“Town hall leaders in the North East are making a series of demands on George Osborne on a number of key issues as talks to devolve powers to the region continue after councillors in Gateshead failed to endorse the latest deal.
An agreement would see the North East handed a raft of new powers and an extra £30m in regional funding in return for establishing an elected mayor as part of the Chancellor’s Northern Powerhouse agenda.
But Gateshead Council’s cabinet voted last week to reject the proposals, sparking doubts about whether the deal could be made.
The region’s six remaining local authorities are now looking to press ahead, but are calling for “clarification and commitment” from the Government on a number of “outstanding issues” from the Government before deciding whether to give their seal of approval to the multi-billion pound covenant.
The North East Combined Authority has set out a list of these issues ahead of further talks with the Government and has delayed making a final decision until May.
Newcastle Council’s leader Nick Forbes, whose council has endorsed the deal, said at a meeting of the authority’s leadership board: “None of us would have had this deal as a starting point, but it is important that we take this first step.”
Helen Golightly, North East Local Enterprise Partnership’s chief operating officer, said the meeting “underlined the region’s continued support for devolution”.
She said: “There are still matters where the local authorities feel they need more clarification from Government. The North East LEP remains fully supportive of the devolution process.”
She added: “Devolving powers will give us more opportunity to help drive the economic growth our region needs to contribute our full worth to the UK economy.”
Outstanding issues include a lack of certainty over £30m a year funding over 30 years and the need to “rural proof” investment to ensure rural areas are not left behind. The councils are also awaiting confirmation on how the Government plans to devolve funding for sustainable transport. Leaders also want further commitments to ensure the North East is not put at a financial disadvantage in relation to Scotland.
Jeremy Middleton, North East LEP board member and a mayoral candidate for the region, said the North East Combined Authority’s politicians were “holding the region back”.
He said: “This delay means there is a very real risk that the North East will be left behind again.”
A Government spokesman said: “The Government is making huge progress towards rebalancing Britain’s economy and empowering local areas through the devolution of powers and resources away from Whitehall.
“This is a bottom up process and if any local authority in the end decides it no longer wants to be part of it, then we will continue to work with those local partners who do, in order to make this historic opportunity in for the North East a reality.”
Jeremy would say that as he is after the fat cats job as mayor – and he could then “develop” the north east.