Exclusive: Proposal mooted for Durham to join Tees Valley CA

Plans for a county deal for Durham CC have all but been scrapped, in favor of the unitary joining a broader devolution deal to the North East – or even Tees Valley CA, LGC has learned.

Durham Deputy Leader Richard Bell (Con) told LGC that the county, which was announced as one of the frontrunners for a county deal in the upgrade white paper earlier this year, has now been told by the government that there would be more money to offer if they joined with neighbors rather than going it alone.

In North Durham, talks are underway to extend the current North Tyne CA devolution agreement covering Newcastle City Council, Northumberland CC and North Tyneside Council to include Gateshead and South Tyneside MBCs and Sunderland City Council. To the south, the existing Tees Valley AC covers Middlesbrough and Darlington Council, Hartlepool, Redcar & Cleveland and Stockton on Tees BCs.

Cllr Bell told LGC that Tees Valley’s proposal was “under review” and that he “supports” it.

Durham Constabulary and Fire Services also serve Darlington and there are links to the Health Service. But while Tees Valley has been led by Mayor Ben Houchen (Con) since its inception, Durham was staunchly Labor until the last election, after which the Tories, Liberal Democrats and local independent parties formed a coalition.

LGC understands that former leveling minister Neil O’Brien floated the idea of ​​Durham joining the Tees Valley. However, Mr Houchen told LGC he did not see it as a “viable option”.

Along with Durham, the six councils currently in talks over an expanded North Tyne deal form the footprint of the original North East AC, which was set up in 2014 and was due to agree a mayoral devolution deal in 2016 until South Tyne authorities pulled out.

Cllr Bell told LGC Durham were also “considering” joining neighbors Tyne in a deal.

“Now that Neil O’Brien is gone, the government is focused on getting the [Tyne] The LA Six deal has been signed,” he said. “Those negotiations are really moving forward – [levelling up secretary Greg] Clark devotes considerable energy to decentralization.”

Cllr Bell said Durham had “not ruled out” striking its own deal with the county. “But Whitehall told us we would get a bigger investment fund if we joined a collective body – that’s what the indicative figures tell us,” he said.

Carl Marshall, leader of the Durham Labor group, told LGC he understood there had been “discussions between the coalition and Tees Valley” and accused the administration of “bidding” in government negotiations and ” to try to ride some horses”.

Durham councilor Eddie Adam (Lab) told LGC that ‘confusion’ is ‘still raining down on the joint administration’ over their devolution plans.

“It would be a political decision to strengthen Ben Houchen’s position, but it would be bad for Durham because a shoehorn in this configuration would mean Durham becoming a second-hand partner,” said Cllr Adam.

However, Mr Houchen denied being involved in any deal with Durham and told LGC he was also unaware of any investigation. He does not see Durham joining Tees Valley as a ‘viable option’. “I find it hard to see that people in Consett see themselves as part of the same economy or community as people in Stockton or Redcar,” he added.

Durham did not discuss these devolution proposals at any board meeting, but there was talk of conducting a poll to gauge opinion.

When asked by LGC whether Durham was now considering a deal with Tees Valley, the board did not dispute this. In a statement, leader Amanda Hopgood (Lib Dem) said Durham was “continuing negotiations with the government regarding a possible decentralization deal”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Leveling Up, Housing & Communities said: ‘We are making rapid progress on devolution deals across England and aim to announce further deals by the end of the year.

“We continue to engage with County Durham on devolution agreements as part of our mission to upgrade and increase prosperity in the region.”