STAND ASIDE WHITEHALL.
The Conservative and Labour parties are now broadly in agreement about what needs to be done about the North-South divide.
I still think the Coalition was wrong to destroy the Regional Development Agencies and Labour needs to add a Council of the North to its plans to beef up the Local Enterprise Partnerships and Combined Authorities.
However even with our two main political parties broadly agreed on how to devolve resources and power to the North, there is a major obstacle in their path. It is secretive and bitterly opposed to any policy that would take power and influence away from Whitehall. It is the Civil Service. They used to wear bowler hats, now they are less identifiable. Their appearance might change but they’re basic attitude to the North will never change.
They know little about our area. They regard the North as a place populated with people with begging bowls, trying to get money which they haven’t the expertise to spend. They sometimes acknowledge people like Manchester Council leader Sir Richard Leese, but generally believe northern politicians are Town Hall minnows who can’t be trusted with the cash. At a recent conference I heard one former senior Treasury official bragging that as far as civil servants are concerned there never has been a regional policy.
This situation has prevailed for many decades even when there were civil servants in regional government offices. Some tried to make a difference, most couldn’t wait for a posting back to London.
Tony Blair invaded Iraq but he never had the guts to demand his civil servants implement John Prescott’s vision for well resourced development agencies democratically controlled by assemblies. We elect the politicians and they should tell the civil servants, with the threat of dismissal, to get on with what the elected government propose.
So let’s see what happens after the election. Both parties want to devolve money and power to the North. I forecast the civil service will first of all go slow, then the Treasury will reduce the money available, then the powers will be trimmed.
I hope I am wrong but it is going to need Cities Minister Greg Clarke or Labour’s Lord Adonis to have the full support of Cameron or Miliband to get this done.
JUNKER: THE DEMOCRATIC CHOICE.
We are set to celebrate Magna Carta. It was the start of democracy but when the democratic choice of the European Parliament gets the top job, people cry foul.
David Cameron says the Council of Ministers is more democratic than the European Parliament. How does that work? We directly elected our MEPs who’s political groups had decided who should be their candidates for President of the European Commission. Junker was the centre right choice. They got most seats. Bingo.
David Cameron was first elected as an MP, then became Prime Minister in which capacity he attends the Council of Ministers. I don’t see how he’s able to claim greater democratic authenticity than the European Parliament.
Anyway Cameron now faces a very difficult task in getting sufficient concessions to convince a Tory Party, and probably the British people, that we should stay in.
TOUR DE LEEDS.
Very best wishes to Leeds and Yorkshire this weekend as the Tour de France begins in the fair county.
It is a huge opportunity for the region and a tribute to the people from business, sport and politics who have made it possible.