Devolution set to be rolled out in North East England – 18 years after they voted against it
Devolution is to finally be rolled out for the North East of England – 18 years after they voted against it in a referendum.
After devolution referenda in Wales, Scotland and London, the North East of England was considered a prime candidate by the then Labour government for the rollout of regional devolution within England.
However, the bid failed in 2004 with 77.93% voting no, with opponents arguing that it would have too few powers and be too centralised on Newcastle Upon Tyne.
Today however the UK Government announced a new £1.4 billion devolution deal for the region, with all seven councils in the North East of England united under one authority for the first time.
Hailed as a “significant step” by some regional politicians, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove said a new devolution deal would bring fresh powers over skills, transport and housing to people across Northumberland, Newcastle, Sunderland and elsewhere.
The devolution plan would see the introduction of a new directly elected mayor, with proposals for elections to take place in May 2024 following a consultation process.
This latest devolution deal to be agreed by the Government would deliver a promised £1.4 billion over the next 30 years, with fresh powers over the adult education budget and a greater say over the local skills improvement plan.
The region has also been promised £17.4 million to support the building of new homes on brownfield land, as well as £20 million for regeneration projects.
Mr Gove said: “I’m proud to have agreed a historic new devolution deal with the North East that gives local leaders more power, more money, and an even greater say on how their areas are run.
“Devolution is all about letting leaders who live and breathe the region decide what is in their best interests, for their people and for their businesses.
“A new mayor will ensure local priorities in the North East are at the heart of decision-making, while our billion-pound funding boost will provide the financial certainty needed to level up the area right now and for years to come.”
Under the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority, local leaders would also be given control of up to £563 million to improve local rail services, under the city region sustainable transport settlement.
Some of the same concerns as in 2004 have been raised again, however, with those in County Durham concerned that too much of the focus will be on Northumbria where Newcastle Upon Tyne is located.
A motion by Durham’s Liberal Democrat council leader Amanda Hopgood’s that the council secures a devolution deal that is “best for County Durham residents and businesses” was backed by councillors earlier this month.
But the UK Government’s insistence that a separate devolution deal for Durham would require the election of a county mayor was a sticking point for the council’s coalition.
In a joint statement, local leaders and mayors across the North East, including South Tyneside Council leader Tracey Dixon and Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson, said: “This is a significant step towards securing important decision-making powers and investment for our region.
“This would allow us to make decisions that reflect local needs and invest wisely into projects that will make a difference for all our residents, communities and local economy.
“There remains a process for all councils and combined authorities to consider the details and a public consultation before a final decision is made.
“We are pleased that we have successfully negotiated a proposed deal which is a step towards reaching our ambition for this region. This is an important milestone in our journey and we will now engage with stakeholders to move the deal to the next stage.”
Lucy Winskell, chair of the North East Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “The development heralds new funding and decision-making powers that will unlock the creation of more and better jobs, allow us to seize new opportunities, address issues that are holding us back and critically, to compete where we have strengths on a national, sectoral and global stage, and most importantly to do this in partnership.”
But Alex Norris MP, the Labour shadow levelling up minister, accused the Government of lacking ambition.
“Many people in the North East will welcome some further say and control in their area. But it appears that ministers have already rowed back on the original promise of £3 billion in new funding as part of the deal for the North East.
“The huge potential of Britain is being held back by this Tory Government’s lack of ambition for the country, cherry-picking the places for devolution deals, short-changing communities on past promises and holding back the real powers and investment at the centre.
“Labour will deliver the biggest ever transfer of power out from Westminster. Our plans will bring back good jobs, get the economy growing and give people real powers over the future for their communities in all parts of the country, not just some.”
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