Devolution deal for the North East gets the go-ahead

Coun Simon Henig, chairman of the North East Combined Authority.
Coun Simon Henig, chairman of the North East Combined Authority.

North East council leaders have agreed a devolution deal which should give them more control over decisions which affect the whole region.

At a meeting at County Hall in Durham today, members of the North East Combined Authority (NECA) confirmed their support by 6-1 in favour of the proposed agreement, which includes the establishment of an elected mayor.

The representatives of County Durham, Sunderland, South Tyneside, North Tyneside, Newcastle and Northumberland all voted in favour of the deal, with Gateshead the only dissenting voice.

It means more key decisions regarding transport, the economy and skills will be made in the region.

The authority bosses were due to make a decision on devolution back in March - but when five council leaders sought more concessions from the government and Gateshead Council walked away from the negotiation table the decision was deferred.

NECA chairman Coun Simon Henig said today: “We feel that we are now in a position to move to the next stage of the devolution process, which will be the creation of a mayoral combined authority for the North East.

“Through this process we have built some very positive relationships, particularly with the business sector, and I believe there has been a real meeting of minds in terms of the priorities for our region, in terms of investment and particularly around transport.

“There is still work to do in terms of continuing dialogue with Government, but this decision will enable important decisions affecting our region to be made locally instead of in London.”

Potential benefits include:

* Long-term certainty of funding and regional control over where money is allocated so investment priorities can be more effectively met;

* Greater control over spending on adult skills and employment support programmes, including distribution of European funding;

* Local control of approximately £1.5billion over the next five years – including £1,042million of existing funding where there would be greater local control and flexibility over how it is spent and £475million of new funding;

* Access to regulatory powers to support housing, neighbourhood and health outcomes;

* The opportunity to shape health and social care integration;

* The opportunity to create a fully integrated transport system, bringing together responsibility for rail, local highways, Metro, buses and ferries;

* Devolution of business support and greater responsibility for securing inward investment;

* The establishment of a North East Land Board to identify land for new homes; and

* The potential to consider further opportunities for devolution in the future.

Under the proposed agreement the elected mayor would be part of a Cabinet – made up of the leaders of the councils which form the combined authority.

The Cabinet would be responsible for making decisions on behalf of the combined authority.

Today’s decision means voters will be asked to elect the first North East mayor in May 2017. The initial term of office will be for three years, with subsequent terms of four years.

The decision was welcomed by business leaders.

James Ramsbotham, chief executive of the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: “It is very positive to see the North East Combined Authority pressing ahead with a devolution deal, just as the Tees Valley is.

"The North East has huge assets, including our export record, energy expertise and world-class sectors such as sub-sea and automotive.

"Our economy, however, is still performing below its potential, and it is clear we need to do things differently. Devolution is an important part of that.

“This deal will allow us to tailor policies in areas like skills and infrastructure investment to the economic condition of the North East.

"We need to harness all the expertise in the region to make a success of this, and will be working with our elected representatives in the months ahead to ensure the business community can make a strong and positive contribution.”