Doubts remain over future of £3 BILLION North East devolution deal following Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's Autumn Statement budget update
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The Chancellor pledged during his autumn statement on Thursday that a new package of powers and funding that would see a mayor elected for the region in 2024 should be confirmed “shortly”, in a major shakeup of North East politics.
But Mr Hunt could only say that the long-awaited deal will cover “an area in the North East”, with doubt persisting over whether County Durham will be allowed to join six northern neighbours in the pact.
A draft deal covering Newcastle, Gateshead, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, and Sunderland has been close to being agreed since the final days of the Boris Johnson government.
It would be worth more than £3 billion in Government funding over 30 years, including:
*A £35 million per year investment fund
*£900 million in transport funding up to 2027
*New decision-making powers over areas such as public transport
But Tory-Lib Dem-Independent coalition running Durham County Council announced last month it wanted to join the deal too, instead of going its own way with a single-county devolution arrangement – something it had been pursuing before.
That move coincided with Rishi Sunak’s replacement of Liz Truss in Downing Street and has led to fresh uncertainty over if and when the deal will be done.
The idea of letting Durham in is understood to have split the leaders of the other six councils and further delayed the project.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service understands council leaders met Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove on Monday (November November 14), with consensus yet to be reached on Durham’s involvement.
Labour’s North of Tyne mayor, Jamie Driscoll, said the deal would deliver billions in much-needed investment and “greater control over things that matter to people here”.
He added: “We just need to iron out the political problems and get this signed on the dotted line.”
In a statement on Thursday (November 17), the six councils involved in the initial devolution talks said they were still in talks “to see if a deal can be reached that unlocks the true potential of our region”.
They added: “A new devolution deal that will make a difference to all our communities has been discussed by local leaders and Government for some time now.
“We are seeking an ambitious deal that enables each local authority and the combined authority to get the benefits they want for their communities, residents and businesses.”
Coun Amanda Hopgood, the Lib Dem leader of Durham County Council, added: “We continue to work hard to seek the best possible devolution deal.
"Discussions are ongoing regarding County Durham joining the six other local authorities in the north east to create region-wide devolution arrangements and we hope to provide an update soon.”
The North East was tantalisingly close to a region-wide devolution deal covering the seven council areas in 2016, before a split among the Labour-dominated local authorities caused that to fall apart.
"Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland subsequently broke away to form their own North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA), of which Mr Driscoll was elected mayor in 2019.