The devolution deal will give us the levers to start building a zero-carbon, zero-poverty North East

Last month, government announced that a new devolution deal for the North East was imminent.  Last week, Durham County Council voted to pursue devolution.  Constitutional change probably isn’t top of many Christmas lists. But over £4,000,000,000 of public investment for the North East is top of mine.   

That’s what the deal is worth – over £4 billion.  The headline figure is impressive.  Hopefully the full details will be cleared for announcement soon.  But since people are already discussing it on social media, it’s worth clarifying what a devolution deal is – and isn’t. 

In May 2019, I was elected as the first ever mayor of the North of Tyne Combined Authority.  The three Local Authorities (councils) of Northumberland, North Tyneside and Newcastle kept their independence, and gained new money and powers overseen by a mayor (me). 

All the new money and powers come from Westminster and Whitehall.  None of it comes from our councils.  Local councillors have exactly the same control as before.  Decisions on planning applications, on council tax, on taxi regulations.  Your council still empties the bins, looks after children in care, and a hundred other things.      

What did get devolved was an investment fund to boost our regional economy.  We’ve created 4,600 jobs with it (and rising), and protected another 2,700 that were at risk.  That’s a huge difference to 7,300 families. 

Regular readers will know about our Child Poverty Prevention work in schools.  Our Brownfield Housing programme.  Our schools climate change education.  Our small business growth programmes.  Our Green New Deal.  Our Good Work Pledge.  Our North of Tyne Crowdfunder.  If you re-elect me in May 2024, when my current term ends and the new authority begins, we’ll deliver all these great programmes across the whole region.    

The North of Tyne also runs “post-19 adult education” – vocational training for chefs, welders, computer skills.  22,000 people a year were trained before devolution.  Now it’s 33,000.  For the same budget.  A 50% increase in value for money, and an extra 11,000 people’s livelihoods boosted.  We run courses how and where they’re needed, instead of a one-size-fits-all model from London.

The new, expanded deal adds South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham.  It’s still a “minded to” deal – each council has yet to make its formal decision – that’s how democracy works.  I’ve been working on this deal since I was elected, and our council leaders and teams have all helped shape it. 

The new authority gets the North of Tyne investment scaled up to match the new, larger, population.  It’s the largest devolved investment fund in England. 

We’ll get control of bus services – with joint ticketing.  £millions in new transport investment to improve services and build infrastructure.  Our northern transport network is a national disgrace.  People struggle getting to work and kids struggle getting to school.  The ability to fix this ourselves is a big deal. 

Police, the NHS, and Fire and Rescue won’t come under the new Combined Authority.  Their governance remains unchanged.    

I can’t give more details until we have official clearance.  So what isn’t it?    

It isn’t a new layer of government.  The seven council areas elect 526 councillors, two police and crime commissioners, and 22 MPs.  That’s whether we have devolution or not. 

It’s not a gravy train – there is no Mayoral limo.  I claim £0 in expenses.  I decline all offers of free tickets to sport and cultural events.  That’s just my personal policy, mind – I can’t speak for other politicians. 

None of the new money comes from your council tax.  My staff do work previously done by central government.  We’re a net wealth generator.  Every £1 invested from our investment fund returns over £3 to Treasury in payroll taxes alone.  We save the taxpayer money.

It doesn’t concentrate power in one person’s hands.  Combined Authority Mayors can’t choose their cabinet members.  It’s automatically the leaders and deputies of the Local Authorities, who get to vote on spending decisions.  Contrast that with a Prime Minister, or Local Authority leaders, who personally appoint their cabinets.  

The devolution deal won’t fix the Ukraine war or raging inflation.  It will give us the levers to start building a zero-carbon, zero-poverty North East.  That’s not a bad Christmas present.