North must be its own 'Brexit task-force', declares council leader at historic convention

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes
Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes
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The North needs the powers to "to be its own Brexit task force" and no longer dependent on central government to step in and solve its problems, according to the leader of one of its biggest city councils.

Nick Forbes told the inaugural meeting of the Convention of the North today that northern political leaders should be "disruptors" who "shake the system up" and bring about a radical change in the way the country operates.

The leader of Labour-run Newcastle City Council told the audience in Gateshead: "That change won’t just be about a few more powers or responsibilities for elected leaders. It needs to be more fundamental and, eventually, wide ranging than that.

"That means looking at the pillars of state currently based in central London and making them more present and prominent in the north.

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"There is no reason why the mechanics of government are best done from a square mile in London, or why the media have to be based in one city, or why we redistribute funds based on a system which rewards those who are already successful.

"A new relationship with central government, a fresh look at the constitutionally accepted way of doing things, a warning that things cannot be the same after Brexit. It’s that level of boldness we need to be reaching for.

"A demand for a North empowered enough to be its own Brexit task force, no longer dependent upon central government to eventually notice and step in."

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Hundreds of delegates gathered at the event, with Yorkshire representation in the form of Sheffield City Region metro mayor Dan Jarvis and Bradford and Wakefield council leaders Susan Hinchcliffe and Peter Box.

It came a day after Greater Manchester Metro Mayor Andy Burnham said in a speech that transferring more powers to Britain’s regions was “the right policy at the right time” and “the best hope of making Brexit work for the regions and uniting our uncertain nation”.

In a statement issued after the convention, the assembled leaders wrote that northern communities were demanding change after Brexit, and that "the repatriation of powers from Brussels must be recognised as an opportunity for further devolution out of Westminster".

They wrote: "At this time of great national change, we are determined to work together for the north regardless of which Brexit we end up with.

"As part of this process, the Government must more fully engage with the North on what a post-Brexit landscape looks like, and it must do so before, not after the Brexit deadline."

The conference was told that if the North was a country its £304bn economy would make it the 10th largest in Europe and bigger than those of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland combined.