- Greater Manchester mayoral candidate Andy Burnham suggests ’council of north’ could make submission to Autumn Statement
- Liverpool City Region candidate Steve Rotheram brands devolution process under George Osborne ‘flawed’
- West Midlands candidate Siôn Simon calls communities secretary Sajid Javid a ‘Brummie Rasputin’
Andy Burnham has made the case for developing a new ‘council of the north’ that would “speak with one voice” in order to hold central government to account.
Speaking at a Labour conference fringe debate featuring metro mayor candidates on Monday evening, the firm favourite to win in Greater Manchester set out an ambitious plan to unite councils across the north of England in order to “change the country’s politics”.
Mr Burnham said he wanted to expand the remit of existing arrangements under the ‘Transport of the North’ partnership, which includes council representatives and local enterprise partnerships from the city regions of Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and Hull, as well as Cumbria, Lancashire, Cheshire, North Yorkshire and the Tees Valley.
The partnership board, which currently includes Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, and Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes, was established to advise government on plans for transport infrastructure.
Mr Burnham said discussions had started on how to turn the partnership into powerful political force.
He added: “We should turn it into something that is more than the sum of its parts.
“If that body starts to speak with a clear voice - and we are already talking about whether we might make a submission to the Autumn Statement through the council of the north - you can start to see how it might change this country’s politics.”
Mr Burnham added that the government would find it difficult to ignore such submissions on major policy decisions as they would “bring out the real issues”.
He said forming united representation for the north was an “obligation” to “maximise impact” over people’s concerns, particularly following the vote to leave the European Union.
He continued: “The time has come to really go with that and turn it back on the government and say ‘you made these promises to the north as part of your last manifesto - you can’t walk away from them now’ and really hold the government to account.
“It is about building a sense of one north where we speak with one voice on things that matter to us all.”
The event also featured Labour’s candidate for mayor of the Liverpool City Region, Walton MP Steve Rotheram, and the mayoral hopeful in the West Midlands, Siôn Simon.
Neither candidate commented directly on Mr Burnham’s council of the north proposal, but Mr Rotheram pledged a more “collegiate and collaborative” approach to commissioning that directly engaged with citizens.
Mr Rotheram described former chancellor George Osborne as “the man who robbed the cake and left us some crumbs then said we should be grateful for it”.
He added: “The Northern Powerhouse is an artificial construct and we are all supposed to guess what it is.This is an absolutely flawed devolution process that we have been sold.
“When you drill beneath what they are saying it is not the same thing that was proposed under a Labour government but we need to seize that opportunity because we genuinely believe we have a chance of being the government in 2020.”
Mr Simon, who at one point described communities secretary Sajid Javid as the “Brummie Rasputin”, said the West Midlands devolution deal had been struck “by an incredibly small group of people in an incredibly opaque process”.
“It does not reflect well on any of it on that basis…[it was] not a very transparent process,” he added.
He said he was not expecting a large turnout at the election in May next year because people were being asked to vote for “something that would not exist” at the time of the poll.
Mr Simon also said that the West Midlands had disadvantages in attracting investment from abroad because it did not have a “super, premium” football brand that was known across the world.