THE deadline for creating a new North-East “super authority” - with beefed-up powers – could be missed due to town hall wrangling.
MPs were expected to approve the new body yesterday (Wednesday, March 19), stretching from the River Tees to the Scottish borders, covering seven councils and more than a million people.
But the order to set up the ‘North-East Leadership Board’ was missing, even as combined authorities were established in West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Merseyside.
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Now the Government has conceded that the long-established deadline for it to be up-and-running – April 1 – hangs in the balance and could be missed.
A spokeswoman for the department for communities and local government (DCLG) said: “That could happen – we can’t pre-empt the parliamentary process.”
But Simon Henig, the Labour leader of Durham County Council, suggested any delay would be short and that the plans were still forging ahead.
The Board’s proposed chairman said: “We expect formal confirmation of the timescales for the legal process in the very near future.
“It may be the case that this work cannot be completed to allow the authority to launch by April 1, but what is most important is that it will go ahead - and that will bring considerable economic benefits.”
The new authority will not replace the existing local councils, but is seen as key to winning devolved powers over job creation, skills development and improving transport links.
Significantly, the combined authority is backed by business organisations in the region, including the influential North-East Chamber of Commerce.
The way appeared to be cleared in January, when a deal was hammered out in crisis talks to persuade Sunderland City Council to drop its opposition.
Two weeks ago, the Cabinet Office sent out a letter stating the process was underway – but it later emerged that civil servants had jumped the gun.
Earlier this month, Greg Clark, the Middlesbrough-born cities minister, said the North-East would be “crazy” to pull back – and expressed confidence that the problems had been overcome.
The minister has suggested a “super-authority” will make it easier to implement the devolution drive set out, last year, by an expert panel headed by Labour peer Lord Adonis.
The DCLG spokeswoman said the draft order for the North-East was not laid until late last week, because of disagreements between the region’s councils.
She added: “The local authorities involved understand the issues and parliamentary process.
“We are in regular contact with them and understand that they are working to be ready to start as soon as the order is made.”