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Tyne bridges. Photo by Gonzalo Facello on Unsplash

North East devo deal just waiting for government – mayor

A new North East devolution deal is just waiting for the government to let regional leaders sign it, if North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll is to be believed.

The mayor has written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak urging him not to allow a new deal for the region to become a victim of Westminster chaos.

‘You promised to bring “unity” to the UK,’ he writes.  ‘A noble aim.  If we’re to navigate our way through the treacherous waters ahead, we must do so together. On a level. That means following through on the levelling up commitments of your predecessors.

‘Before you entered No. 10, I’d been working for three years with ministers and local authority leaders – north and south of the Tyne – to get a North East devolution deal that works for our region. It would deliver billions to invest in jobs, homes, skills training, and much more. It would deliver greater control over things that matter to people – such as transport. It puts tackling inequality at its centre. It would empower us to take stronger action against the climate crisis.

‘We just need your government to let us sign on the dotted line. Please don’t let this be another Westminster casualty of chaos.’

COMMENT

Mayor Driscoll does indeed have a record of working for a new North East devolution deal covering both banks of the Tyne. His commitment is not in doubt. In that, he has the support of this website. But his letter to the Prime Minister is not a serious contribution to that effort.

For a start, it does not address the key question to which ministers will need an answer: which councils are to be covered by the deal. In particular, will County Durham be in or out? We have seen in recent weeks that Labour, the biggest group on Durham County Council, is opposed to joining.

Second, the support of the other three councils south of the Tyne – Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland – for a new deal is far from certain. They have said very little. A serious letter would be a joint letter, signed by all of them.

This website questioned on October 5 whether North East devolution hopes could survive political turmoil at government level. But to suggest that the reason there is as yet no new North East deal lies solely at the government’s door is disingenuous.

Third, Driscoll’s letter is not just about devolution. It’s about all the other topics about which he cares most. As he says, introducing it on his Twitter account today: ’I’ve written a letter to the Prime Minister. A bit of friendly advice about austerity, levelling up, transport and climate change.’

Driscoll is certainly serious about devolution, but this is not a serious letter. If it was, it would be going to Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and addressing the outstanding issues holding up a deal, of which the public are largely in the dark. Instead, it reads like a piece of propaganda aimed at the mayor’s political base.