County Durham edges closer to joining North East devolution deal despite opposition

The path may finally be appearing to clear for County Durham to join a landmark devolution deal in the North East worth billions, following months of delays and political infighting.

The new North East Combined Authority, which is currently planned to be formed in May 2024, would see seven local authorities be governed as one authority through a directly elected mayor. The deal, worth over £3 billion, would give the region new political powers held by other authorities in England, such as the ability to bring bus services under public control.

The deal, also referred to as the LA7 Deal, was initially meant to be formed of six local authorities – Northumberland, Newcastle, Gateshead, Sunderland, North Tyneside and South Tyneside. However in October, County Durham expressed their interest in joining the LA7 deal, having previously tried to pursue their own single-county devolution deal. 

The move was met with fierce oppsition across the region, with Labour MPs and councillors in particular expressing concerns that by joining a North East devolution deal, County Durham would be left worse off. This, coupled with the turmoil in the central Government who were meant to be facilitating the deal, means that negotiations have been shrouded in uncertainty for months. 

However, it appears political figures across all the local councils have softened their stance towards County Durham’s involvement in the LA7 deal, with it looking increasingly likely that a breakthrough will be reached. 

“As things stand the LA7 deal is the best deal on the table”

cllr richard bell

At a meeting of councillors last week, Durham County Council agreed with the proposals set by Council leader Cllr Amanda Hopgood. In the meeting, Deputy council leader Richard Bell said that “as things stand the LA7 deal is the best deal on the table. I can confirm the deal will bring significantly more money than a county deal”.

Cllr Bell reassured councillors that it was the central Government that told him that the deal would bring a greater sum of money to the region. Under the LA7 deal, the annual investment fund would be uplifted from £35m per year to £47m per year if County Durham were to join. The deal also promises an annual £44m budget for adult education and skills, and a £900m funding package for transport lasting until 2027.

Labour councillors continued to show their disapproval of the LA7 deal. Cllr Carl Marshall accused the Council’s leadership of being “out of touch with communities and out of its depth”, saying that Labour would “put County Durham first” in a devolution deal. Marshall warned councillors that the deal “has not got a single penny committed to County Durham”.

The sentiment was shared by fellow Labour councillor Eddy Addam, who said the LA7 deal was “a bad deal for County Durham”, and said that the Council leadership “are levelling down” the county. However, by the end of the meeting, councillors voted to commit to the LA7 deal. 

Should the LA7 deal be successful, it would be the first time that all seven councils in the North East would be united under one authority, after attempts to create an authority covering all seven councils spectacularly collapsed in 2016. 

Image Credit – Mark Norton

One thought on “County Durham edges closer to joining North East devolution deal despite opposition

  • This isn’t quite right. The devolution deal
    will not see 7 local authorities ‘governed as one authority’. Each local authority in the deal will continue to operate and maintain the same powers as before. The deal will instead create a new mayoralty comprising the 7 local authorities that will have *new* powers and funding devolved from *central government*. There is a common misconception that the deal will get rid of local authorities. It won’t, and it needs to be challenged.

    Reply

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