No NELEP chief executive appointed yet - but NECA agree funds after row

The North East Combined Authority has finally reached agreement over their first budget after a row

Simon Henig, leader of Durham County Council
Simon Henig

Leaders of a strategic council have finally reached agreement over their first budget after a row.

Members of the North East Combined Authority have passed the final two elements of the annual budget before their first year in operation comes to a close in April.

The action brings to a close infighting which broke out at a meeting in May when Councillor Paul Watson, leader of Sunderland City Council, was the sole objector to two sections.

He blocked a £64.5m grant for Nexus and said that the £70,000 set aside for inward investment was insufficient.

Council Watson, whose portfolio includes economic development, has now reluctantly agreed to the points at a special meeting at County Hall, in Durham city.

The meeting of the North East Leadership Board heard the grant agreed for Nexus, which manages and maintains public transport in Tyne and Wear, heard the grant was needed to fund concessionary travel.

Had the NECA failed to pass the grant, Nexus would have been forced into its reserves.

Coun Watson said his original objection was based on concern about what the combined authority’s constitution allowed members to do.

He had previously said he felt businesses should be allowed to bid for some services that Nexus supplies.

It also emerged at the meeting that members had just two days to agree the combined authority’s constitution document before it was created last April.

Coun Watson said more work was needed with officers to clarify some issues over how the combined authority will operate over the next 12 months after the combined authority took on the responsibilities of the Tyne and Wear Transport Authority.

“We can’t work with a constitution like this,” he said.

“We don’t know what document we are supposed to go by. It is impossible.”

Coun Simon Henig, chairman of NECA, said the new body had no choice but to rush through the document in order for Parliament to create the authority in time.

The meeting also heard that the combined authority will meet with the North East Local Enterprise over cash to fund inward investment.

It all comes as the combined authority mounts a crucial campaign for devolution of powers away from Whitehall.

The authority is consulting with stakeholders on the controls should be requested for a regional power from the Government.

Following the meeting, Coun Henig said: “I am very pleased that these remaining budget issues have been agreed.

“This will enable us to move forward and focus on delivering the transport and economic priorities needed to encourage investment in our region, promote successful businesses and bring new jobs.”

The authority has still yet to resolve an issue with the NELEP over the appointment of a new chief executive.

NECA members want the position to be jointly accountable to them and are concerned about a proposed £150,000 salary for the post.

The Journal understands the NELEP favours a trade envoy who is currently working overseas.

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