Tyne & Wear

Devolution deal for North of Tyne councils agreed

Peter Jackson, Nick Forbes and Norma Redfearn Image copyright Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS)
Image caption A deal has been agreed between Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council (right), Norma Redfearn, elected Mayor for North Tyneside, and Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council.

Millions of pounds and decision-making powers could be handed to the North East, almost two years after a devolution deal was scrapped.

Council leaders backed plans for a North of Tyne Combined Authority between Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside.

Even the south of Tyne councils - Sunderland, South Tyneside and Durham - voted in favour.

Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon called the plans "dysfunctional".

The plans would see people living north of the river vote for their own elected mayor this time next year, the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) said.

Image copyright Gateshead Council
Image caption Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said that "this isn't a good system of governance"

Mr Gannon abstained from the vote and hit out at the bureaucracy of "so many public bodies".

After the meeting at Gateshead Civic Centre, he said: "The real major functions and powers which exist in the region in terms of transport and economic development won't go to the North of Tyne authority."

It had been Gateshead who led the calls to abandon the region-wide deal in 2016.

Fergus Hewison, political reporter, BBC Radio Newcastle

Devolution for another part of the North East has moved a step closer.

Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle will, in all likelihood, have a directly-elected mayor by next year, with the four other councils in the region deciding not to stand in their way.

All seven councils on either side of the River Tyne say they'll continue to co-operate with each other, especially on transport, including of course running of the Metro system.

But that still means the Tyne becomes not just a physical barrier between the two sides of the river; it also becomes a political dividing line running through the heart of the region.

Enthusiasts for devolution say it's the only game in town, with those areas opting for it receiving money and attention from central government.

They point to Teesside, which already has a (Conservative) mayor, and where devolution is in full swing, as an example of this.

Opponents of devolution here in the North East still argue no deal is better than a bad deal, and believe what's been offered in financial terms is, in the words of one critic, "thin gruel" that won't make up for spending cuts councils have seen in recent years.

'Significant'

Despite this, the meeting was the most united the region's council leaders had been on the issue of devolution for years.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said after the meeting it was a "really significant part in getting our region back on its feet".

He said it was important to get powers and money out of Whitehall and have decisions made in the region.

South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm said he was "deeply disappointed" that the three councils had decided to go it alone.

But he supported the deal as he had been assured it was be of "no detriment" to the area.

If the Government approves the deal before Parliament breaks for summer, the first meeting of the authority will be held in July when an interim mayor will be appointed.

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