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Growth Deals: North of Tyne and Borderlands

Volume 790: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have completed their consultation with local authorities and others about growth deals for (1) North of Tyne, and (2) Borderlands.

My Lords, the North of Tyne authorities have completed their consultation on the devolution deal that the Government have announced they are minded to agree. The authorities’ summary of their consultation is with the Secretary of State for his consideration. Discussions on the borderlands growth deal are progressing well. The local area is working with the United Kingdom and Scottish Governments to develop a strong set of proposals for a growth deal that will drive growth and productivity in the region.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us in what year those in charge of each of these projects will get the power to make decisions about what money can be spent in Northumberland? Why is the North of Tyne deal conditional on the creation of an elected mayor, when the borderlands deal has no such condition? Why have Northumberland residents, whatever consultation it is claimed there has been, not been sent any detailed information or consultation document about either the North of Tyne deal or the borderlands deal, even though they are supposed to be covered by both of them?

My Lords, they are very different in kind. The North of Tyne deal is clearly a combined authority mayoralty deal; it was always the case that it would come with a metro mayor. No date can be attached to it at the moment because, although we are minded to agree it, it is with the Secretary of State to consider the consultation—which has taken place and has been largely positive. As I have indicated, the borderlands growth deal is progressing well; there have been good discussions between the local authorities, the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government on where the deal is going. Subject to a robust business case being developed, we could expect funds to follow.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Northumberland is one of the few counties without a university in it and that the Conservative-controlled county council has ambitions to put that right? Does he think that that should be encouraged?

My Lords, I had not given particular thought to that question until the noble Viscount addressed it to me. Of course, there are two terribly good universities in Newcastle, as we know, but I am pleased to hear about the consideration being given to a university in Northumberland.

My Lords, are the Government not making a mess of this? Some areas have mayors; others do not. Some have powers that others do not. Should we not bring them all together so that there is some common sense in this issue?

My Lords, the noble Lord has gone in this direction before. It is clear that some metropolitan areas are well suited to mayors, as we have seen from Birmingham, Manchester and others developing metro mayors. Other areas do not lend themselves to that, so we would not expect one size to fit all.

My Lords, can I come to the aid of the Minister? The difference between borderlands and the others is basically that borderlands encapsulates two nations: if you had a mayor, your mayor would have to cover an area from Stranraer right down to the Lancashire border just outside Lancaster: it just would not make sense.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord: that indeed is a distinction, but it is not the only one. They are very different in nature. One covers a much broader sweep of powers, in terms of housing, health and so on; the other is essentially business focused. Of course, the noble Lord is absolutely right that the borderlands deal does involve the south of Scotland as well as Northumberland and Cumbria, and that is another important distinction.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the north-east is not all doom and gloom? Will he congratulate, on my behalf and on the House’s behalf, the chief constable of Durham, Mike Barton, and all his police and civilian staff on being an excellent force for the third year running as a result of the HMI inspection?

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I am very happy to join those congratulations. It is absolutely right, and certainly the north-east is far from being all doom and gloom. There is very good progress in the north-east on a number of fronts, not least on developing the mayoral deals and business growth, as can be seen.

My Lords, has the Minister read reports in recent days that the A1 from London to Edinburgh is the most dangerous road in the country? Does he agree that, if we are serious about growth in north Northumberland, we need to get on and dual the A1 north of Alnwick and across the border in Scotland?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right about the need for investment on the A1. I think that in 2014 we committed funds for improvements on the A1 from Newcastle to Berwick, from memory, but she is absolutely right that it is work in progress and it is important that we bear that in mind.

My Lords, is this not a dog’s breakfast? Does the Minister remember that, when he was on the Back Benches, he and I agreed—in fact, we were lobbying hard—for reorganisation of local government in England, for devolution in England on some kind of systematic, logical basis? Why has he changed his mind?

My Lords, I am not sure that I have changed my mind, but the noble Lord is assuming that that is the case. There is unfinished work on this, but that does not mean—in fairness, the noble Lord did not say so—that these deals are not important deals and very valuable for Scotland, the north of England and, indeed, the rest of the country. They are ways forward in terms of giving power to local areas which I think the noble Lord should welcome.

My Lords, can the Minister tell us a little more about the criteria for deciding when a mayor is and is not appropriate? If, for example, we take Yorkshire, which is now congealing around the idea that a one-Yorkshire deal is the most appropriate way forward, with a population roughly the same as that of Scotland, does he think that a mayor is then appropriate, or is something different required for an organisation such as that?

My Lords, on the general point about how we decide whether it is appropriate, we depend on grassroots support for a deal. There has been support, as the noble Lord has indicated in relation to his specific point about Yorkshire, for an all-Yorkshire deal. We have made a compromise proposal to the authorities and have not yet had an agreed response. We are progressing, as the noble Lord will know, with a south Yorkshire deal, after which it will be open for a broader deal which could cover the whole of Yorkshire, but we are still working on that.

My Lords, growth in the north-east at any rate depends very heavily on vast improvement to the rail connections between that region and the rest of the country, particularly the north-west. When is this going to happen? Will the Government answer a question I have repeatedly asked: if Scotland goes for abolition of air passenger duty, will that also be extended by this Government to airports in the north-east?

My Lords, on the first point, I will need to get back to the noble Lord on the specifics of the rail link. I cannot recall him asking that question previously, but I will make sure that he gets a detailed response on that. Similarly, on the airport question, I welcome the commitment we have had in relation to Carlisle, which no doubt the noble Lord would also welcome. In relation to air passenger duty, this is an ongoing discussion with the devolved Administrations, and I know that it is a live discussion in Wales as well.