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North East Devolution Deal - Explained

SO WUH GETTING LOADSA COIN THEN? CLASS. Not quite...


In 2022’s dying days, December 28th, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove (oo-er) announced that a “historic devolution deal for the North East” had been struck; a deal between seven of the region's local councils which will bring them together to form a new mayoral combined authority (CA).


Definition: A combined authority (CA) is a legal body set up using national legislation that enables a group of two or more councils to collaborate and take /collective decisions across council boundaries. It is far more robust than an informal partnership or even a joint committee. The creation of a CA means that member councils can be more ambitious in their joint working and can take advantage of powers and resources devolved to them from national government.


The deal includes Newcastle City Council; North Tyneside Council; Gateshead Council; South Tyneside Council; Sunderland Council; Northumberland County Council; and Durham County Council and involves a £1.4bn investment fund over the next 30 years. The North East is the sixth area to agree a devolution deal with the government this year, as part of the increasingly embarrassing Levelling Up White Paper, the devolution mission that ex-PM Boris Johnson’s majority was built upon.


This new combined authority will replace the existing mayoral North of Tyne CA and non-mayoral North East CA and will be voted on by all seven councils in the next couple of months. It is worth mentioning that the devolution deal also includes the inclusion of the seven council leaders serving as combined authority cabinet members. This would ensure that the leaders of the seven councils have a direct say in how the region is run and would also ensure that the needs of each council are represented in the CA.


The deal includes £17.4m to the region to support and accelerate the building of new homes on brownfield land, and an additional £20m for regeneration and to deliver new and affordable homes.


Although an increase in funding is a positive thing for the region, it remains a drop in the ocean when compared to the funding the region was receiving prior to the enforcement of austerity measures. The funding joke becomes particularly unfunny when put in its rightful national context.


Compared to the rest of the UK the North East has:

  • the highest rate of child poverty of anywhere in the UK

  • the lowest average disposable income

  • and an inverse productivity and income relationship (meaning the region produces more for less)

Therefore, there are mixed feelings among council leaders in the North East regarding the £1.4bn devolution deal. While acknowledging the potential benefits it brings, they also emphasised that it does not make up for the significant cuts to local government funding that the region has experienced because of the aforementioned austerity measures.


These measures affected many areas in the UK brutally, reducing positive health, education, and employment outcomes for citizens. However, it is widely accepted that the poorest households suffered disproportionately. Unfortunately, this means that the North East was affected significantly as the region has long been particularly vulnerable to the harm caused by cutting public service funding.


For example, Nick Kemp (Lab), the leader of Newcastle, stressed that while the devolution deal is significant, it does not compensate for the hundreds of millions of pounds that were cut from local government budgets. Cllr Kemp also emphasized the need to continue to lobby against these cuts and advocate for sustainable funding for local government. Similarly, Sunderland council leader Graeme Miller (Lab) acknowledged that the devolution deal will help to alleviate some of the negative effects of the 12 years of austerity that the region has faced, but also emphasized that it does not make up for all the losses the region has suffered.


It is important to note that this devolution deal is a step in the right direction for the North East region, but it is not a panacea for all the issues the region is facing. The government must continue to invest in the region and address the structural inequalities that were exacerbated by the Conservative Party.


In addition to the £1.4bn investment fund, the devolution deal also includes the election of a new mayor for the North East, which would happen at the May 2024 local elections. So far only two candidates have stated their intention to run, both of whom are vying to be the Labour candidate for the role, they are:


Jamie Driscoll (Current Mayor of the North of the Tyne Authority)

Regarded as ‘the last Corbynista in power’. Good lad.


AND

Kim McGuinness (Current Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner)

Regarded as a rising star in Keir Starmer’s New Labour Party. Good lass.


This would, in theory, give the people of the North East a direct say in how the fund is spent, and would also give the region a voice in national politics. A voice that should be useful long-term as extending the reaches devolution seems to be a priority for a potential Labour government who (barring an act of public indecency, see Brass Eye) look set to secure victory at the next General Election (Ipsos Jan 2023).


An article will be up this month on the Labour Party’s recently announced, ‘Take Back Control Bill’, a policy directive whose name whiffs so much of Brexit that you’d be well within your rights to think it involves firing cannons into the North Sea. However, it is in fact a devolution programme designed by former Labour PM & Chancellor, Gordon Brown, that would strengthen local authorities and cities like never before. So, if you’re interested in pivoting to look at what a Labour government might do if they’re successful in 2024, keep an eye out for that.


Overall, the devolution deal for the North East is definitely a step forward for the region. It brings together seven councils in a new mayoral combined authority, and includes a modest investment fund. However, this alone is not enough to address the issues facing the region, as it does not make up for the significant cuts to local government funding that the region has experienced for over a decade.


Left Brain Media, other left-leaning media outlets and progressive citizens should be advocating for sustainable funding for local government and push for policies that address the needs of all residents in the country, and especially for regions that have been disproportionately shafted by long-term funding cuts.


As far as metaphors go, emperor's new clothes fits the bill. The deal is part of the wider levelling-up programme, on which the jury is well and truly out. Small sums of investment promised by a now disgraced Etonian, being handed out in a Royal Rumble-esque bidding process mixed in with a collection of regional deals.

I am still uncertain if the Levelling Up agenda would look so ridiculous with Boris Johnson flying its flag (had he not been shown to be such an unfit leader on multiple occasions). Despite the background of wholesale industrial action across the UK and soaring living costs I could just see him distracting from the agenda's pitiful offerings.


Thank god he's a total divvy then, eh?


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