Sunderland council leader meets Minister over powers to bring more jobs to Wearside

Paul Watson
Paul Watson
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PLANS for thousands of new jobs have moved a step closer as council chiefs travelled to London to iron out the technical details of Sunderland’s city deal.

City council leader Paul Watson was in the capital this week for talks with Cities Minister Greg Clark about the devolution necessary to power an advanced manufacturing centre on Wearside.

The meetings were part of ongoing discussions with the Department of Communities and Local Government and the Treasury about the city deal awarded to Sunderland, as announced by deputy prime minister Nick Clegg last February.

Coun Watson told the Echo the negotiations, which also relate to the financing of the new Wear crossing, had been positive, but urged caution, adding: “We thought that before.”

“This is part of ongoing discussions about how we are going to go forward in the next 10 years, with an advanced manufacturing and enterprise zone at Nissan, which will bring lots of jobs in supply chain,” he said.

By Whitehall agreeing to free up certain decision-making powers, Sunderland must, in return, sign up to a number of promises, and it is these negotiations that are now in their final stages.

“It is going very positively and we’ve got some really positive signs,” Coun Watson said. “I hope to be able to make an announcement by the middle of February.”

A city deal is already in place in Newcastle, and it is intended that the financial benefits through extra jobs and increased tax receipts, will be poured back into regeneration of the city centre and other projects.

Through the new automotive enterprise zone, linked to Nissan, it is hoped the city can build on its reputation in the car industry to attract even more investment .

The news come as plans for a North East “super council” were re-ignited after Coun Watson vetoed the plans earlier this month, amidst fears it could leave Sunderland disadvantaged.

Coun Watson’s concerns centred on there being “no clear rules” about the running of the authority, which, aside from Sunderland, will be made up of the other six authorities in the so-called LA7 group.

The city is set to join Durham, which will chair the new council for the first year, as well as South Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside to take over some Government powers related to transport and enterprise

The group will now put a joint proposal to the Government, as a change in law is necessary, which will then go through parliament, but the formation of the super council will not see any local authorities axed.

“We always supported the principle, the topic of subsidiaries and the best levels to make decisions,” Coun Watson said. “That’s why we have devolved things like some budget decisions to area committees.

“The principle is right and the whole council has always supported it, but we had one or two misgivings about being able to influence enough if it starts to get out of hand.

“We, as Sunderland, wanted to ensure we had the ability where we were not entering a position where we can’t control the effect on and safeguard council tax payers.

“We’ve had several meetings since then, and we are confident about the developments, and the meetings have taken care of these issues. I think it is going to be very positive for the north of the North East, and it is important to make that distinction that it is not the whole of the North East.”

The final proposals are expected to be ready to be presented to Government by the middle of next month.