Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

North East on Cusp of Agreeing to Mayor Deal

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

North East on Cusp of Agreeing to Mayor Deal

Article excerpt

Byline: Rachel Wearmouth Regional Affairs Reporter rachel.wearmouth@ncjmedia.co.uk

NORTH East leaders are within days of signing a devolution deal that will include a mayor, it can be revealed.

Chancellor George Osborne is said to be keen to announce a host of new powers for the region during the Conservative Party Conference, which starts tomorrow, if leaders sign up this week.

It is understood councillors are on the cusp of making a deal as negotiations with ministers continue, raising hopes the region will make the "first wave" of deals, following in the footsteps of devolution trail-blazers Greater Manchester.

Control over transport, the skills agenda, housing and bus services are within the parameters of the deal. Policing and fire services remain on the table, but to be discussed at a later date, with the amalgamation of services likely to be a sticking point for unions and leaders.

Behind the acceleration of the deal - now all but certain to be outlined at November's Comprehensive Spending Review if not at the conference in Manchester - will no doubt be council leaders' willingness to introduce a mayor.

It is understood members of the North East Combined Authority, which brings together the seven council areas from Northumberland to County Durham, will have the power to veto the powerful figure, but that no leader continues to stand in the way of Mr Osborne's intention to install a mayor.

Leaders say negotiations are ongoing and that, despite reports to the contrary, no pre-conference deadline is being imposed on talks.

But a high-level Conservative Party source said a failure to sign early would be a missed opportunity.

They said: "It's pretty clear that there is a desire to announce deals at conference. Conference starts on Saturday.

"That means they pretty much have to be done this week. There is clearly a deal that can be done.

"So will the North East be in the first wave or will we miss out? This is a pivotal moment for the North East. The best deals will, in my view, be in the first wave."

Newcastle East Labour MP Nick Brown said introducing a mayor would be a new cost for taxpayers as he called the deal being thrashed out "rushed" and "ill-thought through". …

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