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Thursday, May 30, 2024

Devolution deal ‘not radical enough’

A £4.2bn devolution deal for the North East is “not radical enough”, one of the hopefuls vying to become the region’s mayor has claimed.

Kim McGuinness says that, while the historic agreement is a “good step” forward, the deal “entirely fails to offset the damage done” by austerity cuts since 2010.

The Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) made the comments in her submission to a public consultation on the proposed deal.

She is one of the contenders to become Labour’s candidate for the new North East mayor post and is due to battle the current North of Tyne mayor Jamie Driscoll for the nomination, the winner of which would be the clear favourite to then win the mayoral election scheduled for May 2024.

The mayor will cover an area stretching across Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and County Durham – with the 30-year deal reuniting councils from either side of the Tyne, who were split apart after previous devolution negotiations broke down in 2016.

It includes a £48m-per-year investment fund that has been hailed as the most generous in the country, a £60m-a-year adult education and skills budget and an initial £900m package of transport investment.

Ms McGuinness wrote that there are “elements” of the deal which will help address the problems of unemployment, inequality, and child poverty in the North East, but added that she and others have some concerns around the “scope of the deal” and that the Government’s approach to devolution “is not radical enough to sufficiently empower the regions”.

After claiming that much of the existing North of Tyne devolution deal has “not been life changing for the people it is meant to benefit”, she said: “”As a region we are still desperately reliant upon competitive bidding into Government departments for funding. This is not real devolution and it is not an approach I believe in.

“As a region, it is imperative that we that we do not allow the investment in the devolution deal to be conflated with money we’ve lost in the last 13 years through Government imposed austerity. This deal entirely fails to offset the damage done to our public services as a result. Having overseen key public services on Newcastle council and as PCC overseeing one of the biggest public services in the North East, I have seen first hand the challenges our councils and NHS face trying to preserve frontline services and protect residents with reduced budgets. I know our trade unions have real concerns regarding this.”

However, she said that the proposed shakeup of the North East’s political landscape “offers our region a starting point” and that “while not a perfect deal, is a good step towards the devolution our residents need”.

In a barbed response, Mr Driscoll accused his campaign rival of only releasing her submission to the devolution consultation to “promote her own political career”.

He said: “As the existing combined authority mayor in the region, it’s appropriate for me to wait until after the public consultation has been collated and published before I comment on the details.

“In the meantime, I’ll be focusing on the job I’m elected to do, delivering thousands of well paid jobs, negotiating with Government for yet more investment here, including the £80m for investment zones we’ve just landed, and delivering our expanded Child Poverty Prevention programme recently hailed as a model of best practice.

“I’m not sure why the PCC has sent her submission to journalists, I doubt other stakeholders have. Presumably it’s to promote her own political career, now that she no longer wants to be Police and Crime Commissioner.”

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