Council vote for devolution – but calls for Government assurances

Northumberland County Council has voted in favour of devolution proposals – but has called on government to provide a number of assurances to support rural areas and help grow the county’s economy.

The council’s Cabinet met today to discuss the devolution deal, before the North East Combined Authority Leadership Board meet on 24th March to decide jointly whether to submit a formal proposal to Government to establish a Mayoral Combined Authority.

If ultimately agreed, the move will represent a major change to the way in which decisions will be made in the future about transport, investment, funding, skills training, business support, housing and strategic planning.

It will also result in a new elected mayor – to be elected for the first time in 2017. They would be part of a Cabinet along with the seven local authority leaders with key decisions requiring a majority vote.

However the county council has asked the government to provide a number of specific assurances – aimed at ensuring the unique rural challenges faced in Northumberland are recognised.

Cabinet said they were minded to agree to the deal if a number of conditions are met. These are:
  • The Devolution Agreement, which the Leader the Council signed in October 2015, represents the reality of what the Government is going to deliver, with neither the substance nor content of the various pledges “watered down” in the light of subsequent discussions between officials;
  • There is an undertaking that the forthcoming Fair Funding Review and subsequent approach to the proposed Business Rate Retention Scheme will properly address the current inequality within the local government funding model associated with rurality and sparsity in delivering Council services;
  • Subject to the outcome of the next stage of the GRIP viability process due to conclude in the Spring, the Combined Authority and the Government give a clear commitment that the necessary funds to re-establish passenger services on the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne Line will be forthcoming; and
  • There is a commitment to build a “rural proofing” element into the prioritisation and allocation of the North East Investment Fund (which will also include subsequent allocations from the Local Growth Fund) to ensure that rural areas are not left behind and receive an equitable share of funding to promote sustainable economic growth.
If the proposals are agreed by NECA on Thursday the council will then look to the government to provide these assurances over the coming months – as well as the outcome of this summer’s EU referendum and its impact on devolution to be considered.

Council leader Grant Davey said: “I am determined any devolution deal produces the best possible outcome for the people of Northumberland.
“While we have voted in favour of the agreement, we need a government commitment that the various pledges which we signed up to last October are not watered down, as well as assurances on a number of other issues.

“We need the government to understand the issues we face as a rural authority, rather than just focusing on the urban areas.

“I’ve written to Lord O’Neill to ask for ongoing dialogue as we move forward and I continue to fight the corner for rural areas.”
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