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North east devolution deal set to be signed this week after fruitful talks

Devolution plans worth over £1bn for the north east region are expected to be signed this week, which will also see a metro-mayor elected in 2017.

The North East Combined Authority – which represents County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland councils, as well as the region’s Local Enterprise Partnership – announced that the deal is ready to move to the next stage of negotiations.

Chancellor George Osborne is expected to visit the region this week to sign off the deal, to give the region powers over transport, housing, planning, investment, employment and business support.

After week-long meetings between council leaders and Treasury minister Lord O’Neill last week, Cllr Simon Henig, chair of the combined authority, said: “Reaching a deal takes time, but leaders have all agreed to move forward to the next stage of negotiations and are all determined to reach an agreement that is good for the north east.

“Leaders will continue to seek further consultation with the public and other stakeholders and acceptable outcomes to the Spending Review and legislation currently before Parliament.”

The ambitious agreement would represent a major change to the way in which decisions are made regionally and would closely follow this month’s devolution package signed in Sheffield.

According to the local Evening Chronicle newspaper, deals in the north east are set to include a non-ring-fenced fund of £30m per year into a new North East Investment Fund – including mayoral powers to collect another £30m in business rates for infrastructure.

Regional leaders will take the reins on the adult skills budget, other elements of the skills agenda, transport and rural growth, as well as laying the groundwork for further devolution of police, fire, health and social care services.

Northumberland County Council’s leader, Cllr Grant Davey, told the paper: “As a predominately rural county it is important that any move to devolution in the north east takes into account our issues as well as the urban conurbations of Tyne & Wear.

“I am particularly delighted that the proposed re-opening of the Ashington Blyth Tyne passenger train line is mentioned in the offer.”

An integrated and upgraded local transport system in the north east will also bring together rail, local highways, buses and metro through a devolved responsibility over all aspects of capital and revenue funding.

The paper also said that combined authority leaders participating in a new cabinet structure will be able to veto the elected mayor, who will in turn have powers over planning and fixing the housing crisis.

The north east devolution package was one of the 38 deals submitted to Whitehall ahead of the upcoming Spending Review in November.

(Top image c. Wilka Hudson)


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