Durham leader confirms county devolution deal is an option

Durham County Council’s new leader has confirmed that the county may seek a go-it-alone devolution deal with the government, including a county mayor – a move presaged on this website for months.

Councillor Amanda Hopgood, a Liberal Democrat, took over the leadership of the council in May after elections which saw Labour lose control for the first time in a century to an alliance of LibDems, Conservatives and Independents.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS), reported in the Northern Echo today: ‘We are a new administration, and we have to discuss it. We are starting from scratch and we will be looking at all of the options, including a county mayor. There is nothing that is not on the table for discussion.

‘We need to work in consensus, and I believe that is the way forward; everyone needs to understand what is involved.’

Durham, then under Labour control, was one of four councils which split the North East Combined Authority (NECA) in 2016 by rejecting a devolution deal. Three councils north of the Tyne – Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland – broke away and signed their own deal. Durham and three others south of the river – Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland – have remained in a rump NECA without a deal.

According to the LDRS, Councillor Graeme Miller, NECA chair and leader of Sunderland Council, said at the NECA board meeting yesterday that all seven councils ‘hope to get to a position where we can form joint proposals on our ask from government in relation to devolved funding and powers’.