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The mayoral debate is over – now let’s get on with leading the city

May 8, 2012

The last few months have seen debates across some of England’s biggest cities about the need for accountability and leadership. We’ve heard many powerful arguments for both the elected mayor model and the current system and we have enjoyed a stimulating debate in Newcastle.

It’s not the time to revisit those arguments, that has been done and the people have decided. It’s time to move the debate on from the mechanisms for leadership – the systems, the nuts and bolts, the strategies – to why our cities need men and women who can help us face up to the biggest civic challenge for a generation.

Counters at Newcastle City Council

To put it simply, this is not the best time to be in local government.  Our resources – particularly in the North East – are squeezed to breaking point. At the same time our responsibilities and our workload are increasing. We look after more children than ever, and we know that people will be living longer and will require more care.  In the next year the council will take over responsibility for public health, and the government’s plans for changes to the welfare system will mean that more households than ever before will rely on council services.

The local government funding landscape has changed utterly in the last two years and we have to adapt, cutting our cloth to match our diminished resources whilst making sure our city flourishes and continues to grow.

And we live in a culture that is increasingly anti-politics, where public service is looked on by some as an ‘easy life’ ripe for reform.

This is a time for strong, firm leadership, but that doesn’t come from a badge or the job title. The public don’t really care what politicians call themselves. What they want are people who can lead complex organisations, take tough decisions, and make real differences to their city and to their lives.

They want a council to deliver a range of practical improvements – providing better schools for their children, improving care home standards for older people, making sure people have access to the best and latest information about public health or creating modern, affordable homes.

They want a council that is well-respected on the national stage and can lobby and persuade Westminster politicians – for whom our city is a world away – to listen to our arguments. That’s why I’ve written to Nick Clegg reminding him of the need to work quickly and conclude negotiations over a City Deal for Newcastle.

They want our council to plan adequately for a future that offers not only potential problems, but fantastic opportunities for economic and social growth.

A strong leader for a strong city which looks beyond the region to promote itself nationally and internationally as a great place to live and do business.

There has been growth and the city has proved resilient during the economic downturn, but this has not benefited everyone, particularly those most in need. People in our poorer areas have fewer qualifications, fewer job opportunities and far more chance of dying early or developing a disability.

The challenge for our generation is to change that. Our legacy must be more than bricks and mortar. By acting today in the interest of tomorrow we can bring about lasting change which will mean far better life chances for future generations of people in Newcastle.

That’s why fairness is such a huge priority for us, this council believes that creating a fairer city will create a better city where people are wealthier, happier and healthier. That’s why we created our Fairness Commission. We believe we have a once in a generation opportunity to address some of these basic inequalities and change lives across our city.

But we won’t get there by putting off tough decisions or waiting in vain for the good times to return. We won’t get there by locking ourselves away in the Civic to study grand strategies and plans. The only way we’ll achieve our goals is to set out clear priorities and talk to the people of our city about what they want Newcastle to become. Then, together, we can set about creating a city fit for the future.

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