Plea for Government 'stability' to save £3 billion North East devolution deal as race for new Prime Minister and Tory leadership kicks off with Rishi Sunak in pole position
North East leaders have pleaded for “stability” in Westminster to finally push through a devolution deal worth more than £3 billion.
Liz Truss’ resignation on Thursday, after a short and chaotic premiership in 10 Downing Street, and the impending selection of a new Prime Minister, presents the latest potential stumbling block to long-running talks over the devolution package coming to fruition.
If a deal can be struck in time, a mayor could be elected in May 2024 to govern a new combined authority covering Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, and Sunderland – and possibly Durham too, after the county’s leadership announced last week that they wanted to join the alliance.
The proposals would bring a raft of decision-making powers and new funding to the region and have been close to being signed off since the closing weeks of Boris Johnson’s reign.
With the latest upheaval in Westminster set to see responsibility for finally sealing the devolution deal pass to yet another set of ministers, officials in the region are waiting to see who takes charge next and what their priorities will be – with Mr Johnson, Rishi Sunak, and Penny Mordaunt touted as the contenders for PM.
North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he believes the government is “still keen” to get the agreement over the line, but admitted “it’s never done until it’s done”.
He added: “Some stability in central government would be welcome for lots of reasons.
"I’ve become pretty adept at dealing with Westminster chaos – I’ve worked with seven different local government ministers under five different chancellors to get this draft deal ready to go.
“And the new PM will need some good news to announce. So it’s never done until it’s done, but it will bring well paid jobs, investment and improved transport to the North East, which is a win for everyone.”
A previous devolution deal that would have covered all seven of the North East council areas broke down in 2016.
Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland subsequently broke away to form the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA), with Mr Driscoll elected mayor in 2019.
The new draft devolution deal, which has been subject to months of negotiations, would be worth more than £3 billion over 30 years, including:
*A £35 million per year investment fund
*A £900 million transport funding package up to 2027
*A yearly £44 million budget for adult education and skills
*New decision-making powers including the ability to bring bus services under public control
Durham’s late bid join is understood to have prompted concerns over eleventh hour changes to a deal that was so close to being agreed.
Labour MPs and opposition councillors in Durham oppose an ‘LA7’ deal.
Mr Driscoll has been among the Labour figures demanding a general election, but he warned “turkeys don’t vote for Christmas”.
He added: “The mini-budget reaffirmed the delivery of Northern Powerhouse Rail in full, which includes reopening the Leamside Line. That will allow us to bring Washington onto the mainline rail network, complete the Wearside Loop for the Metro, and create the capacity to improve train services throughout the North East.”