body that could hold its own on the national stage.
“Regional government is necessary to tackle the problems common to the whole of the North, to put the North’s interests into the debate,” he said.
“Devolution has been effective in Scotland in energising development and bringing Scotland up to higher levels of attainment and performance.
“We need that kind of devolution for the North.”
Regional government was previously touted by the last Labour Government, with ‘regional assemblies’ created from a pool of local councillors and regional development agencies (RDAs) such as Yorkshire Forward established to drive economic development.
But the strategy stalled after plans for a directly-elected regional government for the North East were roundly rejected by voters in a referendum.
The RDAs were abolished by the coalition Government last year.
Guy Opperman, the MP for Hexham, told Ms Riordan: “This matter was decided in the North East in July 2004, when an overwhelming majority of 77.9 per cent rejected a regional assembly.
“This matter has been settled.”
And Colne Valley MP Jason McCartney said there was no need for another tier of government.
“As a proud Yorkshireman, there is nothing I like more than championing the North,” he said.
“But I do not want more bureaucracy.”
Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis said he agreed with the principle of devolving power away from Whitehall.
But he added: “A regional government for the North is simply not the right way to achieve that.
“Federal arrangements in countries such as Germany are founded on centuries of culture and tradition.
“In this country, we do not have that history or tradition.
“Ours is a tradition of local government and counties – the great counties of Norfolk, Yorkshire, Lancashire and Northumberland, to name just a few.”