North East Devolution and Levelling Up

North East now missing out on £600m transport funding

The North East could get £600m of government funding for transport improvements – if its seven councils (the LA7) could agree to come together, North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll has revealed.

That’s even more than the £500m that this website revealed on July 9 was going begging because of the seven councils’ failure to do a devolution deal.

We reported yesterday that the LA7 had written to new Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove asking for devolved powers and funding for transport, but the news, given by North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll in a BBC interview, revealed few details.

More information has now emerged in a video posted by Driscoll on Twitter in which he says: ‘Government have put a headline figure of £600m of transport funding on the table over five years, but only if we come together with a single combined authority.

‘As usual, the announcement always overstates the actual amount, but it will still be over £180m of new money, and we all agree that if they are serious about levelling up, the government should give us that money now. Whether they will is a different matter’.

One might add that if North East councillors are serious about levelling up they should do a devolution deal now – or as soon as they can consistent with public consultation – on the best terms they can get, in order to access the £600m and the other benefits that come with devolution. Whether they will is a different matter.

The three north of Tyne councils have had devolution for over two years but the four south of the river have been dragging their feet ever since they voted to reject a previous devolution offer in 2016. The prospects for a new deal re-uniting all seven councils have now been complicated by Durham County Council’s decision to talk to the government about a possible go-it-alone county deal.

The lack of clarity about what is happening appears to be largely due to the fact that the LA7, which started around a year ago as a collaborative response to the Covid crisis, seems to be now leading the region’s devolution policy without holding any public meetings, publishing any agendas, reports or minutes, or making itself subject to scrutiny.

The public is left to wonder what is going on in relation to this important issue affecting the region’s economic prosperity. Only Driscoll’s occasional ad hoc public comments shed any light at all on the subject. They are welcome, but not the same as a proper process of accountability.