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North of Tyne devolution plans approved

Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council; Norma Redfearn, North Tyneside Elected Mayor; and Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council.
Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council; Norma Redfearn, North Tyneside Elected Mayor; and Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council.

Millions of pounds and decision-making powers are set to be handed to the North East by the Government after council leaders backed plans for a North of Tyne Combined Authority.

Almost two years after the region-wide devolution deal was scrapped, plans for Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside to gets its own elected mayor moved a step closer.

Even South of the Tyne councils – Sunderland, South Tyneside and Durham County Council – voted in favour of the plans, much to the surprise of Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon who abstained.

It had been Gateshead who led the calls to abandon the region-wide deal back in 2016, and Coun Gannon said that he wasn’t interested in being part of the new deal.

After the meeting he said: “There was nothing substantial which made us want to be part of it, so therefore we abstained. 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.”

The creation of the North of Tyne Combined Authority will also lead to the creation of a new separate joint committee for transport, alongside what remains of the North East Combined Authority and the North East LEP.

But Coun Gannon has hit out at the bureaucracy of so many public bodies.

He said: “This isn’t a good system of governance, it’s dysfunctional. The best you can say about this today is it’s unfinished business, at some stage some future Government, whether it’s this Government or another Government will have to do something to pull this governance together. It’s dysfunctional to say the least.”

Despite this, the meeting at Gateshead Civic Centre was the most united the region’s council leaders have been on the issue of devolution for years, with politician after politician talking about their desire to continue to work together on a region-wide basis.

“This is not about creating barriers,” Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes said: “This is not the parting of the ways. We know we need to work in tandem with all the region.”

South Tyneside Council leader Iain Malcolm said he was “deeply disappointed” that the three councils decided to go it alone, but he reluctantly supported the deal as he had been assured it was be of no detriment to the area.

After the meeting, Coun Forbes spoke about why he thinks the deal is the best thing for the North East.

He said: “For me this is a really significant part in getting our region back on its feet. Taking decisions about this region that affect this region and getting powers and money out of Whitehall and having those decisions being made here.”

So what happens next?

Now that the deal has been approved it needs to get through Parliament. If the Government approves the North of Tyne Combined Authority deal before Parliament breaks for summer, the first meeting of the authority will be held in July when an interim mayor will be appointed.

And this time next year people living north of the river will be voting for their first elected mayor, although it isn’t clear at this stage who is likely to put their name forward for the role.

By Laura Hill, Local Democracy Reporting Service