North East Devolution and Levelling Up

Devolution for Durham: no longer a lone voice

This website has been a lone voice in recent months in discussing the possibility that County Durham will split from the other North East councils and do a go-it-alone devolution deal with the government. But we are not alone any longer.

The Northern Echo came out in support of the idea on July 15, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s levelling up speech, and now the Conservative MP for North West Durham, Richard Holden has done the same.

In his opinion, commentators in the Westminster bubble were wrong to think there was nothing of substance in Johnson’s speech; they missed the door to devolution that Johnson opened for Durham and other similar counties.

‘The Prime Minister’s speech did one thing that the bubble seem not to hear’, wrote Mr Holden on the ConservativeHome website. ‘He was speaking to those concerned, those who understood.

‘Yes, we need to see some detail in the White Paper later this year, but the promise is clear. I know it appeals in County Durham and knowing that, that it is likely that it will appeal to other non-metropolitan parts of the country too’.

According to Mr Holden: ‘Too often government attempts to improve local places have become bogged down with opposition not from local people, but from local administrations. It’s clear that the levelling-up White Paper will need a stick to help prod sometimes reluctant individuals in local authorities in the right direction. We don’t have forever and it needs to be done.’

On July 15 Ben Houchen, Mayor of Tees Valley, told the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: ‘Where I think it [a county deal] would work very well is in County Durham, which is a single identity and a single economy, so it could work there.’  

On July 22 The Journal also discussed the possibility of a Durham deal, though in its view the top priority should be a deal for all seven North East councils united under a single mayor.

Nevertheless, a bandwagon for a Durham devolution deal seems to be starting to roll. Where will that leave the three other members of the North East Combined Authority (NECA) – Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland – which rejected a devolution deal in 2016? There is no sign that they have even started to think about that question. They had better do so, without delay or risk being left behind again.