The bosses of the Northeast Council are “ready” to put aside past disputes and “come to an agreement” with a region-wide decentralization agreement, which would see seven local authorities united under one banner.
North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll told ChronicleLive that “discussions are live” on a new deal and said “everyone now accepts that the only game in town is a combined authority”.
Mr Driscoll said a deal could unlock £ 500million in funding for desperately needed transport upgrades, as well as other great powers and resources.
Read more: How the Northeast Devolution Divided on the Banks of the Tyne
Previous talks about plans to create a municipal authority covering the entire region collapsed in 2016 after a split from the region’s Labor-dominated establishment, after which Newcastle, North Tyneside and Northumberland went their separate ways to form their own combined authority north of Tyne.
Mr Driscoll was elected Labor mayor of North Tyne in 2019, while the four South Tyne councils have been left behind in the North East Combined Authority (NECA) – which has no mayor or delegated powers by the government.
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In recent weeks, Durham has entered talks with the central government over the possibility of a devolution deal for the county, but Mr Driscoll was confident in a united Northeastern authority.
He said: “It has to happen, we have to work together as a region.
“Everyone agrees that the only game in town is Combined Authority. The difference from 2016 is that everyone has now seen a Combined Authority mayor and has seen that it works.
“Yes, the Durham Rainbow Coalition feels they need to explore the county’s deal offer, but chances are the deal won’t work for them.
“They still haven’t closed the door to meet at Seven. I know a lot of the leaders are ready to continue.”
Mr Driscoll, who has overseen the creation of more than 4,000 jobs since taking office, also told ChronicleLive he would like to see Whitehall backing the mayors of the north with new spending and taxation powers.
He said: “Whitehall has to give up an element of control so what I want is when we create a new job is to have the first 18 months of PAYE and national insurance, to invest and create more jobs.
“There is also a big shortage of capital to invest in small businesses, so we need a regional wealth fund.
“At the end of the day, you can’t level the north with concrete. It’s not about roads, but investments in training and skills, small businesses and education. These are the things that make a country really rich. “
Regarding Labor, Mr Driscoll said the party’s national leadership must start paying attention to the winning mayors of the Northern elections who have come up with a plan to reclaim the so-called “red wall”.
“Should we be around the Shadow Cabinet table?” Yes we should. People are judged at the delivery, at the end and we (the mayors) are at the forefront, ”he said.
Mr Driscoll went so far as to say that the next Labor leader should come from “the heartbreaking town hall of the north”.
He said: “It’s time we started thinking about the next Labor leader coming from outside Westminster.”
When asked if he had a particular name in mind, he replied, “I don’t know how useful it is going to be if I start naming someone, but the next leader as I go. should be someone who has had delivery experience. “
But Mr Driscoll was keen to exclude himself, he said: “My answer every time is no, because that would mean living in London, and I stay here. What I want is a Labor leader who understands what the mayor can do. “
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