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Devolution developments in the North East

Posted by
21 Aug 2017
Devolution Spending watchdog the National Audit Office (NAO) has warned that attempts to strike a deal to instate a North East mayor, and the ensuing arguments, have damaged relations between councils. This comes off the back of the proposed devolution deal between the government and County Durham, Sunderland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle and Northumberland councils.

The report by NAO said concerns had been raised by councils over a lack of funding for the region and external pressure into the creation of a regional elected mayor. Some councils argued that the £900 million on offer from the government over a 30 year period was in comparable to the cuts imposed by central government on the region. The report said “The majority of local authorities in the North East Combined Authority did not consider that the funding on offer from the devolution deal would be sufficient to compensate for the amount lost through spending reductions.
“There was also disagreement between different local authorities over the requirement to have an elected mayor.”

Other deals to elect a regional mayor have been struck to oversee combined authorities in areas such as Tees Valley, Liverpool, West Midlands and Greater Manchester, but there are concerns that regions had only agreed to elect a mayor as they believed it was the only way to get a devolution deal over the line.

Furthermore, concerns had been raised that of the six mayors elected to combined authorities in 2017, candidates campaigned on manifestos which frequently made commitments outside the remits of the organisation. Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: “For combined authorities to deliver real progress and not just be another ‘curiosity of history’ like other regional structures before them, they will need to demonstrate that they can both drive economic growth and also contribute to public sector reform.”

The North East Combined Authority was created in April 2014 with the aim of securing more funding for the region from central government, with the body being overseen by the leaders of seven councils. 
North Tyneside, Newcastle and Northumberland Council were seen as very enthusiastic about the proposition but a deal was unable to be struck following concerns from other council leaders including South Tyneside, Durham, Sunderland and Gateshead. With talks ongoing between the government and North Tyneside, Newcastle and Northumberland Council’s to strike their own deal, the leader of Northumberland Council has indicated that a ‘North of Tyne’ mayor could be elected as soon as May 2018.

Conservative councillor and leader of Northumberland Council Peter Jackson said “As the now leader of the council, both I and the council’s Conservative administration are committed to securing a devolution deal for the North of Tyne and subsequently moving to the creation of a North of Tyne Combined Authority as quickly as possible - and with a view, if at all possible, to holding the mayoral election in May 2018.”

The mayor would serve residents of North Tyneside, Northumbria and Newcastle and lead a new Combined Authority for the three supporting council’s.

Mr Jackson added: “To this end, I’m working closely and constructively with my equivalents at both Newcastle and North Tyneside in negotiating with government to secure the best deal we can for our residents and businesses.” 

Only time will tell if a devolution deal ever materialises in the North East but in this time of budget cuts and increased pressure on the public sector, communication and interworking between councils and other bodies needs to be at its strongest. If relationships have been damaged, resolutions have to be made.
To discuss the recent setbacks in devolution even further, please get in touch by calling 0191 261 8585 or email adam.burgess@sellickpartnership.co.uk. Contact us

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