Talks are set to get underway with the Government on how the North East can take back more powers from Whitehall.
Leaders of seven local councils in the region will speak with Tory Cities Minister Greg Clarke, in an attempt to pave the way for serious negotiations with Chancellor George Osborne over devolution.
While Manchester, Sheffield and West Yorkshire have all been handed extra powers from the Government, the North East so far remains without an enhanced deal over controlling more of its own affairs.
The General Election casts uncertainty over how discussions will progress, but for the next six weeks the North East Combined Authority (NECA) will be in talks with Mr Clarke, who only last month said the region’s council leaders still needed to form a ‘common view’ to secure a strong deal like other regional centres.
The meeting should act as a sounding board for how to later formalise an approach to the Chancellor on what the North East’s ‘ask’ for devolution should be, however a North East investment fund and housing fund, devolved skills funding and the creation of an integrated public transport system are all top priorities.
Speaking at a meeting of Newcastle City Council, leader Nick Forbes said devolution will continue to be the most significant political debate of the next Parliament.
When challenged on the fact the focus on consultation so far in the region has been primarily with businesses, he said the views of commercial leaders would give greater credibility to the NECA’s case when it is eventually presented to Government.
He said: “What NECA is doing is not trying to do a back room deal with politicians before engaging with businesses and communities across the region so that we can say broadly ‘these are the things that we need to make a long term difference to our region.
“We think this strengthens our hand for when we start negotiating with Government. When we negotiated the City Deal for Newcastle, we had the same principle of credibility.”
Labour councillor Veronica Dunn, added: “We have huge aspirations for our city and this is a step forward.”
A statement released by the NECA, said: “The North East Combined Authority proposes to begin negotiations with government ministers, to secure a substantial devolution of power, funding and responsibilities, to meet the needs of our diverse communities, and deliver our strategic economic plan for more andbetter jobs.
“We welcome the early opportunity to discuss this with Greg Clark MP, in preparation for negotiations with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
“We will continue to strengthen our collaborative governance arrangements, building on our creation of one of the UK’s first Combined Authorities, working alongside business leaders, universities and colleges and other partners.”
In February Teesside-born Mr Clarke MP signed an agreement with the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the business-led body which works with local councils, to invest nearly £330 million of government funding to create private sector jobs in the region.
At the time he said that there is no reason why the types of responsibilities and powers that are available to Manchester could not one day be available to the North East.