Sure let’s give the North a boost – but not by creating more layers of government

This government seems to think you can legislate the way to economic success


The European Union’s attitude towards referendum results appears to be contagious. That’s what George Osborne’s speech in Manchester seemed to signify with his call for Northern cities to have directly elected mayors like Boris Johnson.

I presume he meant “like London” rather than “like Boris”, for as charismatic as he is I am not sure the country could take packs of tousled blond mayors making quips about wiff-waff and breaking into Latin.

It was only back in 2012 that the idea of another layer of government was firmly kicked into touch by the voters in the North; the promise of a single voice speaking for a post code firmly rejected as people said they were quite content with a borough council, a county council and an MP to represent them, not to mention their MEPs in Brussels, thank you very much.

Because along with ignoring clear signals from voters about their opinions, this government also seems to think you can legislate the way to economic success: the opposite is true.

Mr Osborne seems to think that an elected mayor can solve all the ills of an area. But while we can see that Boris was undoubtedly an asset during the Olympics he has had no power to protect the City of London – the lifeblood of the capital and a huge tax revenue resource – from dangerous legislation from Brussels. The campaign may have a figurehead but the bite is toothless.

So why would the northern cities do an about-turn on their previous decision when there have been no fundamental changes in accountability or power-wielding?

We can see from the turnout for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections that just because a position is created doesn’t mean the public either understand what they are there for or wish to involve themselves in the process.

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I know from my county of Kent that we would rather not have this additional public office, which has only really created headlines for local newspapers. Crime has risen 10 per cent in the county and there are no rights of recall which further removes power from the hands of the people. I believe that had people voted on whether they wanted a system of Police and Crime Commissioners they would have said no. Perhaps that is why they were not asked?

So what is the motivation for George Osborne to promote a cause which has already been rejected, and announce it along with a new high-speed rail line – dubbed HS3 – when HS2 shows the huge divisions between the people and politicians? Unusually for a politician, that wasn’t a rhetorical question. It is my belief that streamlined governments, transparent decision-making processes and a huge bonfire of regulation to make places business-friendly is what will rejuvenate northern towns. A glance at the state funding of some of these areas shows that government intervention has done nothing to revitalise manufacturing (though lower energy prices would help) and unemployment is still considerable.

But it’s also not as if London is the model of success, with house prices still rocketing and beyond the reach of the majority, the ghettoisation of communities, and inner-city schools with terrible problems which have yet to be overcome.

Rather than more politicians, what we need is a radical overhaul where the public sector does not drive decision-making and politics is not a career choice for a 20-year-old but something that people with different life experiences choose to go into. In short, I’d say we need fewer people on the state payroll, Mr Osborne, not more.

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Plain packaging? Keep it under wraps

Plain packaging is an anti-smoking crusade too far and one which will backfire on the do-gooders who have been pursuing it. Data obtained by The Australian showed that in 2013, the first full year of plain packaging in that country, people purchased 59m more cigarettes than they did the year before! In addition, the British Medical Association voted for a ban on anyone born after 2000 to purchase tobacco products at all: Will this also be extended to alcohol and doughnuts?

I know of quite a few women in their late 20s and 30s who have told me of their delight at being asked for ID when making a purchase, but should these new rules be brought in it could result in the laughable situation of tax-paying adults being asked to prove their date of birth even if they are clearly over 18.

For the first time I sense a real kick back. I have spoken to quite a few MPs who say the proposals are outrageous and they will not be supporting them. I hope they stick to their guns on this: plain packaging is a gift for counterfeiters and helps to fund organised crime across the world. I’d rather stop that than a few adults making up their own mind about their health.

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