North East agrees devolution deal, to include a mayor

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

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

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The region’s local authorities, excluding Gateshead, have agreed to the North East devolution deal, which will see a mayor elected in May 2017.

Members of the North East Combined Authority (NECA) Leadership Board, made up of the area’s seven council leaders, confirmed their support for the proposed devolution agreement, which includes the establishment of an elected mayor alongside more control over issues such as transport, the economy and skills.

As reported last week, Northumberland County Council had already agreed to support the deal after assurances from the Government on a number of issues.

Yesterday, it was signed off by the leaders of Northumberland, Newcastle, Durham, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and Sunderland councils at County Hall in Durham.

Gateshead Council has not signed up to the agreement, but left the door open for a return to the process if the Government makes further concessions.

Coun Simon Henig, chairman of NECA, said: “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.”

The elected mayor was among the chief concerns for Northumberland councillors, but the Government made it a non-negotiable condition of any deal.

The next steps would see a legal order, to be laid in May, to deal with the creation of a mayoral authority to be followed by a second order, to be laid in October, setting out the powers and responsibilities which will be devolved.

Prior to the second order, a Governance Review must also be completed and a draft scheme will be developed; this will include a period of consultation starting in the summer.

At the point of seeking formal consent to the first order, the Government would be required to make an additional order to remove any non-consenting authorities (ie, Gateshead) and therefore change the combined authority boundary.

Mayoral candidate and businessman Jeremy Middleton congratulated the leaders on their decision to back the deal.

Speaking after the meeting, he said: “This is a big step in the right direction for the North East. It is the start of a long journey that will hopefully see a whole host of decisions and budgets devolved from Westminster to a local level. In Manchester, they have already got far more than their original deal promised, including local control of the health and social-care budget.

“Now the decision has been made, it is time for politicians, business people and North East residents of all viewpoints to put age-old party political divisions aside and do the best for our region. For too long we have been left behind while other areas of the country prosper and forced to accept whatever deal Whitehall thought best for us, now we have an opportunity to stand tall and bring real prosperity to the area.”