North East Devolution and Levelling Up

Secret devolution talks revealed

County Durham’s Labour leader has blown the whistle on secret devolution talks taking place among regional leaders and with the government.

The county council’s leaders are discussing either remaining with their existing and former partners in Tyne & Wear and Northumberland in an expanded North East devolution deal or linking up with Tees Valley to the south.

The talks are revealed by Councillor Carl Marshall, leader of the Labour opposition on Durham County Council, in today’s Northern Echo.

‘Right now’, he writes, ‘behind closed doors in County Hall, a deal is being worked up that could see a politician based in Newcastle or Stockton have a bigger say over life in Durham than any resident reading this’.

According to Councillor Marshall, Durham is looking at options that could merge it into a combined authority either to the north, with a mayor in Newcastle, or to the south, with a mayor in Stockton.

‘The council is negotiating with both camps in secrecy, and apparently failing to develop the Durham-only deal offered by government’, writes Councillor Marshall.

COMMENT

At last a North East councillor has broken the silence and secrecy surrounding North East devolution about which this website has long complained. As an opposition leader, Councillor Marshall is not party to the talks and his knowledge of what is going on must be limited.

But he evidently has his ear to the ground in County Hall, as you would expect, and is in a position to ask questions.

Also, he is the only elected representative to this website’s knowledge to have said anything publicly about the future of devolution in the North East apart from the occasional, ad hoc comment by North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll.

This site has long suspected that secret talks about an expanded devolution deal for the North East, re-uniting the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) consisting of Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland, with the North East Combined Authority (NECA) made up of Gateshead, South Tyneside, Sunderland and for the moment County Durham, have been going on inside the so-called LA7 group.

This site has no view whether Durham should remain united with its northern neighbours, join Tees Valley or seek a go-it-alone county deal as the government has suggested. That is up to the people of the county to decide. But we do have a very strong view that there should be a public debate, not a behind-closed-doors stitch-up.

The secretive LA7 group, which publishes no agendas, reports or minutes, was set up two years ago as an emergency measure to enable the seven councils to co-ordinate their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. That was reasonable under the circumstances, but this site complained of mission creep as long ago as April 2021. It is long past time for the LA7 group to be scrapped and devolution put on the public agendas of the councils concerned, or their cabinets, and of the combined authorities, where it has always belonged.