SOUTH Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm has called for a new debate on the structure of local government in the North East.
Coun Malcolm claims Tyne and Wear would be better served by a single authority.
He says Margaret Thatcher was wrong to abolish the former Tyne and Wear County Council in the 1980s, and that the region would benefit from one council taking strategic decisions.
Issues such as planning and licensing could, he said, still be decided at local level.
Coun Malcolm said: “I’m a big supporter of a single council.
“There’s going to be greater pressure in terms of the public purse, and as we’re able to create greater efficiencies working together, it would seem to me a natural progression to establish a Tyne and Wear council.
“That’s not to say people can’t still have pride in their own locality.
“You can still have a Lord Mayor of Newcastle, for instance, and you could still have planning issues determined by the councillors for the locality, but then all come together when taking a big strategic decision or dealing with a big-spend department like adult social care.”
His call has been supported by Newcastle City Council leader Coun Nick Forbes, who said it was “crucial” for local authorities to work together.
He believes money can be saved by having one authority responsible for delivering services like benefits processing and library services.
But North Tyneside’s elected Mayor, Linda Arkley, the North East’s most senior Conservative, opposes the idea.
She said she was “really surprised” Coun Malcolm wanted to create another tier of government, claiming it would add another “huge amount” of money to public sector costs.
She added: “We already work together on different things with South Tyneside and Northumberland, and I don’t see an issue with that.
“Seventy-eight per cent of people said ‘no’ to regional government in the referendum in 2004.
“It was rejected overwhelmingly. And Tyne and Wear County Council didn’t work – and that’s why it doesn’t exist any more.”