Tweaked on November 16, 2022
Not even a government offer of £47m a year for 30 years and an offer by North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll to sacrifice himself in the cause of region-wide devolution have so far been enough to secure a deal for the region.
The Local Government Chronicle (LGC) reports that ‘while a hurdle in the past has been reluctance to the idea of crowning…Driscoll (Lab) as their mayor, this has been overcome as Mr Driscoll agreed his term would end at the time a new North East mayor’s would begin, in May 2024.’
Also according to the magazine: ‘The government is understood to be willing to increase the value of the [new} combined authority’s investment fund on a per capita basis to account for Durham being added, taking the total from £35m per year to £47m.’
Meanwhile, it says, a once-possible go-it-alone county deal for Durham is ‘destined for the scrapheap’.
An annual investment fund of £47m would be the largest for any devolution deal so far and more twice that of the North of Tyne deal, though roughly proportionate in population terms.
Meanwhile other pars of the country are not waiting for the North East. Following deals in North Yorkshire and the East Midlands in the summer, deals for Suffolk, Cornwall and Norfolk are ‘almost there’ and others are at various stages of negotiations, says the LGC.
A spokesperson for Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities told the LGC: ‘Negotiations with other areas are progressing and further deals will be announced in due course’.
If the LGC is right about Driscoll’s offer to stand down and the government’s offer to increase its offer to £47m a year, it is shameful that North East voters have to learn about it through a specialist, though respected, magazine that not many of them read.
All we get out of North East councillors is that ‘discussions are continuing’, or words to that effect. There should be full public engagement in their future governance, as the Local Government Association has said.
But perhaps the most telling reference in the LGC’s report is to the ‘crowning’ of Driscoll as regional mayor, which has apparently been met with reluctance and which he is now going to eschew. Why? Who else do the Labour leaders who still control five of the seven town halls in the region want to ‘crown’ instead? Councillor Martin Gannon, leader of Gateshead, perhaps? He is certainly the most influential politician in the south of Tyne area but also the one who played the biggest role in rejecting the 2016 deal and getting the region into this devolution mess.
Have the North East’s Labour leaders not yet realised that whoever is to be elected as mayor will first have to selected by his or her party (unless an Independent), and then by the voter? Surely the days when Labour could ‘crown’ the region’s leaders after doing back-room deals are over. But perhaps not after all.