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Labour pledge to restore regional ministers
THE North-East and Yorkshire will each have their own minister to “champion” their region, under a second quickfire Labour devolution pledge.
Ed Miliband’s party vowed to bring back regional ministers – axed by David Cameron in 2010 – as part of plans to loosen London’s grip on decision-making.
The move was announced just hours after Labour pledged to double the funding pot to be devolved to local leaders, to £20bn over the next parliament.
MPs have long protested that the scrapping of regional ministers – and of Government offices in the regions – has left them with nowhere to go, to raise crucial issues.
Only last summer, the prime minister rejected a call to bring back a ‘Minister for the North-East’ to fight for jobs, insisting the post was unnecessary.
Yet, months later, Mr Cameron triggered further controversy when he appointed a ‘Minister for Portsmouth’ – a Southern city, critics noted, with key marginal seats.
Now Michael Dugher, Labour’s Cabinet Office spokesman, has said regional ministers will be “critical in delivering Labour’s agenda to devolve more power to city-regions”.
They would be responsible for: * Promoting their regions to attract private sector investment.
* Advising other ministers on the impacts of government policy on their areas.
* Co-ordinating local services and different arms of government.
* Helping local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) to tap into central Government funding.
* Reporting back on weaknesses in regional economies and public services to a new ‘regional committee’ at the heart of Government.
Mr Dugher said: “Labour is pledging to introduce regional ministers to put the voice of the English regions at the heart of Labour decision-making.
“They will help to shape policy around local and regional interests with a view to correcting the regional inequalities that have arisen under the Tories.
“Regional ministers would not be a replica of what came before, but rather would be complementary to our agenda to devolve more power to city-regions.”
Under Gordon Brown, the ‘Minister for the North-East’ was Newcastle East MP Nick Brown, who played a prominent role during the post-2008 recession.
Labour also set up a select committee for each region – investigating controversies such as the closure of the Redcar steelworks – but there was no mention of that initiative yesterday.
In Opposition, Mr Cameron pledged to appoint a string of ‘city ministers’, but the idea was immediately dumped in office.
Instead a single minister – Middlesbrough-born Greg Clark – looks after all England’s major cities, alongside other Cabinet Office responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Mr Miliband suggested his plans to devolve £4bn of Whitehall spending to LEPs and combined authorities would help cut the output gap with London.
The Labour leader said: “Today, every region outside London is below the national average when it comes to productivity, while London is 40 per cent above it."
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