Northumberland opposition councillors speak out against £3bn North East devolution deal

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Opposition councillors in Northumberland have aired major worries about a proposed £3bn devolution deal for the region.

The long-awaited deal to unite up to seven council areas under a new North East mayor from 2024 is thought to be close to completion.

Talks between council officials and civil servants have been happening behind the scenes for months over a new deal worth more than £3bn over 30 years, that could create more than 17,000 jobs and hand local leaders decision-making power over crucial issues including transport.

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The plan had been to create a new mayoral combined authority covering Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, Gateshead, Sunderland, and South Tyneside – and County Durham has been offered the chance to join and given a deadline of mid-October to decide.

Cllr Scott Dickinson.Cllr Scott Dickinson.
Cllr Scott Dickinson.

But Durham Labour chief Carl Marshall has called on the county’s Lib Dem, Tory, and independent coalition leadership to reject that offe and instead go it alone, claiming that an authority stretching from the Scottish Borders to Barnard Castle would simply be too big to manage.

North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll urged Durham to join the deal, saying the seven council areas had proven through Covid that they are “stronger together as a region”.

Meanwhile in Northumberland, Labour’s opposition leader Scott Dickinson has warned he too is unconvinced by the deal, accusing the Government of an “infuriating” lack of detail over what funding and powers are on offer.

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He said: “I’ve been a supporter of devolution but the information shared doesn’t convince me that it’s something we should proceed with. The devil will be in the detail and until we see more detail, it is a bit difficult to understand or trust what is being presented to the North East.

“We have a history of being ripped off. I think the councils should proceed, it is just whether we trust the Government to provide a deal that’s good for the North East.”

Cllr Dickinson said he worried that the incoming Liz Truss administration, which has seen Simon Clarke appointed as new levelling up secretary, “might have new ideas” to its predecessor about what to give the North East.

Independent councillor Georgina Hill, an opponent of the deal which created the North of Tyne mayor in 2018, also has reservations.

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She said: “ If it is the only access to big funding, then you need to consider it – but in the absence of any detail I can’t support it.”

A spokesman for Northumberland Conservatives said: “Discussions have been taking place for a long period of time between leaders and also representatives of the local authorities concerned including the North of Tyne Mayor. It will be understood that the vast majority of those are members of the Labour Party.

“We are not at a decision making stage. Local briefings have been carried out with the leaders of other political groups, while others are about to take place.

“We feel that it is totally right that all members are provided with an update at full council and we are keen to do that. The decision making process is clearly set out. We are not in receipt of detailed information from the Government but we are happy to provide an update, as are the other local authorities.”