The North needs an Alex Salmond
The North needs an Alex Salmond figure to push for devolution of powers to help its economy, a report suggests.
Think-tank IPPR says the northern economy is unable to dispatch a single ambassador to Westminster who can argue for more powers.
It points to the Scottish First Minister, who is spearheading an industrial strategy to attract inward investment.
The Borderland report says the Scottish economy is able to “speak with one voice”, while the North’s LEPs pale in comparison.
It is a supposition largely supported by the man himself, although by no means in an egotistical manner.
Speaking at last night’s North East Economic Forum dinner, Mr Salmond commended the report, and aimed to lay rest to fears that Scottish independence would mean overbearing competition for inward investment.
He said: “Scotland and the North East have, in my estimation, strong reason to take common cause. We both played leading roles in the industrial revolution, and we both suffered disproportionately as a result of the de-industrialisation of the 1970s and 80s.
“Partly because of this, we’ve become aware of the extent to which policy making in the United Kingdom has become centralised. The most shocking table in this entire report is the analysis of infrastructure expenditure announced one year ago in the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s 2011 autumn statement. The analysis found that planned expenditure on infrastructure amounted to £2731 per head in London and £5 per head in the North East of England.
“I’m First Minister of Scotland ladies and gentlemen, and my obligation and responsibility is to the people of Scotland, but if I were to treat any part of Scotland in that sort of disproportionate fashion then I wouldn’t expect to remain First Minister of Scotland very long.”
He continued: “I’m not the politician who abolished the Regional Development Agencies in England. I’m not the politician who left, not just the North East, but the regions of England without an effective agency to promote their interests.”
With reference to Lord Heseltine’s recent review, No Stone Unturned in Pursuit of Growth, Mr Salmond added: “I thought it would be a long time in politics before I ever agreed with anything Mr Heseltine had to say, but looking at the guts of the report it appears to be true.
“You get better economic decisions made by people who live, work and prosper in the North East of England than you do by people elsewhere.”
Some commentators have suggested an independent Scotland would threaten the North, particularly through autonomy to reduce corporation tax.
IPPR say Scotland will not be able to make sweeping tax cuts without risking fiscal credibility, and argues potential smaller targeted tax cuts, such as to Air Passenger Duty could have more impact.
Katie Schmuecker, IPPR North Associate Director, said: “As Scotland’s nearest neighbours it is important that the North joins the debate about Scotland’s future. The North should learn from international experience and argue that a more fiscally autonomous Scotland should sign up to a fiscal code of conduct to allay fears of serious damage to the northern economy.
“The North should not be afraid of developments in Scotland. The risk of Scotland reducing corporation tax has been overstated and in the short and medium term it is extremely unlikely that Scotland would choose to ‘do an Ireland’ given its current fiscal situation.
“Northern leaders should learn from the ambitious outlook of the Scots, and champion decentralisation and further local powers to the North. This is a chance for the North to renegotiate its position with Westminster to ensure its future prosperity. It needs to ensure that whatever deal is reached between Westminster and Holyrood, the North is not unduly disadvantaged.”
North East business luminary Bill Midgley agreed that regional leaders in the North would be helpful mechanism, but pointed out the complexities in achieving such a figure.
He said: “It’s about how we achieve that voice. I think in order to do so we’d need to go back to the drawing board and either look at a consensus type assembly, or an elected one. We’d need something with real teeth if it were to work.
“The problem with looking at the North as a whole, is that local geographies still apply. Within the North East for example, you could have someone from Newcastle, Sunderland, Middlesbrough and so on, but some people might question whether they would represent the region and not just serve the interests of their area.
“We had the RDA’s but they were more about delivery of policy, rather than facilitating a voice for the regions. The question is how do you get that strong voice. We’ve tried Ministers for the regions without any real success, and there is also questions around whether this person really should be a politician.
“The trouble with drawing someone from the business community is that business is fragmented. How could we get organisations together and put aside their sectional interests to have something worthwhile.”
Rounding off his talk at the NEEF dinner, Mr Salmond added: “Scotland and England after independence will be strong friends, equal partners - cooperating with each other on many areas of shared interest, but free to pursue our own policies where we see fit. Such a relationship of equal, independent allies, neighbours and friends is the one which makes the best sense.”
This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Tom Keighley .