New hint from mayor on North East devo deal

A hint that leaders of the North East’s seven councils (the LA7) are discussing an extended devolution deal – and what the potential problems are – has come from North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll. Or are they?

‘Extended North East devolution is on the agenda’, Driscoll writes in his column in The Journal today. So far so good.

‘North of Tyne leaders are discussing what’s needed across the North of Tyne, as a precursor to dealing with government’. North of Tyne leaders – fine. But what about North East Combined Authority leaders, those south of the Tyne? No mention.

Perhaps that omission is just an oversight and all seven leaders are involved after all. For Driscoll goes on to mention Gateshead, though in a way that does not make clear whether he is simply making a generalisation or means that Gateshead Council is involved in the discussion:

‘Rural Northumberland has different priorities from the urban core of Tyne & Wear’ he writes. ‘Different but reinforcing. Better rail connections benefit Morpeth and Hexham as much as Gosforth and Gateshead. Affordable housing is an issue in Beadnell and North Shields. We all want to create more jobs’.

We already know that Driscoll has been arguing for months for an LA7 deal, as has this website. Does this latest single newspaper paragraph with its passing reference to Gateshead mean Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and County Durham are involved in the talks as well. We know they are talking among themselves. As this website reported on November 5:

‘The North East Combined Authority (NECA), representing the south of Tyne four, met on September 14 and the minutes record that “members discussed the cruciality of agreeing a devolution deal with central government that works for the whole NECA area and region”‘.

But are the LA7 north and south of the river all talking to each other about a single deal, and if so how are they getting on? We don’t know. This is the problem with a body that meets in private to discuss (or perhaps not) an issue of huge importance to the North East and publishes no agendas, reports or minutes, as has repeatedly been pointed out here.