A devolution deal for the North East could be back on – but only involving Northumberland and the two other authorities which backed it earlier this month.
At a North East Combined Authority (NECA) meeting, four of the seven local authorities voted against the next step, which would have seen the deal and funding package go out for public consultation, before Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid said that the deal was off the table with the Commons debate cancelled.
Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle had voted for the process to go ahead and it has now been reported that the trio are holding discussions about going it alone.
A joint statement agreed by the chief executives of the three councils reads: ‘The three North of Tyne authorities are clear in their commitment to devolution of powers and funding to the North East and have begun to consider what could be achieved for our region through working together. While we have not started formal discussions, we will seek to explore with Government what may be possible in the fullness of time.’
The chairman of the North East Devolution Commission, Jeremy Middleton, who had previously put his hat in the ring for mayor, said: “After months of delays and the original deal being taken off the table, this is at least a positive sign for part of the region.
“The leaders of the three councils that have made this new deal should be congratulated for finally putting the interests of the region ahead of party politics; it is a shame that the four others still won’t do this.
“While this is a step in the right direction, for the North East to prosper the deal must allow the local authority areas currently left behind to join eventually. Durham, Sunderland, Gateshead and South Tyneside cannot be excluded.
“In addition to this, the devolved powers and budgets must be overseen by a directly elected mayor, who can hold the region’s politicians to account and challenge entrenched, vested interests.”
However, North East Ukip MEP, Jonathan Arnott, said: “This is just bizarre. It would be crazy to have Newcastle and Gateshead having separate arrangements and we would end up with a political hotchpotch in the region and no actual North East plan.
“Nobody ever planned a three-Council mini-devolution scheme and I’m concerned that this will be pushed through for political reasons rather than based on any evidence to suggest it could work. There seems to be no overall strategy and some people would lose out in the inevitable funding postcode lottery.”