The combined authority will deliver a more co-ordinated approach to issues affecting the whole region, such as transport, skills and investment.
It doesn’t replace individual councils, who will continue to deliver the majority of local services.
The North East Combined Authority, which includes Northumberland County Council, has signed a proposed devolution agreement with the government designed to drive economic growth and bring jobs and investment to the region.
The terms of the proposed agreement are set out in the document below following submission of ambitious proposals to the treasury for consideration as part of the autumn spending review.
The overall aim of a devolution agreement for the North East would be to secure the means by which we can build a stronger economy, generate more and better jobs and improve transport links and skills training throughout the region.
For Northumberland the agreement includes the re-opening of the Ashington Blyth Tyne passenger trainline, subject to a successful business case. It will also bring a range of other benefits to Northumberland.
The government is committed to giving more powers and responsibilities to local areas across England. This is both a response to the increased devolution that already exists in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and in recognition that the economies of local areas need different and tailored interventions to maximise growth.
To date, Greater Manchester, Sheffield city region and Cornwall have formally signed devolution deals with government. In recent weeks, Tees Valley, Liverpool and the West Midlands have joined the North East in signing agreements with government which, subject to a number of conditions, paves the way for an initial phase of devolution to those areas.
In the case of the North East, the proposed devolution deal would transfer responsibilities and funding from central government departments and agencies to the North East Combined Authority. These relate to finance and funding, human capital development, business and innovation, health and social care integration, housing, transport and rural growth.
In addition, the government has insisted that as part of the devolution deal an elected mayor
must be introduced. If the deal is approved, from May 2017 an elected mayor, together with the seven leaders of the constituent councils of the North East Combined Authority
, would form a new cabinet of the combined authority.
This body, and not central government, would then be responsible for making the policy and funding decisions for the North East on the matters included in the deal.
The current North East Local Enterprise Partnership
will be reformed and strengthened to enable the North East business community to actively support the combined authority to deliver economic growth in the region.
Finance & funding
The headline commitment from government is the release of £30 million revenue funding per year for the next 30 years.
This will allow the combined authority to establish an investment fund of up to £1.5 billion, which it can subsequently invest in required economic development and transport infrastructure.
From a Northumberland perspective, this increases the likelihood of the reopening of passenger services to the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne (AB&T) trainline as the decision to proceed with this scheme, assuming it is financially viable, will sit with the combined authority and not the government. This commitment is further demonstrated by the fact the AB&T trainline is specifically referred to in the devolution agreement.
In addition, the combined authority would have increased powers to influence the considerable European funds that are going to be invested across the area in the next five years through both the European Regional Development Fund and the European Social Fund.
Northumberland will benefit from this, particularly in driving the regeneration and growth of our towns, industrial estates and key sectors while also supporting those furthest from the jobs market back into work.
The agreement also pledges that the North East would receive additional enterprise zones and/or extensions of existing zones. Such zones give financial and planning incentives to attract new inward investment.
In Northumberland such designations are limited to land on either side of the River Blyth. However, through the deal, there is an expectation that enterprise zone designations would be made within some of the county’s market towns.
Notwithstanding all of this, it must be noted that the spending review will identify a fair level of revenue funding for those functions which are to be devolved or held in joint responsibility. This will take the form of a place-based funding settlement for the North East Combined Authority but this will still reflect cuts to the current equivalent funding envelope as per the government’s commitment to progressively reduce public sector spend.
Employment & skills (human capital development)
The North East currently suffers from a mismatch between the skills of the workforce and the skill needs of local employers.
This means that high and sustained unemployment remains an issue, while employers are being forced to import staff from outside the region to fill vacancies. At present, the tools to address this challenge largely sit with central government departments and agencies.
The approval of the devolution deal would see the combined authority would over the next three years assume full control of Post 19 Skills from the Skills Funding Agency and would be jointly responsibly with the Department of Work and Pensions for the new suite of employment support programmes that will replace Work Programme and Work Choice in the North East.
From a Northumberland perspective, securing the future of Northumberland College will be a key issue as will ensuring that less and less benefit claimants remain unemployed after two years.
Business & innovation
The North East aspires to be globally competitive. It is one of the few areas in the country which is a net exporter.
The proximity of Scotland and the ongoing growth of Manchester threaten this ambition, with the North East being squeezed out by the M62 and M8 corridors.
The approval of the devolution deal would progressively give the North East greater control over business support, export advice and inward investment, which are delivered nationally by UK Trade and Investment (UKTI).
This would allow the combined authority to develop a deeper relationship with the businesses already located here and better equip it to attract new companies to set up or move here.
From a Northumberland perspective, the council’s economic development company – Arch – would be at the heart of maximising these opportunities.
The deal would also see agreement reached with government as to how to create the right environment to ensure 4G services are available to at least 95% of the North East’s population and creative solutions found to supply superfast broadband to remaining premises.
This is obviously fundamental to maximising the economic growth of the North East’s rural areas, where many innovative and successful enterprises are located.
Health & social care integration
The effective integration of health and social care to focus increasingly on early prevention is critical to reducing the current level of public sector spend across the country. The North East is no exception to this.
The approval of the devolution deal would enable the combined authority and the NHS to jointly establish the scope and basis for further integration, deeper collaboration, and subsequent devolution.
Within this, however, the agreement recognises that Northumberland has already made considerable progress in this regard and could pioneer the next wave of integration.
The combined authority and its constituent authorities are committed to supporting an ambitious target for the increase in new homes as a central component of its drive to promote wider economic growth.
The approval of the devolution deal would see the creation of a North East planning development framework. This would set a regional context for housing growth that would give greater certainty to the subsequent approval of the Northumberland Local Plan and any neighbourhood plans developed across the county.
The deal would also establish a North East Land Board to accelerate the appropriate reuse of surplus public land for housing or economic development use.
The mayor would also have the equivalent compulsory purchase powers of the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), to help unlock private sector land and improve the housing stock.
The combined authority recognises that a fully integrated transport system is central to the competitiveness and productivity of the North East.
As such, the ambition is to bring together responsibilities for rail, local highways, metros, buses and ferries for urban, suburban and rural communities – and create a system that is parallel to that which operates in London.
The approval of the devolution deal would make this a reality over the next few years while also safeguarding the long-term future of the Metro.
Within this, however, it should be noted that while this approach will focus on the travel to work area of the Tyne and Wear conurbation, it will not be at the expense of rural transport.
The agreement specifically highlights that the mayor would have the option to delegate rural transport responsibilities to individual cabinet members (i.e. the leaders of any of the constituent authorities).
North East Transport Manifesto - Consultation
Have a say on the future of transport in the North East
The North East Combined Authority is setting the wheels in motion for plans to launch a 20-year ‘Transport Manifesto’ that covers both ‘urban and rural’ geographic areas of Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland. The manifesto ‘Our Journey’ will feed into the local transport plan for the combined authority area and will set out how the Combined Authority intends to deliver on its ambition to promote affordable, attractive, reliable, safe, healthy transport choices for businesses, residents and visitors.
As the first stage in the process of developing the Manifesto we are consulting with people from across the North East on the key themes and principles that will guide what we are trying to achieve in terms of transport. To access the survey click here
and for more information please follow this link
. The consultation will close on Friday 8th April 2016.
Rural growth & stewardship
The North East has successfully piloted new approaches to rural growth through its bespoke rural growth network initiative, which is set to continue for a further three years.
In recognition of this, the government accepts that the combined authority could further maximise this potential through the devolution of further rural growth and countryside stewardship programmes from the Department of Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs and its agencies. The approval of the devolution deal will set a timetable for putting this into action.
This part of the agreement is of huge significance to Northumberland, as many of our businesses, landowners, and farmers will benefit from such an approach – not just in reducing the complexity of securing grants but in maximising the local take-up of what’s available.
It will also allow the combined authority to take a more strategic approach and tailor future grant funding to the needs of the area.
As part of this, additional powers, akin to those of other local authorities, are sought for Northumberland National Park. This will help in securing the long-term future of this national asset while allowing the combined authority to tap into the expertise of this authority.
As indicated in the introductory section, an elected mayor is an integral part of the devolution deal with government.
Essentially, if the North East wants to take control of the powers listed above – and any others that may be forthcoming in the future – then a new mayor has to elected from May 2017.
However, if the devolution deal was approved, the mayor would be chair and a member of the combined authority’s cabinet. The leaders of the seven constituent local authorities would each become portfolio leads within that cabinet and take on delegated powers as agreed with the mayor.
All members, including the mayor, would have one vote. This is not dissimilar from the current operation of the leadership board within the combined authority.
It should also be emphasised that any transfer to the combined authority or mayor of existing powers or resources currently held by the constituent authorities must be by agreement, unless set out in legislation.
Notwithstanding this, if the devolution deal was approved the mayor would exercise certain powers with personal responsibility to the electorate.
- responsibility for a devolved and consolidated transport budget
- responsibility for franchised bus and rail services
- powers over strategic planning
- powers to place a supplement on business rates to fund infrastructure up to a cap (with the support of the local business community)
North East Combined Authority
The North East Combined Authority was established in April 2014. It is a new legal body that brings together the seven councils which serve County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.
Its aim is to:
- create the best possible conditions for growth in jobs, investment and living standards
- make the North East an excellent location for business
- prioritise and deliver high quality infrastructure
- enable residents to raise their skill levels and to benefit from economic growth long into the future
It is the combined authority, together with the elected mayor, that will take responsibility for the powers and funding that will be devolved if the devolution proposal is accepted early in 2016.
The government has insisted that the North East region must have an elected mayor for the devolution deal to be agreed. Key facts relating to the elected mayor are:
- An election across the North East will take place in May 2017 to elect a mayor.
- The mayor will not have any responsibility for the existing councils in the North East, including Northumberland County Council.
- The mayor will be the chair of the North East Combined Authority.
- The mayor will have direct powers specified in legislation covering transport, strategic planning, franchised bus and rail services and business rate supplements.
- The mayor will be part of an eight-person cabinet that will run the combined authority. The other seven members of the cabinet will be the leaders of the seven local authorities in the North East.
North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP)
The North East Local Enterprise Partnership brings together business leaders, universities and elected members of the North East Combined Authority.
It is currently responsible for promoting and developing economic growth in the North East. The combined authority supports the work of the enterprise partnership and they work together to ensure co-ordination across their range of activities.
Under the proposals in the devolution proposal, the combined authority will take responsibility for most issues currently undertaken by the NELEP.
Health and Social Care Commission – call for evidence
People across the North East are being invited to help determine how health and wellbeing can be improved across the region.
The Commission for Health and Social Care Integration in the North East is looking at how more joined up working and collaboration could help address health inequalities and enable residents to live more healthy and active lives.
The commission was set up by the North East Combined Authority as part of devolution proposals aimed at driving economic growth and bringing jobs and investment to the North East.
The proposed agreement recognises that while there are real strengths in the North East, the area also faces huge challenges. Poor health is a key issue and, despite excellent health and social care provision, outcomes are among the poorest in the country, so there is a need to look at the whole system to address the wider issues that affect people’s health and wellbeing.
Now, individuals and organisations from across the combined authority area – County Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland – and neighbouring areas are being invited to submit written evidence, such as reports, letters and presentations, to help inform the commission’s work.
The commission will consider a number of themes looking at:
- Supporting people to stay well and independent – including how efforts and resources can be best used to make the biggest difference to people’s health and wellbeing; how we can reduce reliance on hospital care; and what we need to do to ensure health improvement is a real priority.
- Focusing more on health, wellbeing and productivity – including how we can help people be mentally and physically able to work; and how we can support employers to have health workplaces in order to benefit their staff, improve productivity and contribute towards a stronger economy.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England and chair of the health commission in the North East, said: “We very much hope that organisations and individuals from across the North East with an interest in health and social care will respond to our call for evidence and help us to identify what organisations can do together that is sustainable, affordable and makes the most of the resources, skills and talents that exist in the region.
“This will enable organisations to build on the good health and care services in the North East and the effective partnership working already taking place to tackle the health inequalities that still exist to improve the lives of residents so that they can be as healthy as possible and play an active part in their community and the wider economy.”
Cllr Mick Henry, health and social care lead for the North East Combined Authority, said: “This is a real opportunity for local organisations and people with an interest to inform the work of the commission and to play their part in helping us to improve health and wellbeing, which in turn will have a positive impact on our efforts to improve the economy of the North East.”
Dr David Hambleton, chair of the Northern Clinical Commissioning Group Forum representing NHS clinical commissioning groups, said: “Improvements to the health and wealth of the region can only be done by collective working.
“The call for evidence is an opportunity to bring together ideas to help us understand how we can resolve some of the very significant challenges to ensure that people have the same chances of happy, healthy and prosperous lives, no matter where they live.”
Evidence must be submitted by Friday 22 April and it can be sent:
- Exploring opportunities to improve health and wellbeing through devolution – including how this links with the wider devolution agenda on strengthening the regional economy, housing, training and skills; and what financial arrangements are needed to underpin the shift to prevention of ill-health and to more community-based care.
From next month (April) members of the commission, working with local colleagues from health and social care, will hold a series of listening events in each local authority area, which will provide an opportunity for organisations and interested parties to discuss their views with commission members.
- By email – email@example.com
- By post – HSC Commission, North East Combined Authority, Quadrant, Cobalt Business Park, The Silverlink North, North Tyneside, NE27 0BY.