In December 2022, ministers and local leaders signed a new devolution deal for the North East, covering Northumberland, Tyne and Wear, and County Durham. A new mayoral combined authority will be created in May 2024.
What is the history of devolution to the North East?
Previous attempts to devolve powers to the North East have failed due to political opposition.
Labour proposed devolving some powers to a wider North East regional assembly in 2004, also covering areas now within Tees Valley. These plans were abandoned after an referendum in which 78% vote against the proposals.
Negotiations between local leaders and government then took place on a devolution deal in 2015,
HM Treasury, North East devolution deal 2015, 23 October 2015, www.gov.uk/government/publications/north-east-devolution-deal
which would have formed a mayoral combined authority for the region similar to those created in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands at the same time. Local disagreements – including over the mayoral model – led to the deal collapsing. 26 Halliday J, ‘Sajid Javid: devolution deal 'off the table' for north-east of England’, The Guardian, 8 September 2016, www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/08/north-east-england-devolution-deal-off-the-table-sajid-javid
Three local authorities: Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland concluded a more limited devolution deal in 2018. 27 Ministry of Housing, Communities, and Local Government, North of Tyne Combined Authority devolution deal, 8 November 2018, www.gov.uk/government/publications/north-of-tyne-combined-authority-devolution-deal This established the North of Tyne Combined Authority headed by a mayor who was first elected in May 2019. A non-mayoral combined authority covering the rest of the region also operates, but does not hold significant responsibilities.
In February 2022, the government’s levelling up white paper committed to expanding the North of Tyne Combined Authority deal to include neighbouring Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland, with Durham originally in line for its own separate deal. 28 Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, Levelling up the United Kingdom, 2 February 2022, www.gov.uk/government/publications/levelling-up-the-united-kingdom Durham later joined negotiations for a single regional deal.
The new deal was concluded in December 2022, and is due to come into effect in May 2024 following the election of a new mayor.
Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, North East devolution deal, 28 December 2022, www.gov.uk/government/publications/north-east-devolution-deal--2
What is the North East Mayoral Combined Authority?
The North East Mayoral Combined Authority (NEMCA) will be a legal body established by parliament that brings together seven local authorities: Northumberland, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland, and Durham.
Each authority will be a ‘constituent member’ of the combined authority board, chaired by the North East mayor. A designated representative from each council (typically the council leader) will be able to vote on all decisions. Representatives from the area’s business board and voluntary sector will also be non-voting members of the board. 30 North East Combined Authority, Scheme setting out proposals for the creation of a new mayoral combined authority for the North East area, no date, retrieved 4 August 2023, https://northeastca.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/NEMCA-Scheme-Proposals.pdf
The five urban constituent authorities are controlled by Labour. Northumberland and County Durham are under no overall control; Northumberland has a minority Conservative administration, while a coalition of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, independents and minor parties runs Durham County Council.
Each council has provisionally approved the creation of the NEMCA, but the government must pass secondary legislation through parliament to establish it. It is expected that this will happen in late 2023.
The existing North of Tyne Combined Authority and the non-mayoral North East Combined Authority will be abolished once the mayoral election takes place.
Who are the candidates for North East mayor?
Parties are currently selecting their candidates for the new position. The election is due to be held on 2 May 2024.
Labour’s candidate will be Kim McGuiness. McGuiness is the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria (covering Northumberland and Tyne and Wear). 34 BBC News, Kim McGuinness: Labour selects PCC as North East mayor candidate, 17 July 2023, www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-66222422
North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll has also announced an independent candidacy. 35 BBC News, Jamie Driscoll: Mayor to run against Labour for North East role, 18 July 2023, www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-tyne-66237465 Driscoll was elected as the Labour candidate in 2019, but left the party following his exclusion from the party’s selection for the new North East mayoralty.
Other parties have yet to select their candidates. Prospective candidates must receive signatures supporting their nomination from 100 electors, including 10 from each constituent council, and pay a deposit of £5,000. 36 Electoral Commission, Combined authority mayoral elections in England, no date, retrieved 4 August 2023, www.electoralcommission.org.uk/i-am-a/candidate-or-agent/combined-authority-mayoral-elections-england Deposits are refunded to candidates that receive 5% or more of the vote.
What powers will the mayor and the combined authority hold?
As in other mayoral combined authorities, the North East will hold devolved powers over transport, skills, planning and regeneration, and economic development.
Transport devolution is a central aspect of the expanded deal. Unlike other combined authorities, the North of Tyne did not hold transport powers. NEMCA will hold a range of transport powers including responsibility for the Tyne and Wear Metro light rail network, control of a long-term transport budget and the ability to introduce bus franchising.
North of Tyne’s existing responsibility for adult skills provision will be transferred to NEMCA, which will control the region’s adult education budget. This provides funding for adult learners to achieve level two or three qualifications (equivalent to GCSE and A-Level).
The combined authority will also have the power to establish mayoral development corporations to aid in local regeneration, as well co-commissioning the delivery of affordable housing provision in the region alongside Homes England.
Combined authority mayors do not have strong executive powers. Most decisions will require a majority vote of board members, and some decisions – such as the authority budget – will require unanimity.
It is likely that NEMCA’s powers will grow over time. The devolution deal included a commitment to commence trailblazer negotiations with the area, similar to deals agreed in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands in March 2023.
How does the North East compare to the UK in terms of social and economic outcomes?
The North East underperforms across several core economic indicators. Economic productivity is 86% of the UK average, while disposable household incomes are 82% of the UK average. Sunderland is the only part of the region with above average productivity (£37 per hour worked), but it is also below average in terms of household income.
The region also under performs on skills indicators. Only 53% of adults have a level three qualification or above, compared to 59% across the UK. Newcastle-upon-Tyne performs above the regional and national average, with 63% having a level three qualification. The lowest is Gateshead, at 45%.
Public transport use is highest in Newcastle upon Tyne, but the region as a whole is below the national average. Northumberland and Durham – two largely rural counties – have the lowest rates of using public transport to get to work.
How does NEMCA overlap with other administrative boundaries?
The new combined authority will cover the same footprint as the North East local enterprise partnership, which is due to be absorbed into the combined authority as a business board.
However, NEMCA will not be coterminous with local policing areas; this means that the mayor will not be able to take on the police and crime commissioner role.
The area’s NHS integrated care board also extends beyond the combined authority borders, covering the Tees Valley area as well as much of Cumbria.