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Devolution dividing Britain

25 January 2023

The new combined authority will oversee transport in Tyne & Wear, but not the rest of the region. Photo Workers.

The government’s drive to divide Britain is gathering pace. At the end of December it announced a devolution deal for the North East of England, followed in January by the second round of “levelling up” funding for councils across the country.

Despite claims of local focus and accountability, there is no democracy in this process. The North East is just the latest in a string of such deals, with more to follow. And the latest round of levelling up cash awards is no solution for regeneration – the result is local councils competing against one another for crumbs.


The new combined authority in the North East comes with a directly elected mayor in 2024. It will cover Tyne and Wear, Northumberland and County Durham. In exchange the government will provide funding and will allow the new body to borrow and sell assets – all subject to Treasury control.

This extra layer of government will have a patchwork of powers – some aspects of housing, regeneration, education and skills, but transport for Tyne and Wear only. This was negotiated in private with the existing council and authorities in the same way as the 10 previous devolution deals in England.

At least six other regions are promised devolution deals following on from the February 2022 Levelling Up White Paper. Others are scrambling to join the bandwagon. And Cornwall wants to upgrade its current deal to gain an elected mayor.

‘There is no detail about consultation.’

The government says that devolution deals will not be confirmed without local consultation. But that assurance may be worthless as it lacks any detail about the way consultation will be carried out or what happens if the outcome is against the deal.

In 2004 People in the North East decisively voted against the Labour government’s regional devolution proposals. At the time they saw no benefit. Despite a different government and a “new deal”, little has changed since.


The “levelling up” funding is a mirage and will not provide what deprived areas of the country need. The truth is that most bids to the fund have been rejected. The process is flawed – each council bids for one scheme. Most are rejected. There is no strategic approach, except the inevitable nod to encouraging cycling and walking in many of those approved. Whilst laudable, that does not seem to be the answer to anyone’s regeneration, transport or energy needs.

The Labour Party offers no alternative viewpoint. While attacking this Conservative Levelling Up program, it proposes something identical dressed up as another slogan, “Take back control” – meaning the opposite.

The two parliamentary parties are as one on the question of devolution. Voting for or against either will not resolve this. Their solutions for decline amount only to more decline – unless you are on the devolution gravy train.