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March 16, 2015

Today, March 16, is Devo Day, a chance for all of us to have a conversation about what devolution can achieve in Newcastle and across the North East.

Devolution means giving cities and their regions more freedoms over their own affairs, unfettered by interference by central Government. It also means working to empower local communities to do more for themselves.

It may seem like a bit of a distraction at a time when services are closing and people are losing their jobs, but for me it is the only way we can begin to fully meet the challenge of austerity and build a city that we can all be proud of.

Devolution can be a multi-faceted, complex and dense topic, and not the kind of thing you hear discussed often at bus stops and in pubs. But at its heart is a simple argument. Local decisions about local issues should be taken locally – not 300 miles away in an increasingly remote Whitehall.

Did you know for example, that 95 per cent of the taxes collected in Newcastle – e.g. income tax, business rates, VAT, road tax – go straight to the Government?

Some of that money does come back to us, with strings attached, but we often have to bid for it in competition with other areas. And even Council Tax – the one tax raised and spent locally – is increasingly being spent on priorities determined by national, rather than local, government.

All the evidence from Europe and across the World shows that countries that give their cities more freedoms to grow and spend money raised locally perform better and are more successful. So devolution isn’t a narrow political debating point – the scale of powers and responsibilities we can take on locally will determine how fast we grow our economy, build the houses we need and create the next generation of jobs.

Devolution also gives us the opportunity to ‘join up’ public services making sure that we cut down on duplication and waste. Our Newcastle Supporting Families programme is a trailblazer for this approach, co-ordinating interventions between public agencies and reducing long term costs to the state.

Newcastle and the other ten UK Core Cities have produced a graphic that aims to give you some practical examples of how devolution will make a difference to your life. How it can improve transport, help build more housing and create jobs. You can take a look at it here.

I’d urge you to sign up to the Core Cities’ Modern Charter for Local Freedom.

And I’ll also be talking about the issue via social media throughout the day, using the hashtag #DevoNE on the council’s Twitter account @NewcastleCC.

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