The war of words over Durham County Council’s decision in principle to join a devolution deal with the six councils in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland (the LA6) broke out again at the county council’s meeting this week. It follows a row reported here four days ago.
A statement by council leader Councillor Amanda Hopgood (Liberal Democrat) at the council meeting was followed by questions and ended in bickering.
Among points to emerge:
- Councillor Hopgood confirmed that the council had agreed in principle that it wished to create a regional deal and was in discussions with the LA6 councils and the government;
- She believed Durham would probably get a lot more money from a regional deal than a go-it-alone county deal;
- She denied that Durham would lose £147m currently on the table for transport if it entered a regional deal;
- She said that Durham and Northumberland currently make no contribution to the Tyne & Wear Metro and she did not think that would change;
- She denied that there was a secret deal: ‘There’s a difference between secrecy and confidentiality’.
- She denied that the council leadership had changed its mind over doing a LA7 deal rather than a county deal;
- Labour leader Councillor Carl Marshall called for a special council meeting on the issue in November, but no specific reply was given on this point ;
- A report will be presented to the council’s cabinet, which is scheduled to hold its next meeting on November 16;
- According to Councillor Hopgood, the council is following a process for devolution deals laid down by the government;
You can watch the debate here at between approx.15 minutes and 30 minutes.
Though the brief debate on Durham devolution ended without much new information and with some unseemly bickering, the fact that the issue was debated at the council meeting, in public, at all is welcome. The full information to which the public is entitled will, it is hoped, become available at next month’s cabinet meeting and will not remain, as Councillor Hopgood called it, not secret but still confidential. Now it is time for the other North East councils to open up as well.