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North East devo deal could 'die'

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The future of the North East devolution deal will be decided at a crunch meeting on Tuesday, with one of the region’s leaders warning it could collapse completely.

While Gateshead Council is set to vote on backing the region’s devolution deal having previously rejected it, leader Martin Gannon (Lab) believes it is “50:50” as to whether the deal will go ahead.

A meeting of Gateshead’s cabinet Tuesday morning will be followed by a meeting of the North East Combined Authority’s leaders’ board in the afternoon.

Cllr Gannon told LGC: “There are other authorities in the North East – Sunderland, South Tyneside, and Durham – who are all considering their positions before Tuesday.

“If those authorities all choose to remain consenting [members] then we would become consenting.

“I suspect if another [council] becomes non-consenting then there will be more likely two or three others, Gateshead would remain non-consenting, and the deal would die.”

Sunderland City Council and South Tyneside Council both held cabinet meetings within the last week where they agreed for their leaders and chief executives to seek further clarification on the deals before agreeing to moving to next stage. Minutes from South Tyneside’s meeting said it would endorse the proposals “subject to the leader being satisfied” with reassurances given and “subject also to the approval of all NECA constituent authorities”.

A spokeswoman for Durham CC told LGC the council’s position remained the same as when the issue was last discussed in May. Back then cabinet agreed to support the proposals “subject to a number of conditions” which included making sure that Durham was “not left worse off” and that the government would “deliver fair funding” for the region.

In a statement in his role as chair of the NECA Sunderland leader Paul Watson (Lab, said: “We are now in consultation with our individual cabinets, political groupings, and other stakeholders to gain their opinions and, where necessary, permissions as to how we proceed at the next leadership board meeting on the 6th September 2016.

“We remain committed to securing the best possible devolution arrangements for the North East and we are in continued communication with government as we work towards achieving this.”

A report due to go before the board said communities secretary Sajid Javid was “unequivocal” when he told local leaders in a meeting on 23 August that an elected mayor “was required for the devolution agreement to progress”.

However, Cllr Gannon said the government was “all over the place” on the issue as he pointed to reports prime minister Theresa May was minded to drop the requirement for regions to adopt mayors as part of devolution deals.

Cllr Gannon said it was “50:50” as to whether the North East’s seven leaders would agree on Tuesday to publish and consult on the region’s governance review, which is a requirement to setting up a mayoral combined authority capable of taking on devolved powers. Once underway, an order proposing the creation of a mayoral combined authority can then be laid in parliament – that has been scheduled to take place in the lords on Tuesday.

LGC reported in June how Cllr Gannon said he was “confident” Gateshead would reverse its decision to reject the devolution deal if the offer was improved.

While discussions with ministers and civil servants have taken place over the summer, Cllr Gannon still thought it was “a bad deal”.

The agreement, which contains gaining control of more than £400m European funding, has been complicated by Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

While assurances have been provided that European funded projects agreed in the run-up to the Autumn Statement will proceed, uncertainty surrounds future funding arrangements up to and beyond the end of the decade.

A DCLG spokesman said: “We remain committed to the North East devolution deal, but we have always been clear that this is a bottom-up process and for local areas to decide.”

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