Our centralised nation is like Tolkien's Middle Earth with 'one ring to rule them all', says North's newest metro mayor

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The North of England's newest metro mayor today urged local leaders to stop "worshipping economic growth as the be-all and end-all" as he called for dramatic changes to the way power is distributed around the UK.

Jamie Driscoll, who was elected as the North of Tyne metro mayor last May, compared the country to Middle Earth from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy in a speech at a major conference in Newcastle.

North of Tyne metro mayor Jamie Driscoll

North of Tyne metro mayor Jamie Driscoll

The former councillor told the audience: "In this country we have a centralised state based in Westminster with the mentality 'one ring to rule them all'.

"Power concentrated in the hands of a small number of individuals in London, making decisions that affect the lives of the rest of us. In recent years some of that has changed but most of it hasn't."

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Speaking at the State of the North conference organised by think-tank IPPR North, he said 95 per cent of taxes collected nationwide go to Westminster rather than local authorities, while London gets three times as much transport funding as the North.

And he criticised the Transforming Cities fund created by Theresa May's government, which he said forced areas of the country to compete with each other "to prize [funding] out of the hands of central government".

Momentum-backed Labour mayor Mr Driscoll, who won the 2019 election with 56.1 per cent of the vote, said: "Keeping all the gold under lock and key in London means that Mordor or Westminster can turn the taps on an off when it wants to."

He said the devolution of powers was common across the developed world and was not a "particularly radical concept", with the CBI, small businesses and think-tanks on board.

He said: "Why isn't it happening here? Well one reason is that a lot of decision-makers seem to be trapped in the machine.

"I don't believe in global capitalist conspiracies, no-one wants to see poverty, but many decision-makers are servants of an idea whose time has long passed.

"Like Saruman in Lord of the Rings who thinks the only way to secure the future is to appease Mordor by burning the forest to churn out more orcs.

"It's not new. The Romans made decisions based on reading the entrails of birds and theocracies insisted on religious purity so that the gods will be benevolence.

"And today, this idol is economic growth that we must grow at all costs or the market will become unhappy and vengeful.

"We have policymakers fearful of devolving power, fearful of innovation in case the wheels fall off, the machine comes to a grinding halt. Well, I've got news for them, the machine is coming to a halt and not gently.

"When the former governor of the Bank of England speaks of a global financial collapse, he isn't kidding around. Unless we face up to the climate crisis there will be no functioning economy."

Mr Driscoll said the North of Tyne authority has a plan to empower people, keeping the wealth generated locally in the area, making adult education meaningful and tailored to the individual, with a vision for integrated affordable transport system.

He highlighted the fact the economy grew between 2010 and 2018 despite food bank use and rough sleeping rising dramatically. He told the audience that there was no correlation between economic growth and quality of life.

He said: "Like the hobbits we cannot be passive bystanders awaiting our fate. We must lead this quest ourselves and shape the change we want to see."