Voters in Durham CC are set to be polled on whether they want to be part of the region’s devolution deal, council leader Simon Henig has announced.
According to a report on the Newcastle Chronicle website this afternoon, Cllr Henig (Lab) made the commitment at a full council meeting earlier today.
“We propose to become the first council to poll all electors on the proposed devolution deal,” he is reported as saying.
“This will take place in the new year and there will be details before our meeting in December.
“I believe strongly that there should have been another referendum but the government decided not to do so.
“All we can do in our powers is to have a poll of our electors, our residents, in County Durham.
“It’s up to others in terms of how they will be consulting with their electors.”
The north east devolution deal was announced by the chancellor on Friday, along with a deal for neighbouring Tees Valley.
The government has been adamant there is no need for areas to hold referendums. In response to calls for a referendum on the Greater Manchester devolution deal earlier this week, a spokesman for the Department of Communities & Local Government told LGC local leaders had a mandate to make decisions for their areas and any opposition to them could be expressed through the ballot box.
Speaking to LGC this evening, Durham’s leader Simon Henig (Lab) confirmed an “advisory poll” of residents would be held by postal ballot at the beginning of 2016.
The vote cannot be called a referendum for technical reasons but Cllr Henig insisted the result would not be ignored.
He said: “We wouldn’t be taking this to the public if we weren’t going to be guided by what they say. I am the leader of County Durham and my role is to do what’s best for County Durham and that is going to be, and always has been, heavily influenced by what the public say.”
He said the exact wording to be contained in the poll had “not yet been determined” but added it would go before the next full council meeting in December.
It is likely the deal could still go ahead if Durham decided not to join as, under the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill currently going through parliament, the communities secretary will have the power to eject a combined authority member if they do not consent to the deal.
Cllr Henig said the poll would make it clear to residents the implications of rejecting the proposed deal, which comes with a promise of investment of up to £900m in the region over the next 30 years.
The North East deal also covers Northumberland CC, Newcastle and Sunderland city councils and Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside councils.
Cllr Henig, who is also chair of the North East Combined Authority, said it was up to each member council on the combined authority to decide how they would consult their residents.