EMMA LEWELL-BUCK: It's time we had our say about power
The public meeting was called over concerns surrounding the undemocratic imposition by the Conservative Government of an elected executive Mayor, as outlined in the proposed North East Devolution Agreement.
The Mayor would cover an area running from Berwick to Bishop Auckland, having control over a huge area that is both urban and rural. People have genuine concerns that whoever that person may be, may have greater allegiance to one area over another.
Recent history has shown us the turnout for these elections elsewhere has been woeful, raising the possibility of the successful candidate being elected without a convincing mandate.
The Chancellor talks about how, for a true powerhouse, you need true power, but without the necessary investment and financial backing this power, how can this power be exercised?
How much power and decision making will our imposed Mayor really have? This is all about devolving responsibility for cuts to the region when the Treasury still holds the purse-strings.
Of course more decisions made in the North East rather than Westminster can only be good for us, but this Government, despite their rhetoric about building a bridge between the North and South, have done nothing more than create greater divisions.
We only have to look at the difference between the £2,700 per head spent on transport in London compared to the paltry £5 per head in the North or the shameful funding agreements with local government in the South, where they have been given increased funding compared to the vast cuts to councils in the North East.
There is a consensus in the North East that devolution can bring new opportunities to support local businesses and help to create new jobs; to let us make more decisions about transport investment, particularly public transport, and to enable us to do more to identify opportunities for investment in new social housing and have more say on how to develop our own plans to improve post 16 education and training so that our young people have better skills and therefore better career prospects.
But there are real concerns about the undemocratic way the Government is forcing through these deals at break-neck speed.
People feel they have not been consulted about the deals on offer and what it means for them and are angry at how this Government can force this process upon our region without any consultation or public consent.
If this is about bringing decision-making closer to people, then where are our voices in this? The whole point of devolution is to bring power and decision-making closer to us, to make local structures more accountable.
This can only be achieved by including us in a democratic process. This is about the future of our cities, our towns and communities.
We should have a say on not just who represents us, but how and under what system we are to be represented.