North East left behind again as Lancs heads for devo deal

Councillors in Ribble Valley are reported to have broken into applause after approving plans for a Greater Lancashire devolution deal which could unlock £5.6bn over seven years to invest in the county’s economy, transport, jobs and skills, and the environment.

Devolution for Lancashire is not a done deal yet and needs to approval of the county’s 15 councils. But the mood appears positive. Ribble Valley Borough Council leader Stephen Atkinson is quoted in the Lancashire Telegraph as saying: ‘Lancashire’s council leaders have been working for several months on this proposal, which is a collaboration on a scale never seen before, sending out the strong message that we are united and unwilling to be left behind.

‘With the Government’s levelling-up white paper on the horizon, the time is right for Lancashire to move forward with a collective voice to make the case for more powers and investment for the county.

‘This deal is a win-win for everyone – the government, Lancashire, its councils and its residents – drawing on our capacity and skills and building on the successful partnership working created during the pandemic. It has the potential to transform Lancashire and make a positive long-lasting difference to the lives of our residents’.

The proposed deal will not include a mayor but will have a collective leadership involving the leaders of all 15 councils in the area.

COMMENT

Following the West Yorkshire devolution deal that came into effect last year, Lancashire represents another important area of northern England moving towards devolution and looking forward to significant extra funding and autonomy. Meanwhile the North East gets left behind again.

As a county deal rather than one based on a city region, Lancashire devolution will not involve a mayor – one of the sticking points for the then seven council leaders of the North East Combined Authority (NECA) when they rejected devolution by four votes to three in 2016.

But the NECA leaders – now reduced to four after the three councils north of the Tyne broke away and signed their own deal – still seem to be dithering over a whether to do a deal, denying the region’s voters hundreds of millions of pounds for investment, particularly in transport.

Their latest excuse for inaction seems to be that they are waiting for the much-delayed Levelling Up White Paper. But that is not holding up their Lancashire counterparts. What is more surprising is that even Durham County Council, which this website speculated as long ago as last March might do a county deal, still seems to be no further forward, in spite of throwing off Labour control last May for the first time in a century.

What are they all waiting for?