Devo deal talks could resume later in year

Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson.Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson.
Northumberland County Council leader Glen Sanderson.
Publication of the government's long-awaited "levelling up" report, expected later this year, could pave the way for further devolution talks in Northumberland and the rest of the North East.

Key players in negotiations have suggested that up to £500 million could be unlocked to spend on transport and other projects in the North East, if an agreement could be reached.

But leaders in Northumberland have continued to play their cards close to their chest, insisting they remain happy with existing arrangements.

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“We expect that there might be some more information on [devolution] in the government’s levelling up paper when that comes, which could be at the end of this month or in February,” said Glen Sanderson, leader of Northumberland County Council.

“The position is still, as far as I’m concerned, that Northumberland will not think about becoming part of a larger devolution area unless and until there are real advantages for Northumberland doing so.

“I like the way we work in the North of Tyne [Combined Authority] at the moment and I think it suits us and our neighbouring authorities as well.”

The North of Tyne group of Northumberland, Newcastle and North Tyneside was formed in 2018, with current mayor, Labour’s Jamie Driscoll, elected to lead it a year later.

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But since the split away from the North East Combined Authority, which has continued with County Durham, Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead, the new body has faced criticisms that it has “failed to make its mark”.

Last year’s budget saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveil a £7bn boost for public transport outside London, with areas including Greater Manchester and Tees Valley, where mayoral authorities are well-established, in line for major cash injections.

But ministers have insisted the North East will only get its share once a new devolution deal is signed covering at least all of Tyne and Wear.

Despite Sanderson’s reluctance to commit Northumberland to any revised arrangement, Driscoll has insisted he would “absolutely not” sign up to any agreement for the North East which did not also include Northumberland.

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The notion of reuniting the region’s seven areas under a single mayor was dealt another blow by the government’s announcement that single counties could be allowed pursue solo devolution deals – an option thought to appeal to bosses in County Durham.