'Historic day' as Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle unite

The first cabinet meeting of the new North of Tyne Combined Authority.
The first cabinet meeting of the new North of Tyne Combined Authority.

Councillors have approved the vision and six key priorities for the new North of Tyne Combined Authority, which held its first official meeting today.

The body held its first cabinet meeting in Morpeth Town Hall this afternoon, where the mood was very much one of positivity and excitement about what has been described as ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’.

Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council, addresses the meeting.

Coun Peter Jackson, leader of Northumberland County Council, addresses the meeting.

It follows the signing of the Parliamentary Order for the new authority by Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry last week, which made the devolution deal – bringing powers and £600million of funding to the area – official.

North Tyneside’s Elected Mayor Norma Redfearn chaired the meeting and welcomed everyone on a ‘historic day’. The journey has been frustrating at times, she said, but I ‘firmly believe this is a really positive development for the people and areas we serve’.

“Working together, we will have the powers and funding to make a lasting difference,” she added. “It’s not about politics, it’s about people.”

Leader of Northumberland County Council, Coun Peter Jackson, said: “This is the first time ever we are getting money and powers devolved to the North of Tyne area so we can make our own decisions.”

He added that, as has been seen in other devolved areas, it offers the area a bigger voice on the national stage.

Coun Nick Forbes, leader of Newcastle City Council, said: “It’s about getting powers, responsibility and funding out of Whitehall and into town halls. It’s important that we make decisions that affect our region, in our region.

“This is unashamedly a deal about jobs, and good-quality jobs.”

The cabinet agreed to support a number of early funding opportunities, including grants to attract new businesses and support existing ones, a growth fund for rural communities and projects to improve STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) and digital skills among young people.

There was also a pledge to work with the Department for Transport on a business case for a new passenger service on the Northumberland-North Tyneside-Newcastle Rail Line.

The cabinet is made up of the leaders and deputy leaders of the three constituent councils, with each of the six responsible for a specific portfolio – Coun Jackson (place and productivity) and Coun Wayne Daley (education improvement), from Northumberland County Council; Coun Redfearn (housing and land) and Coun Bruce Pickard (economic growth) from North Tyneside Council; and Coun Forbes (business competitiveness) and Coun Joyce McCarty (employability and inclusion), from Newcastle City Council.

Setting out his brief, Coun Jackson underlined that the rail line linking south-east Northumberland into Newcastle could be ‘easily resurrected’ as a passenger service, while also referring to projects to develop a training academy in Blyth and getting children enthused in STEM through the likes of Kielder’s dark skies.

Coun Forbes made it clear that business competitiveness, for which he is responsible, is not just about the city, but rural growth is key as well. And not just market towns like Morpeth, Hexham and Alnwick, but deeper rural areas, such as parts of north Northumberland.

Also agreed this afternoon was the make-up of the authority’s other committees, governance arrangements and the process for selecting an interim mayor, which will take place at the next meeting on Tuesday, December 4.

The ballot for the first directly-elected mayor for the North of Tyne area will take place in May next year.

The vision document, Home of Ambition, which is available online at www.northoftynedevolution.com, outlines the six key priorities or ‘pillars of ambition’ for the new combined authority, as follows:

Champion of enterprise – Securing investment, fostering trade links and creating the infrastructure needed for sustained growth and prosperity;

Leaders of tomorrow – Supporting a high-quality, inclusive education system to ensures young people have the skills and qualifications to take up quality training, apprenticeships and jobs;

Hotbed of talent – Giving everyone the opportunity to thrive, attain a fair wage and access good jobs with continued training and skills development;

Spark of innovation – Supporting businesses and entrepreneurs to grow and flourish;

Network of connections – Developing a better transport system and investing in an ever-faster digital infrastructure to create stronger links across the north and internationally;

Pride of place – Creating communities of inspiring places, homes and spaces that support more sustainable, low-carbon futures, set within an environment where people want to live, work or visit.

One of the interested observers in attendance at the meeting was Stephen Rickitt, chief officer of the Northumberland Association of Local Councils (NALC).

He said: “Our association strongly supports the devolution deal and looks foward to parish, town and community councils working with the North of Tyne Combined Authority to improve our area.”

Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service