Former county council leader slams £4.8bn North East devolution deal

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The former leader of Northumberland County Council has criticised the North East’s landmark devolution deal and called the proposed voting system to select a new mayor “dishonest”.

Councillor Jeff Reid, who led the council’s Liberal Democrat administration from 2009 to 2013, made the comments at a meeting of the Ashington and Blyth Local Area Council.

It followed a presentation on the devolution deal by council leader Glen Sanderson, who is visiting each of the county’s local area committees to discuss the deal – something he insists is the right thing to do for the county.

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Details of the devolution deal were confirmed in December after months of negotiations. Thought to be worth up to £4.2bn, it will bring vital decision-making powers to the North East, and see a directly-elected mayor serving the seven local authorities in Northumberland, Tyne and Wear and County Durham, replacing the exisiting North of Tyne Combined Authority.

Michael Gove on his recent visit to the North East.Michael Gove on his recent visit to the North East.
Michael Gove on his recent visit to the North East.

Coun Reid, who represents the Plessey ward, said Northumberland and the wider North East should not have to have a mayor elected in order to fight for funding.

He said: “My red line would ave been the election system being first past the post. I think it is dishonest. Unless the government let us have some kind of proportional representation, I think it disenfranchises the rural parts of Northumberland. They might as well not bother to vote.

“I personally don’t think this is the way people in the UK want to be governed. What has the North of Tyne ever done for us? This is even bigger.

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“It’s going to be the biggest by area in the country and I just don’t think that people in rural bits are going to feel connected to this.

Jeff Reid, who has criticised the North East devolution deal.Jeff Reid, who has criticised the North East devolution deal.
Jeff Reid, who has criticised the North East devolution deal.

“It is the worst of all worlds. We’re going to have to have some real charismatic person who spends all their time in London trying to get money for the region but it shouldn’t be about charisma.

“It should be about need, about levelling up, about getting us what we need. If we think about the amount of money this region has provided the Treasury in the Victorian era – how much the rest of the country owes us for what we did in the past.”

Council leader Glen Sanderson has insisted that devolution is the best way forward for Northumberland.

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He said: “I think it’s absolutely the right thing to do. It’s not about how I think about it personally, it’s about what I think is right.

“It will bring significant benefits to the whole region. This is something that’s going to be a very good thing – to have the North East region step up and be a serious power in the country.

“The overriding message we’re getting is support for this because it will bring more money and power to the North East. We as leaders all want what is best for our councils first and foremost, but also for the region as well.

“If Newcastle does well, Northumberland benefits. The Government’s arrangements will not allow us to have things forced on us and I would not be able to force anything on another council.

“If this doesn’t work, I will say sorry – but it will work.”