LETTER: No going back from a combined authority

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TOMORROW Hartlepool Borough Council will be asked to commit itself to joining a Teesside combined authority.

It will be the biggest shift away from local democracy there has ever been in Hartlepool.

The new combined authority will have decision-making powers over economic development, transport, infrastructure and skills.

Those decisions will in future be made by a quango consisting of a majority of unelected people.

The public will have no say in who sits on this quango, and no power to remove any of them from their position.

Anyone frustrated by some of the public’s inability to have certain members of the North Tees & Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust removed from their position will know how this feels.

If our council votes to join the combined authority then there will be no going back.

There is no mechanism for the council to change its mind at a later date.

In fact, it will be penalised if it attempts to do so.

Considering that it will mean the biggest transfer of decision-making powers since the establishment of Cleveland County Council in 1974, there has been very little publicity surrounding this vote.

Neither has there been much information made available either to councillors or the public.

Absurdly, councillors are being asked to vote on committing Hartlepool to joining the combined authority without having any knowledge or control over which people will be members of it.

The leader of the Council, Christopher Akers-Belcher, has told us that the combined authority has been responsible for a significant influx of money into the town.

This has allowed the creation of enterprise zones and the recently announced expansion of the College of Art.

But I question this.

The combined authority does not yet exist, and any funds gained so far have come through the Local Enterprise Partnership, which acts as a receptacle for Government funding.

A combined authority would be a quite different beast with far more extensive powers.

Cleveland County was dissolved in 1997 after more than 90 per cent of people in Hartlepool and Teesside voted in a referendum for it to be abolished.

Those wanting its return hope to achieve, through a series of small steps, what they know the public would never allow them to achieve in one giant leap – the creation of a Teesside city.

A combined authority is but one step on the way.

Both the present Government and the Labour Party support having a single, elected Mayor for the combined authority.

The current Mayor of Middlesbrough, Ray Mallon, is standing down this year after serving three terms.

This may be just coincidence but Mr Mallon has been one of the strongest supporters of the Teesside City concept with Middlesbrough at its heart.

The ruling coalition of Labour and Conservative councillors has already voted to deny the public the right to have a referendum on the issue.

It is clearly hoping to bounce us into the new combined authority through the back door.

It’s up to the public to make sure that it is slammed firmly shut.

Steve Latimer,

Brougham Terrace,

Hartlepool.