DEVOLUTION DEAL: North of Tyne politicians reject ‘joke’ comment
North East politicians have hit back at claims that devolution in the region is “a joke”.
Lord Heseltine, the former Tory deputy prime minister who oversaw plans to create regional mayors, attacked the creation of the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) last week.
The NTCA was established in 2018 and has a directly-elected mayor serving only Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland – after a bitter split between the region’s councils saw earlier plans for a North East-wide devolution deal collapse.
A leading Conservative on the NTCA, Gregah Roughead, has jumped to the body’s defence – claiming it was “quite naive of the Westminster bubble” not to recognise its value.
Coun Roughed, a Northumberland councillor who chairs the NTCA’s overview and scrutiny committee, told a meeting on Tuesday that the authority had provided crucial support during the pandemic and that “things might not have happened or been achieved if the combined authority didn’t exist.”
He added: “I don’t think it is very helpful for the North East when we are trying our best , we are punching above our weight, we are told at various conferences and different engagements with different departments that we are an exemplar combined authority, an exemplar region… when you have politicians down in London, I’m not going to name them but if you’ve read The Journal you will probably guess, bringing into question why we should exist.
“The nature of what we have achieved since being created in 2018 demonstrates why we exist. As a collective, we have a deal that works for our area.”
Coun Roughead, who represents Berwick, said that the North of Tyne area is a “microcosm of England” and suggested it could be used as a test bed for policies like a universal basic income.
He added: “Anything that can be achieved in the North of Tyne can be easily scaled up. It is quite naive of the Westminster bubble to not recognise that on the backbenches in their chambers.”
Newcastle City Council’s Labour leader, Nick Forbes, had earlier told the scrutiny panel that the past year “would have been even more difficult for our businesses and for our growing sectors if we had not had the combined authority”.
There are hopes that South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland, and County Durham could be brought back on board for a new devolution package covering the entire region – which would mean the election of a new mayor and could give the North East access to a share of a £4.2bn government transport fund.
Jamie Driscoll, elected North of Tyne mayor in 2019, has repeatedly spoken of a desire for wider devolution to the region.
He said the NTCA, which currently has fewer powers than other mayoral bodies such as Manchester, had already created almost 3,000 jobs, was paving the way for hundreds of new homes on brownfield land, and secured “investment from global businesses”.
The Labour mayor added: “We bring together our region’s local authorities, businesses and universities to create opportunity for people in Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland – that’s shown in the 10,000 training opportunities created.
“Getting the green light to reopen the Northumberland Line from Ashington to Newcastle signals even closer collaboration.
“That’s just the highlights. We’ll be even more effective when we get more power and funding from central government.
“The River Tyne is famous for its bridges. The Tyne should be a symbol of a connected region, not a dividing line.”
Lord Heseltine, who currently sits in the House of Lords as an independent, told a committee of MPs last week that the government had taken a decision to do “deals” with local leaders, instead of imposing elected mayors on them – with differing results.
He added: “So you’ve got a whole range of different arrangements which were the art of the possible. In Manchester, conspicuously the best in my view … but you have areas, Nottingham, Derby, where we have still made no progress.
“You have got areas, Newcastle, which are a joke. The North of the Tyne now excluded from the south of the Tyne. How can you live with that?”
Words: Daniel Holland, Local Democracy Reporter
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