New devolution deal edges closer – report

More details emerged today of a possible new devolution deal for the North East, thanks to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS).

The deal, reported in ChronicleLive and The Journal, would set up a new combined authority with a mayor covering the six councils in Northumberland and Tyne & Wear, but not County Durham.

The new authority would have the ability to establish a bus franchise empowering it to control fares, routes and timetables, and to create mayoral development corporations like those set up by Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen, including Teesworks on the old Redcar steel works site

The new authority would get a grants package totalling £3bn over 30 years, including an annual investment grant of £35m, as forecast on this site on May 25, £900m for transport by 2027, potentially enabling it to re-open the Leamside rail line, and control of a £44m annual adult education budget.

The deal would also, it is claimed, enable the new combined authority to leverage a further £3.7bn investment from the private sector, create over 17,000 jobs and build over 2,700 homes.

COMMENT

The deal, if agreed, is to be welcomed. After wasting six years since the North East rejected a previous devolution offer and split in two, it would put the region on a par with the powers and funding now enjoyed by mayors and combined authorities in England’s other big-city areas.

It is regrettable, though, that the public has to learn what it being negotiated in their name through an apparent leak to the LDRS. This is not the democratic citizen engagement called for by the Local Government Association.

There is also still a long way to go, and several political hurdles to cross, before a deal is agreed by all six councils. Last time a deal was provisionally agreed with the government, in 2015, council leaders spent 11 months wrangling before eventually rejecting it.