Michael Gove, UK levelling-up secretary, has announced a “historic” £1.4bn devolution deal with north-east England that will create the role of an elected mayor with new powers in the region.
The agreement will include provision for a regional champion, who will speak on behalf of an area of 2mn people, including Newcastle, Northumberland, County Durham, Gateshead and Sunderland.
The devolution deal will transfer to the region powers for education and skills, housing, regeneration and transport. Local leaders will study the details and there will be a public consultation on the agreement before a final decision is made.
Gove hailed the deal as giving local leaders “more power, more money and an even greater say in how their areas are run”.
The agreement opens up the possibility that the first elected mayor for the region could be Jamie Driscoll, metro mayor for the North of Tyne and a member of Momentum, the grassroots political group that backed Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership.
Driscoll, elected to his current role in 2019, told the Financial Times that he hoped to be Labour’s candidate for the new north-east role, which he expects would have control over £4bn of investment over 30 years.
He said his role in leftwing politics was not important. “I’m a member of Momentum but I’m also a member of the National Trust. I wish people would leave this behind,” he added.
Driscoll, whose current mayoral area stretches north from the river Tyne to Berwick but not south of the river to Gateshead and Sunderland, said he would be judged on his record. “I work closely with business and I’ve created thousands of jobs,” he said.
The north-east was identified by John Prescott, former deputy prime minister in Tony Blair’s Labour government, as the location for the first in a new wave of regional assemblies.
But the idea was rejected in a referendum in 2004 by 78 per cent of voters. The No campaign was advised by Dominic Cummings, who later went on to run the 2016 Leave campaign in the Brexit vote.
Gove said: “A new mayor will ensure local priorities in the north-east are at the heart of decision-making, while our billion-pound funding boost will provide the certainty needed to level up the area right now and for years to come.”
If the deal is approved following the local consultation, the government will guarantee the region £1.4bn over 30 years for investment.
Regional leaders think that, combined with separate funding over the same period for adult education and skills as well as transport, the total pot of devolved money for the north-east would be about £4bn.
Local council leaders and mayors issued a statement saying: “We are pleased that we have successfully negotiated a proposed deal, which is a step towards reaching our ambition for the region.
“This is an important milestone in our journey and we will now engage with stakeholders to move the deal to the next stage.”
If the deal is approved, a new north-east mayor would be elected in May 2024.
Gove has promised to put devolution at the heart of the government’s levelling-up agenda and has reached agreements this year with York and North Yorkshire, East Midlands, Cornwall, Norfolk and Suffolk.