Durham County Council leaders today welcomed the government’s invitation to talks about a county devolution deal, while North East’s business leaders also welcomed the Levelling Up White Paper.
The County Council said: ‘We will now work with the government, as well as businesses and residents, to establish how devolution would work for the area and to ensure our ambitions for levelling up are supported’.
Councillor Amanda Hopgood, leader of the council, said: ‘We have worked extremely hard with government to set out why County Durham needs a devolution deal and how this will help us to invest in our local communities going forward.
‘It is fantastic news that County Durham has been selected as one of the nine areas to be taken forward for a deal. We have clearly set out a strong and compelling argument to get to this point and we look forward to further discussions with government on how a deal will work for us.
‘The last two years have been a challenge for everyone, but with more local control over economic regeneration, housing, infrastructure and resources, we can look to the future with confidence and optimism.
‘Devolving powers and resources to a local level makes sense – as a large unitary council we are well-placed to maximise all of the resources available to us – and we look forward to working with our partners and stakeholders on how we can join up our services and resources as part of a devolution deal.
‘I can assure everyone that we will be working extremely hard to secure the best possible devolution deal for County Durham and we will set out next steps once we have had further discussions with government.”
Councillor Richard Bell, deputy leader of the council, said: “This announcement is great news for County Durham. A devolution deal will provide us with the opportunity to really deliver on the levelling up agenda and to look at how we can make best use of our existing resources and any new powers that are devolved to us.
“We know that many areas of the country have shown an interest in being taken forward for further devolution discussions and the fact that we have been selected demonstrates just how well we have set out our case, and how highly regarded the local authority is to be able to make a real difference for our residents, businesses and visitors.”
Lucy Winskell , chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: ‘We welcome the publication of the Levelling Up White Paper and government’s commitment to reducing the economic and social disparities across the UK.
‘The North East currently has the highest unemployment rate in England, yet has huge opportunities through its assets, businesses, and people to change that. With the right level of investment and partnership working with government, we can make a difference to the economic and social wealth of the region.
‘We were also pleased to see further commitment to devolution. We are clear that local decision-making, targeting investment resources to local priorities, will make a difference and we will continue to work alongside our political partners in the region to secure the optimum devolution position for the North East.
‘Other highlights for me are the confirmation that future decisions on how the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will be invested will be made within the region, a focus on helping people to improve their skills and a commitment to invest in our transport systems.
‘We look forward to continuing to work with all of our partners to not only level up the North East with the rest of the UK regions, but surpass them’.
Jonathan Walker, policy director of the North East England Chamber of Commerce said: ‘For a long time we have campaigned for government to recognise the damage that the inequalities between regions do to the national economy. We therefore welcome the Levelling Up White Paper.
‘It is a good description and acknowledgement of many of the symptoms of the economic gaps in our country. But this diagnosis is only part of what we need. We now have to see how serious government is about giving the North East the necessary resources and focus, and to working with us.
‘The White Paper talks about a series of missions. To be successful a mission needs strong leadership and a relentless focus on delivery. Levelling Up must not simply exist in the minds of policy makers; it must be felt quickly by businesses and communities across our region.
‘The desire in the North East to improve our economy is enormous, as are the rewards for doing so. Today must mark the end of decades of under-investment and the start of a new approach to economic development, coupled with a commitment by government to take the tough decisions to prioritise resources towards the areas that need them the most.’