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Regional Ministers

Volume 580: debated on Tuesday 13 May 2014

3. What the Government's policy is on introducing regional Ministers to champion specific areas of the country. (903980)

This Government have instituted the most radical devolution of power and financial autonomy to local councils and community groups for a generation. It is our policy to empower local leaders in cities, counties and districts. Local leaders support that approach. Sir Richard Leese, the leader of Manchester city council, said that there has been more progress on giving cities control of their destiny in three years of this Government than under 13 years of Labour.

I thank the Minister for his answer. Will he now answer the question that I put about regional Ministers, and say what he thinks about that as a way of providing a voice and focus for regions across the piece?

The route we have taken is to empower the leaders of our great cities and counties to provide that leadership of their area. We do not want to send, as the previous Government did, governors-general from Westminster and Whitehall to preside over the regions. That is why our 24 city deals have been based on what local leaders and businesses want; it is their ideas that they have put forward and we back them.

The Government have conceded the principle of territorial Ministers in England with the appointment of the City Minister for Portsmouth. As I understand it, the reason the Government did that was economic development-led. Surely the case for the north-east of England is far stronger, with unemployment rates being higher.

The right hon. Gentleman was a regional Minister in the previous Government. Let me just reflect for a moment on my home town of Middlesbrough. I carry around with me a medallion that was struck to commemorate a statue, publicly unveiled, to the first mayor of Middlesbrough. We are still waiting in Middlesbrough to see a public move to erect a statue to the former regional Minister of the north-east. We want to empower our local leaders, and what we are doing is the right way round.

I agree with the Minister that this idea of regional Ministers is not the way forward, and that it is important to strengthen local government. Does he agree that there is a place for elected mayors within that?

I do agree with that. Having cited the first mayor of Middlesbrough, Henry Bolckow, and noted that a statue erected by public subscription was made to him, I think that it would be good if we had a rash of them across the country in tribute to the leadership that mayors can play.

Does the Minister not realise that devolving power is useless—worthless—if, at the same time, this Government are cutting local government funds by 40%?

That is not the view of council leaders in the hon. Gentleman’s area, who have been extremely enthusiastic about the city deals that have been struck. The chair of the Sheffield city region, in which the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is involved, says that the powers that have been devolved through the city deal will

“drive forward real economic growth and create jobs”

for the whole region, including for the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.