Jamie Hailstone 07 September 2016

Council leaders reject devolution deal

The future of a devolution deal in the North East of England is in doubt after council leaders voted yesterday to reject a government deal.

Members of the North East Combined Authority (NECA) voted four to three against taking the deal to public consultation.

Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside backed moving it on further but Sunderland, Durham, South Tyneside and Gateshead voted against.

The current deal includes the opportunity to integrate health and social care, greater control over adult skills and employment support programmes and a fully integrated transport system.

A metro mayor would also be introduced for the region, with elections supposed to take place in May 2017.

‘Extensive discussions and negotiations have taken place with Government with within the region over recent months, but unfortunately, despite our best efforts, it has not been possible to reach an agreement, which all of the seven local authorities feel able to support,’ said NECA chair, Cllr Paul Watson.

‘Although this is disappointing, we will continue to work together with government to achieve our ambition of a stronger regional economy with improved opportunities for residents and businesses.’

Responding to the decision, the chief executive of think tank Centre for Cities, Alexandra Jones, said ‘this should not signal the end of devolution’ in the region.

‘Now may be the time to think instead about devolving power on a different basis within the region – for example, to a ‘Newcastle city region’, which would more closely reflect the geography over which people in that area live, work and access public services,’ said Ms Jones.

A spokesman for the Department for Communities and Local Government said it was ‘disappointing’ that some of the councils in the North East were ‘unwilling to support this deal, which would certainly have benefited local people’.

‘If councils in the region wish to discuss devolution proposals further, our door remains open,’ added the spokesman.

NECA chair Cllr Paul Watson told The MJ the biggest hurdle was assurances of EU funding that had been promised prior to the referendum, which fell ‘woefully short’ of what leaders were expecting.

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